Tim J. Davy. The Book of Job and the Mission of God: A Missional Reading. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2020. Paperback. 258pp. $31.00.
Biblical theologians have traditionally paid little attention to the book of Job, because it does not fit into the salvation narrative of the Bible. Tim Davy demonstrates that this also holds true for missional syntheses of Scripture and seeks to remedy this shortcoming. The Book of Job and the Mission of God is a revision of Davy’s PhD dissertation written under Gordon McConville at the University of Gloucestershire. The book’s thesis is that Job’s protest is missionally significant insofar as the book “speaks to and for all humanity,” a quote from Marvin Pope that appears throughout the book. He understands Job as a representative of all people who suffer without just cause, regardless of their covenantal status. This is Israel’s perspective on the world’s problem of unattributed suffering, so it is missional in the sense that it provides a Yahwistic approach to this universal predicament.
Davy’s book contains seven chapters, the first and the last being an introduction and conclusion. Chapter 2 surveys “Bible and Mission Scholarship,” arguing that this line of study has focused on the salvation narrative in Pentateuch, Psalms, and Prophets and excluded books like Job because they do not address the storyline of Israel. Davy’s observation is an old critique of biblical theology, of which missional theology appears, in this work, to be a subset. He rightly exposes the insufficiency of canonical description of mission that neglects marginal books like Job.
Chapter 3 introduces readers to missional hermeneutics and the missio Dei as the focal point of the biblical text. Davy accesses scholarship on missional hermeneutics to address the book of Job without offering a challenge to the missional approach. Along the way, Davy addresses introductory issues such as Job’s date and setting but does not depart from a majority view, placing the book in the late exilic or Persian period. Throughout the book, he relies heavily on standard commentaries (e.g., Hartley, Clines, Newsom, Balentine). Davy’s main contribution is bringing together a close reading of Job with the missional question of how the book of Job intends to shape its audience for participating in the mission of God.
In Chapter 4, Davy demonstrates the international flavor of the book of Job. The most obvious indicator is that Job and his friends are explicitly non-Israelites. Although the book of Job has its origins and original audience in Israel, it has a universal horizon, addressing the human experience of suffering. Davy’s strongest argument for Job and mission is his interpretation of Job 1:9, where the accuser questions the possibility of genuine piety. Davy explains that according to the missio Dei, God seeks to restore an integral relationship between God and humanity. The accuser in 1:9 interrogates the authenticity of this relationship, accusing Job of self-interested piety and charging God with overprotection. God sets aside retribution in the trial of Job so that genuine piety may be proved. Job’s relationship with God is paradigmatic, so that the book of Job serves to question and verify the missional goal of reconciliation between God and humanity.
Chapter 5 compares the book of Job to ancient Near Eastern parallels. Davy describes several texts and concludes that the author of Job seeks an international hearing or is at least in conversation with non-Israelite texts. The primary missional contribution of this exercise is to assert a monotheistic approach to human suffering. The book of Job is therefore “a gift of Israel to the world, for whose benefit they were called by God” (160). In my view, Davy is hard-pressed to argue that Job is a polemic against ANE texts or that it would have been known outside of Israel. However, Job certainly has been a gift to the world in subsequent generations and has a hearing in present-day cultures outside of faith communities.
Davy’s final chapter argues that Joban texts on poverty demonstrate the centrality of this issue for mission. In some ways, this chapter seems to be an aside, but it is an important example of how the book of Job speaks “to and for all humanity.” Job protests the plight of the poor as one who suffers with them. Through a close reading of the particular texts on poverty and injustice, Davy shows the missional potential of protest directed toward God.
Although Davy’s book reads like a dissertation with a review of literature and redundant summaries of the contents of various parts of the book, it is accessible and on point. There are occasional Hebrew words in Hebrew script left untranslated, but the vast majority of the book does not require the reader to know Hebrew. The contribution of the book is primarily the bridging of missional hermeneutics and the text of Job, rather than advancing these particular fields of study.
Davy rightly avoids pressing Job into the storyline of Israel. He also gives the entire book of Job its due, accounting for the dialogue and divine speeches in addition to the narrative frame. This prompts him to grapple with the darker notes of the book of Job and to suggest that protest, so prevalent in Job’s speeches, has an important place in the mission of God. Davy’s work is to be commended for investigating the margins of the biblical text and shining a spotlight on innocent sufferers as central to God’s mission. It is tempting to treat the book of Job as simply a thought experiment or a philosophical puzzle. Davy helpfully demonstrates that the book has a purpose beyond itself as a book of mission, even if it is as a text that probes the sufficiency of Israel’s story to explain unjust suffering.
Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Harding School of Theology
Memphis, TN, USA