Q: We recently studied the book of Job in Sabbath school, and our class was wondering: Was Job a real person, and did his story actually happen or is it just a metaphorical story to teach people about suffering? — Bahati, from the Democratic Republic of Congo
A: Bahati, first of all, I’m glad that you are attending Sabbath School and that your class is studying the Adult Bible Study Guides that are carefully prepared each quarter for use in Sabbath school classes around the world.
For those who may not have access to the printed Adult Bible Study Guides, they are available (in English, Easy English, and Spanish) free online at www.absg.adventist.org. The Adult Bible Study Guides is also available free in many other languages at www.sabbathschoolpersonalministries.org/international. In addition, the Sabbath school app is available for iPhones, iPads and Androids at: www.sabbathschoolpersonalministries.org/page-67. I encourage everyone to download these wonderful lessons and study with the world church each week!
Regarding your specific question about Job, there are a number of ways that we can know that he was a real person and that his story is true. First, it is recorded in the Bible, and the Bible is a book of fact, not fiction. Every word is true (see Psalm 119:160; John 17:17).
Secondly, while we do have symbolism in the Bible, particularly in prophecy, such as in the books of Daniel and Revelation, the Bible gives us clear indications when something is symbolic. For example, the strange looking beasts described in the prophetic books don’t actually exist — they are clearly symbolic. In His teachings, Jesus sometimes described Himself in a symbolic way — as a door (John 10:9) or as bread (John 6:35). John the Baptist symbolically identified Him as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).
On the other hand, the book of Job gives no indication that it is anything other than literal. Chapter 1 begins: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East” (Job 1:1-3).
Job lived in a real place — the land of Uz. His children — seven sons and three daughters, were born. His livestock are real animals — thousands of sheep and camels, hundreds of oxen and donkeys. His wife, friends, God, the angels, and Satan are all real. The storms, tragedies, and physical suffering are real. And in the end, his restoration is real.
Ellen White describes it this way:
“Job is brought before us as a man whom the Lord permitted Satan to afflict. The enemy stripped him of all he possessed; his family ties were broken; his children were taken from him. For a time his body was covered with loathsome sores, and he suffered greatly. His friends tried to make him see that he was responsible, by his sinful course, for all his afflictions. But he denied the charge, declaring, ‘Miserable comforters are ye all.’ By seeking to prove Job guilty before God, and deserving of punishment, his friends brought a grievous test upon him, and placed God in a false light; but Job did not swerve from his loyalty; and God rewarded his faithful servant” (Present Truth (UK), June 1, 1899).
And in the Review and Herald, she wrote:
“Job endured the test; he proved true to God. And after his trial, his blessings were manifold. The prosperity that attended the closing years of his life gave the enemy no opportunity to exult over the former misfortunes of God’s faithful servant (Review and Herald, August 16, 1906, Art. B).
Clearly, Ellen White considered Job to be a real person who actually went through the incredible trials detailed in the book of Job.
Finally, God Himself indicates Job was an actual person, listing him with two other faithful biblical heroes in this well-known text in the book of Ezekiel: “‘Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,’ says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 14:14, NKJV).
While the story and person of Job are real, the book is far more than just a narrative of what happened to one man. It is a microcosm of the great controversy, as it reveals to us the very real struggle going on between cosmic forces — God, seeking to save, and Satan, determined to destroy — and the victorious outcome for those who remain faithful and who will declare, like Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15, NKJV).