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Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.

The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.

 

Sunday, September 1

Job 12: Job now begins a speech that, aside from his final soliloquy in the book, is his longest (12:1Ń14:22). Having just received a blast of sarcasm from Zophar, and now aware that all three of his friends are against him, Job himself takes up the weapon of sarcasm, and to great effect. He already knew, after all, everything that his friends have told him. Indeed, much of it was of the commonest knowledge. Though he had looked to his friends for insight, they provided only truisms and platitudes. Unlike his friends, Job knows there is a mystery involved in his sufferings, and he endeavors to identify it. Tell me something new, he says, not things we all already know and are already agreed upon. Anyone with eyes in his head, Job argues, can see that the wicked sometimes really do prosper (verse 6)). Might it not also be the case that the just sometimes really do suffer? Of course, God governs the world and all things, including the destinies of men (verse 10), but if the prosperity of the wicked is compatible with the governance of God, might not the suffering of the just also be consonant with the governance of God? Who among men has so clear an understanding of God that God is reduced simply to a component in a theory of justice? These matters are not to be rashly concluded. They should, rather, be tested and probed, much as the ear of a writer tries various words, and the mouth of the cook tests various recipes (verse 11). Indeed, the entire Book of Job, approaching the mystery of GodŐs justice and providence, is an example and illustration of this sort of testing. Those who would speak for God, especially if they speak to a man who is suffering, should not pretend that they really see things as God does. This has been the offense of JobŐs friends. They imagine themselves to speak for the Almighty, but in fact they are only trying words and testing recipes. Nothing more. God will overthrow their theories (verse 20), bringing deep things out of darkness (verse 22). Left to their own lights, men grope about in this darkness (verses 24-25). In this respect, JobŐs friends are no better off than he. The difference between the two cases is not a matter of wisdom, any more than it is a matter of justice. The difference between them and Job is that Job is suffering, while they are "at ease" (verse 5). They have been using this advantage solely to pass judgment on a suffering human being, who differs from them only by the fact that he is suffering. This is a great moral offense.

Monday, September 2

Job 13: Has Eliphaz experienced God? (4:8; 5:3,27) Well, so has Job (13:1f). Indeed, throughout these discussions Job is the only person who has actually addressed God. JobŐs three friends have set themselves to speak for God, but it is significant that not one of them has yet spoken to God. Job, in contrast, has never tried to speak for God. It is God Himself that Job would address (13:3). He wants to "reason with" God, not reason about God. And all the reasoning about God, with which his friends have been occupied, says Job, is a pack of lies (13:4). Unable to perceive that the ways of God are mysterious and inscrutable, they have succeeded only in elaborating a moral theory that discredits the Almighty by denying the subtlety of the divine wisdom. They themselves would display more wisdom if they simply kept quiet (13:5). Such a silence would at least keep them from speaking "wickedly for God" (13:7). Verses 6-11 begin with the plural form of the Deuteronomic "Hear!" (also in verse 17) and go on to ask a series of questions, each line of which begins with the Hebrew interrogative prefix ha. Job thus beats back his critics with a chain of unanswerable questions. In verse 14 he begins his "reasoning with" God, which consists in the "pleadings" of his lips (cf. verse 6). These pleadings are a combination of questions and prayers in which his deepest soul and most languished longings are laid bare before the Almighty. JobŐs trust in God will never be destroyed, he declares (verse 15), for God is his "salvation" (Yoshuah = Jesus). Job is urgently concerned for his standing in GodŐs own eyes. Indeed, this is his sole concern. He wants nothing more than to be pleasing to God. Unlike his friends, Job knows, in an absolute sort of way, that more is happening than meets the eye. In this were not the case, he is sure, his sufferings would be senseless. If these sufferings cannot be interpreted as a divine punishment, then what do they mean? Job is feeling his way tentatively toward what we have called the BibleŐs apocalyptic principle, according to which "more is happening than seems to be happening." In the "pleadings" of this chapter, JobŐs mind is faced with a blank wall with no cracks through which he might see the reality just on the other side of his pain. This pain of the yearning, questioning heart is far sharper than the afflictions in his flesh.

Tuesday, September 3

Job 14: This chapter has a dialectical structure. From an individual lament, in which Job listens to his personal pain and the longings of his own heart, he turns to a general reflection about what is today called "the human situation" (as distinct from "my situation"). He reflects on the short and troubled life of "man" (adam) born of a "woman" (ishsha). The very measuring of manŐs time on earth, the determined numbering of his allotted days, is for Job the symbol and reminder of the larger and more encompassing limitations that mark his existence (verse 5). A tree, in fact, is harder to kill than a man, because of the depth of its root. The unfeeling tree, which has never reflected on its existence at all, may yet find the resources to go on living, even though it is cut off at ground level: "There is hope for the tree" (yesh laÔets). Man, in contrast, once he is buried in the earth, simply disappears. If "man" is considered abstractly, at least Ń that is, regarded from outside Ń this seems to be the case (verses 6-12). At this point, however, Job stops looking at man from outside and begins once again to inspect the impulses of his own heart, touching on an underlying preoccupation of his mind; that is, his natural aspiration for an afterlife and his innate suspicion, spawned of a hope (that seems native to his heart) that God will not disappoint that suspicion: "Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, . . . You shall call, and I will answer You" (verses 13,15). Even as he lies in his grave, Job will await the summoning voice of God. Will God remember him? Will he hear that voice, "Lazarus, come forth"? With all his heart, Job longs for that day and the vindication of that hope. This hope of JobŐs, however, is organic to his experience, inseparable from the deeper impulses of his life. When he starts once again (in verse 18) to reflect on it abstractly and argue the point dialectically, he cannot justify this hope to his critical mind. Born solely from a perception, this hope cannot yet survive dissection, so the end of the chapter finds Job falling yet once more into despondency. Indeed, he seems to lose here even the meager expectation of the worldly man; namely, that he may life on in his children (verse 21). In any case, Job no longer has any children. Behold the dilemma of JobŐs mind. If he consults solely the personal impulses of his soul, Job knows that he loves God and strongly suspects that God loves him, but once he begins to regard human existence in the detached abstraction of critical thought, death appears as the very end, and all manŐs hope is doomed (verse 19). One suspects that Job, if he had died at this point in the story, would have finished his life begging, like Goethe, "More Light!"

Wednesday, September 4

Job 15: With this chapter we start the second cycle of speeches, Eliphaz again speaking first. (He seems to be the eldest present; cf. verse 10). In his former discourse (Chapters 4-5) Eliphaz had shown respect and even a measure of sympathy for suffering Job, treating him as a basically righteous man who had somehow incurred the divine wrath by some unknown offense. He had exhorted Job to examine his conscience more carefully, to discern what the offense might have been, and to repent of it. That simple attitude of sympathy and concern, however, is no longer possible, because Eliphaz has repeatedly listened to Job profess his innocence of any such offense. Since that first speech of Eliphaz, Job has altered the very suppositions of their discourse by separating his sufferings from any simple concepts of either justice or wisdom. By emphatically denying a purely moral causality with respect to his afflictions, it seems to Eliphaz, Job has menaced the moral structure the world, and Eliphaz now responds with both aggression and, in the closing verses of the chapter, a tone of threat. Is Job older than Adam, he asks, or as old as wisdom itself (verse 7; cf. Proverbs 8:25), that he should be engaged in such dangerous speculations about the hidden purposes of God? The irony, of course, is that Job is the only one whose discourse manifests even a shred of intellectual humility. He has never, like Eliphaz (4:12-21), claimed to discern the divine mind. Yet, it is true that Job has probed the matter of suffering more deeply, driven by his distress. Job has sensed that something mysterious is at play in the sad fortunes of his recent life, something hinted at in EliphazŐs own expression, "the secret counsel of God" (verse 8). Job himself will later use this identical expression, sod Eloah, to describe his friendship with God in the earlier part of his life (29:4). In the first two chapters of this book, we readers were given a glimpse into that secret counsel of God. GodŐs "secret counsel" is the essence of His mysterious intervention in human history (Ephesians 3:9), including the individual lives of His loyal servants (Romans 8:28). JobŐs sustained probing after that secret counsel is what offends Eliphaz, the older man who considers such investigation a symptom of arrogance (verses 9,12-13). There is nothing "hidden" going on, Eliphaz declares (verse 18); the moral structure of human existence, including the principle of inevitable retribution, has long been plain to human understanding (verses 20-35), so Job is getting only what he deserves.

Thursday, September 5

Job 16: Job must now answer that scathing indictment of Eliphaz. His response, which generally takes the form of lament and complaint, contains some of the most memorable and moving verses of the book, his appeal to the heavenly Witness of his sufferings. Just exchange souls (nephesh, as in Genesis 2:8) with me, he tells them (the "you" here being plural), and you will understand (verse 4). I would not treat you as you are treating me (verse 5). But God has handed him over to the reproaches of these ungodly men (verses 10-11), inexplicably afflicting him with every manner of suffering (verses 12-17). (This text is one of those that best indicate why the Eastern Orthodox Church reads the Book of Job during Holy Week.) But suddenly, in the midst of this lament, Job appeals to God to bear witness to this terrible taking of his innocent life. Using terms reminiscent of the unjustly slain Abel, he tells the earth not to cover the innocent blood that cries to heaven with "pure prayer" (verses 17-18; cf. Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 26:21; Ezechiel 24:8; Hebrews 12:24). And who in heaven will hear that cry? The Witness, the very God in whom Job has ever placed his trust (verse 19). Let men on earth say what they will; Job appeals on high. As the chapter ends, Job seems resolved to die without understanding what terrible thing has transpired to make him die in such misery of soul and body. But God is his Witness; God will see, and he leaves the case to God.

Friday, September 6

Job 17: If there is one sure general characteristic of death in the Old Testament, it is deathŐs separation of a man from the knowledge, remembrance, and praise of God. King Hezechiah, after his own very close encounter with the grave, commented that what he feared most about death was its concomitant exclusion from the praise of God (Isaiah 38:18). "For in death there is no remembrance of You," lamented David, "In the grave who will give You thanks?" (Psalms 6:5) And the sons of Korah mourned, "Shall Your loving kindness be declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?" (88 [87]:11-12) Always that same rhetorical question: "Who shall praise the Most High in the grave?" (Sirach 17:27) "What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your truth?" (Psalms 30 [29]:9) It was the common doctrine of the Old Testament that "the dead who are in the graves, whose souls are taken from their bodies, will give unto the Lord neither praise nor righteousness" (Baruch 2:17). It is in the Book of Job, as we shall see in due course, that this perspective of deathŐs finality is most forcefully challenged. Still, the notion of an "afterlife with God," following death, is entirely alien to the Old Testament. (Indeed, it is also alien to the New Testament, unless one has died in the faith of Christ. It is Christ alone who delivers man from death, including the saints of the Old Testament.) This Old Testament kind of death, then, is what Job is facing in the present chapter. He is staring at deathŐs approach, his entrance into "the land of forgetfulness," his final separation from the One whom he has loved and trusted all his life, and he is doing so with no sense of GodŐs presence or His favor. The dark words of this chapter, nonetheless, will not be JobŐs last comment on the subject of death and corruption.

Saturday, September 7

Job 18: Bildad, in his second speech, abandons even the scant sympathy expressed in his first. He further rehearses, rather, his simplistic and illogical claim that all human suffering can be reduced to the inevitable consequence of the sins of the one who suffers. This theory more closely resembles the Hindu "Law of Karma" and the Buddhist "Chain of Causation" than it does anything taught by the Bible. Moreover, in its emphatic denial of this theory, the teaching of the Book of Job on the mystery (sod) of human suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent and the just, prepares the believing mind for the more ample doctrine of the Cross, wherein an innocent and just Man suffers and dies for the sake of the guilty and the unjust. BildadŐs second speech is particularly cruel in its judgment of Job, listing each of his afflictions in turn as evidence of his guilt. For example, Job has just spoken of the approaching darkness of the grave (17:12-14). Now Bildad takes up that very theme against him (18:5-6,18). Job has just mentioned his failing strength (17:7,18), and Bildad turns it into sarcastic obloquy (18:7,12-13). Job lamented that onlookers were shocked at his condition (17:6,8), and Bildad makes the point a matter of further reproach (18:20). The grave that Job described as his future home (17:13-16) is evidence to Bildad that he is "a man who knows not God" (18:21).




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