Sunday, August 29
Job 7:11-21: Job is no longer simply answering Eliphaz. This chapter consists, rather, of a new lament, a kind of soliloquy about the tragedies to which human existence is subject. Job likens it to three particularly miserable kinds of men: an unwilling military conscript who is in constant danger for reasons that do not interest nor concern him, a day laborer forced by his desperate circumstances to earn just enough to stay alive until he goes back to work the next day, and a slave. Human life is both hard and short, occasionally relieved by the shadows that give a slight reprieve from the oppressive heat (7:2).
The very transitions between day and night, which in IsraelŐs traditional Wisdom literature provide a sense of stability and structure (cf. Psalms 104 :19-23), become in the mind of Job the source of enervating boredom, anxiety, and apathy (verses 3-4). He experiences already the corruption of death (verse 5). It is a life without hope (verses 6,16).
Job addresses God, asking that God will ŇrememberÓ him (verse 7), for he knows that God sees him (verse 8). To die, however, as Job sees it, is to disappear even from the sight of God (verse 9-10); the finality of death is addressed several times in this book (7:21; 10:21; 14:10,12,18-22; 17:13-16). It represents, for the author of Job, the major preoccupation, and a hopeful quest for a life after death is one of the deepest and most moving aspects of the book (19:25-27).
Job then begins to turn his lament into a prayer (7:11-21). His spiritual dilemma is that all these terrible things have befallen him, even though throughout his life he has known God as someone that loves him and whom he loves. Has God now become his enemy? Or will God return to search for him? And if God does come to look for him, will He arrive too late? Will Job be already dead and gone? (verses 8,21)
Whereas for JobŐs friends his sufferings raise the question of justice, for Job himself those sufferings raise a question about friendship. Observe how, in verse 18, Job ironically alters the sense of Psalms 8:5; the words that originally refer to manŐs grandeur have become, in the mouth of Job, a lament over manŐs degradation. Clearly the religious experience of Job by far transcends that of Eliphaz. Alas, his other friends will not rise even to the level of Eliphaz.
Monday, August 30
Job 8: To the ears of his second respondent, Bildad, who is even less tolerant than Eliphaz, JobŐs lament seems to be an attack on the justice of God and the entire moral order. Unlike Eliphaz, however, Bildad makes no argument on the basis of his own personal experience. He argues, rather, solely from the moral tradition, which he appears to understand in a nearly impersonal way. That is to say, the effects of sin follow automatically, as the inevitable effects of a sufficient cause. The presence of the effect, that is, imply the presence of the cause.
If EliphazŐs argument had been too personal, bordering on the purely subjective, that of Bildad may be called too objective, bordering on the purely mechanical. In the mind of Bildad the principle of divine retributive justice functions nearly as a law of nature, or what the religions of India call the Law of Karma.
Both Eliphaz and Job show signs of knowing God personally. We discern nothing of this in Bildad. Between Bildad and Job, therefore, there is even less of a meeting of minds than there was between Eliphaz and Job.
We should bear in mind, on the other hand, that Job himself has never raised the abstract question of the divine justice; he has shown no interest, so far, in the problems of theodicy. He has dealt only with his own problems, and his lament has been entirely personal, not theoretical.
Bildad, moreover, does not demonstrate even the limited compassion of Eliphaz. We note, for example, his comments about JobŐs now perished children. In the light of JobŐs own concern for the moral well being of those children early in the book (1:5), there is an especially cruel irony in BildadŐs speculation on their moral state (8:4).
Like Eliphaz before him, Bildad urges Job to repent (8:5-7), for such, he says, is the teaching of traditional morality (8:8-10).
Clearly, Bildad is unfamiliar with the God worshipped by Job, the God portrayed in the opening chapters of the book. Bildad knows nothing of a personal God who puts man to the test through the trial of his faith. His is, on the contrary, a nearly mechanistic God who functions entirely as a moral arbiter of human behavior, not a God who shapes manŐs destiny through His personal interest and intervention.
Nonetheless, in his comments about JobŐs final lot Bildad speaks with an unintended irony, because in fact JobŐs latter end will surpass his beginning (8:7), and ŇGod will not cast away a perfect manÓ 9:20Ńtam; cf. 1:1,8; 2:3). On our first reading of the story, we do not know this yet, of course, because we do not know, on our first reading, how the story ends (for example 42:12).
So many comments made by JobŐs friends, including these by Bildad, are full of ironic, nearly prophetic meaning, which will become clear only at the storyŐs end, so the reader does not perceive this meaning on his first trip through the book. As Edgar Allen Poe argued in his review of Bleak House by Charles Dickens, the truly great stories cannot be understood on a single reading, because the entire story must be known before the deeper significance of the individual episodes can become manifest. As Poe remarked, we do not understand any great story well until our second reading of it. This view is preeminently helpful in the case of the Book of Job.
Tuesday, August 31
Job 9: If we find Job becoming increasingly despondent through the course of this book, let us bear in mind that he is responding to friends who prove themselves increasingly obtuse and insensitive. Bildad, in his objections to Job, was far worse than Eliphaz.
JobŐs response to him follows the same threefold outline that we saw in his response to Eliphaz in Chapters 6-7. There is a direct response (9:2-24), a soliloquy (9:25Ń10:1), and an address to God (10:1-22).
Ironically, in his direct response, which takes up most of this chapter, Job largely ignores the self-righteous ranting of Bildad. Indeed, we have the impression that Job has Ňtuned outÓ Bildad at some point and gone on to recall EliphazŐs earlier comment (4:17) about manŐs inability to be just in the sight of God.
That earlier remark of Eliphaz posed for Job a problem he addresses in the present chapter. If GodŐs will is that which determines justice, and there is no other measure of justice to be consulted, how does a man of clean conscience deal with the problem of suffering? (This is, of course, the great problem of theodicy. JobŐs analysis of it, however, is not theoretical; he has too much personal pain for purely abstract thought.) If man is unable to perceive God as acting justly, must he not think of God as acting in anger? And, in the absence of any condign self-accusation in his conscience, how can man perceive GodŐs anger as just? Job knows that God is near, but he cannot discern the path that God is following (9:11).
JobŐs impulse is not to answer God in this respect, but to supplicate Him (9:15). Is there no difference between GodŐs violent treatment of nature (9:4-5) and His violent treatment of man (9:17-18)? Is GodŐs justice truly indistinguishable from His power (9:19)? Is justice rational, or merely willful?
Meanwhile, even as he ponders these deep, perplexing questions, Job seems to be dying (9:25-26), and he fears dying without being reconciled to God (9:30-33). Truly his plight is dire.
Wednesday, September 1
Job 10: God must be different, Job reasons, from what his friends believe Him to be. If they have wrongly assessed Job, whom they do see, how can they rightly assess God, whom they do not see? Job here essays, then, various theories to elucidate the problem under consideration, only to reject all those theories. Is God cruel (verse 3), or deceived (verse 4), or short-sighted (verse 5)? No, Job answers. God knows that Job is innocent (verse 7).
Having mentioned GodŐs ŇhandÓ in verse 7, Job goes on to meditate on GodŐs fashioning him by hand (verses 8-12), a moving text reminiscent of Psalms 139 (Greek 138):13-15. All this care did God take in this creation and preservation; is it all for naught? Does he himself value this Ňlife and mercy,Ó Job wonders, more than God does? Not a bit. God holds these things in His heart (verse 13). Feeling full of confusion at such thoughts, Job asks only that God look upon his sufferings (verse 15).
Knowing that he is not a wicked man, Job is forced to think that God afflicts the just as well as the unjust, for reasons best known to Himself (verse 16-17). These reasons are also known, of course, to the bookŐs readers, who have the advantage of overhearing the conversations between God and Satan at the beginning of the book.
At the end of this chapter, Job returns to the ŇWhy?Ó of Chapter 3. In the last verse JobŐs Ňlight as darknessÓ strikes a chord from Psalm 139 (Greek 138):11-12.
We readers of the Book of Job enjoy a great interpretive advantage over the human characters within the story, obviously, because from the very beginning we have been aware of the true dynamics and direction of the narrative. Remembering that Job is being tried by a God who has great confidence in him, we readers are entirely on JobŐs side and hope he will not fail the test. We also know that the objections of JobŐs three friends are way wide of the mark.
At the same time, especially as Job expresses his longings in these lengthy soliloquies, we readers become conscious of the deeper dimensions of this character, levels of soul perhaps more profound than what might have been expected of that observant doer of GodŐs will introduced in Chapter 1. God, of course, has known this all along; He was already thoroughly familiar with JobŐs heart.
We ourselves are gradually given an insight into that heart, seeing dimensions that we might not have anticipated: JobŐs radical longing for God, his deep need for GodŐs approval. Though the verb is not used in the text, we are looking at a man that actually loves God.
Thursday, September 2
Job 11: We now come to the first speech of Zophar, JobŐs most strident critic, a man who appeals to neither personal religious experience (as did Eliphaz) nor inherited moral tradition (as did Bildad). Zophar bases his criticism, rather, on his own theory of wisdom, a theory he treats as self-evidently true. In his view, Job simply doesn't get it.
Moreover, Zophar seems to identify his own personal perception of wisdom as the wisdom of God Himself. Whereas Bildad had endeavored to defend the divine justice, Zophar tries to glorify ŇdivineÓ wisdom in JobŐs case. If it is difficult to see justice verified in JobŐs sufferings, however, it is even harder to see wisdom thus verified.
Like the two earlier speakers, Zophar calls on Job to repent in order to regain the divine favor. (This is a rather common misunderstanding that claims, ŇIf things arenŐt going well for you, you should go figure out how you have offended God, because He is obviously displeased with you.Ó)
Zophar even resorts to sarcasm. Although this particular rhetorical form is perfectly legitimate in some circumstances (and the prophets, beginning with Elijah, often use it), it becomes merely an instrument of cruelty when directed at someone who is suffering incomprehensible pain. In the present case, Job is suffering in an extreme way, pushed to the very limits of his endurance. It is such a one that Zophar has the vile temerity to call a Ňman full of talkÓ (11:2), a liar (11:3), a vain man (11:11:11-12), and wicked (11:14,20).
The final two verses (19-20) contain an implied warning against the Ňdeath wishÓ to which Job has several times given voice. This very sentiment, Zophar says, stands as evidence of JobŐs wickedness.
The author of the Book of Job surely understands this extended criticism by Zophar as an exercise in irony. Though the context of his speech proves the speaker insensitive and nearly irrational in his personal cruelty, there is an undeniable eloquence in his description of the divine wisdom (11:7-9) and his assertion of the moral quality of human existence (11:10-12).
Moreover, those very rewards that Zophar promises to Job in the event of his repentance (11:13-18) do, in fact, fall into JobŐs life at the end of the book.
In this story, men are not divided into those who have wisdom and those who donŐt. In the Book of Job no one is really wise. While wisdom is ever present, no character in the story has a clear grasp of it. It will not stand manifest until God, near the end of the narrative, speaks for Himself. Even then He will not disclose to Job the particulars of His dealings with him throughout the story.
Friday, September 3
Job 12: Job now begins a speech that is his longest until aside his final soliloquy in the book (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 been telling 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 three 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 Ňat easeÓ (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.
Saturday, September 4
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 Ňreason withÓ 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 Ňwickedly for GodÓ (13:7).
Verses 6-11 begin with the plural form of the Deuteronomic ŇHear!Ó (also in verse 17) and go on to ask a series of questions, each line of which begins with the Hebrew interrogative prefix ha (which serves in Hebrew the function served by the question mark in English). Job thus beats back his critics with a chain of unanswerable questions.
In verse 14 he begins his Ňreasoning withÓ God, which consists in the ŇpleadingsÓ 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 ŇsalvationÓ (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, Job 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 Ňmore is happening than seems to be happening.Ó In the ŇpleadingsÓ 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 his yearning, questioning heart is far sharper than the afflictions in his flesh.