In order to understand the Book of Job, it is very necessary to have some idea of the time in which Job lived. On this point very different and contradictory opinions have been entertained; though certainly the notion which has been at all times prevalent is, that his existence must be referred to the patriarchal age, or to the time between the birth of Abraham and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In this view we concur; and shall state the grounds on which it has been entertained. It may still, indeed, be difficult to ascertain the precise portion of that long period in which he lived, though we think there are means for a proximate conclusion; and this is all which in such a case can be considered necessary. In the marginal notes to the common English Bible, at the very commencement, there are marks of time together which remarkably contradict each other, although the contradiction seems to have escaped notice. The date of 1520 before Christ is given to Job’s trial; that is, thirty years before the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. The first marginal note, however, states “Moses is thought to have wrote the Book of Job while he was among the Midianites.” But Moses went among the Midianites forty years before the Exodus; and he must hence have been there ten years when Job underwent his affliction. There may be no essential objection to this; but it the end of the book it is recorded that Job lived 140 years after his affliction. If Moses, therefore, wrote the book at the latest possible moment before quitting the land of Midian, still he is by this computation made to record that which did not occur (the death of Job) until 110 years after his leaving the land of Midian; nor, indeed, until seventy years after his own death; for he died forty years after, at the age of 120. This oversight seems to have arisen from the feeling that while it was necessary to give to the trial of Job a date prior to the Exodus, it was also desirable that, supposing Moses to be the author, it should bear such a date as would allow him to be contemporary with the circumstances which he relates. It is shown, however, that if Moses was really the author of the book, Job’s trial must have taken place at least 140 years before he wrote it. And if, whoever wrote the book, the grounds be valid on which it is conceived, from internal evidence, that the discussion connected with Job’s trial must have taken place before the establishment of the Mosaic institutions and before the Exodus, it is certain that it must have been at least 140 years before these events; for Job, who so long survived his trial, was already dead when the book was written. This, therefore, constitutes the lowest date for the time of Job, on the supposition that the discussion which forms its substance was held before the Israelites departed from Egypt; for if at all before that event, it must have been not less than 140 years before. And even this low date goes on the notion that the book was written immediately after death; and as it is by no means needful to insist on this, we are at liberty to go back so much into a remoter period as circumstances may require.
That Job lived before the departure of the Israelites from the house of their bondage in Egypt, is deduced from the fact that there is not throughout the book any direct allusion either to that remarkable event, or to the series of wonders that accompanied it, or to the journey to the land of Canaan. This silence, it is alleged, is unaccountable but on the supposition that the disputants lived before it occurred. For it would have furnished the most striking illustration to be found in history of the Lord’s interposition for the deliverance of those who trusted in him, and for the punishment of wrong-doers; and was, therefore, exactly such an illustration as Job and his friends needed, and such as they could not fail to have adduced in support of their views had it been known to them. This event is the great storehouse of argument and illustration for the sacred writers after its occurrence; and its absence in this book, where it would have lain in the direct course of the argument, is most strange and unaccountable on any other hypothesis.
Job, at the time of his affliction, had children grown up and settled in their houses a good while; he also speaks of his youth as a time long past; indeed, no one supposes he was other than a man of mature years, bordering on what would be regarded as old age now. Suppose, however, that he was not more than forty; as he lived 140 years afterwards, this would make his age at the time of his death to be no less than 180 years. This is an important element for an approximate determination of the age in which he lived. The duration of man’s life underwent a gradual decline, the steps of which we are enabled clearly to trace through the years assigned to the postdiluvian patriarchs. Let us set down a few numbers in the line of Eber to make this plain—
By this it will appear probable that Job belonged to the age in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob flourished; and it may be inferred, that although he may have been a little earlier than Abraham, he could not well have been later than Jacob. Many, indeed, contend for the earlier date, and urge that the discussion between Job and his friends must have taken place before the destruction of Sodom and the other cities of the plain; because that great convulsion and overthrow must have been known far and wide throughout this region, must have excited the most profound attention, and was far too pertinent to the argument not to be cited. We are not so sure of this. It stands on different ground from the silence respecting the Exodus of the Israelites; and, in fact, being a matter in which the chosen race had no direct concern, it is but rarely alluded to by the sacred writers. Nevertheless, it may be taken among other proofs for the early date of Job’s existence; and there can be little difficulty in placing his trial before that event; for the considerations which tend to make him the contemporary of Isaac and Jacob, will, for the most part, apply as well to a somewhat earlier, though not to a later date.
Let it also be noted, that the manners and customs described in this book entirely correspond to those of the age of the Hebrew patriarchs as described in the Book of Genesis, and the religion of Job was the same as theirs—without any allusion to the rites and observances of the Jewish system as established in the wilderness under Moses. It is a religion of sacrifices, but without any officiating priest; Job himself, as the head of the family, presents the offering on behalf of his children and his friends. Note: Job_1:5; Job_42:8. Job’s riches, like those of the Hebrew patriarchs, are reckoned by cattle; and it is worthy of notice that the cattle are the same kinds as those given in the account of Abraham’s wealth, Note: Gen_12:16. with the same remarkable absence of horses and mules. The daughters, also, of Job received an inheritance among their brethren, which was not the custom of later years. The most ancient kind of writing, by sculpture, is also mentioned by Job. It is, moreover, a circumstance of great importance that the only species of idolatry alluded to in the book is Sabeism, or the worship of the heavenly bodies, which is universally allowed to be the most ancient of all idolatries; and not only is this alone mentioned, but it seems to be noticed as a recent innovation, then still liable to judicial punishment. To this we may add, that a very ingenious attempt has been made to fix the date of Job’s trial by astronomical calculation, founded upon the mention of the constellations Chimah and Chesil in Job_9:9; Job_38:31-32. These are supposed to have been Taurus and Scorpio, of which the principal stars are Aldebaran, the Bull’s Eye; and Antares, the Scorpion’s Heart. These were the cardinal constellations of Spring and Autumn in Job’s time; knowing, therefore, the longitude of these stars, and calculating from the precession of the equinoxes, Dr. Hales, assisted by the calculations of the late Bishop Brinkley, finds that this would carry us back to 2176 B.C., 184 years before the birth of Abraham, for the time when Taurus was the cardinal constellation of Spring and Scorpio of Autumn. On the same datum, however, two learned Frenchmen, Gouget and Decoutant, had long before given the date of 2136 B.C. These decisions, however, although coming with the authority of scientific decisions, are not implicit, as these constellations must for several years have been the leaders of the Spring and Autumn; and it is, after all, far from absolutely certain that Chimah and Chesil are the same as the constellations Taurus and Scorpio.