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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 8

Job 19: This is arguably the finest chapter in the Book of Job, containing his most memorable profession of faith. Job has attempted various "soundings" of the mystery in order to arrive here, however, and these themes are remembered again in the present chapter: the testimony of his conscience (6:30; 9:29; 10:7; 16:17), his appeal to GodŐs justice (10:2,7; 13:23; 16:21), his sense of GodŐs friendship (7:8,21; 10:8-9; 14:15), his desire for GodŐs vindication of his case (14:13-15; 16:19-20). This last theme dominates the closing section of the chapter. Job begins by wondering why his friends feel so threatened by his reaction to his predicament (verse 4). Are they really so unsure of themselves? What, after all, do they have to lose? Job is dealing with God (verse 6), not them, and the problem is on GodŐs side, not JobŐs (verse7). Job argues that his sufferings do not come from some inexorable law (verses 8-12), as Bildad supposes (cf. 18:5-10), but from GodŐs intentional choice. Indeed, it was God who sent these alleged comforters to make him even more miserable (verses 12-15,19), to say nothing of his wife (verse 17)! He is wasting away (verse 20) and now pleads for pity from these professed friends (verses 21-22). Then come the truly shining lines of the book, where Job places all his hope in God, his vindicator (verses 23-27) in the latter days. His appeal here is entirely eschatological; he lays all his hope in GodŐs final, future, definitive judgment. Until that day, and in testimony to his hope, Job wants these words inscribed in stone. Here we have the Hebrew ScripturesŐ clearest expression of hope for the resurrection of the dead and the final vision of God. This chapter is one of direct preparation for the New Testament.

Monday, September 9

Job 20: As Job goes from discourse to discourse, we may observe a distinct development and maturing of his thought. The critical observations of his friends, even their obloquy, forces him to examine his own ideas more critically, to try fresh paths of reflection, to probe his problem anew from previously untried perspectives. JobŐs mind actually changes throughout the book. With JobŐs friends, the very opposite is true. In the eight responses that they make to him, the reader observes that the thought-content, if it can be said to alter at all, rather grandly declines. The first speaker was Eliphaz, who based his argument largely on his personal experience, his religious vision, insight, or veda. Then came Bildad, who appealed, not to any experience of his own, but to the established teaching of his elders. He represents, as it were, the next generation of thinkers, and in the transition from Eliphaz to Bildad we observe insight declining into theory. When we came to Zophar, finally, there was neither insight nor theory, but only opinion and prejudice. The respective arguments of these three, that is to say, followed a path of downward spiral. Now, as the three speakers takes their second turn to speak, the arguments are even worse, because each can do no more than repeat what he said before, only this time in a louder and more strident voice: "What?! DidnŐt you hear me the first time?!" The loudest and harshest of these is Zophar, who had neither insight nor theory even to start with. He never possessed any argument stronger than a prejudice, and his second try is just a more obstreperous version of the first. ZopharŐs speech in this chapter and BildadŐs in Chapter 18 serve as two sides to frame JobŐs great profession of faith in Chapter 19. The contrast between JobŐs inspiring, living profession and the stale, repeated vituperations of these two men could not be starker. The present chapter is ZopharŐs perverted fantasy about what an evil man Job must be and what a terrible divine judgment awaits him.

Tuesday, September 10

Job 21: Most of this chapter is JobŐs examination of the considerable empirical evidence that stands against the thesis of his friends. Job only argues here; he does not pray. Psychologically strengthened by his own affirmation of faith two chapters earlier, he now goes on the offensive against these mean, narrow men who have made themselves his critics. They have contended all along that God blesses the virtuous and punishes the wicked, and that this principle of retributive justice is manifest in JobŐs own fate. Oh, says Job, is this so clear? JobŐs contrary example is not the obvious villain, the wicked tyrant proposed by Eliphaz (15:20) and Zophar (20:12-14,18), because such a one cannot truly be called happy. Job proposes, rather, the simply godless man, who has no time for God and nor sees why he should. Such a one is sufficiently happy with his lot in this world, so why bother about God? Indeed, it seems to be the case that prosperity itself may actually prompt a man to adopt such sentiments (verses 14-15). Still, says Job, we see irreligious men enjoying GodŐs benefits, rather much as his three friends claim is the lot solely of God-fearing men. Take the blessings that Eliphaz predicates of the religious man in 5:20-26. These also fall to the lot of the irreligious man described by Job here in verses 8-13. Such a one receives GodŐs blessings, like children (verse 8), homes (verse 9), possessions (verse 10), and happiness (verse 11). Truth to tell, are not these the blessings that Job himself formerly knew? But an ungodly, irreligious man may have them too. And then he may also die a painless death (verse 13). Moreover, does not death itself suggest that God is something less than discriminating in the outpouring of His benedictions? Death befalls everyone, just and just alike (verses 23-26). Just where, then, is all this justice that established the world?

Wednesday, September 11

Job 22: In this, his third speech, Eliphaz the Temanite abandons all restraint in his response to Job. Did not JobŐs most recent comments, after all, completely overthrow the moral order? No more, then, will Eliphaz demonstrate the forbearance that characterized his first speech (Chapters 4-5) nor even the (he would say) restrained tone of his second (Chapter 15). He now regards Job as the utter skeptic and unbeliever that his most recent remarks prove him to be. We observe how Eliphaz, having started from the highest moral authority among the three comforters, sinks now to the lowest. This moral decline demonstrates the Latin adage, corruptio optimi pessima, or, as Shakespeare translated it, "Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds." We know that Eliphaz is a religious man, but now his religion is put at the service of intellectual and moral distortion, as he accuses Job of the vilest crimes, especially cruelty to the poor (verses 6-9). No point of this accusation, of course, can be sustained by the evidence. Eliphaz never uses evidence, however. His arguments are entirely "from principle"; unfortunately his principle is wrong. JobŐs alleged sins are but inferences drawn from EliphazŐs shaky theory. The fallacy displayed in his argument is the one that logicians call the AC fallacy, "affirming the consequent." This formal logical fallacy consists in the misguided attempt to argue from an inference (or consequent) to a premise (or antecedent); that is to say, it is the attempt to reverse the terms of an hypothesis. This description may sound complicated, but an example renders it easy to understand. For instance, an hypothetical syllogism might be, "(A) If I steal all the money in Chaise Manhattan Bank, I am wealthy. (B) I have stolen all the money in Chaise Manhattan Bank. Therefore, I am wealthy." This is, of course, a perfectly valid argument, and the example is manifestly true. The fallacy called "affirming the consequent," however, endeavors to reverse that hypothetical syllogism, by simply "affirming the consequent" of the hypothesis. It says, to stick with our same example: "(A) If I steal all the money in Chaise Manhattan Bank, I am wealthy. (B) I am wealthy. Therefore, I have stolen all the money in Chaise Manhattan Bank." We immediately sense that something is wrong here, because it implies that wealthy people are necessarily thieves. This argument by reversal is fallacious on its face, because we know that there are all sorts of ways of being wealthy besides by bank robbery. This kind of fallacy, though somewhat common, is easily spotted by inspection, as the present example shows, and we would expect a man of EliphazŐs intellectual culture to detect it readily. Instead, Eliphaz has been using that very fallacy to argue against Job. Just as there are all sorts of explanations for wealth besides bank robbery, so there are all sorts of explanations for personal suffering besides personal guilt. The narrow moral imagination of Eliphaz, nonetheless, is incapable of considering such possibilities. He has had a personal religious experience, and he bases his entire moral theory on the limited insight derived from that experience. He had vision one night, and his hair stood on end (4:15), and now he knows it all. In this he presumes to be GodŐs spokesman (verses 21-30).

Thursday, September 12

Job 23: Having listened to EliphazŐs third discourse, Job apparently feels, "Why bother?" Consequently, he limits his rebuttal of Eliphaz to a brief and oblique repudiation of the latterŐs slanders against him (verses 11-12). As Job was entirely argumentative in Chapter 21, so in these next two chapters he become entirely meditative. The tone of these two chapters is deeply sad, notwithstanding JobŐs high assertion of faith in Chapter 19. His mood is more somber now, as he reflects on GodŐs inaccessibility. If Chapter 18 represented JobŐs pillar of fire, the present discourse is his pillar of cloud, and both experiences are integral to his testing. Now he longs for a God that he cannot reach: "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him" (verse 3). In verses 8-10 Job describes his sense of GodŐs absence in terms reminiscent of the psalmistŐs description of GodŐs presence (cf. Psalms 139 [138]). Whereas the psalmist prayed, "You have hedged me behind and before," Job says, "I go forward, but He is not there, backward, but I cannot perceive Him." The psalmist exclaimed, "Even there Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand hold me," but Job mourns, "When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him." Even when Job feels GodŐs presence, it is a source of terror (verse 15) and darkness (verse 17), but may not this sensation too be that of the psalmist? When Job says, "He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold," one thinks of that same psalm: "O Lord, You have searched me and known me. . . . Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my anxieties."

Friday, September 13

Job 24: The present chapter continues JobŐs seventh response to his critics. Here he leaves the limiting confines of his own experience to reflect more generally on manŐs miserable estate. This reflection continues the startling challenge that Job had made in Chapter 21, offering further evidence to dispute the moral universe defended by his three friends. To these men, who have been consistently asserting that those who suffer deserve to suffer, Job raises the spectacle of those who clearly suffer unjustly. God sees all such suffering (verse 1), but He does not intervene, says Job. Thus, men endure the theft of their property (verses 2-4), homelessness and exposure (verses 7-8), injustice and oppression (verses 9,12), and hunger (verse 10). But does God put a stop to all these moral outrages (verse 12)? Manifestly not. And does God invariably punish the murderer (verse 14), the adulterer (verse 15), the thief (verse 16)? Those who glibly contend that the world is founded on divine justice, says Job, had better take a closer look at the evidence. Job is simply bringing attention, of course, to the classical problem of theodicy: How to reconcile the existence of an all-wise, all-just, and all-knowing God with the simultaneous existence of evil. This separation of goodness from happiness, a separation so often characteristic of life in this world, later prompted Emmanuel Kant to affirm the existence of a just God and an afterlife as "moral postulates" demanded by the very structure of reason.

Saturday, September 14

Job 25: This shortest chapter of the book contains the final reflection of Bildad the Shuhite. As we have seen from the beginning, there is nothing very original about Bildad; he relies entirely on what his elders have taught him. Indeed, he made this personal trait his explicit boast (cf. 8:8). Similarly here. As the chapter begins, one has the impression that we are starting in the middle of a line of thought already in process, as though we are suddenly made privy to some secret musing of BildadŐs which we happen to overhear. Most of what he says is, in fact, simply a quotation from earlier discourses of Eliphaz (Compare verses 4-6 with 4:17 and 15:14). Perhaps those words of Eliphaz had made a deep impression on Bildad. Anyway, when he considers that man is only a worm, this very thought apparently prompts him to be silent, for the speech ends abruptly, and we still wonder where BildadŐs thought is leading him.




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