TagJob

Reflections on Job, Part 11 – The Conclusion of the Book

While the dramatic climax of Job is the Lord’s appearance, the narrator concludes the book with an epilogue (just as he began the book with the prologue of the first two chapters). This final section of the book raises several interesting points.

Job Spoke Rightly?

First, the Lord tells the friends that “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). In what sense did Job speak rightly about God? After all, throughout his speeches, Job levels some very serious charges against the Lord’s governance of the world (as in 9:22-24).

Some commentators assume that the Lord is only referring to Job’s statement of repentance in 42:1-6. However, as I argued in my previous post, I don’t think the best way to understand that text is in terms of Job repenting of sin. And when the Lord tells the friends that Job has spoken rightly of him, he specifically contrasts what Job said with what they had said – “you have not spoken of me what is right.” So whatever the Lord means, it must have something to do with the contrast between what Job said about God versus what the friends said about God.

Perhaps the key to understanding this is Job’s criticism of the friends in 13:4 – “As for you, you whitewash with lies.” Job is convinced that the friends are nothing more than propagandists, willing to justify anything God does. They are “yes men.” Their view is, “If God does it, that makes it right.” But Job disagrees. He believes that God should only act in a manner fitting of what is right, and his challenge is understanding how God could be righteous and allow the evils in the world.

From this point of view, Job was more accurate in his view of God than were the friends. God can’t just do anything – it is impossible for him to sin (James 1:14) or to lie (Hebrews 6:18), for instance. This isn’t because God has to abide by someone else’s rules – he wouldn’t be God if that was the case! It is because God is perfect goodness, and always acts in keeping with his own nature. While Job spouted off many inaccurate accusations against God as he struggled to understand why he suffered, Job ultimately believed that God was just, and that God would acquit him once they conferred (see 23:3-7).

But the friends assumed that the principle of retribution was the only mechanism of God’s providence, to such an extreme that if a righteous man was suffering, they would invent charges to condemn him (as in 22:5-11). In their single-minded effort to justify God, truth was the greatest casualty. Not so with Job.

Far be it from me to say that you are right;
till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. (27:5)

In 42:8, the Lord says that the friends have acted with “folly” – the same word Job used of his wife’s appeal to curse God and die in the prologue (2:10). Neither Job’s wife nor Job’s friends understood the true nature of God. For all of his errant comments, Job was committed to a pursuit of God in integrity. The friends wanted Job to admit wrong – to be dishonest – thinking that God rewards this sort of craven dishonesty (cf. 22:21-27).

Job has been genuinely groping for the truth, but the friends have spoken falsely in their attempt to defend God. More than failing to comfort Job, they have tempted him to take the wrong course out of his affliction. Since their counsel would lead Job away from the true worship of Yahweh, they are accused of folly (nəḇālâ), the denial of God’s goodness and redemptive activity in the affairs of Mankind. (John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, p. 539).

The Evil the Lord Brought?

A second curious question is the statement in 42:11 that Job’s family “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” Why does this text blame God? After all, wasn’t it The Accuser who brought harm to Job?

This statement also parallels a statement from the prologue. The second time that the Lord addresses The Accuser, he says:

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (2:3)

Whatever we are to make of this language, the Lord does not flinch from taking ultimate responsibility for what happened to Job.

So who was it that caused harm to Job, the Lord or The Accuser? This is a false choice – the answer is both, but in different respects. This is clarified by what the Lord says a few verses later:

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (2:6).

The Accuser, like all other creatures, is subject to the sovereignty of God. God gave The Accuser permission to do harm – within limits. Had God not given such permission, no harm would have occurred. It is in this sense – God’s permissive will – that God takes ultimate responsibility for what happened to Job. The proximate responsibility belongs to The Accuser.

As a reminder, this ties in to the Lord’s second speech to Job in which he challenged Job to control and contain wickedness. Job cannot – but God can, just as he can control and contain Behemoth and Leviathan. Since God is in control, and since he is at work in all things (whether by what he permits to happen or purposes to happen), we can have confidence that God limits the evil that takes place, and that he can work through it to bring good out of it.

Job’s Fortunes Restored?

A third point raised by the conclusion of the book is the restoration of God’s fortunes. Yes, Job was twice as wealthy as before (42:10). Yes, Job receives more livestock than before (42:12). Yes, Job has more children (42:13). But was this worth all that he suffered?

Bear in mind that the way the book is framed, we are not to assume that these tangible blessings were Job’s reward for faithfulness. As I argued in the previous post, Job’s reward was God himself. Job was comforted while he was still in dust and ashes, not when he got all his stuff back.

The purpose of this restoration, then, is not to show us that if you serve God he will give you stuff – that’s the outlook of The Accuser (1:9)! A better way to look at this closing section of blessings is in keeping with the idea of a period of testing. Toward the end of the dialogues, Job says that what he is going through is a refining trial-

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. (23:10)

What Job is going through is precisely what Abraham endured in the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). It is what many psalms ask for (like Psalm 139:23). It is how the New Testament authors describe our suffering (as in 1 Peter 1:6-8). Job is going through a period of testing. And one thing all of these refining tests have in common is that they are temporary.

What the narrator of the book is telling us in his descriptions of Job’s restoration is that his test is complete. He has passed! He held fast to his integrity in the midst of great loss, and now his refining experience is finished. This is why any effort to frame the story of Job as some sort of cynical contest between the Lord and The Accuser utterly fails. The Lord was not gambling with Job’s life, family, or wealth. Instead, the Lord was testing Job – not to destroy him, but to refine him.

As Gerald Wilson says in his excellent commentary:

It is important to note that the restoration of Job’s circumstances relates closely to the nature of Job’s loss and suffering as a test. When God tests Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, God restores that son to Abraham once he passes the test (Gen. 22:1–18). So here the restoration of Job’s family and possessions are part of the test story formula. (Job, p. 270)

Many of us have sung these words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

Have we truly understood what such a test would mean? What it would look like? I suggest that it looks pretty much like the story of Job. Such a test is painful and challenging, but the blessing of refined faith is worth it – so long as we remember that our heart’s greatest joy is God.

 

Reflections on Job, Part 10 – Did Job Repent, or Was Job Comforted?

 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
 “I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, ESV)

One common understanding of the dramatic conclusion of the Book of Job is that God’s speeches are a rebuke of Job’s impatient and presumptuous challenges to God to defend himself in a lawsuit. According to this view, Job’s response is contrite repentance. God is all-powerful and all-wise, Job is not, and Job learns to be quiet.

I have already indicated that I believe this understanding is inadequate. Yes, God does indeed talk about his powerful work of creation, but he does so in the same vein that Jesus mentioned God’s constant care of the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field (see Matthew 6:25-31). Job feels alone and abandoned, but God’s pervasive care of the creation includes Job. And yes, God does challenge Job’s power to contain evil and chaos, but as a reminder that God can do what Job cannot, if Job will trust him.

But will Job indeed trust God? There answer found in 42:1-6 is an emphatic YES. Job begins by declaring his confidence in God’s power.

I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (42:2)

This expression of faith is remarkable given the fact that at this point Job does not understand the purpose of his suffering (although we as the readers do, based on the opening chapters). Yet he is persuaded by God’s speeches to place his trust in God.

Further, Job acknowledges that he said a lot of things that – upon further reflection – were simply not true.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (42:3)

In verse 3 Job quotes the Lord’s opening challenge in 38:2, and confesses that the Lord was spot on – Job had indeed spoken in ignorance. And indeed, throughout the story, Job makes many glaring errors as he lashes out at the friends and at the Lord.

  • In 7:7 Job says he will never see good again.
  • In 7:9 Job denies there is life after death (also in 10:21; 14:10).
  • In 9:17 Job claims there is no reason behind his suffering.
  • In 12:6-9 Job charges God with letting evil have its day.
  • In 13:24 Job claims that God counts him as an enemy (also in 16:9-14; 19:11).
  • And in 29:4-5 Job says that God is no longer his friend.

From the information available to us in the entire book, as well as the larger biblical storyline, we know that these allegations are simply not true. So Job was mistaken about a great many things.

But he now sees the truth – at least the truth about God – with much greater clarity.

 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you (42:4-5).

Job once again quotes the opening of God’s first speech (cf. 38:3), and affirms that his previous remarks were made in ignorance – “hearsay” – and that now he sees God. And by this, I understand Job to be saying more than that he visually sees God.  He sees God with greater comprehension (just as we say to someone, “I see what you mean”).

Most every commentator agrees with what I have said so far, but there is a great deal of disagreement about the meaning of the final part of Job’s response. This is due to some degree because of the uncertainty of the actual grammar of the text. The first line of verse 6 in Hebrew simply says, “Therefore I despise ____.” There is no direct object for the verb “despise.” So what does Job despise? It it himself? That’s how the ESV renders it. Or, does Job despise what he has been saying? That’s how the NASB translates it – “Therefore I retract.” In other words, Job retracts the lawsuit he previously intended to serve to God. I think this is the right way to understand the first part of verse 6. I like the NLT here – “I take back everything I said.”

The second line of verse 6 is even tricker. Most English translations say what the ESV says: “And repent in dust and ashes.” Curiously, Job does not use a term that simply means “repent of sin.” He uses a different word (נחם, nhm), which has a much broader meaning, “be sorry, console oneself.” It is the term used in the OT in the instances where God is said to change his mind (like Gen. 6:6; Ex. 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:11).

So it is possible that Job is not repenting of sin, but simply expressing his change of heart regarding his lawsuit. In fact, the notion that Job at the end of the book suddenly confesses that he is a sinner would – in my mind – completely subvert the entire message of the book. Job is not a sinner – he is a just and upright man who fears God and turns from evil (1:1; 1:8; 2:3). To confess his sins at this point would be to concede that the friends were right after all, even though in the epilogue God completely repudiates the friends and calls upon Job to intercede for them (42:7-8).

But I actually think there is another interpretation of verse 6 that best captures what Job says, and poignantly summarizes the message of the entire book. Those of you who use the ESV will notice that there is a footnote on the word “repent” explaining that this could also be translated, “and am comforted.” And you may recall that one of the basic definitions of this Hebrew word is “console oneself.” This specific word is used seven times in Job, and everywhere else it is translated “comfort” (2:11; 7:13; 16:2; 21:34; 29:25; 42:11). I would suggest that Job’s reaction to God is not repentance but comfort.

Maybe the reason translations choose “repent” is because of the accompanying phrase, “in dust and ashes.” But technically, repentance is not associated with dust and ashes, but sackcloth and ashes. “Dust and ashes” is used two other times in Scripture. The first is when Abraham appears before God to intercede on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah:

“Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27)

Abraham is acknowledging his human frailty and mortality before God – not repentance.

The other occurrence is in Job, in his lament in 30:19-

God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.

Again, the meaning here is frailty and morality. Job is sitting in the ashes while his body wastes away and returns to the dust from which it came (2:8; cf. Gen. 3:19).

I believe what Job is saying is that in view of God’s speeches and presence, he realizes his lawsuit was ill-conceived, and that even though he is dying, he is comforted.

And by making this confession before the epilogue in which Job is restored to his health, wealth, and family, Job answers what I suggested is the key question of the book – “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (Job 1:9). The Accuser claimed that Job only served God because God gave him stuff. This was a lie. Job served God for the sake of God himself, and that is why – even in dust and ashes – he is now comforted.

I love these words of Homer Hailey:

God achieved His desire in Job, and Job received what his heart yearned for: a true view of God and complete fellowship with him. He now had something that could not have been acquired apart from the experience through which he had passed…When we have passed through the crucible of experience, we can say with Job, “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,/ But now mine eye seeth thee.” This insight remains one of the great blessings and rewards of human suffering.” (Commentary on Job, p. 366)

Note: I am deeply indebted to this post by John Mark Hicks, and to this book by Eleonore Stump, for many of my thoughts about Job, especially here.

Reflections on Job, Part 9 – The Lord’s Second Speech

The first speech of the Lord drew Job’s attention to God’s constant wisdom, power, and care for creation. Job feels abandoned by God, but the Lord’s survey of his providential care for even the most isolated of animals showed Job that he was wrong in assuming God was no longer watching over him. This leads Job to retract his “lawsuit” against the Creator-

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“Behold, I am of small account;
what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.” (40:3-5)

Job may be ready to drop his case, but God is not. In 40:6 the Lord once again addresses Job “out of the whirlwind.” This second speech begins with a direct challenge to Job. Can Job save himself by defeating the wicked and proud?

Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
    and tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
    bind their faces in the world below.
Then will I also acknowledge to you
    that your own right hand can save you. (40:12-14)

After this opening challenge, the Lord’s speech takes an unusual turn (at least to my ears). God asks Job about two creatures, Behemoth and Leviathan. But these creatures are very different from the animals mentioned in the first speech. Instead of conventional names (like “donkey” or “ostrich”), these creatures have unusual names. Behemoth is the plural form of the term “beast,” so we might think of it as the “Beast of Beasts” (my wonderful mentor Phil Roberts, with whom I first studied Job, loved to look at me and say “Behemoth” with great relish in class!). And Leviathan means “twisting serpent.” Again, not the typical sorts of names for creatures in standard zoology.

What are we to make of these creatures? Some readers look at the descriptions of the immense size and power of Behemoth and Leviathan and conclude that they must have been dinosaurs. One theory suggests that Job’s story took place before the Flood, when (it is argued) dinosaurs still roamed the earth, but that most of them perished in the flood and the few survivors died shortly after the Flood. While I think there are many serious problems with this theory, there is one fatal objection to it that stands out above all the others. Whatever we are to make of these creatures, it is clear that in the time of Isaiah, just seven centuries before the coming of Christ, Leviathan still existed – and awaited the future judgment of God.

In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. (Isaiah 27:1)

So what are we to make of Behemoth and Leviathan?

The first rule of interpretation is to ask, “What did this text mean to its original readers?” So our first task should be to determine if creatures described in these terms had some special meaning to ancient people. And the evidence is clear that these descriptions did indeed have a specific resonance for the ancient world, in a manner not very different from the way we conceive of powerful forces even in our own day.

If I asked you what animal represented Russia, or China, or America, you would immediately respond with the bear, the dragon, and the eagle (or if Benjamin Franklin had his way, the turkey!). Cultures have long used animals to depict national powers (like the vision of four animals/empires in Daniel 7:1-8). And cultures have also used various creatures to symbolize abstract concepts, like wisdom (the owl), memory (the elephant), or college basketball excellence (the Wildcat!).

In the ancient world, creatures were also used to depict concepts like chaos and evil. And it just so happens that two animals used for this very purpose were the hippopotamus and the crocodile. Hippos may seem fat and friendly, but they were (and are) one of the most deadly creatures on the planet. Crocs also have a well-deserved fierce reputation. They were the perfect creatures for ancient people to use as symbols of the danger found in a chaotic world.

From The Louvre

You can see examples of this in ancient Egyptian statues and inscriptions. In that country’s mythology, Seth was the god of disorder and violence, the murderer of his brother, Osiris. Osiris’s son, Horus, sought revenge against Seth. Sometimes this was pictured in terms of Horus slaying Seth as a crocodile.

 

 

 

From the website of Dr. Günther Eichhorn

Other times, this conflict against chaos and evil was pictured in terms of Horus hunting Seth the hippopotamus. Both of these examples show how ancient cultures used animals to represent powerful abstract concepts, especially in connection with disorder and evil.

And that is how I would suggest we understand Behemoth and Leviathan in Job. I think these creatures are rooted in real animals (possibly the hippopotamus and crocodile). But they are far more than that, which is why the descriptions far surpass conventional zoology. They are the hippo and the croc “on steroids,” so to speak. And in my view, the ancient readers of Job would have immediately connected them with the concepts of chaos and evil.

In fact, some very old commentators (like Thomas Aquinas) understood them to be metaphors for the devil himself. Aquinas thought that the actual creatures this symbolism was based upon were the elephant and the whale, but that the ultimate referent was the devil. Given John’s use of the images of a great beast from the sea and the land to illustrate the powers in alliance with the dragon/Satan in Revelation 12-13, this interpretation makes a lot of sense.

It especially makes sense when you consider how the Lord introduced these creatures. Remember, the second speech begins with God challenging Job to “tread down the wicked” (40:12). Can Job control the forces of disorder and evil? No. But Someone can.

And that is the point of this second speech. God can control Behemoth – it is just another one of God’s creatures (40:15, 19). The “Beast of Beasts” is beyond the power of man to contain, but not the Creator. And God can control Leviathan – why, he could put a leash on him for little girls to play with (41:1-5)! He is a terror to man, but not to the One who can say, “Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine” (41:11).

What the Lord is ultimately asking Job is whether he will trust God to limit and contain the chaos and evil in the world. Now, we as the readers know that this is precisely what God has been doing all along in this book. The Accuser could not do anything without God’s permission, and the Lord placed strict limits on his destructive power (Job 1:12; 2:6). But Job was not privy to this. He assumes that God is the one ripping away at him like a hippo or a croc-

Surely now God has worn me out;
    he has made desolate all my company.
And he has shriveled me up,
    which is a witness against me,
and my leanness has risen up against me;
    it testifies to my face.
He has torn me in his wrath and hated me;
    he has gnashed his teeth at me;
    my adversary sharpens his eyes against me. (Job 16:7-9)

But this is not true. Job does indeed have an adversary, but it is not God. And what God is saying to him in this second speech is that there are limits on what the evil one can do, and that Job needs to place his trust in the only one who can ultimately defeat this evil power.

But is God worthy of this trust? That’s the question Job must answer, and that you and I must answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Job, Part 8 – The Lord’s First Speech

We have come now to the climax of the Book of Job, the speeches of the Lord. There are actually two speeches, the first in 38:1-40:2 (with a brief reply by Job in 40:3-5); and the second in 40:6-41:34 (with a brief reply by Job in 42:1-6). Even though these speeches are the dramatic centerpiece of the book, there is widespread disagreement as to what the the Lord’s speeches actually mean. A common view is that the Lord is essentially rebuking Job, asserting His incomparable power and wisdom, leading Job to repent for his rash, ill-conceived accusations. I hope to show that this understanding of what the Lord says is crucially inadequate. But first, let’s look at these speeches in the context of the book.

Throughout the book, Job repeatedly expresses his desire to bring his complaint directly to God. Some examples:

For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,
    that we should come to trial together.
There is no arbiter between us,
    who might lay his hand on us both.
Let him take his rod away from me,
    and let not dread of him terrify me.
Then I would speak without fear of him,
    for I am not so in myself. (9:32-35)

Behold, I have prepared my case;
    I know that I shall be in the right.
Who is there who will contend with me?
    For then I would be silent and die.
Only grant me two things,
    then I will not hide myself from your face:
withdraw your hand far from me,
    and let not dread of you terrify me.
Then call, and I will answer;
    or let me speak, and you reply to me. (13:18-22)

Oh, that I had one to hear me!
    (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
    Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
    I would bind it on me as a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps;
    like a prince I would approach him. (31:35-37)

Further, the friends and Elihu insist throughout their speeches that this will never happen – although they wish it would occur so that God would rebuke Job even more pointedly than they have!

But oh, that God would speak
    and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
    For he is manifold in understanding.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. (11:5-6)

For his eyes are on the ways of a man,
    and he sees all his steps.
There is no gloom or deep darkness
    where evildoers may hide themselves.
For God has no need to consider a man further,
    that he should go before God in judgment. (34:21-23)

Surely God does not hear an empty cry,
    nor does the Almighty regard it.
How much less when you say that you do not see him,
    that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him! (35:13-14)

In light of Job’s repeated desire for God to answer him, and in view of the repeated claims of the friends and Elihu that God will not answer him, it seems to me that Job 38:1 is enormously  significant:

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.”

Contrary to the ardent belief of the friends and Elihu, God does indeed answer Job. And while the speeches of God take a dramatically different turn than the lawsuit between plaintiff and defendant that Job envisioned, it is striking that God does indeed manifest himself to Job.

How many people in the Bible receive an extended one-on-one with the Creator of the universe? Moses, Elijah, Isaiah…the list isn’t much longer. To put this in perspective, I have often complained about various elected officials, and I have even boasted of how much I would enjoy letting them have it in person. Amazingly, Air Force One has never touched down on my street! The President would never give me a private audience, but the Lord came to Job in the whirlwind.

The first speech of the Lord focuses on something that other speakers in the book also touched on – God’s work as the Creator (Job discussed this in 9:4-10; Elihu in 37:1-16). We may divide it in terms of the inanimate creation and the animate creation. The inanimate creation includes things like the foundations of the earth (38:4-7); the limits of the sea (38:8-11); the storehouses of snow (38:22-24); and the constellations (38:31-33). The animate creation includes animals like the mountain goats (39:1-4); the wild donkey (39:5-8); the wild ox (39:9-12) and the ostrich (39:13-18).

But what is the point of this survey of God’s work? May I suggest that there is more going on here than the simple assertion of brute power and wisdom. It is certainly true that Job has questioned God’s wisdom, and that part of God’s answer to Job is that man’s wisdom and power are too limited to accuse God of injustice. We just don’t possess the ability to see and understand all of God’s works.

But there is something else we should get from this first speech. What is it that ties together the examples of the inanimate creation and animate creation mentioned by God? In all these examples, God is at work even though this work is  inaccessible to human observation. The angels – not human beings – sang God’s praises when the foundations were laid. No man or woman was around when God ordered the inanimate world.

The same is true of the creatures God highlights. It isn’t domesticated animals, but mountain goats, wild donkeys, and wild oxen that God singles out for Job’s consideration. In all of these instances, God is intimately involved in the sustenance of his creation – but none of us can see him at work.

Why is this important to Job? Because Job feels like God has abandoned him. Recall this lament-

O, that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me…
as I was in my prime,
    when the friendship of God was upon my tent,
when the Almighty was yet with me (29:2, 4-5a).

And yet God is showing that his presence pervades all of creation, even those creatures none of us can see.

This is made all the more poignant because Job used many of these same creatures as examples of God’s absence. In 6:5 he compared his discontent to the braying of the wild donkey and ox. In 24:5 he described the mistreated poor as “wild donkeys in the desert” left to fend for themselves while God (seemingly) does nothing. And in 30:20 he portrayed his isolation in terms of the animals that haunted abandoned cities –

I am a brother of jackals
    and a companion of ostriches. 

What the Lord wants Job to understand is that just because Job cannot see God’s presence, that doesn’t mean God is absent. God brings rain “on a land where no man is” (38:26). And if God is at work in all of these other areas where Job cannot see it, then just maybe God is at work in his life, even though he cannot see it.

And of course, it just so happens that we as the readers know from the opening chapters that this is precisely the case.

 

 

 

Reflections on Job, Part 7 – What to Do with Elihu?

The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

One of the greatest mysteries in a book filled with mysteries is what to make of Elihu. He seems to appear out of nowhere, and after his speeches conclude, there is no further reference to him in the book. It’s almost as if someone from the street stumbled onto the stage of a musical, decided to sing a few songs, and then leave!

What are we to make of Elihu? Should we look at his four speeches as fundamentally different in tone and content from the friends? Does he add any new insight to the book? Does he get the reader a little closer to the truth about Job’s predicament? Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 6: What Job Wants

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

Throughout the course of Job’s speeches, both in his dialogues with the three friends and in his final monologue, there is one thing that Job repeatedly says he desires: an audience with God. Job believes that God is punishing him unjustly. Given his commitment to the Principle of Retribution as the mechanism of God’s providence, that’s the only conclusion an “upright and blameless man” like Job could draw. While his confidence that the Principle of Retribution is the comprehensive explanation of God’s governance does begin to waver in his later speeches, Job’s desire to bring his case beforte God does not.

Here’s a selection of these requests for redress with God.

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Reflections on Job, Part 5: Job’s Breakthrough

In my previous post I discussed what one commentator calls the “Triangle of Tension” in the Book of Job. Given the principle of retribution (the law of sowing and reaping), these three points cannot co-exist: God’s justice, Job’s righteousness, and Job’s suffering. If the wicked always suffer and the righteous always prosper, then either Job must not be righteous, or God must not be just. Job’s friends deny Job’s righteousness, and Job denies God’s justice.

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Reflections on Job, Part 4: The “Triangle of Tension”

To understand the ebb and flow of Job’s exchanges with his friends, we must first understand the assumption that they all share. Compare these two statements, first regarding Job- Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 3: Are God and Satan Playing a Game with Job’s Life?

If you read the first two chapters of Job from a cynical vantage point, it would be easy to conclude that God and The Accuser are playing a game with Job’s life. The LORD asks The Accuser to consider His servant Job, The Accuser responds by claiming that Job is only pious because God gives him stuff, and the LORD says that The Accuser is free to take away that stuff. But where does Job fit into this apparent contest? What about the horrible toll he will pay, not to mention his children? It almost sounds like Job is nothing more than a pawn in a celestial chess match. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 2: The Key Question of the Book

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:6-11)

I used to think that the Book of Job was the inspired answer to the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, He could prevent evil and suffering. And if God was totally good, He would prevent evil and suffering. Yet evil and suffering exist. How can this be? The Book of Job will answer this question, I once thought. Continue reading