Webb, Barry G. Job. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2023. xx+499 pp.; Hb.; $48.99. Link to Lexham Press
Barry G. Webb serves as senior research fellow emeritus in Old Testament at Moore Theological College in Newtown, Australia. He wrote the NICOT volume on The Book of Judges (Eerdmans 2012). He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Judges under David Clines at Sheffield in the 1980s.
In his eighty-eight-page introduction, Webb observes that Job relies on the book of Proverbs, so it cannot have been before Hezekiah. Ezekiel 14:14-20 mentions Job (although this may not refer to the Book of Job), and Job 12 seems to allude to Psalm 107, implying an exilic or post-exilic date. He does not specify a date, suggesting a time after Solomon to the early post-exilic period. But in the context of Judah’s history, the story of Job may answer questions about the suffering of God’s faithful servants such as Josiah or Jeremiah. Since Webb thinks the Book of Job is a unified work, he does not consider the possibility that parts of the book use sources from various times. On the other hand, unlike other conservative commentaries on Job, he does not suggest any date for the story (the time of Abraham, for example).
The introduction also sets Job in a historical context. First, Webb describes the wisdom movement in ancient Israel, beginning with the need for sages as early as Solomon’s and Hezekiah’s reign and Zerubbabel’s post-exilic community. This is basically a history of Judah through the exile. Concerning the historicity of Job, Webb thinks that Job was an actual person “who experienced the kind of things described in the book” (15). However, the story and extensive dialogue is “more like a Shakespeare play than a straightforward historical writing” (15). Second, like most commentaries on Job, Webb compares Job to similar ancient Near Eastern works. Although interesting, he concludes that Job is not reworking an Egyptian or Mesopotamian book. The book “clearly participates in a much wider discussion of the issues of undeserved suffering in the ancient Near East” (19).
He does not find genre analysis helpful for interpreting the Book of Job. There are many genres or forms in the book. Generally, it belongs to the broad category of wisdom literature, and he is not satisfied with any recent alternatives. Concerning structure, he follows Francis Anderson (TOTC, 1976), who suggested a clear, symmetrical pattern that incorporates all sections. This means that the Elihu section is not a later addition. Webb also tracks the overall plot of the book as a unifying factor.
What is the Book of Job about? In his discussion of the book’s theme, Webb suggests the book addresses the fundamental question: “What is the essence of wisdom for human beings” (26). God makes wisdom available, but wisdom is relational and behavioral (as opposed to intellection knowledge). Job is introduced as a man who “fears God and turns away from evil. Overemphasis on the plot points, such as Satan and God in dialogue or even the suffering of the innocent, may distract from this theme. Near the end of the introduction, he suggests the book provides the kind of comfort people in Job-like circumstances need. “The writer of Job was an excellent pastor” (78).
Since one of the goals of this commentary series is to trace biblical and theological themes, a large section of the introduction consists of a biblical theology of wisdom. Webb defines wisdom as “God-given and is essentially practical and of great benefit to God’s people” (29). He traces the theme of biblical wisdom throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the Pentateuch and into the New Testament (Jesus is the wisdom of God, 1 Cor 1:24). Given the goals of the EBTC commentary series, he does not trace developments through intertestamental wisdom literature such as Sirach or the Wisdom of Solomon. Job contributes to this biblical theology of wisdom. Job is described as a model wise man “who fears God and shuns evil” (1:1). Job and his friends agree God is the source of wisdom, but the friends represent a traditional view that human wisdom is sufficient for understanding what is happening to Job. Job disagrees: his experience does not fit into the regular pattern of traditional wisdom. Is a protest against God’s treatment of us compatible with fearing him? Apparently, yes. Job complains, never accusing God of wrongdoing (45).
Webb traces other theological themes through the Book of Job, including God, creation, repentance, divine justice, revelation, redemption, mediation, Satan and the spiritual world, suffering, and comfort. On Satan and the spiritual world, Satan is prominent in the opening scenes, then fades from view after he fails to prod Job into cursing God. Satan is an adversary, but does this mean he has an official role, like a “secret police” pointing out disloyalty? Webb says this is unconvincing.
Each section of the commentary begins with the CSB translation of the unit. Webb sets the context and structure (an outline of the unit). Some units are quite large. Job 12-14 is a single unit. This means Webb’s exegesis cannot cover every verse or detail. For example, his comments on Job 12:10-25 are about one page of text. The commentary is based on the English text, sometimes supplemented by an occasional Hebrew word without transliteration. These should be easy enough for people to without Hebrew to skip over. There is nothing on textual variants, and he rarely addresses Hebrew syntax. Footnotes interact with secondary literature, making the body of the commentary easy to read. The final section of the commentary is section is entitled “Bridge.” Here, Webb suggests the significance of the unit and its application “for us today.” These are pastoral insights and often cross-canonical observations.
Conclusion: Barry Webb’s commentary on Job deals with larger theological problems of suffering by careful attention to the text. Although the commentary is not an exhaustive exegesis of the Hebrew text, Webb’s comments are clear and often challenging. This is a rare commentary which is a pleasure to read. This commentary will be an excellent guide for pastors and teachers as they work through the Book of Job.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Reviews of other Commentaries in this Series:
- David G. Firth, Joshua
- James M. Hamilton, Jr. Psalms (two volumes)
- Joe Sprinkle, Daniel
- Matthew S. Harmon, Galatians