Sunday, August 22
Job 4:1-11: Job is addressed eight times by his three comforters, an arrangement that permits the first of those speakers, Eliphaz the Temanite, to address him three times. It is probably because he is the eldest of the three men (cf. Job 15:10) that Eliphaz speaks first, and this is surely also the reason why, near the end of the book, God addresses Eliphaz directly as the spokesman of the group (42:7).
A native of Teman, Eliphaz exemplifies the ancient wisdom of Edom (cf. Genesis 36:11), concerning which Jeremiah inquired, "Is wisdom no more in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished?" (Jeremiah 49:7). Eliphaz represents, then, the "wisdom of the south," the great desert region of the Negev and even Arabia, where only the wise can survive.
In his initial response to Job (chapters 4—5), Eliphaz appeals to his own personal religious experience. He, unlike the other two comforters, is a visionary. He has seen (4:8; 5:3) and heard (4:16) the presence of the divine claims in an experience of such subtlety that he calls it a “whisper” (shemets—4:12).
This deep sense of the divine absolute, born of Eliphaz’s religious experience, forced upon his mind a strongly binding conviction of the divine purity and justice. This profound insight in his soul became the lens through which Eliphaz interpreted the sundry enigmas of life, including the problem of human suffering.
Monday, August 23
Job 4:12-21: If we compare Eliphaz to Job’s other two comforters, we observe a gradated but distinct decline in the matter of wisdom. Eliphaz begins the discussion by invoking his own direct spiritual experience, his veda.
The second comforter, however, Bildad the Shuhite, will appeal to no personal experience of his own, but only to the experience of his elders. Thus, what was a true insight in the case of Eliphaz will decline to only an inherited theory in the case of Bildad. Living mystical insight will become merely an inherited moral belief.
The decline will progresse further in the case of Job’s third comforter, because Zophar the Naamathite, unlike Bildad, is unable to invoke even the tradition of his elders. He is familiar with neither the living experience of Eliphaz nor the inherited learning of Bildad; his will be simply the voice of established prejudice.
In these three men, then, we watch insight decline into theory, and then theory harden into a settled, unexamined opinion. As they individually address Job, moreover, each man seems progressively less assured of his position. And being less assured of his position, each man waxes increasingly more strident.
Consequently, along with the decline of moral authority among these three men, there is a corresponding decline in politeness, as though each man is obliged to raise the volume of his voice in inverse proportion to his sense of assurance. Thus, we find that Eliphaz, at least when he begins, is also the most compassionate and polite of the three comforters.
Tuesday, August 24
Job 5:1-16: In Eliphaz’s experience of the divine claims, on which his objections to the lament of Job are based, there has been a dominant emphasis on God’s utter purity and transcendence. Absolutely no created thing is pure in His sight, neither angels (4:18), nor men (4:19). A deep humility before God, therefore, is the only attitude appropriate to man’s true state. It was precisely this attitude of humility that Eliphaz found to be missing in Job’s lament. That lament, Eliphaz believes, was essentially selfish; it expressed only Job’s subjective pain and dereliction.
In the present chapter, therefore, Eliphaz becomes more severe in his criticism of Job, referring to him as a “fool” (5:2.3) and speaking of Job’s perished children in an insensitive way (5:4). The proper attitude of suffering man should be, he argues, to “seek” God and to commit his cause to Him (5:8).
Here Eliphaz touches a theme in the prophets (for instance, Amos 5:4,6), going on to describe God in terms of justice (verses 11-15) and benevolence (verses 9,10,16). Eliphaz contends that, instead of complaining about God, even by implication, Job should be putting his trust in God (verse 17), who delivers (verses19-20) and heals (verse 18), even as He corrects and chastises.
In verse 19, Eliphaz uses what is called a “number parable,” very common in the Bible’s Wisdom literature (cf. Proverbs 6:16-19; 30:15-31; Sirach 25:7-10).
Wednesday, August 25
Job 5:17-27: Eliphaz is shocked by Job’s tone. Instead of asking God to renew His mercies, Job has been cursing his own life. And since God the Creator is the source of that life, Job’s lament hardly reflects well on God. This perverse attitude of Job, Eliphaz reasons, must be the source of the problem. Job’s affliction, consequently, is not an inexplicable mystery, as Job has argued, but the result of Job’s own attitude toward God. Job’s lament, Eliphaz believes, is essentially selfish, expressing only Job’s subjective pain. Therefore, Eliphaz is severe in his criticism of Job, referring to him as “foolish” (verses 2, 3).
This severity will become the dominant temper of Eliphaz’s second and third speeches (chapters 15 and 22), where he will no longer demonstrate deference and compassion. His former sympathy and concern for Job will disappear, because Eliphaz will have repeatedly listened to Job professing his innocence. Job, Eliphaz believes, by emphatically denying a moral causality with respect to his afflictions, menaces the moral structure of the world.
What should finally be said, then, of this Edomite’s argument against the suffering Job? Though it is too severe and personally insensitive, Eliphaz does make a basically reliable case. Indeed, in God’s final revelation to Job near the end of the book, we meet some of the very themes that initially appeared in the first discourse of Eliphaz.
Moreover, in the final verses of his first speech (verses 25Ý26), Eliphaz ironically foretells the blessings that Job will receive at the end of the story (42:12Ý17). However much, then, Eliphaz managed to misinterpret the implications of his own religious experience, that experience itself was valid and sound.
Thursday, August 26
Job 6:1-10: Job now answers the first of his “comforters,” not by a point-by-point refutation, but by a more detailed analysis of his own experience.
Each of us tends to universalize or absolutize his religious experience, and Job believes that this is what Eliphaz has done. Basing his objections to Job solely on his own personal experience, Eliphaz has failed to appreciate the unique dimensions of Job’s suffering. Job says that he expected better of a friend. Eliphaz and the others know him well enough not to take him for the sinner they now take him to be. They have interpreted his sufferings as evidence of his sinful state, whereas they should be trying to see his affliction as Job himself sees it. They have not sufficiently weighed his grief, Job says (verse 2), and now his comments will begin to take more direct aim at God.
Eliphaz, after all, has set himself up as God’s spokesman, and Job’s response will respect that arrangement. Eliphaz had called God “the Almighty” (Shaddai in 5:17), the divine title that is now taken up by Job (verses 4,14). That is to say, the God that Job now addresses is specifically God as identified by Eliphaz. Job insists that his complaint is no more unreasonable than that of an animal denied its basic sustenance (verse 5). He wishes that God would take away his life (verses 8-10); he knows that he has not betrayed God.
We readers, who are familiar with the prologue of the book, know it too. Job has only the testimony of his own conscience; we readers have the testimony of God Himself. Thus, when Job reproaches his friends, we readers stand with him; like dried up streams, they have failed the parched traveler who looked to them with hope (verses 14-20). Job has asked so little of them, nothing beyond their simple friendship (verses 22-23). Instead of showing compassion for a suffering friend, however, Eliphaz has treated those sufferings of Job chiefly as an occasion to rehearse the religious convictions born of his own limited experience.
Friday, August 27
Luke 7:1-10: Among those sections that the gospels of Matthew and Luke, independent of Mark, have in common, almost all are directly didactic. That is to say, those sections almost invariably consist of the explicit teachings of Jesus, with no attention to events in Jesus’ life. Those shared sections convey, for instance, the sort of material we find in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5—7) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (6:20-49). Normally, when Matthew and Luke do tell a common story about Jesus’ life, Mark has that story too.
The clear exception to this pattern is Matthew’s and Luke’s account of the centurion who sought healing for his cherished servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). As an account of someone beseeching the Lord on behalf of someone else, this shared narrative resembles other stories in the gospels, such as Jairus and the Syro-Phoenician woman praying for their daughters (Mark 5:23; 7:24-30), and another man and a centurion pleading for their sons (9:17; John 4:46-53). These are all accounts of intercessory prayer on behalf of loved ones, especially parents praying for their children.
Such stories surely had a great influence on the patterns of Christian intercessory prayer. We note, for instance, that the petitions are made to Jesus. Although in Jesus’ specific teaching about prayer, the normal emphasis was on prayer to the heavenly Father (Luke 11:2) in Jesus’ name (John 15:16), the emphasis is different in these particular gospel stories. One of their singular values is that they unambiguously answer a practical question that might arise, namely, “If one of your children gets sick, is there some special Trinitarian protocol to follow, or is it all right just to take the problem right to Jesus?”
However, the idea of taking one’s problems “right to Jesus” is surely not to be understood in the sense of foregoing the mediating prayer of others. It is not as though the unique mediation of Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5) excludes certain saints from mediating on behalf of other saints, and these various gospel stories are the proof of it. In fact, it is the entire point and the whole business of the foregoing stories to validate such mediation. This is called intercessory prayer.
To see how this works out, let us return to the story of the centurion pleading on behalf of his servant. If we compare the differing accounts of this event in Matthew and Luke, we first observe that Matthew’s is the shorter and simpler version. In this account the centurion simply goes to Jesus, requesting that the Lord speak the commanding word, so that the servant will be healed. It takes only six verses.
In Luke, however, the story requires ten verses and is considerably more complicated. First, the centurion himself does not approach Jesus directly. He sends some friends who will speak for him. Now this is interesting, because it introduces another level of mediation. The friends are interceding for the centurion, who is in turn interceding for his servant. We have here the beginnings of a prayer list, as it were.
Then, when Jesus starts moving towards the centurion’s home, the latter dispatches another group of friends, who will speak the famous words that characterize this story: “I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.” It is surely significant that the centurion does not speak these words, deeply personal as they are, to Jesus directly. Others, rather, say them to Jesus on the centurion’s behalf. In Luke’s version of the story, in fact, there is no face-to-face encounter of the centurion with Jesus at all. The centurion’s faith is conveyed by those he chooses to intercede for him.
Finally, in Luke’s version of the story, there is a striking parallel, surely deliberate, between this centurion and Cornelius in Chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles. Both of these centurions send others to speak on their behalf, and in each case the one solicited—Jesus in the first and Simon Peter in the second—goes immediately to respond to the need. At this point the two stories form a contrast. In the first instance the centurion, wanting to spare Jesus the uncleanness of entering a gentile house, solicits His aid from a distance. In the case of Peter and Cornelius, however, the barrier between Jew and gentile has now been removed forever, and Peter comes to his home.
Saturday, August 28
Luke 7:11-17: For its blending of compassion, brevity, and dramatic resolution, few episodes in the gospels, I think, surpass the story of the widow of Nain.
The scene is unforgettable. Two large and very different crowds of people, neither at first aware of the other, are about to meet in the narrow confines of a village street. The first, a wailing funeral cortege, winds its mournful way toward the cemetery (discovered by modern archeology) that lies east of the city. The dead man is borne on an open bier, the only son of his widowed mother. Before this procession ever leaves the village, however, it encounters the second crowd, which comes marching in from the opposite direction. These two large masses of people, slowing down as they draw nigh, now meet in the tight confines of the narrow street.
On an ordinary day, ordinary decency and universal custom would dictate, of course, that the advantage of passage should be conceded to the funeral procession. This is not, however, an ordinary day, nor is this second group of people an ordinary assembly. It is the Church of Jesus Christ, who walks out in front of her as the author and perfecter of her faith.
Jesus, looking with compassion on the bereaved woman (verse 13; compare John 11:33), steps forward and tells her to stop weeping. Then, very deliberately, he extends His hand and touches the bier, bringing the procession to an abrupt stop. Completely in charge of this utterly dramatic situation, Jesus addresses the corpse, "Young man, I say to you, arise." The latter does so, and Jesus restores him to his mother. It is a scene of tender mercy and enormous majesty.
As this story of the widow of Nain is found only in Luke among the evangelists, it seems best to study it first within the literary framework of that gospel, where it is situated in both a general and an immediate context.
In its immediate context, this narrative directly follows the account of Jesus' healing of the centurion's servant (7:1-10). In each instance the miracle is the Lord's response to the interests and affections of a third party, namely, the centurion and the widow.
There is also a contrast between the two accounts that was noticed by St. Cyril of Alexandria many centuries ago: "But observe how He joins miracle to miracle; in the prior instance, the healing of the centurion's servant, He was offered an invitation. Here, however, He draws near without being invited. . . . To me it seems that He purposely made this next miracle to follow the first" (Homily 36 on Luke).
Likewise in its immediate context, Luke's story of what happened at Nain is directly followed by his account of the delegation that John the Baptist sends to Jesus from prison (7:18-23). Jesus, in His response to that delegation, refers explicitly to the raising of the dead. The event at Nain, then, is preparatory to the very next narrative in Luke's sequence.
Certain aspects of this story are significant within the yet more general context of Lukan themes. For instance, Luke's very wording of the miracle, in which Jesus "presented him to his mother," is found verbatim in the Greek text of 1 Kings 17:23, where Elijah restored her dead son to the woman of Zarephath. Luke had spoken of this woman earlier (4:26).
Likewise, Jesus' compassion for the bereaved widow is of whole cloth with Luke's attention to this sustained trait of the Lord's ministry. One thinks of the crippled woman that Jesus heals in the synagogue (13:10-17), the sinful woman whose ministry He accepts in the house of the Pharisee (7:36-50), and the two sisters at Bethany (10:38-42).
Within the larger reference of Luke's theology, however, the most important detail in this story would seem to be his reference to Jesus as "Lord" in 7:13 - "When the Lord saw her . . ." This is the first time that Luke refers to Jesus by that title which is His by virtue of His resurrection (Acts 2:34-36) and by which He is invoked in the act of saving faith (1 Corinthians 8:6; 12:3; Philippians 2:11). From this point on in Luke's gospel, Jesus will often be called "Lord" (e.g., 10:1,41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15); indeed, Luke calls Him by this title in the very next story, the account of the delegation of John the Baptist (7:19 in the manuscripts preferred here). It is most significant, however, that Luke first calls Jesus "Lord" in the context of His manifest authority over death. In is chiefly in His vanquishing of death that the Church addresses Jesus as Lord.