THE FALL AND RISE OF JOB, THE HERETIC
‘It is not in our power to explain either the prosperity of the wicked or the affliction of the righteous. 1
‘Some comforters have but one song to sing, and they have no regard to whom they sing it’ 2
Job and his Family by William Blake
One of the central theological question posed by the Bible is debated in the Book of Job. That question is ‘Why do the righteous suffer’? And if the righteous suffer then ‘Why be righteous’? God told the people of Israel repeatedly if they obey the law they will receive the good life and if they commit evil they will be punished (Deut. 28:1).
Job’s righteousness is asserted not only by himself but by the narrator in the opening verse and by reiterated by God several times (1:8, 2:3, 42:7-8), nevertheless his life is all but destroyed. The question of the suffering of the innocent can be expanded to the question: does a moral order exist in the world? This central question in the Hebrew canonized Bible is found in a ‘strange and wonderful’ book about a fictitious hero who is a non-Jew, 3 whose author is unknown but is clearly Jewish. 4 Did the author choose to depict his fictional hero as a non-Jew, perhaps in order to make it more acceptable to his Jewish audience? The question posed by him is in fact a universal question.5 This may explain why more has been written about this book than other book in the bible 6 (with the exception of the Psalms) and the interpretations are remarkably diverse.
Job ‘was a whole and upright man who feared God and shunned evil’ (1:2). 7 He was also wealthy in material possessions, children and reputation. Thus the narrator tells us at the outset that a moral order exists in the world; the pious are rewarded. However, matters alter with ensuing dramatic results. A messenger arrives informs Job that predatory nomads have taken his very substantial flocks of oxen and donkeys and his servants have been killed. Another messenger arrives and inform him that a ‘fire of God’ killed his sheep and the shepherds. A third messenger arrives and informs him that his camels were gone. A fourth messenger arrives and informs him that his sons and daughters have been killed. Job says ‘naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return again. God gave, God has taken back. Blessed be the name of God’ (1:21). This blessing - by a non-Jew - has become a major Jewish prayer for mourners. Job, in fact teaches us how to mourn. The narrator then tells us ‘in all this misfortune Job committed no sin, and he did not reproach God’ (1:22). Job then suffers illness; his whole body is covered with ulcerous boils. His wife says to him ‘curse God’. 8 Job responds saying ‘If we take happiness from God, must we not take sorrow too’ (2:9-10). 9 (Job does curse the day of his birth. (3:1) We are told that Job did not sin with his lips (2:10). Has he sinned with his heart? We recall his concern that his sons may have sinned and ‘cursed ‘ God in their hearts (1:5). In this section of the prologue he is the embodiment of the ‘patient Job’. He does not ignore his suffering nor his past blessings.
Job is the ‘whole and upright man’ and yet a holocaust is created of his life. He loses his health, his wealth and his children. He believed in a God of Justice. Can he nevertheless continue to believe in a just God? His ‘friends‘ who should be ‘comforters’ become accusers. He knows he has committed no sin. How can he react? He reacts with righteous anger. His ‘friends’ react differently. They accuse him of having been sinful. Then one who claims to speak for God (Elihu) says why should God care? This accusation can be construed as even more painful than the words of his ‘friends/accusers’. They had accused him of sins that he knew were not true; perhaps God had made a mistake or perhaps he had committed some sin of which he was not aware or perhaps God was testing him. But Elihu says why should God care? Job already suspected as such; ‘if he passes by me, I see Him not’ (Job 9:11). If indeed God truly does not care then Job’s whole world becomes reduced to moral chaos. The book disturbs the harmony of biblical teaching about God’s plan; it makes room for chance, for the irrational. It refuses to soften that which everyone seeks to control, suffering and misfortune. It opposes the clarity of a moral order as the law of history. 10 Job therefore finds it necessary to seek an alternative moral order by which to explain his plight.
In the prologue the reader is informed that Job’s anguish was initiated as a result of God’s boasting to his celestial angels. God said to Satan, 11 one of His angels, ‘Did you pay any attention to my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil’ (1:8).12 Apparently Satan had not noticed Job 13 until this conversation and thus God clearly focuses Satan’s attention on Job.
Satan then challenges God and suggests the existence of a direct relationship between Job being ‘whole and upright’ and his wealth. He intimates that Job’s behavior it is a ‘good investment’ on Job’s part. Would Job fear God were it not for the benefits? If he were not healthy, wealthy and rich with children, would he would still ‘fear God and shun evil’? 14 Satan claims there are no truly religious people in the world, all men are self-interested. God disputes such logic and declares Job to be His best example. Satan constructs a wager; he can get Job to curse God. 15 God approves Satan’s plan to test Job’s faith. God is convinced that Job will respond appropriately even to undeserved suffering. God, however imposes one condition on Satan, ‘keep your hands off his person’. Satan obeyed nevertheless God/Satan does kill his children. His person was not intended to include his children, despite Job having taken responsibility for his children’s moral and religious upbringing. He makes burnt offerings for each of them in case ‘my son’s have sinned and in their heart blasphemed’ (1:5). In this sense Job is tested exactly like Abraham in the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac. Job is called God’s servant (1:8, 2:3,42:7,8), and as with Abraham he sees his great grandchildren and he died ‘old and contented’ (42:17, Gen 25:8). Not even Abraham merited a statement as glorified as ‘no one [is] like him on earth’. Job is treated as the equivalent of a Patriarch.
Job does not curse God, indeed he blesses God despite the loss of his children as well as his material possessions. When Satan says Job will curse God, the word for curse in Hebrew is not stated, but rather that Job will bless (baruch) God (1:11). By the context it is clear that Satan said Job will curse God. The text refuses to use the term ‘curse God’. This is repeated when Job’s wife tell him to curse (baruch) God (2:9). Thus in fact Job literally did what the Satan expected ‘blessed God’ but not Satan’s intention to curse God. Edwin Good translates the statement literally as ‘If he does not curse you to your face’, with no ending for the clause. It is self-curse and the one to be cursed if Job does not curse God is Satan. 16 Satan’s fate, if cursed is not stated. It would appear that Satan is contesting his power with that of a servant of God’s or perhaps it is with God Himself. In this sense Satan is transformed to Christian concept of Lucifer. ‘YHVH has given and YHVH has taken away, Blessed be the name of God’ (1:21). At this point the ‘patient’ Job has defeated Satan.
God wins the contest. Then God taunts Satan once again and gives offers him a second chance. Job is described as ‘He persists in his integrity’ (2:3). Satan responds he ‘will give away all he has to save his life’ (2:4). God then responds ‘he is in your power, but spare his life’ (2:4). Satan inflicts his skin with ulcerous, foul smelling boils which extend from his scalp to his soles. Job is transformed into a walking human ulcer reduced to scratching his body with a broken piece of pottery; the symbolic remains of his property.
Thus Job’s suffering is related to what can be considered God’s display of pride (twice) to his loyal servant; one can even claim that God provoked Satan. God finally says ‘You have achieved nothing by provoking me to ruin him’ (2:3). 17 As Job himself notes the ‘country has been given over to the power of the wicked’ (9:24). God’s agreement to engage Satan in creating a contest made Job a victim and a scapegoat of God’s boasting; he becomes an experiment to prove God’s power. This event occurred with God’s approval. What can it mean that Satan provoked God? Does God ‘need’ to prove some point to the Satan? Apparently so, ‘God . . . [has a] need to know the truth about humankind . . . Job suffers to prove God’s integrity and lay to rest the doubt the Satan has raised that perhaps no one in the wide world really reverences God for his own sake but that everyone is simply trying to use him’. 18 What happens to Satan - he simply disappears from the book! Is this God consistent with the God who speaks out of the whirlwind?
God is usually conceived of as being omniscient. This concept further aggravates and exacerbates the problem. If God knew in advance that Job would not curse Him, why did He allow the experiment? The same question applies to God’s testing of Abraham with the ‘akeda’; if God knew Abraham’s response why go through the test and particularly why of the damage done to Isaac? 19 Why test and punish one of his ‘servants’ to satisfy one of His subordinates? 20 Why does God not dismiss Satan out of hand? 21 Job’s being punishing by Satan with God’s approval is the equivalent of God punishing Job. 22
Job defines himself as a scapegoat ‘He has made me a byword of the people and a public scapegoat ’ (17:6). 23 The concept of a public scapegoat was common among ancient cultures. Evil was considered contagious and was transmitted from infected people. This process could be arrested by the death or punishment of a public person or animal symbolizing the evil. In ancient Rome on the day preceding the Ides of March a man clad in white was taken out to the limits of the city boundary and beaten in order to banish the evil from the city. 24 In the Bible, a goat called Azazel was not killed but sent into the wilderness to carry off the evils of the people of Israel. This ritual took place on the Day of Atonement when God was asked to forgive the people for their sins. The connection with sacrifice was that two goats were chosen, one for sacrifice and one for the wilderness. According to the Mishna (as opposed to the Bible), the goat Azazel was taken to a cliff and pushed to death. 25
Job’s ‘friends’ and the community make him a scapegoat. His friends and the community in fact need Job to be guilty. Therefore, they declare him so. Their concept of religion has a built in need for a scapegoat. ‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or were the upright cut off? . . . Those who plow iniquity . . . By the breath of God they perish’ (4:7-9). If Job does not agree, they will effectively excommunicate him.
‘He has alienated my brothers from me, my relatives take care to avoid me, my intimate friends have gone away and the guests in my house have forgotten me. My maid servants regard me as a stranger . . . my servant does not answer me. My breath is unbearable to my wife and my stench to my brothers. Even the children look down on me . . .all my dearest friends recoil from me’ (19:11-18).
One is led to wonder whether the evil perpetrated by Job’s human companions is worse than the evil perpetrated by God. Job has been a model of pious behavior. His life proved that the common belief that virtue and suffering are incompatible is wrong. He had not deceived people, he had respected women, upheld justice, been generous to the poor, hospitable to strangers, had not been idolatrous and has not hidden his sins (31:1-39). He had respected all of God’s commandments and in effect asked God why have You punished me? God had attested to this self- definition of Job. ‘There is no one like him in the world’ (1:8). He is wealthy and influential, in fact the most influential man in the community. ‘If I smiled at them, it was too good to be true, they watched my face for the least sign of favor, As their chief, I told them which course to take, like a king living among his troops and I led them wherever I chose’ (29:24-25).
The animosity and violence of his friends described as worthy of a sinner is surprising. From Eliphaz ‘writhe in pain all their days . . . [you] sent away widows empty handed and crushed the arms of orphans’ (15:21, 22:9), from Bildad you will be ‘driven from the light into the darkness, . . . without . . . a single survivor’ (18:18, 19) and from Zophar he ‘used to suck vipers’ venom . . . [and] destroyed the huts of the poor plundering houses . . . his avarice never satisfied’ (20:16,19-20). Can this possibly be the same man described by God in such exemplary terms as ‘No one like him in the world’ (1:8)? There is a striking dissonance between Job’s virtues as defined by God and those voiced by his ‘friends’. Job has rebelled against what he (formerly) and the community (still), led now by his ‘friends’, consider to be the natural order of things. In their eyes Job has become the enemy of God and the enemy of the people. The ‘friends’ became the zealous defenders of God.
This contest between Job and Satan questions the ethical and moral order of the world. At the end Job does not curse God, but curses his own life. Why would God play such a game with Job? The book can be seen as a test of God, 26 rather than of Job. The question asked is: Does a moral God exist or what is the character of God?
Job mourns for his children, his health and his wealth and three of his ‘friends’ come to comfort him and sit silently for seven days. In his first speech he does not raise the issue of suffering and piety. He is suffers very personally and in his suffering asks whether it would be better for him to be dead. His is a personal psychological reaction.
There are three views of God presented in the Book of Job. First the mourners - ‘friends’; 27 Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. The ‘friends’ quickly become Job’s accusers telling Job that suffering comes from God, God is just and therefore Job has sinned. For them there is no undeserved injustice in the world. They can explain the riddle of Job’s suffering by interpreting God’s judgment. They believe in the conventional wisdom and orthodoxy; punishment and suffering come only after sin and come from God. His ‘friends’ religion (and his previously) assume the existence of a moral order to be followed by one and all. In as much as Job denies this, his ‘friends’ become accusers. Instead of offering comfort they lynch him.
A physician has compared the ‘mourners’ to ‘healers’. The sort of threat and helplessness experienced by Job’s ‘healers’ is frequently experienced, and almost as frequently denied, by modern physicians. Doctors are taught to manage illness effectively. Intractable illness provokes threatening helplessness. When patients express doubt, dissatisfaction, accusation, or ingratitude doctors may become harsh or even punitive.’ 28
The patient Job of the prologue and perhaps as a result of his ‘comforters’ becomes God’s accuser. ‘He, God may kill me, but I will not stop; I will speak the truth to his face’ (12:15). He like his ‘friends’ assumes his suffering comes from God. Job responds to his accusing ‘friends’. He agrees that suffering comes from God, but I am innocent and therefore God is unjust. He who had previously been a representative of the conventional religion challenges the common belief. Job, as opposed to his ‘friends’, refuses to ignore his personal suffering and insists it is to be a source of religious insight. Job suspects as such even before his ‘friends’ speak. ‘Whatever I fear comes true, whatever I dread befalls me. For me, there is no peace; my torments banish rest’ (Job 3:25-26). Job sometimes seems to believe in a dualistic understanding of God, a God of Power versus a God of Justice. Job seeks to find and accuse the God of justice. He questions whether a just God is in charge of the history of the world. Does the history of the world manifest moral justice? Job states ‘I am blameless . . .He destroys the good and the evil’ (9:21,22). As Archibald MacLeish had his J.B. say ‘If God is God, he is not good. If God is good, he is not God’. 29
Thirdly, God says that the ‘friends are’ wrong and Job is wrong. Suffering may come from God, God is just, neither Job nor his ‘friends’ can comprehend. God who created the suffering’s view, is that He is transcendent and cannot be understood on an imminent basis and that man is insignificant. In this case God is, from man’s perspective amoral. Since Job was not present at the world’s creation can he be so certain that retributive justice is at the world’s foundation? Does the Behemoth (a land monster - hippopotamus) and the Leviathan (a sea monster - crocodile) respect justice and moral retribution? Or are they symbols of land and sea power and chaos?
The ‘friends’ belief is a major plank in conventional
wisdom and orthodoxy. ‘Is not your religion, your confidence, your
hope, the integrity of your ways? Those who plow iniquity shall harvest
it’ (4:6-7). They believe that one’s suffering is conclusive
evidence of one’s sins. They believe in self-evident truths. However
God has told us that there is no equal like Job in the world.
The friends y need a world based on order and meaning. They need an intimate and causal connection between actions and consequences. If there is no causality to Job’s plight what protection exists that a similar fate might not await them? What future other than existential angst can exist in such an amoral world? Their conventional wisdom and orthodoxy precludes Job’s innocence.
The response of Eliphaz is dry, arrogant and professorial. He is very formulaic; God is perfect, Job suffers, Job must has sinned. All men are imperfect and this engenders evil. Sin comes from man not God. Justice and divine retribution prevail. Since you suffer you must have been a sinner. At first Eliphaz believes Job’s sin to have been minor; hence there is hope, his punishment will soon end. ‘Is not your piety your source of confidence? Does not your blameless life give you hope? (4:6). However Job attacks God and thus is impious. Eliphaz then accuses Job of being a great sinner. ‘Is not thy wickedness great? Are not thy iniquities without end’ (22:5). Eliphaz stresses via Job’s children a sinner’s penalty may be visited on his children. ‘How can anyone be pure’, moreover it teaches the soul; it disciplines. ‘Blessed are you whom God corrects, do not scorn the lesson of Shaddai’ (5:17). You can repent and be restored. Can anyone born of woman\ be upright . . . [to] God. . . even the heavens seem impure’ (15:14-15). ‘And because He is up there, you have said what does God knows . . . Make peace with Him . . . if you return . . . you will be saved’ (22:13, 21,30).
Bildad’s position does not differ radically. God cannot be unjust. There is a law of retribution as attested by the elders and tradition. ‘Can God deflect the course of right, can Shaddai falsify justice’ (8:3). ‘God neither spurns anyone of integrity, nor lends his aid to evil; [be patient] once again laughter may fill your mouth and cries of joy break from your lips’ (8:20-21). You are not dead ‘your sons sinned against Him’ they are dead. If you are upright as you claim you will be rewarded. Beg for God’s mercy. ‘[Yours] indeed is the fate of the places where wickedness dwells, the home of everyone who knows not God’ (18:21). ‘Could anyone thinking of God regards himself as virtuous’ (25:4).
Zophar’s position too is comparable to his ‘friends’. God’s wisdom is unfathomable. You must repent your secret sins and you will be restored. ‘The triumph of the wicked has always been brief, the sinner’s gladness has never lasted long’ (20:5). God always responds to wickedness even if it takes time. ‘Such is the fate God reserves for the wicked’ (20:29). Everything is a divine mystery. Search for God, seek mercy and you will find Him (11:5-6).
Job sees evil in the world, a world without justice. He opens his remarks by saying ‘Let there be darkness’ (3:4), comparing this to ‘Let there be light (Gen. 1:3) at the world’s creation. 30 ‘Instruct me and I’ll be quiet, how have I erred?’ (6:24). ‘The tents of brigands are left in peace; those who provoke God dwell secure’ (12:6). Job realizes that justice cannot prevail over power. ‘If I am innocent, my mouth condemns me, if I’m perfect, He will do me fraud’ (9:20). He seems to be acting as if there are ’dual power’s in heaven’. And there are - God has given Satan the power over Job. He accepts that there cannot be an arbiter between him and God (9:33); he sees cannot fight God. ‘I will put my neck in the noose and take my life in my hands. If He would slay me, I should not hesitate; I should still argue my cause to His face’ (13:14-15).
God has all the power and one cannot argue with Him (9:5-11). Yet Job does in fact argue. God is a criminal, and the world is worse than amoral, it is immoral. Job realizes that he is blaspheming ‘I am taking my life in my hands’ (13:14). ‘He destroys innocent and guilty alike . . . if not He who . . . But I am blameless . . . Life itself I despise . . .he laughs at the plight of the innocent’ (9:21-23) and justice is blind. It is unworthy of God to let me suffer so; let me die (7:16-21; 10:20-22; 14:1-6). At this point Job seems to want to escape God and let God be hidden. ‘What is man that You , . . . Visit him every morning and try him every moment’ (7:17-18). God’s visits are painful and Job desires to hide from God even unto death.
A new strategy then occurs to Job. He adopts the strategy of a legal accusation against God. He utters: ‘He is not human like me; impossible for me to answer Him or appear alongside Him in court. . . nonetheless I am unafraid, I shall speak’ (9:32,35). He attempts to appeal to the God of justice. ‘Cover not my blood, O’ earth. . . Henceforth I have a witness in heaven, my defender is their on high’; . . . an interpreter of my thoughts (16:18-20). He recalls the fratricide of Abel murdered by Cain. ‘Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground’ (Gen. 4:10). If the God of justice defended Abel will He not defend me? Several chapters later Job remembers the Biblical concept of an avenger or redeemer (19:25). The avenger of blood (Deut. 19:8,12), is one who is authorized to avenge a killing. At this point it appears that Job has moved to believe he can have a witness in heaven to prove his innocence, to be an avenger and to revenge himself but against whom? God or Satan or God as Satan? Job implores God to take Him to a Court of Inquiry. He wishes to be vindicated before his death. Is he appealing to the God of justice as against the God of power (Satan)? He seeks the righteous Judge and demands vindication as did Jeremiah (Jer. 11:20 and 20:12).31
Job asks how can there evil in a world created by a Just God? ‘He makes priests walk barefoot . . . He strikes the most assured of speakers and robs old people . . . he pours contempt on the nobly born . . .He unveils the depths of darkness, brings shadows dark as death to the light. He builds nations up, then ruins them. . .to grope about in unlit darkness, lurching to and fro as though drunk’ 12:19-25). The world is immoral but Job refuses to be. Let God choose to do evil, Job will not. ‘I’m damned if I will say you are right, until I perish, I will not turn away my integrity . . . Let my enemies be considered wicked, the one who rises against me, vicious’ (27:5,7). Job will be good even if God - his enemy - is evil. Can God be Job’s enemy? ‘Why do You hide Your face and consider me your enemy? (13:24). His enemy, God cannot be found, but suddenly God gets too close. ‘For You write bitter charges against me (13:26). ‘God has handed me over to the godless . . . [and attacked me]. He has set me up as his target . . . and splits open my gall’ (16:11,13). Job feels abandoned by God to what Crenshaw called ‘alien powers’. 32 Is it because I was at ease with the world that God ‘shook me’ (16:12). Would he would prefer divine withdrawal to divine punishment? No! Job demands vindication. ‘I shall set my case to him, advancing any number of grievances . . . give his attention to me . . . to recognize his opponent as upright and so I should win my case forever . . . I still cannot see Him . . . I have not neglected his commandment of His lips in my heart, I have cherished the words of His mouth . . . (23:4,7,8, 12, 13,) . . . God remains deaf to prayers . . . When all is dark the murderer leaves his bed to kill the poor and the needy . . . In the daytime they keep out of sight, those people who do not want to know the light’. (24:12.16).
Satan protested that man is evil, only for reward and punishment will he react. Job’s position is the opposite, he will be good even if God returns him evil and suffering. Because of his own suffering, he rejects his ‘friends’ and his own previous theology. The ‘friends’ theology is consistent with Satan’s. Man will only be good is there is reward in it. But Job says ‘let Him kill me if He will, I have no other hope than to justify my conduct in His eyes. And this is what will save me, for the wicked would not dare to appear before Him’ (13:15-16). For this Job is truly a man of faith; a suffering servant of God.
Job has enormous courage in pitting himself against the conventional wisdom and orthodoxy. He does this in two ways; first by rebelling against God and secondly by rejecting his ‘friends’ position and insisting that he did not sin. According to his friends he has blasphemed. In this way Job adopts a modern view; he and only he can define whether he has sinned. His ‘friends’ state that since suffering in causally related to sin he must accept that he has sinned. Job states I know I have not sinned or at least not sinned in relation to the suffering that has befallen me. In refusing to recognize his ‘friends’ position he is denying that obedience is a critical criteria for religion. He insists on being an autonomous human being.
Job’s final response to his ‘friends/accusers’ is in fact not directed to them, but rather is a challenge to God. ‘I cry to You and You give me no answer; I stand before You, but You take not notice (30:20). Job details his piety and states his willingness to suffer the consequences: ‘let my shoulder be torn from its socket, my arm be wrenched out of its socket (31:22), let my wife be another man’s slave and let others have intercourse with her, . . . let brambles grow instead of wheat and rank weeds instead of barley’ (31:10,40). Job then says ‘Will He not give me a hearing? Job says to God I cannot undo the suffering You have caused me, but I can demand that You respond to me. If I have done evil then tell me so. I have said my last word. His sense of continuity, of trust and the meaning of his life has been destroyed. His ‘emotional soul’ has been wounded by both his friends and God. Now let God reply!’ (31:35). Job having stated a long list of sins he has not committed challenges God to answer him.
However Elihu replies.
Elihu, a young man, decides that where the old wise men have failed and he can succeed. He accuses Job of arrogance for having blasphemed against God and denying God’s justice. Elihu’s position is that God need not be answerable to man (32:12-13). God embodies justice that lies beyond man’s understanding. God’s version of the world differs from that of man. Why should God care about Job? Suffering is a source of discipline. Job’s sin is of pride. But there may be an angel whose function is forgiveness, who recognizes Job’s suffering and will grant him grace (33:14). God does not allow the righteous to suffer. Elihu notes ‘ look at the skies and see, observe how high the clouds are above you’ (35:5). But then his says ‘If you sin, how can you affect Him . . . If you are upright, what do you give Him’ (35:6-7). God will not respond to you. While this is what Job suspected this is the most devastating answer yet to him and conventional religion.
All four ‘friends’ including Elihu accept retribution to be the moral order, each in his own way. Job does not respond to Elihu. As we will see Elihu’s position approximates God’s. While the three ‘friends’ are condemned by God, Elihu is not. Does Job’s silence indicate his acceptance of Elihu’s position? No, his silence simply indicates his refusal to pursue more fruitless dialogue. No common grounds exist for community. The mutual anxiety of the ‘friends’ prevents them from truly seeing Job. They are convinced that his suffering and his illness must be his responsibility or else they become Job. However God does sees Job and Job consequently will see God.
By responding out of the whirlwind God makes this a
theophony, comparable only to Abraham (Gen. 15:17), Moses (Ex. 19:16)
and Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12). Job requests God to respond
(31:35). God does not answer but rather challenges Job himself.
What does/can Job know? ‘Who are you obscuring my intention with your
ignorance’ (38:2). What is Job’s ignorance other than his
insistence on retributive justice and on a moral order?
Have you commanded the mornings, the deep of the sea, do you speak like thunder? God then talks about the wildness of nature - of the lion, the braying donkey, the wings of the ostrich, the flowing manned horse and the flying hawk. God is not responding to Job’s personal quest and Job does not respond to God. Job’s first response is a verse (40:4) that has more varied translations that any this author has seen 33 and includes ‘what can I reply? Then Job states that ‘I spoke once, and I will not answer, twice, and I will add nothing’ (40:5). This is a non response to God’s non response. It appears that this is not sufficient for God, so God retorts by more clearly challenging Job.
‘Do you really want to reverse my judgment, put me in the wrong and yourself in the right? Has your arm the strength of God’s? . . I will be the first to pay you homage, if your right hand is strong enough to save you’ (40:8-9,14). Is God suggesting that even He is unable to control the world that He has created? He asks Job if he knows or ever worries about the feeding and the birthing of the world’s undomesticated animals, the ranges necessary for wild animals? You know little and care less about My world. Maybe the world was created for the Behemoth and the Leviathan and not for man and consequently there can be no moral causality or retributive justice. But Job never questioned or denied God’s power, only His justice. He asked Him to justify Himself. God responds that He does not need man’s justification. God refuses to be a heavenly bookkeeper. God’s speeches emphasize the undeniable difference between man and God.
God says to Job If you cannot understand the mysteries of nature how can you penetrate My relation to man? You are man-centered; I am not. God must be free to be concerned or not about man. Job responds accepting his ignorance, ‘therefore I have uttered that which I did not understand, things beyond me that I knew not. (42:3) What changed Job’s mind? ‘Before, I knew you only with the hearing of my ears, but now I have seen You with my own eyes’ (42:5). Job both hears and sees God. This confirms the theophony. ‘I withdraw what I have said, and recant [or repent] as I am but dust and ashes’ (42:6). 34 What is Job recanting or repenting? He was not a sinner as God will attest in a moment. He repents that he mistakenly thought the world ran under the basis of a moral order. He has heard and seen that it does not. He has introduced in a very personal way a new dimension of religion.
God has no retort to Job’s specific questions because no answers exist. He does not mention retribution which is the theme of the dialogues and of Job’s questioning. God insists on asking questions rather than answering Job’s questions. The first series of questions relate to the creation of the world, Job’s lack of knowledge of such as well as the mystery of nature. The world is not man centered - thus man cannot govern the world. The second series of questions addresses the ‘management of the world’. In this God seems to admit it is hard to be God. Can anyone vanquish evil? Thirdly, the Behemoth (hippopotamus) and the Leviathan (crocodile) may be monsters but they are God’s creation. 35 Thus God tells Job that in fact he understands nothing. Neither Job nor any human can understand the moral order of the world.
God then rejects the logic, wisdom and orthodoxy of Eliphaz,
Bildad and Zophar. The reader may amazed at this. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah,
Jeremiah and Ezekiel all assumed that suffering of the Israelites
emanated from there being sinners. This was the essence of their
messages. ‘Repent you sinners and national disaster will be averted’.
Yet here God rejects such simple minded logic. The particular logic of
Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar requires them to rebuke what they consider
to be the heresy of Job. Their God is on ‘automatic pilot’. Job’s
God must respond. He cannot be alien and inaccessible otherwise He is
Job was free of sin and ‘spoke right’ (42:7). Which of Job’s position is correct is unclear – is it his entire argument or his words ‘I repent in dust and ashes’? Is God approving what can be called Job’s heresy or blasphemy? The ‘friends’ belief system is not of ‘truth’ or that which is ‘right’(42:7). They require an offering, they are the sinners and Job will pray for them. Job is called God’s servant four times in verses 42:7-8. Job who had prayed for an intercessor and found none becomes the intercessor for his ’friends’. Job is back in God’s graces as in the prologue - ‘and God lifted up the face of Job’ (42:9). We having read the prologue, knew from the beginning that the entire argument between Job and his ‘friends’ was fallacious.
Despite all the suffering inflicted upon Job by his ‘friends’; he intercedes on their behalf prays for them and they are forgives them. Job previous material possessions are restored to him double. Robert Gordis has noted that theft requires a double repayment (Ex. 22:3,6). 36 Is God admitting the theft of Job’s property? His seven sons and three daughters are returned to him. Sons and daughters cannot be returned double. 37 They are resurrected at least allegorically. The reader never hears mention of the wife who begged him to curse God; does she return or is repaid with a new wife? We do not know. He enumerates the names only of his daughters (not his sons) and the daughters are then accorded given equal rights in inheritance. No other man enumerates his daughters in the Bible. Earlier we had heard of the sense of equality of his sons and daughters - the daughters are invited to the family banquets. (1:4) In this way Job - perhaps the first feminist - goes beyond Moses who allowed daughters to inherit only in the absence of sons.
Is it sufficient for Job to have heard and ‘seen’ God? Apparently so (42:3-5). M. Tsevat has suggested that the message of Job is that God is God; neither a just God nor an unjust God. 38 How would Job have reacted if God had told him ‘out of the whirlwind’ that Satan and I engineered your suffering? He is a scapegoat in a game played by God? Of greater severity can the death of his seven sons and three daughters be forgotten or forgiven? Can seven sons and three daughters ever replace his original children? Were they identically named? Are they identical to the earlier children? Can a dead child, let alone ten dead children ever be replaced? Elie Wiesel, a living memorial for the slain holocaust children said he ‘was offended by [Job’s] surrender. . . .He should have said to God: very well, I forgive you . . . but what about my dead children, do they forgive you’? 39 Can Job die ‘old and full of days’ (42:17) i.e. be fulfilled, after having buried ten children? We are told what a caring father he was (1:5).40 If Job were cognizant of God’s contest, he would be rightfully outraged! Perhaps he would respond more sympathetically as Levi Yitzchak of Bertichev once suggested as a prayer on The Day of Atonement. ‘So on this holy night, our sacred Yom Kippur, if You forgive us, we will forgive You!’.
The specific issue at hand is what M. Tsevat has called
‘disinterested piety’ 41 Is Job’s prosperity the result of his piety as
God claims or is Job’s piety the result of his prosperity as Satan
claims? God claims that humanity must love God for the sake of heaven
and for love of God. Satan claims humanity loved God for fear of the
consequences. By accepting the challenge, He God by defines piety as
In the prologue God rejects the ‘friends’ position even before the words are uttered. Their definition of piety is not disinterested. They, in fact, believe as did Satan and Job at the beginning that piety was self-interested. In the prologue God denied their claim of causality and retributive justice. The ‘friends’ massive and violent assault on the pious Job is the need of traditional religion to rely on punishment. Their position is not only anti the God in the Book of Job and anti the experience of many that the wicked often prosper and the righteous do not but anti some Jewish traditions as seen in the Ethics of the Fathers ‘It is not in our power to understand the suffering of the righteous or the well being of the wicked’ (Ethics of the Fathers 4:15) and in Ecclesiastes ‘I observe under the sun, crime is where justice should be, the criminal is where the upright should be’ (Eccl.. 3:16). Likewise the Talmud states ‘There is no reward in this world from observing the commandments’. 42 These positions acknowledge that rewards and piety are not directly connected. Nevertheless Job demands the connection between piety and justice throughout nearly the entire book. It is only after hearing God that he understands what God demanded in the prologue – that piety can not be self interested otherwise it is bereft of all value.
The author of Job was aware of Jeremiah and consequently of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Jeremiah blamed Jewish ethical misbehavior and demanded a revision of the covenant. Ezekiel equally blamed the destruction on Jewish ritual misbehavior. Both accepted that piety was not disinterested.
The Book of Job represents another theology. The author denies that God is required to grant distributive justice or even create a moral order able to be grasped by human beings. While this revision is still not accepted by the majority of monotheistic believers, it is indeed truly remarkable that this book was included in the canon. By suggesting a different form of wisdom the author of Job changed the nature of religious belief.
Job never learns the true motive for his suffering, but as a Man of Faith, after seeing God and speaking to Him he accepts God’s management of the world. Job is disinterestingly pious; at the end of the poem he concludes that to see God and to know God are sufficient rewards in themselves. And he accepts this before the epilogue when all is returned to him.
In the Talmud Job is compared to Abraham who fought God for justice in Sodom (Gen. 18:27-32). When God demands the sacrifice Isaac, he already knew the God of justice. Abraham accepted his task as an act of obedience. By agreeing to the sacrifice as an act of faith he is called by Soren Kierkegaard the ‘prince of faith’. However even prior to God’s demand of this act of obedience Abraham has heard God seven times. 43 And he has asked God ‘shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen 18:25) And God responded satisfactorily - He would not destroy Sodom if even ten men were innocent. Abraham refers to himself as ‘but dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18:27). Job not knowing of the God of justice felt compelled to fight for it. And when he discovers the God of Justice also decries ‘I am but dust and ashes’ (42:6).
Job’s actions were equally an act of obedience. He believed in the God of Justice (and not in the God of power - Satan) and as an act of obedience insisted on his God as did Jeremiah. Upon finally seeing God, Job’s belief system is reaffirmed. All those tested by God in the Bible (Abraham, Jeremiah and Job) tasted the ecstasy of God. Only a righteous man can come before God, ‘a sinner cannot come before Him’ (13:16). Both Abraham and Job learnt that justice is not the rule of the world, and both learnt God’s truth by being tested. 44 If indeed two perfect men exist in the Bible, Abraham and Job are both described as such. The Talmud tells us ‘Just as we now say the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, so we should add and the God of Job if he had not later, [after his suffering] hurled charges against God’. 45 After seeing and hearing the Lord Job states ‘that You can do everything . . . I have uttered that which I did not understand’ (42:2-3) Job repents in verse 6. ‘Therefore I will have nothing to do with the sins of which You charges me which I committed by my speaking without understanding, and I will repent upon dust and ashes’. 46 In his agony and ecstasy Job is not forsaken by God.
If the reader were not cognizant of God’s discussion with Satan, as Job and his community did not, and if we believed Job’s protestations of innocence we might have believed that he is fated to suffer. 47 However due to the readers knowledge of the prologue his perspective must be different than that of Job’s. The ‘friends’ demand of Job is to take the position of Oedipus and accept his sin and his fate. The difference is that Oedipus’ sin is clear despite his being unaware of it, while Job is in fact innocent. ‘Oedipus is a successful scapegoat . . . Job is a failed scapegoat’ 48 because he refuses to be the victim. Job accepts his current reality and rejects the position that it is related to his past. He is fighting for his future. Job’s ‘friends’ who profess to be comforters in fact demand confession in lieu of acting as mourners. They demand that he reject his truth. Oedipus admits that he is rightfully and deservedly cursed. Oedipus succumbs to his community, Job rejects them.
Both Oedipus and Job are popular heroes who are accused of terrible crimes and as a result fall. Both are ‘enemies of God’ and become scapegoats. If the Book of Job began in chapter 2, verse 11 when his ‘friends’ hearing of the terrible events that befell Job come to help him mourn and ended in chapter 42, verse 6 when Job finished his response to God ‘I withdraw what I have said, and recant as I am but dust and ashes’ (42:6) the entire context of the Book would be different. Would we accept the logic of the ‘friends’ as did Oedipus accused by the chorus? Why would we challenge the traditional beliefs; Sophocles did not. No one but oracles proclaim Oedipus’ guilt and the single witness to the crime of killing his father does not confirm Oedipus’s guilt. Sophocles (and Satan and Job’s ‘friends’) demanded retributive justice, whereas God and the Bible demand truth. We would not know that he was called ‘a whole and upright man’ at the beginning and that God condemned the ‘friends’ at the end of the Book.
Job is not only willing but demands a ‘fair’ trial. The ‘friends’ and in particular Elihu demand that he confess his sin and thus become a consenting victim. This is the demand made to ‘Joseph K’ in Franz Kafka’s novel ‘The Trial’. The novel begins ‘Someone must have slandered Joseph K. for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning’. Without mentioning Job Kafka created a character who did nothing wrong, but was arrested one fine day, as if by Satan. Joseph K. seeks his sin and it continues to be unknown. The prosecutor is the Judge. Joseph K could have said as Job said ‘If I justify myself my own mouth will condemn me; if I say I am perfect you shall prove me wrong’ (9:20). And ‘for once He has made up His mind, who can change it? . . he will carry out my sentence’ (23:14). In ‘The Trial’ guilt can never be appealed but acquittal is always appealed to the highest court that is however inaccessible. The ‘friends’, the Greek chorus and the prosecutor all demand a single truth; the ‘friends’ insist on measuring morality. All can be represented by Satan’s view of the truth. Is man, as Eliphaz, declared born in sin and fated for ‘the fall of man’. ‘What is man that he should be clean? And he that is born of woman, that he should be righteous? (15:14). God’s answer stems from the concept of multiple truths.
The poet-author of Job testifies to the multiple truths of God. This is God who pushes some human to their limits - like Abraham, Jeremiah and Job - versus the God who speaks out of the whirlwind of man’s lack of cosmic knowledge. This God suggests that His sovereignty may be more important than justice. The poet ‘focuses on Divine freedom and human limits’ 49 The there is the Imminent God of conventional wisdom, of orthodoxy against Job’s demand for a just God. Each human being, especially those belonging to a faith community view the reality of divine intervention differently. Unlike the conventional wisdom’s belief there can be no reality testing about knowledge of God. Jeremiah and Job share their reality with the reader. They both seek divine justice as though through a court of justice. Both act as they believed God required them to act and both suffered. They demand to know why? When God responds he uses the same Hebrew word for justice ‘mishpat’ used by Job and Jeremiah, but its meaning is different. ‘Would you impugn My prerogatives [rather than judgment], would you condemn Me that you may be right’ (40:8). 50 God uses the term as it is used by Samuel in ‘mishpat Ha’melech’ (1 Sam. 8:14) as the prerogatives of the King. In the rest of God’s speech He speaks of His power and His prerogatives, not of justice. As Michael Kigel writes ‘God did not promise to be nice’. 51 Of course in the most amazing section, the epilogue of the book, God is not only ‘nice’ but disproves His own entire thesis. By giving back to Job double what he had before his suffering, God attests that in fact retributive justice works. The book ends up telling ‘us’ the reader directly that the most righteous man on earth is the most wealthy’. 52 It seemed that someone believed that the book had to have a ‘happy ending’. Many commentators have questioned whether that is the same author who created the main events of the Poem.
When Job declares that he ‘withdraws and recants’ (4:6), 53 he recognized first that God had responded to him and secondly that God’s essence is more than justice. He is the sovereign of the world. For God justice and power are congruent, even if not for man. Job searched for justice and found God’s truth and knowledge, just as Abraham having known of God’s justice found in obedience to Him God’s truth and knowledge.
As Martin Buber said of Job ‘He believes now in justice in spite of believing in God and he believes in God in spite of believing in justice’ 54
Perhaps as Elie Wiesel commented on Job ‘we know that it is given to man to transform divine injustice into human justice and compassion’. 55 Thus God has put the onus back where it belongs - on Man.