Sunday, September 19
Job 28: From his consideration of the moral effects of money, or silver, on the conscience of man (27:16-17), Job now begins a reflection about silver and other metals that are found in the mines of the earth. This is the first section of a chapter devoted to the theme of hidden wisdom. Because wisdom, like the lode veins of precious metals, lies concealed beneath the empirical surface of reality, man must dig for it. When he endeavors to do this, nonetheless, man discovers that it lies deeper than his thought can penetrate. It is by His hidden wisdom that God made the world and continues to sustain it in existence. It lies deeper than any precious metal or costly stone, and its worth is incomparably greater. Wisdom is buried, in fact, in the depths of God.
We observe that Job is no longer answering his critics here. He has abandoned them to their shallow theories about how the world is constructed. Job pursues, rather, the mind of God, realizing even in his pursuit that the divine wisdom vastly transcends the mind and comprehension of man.
Only God knows the way to wisdom (verse 23). How does man even make a start in his search for it? He does so by turning away from evil by the fear of God (verse 28). This is Job’s own chosen path. He cannot read the mind of God, not even in those things that concern his own life and destiny, but he does know what God requires of him, and he has affirmed already his resolve to live in perfect integrity (cf. 27:4-7).
Monday, September 20
Job 29: These next three chapters contain the longest of Job’s soliloquies, in which he surveys, for the last time, what has happened to him and the moral puzzle that it poses to his mind. He reviews the happiness of his former life (Chapter 29), the misery that has befallen him (Chapter 30), and his own innocence in the matter (Chapter 31).
The present chapter, then, is about “the way it used to be,” the former days when Job was content, wealthy, and universally honored. (His lot in those days may be compared to the patriarchs of Genesis, most notably Jacob.) Back then he had felt God’s presence very tangibly (verses 2-5). In his relationships with his fellow men, he was esteemed by everyone (verses 7-11,21-23), not only because of his wealth, but also because of his righteousness and charity (verses 12-17).
Job had expected, moreover, to die in that state of universal approbation (verse 18), beloved of God and men. In those bygone days all these things seemed normal to Job, who related such blessings to his friendship with God and the doing of God’s will. But then, with no discernible explanation, everything changed, and this change in Job’s fortunes is the subject of the next chapter.
Tuesday, September 21
Job 30: The motif of the present chapter, which is an extended and detailed contrast with Job’s state describe in the previous chapter, is indicated by the repeated expression, “but now” (verses 1,9,16).
Whereas Chapter 29 began with Job’s relationship to God and went on to speak of his relationship to his fellow men, the present chapter reverses the order, beginning with Job’s alienation from his fellow men and going from there to his sense of alienation from God. Formerly revered by elders, princes, and nobles (29:8-10), Job now finds himself contemned and reviled by utter nobodies (verses 2-15). All such treatment might be bearable from others, but God, it appears to Job, is treating him no better (verses 16-19).
Then, abruptly, Job turns to speak to God directly (verse 20), for the first time since 17:3. Is all of this fair, Job asks, since he has never treated anyone as badly as he is currently being treated by both God and man (verses 24-25)? He does not deserve this, Job thinks, and in the following chapter he will spell out the details of his deserts.
Wednesday, September 22
Job 31: If Job has recently felt himself to be on trial, it is be hard to blame him for it. Now that his three witnesses have already borne their testimony against him (more as “character witnesses” than as “eye witnesses, to be sure), it appears that “the prosecution rests its case” in Job’s regard.
But this is all absurd, thinks Job. Even before the trial started, he had already been sentenced. In fact, the sentence is already being executed! Everything is proceeding backwards. This is chaos! (For a strikingly similar sensation of a legal trial as an outright nightmare, one may profitably read Franz Kafka’s Der Prozess or The Trial.)
No matter, says Job, his defense will be made, no matter what. So he “swears himself in” and proceeds on a detailed testimony to his innocence. He runs through a fairly high code of ethics, not unlike that of Ezechiel 18:5-9, and rings the changes on his “not guilty” plea, giving specific rebuttal to the testimony of his accusers (notably Eliphaz in Chapter 22).
Job repeatedly employs the normal Hebrew formula for a legal oath or imprecation: “If I have done such-and-such, may the Lord do this-and-that to me.” Often, in this formula, only the antecedent, not the consequent, is actually spoken, implying that the person swears that the accusation against him is untrue. Job employs both the complete and the truncated form of this oath rather frequently in this chapter (verses 5,7,9,13,16,19,20,21,24,25,26,29,31,33,38,39). Thus, the entire chapter is just a series of imprecations, at the end of which “the words of Job are ended” (verse 40).
Is Job correct and proper in all these affirmations and denials? In the sight of men, arguably so, but not in the eyes of God. Man cannot litigate against God. Job has clearly gone too far in his claims, and the book’s next speaker, Elihu the Buzite, is going to call him on it. In the book’s final chapter, moreover, Job will retract this defense very explicitly.
Thursday, September 23
Psalm 86 (Greek and Latin 85) is another psalm of the Lord’s suffering and death. As such it contains His prayer to the Father for deliverance, especially from that “last enemy” which is death (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26).
Thus Jesus pleads: “Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my soul, for I am holy. O God, save Thy servant, who sets His hope on Thee. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to Thee all the day long. Gladden the soul of Thy servant, for to Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. . . . O God, transgressors are risen against me, and the assembly of the strong has sought out my soul, nor have they set Thee before them.”
Among the important themes in these lines, one will observe our Lord’s deliberate identification with the poor and needy. As a poor man, without wealth and the power that wealth can afford, Jesus is unjustly condemned by those who, for their own reasons, have decided that He must die. Sold and purchased for a price, found guilty by a fixed jury on the testimony of perjured witnesses, condemned by an intimidated judge, our Lord unites Himself with all those myriad human beings who suffer persecution, even death, by those willing and powerful enough to inflict it.
However, even when He says of Himself that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20), it is important to remember that the poverty of Christ is more than a mere social and economic condition. Rather, it is integral to His being God’s servant: “O God, save Thy servant, who sets His hope on Thee. . . . Gladden the soul of Thy servant.”
In various places in the Gospels Jesus refers to Himself as the servant, most especially in the setting of His sufferings: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is well known, of course, that in such statements our Lord was showing Himself to be “the servant of the Lord” spoken of repeatedly in the second part of the Book of Isaiah.
The poverty of our Lord is also the metaphor for His assumption of our fallen flesh, when, not considering His equality with God a thing to be grasped at, He “emptied Himself” and assumed the “form of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-10). As St. Paul elsewhere teaches: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be enriched” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Another key idea in this psalm is that of our Lord’s holiness: “Guard my soul, for I am holy,” He pleads. Two things should be said of this holiness of Christ. First, it is like no other holiness on earth. It is not, as with the rest of mankind, a derived and relative holiness, because Christ, being God incarnate, is the font and principle of man’s holiness. In comparison with even the holiest of others, consequently, the holiness of Christ is not simply one of superior degree, for His holiness is not an effect but a cause. Christ is holy, not as a result or consequence, but by way of premise and principle. He is “the holy one of God” (John 6:69). Whoever else is holy, is holy because of Christ.
Second, the holiness of Christ, considered especially in the context of His passion and death, has to do with sacrificial consecration. It is in going to the cross that Jesus prays: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they may be sanctified in the truth” (John17:18). It is by the holiness of His priesthood and His sacrifice that we ourselves are redeemed and rendered holy, for the price of our redemption and our sanctification is “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
Even as He prays, in this psalm, for deliverance from His adversaries, Jesus also speaks with the assurance of that faith of which He is “the author and perfecter” (Hebrews 12:2). In His darkest hour He knows already the final outcome of the fight: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). This is the assurance in which Jesus makes His prayer during the passion: “I will confess Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I shall glorify Thy name forever. For great is Thy mercy towards me, and Thou hast delivered my soul from deepest Hades.”
Friday, September 24
Job 33: This speech should not be considered an afterthought, much less a “later addition,” to the Book of Job. It is simply another voice in the discussion. Like the other components in this complex discussion, Elihu’s contribution is a critique, and the Book of Job would be quite a different and less subtle work without it.
Elihu disagrees with and criticizes both Job and the three comforters. For him the discussion is not reducible to an either/or. Job, Elihu believes, has gone too far in his demands for a trial between himself and God. Job’s friends, moreover, have made what Elihu regards as an inadequate presentation of the traditional wisdom.
Elihu’s remarks contains some of the book’s best parts, variations of which will appear in God’s own account near the end. Elihu’s parts are heavily didactic, nonetheless, and seldom rise to the high poetic levels of the other speakers, especially Job himself.
Elihu’s chief objection to Job’s friends concerns their exclusive attribution of divine punishment to human suffering. Punishment and reward, Elihu argues, do not between them comprise the whole of God’s dealing with man. There is another and important aspect to the “negative side of God,” namely, divine exhortation. God is “exhorting” Job by permitting his sufferings.
God sends afflictions, that is to say, not only to punish, but also to admonish. If a man accepts these sufferings as God’s loving correction and invitation, rather than as divine punishment, he will avoid the pride and self-satisfaction that may sometimes be the peril of a godly life. Such afflictions will serve, therefore, as a restorative. Neither Job nor his friends, Elihu believes, have sufficiently considered this perspective.
Saturday, September 25
Job 34: Having reprimanded Job, Elihu turns to the other three characters in the story, who have not, he believes, answered Job’s challenges to God as they should have.
The notion of injustice in God involves an internal contradiction, Elihu argues (verses 10,12); the very existence of the world depends on the thesis of God’s righteousness (verses13-15). Neither is there any justice higher than God (verse 17), nor is the Almighty likely to be influenced by the more powerful of His creatures (verse 19). Truly, nothing in man’s experience is hidden from the gaze of God (verses 21-22). The font and source of justice, God holds all human activity to the same standard and the same sanctions (verses 24-28).
What Job’s comforters should have asserted is that God, through the sufferings that He has sent, had only Job’s proper correction in mind (verses 31-32). However, their own insistence that Job was being punished simply provoked him to an improper assertion of his innocence. It was the responsibility of these men, says Elihu, to have provided Job with proper instruction. Their ineptitude has served only to incite the sufferer into open rebellion against God (verses 35-37).
Indeed, Job’s call for a trial, in which he might argue his case against God, distorts the proper relationship between God and man. God is never man’s enemy or opponent. God makes Himself no one’s adversary. God needs opponents no more than He needs powerful friends, nor does He act from a sense of need anyway. To portray God as an enemy is to reduce Him to our human level.