Sunday, September 5
Job 14: This chapter has a dialectical structure. Starting from an individual lament, in which Job attends 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 man’s time on earth, the determined numbering of his allotted days, becomes for Job the symbol and reminder of the larger and more encompassing limitations that mark human 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 la‘ets). Man, in contrast, once he is buried in the earth, simply disappears. At least if “man” is considered abstractly—that is to say, regarded from outside—this seems to be the case (verses 6-12).
At this point, however, Job stops regarding 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 to say, he begins to consider his own natural aspiration for an afterlife and his innate suspicion, spawned of a prior hope (which seems native to the structure of 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 Job’s heart, however, is organic to his experience and inseparable from the deeper impulses of his life. When he starts once again (in verse 18) to reflect on it abstractly and to argue the point dialectically, he cannot justify this hope to his critical mind. Born solely from a faint and innate perception, this hope cannot yet survive critical dissection, so the end of the chapter finds Job falling yet once more into despondency.
Indeed, at this point Job seems to lose even the modest, meager expectation of the worldly man; namely, that he may live on in his children (verse 21). In any case, alas, Job no longer has any children. From a worldly perspective, Job’s existence is a total wreck.
Behold the dilemma of Job’s mind. If he consults solely the personal impulses of his soul, Job knows that he loves God and strongly suspects that God loves him. When, however, he begins to regard human existence in the detached abstraction of critical thought, death appears as the very end, and all man’s 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!”
Monday, September 6
Job 15: With this chapter we start the second cycle of speeches. Once again, Eliphaz speaks first. (He seems to be the eldest; cf. verse 10).
In his former discourse (Chapters 4-5) Eliphaz had shown respect and even a measure of sympathy for the suffering Job, treating him as a basically righteous man who had somehow incurred the divine wrath by some unknown offense. He had exhorted Job, then, to examine his conscience more carefully, to discern what that hidden offense against God might have been, and to repent of it
That simple attitude of sympathy and concern for Job, 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 Job’s emphatically denying a purely moral causality with respect to his afflictions, it now seems to Eliphaz, Job has menaced the moral structure the world, and Eliphaz 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 here , 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 Eliphaz’s 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. God’s “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).
Job’s sustained probing after that secret counsel is what offends Eliphaz, the older man who considers such probing 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.
Tuesday, September 7
Job 16: Job must now answer the scathing indictment that he has just received from Eliphaz. His response, which generally takes the form of lament and complaint, contains some of the most memorable and moving verses of the book, chiefly his appeal to the heavenly Witness of his sufferings.
Just exchange souls (nephesh, as in Genesis 2:8) with me, he tells his companions (the “you” here being plural), and you will understand (verse 4). I certainly would not treat you as you are treating me (verse 5).
God has handed Job over to the reproaches of these ungodly men (verses 10-11), who inexplicably afflict 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; Ezekiel 24:8; Hebrews 12:24).
And who in heaven will hear Job’s 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 places his appeal 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 Job leaves the case to God.
Wednesday, September 17
Job 17: If there is one sure general characteristic of death in the Old Testament, it is death’s separation of a man from the knowledge, remembrance, and praise of God. Thus, King Hezechiah, after his own very close encounter with the grave, commented that what he most feared about death was its concomitant exclusion from the praise of God: “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down into the pit cannot hope for Your truth” (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 :11-12)
Always there is 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 :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 death’s finality is most forcefully challenged in the Old Testament.
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. Nowhere in the Bible is there an afterlife apart from Christ. Whatever afterexistence there may be apart from Christ, it is certainly no real life.
This hopeless Old Testament view of death, then, is what Job is facing in the present chapter. He is staring at death’s 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 God’s presence or His favor. The dark words of this chapter, nonetheless, will not be Job’s last comment on the subject of death and corruption.
Thursday, September 9
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.
Bildad’s 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).
Friday, September 10
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 God’s justice (10:2,7; 13:23; 16:21), his sense of God’s friendship (7:8,21; 10:8-9; 14:15), his desire for God’s 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 and their theories? What, after all, do they have to lose? Job is dealing with God (verse 6), not them, and the problem is on God’s side, not Job’s (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 God’s 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 in the latter days (verses 23-27). His appeal here is entirely eschatological; he lays all his hope in God’s 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 Scriptures’ 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 and the glory of the Resurrection.
Saturday, September 11
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. Job’s mind actually changes throughout the course of the book.
With Job’s 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. Job grows, while his friends diminish.
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 downward path.
Now, as the three speakers takes their second turn to speak, their 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?! Didn’t 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.
Zophar’s speech in this chapter and Bildad’s in Chapter 18 serve as two sides to frame Job’s great profession of faith in Chapter 19. The contrast between Job’s inspiring, living profession and the stale, repeated vituperations of these two men could not be starker. The present chapter is Zophar’s perverted fantasy about what an evil man Job must be and what a terrible divine judgment awaits him.