The Book of Job consists of five parts: (1) a prologue setting the story in motion; (2) a series of dialogues between Job and three of his friends; (3) several speeches by a young man named Elihu, who eavesdropped on the dialogues and wants to give his own commentary; (4) God’s speeches; and (5) a short epilogue wrapping up the narrative elements of the story.

In the prose prologue (chapters 1–2), God tells the Satan that no one is as virtuous as his loyal servant Job, the man from Uz. The Satan, however, points out that goodness and piety are all too easy for someone like Job, who has a large family and incomparable wealth. “But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has,” the Satan predicts, “and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11).

God agrees to the test, but stipulates that the Satan must not harm Job himself. Shortly, Job loses his possessions, his servants are killed, and his seven sons and three daughters perish when a house collapses on them. Through all this, Job remains steadfast, saying, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Once again, the Satan appears before God, contending that since Job owes his life to God, his faithfulness is merely part of a bargain: Job gets existence, God gets devotion. “But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face,” says the Satan (Job 2:5). God agrees to this second test as well, but orders Satan to spare Job’s life. Satan then afflicts Job with painful skin ulcers; Job is forced to sit among the ashes scraping himself with a pottery sherd. Even Job’s wife, his last source of comfort, advises him to “Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). But Job responds, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10).

Three of Job’s friends then arrive; they sit with Job for seven days and nights. After this period, Job curses his life and expresses his longing for death (Job 3).

Now begin the dialogues (chapters 4–31), which consist of three cycles of speeches: The three friends address speeches to Job, who responds to each in turn. These dialogues, along with the speeches by Elihu (chapter 32–37) and God (chapters 38–42), are written in verse and make up the bulk of the Book of Job: They form a body of complex, nuanced dissertations on the nature of evil and on the relation of man to God.

The friends argue that Job must be guilty of something, even if it is only boasting of his innocence. To ward off his misfortune, they advise, he should repent and beg for God’s forgiveness. Such a course would be better than to insist on the injustice of his fate, which has already incurred God’s wrath by accusing Him of arbitrary persecution. In response, Job complains that his friends judge him too harshly, that he is indeed innocent and being punished without cause. Perhaps more important, Job points out that his friends are wrong: It isn’t true that good is rewarded and evil punished, for “the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power…[A]nd no rod of God is upon them” (Job 21:7–9).

The dialogues are inconclusive. A young man, Elihu, after apologizing for his inexperience, proceeds to speak; he chastises Job for being overly self-righteous and the friends for failing to convince Job of his errors.

But as Elihu, too, is unable to resolve the dispute, God begins to speak from a whirlwind. God’s message is simple: He is the Creator, the maker of the universe. Why does Job—who knows nothing of “the foundation of the earth,” the gestation period of wild goats, the mystery of storms and constellations—speak in ignorance? Job, humbled, confesses his inadequacy, recognizes God’s omnipotence and vows to remain silent (Job 40:4–5, 42:2–6).

In the prose epilogue, God reprimands the friends for not speaking rightly of Him, as Job has done. God then restores Job’s fortunes, giving him twice as much as he had originally. Job reestablishes relations with his relatives, who scorned him in his misery, and has another seven sons and three daughters. After this, Job lives 140 years, seeing the fourth generation of his grandchildren and dying peacefully in old age.