The Problem of Evil

W. H. Lofthouse Edited by J E Bradburn

The subject of the book is commonly held to be The Problem of Evil; and at first sight the book contains five answers to the question, “Why is Evil Allowed?”— The answers:

1)     Of Satan (or adversary): to test a problem that may be only skin deep.

2)     Of the friends: to punish wickedness, recognised or unrecognised.

3)     Of Job himself: because God is really unjust.

4)     Of Eliphaz (one of Job’s friends): To warn or to educate, and train.

5)     Of Jehovah: to bring home to man his ignorance.

The arrangement by which these answers are contrasted with one another is ingenious as it is effective; the first, being the most superficial, is naturally put into the introduction or prologue; the second and third are elaborated in three cycles of speeches, in each of which Job answers the separate friends in turn; the fourth is placed in a set of discourses to which neither Job nor his friends, from their standpoints, could well make reply; and the fifth, like a mysterious storm suddenly gathering then clearing the air, reduces all the speakers to an awed silence, and a brief Epilogue leaves us again, not inartistically, at the lower level of the Prologue.

Apparently no one of these five answers is meant to be decisive; the fifth, indeed, seems no answer at all, but only the denial of the possibility of an answer. The other four, undoubtedly, contain elements of TRUTH; but each of them raises as many new questions as it answers. Satan is apparently right; Job utters curses which even to our ears sounds shocking; the contentions of the Friends are in several places echoed, with a good deal more force, by Job himself; Job is condemned , yet Divinely rewarded at the last; and what he is condemned for is not clear—(A.B.C): See Job 1:11 below.


Job 1:9—12  

09 Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, “Doth Job fear [revere] God for nought?”

10 ‘Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.

11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.’”

12 And the Lord said unto Satan, “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.” So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.


“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this (fallen) world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1–2, emphasis added). In this text the apostle Paul describes Satan first as a “prince” with power, because he has authentic power in the world (1 John 5:19). This power has been given him by God (Luke 4:6). Satan has power over some illnesses (Luke 13:16; see also 2 Corinthians 12:7—its unknown if Paul’s “thorn” was an illness or something else). In some sense, Satan has power over death (Hebrew 2:14). The reason Satan is called a prince rather than a king is because there is only one King—Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:15).”


Luke 4:6 And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.


Certainly not for the sins of which the Friends had accused him, while nothing is said to suggest that Eliphaz’s view of suffering is really wrong.


The Main Question. Satan is not interested in general theology, or even in a theodicy; he wants to know, “How will a pious man stand the test of pain?” and, with all the writhing of the tortured thought in the chapters that follow, that question is never lost sight of. Satan’s own answer is, “He will renounce God”; Job’s answer in the prologue is “He will take what God sends,” and then “He will pray to die,” “He will deny God’s justice,” and “He will appeal from God to—whom?”

The Friends in tones that vary between courtesy and brutality, insist, “He will ask with confidence for forgiveness and release. It is to the wicked that suffering comes.”  The central part of the book shows Job twisting in the chains of this logic, and finally throwing them off: “I am not wicked, but you are unjust or God is! Let me die. Yet this cannot be God’s last word; He will vindicate me at the last.”

Eliphaz takes even less account of the promethean (was the name given (early 19c.) to small glass tubes full of sulphuric acid, surrounded by an inflammable mixture, which ignited when pressed and gave off light) struggles of Job than do the Friends.; but he recalls our attention to the original question, and replies, “He will bear it with equanimity, knowing that there is a purpose in it all, to be understood in good time.” And, with the practical issue in mind, Jehovah’s addresses become less perplexing; “He will turn from his own sufferings to the vast magnificence of nature, and complaint will be silenced in awe.”


Hebrew “Orthodoxy.” The book, we said, is unique in Hebrew thought; yet it implies Hebrew thought on every page. Without the rest of the O.T. it would mean nothing. It is written, indeed, against a background of Hebrew “orthodoxy” and the perplexities that followed for the orthodox. Evil, as all that causes pain or suffering, must be distinguished in the O.T. from sin; but since God is regarded as the author of good and evil alike, it was natural to look upon all evil as the penal result of sin. This at once raised practical difficulties (but not for the discerning) (having or showing deep understanding and intelligent application of knowledge). If evil is punishment, it obviously falls upon the wrong persons. Why do the wicked flourish, and why are the righteous reduced to poverty? In Proverbs, indeed, the old fashioned attitude is for the most part preserved: Do good and you will be rewarded; do evil, and you will suffer for it But what if the rule does not hold? Either “There is no need to fret, the wicked or their descendants will be punished in the end”; or; “The good suffer only for a time; the pious man will never starve.” (Compare Psalm 37, 49, 73). Both these expedients (fit or suitable for the purpose) seem at times to be pointing to something further: “The good can never really suffer; for goodness means the favour of God, whatever outward circumstances may be; and God’s favour is the pearl of great price.”


Job’s Reaction. Such are the quick transitions of Job’s thoughts, as, on fire with resentment or longing or despair or anguish, or rapture, he flings his guesses at TRUTH against the ruthless reiteration of traditional beliefs, his friends’, or his own; a reiteration which deepens in intensity and pitilessness, as the dialog proceeds. He hardly ever challenges them outright; in his agony he is made to double hither and thither like the hunted creature he feels himself to be, till he flies for refuge “from man’s God to God’s God.” It is here we are aware of the supreme art of the poem, for even in the entire absence of action we do not call it dramatic, the author has taken the surest way to make us feel the triple contrast—the contrast between Job and his friends, between the more benignant (beneficial) and the more cruel forms that their orthodoxy (the orthodoxy of Psalm 37, be it noted) might take, and between the nervous shifting of Job’s emotions and the steady advance to the conception of God of which they could understand and know nothing. If, on the other hand, the author wished to show the wrestling of an individual soul, stricken down by some immense woe, with the beliefs in which he had been brought up, but which, like some ancient idol, only brought terror when men craved for comfort, how could he have done it better?


Speeches of Eliphaz and Jehovah. When we pass to Eliphaz, we are on a lower level of experience. Eliphaz has not made up his mind; he has three theories, none of which appears to satisfy him. Eliphaz understands Job’s agony as little as do the Friends. For a milder kind of suffering his suggestions might be, and are, well enough. And they take us further than most of the Psalmists had travelled. But if we are intended to imagine him addressing Job as Job lies on his dunghill, it is fit that no reply should be made to him. Job turns from the irrelevant youth with mute contempt. To turn from Eliphaz to the speeches of Jehovah is akin to turning from Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical sonnets to the noblest of his Odes. Here we have Hebrew nature poetry at its best and most characteristic. It is entirely different from the romantic and imaginative nature poetry of the West. Neither Keats nor Shelley nor perhaps Byron could have written a line of it. Its real strength lies in its descriptive powers and its controlling sense of the unseen.For the Hebrew poet vision is much more than feeling. To another great poet (in Psalm 104) the world is a vast storehouse of wonders, whose usefulness for the human race is its chief glory.

Here, however, not as in Psalm 104, the poet takes the opposite line; his eyes rest on all the elements in this varied world that man cannot use, nor even understand, and his thought trembles at at the hidden operations that cause the changes he sees. The result is a series of rhetorical questions (A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point, rather than to elicit an answer.) to which only one answer is possible, and which leave the mind half paralysed, as if the repeated shocks of suffering were to be overcome by a yet deeper shock, of helplessness in the presence of the unknown and unknowable. Yet is this psychologically true? Would the restless moods of Job, embittered by the heartlessness of his friends, irritated by the well-meant commonplaces of Eliphaz, have been calmed by his majestic summons to humility? The description, indeed, of Job as darkening counsel by words of no understanding seems either beside the mark, or cruelly unjust. We may be, indeed, intended to conclude that there is no answer to the question, “Why does the good man suffer?” but what are we intended to say, now, to the books central question, “What will the good man do under the test?” How does Jehovah in all this give His answer to Satan? Or are we intended to regard these addresses as an interlude, and, satisfied that Job has not renounced Him, find the real answer of Jehovah is His restoration of Job to more than his former prosperity?       


Religious Value. No thoughtful reader can fail to be aware that he is here dealing with one of the great poems of the world. It is the longest sustained poetical composition in the Hebrew canon; and it never sinks below the high level from which it starts. Its terse phrases, its illuminating metaphors and similes, and its brilliant descriptions refuse to be dislodged from the memory. Note especially the dream, Job 4:12—21; the peace of the good man,5:18—27; the disappointed caravan 6:15—20; the hostility of God 16:11—14; the misery of the outcasts, 24:5—11; the marvels of the heavens, 38:31—35.   


Job 38:31-35 Companion Bible (KJV)

31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?

32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?

33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?

34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?

35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?


Equally arresting is its penetrating ethical criticism; chapter 31 is the fullest exposition of Hebrew moral ideals that we possess. Even more surprising are its powers of psychological analysis, at first sight, Job’s moods seem to follow one another with with merely chaotic violence; closer study, however, indicates how each prepares for the next (note especially chapters 9 & 10).



13 He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me.

14 My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me.

15 They that dwell in mine house, and my maids, count me for a stranger: I am an alien in their sight.

16 I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I intreated him with my mouth.

17 My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children's sake of mine own body.

18 Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me.

19 All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me.

20 My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.

21 Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.

22 Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?

23 Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book!

24 That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!

25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh [spiritual body] shall I see God:

27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.

28 But ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?

29 Be ye afraid of the sword: for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.


The very nature of the subject suggests that there will be but little positive religious teaching. However, when the reader looks deeper, especially if he too has known suffering at all like Job’s, he will find how much positive teaching and inspiration is to be found, especially in the speeches of Job himself. The question, “How will a good man act, and what should he think, when he is tested by suffering?” is one which most serious people will face at some time or other. In the first place suffering is felt, throughout the book, to be in direct relation to God—the impulse to hide ourselves in the dark when in pain, or the superstition, perhaps derived from Hebrew “orthodoxy,”

1.      to think of God as angry with us receives here its death blow.

2.      Secondly, Job’s resolve never to deceive himself, to face the worst, and even “to tell God what he thinks of Him,” is not only a challenge to courage; it is the preparation for intellectual illumination.

3.      Thirdly, no one can read the book sympathetically without without becoming infected by Job’s faith, that even though both nature and experience “shriek against His creed,” there is a reason and a purpose and an ultimate vindication of justice and goodness in things.

There is a world of difference between the Greek and Hebrew outlook on God and the world. The Greek is pessimistic; the Hebrew is not. What he is can be seen by a comparison with Jeremiah. Jeremiah too comes perilously close to what respectability would deem blasphemous. But to both what seemed neglect, injustice, or positive tyranny became, “a sting that bids not sit, nor stand, but go.” If there was hidden from both the Truth of the redemptive transformation of suffering, as is learned in Isaiah 53, we see in Job the wrestler who cries out to his terrible antagonist, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” The dialogue ends, it is true, on a note of interrogation; but it is an interrogation that prepares the way for Romans 8 and John 17.

Immortality, as the Christian understands it, is hidden from the eyes of the writer; but no-one can rightly understand or value that crown of TRUTH unless in some way he has been forced, step by step, as was Job, to look beyond the tragedy of this earthly existence to the eternal life which is rooted in communion with God.   

The book can no more be called an autobiography than it can be called history; but few will doubt that the author has dramatized questions and agonies of his own; and when we touch that brave spirit, we touch also the captain of those who, without us, shall not be made complete.


Hebrews 2:10 For it became Him, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Companion Bible KJV



A lengthened account of the discussion of these questions would be without profit.

But, if Job was the son of Issachar {Gen 46:13}, then we have a clue that may help us to a decision of both. Genesis 46:13 And the sons of Issachar; Tola, and Phuvah, and Job, and Shimron.

It is better to keep within the Bible itself for the settlement of its problems; and to treat the whole Book as the context of all its parts.

There is no reason why Job should not be the son of Issachar, and no better evidence is forthcoming for a different view.

The three friends of Job were descendants of Esau; they would therefore be contemporaries.


ELIPHAZ,. of Teman, in Idumea, was a son of Esau, and had a son called Teman, from whom his country took its name {Gen 36:10-11}. It was noted for its "wise men" {Jer 49:7}; and is mentioned with Edom {Amos 1:11-12}. Compare {Jer 25:23}, where both are connected with Buz, the brother of Uz.  Genesis 22:21 Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram,


BILDAD the Shuhite. Shuah was the sixth son of Abraham by Keturah. Genesis 25:2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.

 and is mentioned in connection with Esau, Edom, and Teman. Jeremiah 49:8 Flee ye, turn back, dwell deep, O inhabitants of Dedan; for I will bring the calamity of Esau upon him, the time that I will visit him.


ZOPHAR the Naamathite. Naamah (now Nă*aneh, six miles south of Lod, in the lowlands of Judah).


If Job was the son of Issachar, he would have gone down to Egypt with his father. Genesis 46:13 And the sons of Issachar; Tola, and Phuvah, and Job, and Shimron.


Issachar was forty at "the going down to Egypt". (See Ap. 50. III, p. 52.)


If Job was the third son { }, he would have been about twenty at that time (1706 b.c.). Genesis 46:13 And the sons of Issachar; Tola, and Phuvah, and Job, and Shimron.


We are told that he lived 140 years after his "double" blessing {Job 42:10}. If that "double" blessing included length of years, then his age would have been 70+ 140=210 (i.e. three seventies of years). His lifetime would be from 1726-1516 b.c.

Job 42:10 And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.

According to this, he was born the year after Joseph was sold, and died 119 years after the death of Joseph (in 1635 B. c.). When Joseph died, Job was ninety-one. If his "double" blessing did include length of years, then his affliction took place twenty-one years previously, when he was seventy. His removal from Egypt to Uz must therefore have taken place earlier still.


When Job died (1516 b.c.) Moses was fifty-five, and had been in Midian fifteen years (twenty-five years before the Exodus).


This would account for Job being a worshipper of the God of Abraham, and explains how Moses could have been the author of the book, and perhaps an eye- and ear-witness of the events it records in Midian. If so, the time has come (as Dr. Stier foretold and hoped in The Words of the Lord Jesus. Vol. iv, p. 406.) when this book would be regarded as "the Porch of the Sanctuary"; and when this "fundamental wisdom of original revelation will cease to be ascribed, as it now is by some of the best, to a later poet in Israel".


The story of Job’s testing, in five scenes:

1.      Job’s piety and wealth.

2.      Satan’s first suggestion to Jehovah.

3.      It’s failure.

4.      Satan’s second suggestion to Jehovah,

5.      Its failure.

 The whole is a skilful combination of terseness and subtlety, proving that real goodness is far superior to anything Satan can effect.