Friday, September 7
Job 12: Job now begins a speech (12:1—14:22) that is his longest until the final soliloquy in the book. Having just received a blast of sarcasm from Zophar, and now aware that all three of his friends are against him, Job himself takes up the weapon of sarcasm, and to considerable effect. He already knew, after all, everything that his friends have been telling him. Indeed, much of it was of the commonest knowledge. Though he had looked to his friends for insight, they have hitherto provided only truisms and platitudes.
Unlike his three friends, Job knows there is a mystery involved in his sufferings, and he endeavors to identify it. Tell me something new, he says to them, not things we all know already and are already agreed upon.
Anyone with eyes in his head, Job argues, can see that the wicked sometimes really do prosper (verse 6). This much is not news. Might it not also be the case, however, that the just sometimes really do suffer?
Of course, God governs the world and all things, including the destinies of men (verse 10), but if the prosperity of the wicked is compatible with the governance of God, might not the suffering of the just also be consonant with the governance of God? Who among men has so clear an understanding of God that God can be reduced simply to a component in some human theory of justice?
These matters are not to be rashly concluded, says Job. They should, rather, be tested and probed, much as the ear of a writer tries various words, and the mouth of the cook tests various recipes (verse 11).
Indeed, the entire Book of Job, exploring the mystery of God’s justice and providence, is an example and illustration of such testing. Those who would speak for God, especially if they speak to a man who is suffering, should not pretend that they really see things as God does. This has been the offense of Job’s friends. They imagine themselves to be speaking for the Almighty, but in fact they are only trying words and testing recipes. Nothing more.
God will overthrow their theories (verse 20), bringing deep things out of darkness (verse 22). Left to their own lights, men grope about in this darkness (verses 24–25). In this respect, Job’s friends are no wiser than he.
The difference between the two cases is not a matter of wisdom, therefore, any more than it is a matter of justice. The difference between Job and his friends is that Job is suffering, while they are “at ease” (verse 5). They have been using this advantage solely to pass judgment on a suffering human being, who differs from them only by the fact that he is suffering. This is a great moral offense.
Saturday, September 8
Job 13: Has Eliphaz experienced God (4:8; 5:3, 27)? Well, so has Job (13:1–2). Indeed, throughout these discussions Job is the only person who has actually addressed God. Job’s three friends have set themselves to speak for God, but it is significant that not one of them has yet spoken to God. Job, in contrast, has never tried to speak for God. It is God Himself that Job would address (13:3). He wants to “reason with” God, not reason about God.
And all the reasoning about God with which his friends have been occupied, says Job, is a pack of lies (13:4). Unable to perceive that the ways of God are mysterious and inscrutable, they have succeeded only in elaborating a moral theory that discredits the Almighty by denying the subtlety of the divine wisdom. They themselves would display more wisdom if they simply kept quiet (13:5). Such a silence would at least keep them from speaking “wickedly for God” (13:7).
Verses 6–11 begin with the plural form of the Deuteronomic “Hear!” (also in verse 17) and go on to ask a series of questions, each line of which begins with the Hebrew interrogative prefix ha (the Hebrew equivalent of the question mark in English). Job thus beats back his critics with a chain of unanswerable questions.
In verse 14 Job begins his “reasoning with” God, an exercise that consists in the “pleadings” of his lips (cf. verse 6). These pleadings are a combination of questions and prayers in which Job’s deepest soul and most anguished longings are laid bare before the Almighty. His trust in God will never be destroyed, he declares (verse 16), for God is his “salvation” (Yoshuah = Jesus).
Job is urgently concerned for his standing in God’s eyes. Indeed, this is his sole concern. He wants nothing more than to be pleasing to God. Unlike his friends, Job knows, in an absolute sort of way, that more is happening in his life than meets the eye. If this were not the case, Job is sure, his sufferings would be senseless.
If these sufferings cannot be interpreted as a divine punishment, then what do they mean? In addressing this query, Job is feeling his way tentatively toward what we have called the Bible’s apocalyptic principle, according to which “more is happening than seems to be happening.” In the “pleadings” of this chapter, Job’s mind is faced with a blank wall with no cracks through which he might see the reality just on the other side of his pain. This pain of his yearning, questioning heart is far sharper than the afflictions in his flesh.
Sunday, September 9
Job 14: This chapter has a dialectical structure. Starting from an individual lament, in which Job attends to his personal pain and the longings of his own heart, he turns to a general reflection about what is today called “the human situation” (as distinct from “my situation”). He reflects on the short and troubled life of “man” (adam) born of a “woman” (ishsha). The very measuring of man’s time on earth, the determined numbering of his allotted days, becomes for Job the symbol and reminder of the larger and more encompassing limitations that mark human existence (verse 5).
A tree, in fact, is harder to kill than a man, because of the depth of its root. The unfeeling tree, which has never reflected on its existence at all, may yet find the resources to go on living, even though it is cut off at ground level: “There is hope for a tree” (yesh la‘ets). The tree thrives by reason of its burial in the earth. Man, in contrast, once he is buried in the earth, simply disappears. At least if “man” is considered abstractly—that is to say, regarded from outside—this seems to be the case (verses 6–12).
At this point, however, Job stops regarding man from outside and begins once again to inspect the impulses of his own heart, touching on an underlying preoccupation of his mind. Specifically, he begins to consider his own natural aspiration for an afterlife and his innate suspicion, spawned of a prior hope (which seems native to the structure of his heart), that God will not disappoint that suspicion: “Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, . . . You shall call, and I will answer You” (verses 13, 15). Even as he lies in his grave, Job will await the summoning voice of God. Will God remember him? Will he hear that voice, “Lazarus, come forth”? With all his heart, Job longs for that day and the vindication of that hope.
The Christian, who reads Holy Scripture as a single body of canonical literature, will recognize Job’s hope as the prelude to a higher promise: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28–29). At this point, however, Job himself can hear only a quieter voice whispering faintly in his heart. His is the faith of Enoch, who believed that God exists “and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
This hope of Job’s heart is organic to his experience and inseparable from the deeper impulses of his soul. It is not, like the hope of Socrates in the Phaedo, a theoretical hope. It is spawned of a spiritual instinct, not of critical reflection. Consequently, when Job starts once again (in verse 18) to reflect on the question abstractly and to argue the point dialectically, he cannot justify this hope to his critical mind. Born solely from a faint and innate perception, this hope cannot yet survive critical dissection, so the end of the chapter finds Job falling yet once more into despondency.
Indeed, at this point Job seems to lose even the modest, meager expectation of the worldly man: namely, that he may live on in his children (verse 21). In any case, alas, Job no longer has any children. From a worldly perspective, Job’s existence is a total wreck.
Behold the dilemma of Job’s mind. If he consults solely the personal impulses of his soul, Job knows that he loves God and strongly suspects that God loves him. When, however, he begins to regard human existence in the detached abstraction of critical thought, death appears as the very end, and all man’s hope is doomed (verse 19). One suspects that Job, if he had died at this point in the story, might have finished his life begging—like Goethe—“More Light!”
Monday, September 10
Job 15: With this chapter we start the second cycle of speeches. Once again, Eliphaz speaks first. (He seems to be the eldest; cf. verse 10).
In his former discourse (chapters 4—5) Eliphaz showed respect and even a measure of sympathy for the suffering Job, treating him as a basically righteous man who had somehow incurred the divine wrath by some unknown offense. He exhorted Job, at that time, to examine his conscience more carefully, to discern what that hidden offense against God might be, and to repent of it.
That simple attitude of sympathy and concern for Job, however, is no longer possible; Eliphaz has listened to Job repeatedly profess his innocence of any such offense. Since that first speech of Eliphaz, Job has altered the very suppositions of their discourse by separating his sufferings from any simple concepts of either justice or wisdom.
It now seems to Eliphaz that Job, by emphatically denying a causal relationship between his sins and his afflictions, menaces the moral structure of the world itself, and Eliphaz responds with both aggression and, in the closing verses of the chapter, even a tone of threat.
Is Job older than Adam, he asks, or as old as wisdom itself (verse 7; cf. Proverbs 8:25), that he should be engaged in such dangerous speculations about the hidden purposes of God?
The irony here, of course, is that Job is the only one whose discourse manifests even a shred of intellectual humility. Job has never, like Eliphaz (4:12–21), claimed to discern the divine mind.
Yet it is true that Job, driven by his distress, has probed the matter of suffering more deeply. Job has sensed that something mysterious is at play in the sad fortunes of his recent life, something hinted at in Eliphaz’s own expression, “the [secret] counsel of God” (verse 8). Job himself will later use this identical expression, sod Eloah, to describe his friendship with God in the earlier part of his life (29:4).
In the first two chapters of this book, we readers were given a glimpse into that secret counsel of God. God’s “secret counsel” is the essence of His mysterious intervention in human history (Ephesians 3:9), including the individual lives of His loyal servants (Romans 8:28).
Job’s sustained probing after that secret counsel is what offends Eliphaz, the older man who considers such probing investigation a symptom of arrogance (verses 9, 12–13). There is nothing “hidden” going on, Eliphaz declares (verse 18); the moral structure of human existence, including the principle of inevitable retribution, has long been plain to human understanding (verses 20–35). Thus, the suffering Job is getting only what he deserves.
Tuesday, September 11
Job 16: Job must now answer the scathing indictment he has just received from Eliphaz. His response, which generally takes the form of lament and complaint, contains some of the most memorable and moving verses of the book, chiefly his appeal to the heavenly Witness of his sufferings.
Just exchange souls (nephesh, as in Genesis 2:8) with me, Job tells his companions (the “you” here being plural), and you will understand (verse 4). I certainly would not treat you as you are treating me (verse 5). If their roles were reversed, says Job, he would be a worthier comforter. He would not add to their suffering but would assuage their grief.
Job finds that neither speech nor silence can avail (verse 6). He kept silence, but it provided him no wisdom. He spoke with his companions, seeking help to understand, but this brought him only further ignominy. In both cases his sufferings continued.
At this point, however, Job stops speaking to his companions and once again addresses God. (The reader observes that Job is always at his best when he speaks to God.) Eliphaz, he complains, has attacked him with the fury of a wild beast (verse 9), and so have the others. Indeed, God Himself has handed Job over to their reproaches (verse 11), and they inexplicably afflict him with every manner of suffering (verses 12–17). (This text is one of those that best indicate why the Eastern Orthodox Church reads the Book of Job during Holy Week.)
But suddenly, in the midst of this lament, Job appeals to God to bear witness to this terrible taking of his innocent life. Using terms reminiscent of the unjustly slain Abel, he tells the earth not to cover the innocent blood that cries to heaven with “pure prayer” (verses 17–18; cf. Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 26:21; Ezekiel 24:8; Hebrews 12:24).
And who in heaven will hear Job’s cry? The Witness—the very God in whom Job has ever placed his trust (verse 19). Let men on earth say what they will; Job sends his appeal on high. As the chapter ends, Job seems resolved to die without understanding what terrible thing has transpired to make him die in such misery of soul and body. But God is his Witness; God will see, and Job leaves his case to God.
No matter how vehement his frequent complaints, Job always returns to this conviction that “God sees and knows.” All his life long, Job has endeavored to live in the sight of God. God has always been his Witness, the One who reads his heart. This cultivated awareness, at the root of Job’s character, is the source of his strength to endure.
Wednesday, September 12
Job 17: It is the teaching of all Holy Scripture that our mortality is the Fall we sinners inherit from Adam. In other words, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). We have it on this same authority that “by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one” (5:17). In short, “sin reigned in death” (5:21).
It is the teaching of the Christian Church that by reason of Adam’s Fall, man without Christ is under the reign of death and corruption, because “the reign of death operates only in the corruption of the flesh” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection 47).
As the physical expression of sin, death chiefly represents man’s final and definitive separation from God. That is to say, apart from Christ, death is simply sin in its final stage. It embodies everything that sin means. It is the ultimate alienation from God. Consequently, if there is one sure general characteristic of death in the Old Testament, it is death’s utter separation of a man from the knowledge, remembrance, and praise of God.
Thus, King Hezekiah, after his own very close encounter with the grave, commented that what he most feared about death was its concomitant exclusion from the praise of God: “For Sheol cannot thank You, / Death cannot praise You; / Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth” (Isaiah 38:18). “For in death there is no remembrance of You,” lamented David; “In the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). And the sons of Korah mourned, “Shall Your loving kindness be declared in the grave? / Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction? / Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? / And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Psalm 88:11–12).
Always there is that same rhetorical question: “Who shall praise the Most High in the grave?” (Sirach 17:27)—“What profit is there in my blood, / When I go down to the pit? / Will the dust praise You? / Will it declare Your truth?” (Psalm 30:9). It was the common doctrine of the Old Testament that “the dead who are in the graves, whose souls are taken from their bodies, will give unto the Lord neither praise nor righteousness” (Baruch 2:17). It is in the Book of Job, as we shall see in due course, that this perspective of death’s finality is most forcefully challenged in the Old Testament.
Still, the notion of an “afterlife with God,” following death, is entirely alien to the Hebrew Scriptures. Indeed, it is also alien to the New Testament, unless a person has died in the redemptive faith of Christ. It is Christ alone who delivers man from death, including the saints of the Old Testament. Nowhere in the Bible is there an afterlife apart from Christ. Whatever after-existence there may be apart from Christ, it is certainly no real life.
This hopeless Old Testament view of death, then, is what Job is facing in the present chapter. He is staring at death’s approach, his entrance into “the land of forgetfulness,” his final separation from the One whom he has loved and trusted all his life, and he is doing so with no sense of God’s presence or His favor. The dark words of this chapter, nonetheless, will not be Job’s last comment on the subject of death and corruption.
Thursday, September 13
Job 18: Bildad contends that he and his two companions have been sharing with Job the rock-solid truth on which the moral life is founded. Job, however, has insisted on moving this rock (18:4). Does Job believe that the eternal principles of the moral order should be adjusted to suit his own case?
Bildad goes on to elaborate the punishments that wicked men, such as Job, must expect (18:5–11). His references to darkness (18:5–6, 18) appear especially severe when we bear in mind how desperately Job has sought enlightenment in his plight.
Bildad’s second speech is particularly cruel in its judgment of Job, listing each of his afflictions in turn as evidence of his guilt. For example, Job has just spoken of the approaching darkness of the grave (17:12–14). Now Bildad takes up that very theme against him (18:5–6, 18). Job has just mentioned his failing strength (17:7, 18), and Bildad turns it into sarcastic obloquy (18:7, 12–13). Job lamented that onlookers were shocked at his condition (17:6, 8), and Bildad makes the point a matter of further reproach (18:20). The grave that Job described as his future home (17:13–16) is evidence to Bildad that he is “a man who does not know God” (18:21). In short, Job shows every symptom of a man whom God has rightly abandoned, and Bildad makes even his sufferings a reproach to him.
Bildad, in this second speech, thus abandons even the scant sympathy expressed in his first. He further rehearses, rather, his simplistic and illogical claim that all human suffering can be reduced to the inevitable consequence of the sins of the man who suffers. This impersonal, even mechanical theory of moral retribution more closely resembles the Hindu “law of karma” and the Buddhist “chain of causation” than it does anything taught in Holy Scripture.
Moreover, in its emphatic denial of this mechanical and impersonal theory of sin and retribution, the teaching of the Book of Job on the mystery (sod) of human suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent and the just, prepares the believing mind for the more ample doctrine of the Cross, whereon an innocent and just Man suffered and died for the sake of the guilty and the unjust. The trial of Job was preparatory to the trial of Jesus. It is ultimately the Cross that vindicates Job’s cause.
This vindication by the Cross especially pertains to Job’s preoccupation with death and corruption. The Just Man who died on the Cross, tormented by the bystanders as a person rejected by God (Matthew 27:39–43), is identical with the Holy One who was not suffered to see corruption (Acts 2:27).
Friday, September 14
Job 19: This is arguably the finest chapter in the Book of Job, containing his most memorable profession of faith.
Up to this point in the book, Job has attempted various “soundings” of the mystery of his sufferings, and these themes are remembered again in the present chapter. Thus, he speaks once again of the testimony of his conscience (6:30; 9:29; 10:7; 16:17), his appeal to God’s justice (10:2, 7; 13:23; 16:21), his sense of God’s friendship (7:8,21; 10:8–9; 14:15), his desire for God’s vindication of his case (14:13–15; 16:19–20). This last theme, Job’s desire for God’s vindication, dominates the closing section of the chapter.
Job begins by wondering why his friends feel so threatened by his reaction to his predicament (19:4). Are they really so unsure of themselves and their theories? What, after all, do they have to lose? Job is dealing with God (19:6), not them, and the problem is on God’s side, not Job’s (19:7). Job argues that his sufferings do not come from some inexorable law (19:8–12), as Bildad supposes (cf. 18:5–10), but from God’s intentional choice.
Indeed, it was God who sent these alleged comforters to make him even more miserable (19:12–15,19), to say nothing of his wife (verse 17)! He is wasting away (19:20) and now pleads for pity from these professed friends (19:21–22).
Then come the truly shining lines of the book, where Job places all his hope in God, his “Redeemer” or Vindicator in the latter days (verses 23–27). This noun, go’el, is the active participial form of the verb ga’al, meaning “to avenge.”
Both the noun and the verb are often used in the Hebrew Bible with reference to God Himself, and, in those instances where this is the case, the Christian transmission of Holy Scripture has preferred the words “redeem” and “purchase” to translate this Hebrew verb. Thus, Psalm 74(73):2 says that God “redeemed” or “purchased” (ga’alta) His people in their Exodus from Egypt. Similarly, God is called the “Redeemer” (Go’el) of the fatherless (Proverbs 23:11; cf. Jeremiah 50:34). Such expressions are very common in the Book of Psalms (for example, 69:19 [68:18]; 107 :2).
Particularly to the point with reference to the Book of Job is the use of this verb, ga’al, when it means deliverance from death or the underworld (Sheol). This context is found in Psalm 103(102):4 and Hosea 13:14.
When Job calls God his Go’el, therefore, he is speaking with the common voice of Holy Scripture. The Lord is explicitly invoked by this name in Psalm 19:15 (18:14) and 78:34 (77:35). In the second part of the Book of Isaiah this word is a standard epithet for God (41:14; 43:14; 44:6; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7, 8, 26; 54:5; 60:16; 63:16).
Job’s Go’el is identical to his heavenly Witness (‘edh) in 16:19–20 and his “Spokesman” (melits) in 9:33 and 33:23. Job’s appeal here is entirely eschatological. That is to say, he lays all his hope in God’s final, future, definitive judgment.
Until that day, and in testimony to that hope, Job wants these words inscribed in stone. Here we have the Hebrew Scriptures’ clearest expression of hope for the resurrection of the dead and the final vision of God. This chapter is one of direct preparation for the New Testament and the glory of the Resurrection.