Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405
Context: Shakespeare was sure that the most illiterate of his audiences would understand the reference when Falstaff declared: "I am as poor as Job, but not so patient" (Henry IV, Part II: Act I, sc. ii, l. 145). And the much earlier James, writing to the Jews outside Palestine awaiting the promised coming of the Lord, could urge them to patience by reminding them of the Old Testament story, written between 900 and 500 B.C. Jehovah, boasting of His faithful servant, "the perfect and upright" Job, got the ironical comment from Satan that anyone as wealthy as Job would serve God. So God decided to test him. In a tribal raid, Job lost his five hundred oxen and five hundred she asses; a fire from heaven burned up his seven thousand sheep; the Chaldeans stole his three thousand camels; and his seven sons and three daughters perished when a hurricane blew down their house. But still Job commented: "Jehovah giveth and Jehovah taketh away. Blessed be the name of Jehovah." At Satan's remark that Job had not himself suffered, God covered his body with boils. Still he patiently accepted his lot with the thought that since God gives good, He can also give evil. The rest of the Book of Job consists of three rounds of arguments between Job and his three "Comforters," discussing why the just may suffer and the wicked flourish. Even God, from a cloud, takes part in the argument, pointing out Job's lack of sufficient knowledge to question God's acts. Then God rewards the long-suffering patriarch by giving him ten more children and twice as many possessions as he had lost. The unknown author of this Biblical book never answers the ethical question raised. Many critics believe its present form is imperfect, with some of the original missing, and with additions by later hands, but the poetry of many of Job's speeches is excellent. James must have known that the new Christians were familiar with the story, for he wrote:
Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.
Take, my brethern, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.