Daily Guide to the Book of Job
Brian Housman and Doug Stevenson
August 1, 2008
The book of Job is a poetic masterpiece that speaks to the issue of suffering, and specifically why bad things happen to good people. Job is bundled with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes under the category of wisdom literature in the Bible. We don't know who wrote Job; best guesses are that it was completed in the seventh century BC. What we do know is that Job is the premier piece of ancient poetry that we still have to study and enjoy.
Job's wisdom is unique in the Bible in that it's formatted like a stage play, with extended monologues that function as dialogue between the characters. If it's hard to imagine the characters on stage, since there's only talking and no dramatic action, perhaps thinking of them as corresponding through postal mail might be helpful. In any case, as with most poetry and ancient drama, you can expect to find beautiful and extended metaphors and similes as a way to express the drama occurring between the characters. Here's the cast of characters in Job:
Job: The protagonist of the story. He's a great guy with a great life but encounters such hard times that he's wondering how God could allow so many horrible things to happen to him. Job is most likely not an Israelite. He is one of the "people of the East" which means he's probably an Arab, Edomite, or from some other tribe from their area, in what is now Jordan or northern Saudi Arabia. This is interesting because this paragon of wisdom and righteousness in the Hebrew Bible was not himself Hebrew, and may not have gotten his understanding of God from Hebrew tradition.
God: Does God need any introduction? He's very proud of Job for his faithfulness.
Satan: Has been given authority by God to make Job's life miserable by taking away his possessions and health. Satan disagrees with God's opinion that Job will remain faithful to God during these hard times.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar: Job's friends. They try to explain to him why he's going through so much trouble. They assert that prosperity is a sign of God's favor and that Job is suffering because of his wrongdoing.
Elihu: The youngest of Job's friends and last to speak. Interestingly, he's not mentioned until he first speaks, well into the book, and he never elicits any direct response from anyone. It's as if he's been listening in the whole time, says his piece, and then disappears. Because of the lack of response to him, how exactly he fits into the conversation is a bit hard to tell. In any case, along the way he certainly has some interesting and useful things to say.
To fully engage with the book of Job, try to imagine what the characters-particularly Job himself-are feeling. Why is Job so exasperated with his friends' 'comforting'? Is it tempting to see the world as simply as Job's friends? Have you been in a situation similar to any of the characters?
Thursday, August 19th-Job 1: 1-22-The prologue
Our story opens with a picture of Job's perfect life. He himself is a good man, blameless even. He is also quite wealthy, and has a large, harmonious family. Everything about his life speaks of prosperity and good fortune: he even has lucky numbers of children, both seven and three being numbers that represent perfection and completion.
Meanwhile, in heaven, it's time for senior management meetings. Apparently, most of the time, the angels are dispersed to take care of their various responsibilities. But on this particular day, they come back to God's court to report. Somewhat surprisingly, Satan, whose name means 'Adversary,' arrives along with the angels. From the fact that Satan is listed separately from the angels, I get the impression that he's not part of the group that would normally report to God. Interestingly, though, God isn't entirely surprised to see him, and their interaction, while not exactly friendly, is at least polite. It's as if it is in some way appropriate for Satan to pay a visit to God's court. God takes this opportunity to boast about Job, but Satan scoffs, saying that Job is only faithful to God because everything is going well for him. Satan practically dares God: just take away your protection from Job, and you'll see how quickly he turns on you.
Looked at one way, this glimpse of how things work in God's court is somewhat reassuring: to a large extent, Satan seems to acknowledge God's authority; and we get the sense that it's God's usual stance to place his followers under his protection. Both of those sound like good news. Then again, looked at from another direction, this passage is among the most dismaying things found in the Bible-because God actually takes Satan's dare. God doesn't do Job any harm himself, but he does explicitly give Satan permission to do so. It's hard to understand why God would do such a thing. Apparently, God considers it worth putting Job in harm's way in order to prove that Job's blamelessness and faith are genuine.
This passage brings to the forefront a genuine tension in my own spiritual life. On the one hand, I certainly expect my life to be better because of my relationship with God. I turn to God because I need his help, and it doesn't seem like he'd be a very good God if he wasn't willing and able to be of some benefit to people who turn to him. On the other hand, if I look at the God of the universe merely as a means to my own little happy life, that seems petty, inappropriate, and unbearably egocentric. It seems only right that I would expect good things from God, and yet it also seems important that I keep in mind that God has more important things to do than keep me happy.
Striking this balance reminds me a little bit of Christmas presents from my parents. I enjoy the fact that my parents give me presents on Christmas, and they want me to think of them as the kind of parents who give good Christmas presents. But, if I boiled our entire relationship down to what they gave me for Christmas, that would be missing the point. And if I were to suddenly reject them if for some reason they didn't give me presents one year, it would be horribly ungrateful. Our relationship is more than the presents, but the presents are an important symbol of our relationship.
Of course, that example is so much more trivial than what Job is facing that perhaps it's not even a suitable comparison. But, who knows, maybe part of what we're being told in this first chapter of Job is that life has less to do with our circumstances than we might think-and yet, somehow, that doesn't make our circumstances unimportant.
Friday, August 20th-Job 2:1-13-The prologue continues
I have to admit that it is in fact the most difficult times of my life that have truly tested my character and produced the most growth. And yet, I can't help but wish that there were some other way for this to happen. Was it really necessary for God to so consciously give Satan the permission to test Job to the very limits like this?
I admire Job's response when the waves of tragedy strike. He truly and deeply grieves, but he also shows humility and gratitude. Job recognizes that he never had an unalienable right for his life to go perfectly. He'd accepted good things from God, when he'd done nothing to earn them or deserve them; and now he refuses to curse God when things have taken a turn for the worse. Job seems to be able to simultaneously express his pain and recognize his own smallness. That's something I'd like to learn to do better.
How do you respond to the good times in your life? To the hard times? What do you get from each of them?
Saturday, August 21st-Job 3:1-26-Job's first speech
Up until now, Job has been maintaining a very fine balance, equally mourning his losses and accepting with equanimity his change of fortune. At this point, though, he gives full vent to his mourning. I think what provokes this outburst is the fact that he can't think of a reason to get up and move on. Job has lost his hope, and along with it his appetite for life. What's the point of living, he asks, if you spend your whole life wishing you would just die already?
Job wishes that there was some way that his birthday could just be removed from the calendar, as if it's somehow wrong that a day could exist which would honor his birth. Maybe he even fantasizes that if his birthday were to disappear, he too would suddenly vanish. Without a birthday, he couldn't have ever been born. If he was never born, he couldn't suffer. If he never suffered, he wouldn't have to figure out how and why to go on living after his suffering.
Job's sense of the value of his life has been shaken, and he's having a hard time recovering it. What would you say makes your life worth living? Have you ever had a difficult time believing that there's a good life ahead of you? What kept you going? What did you or would you need from God or others to reignite your hope?
Sunday, August 22nd-Job 4:1-6, 12-21-Eliphaz responds
Job and his friends have sat grieving in silence for seven days. But Job's outburst in chapter 3 breaks the dam, as it were, and now we get a torrent of speeches that lasts for thirty-five chapters. Eliphaz tells Job, 'I was willing to be silent as long as you were. But now that we're talking, I have a few things to say.' Indeed he does.
Eliphaz starts by accusing Job of a lack of faith. Just believe, he seems to be saying, and everything will turn out well for you. What he overlooks is the fact that Job had been faithful, and everything is manifestly not alright.
Oddly, Eliphaz goes on to tell a ghost story, complete with nightmares, nebulous forms, unexplained breezes, hair standing on end, and cryptic wisdom in a whispered voice (it's interesting to note that the genre hasn't changed so much in 2700 years). Unless I'm missing something, the ghost's big secret isn't much of a secret: 'God is bigger and smarter than human beings.' True enough, and I could even imagine it being a helpful thing for Job to be reminded of. But I find Eliphaz's over-dramatization of the point a bit annoying. He seems to have an unduly high regard for his own cleverness, which makes me think that he cares more about his words than he does about his hurting friend. Then again, who am I to talk? I've never sat mourning with a friend for seven days, like Eliphaz had.
Monday, August 23rd-Job 4:1, 5: 1-11, 17-21, 26-27-Eliphaz's speech continues
As Eliphaz continues his speech, he seems to be contradicting himself. Should Job meekly and silently accept his circumstances, or should he cry out to God? Eliphaz seems to be recommending both. I get the impression that Eliphaz is just trying out all of the conventional wisdom about suffering he has heard, hoping that something will stick. Eventually, he stumbles into a groove: Job's hardships must be God disciplining Job like a parent disciplines a child. Job should stop complaining and embrace the discipline, because it's really for his own good. Once again, Eliphaz hits upon some truth. It's a common feature of wisdom literature in general, and of biblical wisdom in particular, that God uses hardship to teach us valuable lessons. Almost exactly the same thing is said in Proverbs 3:11-12, for instance:
My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.
Unfortunately, applied to Job's situation, this bit of general wisdom is doubly irrelevant:
It's factually wrong-Job isn't being disciplined;
It's emotionally irrelevant-it doesn't address the magnitude of Job's losses. A parent disciplines a child to protect them from even greater harm. For example, you give a child a time out when they run out into the street because it's worth giving them the small amount of pain associated with the time out in order to protect them from the much more dangerous possibility of being hit by a car. But what exactly could the greater harm be, if the protective discipline Job has experienced is losing ten children, his wealth, his livelihood, and his health? This isn't a time out, or even a spanking.
As Eliphaz discovers, it can be a tricky thing to say the right thing to a friend in trouble. It's hard to know what piece of general wisdom applies to a specific situation. And even if something is both true and accurate, that doesn't mean it's the right time to say it. Furthermore, the way we say it is at least as important as what we say. It's easier to get it wrong than to get it right. Do you have a friend in difficult circumstances? Consider taking a moment to ask God to help you know how you can best help your friend.
Tuesday, August 24th-Job 6:1-4, 8-15, 21-Job replies
Job can't believe that his friends are treating his suffering so lightly. They seem surprised that he is crying out in anguish, but isn't that the normal thing to do when you have been hurt? Job's barely holding on, about to slip completely into despair and bitterness. He was expecting compassion, sympathy, support, and encouragement from his friends. Instead, he finds them holding themselves back from him and even speaking harshly to him.
Insightfully, Job recognizes that his friends are afraid of what they see. Their response to Job's experience is horror. It could be that they're simply horrified by the depth of his suffering; they don't want to take too close a look at something so awful. Or maybe what most frightens them is the idea that the same things that happened to Job could happen to them, unless they can explain how they're different or why Job deserves it and they don't.
In any case, when Job most needs his friends is exactly the moment when they are most tempted to pull away from him. Maybe the loneliness of suffering is the worst part of it; no one really understands what you're going through, or how to interact with you. It's exactly that profound loneliness that Job is experiencing right now.
Wednesday, August 25th-Job 6:1, 7:1-21-Job's speech continues
Job slips again into his earlier theme of desiring death; but partway through the speech, his point shifts, from requesting death to recognizing that-whether he wants it or not and whether his demands are met or not-he will indeed die soon, because everybody does. In light of his impending death, two things occur to Job:
There's no point in holding back his thoughts and feelings. What will God do, kill him? That's exactly what he wants. Make him keep on living? It's not that long anyway. So, while Eliphaz is recommending that Job speak more prudently, Job decides instead to say exactly what is on his mind.
He wonders why, given how insignificantly small he is, God is paying him so much attention. 'Why is God picking on me? Doesn't he have better things to do with his time?' he asks. Of course we know from the prologue that God's opinion of Job is entirely favorable, but I can understand why Job might think that God's intentions toward him are malicious. In any case, it seems Job's point has less to do with God's opinion of Job and more to do with Job's dawning awareness that God is more powerful and less predictable than he had realized. Job's not sure anymore that he wants anything to do with a being so entirely Other.
Maybe it's just me, but I see a real ambivalence in this speech. Job in some ways shows a desire for genuine relationship with God: he decides he's going to tell God what he really thinks; and he makes several demands for explanations from God. He wants to actually talk things through with God, rather than relating to him at a distance. At the same time, Job sees what he's asking as impossible and dangerous, and he thinks that it might be better if God just left him alone entirely.
Thursday, August 26th-Job 8:1-7, 11-19-Bildad breaks in
I get an impression of Bildad putting his hands over his ears and yelling, 'I can't hear you!' Bildad simply can't handle Job's-to my mind not entirely wholehearted-wish that God would leave him alone. That, Bildad says, would be like a plant wanting nothing to do with water. Sure, God is stronger than we are, but we depend on being connected to someone stronger for our very survival.
I find myself moved by Bildad's evocative description of our neediness and dependence. And I believe him when he says our own efforts are as flimsy as a spider web. I'm often daunted by my life, and encouraged by the idea that there's someone stronger than me that is willing and able to help.
However, once again, Bildad doesn't seem to be taking into account the context of the horrible suffering Job has just experienced. What if the one on whom you rely seems instead to be ripping your life apart? On this front, Bildad seems cruelly blunt to me. It's all very simple, he seems to say:
God helps the blameless and hinders the wicked;
Therefore, since your children were killed, we must assume that they were hopelessly wicked;
Since your punishment was lighter, your own sins must have been less serious;
So, there's still hope for you; if you repent now, God will stop punishing you and give you good things instead.
How is it that the same person could speak such beautiful expressions of faith and such ugly judgments at the same time? And I'm not asking a rhetorical question about Bildad; I do the same thing all the time.
Friday, August 27th-Job 9:1-15, 32-35-Job responds
Job doesn't have a problem with the idea that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Here's Job's problem: what if a mistake is made? What if, for some reason, God is punishing you for something you didn't do? Who could stop God from doing what he's decided to do? If God himself has judged you, to whom can you make an appeal? Job is utterly convinced that he is being wrongfully punished, but he has no hope that there is any way to have the judgment against him reversed.
Job is asking a huge question here: What if we can't trust God to be right and good?
Saturday, August 28th-Job 9:1, 10:1-9, 16-22-Job's speech continues
Job briefly returns to his theme from chapter seven: he's just a small human being, and he can't understand why God is paying so much attention to him. Then another thought occurs to him: God made him. If he is God's handiwork, why would God want to destroy him? This suffering that he has experienced just doesn't make sense to him, any way he looks at it.
By the end of this speech, Job seems more tired than anything else. He begs God for a reprieve. He's suffered enough; can't God just give him a moment's peace before he dies?
Sunday, August 29th-Job 11:1-9-Zophar responds
In today's reading, Job's friend Zophar is responding to Job's complaints in the previous two chapters. The main point is his criticism of Job's 'extravagant claims to righteousness.' He's bothered by Job's claim that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. If you've been following our psalm readings, you'll note that Job isn't alone in pleading blamelessness; occasionally the psalmists make this claim as well. Zophar considers this kind of thing to be "idle talk" and thinks that God should correct Job on his righteous self-appraisal. He also says God is beyond human comprehension, which I imagine is his way of saying that arguing with God on anything is probably futile.
Do you agree or disagree with Zophar on the topic of claiming one's own righteousness before God? Could you argue for or against him?
If what Zophar says is right, that we can't fathom the mysteries of God, does that mean it's not worthwhile to make an effort?
Monday, August 30th-Job 12:1-6, 13-25-Job responds
In Job's reply to Zophar's comments, he's upset that his friends seem to think he's somehow inferior (note the sarcasm in verse 2), that he can't comprehend what they know. He replies that, of course, he knows what they know-in fact, everyone does-and yet he still asserts his righteousness before God! He goes further and says that people who are living easily despise those who are not because they are reminded of just how fragile and unpredictable life can be.
Job's statement in verse 6 is a little troubling to me. He seems to be saying here that so-called crooks and thieves (in contrast, perhaps, to the well-to-do in verse 5) are somehow safe with respect to God. This seems unintuitive! Perhaps what Job is trying to say is that the well-to-do are tempted to depend on their own fortune, rather than God, for safety; but those who are desperate don't have anything except the grace of God to lead them through life. These people are actually living securely in God's grasp. Or maybe the crooks and the well-to-do are the same people, and they are being contrasted with the righteous and blameless (i.e. Job). Job is falling down, even though he cried out to God; the crooks and thieves are safe and secure, even though they provoked God. It's hard to piece these verses together.
While it's difficult to understand in places, the overall point of this speech is clear: Job's misfortunes have made a mockery out of him. He claimed to be in a right relationship with God, but his suffering shows that either it's not true or it doesn't matter.
At this point in the story, how do you think Job sees his relationship with his advice-giving friends? Do you think that living the "good life" can lead one to despise those who are desperate?
Tuesday, August 31st-Job 12:1, 13:3-17, 21-27-Job's speech continues
In Job's continued monologue from yesterday's reading, he forcefully and whole-heartedly rejects his friends' idea that somehow his own actions have led to his predicament. He also accuses them of misrepresenting God with their words. Instead of confessing any wrongdoing, Job seeks to argue his case before God-if God would just talk back!
I don't know about you, but if I were in Job's situation, my first instinct would be to confess anything at all if it had the chance of ending my misery! He strikes me as a perilously confident person willing to lay everything on the line before God. Yet, I find his forceful pursuit of God's attention attractive. Do you think this method of seeking God has any benefits for us today?
Wednesday, September 1st-Job 12:1, 14:1-22-Job's speech continues
We're in yet another chapter of Job's monologue started in chapter 12. Here, Job once again complains that human life is tragically short and appeals to God to stay out of human affairs. Job thinks that God meddles negatively in our lives and that we're better off without him. Furthermore, Job continues to long for death in order to escape what he perceives as God's anger.
At this point, what do you think it would take for Job to think life worth living? What would it take for Job to welcome God's involvement in his life?
Thursday, September 2nd-Job 16:16-22, 17:1, 13-16-another speech from Job
At this point in the readings, we skip a speech by Eliphaz (in which he warns of the terrible fate of the wicked) and go straight into another speech of mourning from Job. While Job spends much of this speech continuing to despair about his situation, there are hints of something else. Job talks about his enduring hope in a 'witness,', an 'advocate,' or an 'intercessor' ('messenger' in Hebrew) in heaven. Apparently, the prospect of getting a hearing from God is not as impossible as Job has been making it out to be. There is someone who can mediate between God and humans. In fact, in 17:3, Job asks God himself to be his advocate, in his argument with God. When Job starts to speak of this hope beyond hope that a divine intercessor will appear that will speak on his behalf to God, it's hard not to think of Jesus, who promised:
Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned (John 16:7-11)
I don't know what suddenly gives Job the faith to imagine a heavenly witness, but he definitely seems to be on to something. As it turns out, Jesus says he came to earth, died, and rose again precisely to provide such a sponsor, not just for Job, but for all of us.
Friday, September 3rd-Job 19:1-7, 14-27-Job continues to speak
Again, we skip a speech, this time by Bildad, in chapter 18 and go straight to another one of Job's speeches. Again, Job seems to vacillate between despair and hope. Certainly, Job has concluded that God must be his enemy. We know from the prologue in chapters 1 and 2 that Satan is the true enemy, but Job doesn't have that heavenly perspective; so he declares, 'God has wronged me and drawn his net around me' (v.6). Somehow, despite this position, Job faithfully declares that he knows that his redeemer is out there somewhere (verse 25) to make this situation right again.
Job's declaration in verse 25 is one of the most celebrated passages for people of faith throughout history. It is even quoted in The Messiah by George Friedrich Handel. This verse is seen as an anticipation of Jesus' return to earth to vindicate all pain and suffering and bring justice to the world. I don't think this was Job's perspective, however. I imagine he intended for his redeemer to pass judgment on his "friends" for their unfair accusations.
In the past two days' readings, Job can't see things any other way but that God has it out for him. And yet, he also can't help but hold on to the idea that he will in the end be vindicated by the work of a heavenly messenger, maybe even a redeemer, maybe even God himself. What are the things that are so important to you that, even when things look their worst, you find yourself unable to stop hoping for and believing in them?
Saturday, September 4th-Job 22:1-4, 22:21, 23:1-7-Eliphaz's final words
Today's reading picks up with a brief segment of a speech from Eliphaz followed by a brief reply from Job. Eliphaz attempts to argue the futility of claiming righteousness in the eyes of God. He says that God really has nothing to gain if a person manages to achieve that. It seems as if Eliphaz is suggesting that God is indifferent to human goodness and that only in wrongdoing is God incited to action.
Job's reply doesn't seem to follow from this argument. I wonder if he's just plain tired of arguing with Eliphaz and the others. So, he simply ignores him and instead reiterates the complaint of his suffering. He also continues to lament the fact that he can't seem to get God to talk back to him; he doesn't want to talk with Eliphaz anymore, but he all the more desperately wants to talk to God. Even though he can't seem to get God's attention, more than ever he is confident that if God were to listen to his case, he would find Job to be innocent.
Job isn't terribly interested, but what do you think of Eliphaz's argument? Do you agree or disagree? Can you think of any other Bible passages that speak for it or against it?
Sunday, September 5th-Job 25:1-6, 27:1-6-Bildad's final words
Like yesterday, we have two brief speeches: Bildad's final speech, followed by a portion of Job's response. Also like yesterday, much of what I see from these speeches is that Job and his friends have run out of reasons to keep talking: they clearly disagree; they no longer have anything new to say to one another; and they are getting increasingly short and testy. Bildad repeats the idea-familiar from Eliphaz's speech yesterday- that it's impossible for Job to be approved of by God. He implies that Job should just admit he is wrong and submit to his punishment. Job swears (by God, ironically), that he will never do such a thing: if he did, then he would be doing something wrong, because he'd be lying. What Bildad sees as an encouragement toward what's right, Job sees as a temptation toward wicked deceit. They're clearly on different pages.
Have you ever been stuck in an endless argument? You can see that it's not really going anywhere, but for some reason you just can't let it go. What are some signs to you that an argument has gone on too long? What do you think makes us continue, long after it's pretty clear that nothing good will come of it? I know that for me, one of two things keeps me in a dead-end argument: a desire to prove I'm right; or the feeling that if I stopped, I'd be giving up on the other person. What's the alternative to continuing a fruitless argument?
Monday, September 6th-Job 29:1-20-Job's closing arguments
We'll spend the next four days reading selections from what might be called (adopting the law court metaphor Job uses so extensively) Job's closing arguments. In today's passage, Job starts by remembering how things were before tragedy struck. Of course, he thinks about how prosperous he was. But even more significant to him, he remembers how rich his life was relationally: he was surrounded by his beloved children; he was respected in the community; he was actively involved in helping others in need; and, above all, he had a vibrant, intimate relationship with God.
I may be wrong about this, but I sense a different tone here than in other places. In other speeches, Job has bitterly complained about his losses. Here, he seems to be more fondly and longingly-while still sadly-looking back on the things he has lost. One of his regrets is that he didn't savor those good times as much as he could have, because he always assumed that they would last forever.
What do you find sweet, or pleasant, or fulfilling about your life right now? Job's example warns us that it's easy to overlook the good things in life. It might be worth us spending a little bit of time truly enjoying those things today. We could do that by paying them more attention, by fully engaging in them, and by expressing gratitude for them.
Tuesday, September 7th-Job 29:1, 30:1-31-Job's closing arguments continue
At times as we've read Job, I've disagreed with him. I've occasionally become somewhat impatient with him. But I've always liked him and been rooting for him. This speech makes it a little harder to do so. If I heard a little more sweetness in the last chapter, here I feel like Job lurches into uncharacteristic nastiness and arrogance: 'Look what's become of me,' he says, 'I've fallen so low that now I'm forced to listen to people I wouldn't have trusted to take care of my dogs.' He goes on so long describing how vile these people are that it's a little hard to summon up pity for him when he complains toward the end about the lack of compassion he has received.
I suppose suffering brings out some of the worst in all of us. When you're under stress, or facing hard times, what are the unpleasant things that come out of you? Has that happened recently? If so, is there someone to whom you might want to apologize?
Wednesday, September 8th-Job 29:1, 31:1-23-more of Job's closing arguments
Here, as he has promised to do for so long, Job lays out his case to God. If righteousness is summed up in treating others well and generously, than-Job claims-he had behaved faultlessly. I don't think Job is claiming absolute faultlessness here; instead he's saying that he had oriented his life toward treating other people well, and had lived according to those principles. And, lest we are tempted to think him deluded (as his friends did, and as I am tempted to do after what I read as his bitter outburst yesterday), it's worth noting that God agrees with him. In chapter 1, God says, 'he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil' (v. 8). Indeed, it's his righteousness that has drawn Satan's negative attention, not any faults that have drawn God's negative attention.
Job doesn't realize that Satan, not God, is behind is suffering, though. So, Job basically calls God to live up to the standards Job has set: treat me like I've treated other people, he says. As we've mentioned before, that seems like a bold thing to say. But I wonder if it's the kind of bold statement to which God actually wants us to aspire. Jesus, for example, recommends that we regularly pray, 'Forgive me just like I forgive other people' (Luke 11: 4). It seems that Job is right in thinking that we set the terms under which God will treat us by how we treat other people. What would it be like to spend today treating other people how we hope God would treat us? What would you do differently?
Thursday, September 9th-Job 29:1, 31:24-40-Job's final words
Job's not done yet. He has a lot more to say in his defense. Not only has he treated other people well, but he has also been faithful to God; he hasn't worshipped other gods, or depending on gold instead of God. He's even treated creation well. He invites any person, God himself, and even his fields to stand up and testify against him, if they have anything to say. And when no one and nothing speaks up, the defense rests (or is it the prosecution? It's a little hard to tell whether Job or God is on trial here).
It's amazing how valuable a clean conscience is. Job is in a great deal of pain. And, he's lost everything he had. And he's profoundly disturbed by the way his experience doesn't match his understanding of God. And yet, in all of this, he is able to maintain an incredible degree of self-assurance, because he knows that he is innocent of wrongdoing. He's confident that there is no hidden fault, no nasty secret that is going to leak out. He's utterly confident that he is innocent; so there must be another explanation than his own guilt for the things that have happened to him.
Friday, September 10th-Job 32:1-10, 32:19, 33:1, 33:12-28-Elihu speaks
Who is Elihu, and where did he come from? Though he hasn't yet been mentioned, apparently another man has been listening to the conversation all along. I picture him casually eavesdropping from a little distance. As Job's dialogue with his friends unravels, this eavesdropper can't help but insert himself into the conversation.
Elihu's contribution has a little bit of the feel of a hit-and-run speech. We didn't even know he was there, until he suddenly speaks for four chapters straight; then, he suddenly disappears again. Because of that, it's a little hard to get a read on him. The two of us (Doug and Brian) went around and around for a while trying to come to some agreement on how to interpret Elihu-the results were inconclusive. He could be read as an impudent young whippersnapper, an unwelcome busybody, or as the person who finally says the thing that moves the conversation forward.
While his speech as a whole, and his place in the narrative, confounded us a bit, we both did agree that the part of his speech we read here certainly brings something new and important to the conversation. Alone among Job's dialogue partners, Elihu actually addresses Job's primary complaint: that he wants an explanation from God, but can never get it. Elihu approves of Job's desire to hear from God, but calls into question his assumption that it will never happen. God doesn't always speak how we would expect or when we would want, Elihu says, but he does speak. Elihu agrees with Job that Job's only hope is an intercessor who will speak up for him, but Elihu expresses more confidence that that advocate will in fact show up. Even though it looks too late, it is not. In short, while Job spends much of his time lamenting that God would never speak to him, Elihu encourages Job to actually talk to God, expecting an answer. It is Job's only hope, and it might very well work.
There's a big difference between talking about God and talking to God, and Elihu encourages Job to move from the one to the other. That seems like good advice for us too. Is there anything you'd like God to know? Anything you want to ask God? Why don't you take a moment now to mention those things to God? If you don't hear anything right away, be on the lookout for God to communicate in unexpected ways at some other time today.
Saturday, September 11th-Job 38:1-17-God answers
Elihu suggests that God might answer Job in his dreams, but God chooses a more dramatic form. All of a sudden a whirlwind whips up, and God answers Job's summons out of the storm. Job has accused God of mistreating him; God counters that Job has misunderstood him. 'Are you sure you see things clearly?' God asks, 'because your words sound pretty confused to me.'
God plays along with Job's court metaphor, immediately putting Job in the witness stand, as it were. Just like a lawyer in court, God asks Job a series of questions. The first set of questions focuses on the topic of knowledge. Job has claimed to know that it is God who is behind his suffering, and to know that no matter how much he asks for it, God will not answer him. So, God decides to put the limits of Job's knowledge to the test:
How big is the world?-surely you know;
Do you happen to know the boundaries of the sea?
Do you know how to regulate night and day?
I think God's point is that the world is a lot bigger and more complicated than Job can comprehend. Job doesn't even understand how the natural world works, not to speak of the spiritual world. Perhaps the one who does know how the earth stays in place and where the ocean water comes from might also have some perspective on what had happened to Job. But Job never asked.
God continues his questions about Job's knowledge, and even increases the intensity: 'Tell me, if you know all this'; 'Surely you know, for you were already born'; 'Do you know the laws of the heavens?' It feels a bit like God switches from a legal interrogation to a job interview. Would Job like to take the wheel and drive the universe for a while? What are his qualifications?
It's intriguing to me that, so far, God has not even tried to explain what happened to Job. He doesn't tell Job that it was actually Satan who was attacking him, not to speak of explaining why he would allow Satan to do such a thing. He doesn't tell Job that he knows Job didn't do anything to deserve the sufferings he experienced. In fact, he doesn't really refer to Job's sufferings at all.
What God does pay a lot of attention to is Job's charge against God: that God would never respond to Job's cry for answers. Job thought he knew what was going on. Because of his assumptions, he didn't actually turn to God for answers. Job cut himself off from the one who could help him understand what was happening to him-and then he blamed God for the silence.
From God's perspective, this relational issue between Job and him is a much higher priority than actually giving Job the answers he wants. What Job needs most when trouble hits is a strong connection to God. It's God who has the wisdom and the power to help Job get through hard times. So God very seriously addresses the fact that Job's instinct was to withdraw from God.
Monday, September 13th-Job 40:1-14-God interrogates Job
Just like Job gave his neighbors, God, and even his fields the chance to testify against him, God gives Job the opportunity to cross-examine him. But Job declines. It seems like Job agrees with God: the mere fact that God has answered him is answer enough.
God is not quite done, though. Up until now, God has focused on the topic of knowledge. Now, he moves on to talking about justice. Justice too, is more complicated than Job comprehends. Enforcing universal justice is not as easy as it looks. It takes not only knowledge, but a great deal of power. Job may be able to recognize justice. He can demand justice all he wants, but he's going to need a lot more than words to provide justice for himself.
Job has tried to make himself the arbiter of justice, but God mercifully refuses to relinquish the job to him. God cares about justice far too much, and he doesn't think Job has the strength to get it for himself.
Tuesday, September 14th-Job 40:1, 40:15-41:11-God continues to speak
Behemoth and Leviathan are two monstrous mythological creatures. Scholars suggest that Behemoth might be associated with the hippopotamus, and Leviathan with the crocodile. It seems to me that what's being described here are creatures larger, more powerful, and more fantastic then even those large and frightening animals. In God at War, Gregory Boyd makes a compelling case that Behemoth and Leviathan are two primeval spiritual forces of chaos. To me, that idea makes sense of this passage as the culmination of God's speech and of the entire book of Job.
What God seems to be saying, from Boyd's point of view, is that justice isn't currently the natural state of things. Chaos lumbers around, doing whatever it pleases, causing all sorts of havoc. For justice to be established, these chaotic monsters have to be subdued; and only God has the power to do it. God promises that he will in the end set things right: 'Everything under heaven belongs to me.' But it will take a fight.
This inspires me to praise God, for his strength and for his commitment to justice. It also inspires me to pray that God would indeed defeat chaos and evil, and firmly establish justice in the world.
Wednesday, September 15th-Job 42:1-17-The epilogue
All along, Job has refused to repent. Now, he says 'I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.' I don't think he's admitting, as his friends wanted him to do, that he'd done something to deserve punishment. Instead, he's repenting of his misunderstanding of God and his accusation of him. Seeing the magnitude of the task of establishing justice, God's power, and God's commitment to establishing justice, Job finally willingly cedes the job of ruling the world to God. Basically, he drops his charges against God.
I love the sentence, 'My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.' Job goes from an awareness of God to an actual relationship with him. He's gotten a glimpse of God's heart, his work, and his power; and he considers it a privilege.
God immediately goes about establishing a small bit of justice, by correcting Job's three friends and putting them at Job's mercy. Job graciously prays that God will forgive the friends.
And then Job moves on. I don't think this second family and fortune is meant to be a simple replacement for the first one. You don't simply get over the death of a child because another child is born. I think what this second family shows is that, no matter what difficulties we face, there is always hope of happiness in the future. Nothing will ever bring Job's first family back, but if Job had gotten his wish and been killed along with that first family, he never would have experienced the joy of knowing his second family.
This gives me a lot of hope.
Thursday, September 16th-Job 28:1-28-An afterword on the nature of wisdom
This last passage is actually a part of Job's final speech, but the Book of Common Prayer's reading schedule places it here at the end, as a sort of theme song as the final credits roll. If wisdom consists, as this poem says, of two things-avoiding evil, and fearing God-I guess we could say that at the beginning of this book, Job is half wise: he avoids evil. Through this book, he gains the second half of wisdom, a healthy respect for God.
In his New Testament letter, the biblical author James says that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us generously and ungrudgingly (James 1:5). Perhaps a fitting way to respond our reading of Job would be to ask for more wisdom. Let's pray together that we would know how to avoid evil, and that we would grow in our trust of God.