Job Challenges God by Suing: God Responds

When Job questions God, Edward L. Greenstein finds precedence in Near Eastern legal texts

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in April 2012. It has been updated.—Ed.

The Prophet Job. Photo: Nicola Lorusso.

After losing his health, wealth and children in inexplicable tragedies, the righteous and devout man Job questions God as to what he must have done to deserve such a heavy punishment. When he can think of nothing else, Job challenges God by suing God to provide evidence of his wrongdoing. Image: Alinari/Art Resource, NY.

Suing God. To most it would seem an absurd notion—but not to Job. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures.

The angel known as the Satan (Hebrew for “the adversary”), as told in the Book of Job, challenges God to test the devotion and piety of the righteous man Job. Job loses all of his worldly goods, his children and servants, as well as his health. Will he accept his fate or curse God?

Having been dealt such tremendous blows, Job and his companions can only assume that he has committed a grave sin to deserve such punishment, but Job can think of nothing he has done wrong. So, Job questions God about his transgression—why all these bad things have happened to him. Receiving no answer from the deity, Job finally decides that his only recourse is suing God.

As explained by Edward L. Greenstein in his article “When Job Sued God” in the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Job understood the ancient legal system well. He knows that he cannot call witnesses in a lawsuit against God. So, lacking witness, he swears an exculpatory oath, as was standard in such legal cases in the ancient Near East. He swears to his own innocence and lists numerous wrongs that he has not committed. In doing so, Job challenges God to provide the evidence against him and prove his guilt.

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Finally, God responds. But in legal terms, he throws out Job’s case on a technicality. In his oath, Job claimed to know everything about God and how the universe works, so God reprimands him. Where was Job, questions God, when he laid the earth’s foundations? If Job is so wise, he must have been present at creation, God adds sarcastically.

Job has no reply. By suing God, Job gets an answer, even if it isn’t the one he wanted.


For more about how Job questions God and ends up suing God to get a response, read Edward L. Greenstein’s article “When Job Sued God” in the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Posted in Bible Interpretation, Bible Versions and Translations, Hebrew Bible, People in the Bible.

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  1. Glenn says

    This quote:
    “In his oath, Job claimed to know everything about God and how the universe works”

    What scripture is that referring to?

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