Sunday, September 12
Job 21: Most of this chapter is Job’s 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 Job’s own fate. Oh, says Job, is this so clear?
The example elicited by Job is not the obvious villain, the wicked tyrant proposed by Eliphaz (15:20) and Zophar (20:12-14,18), because such a person cannot truly be called happy. Job proposes, rather, the simply godless man, who has no time for God nor sees why he should. Such a one is sufficiently happy with his lot in this world, so why bother about God? Does not this example indicate that goodness and good fortune are not necessarily inseparable things?
Indeed, it seems to be the case that prosperity itself may actually prompt a man to adopt godless sentiments (verses 14-15). Still, says Job, we see irreligious men enjoying God’s 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 blessings also fall to the lot of the irreligious man described by Job here in verses 8-13. Such a one receives God’s gifts, 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 as well.
And then that same 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?
Monday, September 13
Job 22: In this, his third speech, Eliphaz the Temanite abandons all restraint in his response to Job. Did not Job’s most recent comments, after all, completely overthrow the moral order? No more, then, will Eliphaz demonstrate the forbearance that somewhat characterized his first speech (Chapters 4-5) nor even the (Eliphaz 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 evidence. Eliphaz never appeals evidence, however. His arguments are entirely a priori, arguments “from principle.” Job’s alleged sins are but inferences drawn from Eliphaz’s theory. Unfortunately his theory is wrong.
The fallacy displayed in the argument of Eliphaz is the one that logicians call the AC fallacy, “affirming the consequent.” It is the kind of argument that asserts that, because athletes must be strong, all strong people must be athletes.
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 a hypothesis.
This description may sound complicated, but another example may render it easier to understand.
Take the following hypothetical syllogism, which is perfectly valid: “(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. (C) Therefore, I am wealthy.”
The AC fallacy, however, which “affirms the consequent,” endeavors to reverse the process of that valid hypothetical syllogism. It turns the argument backwards 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. (C) Therefore, I have stolen all the money in Chaise Manhattan Bank!”
We immediately sense that something is wrong here, because such an argument implies that wealthy people are necessarily thieves. This argument is fallacious on its face, because we know that there are all sorts of ways of being wealthy besides by recourse to 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 Eliphaz’s intellectual culture to detect it readily.
Instead, Eliphaz has been using that same 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 that he described earlier in the book, and he bases his entire moral theory on the limited insight derived from that experience. He had a vision one night, and his hair stood on end (4:15), and now he thinks he “knows it all.” In this he presumes to be God’s spokesman (verses 21-30).
Tuesday, September 14
Job 23: Having listened to Eliphaz’s third discourse, Job apparently feels, “Why bother?” Consequently, he limits his rebuttal of Eliphaz to a brief and oblique repudiation of the latter’s slanders against him (verses 11-12).
As Job was entirely argumentative in Chapter 21, so in these next two chapters he becomes entirely meditative. The tone of these two chapters is deeply sad, notwithstanding Job’s high assertion of faith in Chapter 19. His mood is more somber now, as he reflects on God’s inaccessibility. If Chapter 18 represented Job’s 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 God’s absence in terms reminiscent of the psalmist’s description of God’s presence (cf. Psalms 139 ). 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 God’s 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.”
Wednesday, September 15
Job 24: The present chapter continues Job’s seventh response to his critics. Here he leaves the limiting confines of his own experience to reflect more generally on man’s 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 good fortune, a separation so often characteristic of life in this world, later prompted Emmanuel Kant to affirm the existence of a just God and a retributive afterlife as “moral postulates” demanded by the very structure of reason.
Thursday, September 16
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 Bildad’s that we happen to overhear. Most of what he says here 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 Bildad’s thought is leading him. Bildad does not seem to know.
Friday, September 17
Job 26: Bildad has not said anything worth answering, so Job doesn’t answer it. Instead, he discourses on the immense majesty of God in the phenomena of heaven and earth. This is a further and significant development in Job’s spiritual maturation through the course of the book. Especially since his avowal of personal faith in his “Redeemer” in Chapter 19, Job has become more preoccupied with the world around him than with the misery of his own existence. Now he contemplates what God has made.
The nether world—sheol and abaddon—though concealed from the sight of man, lies open to the eyes of God (verse 6). From his consideration of the world beneath, Job rises to contemplate the heavens above. The “north” (saphon) of verse 7 refers to the lights of the northern sky, dominated by the pole star. The rendering of the canonical Greek text here, borea, may evoke in some readers a memory of the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis.
These celestial lights are suspended over “emptiness,” tohu (cf. Genesis 1:2), says Job. The earth floats beneath this emptiness above and mere “air” beneath. (This last noun, belima, which is found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, I have translated as “air,” because in rabbinical literature it bears the meaning of “upper atmosphere.” The canonical Greek text here says “nothing,” ouden.) Since many ancient texts, including the Bible, speak of the earth as suspended “upon the waters,” the imagery here in Job is doubling striking.
From air, Job moves on to consider water, first in its atmospheric form—clouds and vapors—(verses 8-9), and then in its earthly form—liquid—(verse 10). The shaking of the “pillars of heaven” (verse 11) suggests a booming storm. God adorns these heavens by His Spirit, ruah (verse 13), a theological truth proclaimed also in Psalm 33 (32):6. This is still descriptive of a storm scene, as is the “thunder of His might” in verse 14.
Saturday, September 28
Job 27: For several chapters now, Job has been gaining a grip on his soul. The present chapter begins with his resolve to live in integrity, no matter how painful, humiliating, and short that life may be (verses 2-6). All Job has left is his integrity, and he will wager everything on it.
If Job is right, though, his critics are wrong (verse 7), then the judgment of God is inevitable in their case as well (verse 8). Job, then, prepares to lecture his three friends (verse 11) on the theme of the divine wisdom. (This lecture will be Chapter 28.)
Often men do not seek wisdom, being distracted by the love of wealth (verses 16-17). The initial steps toward wisdom lie in the consideration of the divine judgment that hangs over human life (verses 18-23).
Job here touches the theme to which Psalm 49 (48) is devoted, the universal mortality of men, “all the inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together.” This entire psalm, based on a strictly philosophical motif, mentions God only twice, and the second of these instances sounds the very note that Job has pursued: “God will deliver my soul from the power of the grave.”