Was Job a Real Person?
In a single day, the patriarch Job lost all ten of his children, all of his livestock, and many of his servants. In chapter 1 of the book of Job, we learn that as one of Job’s servants was telling him about a group of raiders (the Sabeans) that had stolen all of his oxen and donkeys and killed all the servants tending to the animals (save him), another servant arrived even as the first “was still speaking.” This second servant told Job that a fire fell down from heaven and consumed his sheep and servants. Again, while this servant was talking, a third servant came and related to Job that another group of invaders (the Chaldeans) had stolen all of his camels and had killed all of the servants except him. Finally, while this third servant was talking, a fourth servant came and bore even worse news—Job’s ten children had all perished when a great wind struck the house and caused it to crush them. His seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, very large household, and ten children were all gone “in the blink of an eye.” And as if being stripped of his worldly possessions and children were not enough, Job’s body then became diseased from head to toe, his wife urged him to “curse God and die,” and the comforting counsel of his “friends” quickly gave way to judgmental accusations.
Based upon the extent of the physical destruction and mental suffering mentioned above, and upon the limited time frame in which it all occurred, some critics tend to doubt that Job was a real person. Rather, they think he simply was fabricated to teach a lesson about human suffering. Perhaps, they say, he is to be valued like such parabolic figures as the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), or the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), but not like those who actually lived and died upon the Earth.
If Job were not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible apart from for the book that bears his name, those who claim he was not a real person might be able to argue their position more confidently. But the fact is, Job is mentioned in three different verses in Scripture (outside the book of Job), and in all three passages he is considered a real, historical figure.
The first two places his name is found (aside from the book of Job) is in Ezekiel 14, verses 14 and 20. In verse 14, the prophet stated: “Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness, says the Lord God.” Verse 20 is worded nearly the same way: “[E]ven though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, says the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.” Ezekiel’s point in both verses was that the ungodly conditions in the land were such that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job lived in that city, no one else would be saved. Ezekiel spoke of all three of these men as being real, historical people, not legendary characters. If one recognizes Noah and Daniel as being real people of history, then there is no reason to think otherwise about Job.
The last place the suffering patriarch is mentioned in Scripture (and the only time he is mentioned in the New Testament) is found in the latter part of the book of James. In 5:10-11 we read: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” Obviously, James was not writing through inspiration about an imaginary person. Rather, he considered Job as real as Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and as genuine as the Lord Himself.
Finally, that Job was a real person is stated explicitly by God within the book of Job itself. In his second “speech” to Job, God declared that the mighty behemoth was “made along with you” (40:15, emp. added). If Job were just a fairy tale-like character, God certainly would not have spoken as having “made” him.
Although admittedly much about Job remains a mystery (his race, exactly when he lived, who wrote the book that bears his name, where the Land of Uz was located, etc.), we can know that he was a real person who suffered in every way like you and me, and yet remained faithful to his God. Knowing that Job persevered through all his trials and tribulations gives us hope that we can do the same when similar trials come our way (James 1:2-4; 5:10-11).