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No 130: Was Job an Edomite King? (Part 1)

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 130
Copyright (c) 2000 Biblical Horizons
June, 2000

At the end of the book of Job in the early Greek translation called the Septuagint, there is an additional paragraph that identifies Job as the Jobab of Genesis 36:33-35, the second listed king of Edom. The statement reads as follows (using the translation of Edouard Dhorme from his Commentary on the Book of Job, translated into English by Harold Knight, and published by Thomas Nelson in 1984):

It appears from the Syriac book [Aramaic version of Job] that he [Job] lived in the land of Uz, on the confines of ldumaea [Edom] and Arabia. Previously his name was Jobab. After taking an Arab woman to wife he gave birth to a son whose name was Ennon. His father was Zerah, descended from Esau, and his mother was Bosorras, so that he was the fifth from Abraham . . . . [There then follows the list of the ancient kings of Edom on the lines of Genesis 36:31-35.] And these are the kings which reigned in Edom, a country which he too governed . . ..

Now, there is no definitive reason to credit this statement as historically accurate. It might be nothing more than guesswork; and one might just as well, perhaps, link Job with the Jobab of Genesis 10:29, or with neither of these men. Still, there might be something to it, and it was clearly part of the Israelite tradition.

We’ll have to wait for heaven to learn whether this is true or not, but just for fun, and because the exercise might be profitable in other ways, let us see what might have been in the minds of these ancient Jews when they identified Job as one of the kings of Edom. Assuming that these Jews had nothing more to build on than the same Bible we have, let us see if we can uncover their reasoning, and whether it makes sense.

First we consider whether Job was an Edomite or not; second, whether he was a king or not; and third, whether he might be the same as Jobab.

Job the Edomite

That Job was almost certainly an Edomite emerges from the geographical context of Job’s life. He lived in the east, and Edom was to the southeast of Israel, in the northwest corner of Arabia. He lived in the land of Uz (`Uts), and this was part of Edom according to Lamentations 4:21. Uz was one of the sons of Dishan, who was one of the original chieftains of Seir, the land Esau conquered and merged with (Genesis 36:28-30). Thus, we can be fairly sure that Job was an Edomite.

Fairly sure, but not absolutely sure, and that for two reasons. First, while the land of Uz was part of Edom in the days of Jeremiah, it might not have been in the days of Job, for the times are at the very least several centuries apart. Second, there are two other Uzes:

In Genesis 10:23, we read of an Uz who was a son of Aram. Aram was a son of Shem. Another son of Shem, Arpachshad, was the ancestor of the Hebrews (Genesis 10 & 11). Isaac’s wife Rebekah was from Aram, and Jacob’s wives were daughters of Rebekah’s brother Laban the Aramean. These people lived to the east of Canaan, and so the first Uz should be located in that area. Dhorme provides arguments for this on pp. xxiii-xxiv of his commentary.

In Genesis 22:21, we read of a second Uz, son of Nahor, brother of Abraham. Another of Nahor’s sons was Bethuel, father of Rebekah. But though these people were descendants of Arpachshad, they are called Arameans, as we have seen. Thus, it is pretty clear that this branch of the Hebrews joined with the Arameans, and perhaps the use of the name Uz by Nahor goes back to the fact that this same name was in the line of the Arameans, with which culture he had merged. Thus, Bethuel is called an Aramean (translated sometimes as Syrian) in Genesis 25:20 and 28:5, as is his son Laban in 31:20, 24. Again, Dhorme provides evidence that Nahor’s son Uz, and his brother Buz, lived in the same area as the earlier and later Uzes (p. xxiii).

Thus, it might be that Job lived before Esau, and was either a descendant of Aram or of Nahor. That this cannot be the case emerges from a consideration of his four interlocutors.

Job’s interlocutors were also from the same region. Eliphaz the Temanite was clearly an Edomite. The original Eliphaz was a son of Esau, and his son was named Teman (Genesis 36). This Teman became one of the chieftains of Edom (36:15), and the district of Teman clearly bears his name. Eliphaz the Temanite was from this area, and probably a descendant of the original Eliphaz and Teman. The presence of Eliphaz the Temanite makes it clear that Job lived after Esau, and after the Edomites moved into the land of Uz.

Bildad the Shuhite is a descendant of Abraham through Keturah (Genesis 25:2). Abraham sent Keturah’s sons to the east (25:6), and Dhorme shows that they settled in the general area occupied by Edom later on (p. xxvii). While the origins and environs of Zophar the Naamathite are not given in the Bible, since he lived in the same general area as the other men, he clearly lived in Edom also. Finally, Elihu is called a Buzite, and Buz was son of Nahor, brother of Uz. The town of Buz is linked with Dedan and Tema in Jeremiah 25:23, and Dhorme shows that these were in the same general area (p. xxiii).

To summarize: Job clearly lived after Esau, and lived in the land of Uz, which was part of Edom. Thus, we can consider it established that Job was an Edomite.

What does this mean? To begin with, it means that not all the descendants of Esau were wholly apostate. Some were true believers. We see that Eliphaz the Temanite, an Edomite, had much true knowledge of God, though he badly misapplied it. Also, Caleb the Kenizzite, a member of the mixed multitude who was adopted into the tribe of Judah, and who with Joshua was the only faithful man among the spies Moses sent to investigate Canaan, was probably an Edomite (Genesis 36:11). There were earlier Kenizzites (Genesis 15:19), but as with the various Uzes, we can postulate that the Edomite Kenizzites merged with them, and that by the time of Caleb, the Kenizzites were part of Edom.

The fact that Job was an Edomite also provides an interesting perspective on Ezekiel 14:14 and 20, where God tells Ezekiel that even if three of the most righteous men who had ever lived were present in the apostate city of Jerusalem, they would be able to deliver only themselves. The three are Noah, Daniel, and Job. (Liberal scholars, unwilling to believe that God or Ezekiel would so praise a man living at the same time as Ezekiel, have tried to make out that this Daniel was some other Daniel from an earlier time. But there is no evidence for this supposition.)

Noah was the original righteous Gentile, Daniel the righteous Israelite, and Job the righteous Edomite. This triad links with a human trinity seen all through the Bible. There are three great enemies of God set out in Genesis 3-6. The first is the wicked human father, who is Adam, and who sins in the sanctuary. The second is the wicked human son/brother, who is Cain, who sins in the land. The third is the wicked human spirit, who rejects the Matchmaking Spirit of God by intermarrying with the Cainite daughters of men in Genesis 6.

Later in the Bible, the Hebrews-Israelites-Jews are set up as priests of God’s sanctuary, and wicked priests follow the sin of Adam. Esau takes up the role of Cain, seeking to murder his brother Jacob and to steal the inheritance God had said was to be given to Jacob; and throughout the Bible Esau/Edom has this role. Third, we find enemy Gentiles, and the sin of Israel is to seek to intermarry with them, to blend with them. Both Jesus and Paul are put on trial by all three: the High Priest and Sanhedrin of the Jews, Herod the Edomite (ldumean), and the Roman governors. I have discussed this paradigm at some length in Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future.

The triad of Noah, Job, and Daniel fits perfectly with this scheme, and accounts for why God would choose these men in His prophecy through Ezekiel. They typify the righteous Gentile-spirit, Edomite-brother, and Israelite-priest.

Job as King

For Job to be an Edomite links him already with the Kingdom Era of Israel’s history. As I showed in the book just mentioned, Israel’s history falls into three phases. During the first, the Sinaitic Era, recounted mainly in the book of Judges, the sin of Israel was priestly: to worship other gods. Social sins are not much in view. During the second period, the Kingdom Era, social sins are very much in view. It is a time of brother-brother strife, beginning in David’s household and moving into the division of the Kingdom itself. It is a time of Jacob versus Esau on a large scale. The third era, the Restoration, is a time that primarily focuses on interaction with the Gentiles, and the sin is typically syncretism or intermarriage with the pagans (as in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi).

Job is clearly some kind of king. He is the leader of his community. He is the Chief Cornerstone, while Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are his "three mighty men," the other corners of the realm. It is because Job is the king that the other men arrive to try and force him to step down.

(The Hebrew word for "army commander" is "corner." For other examples of chief corners and three other corners, consider David and his three mighty men, Daniel and his three friends, and Jesus with Peter, James, and John. On "corners" and "three mighty men," see Biblical Horizons 121. Compare also Jesus with the Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, as discussed above.)

Job as king is the "greatest of the men of the east" (Job 1:3). He employed hundreds of people and fed the poor. The disaster that overcame his household was, thus, a disaster upon the entire realm. The poor were starving, and hundreds of people were either killed or out of work. The sores on Job’s body were a sign of the lesions on the body politic of which he was the head, a point no ancient reader would miss.

This realm or political "house" has fallen because the Chief Corner, Job, has fallen. The other three corners, thus, step in to try and repair it. Their fallacy is not in seeking to restore their society, but in the way they seek to do it. Their desire is for Job to step down by admitting fault, so that one of them can replace him. God’s intention, however, is to take Job and this society through judgment and resurrection, and to reconstitute a new and better society afterwards (as happens in chapter 42).

Job’s position as king or leader of his people has been skillfully analyzed by Rene Girard in Job: The Victim of His People, translated by Yvonne Freccero and published by Stanford University Press in 1987. Despite the many flaws in this book, it makes clear that the attack upon Job came not because he was an ordinary person, but because of his preeminent position in this community, which had fallen into chaos seemingly as a result of God’s judgment upon Job, their "king."

The book of Job, then, is not just about the sufferings of a righteous man, though it is that in part, and can be preached that way. It is also about chaos in the body politic, and the position of the suffering king within that chaos.

That Job is about kingship links it with three other "wisdom" books, produced by Solomon. Job is about the suffering of the king. Ecclesiastes is about the aged wisdom of the king. Canticles is about the marriage of the king to his people. Proverbs is advice to the king’s son, that he join himself to the company of the wise (personified as Lady Wisdom in chapters 1-9 and 31), and avoid the company of the foolish (personified as Harlot Folly) – something Solomon’s son Rehoboam foolishly failed to do.

While law and obedience are associated with the Sinaitic Era, wisdom and skill are associated with the Kingdom Era. The books of Law are given through Moses, while the books of wisdom are given through Solomon. It seems very likely, then, that Solomon was the author of Job. Indeed, the 28th chapter of Job might just as well be part of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. Thus, while we cannot know for certain, Solomon is the most likely author of Job.

(It has become common today to deny Solomon as author of Ecclesiastes, but the arguments against him are as gossamer as spider-webs, and the text clearly says that he wrote it. Also, of course, while Solomon wrote the first form of Proverbs, it was later added to in the days of Hezekiah. But this is not the place for a full discussion of the "four books of Solomon.")

To summarize: We have seen that for all intents and purposes Job was the king of his society. We have also seen that his being an Edomite links him with the kingly, brother-brother, set of associations. Thus, the ancient Jews were on good ground to say that Job was an Edomite king. But was he Jobab?

(to be continued)