Review by William C. Pohl IV
Adding to his numerous articles on the book of Job as well as other scholarly monographs, Lindsay Wilson, academic dean and senior lecturer in Old Testament at Ridley Melbourne Mission and College in Australia, has written a valuable commentary on the book of Job. This commentary is a part of the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary Series, which seeks to do “theological exegesis and theological reflection” (p. i). This series locates biblical books within the broader theological context of the entire canon, and outlines the theological contribution a biblical book makes. Wilson has achieved these aims for the book of Job, producing an important resource for students, pastors, and Christian leaders interested in teaching and preaching the book of Job.
The book has four major sections: (1) an introduction to the book (pp. 1–27), (2) the commentary proper (pp. 28–210), (3) a discussion of the book’s theological themes (pp. 211–290), and (4) a discussion of the book’s contribution to biblical theology, systematic theology, moral theology, and practical theology (pp. 291–382).
The introduction is cleverly structured by nine questions that one might have at the outset of approaching the book of Job. For example, he asks, “Who wrote the book, and when was it written?” (pp. 2–5), “How should we read the book?” (pp. 7–8), and “Why was the book written?” (pp. 8–10). One of Wilson’s contributions to Joban studies lies in his emphasis on seeing the book of Job as a response to an ossified understanding of the book of Proverbs. He writes, “The book of Job protests not against Proverbs but against a fossilized misunderstanding of retribution that had misrepresented the mainstream wisdom tradition of Proverbs” (p. 8). But the book of Job is not limited to this purpose; Wilson outlines three other purposes, namely to illustrate the nature of disinterested righteousness, to explore issues of appropriate speech (what he calls “legitimate expressions of faith”), and to instruct about the character of God (p. 10). Somewhat unique among commentators, Wilson points out regarding these speech issues, “The book as a whole endorses Job’s complaints and questioning as a legitimate expression of the faith of a righteous person. … Protest and questioning—with an underlying desire to draw near to God—can in some circumstances be appropriate” (p. 10).
The commentary proper follows the aims of the commentary series by engaging in theological exegesis at the paragraph level. This is not to say that individual verses are not treated; there is detailed exegesis throughout the commentary. Rather, it is to say that Wilson situates his exegesis in the context of paragraphs, which will prove extremely helpful for the reader who is not familiar with how biblical poetry operates. Wilson divides each speech into major movements, and unpacks each paragraph’s meaning for the reader.
Following the commentary, Wilson summarizes the theological themes of the book of Job. He discusses nine major themes: (1) suffering, (2) retribution and justice, (3) litigation, (4) lament and complaint, (5) persevering faith, (6) the fear of God, (7) humanity, (8) God, and (9) creation. Each of these themes is discussed at some length. His general approach is to outline how each part of the book contributes to the theme, concluding with the book’s contribution. For example, regarding the theme of the fear of God, Wilson summarizes the theme of the fear of the LORD in Proverbs as a foundation for his discussion (pp. 257–258), and argues that the fear of God in the book of Job and the fear of LORD in Proverbs refer to the same thing (pp. 258–259). He then discusses how the prologue (pp. 259–260), the dialogue (pp. 260–261), Job 28 (pp. 261–263), Elihu’s speeches (pp. 263–264), and Yahweh’s speeches and the epilogue (pp. 264–265) contribute to the theme of the fear of God. He closes with a discussion on the fear of God in the whole book—the book’s contribution to this theme (pp. 265–266). This models for the reader how to read the parts of the book in light of the whole and to read the whole in light of the parts of the book (cf. “How to read the book?” on pp. 7–8). This section will prove helpful both as a summary to the book of Job’s theological contribution (as it follows the commentary proper), but would also serve well as an introduction to the book’s theology prior to entering into the details of the book. It provides a helpful framework in which to understand individual passages.
The commentary closes with Wilson’s reflection on the book’s contribution to biblical theology, systematic theology, moral theology, and pastoral theology. In this section Wilson does biblical theology by discussing the book of Job in the context of the wisdom books, the Old Testament canon as a whole, and the NT. This includes a discussion of book of Job’s emphasis on the kingly rule of God (pp. 310–316), Job and Christ (pp. 316–320), and reading the book of Job as a Christian (pp. 325–332), among other topics. Wilson engages systematic theology by discussing the book of Job’s contribution to systematic concerns like the doctrine of God (pp. 332–337), theodicy (pp. 337–340), and the doctrine of the resurrection (pp. 351–353), among others. Wilson engages moral theology by discussing the content of book’s ethics, and applying it to topics such as character ethics (pp. 359–361), social ethics (pp. 361–362), the environment (pp. 363–364), suicide (pp. 364–366), and wealth (pp. 366–368). Wilson captures Job’s contribution to pastoral theology by unpacking Job’s usefulness as a resource for pastoral care (pp. 368–375). He also discusses possible ways in which Job might be preached (pp. 375–379).
This commentary is a significant addition to the collection of commentaries on Job. In my view, there are four reasons why this commentary is a must-have for those teaching and preaching the book. First, Wilson’s attention to the issues of legitimate expressions of faith in lament and complaint distinguishes this commentary. Wilson’s treatment of this theme is prevalent throughout the commentary proper, but is most astute in his theological summary of the book (pp. 243–252). Wilson rightly notes that the book of Job encourages this kind of prayer in the context of innocent suffering. Second, and relatedly, Wilson’s commentary is a great resource for using the book of Job in pastoral care. Often overlooked as such a resource, Wilson unpacks how the book of Job can contribute to pastoral care on the levels of lament and comforting practices (pp. 368–375). Wilson carefully attends to the friends’ speeches, noting their contribution as a negative paradigm to pastoral care. Wilson also provides a few options for how to preach the book of Job (pp. 375–379). Third, Wilson’s treatment of the Elihu speeches, which builds on an earlier article, addresses the literary and theological issues of this difficult section of the book of Job in a cogent and incisive manner. Fourth, because of the series’ aims, this book majors on the theological issues of the book, which are the most important issues for the pastor and teacher looking to preach and teach this book. Christian leaders will find this commentary extremely helpful as they seek to shepherd their flocks, proclaiming the whole counsel of God—even the book of Job.
That said, Wilson interprets some significant passages in a way that places him in the extreme minority of interpreters. One example is Wilson’s somewhat idiosyncratic interpretation of the witness/redeemer figure in Job 16 and 19 (cf. Job 9 and Job 31). Wilson’s views on this interpretive crux are not new; he has argued for the hypothetical nature of the witness/redeemer figure in an earlier article. This is admittedly a difficult interpretive question, and there are a myriad of views, but his interpretation seems worth noting for its uniqueness. The second example is Wilson’s interpretation of Job 28, namely that “the fear of the Lord (Adonai)” is not just the beginning of wisdom, as in Proverbs, but its essence (p. 139). In this way, Job 28 represents the ossified understanding of the book of Proverbs, and is not the answer to the problem of the book. Like the witness/redeemer interpretive crux, Job 28 is a disputed passage. Wilson’s interpretation is somewhat unique among the interpretive options, and should be weighed among these options. Nevertheless, Wilson’s exegesis, by and large, is helpful, even if in these cases one might quibble with his work.
As noted above, Wilson’s treatment of the issue of lament is exceptional work. I was left, however, with one unresolved question: what is the difference, or relationship, between litigation and lament? Throughout the commentary there are places where the distinction between these two themes is not always clear (e.g., pp. 77, 93, 206–207, 230–232, 237, 240). Wilson addresses this question in his theological themes section (pp. 230–257, see esp. 242–243). He notes that these are related forms for protest, but I was hoping for a fuller discussion given Wilson’s astute analysis of lament throughout the commentary.
These criticisms are not meant to detract from Wilson’s contribution, but merely to raise questions and issues that a reader might want to consider as they work through Wilson’s valuable and noteworthy work. As with any commentary, it is always good to engage a few dialogue partners; reading Wilson alongside other interpreters is encouraged. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this commentary for teachers and preachers as they prepare to teach and preach this most challenging book, Job. The commentary’s approach, its clarity, and its acute attention to the significance of lament—exegetically, theologically, and pastorally—sets apart this commentary amidst other options.
William C. Pohl IV is a PhD student with a concentration in Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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