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.
Saturday, September 15
Job 20: Through the various soliloquies, prayers, and discourses of Job, we may observe a distinct development and maturing of his thought. The critical observations of his friends, even their insults and obloquy, force him to examine his own ideas and perceptions more critically, to try fresh paths of reflection, to probe his problem anew from previously untried perspectives. Job’s mind is not monochrome; it actually changes and grows richer throughout the course of the book.
With Job’s three friends, the very opposite is true. In the eight responses that they make to him, the reader observes that the thought-content, if it can be said to alter at all, rather grandly declines. Job grows, that is to say, while his friends diminish.
The first speaker was Eliphaz, who largely based his argument against Job on his personal experience, his religious vision, insight, or veda. Although the thought of Eliphaz is certainly found wanting in the full context of the Book of Job, his first discourse did represent, in fact, a solid nucleus of profound insight. Eliphaz was, so to speak, an eyewitness. He represented a living contact with genuine religious experience. Whole civilizations could be constructed on the teachings of Eliphaz.
Next came Bildad, however, whose argument against Job appealed, not to any religious or metaphysical experience of his own, but to the inherited and established teaching of his elders. Bildad represents, as it were, the next generation of thinkers, and in the transition from Eliphaz to Bildad we observed insight declining into theory. Bildad was no eyewitness, but more of a character witness. He represented a tradition rather than an insight. Bildad’s ideas, compared with those of Eliphaz, were not vibrant. Indeed, they were somewhat stale.
Finally, when we came to Zophar’s contribution, there was neither insight nor theory, but mere opinion and prejudice. Moving through the arguments of these three men, we perceived a decline of insight into tradition, and tradition into bias. The respective arguments of Job’s friends, that is to say, followed a downward path.
Now, as these same three speakers take their second turns to speak, their arguments have become even worse, because each man can do no more than repeat what he said before, only this time in a much louder and more strident voice: “What?! Didn’t you hear me the first time?!”
The loudest and harshest of these is Zophar, who had neither insight nor theory even to start with. Zophar never possessed any argument stronger than a prejudice, and his second attempt is simply a more obstreperous version of the first.
Zophar’s speech here in chapter 20 and Bildad’s in chapter 18 serve as two sides to frame Job’s great profession of faith in chapter 19. The contrast between Job’s inspiring, living profession and the moldy, repeated vituperations of these two men could not be starker. The present chapter is Zophar’s perverted fantasy about what an evil man Job must be and what a terrible divine judgment awaits him. It sounds all the more ridiculous and improbable because it so closely follows on the grandeur of Job’s aspirations in the previous chapter.
Sunday, September 16
Job 21: Most of this is Job’s examination of the considerable empirical evidence that stands against the thesis of his friends. Job only argues here; he does not pray. Psychologically strengthened by his own affirmation of faith two chapters earlier, he now goes on the offensive against these mean, narrow men who have made themselves his critics. They have contended all along that God blesses the virtuous and punishes the wicked, and that this principle of retributive justice is manifest in Job’s own fate. Oh, says Job, is this so clear?
The example elicited by Job is not the obvious villain, the wicked tyrant proposed by Eliphaz (15:20) and Zophar (20:12–14, 18), because such a person cannot truly be called happy. Job proposes, rather, the simply godless man, who has no time for God nor sees why he should. Such a one is sufficiently happy with his lot in this world, so why bother about God? Does not this example indicate that goodness and good fortune are not necessarily inseparable things?
Indeed, it seems to be the case that prosperity itself may actually prompt a man to adopt godless sentiments (verses 14–15). Still, says Job, we see irreligious men enjoying God’s benefits, rather much as his three friends claim is the lot solely of God-fearing men.
Take the blessings that Eliphaz predicates of the religious man in 5:20–26. These blessings also fall to the lot of the irreligious man described by Job here in verses 8–13. Such a one receives God’s precious gifts, such as children (verse 8), homes (verse 9), possessions (verse 10), and happiness (verse 11). Truth to tell, are not these the blessings that Job himself formerly knew? But an ungodly, irreligious man may have these things as well.
And then that same man may also die a painless death (verse 13). Moreover, does not death itself suggest that God is something less than discriminating in the outpouring of His benedictions? Death befalls everyone, just and unjust alike (verses 23–26). Just where, then, is all this justice that established the world?
Dr. S. M. Hutchens has summarized very well the metaphysical problem uncovered in this chapter of Job: “I believe that one of the fundamental insights of the Book of Job is that theodicy is always a losing game. God cannot be justified, by Reason, reasons, or reasoning. The only argument for God is God Himself. . . . No matter how much a man has suffered or received in his suffering, it does not qualify him to serve as God’s attorney.”
Monday, September 17
Job 22: In this, his third speech, Eliphaz the Temanite abandons all restraint in his response to Job. Did not Job’s most recent comments, after all, completely overthrow the moral order? No more, then, will Eliphaz demonstrate the forbearance that somewhat characterized his first speech (chapters 4—5), nor even the (Eliphaz would say) restrained tone of his second (chapter 15). He now regards Job as the utter skeptic and unbeliever that his most recent remarks prove him to be.
We observe how Eliphaz, having started from the highest moral authority among the three comforters, sinks now to the lowest. This moral decline demonstrates the Latin adage, corruptio optimi pessima, or, as Shakespeare rephrased it, “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” We know that Eliphaz is a religious man, but now his religion is put at the service of intellectual and moral distortion as he accuses Job of the vilest crimes, especially cruelty to the poor (verses 6–9).
No point of this accusation against Job, of course, can be sustained by evidence. Eliphaz never appeals to evidence, however. His arguments are entirely a priori, arguments “from principle.” He has no empirical evidence for Job’s sins. These alleged offenses of Job are but inferences drawn from Eliphaz’s theory. Unfortunately his theory is wrong.
The error displayed in the argument of Eliphaz is the one logicians call the AC fallacy, “affirming the consequent.” It is the kind of argument that asserts that, because athletes must be strong, all strong people must be athletes.
This very common formal logical fallacy consists in the misguided attempt to argue from an inference (or consequent) to a premise (or antecedent); that is to say, it is the attempt to reverse the terms of a hypothesis. This description may sound complicated, but another example renders it easier to understand.
Let us look at the following hypothetical syllogism, which is perfectly valid: “(A) If I steal all the money in Chase Manhattan Bank, I will be wealthy. (B) I have stolen all the money in Chase Manhattan Bank. (C) Therefore, I am wealthy.” The juxtaposition of these two antecedents or premises (A and B) leads logically to the consequent or inference (C). This is a sound exercise in logic.
The AC fallacy, however, which “affirms the consequent,” endeavors to reverse the process of that valid hypothetical syllogism. It turns the argument backwards by simply “affirming the consequent” of the hypothesis. Sticking with the same example, the AC fallacy says: “(A) If I steal all the money in Chase Manhattan Bank, I will be wealthy. (B) I am wealthy. (C) Therefore, I must have stolen all the money in Chase Manhattan Bank!”
We immediately sense that something is wrong with this argument, because it implies that wealthy people are necessarily thieves. This argument is fallacious on its face, because we know that there are all sorts of ways of becoming wealthy besides recourse to theft.
This kind of fallacy, though somewhat common, is easily spotted by inspection, as the present example shows, and we would expect a man of Eliphaz’s intellectual culture to detect it readily.
Instead, Eliphaz has been using that same fallacy to argue against Job. He is saying, “(A) People suffer for it if they sin. (B) Job is suffering. (C) Therefore, Job must have sinned.”
Just as there are all sorts of explanations for wealth besides bank robbery, however, so there are all sorts of explanations for personal suffering besides personal sin.
The narrow moral imagination of Eliphaz, nonetheless, is incapable of considering such possibilities. He has had a personal religious experience that he described earlier in the book, and he bases his entire moral theory on the limited insight derived from that experience. He had a vision one night, and his hair stood on end (4:15), and now he thinks he “knows it all.” In this he presumes to be God’s spokesman (verses 21–30).
Tuesday, September 18
Job 23: Having listened to Eliphaz’s third discourse, Job apparently feels, “Why bother?” Consequently, in this chapter he limits his rebuttal of Eliphaz to a brief and entirely oblique repudiation of the latter’s slanders against him (verses 11–12).
As Job was entirely argumentative in chapter 21, so in these next two chapters he becomes entirely meditative. The tone of these two chapters is deeply sad, notwithstanding Job’s high assertion of faith in chapter 19. His mood is more somber now, as he reflects on God’s inaccessibility. If chapter 18 represented Job’s pillar of fire, the present discourse is his pillar of cloud, and both experiences are integral to his testing. Now he longs for a God that he cannot reach: “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him” (verse 3).
In verses 8–10 Job describes his sense of God’s absence in terms reminiscent of the psalmist’s description of God’s presence (cf. Psalm 139). A comparison of these two texts is instructive. The Psalmist found God in whatever direction he turned: “You have hedged me behind and before, / And laid Your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5). God, that is to say, is in front and in back of him. God is also on either side of him: “Even there Your hand shall lead me, / And Your right hand hold me” (139:10). In short, the Psalmist finds that he can go nowhere and escape the presence of God: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? / Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (139:7).
Like the Psalmist, Job seeks God in every direction: “I go forward, but He is not there, / And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; / When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; / When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him” (verses 8–9). In short, Job’s experience seems, at first, to be the opposite of that in Psalm 139. Whereas the Psalmist found God everywhere, Job finds Him nowhere. As Eric Voegelin observed when commenting on this text of Job, “the search in space no longer reveals a divine presence” (Israel and Revelation [Volume 14 of Order and History], page 76).
It must be said, nonetheless, that this contrast between Job and the Psalmist is more apparent than real. Job is no skeptic about the divine presence. Indeed, he is overpowered by it: “Therefore I am terrified at His presence; / When I consider this, I am afraid of Him. / For God made my heart weak, / And the Almighty terrifies me” (verses 15–16).
In each case, moreover, there is the profound sense of being known by God. Thus, the Psalmist began his meditation, “O LORD, You have searched me and known me (vatteda‘) . . . . You comprehend my path . . . And are acquainted with all my ways (derakai)” (Psalm 139:1, 3). Job, for his part, affirms no less: “But He knows the way (yada‘ Derek) that I take; / When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (verse 10).
The Psalmist does, in fact, finish his meditation with sentiments that we easily associate with the soul of Job: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; / Try me, and know my anxieties; / And see if there is any wicked way in me, / And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).
Wednesday, September 19
Job 24: The present chapter continues Job’s seventh response to his critics. Here he leaves the limiting confines of his own experience to reflect more generally on man’s miserable estate. This reflection continues the startling challenge that Job had made in chapter 21, offering further evidence to dispute the “moral universe” idea defended by his three friends.
To these men, who have been consistently asserting that those who suffer deserve to suffer, Job raises the spectacle of those who clearly suffer unjustly. God sees all such suffering (verse 1), but He does not intervene, says Job.
Thus, men are obliged to endure the theft of their property (verses 2–4). They must bear with homelessness and exposure (verses 7–8). They have to sustain injustice and oppression (verses 9, 12). Hunger presses upon them (verse 10). Those thus oppressed do not deserve such things. But does God put a stop to all these moral outrages (verse 12)? Manifestly He does not.
Thus Job demolishes the theory that suffering is solely the lot of the wicked. Those who would defend the justice of God must do so in a way that takes seriously these sad facts of life.
And if the evidence shows that the just must sometimes endure injustice, is it not also true that the unjust go unpunished? Is it so obvious that God invariably chastises the sinner? Does God, for instance, invariably bring retribution on the murderer (verse 14)? Is it always the case that the adulterer is reproved (verse 15)? Does it never happen that the thief goes unpunished (verse 16)? Those who glibly contend that the world is founded on divine justice, says Job, had better take a closer look at such evidence!
Job is not arguing that God is unjust, of course, nor is he denying that justice itself is rooted in the structure of created existence. He is simply asserting that the evidence is complex and not easy to grasp. Job is taking seriously the classical problem of theodicy: How do we reconcile the existence of an all-wise, all-just, and all-knowing God with the simultaneous existence of evil?
Against his own accusers, Job is arguing that goodness and good fortune are not invariably and in every instance entwined. The simplest observations of well-known facts prove this not to be true.
This manifest separability of goodness from good fortune, a separability so often characteristic of life in this world, later prompted Emmanuel Kant to affirm the existence of a just God and a retributive afterlife as “moral postulates” demanded by the very structure of reason. Man’s innate sense that goodness and good fortune should go together, Kant reasoned, is an instinct that demands some future adjudication.
Thursday, September 20
Job 25: Job’s responses to his critics have had their effect, because these three appear to have become dispirited. They have reached the end of their limited intellectual resources. After the present brief rambles of Bildad, Job will hold forth without challenge until the end of chapter 31.
From the present chapter it is clear that Bildad the Shuhite has lost his way. As we have seen from the beginning, there was never anything very original about Bildad; he relied entirely on what his elders had taught him. Indeed, he made this trait his explicit boast to Job (cf. 8:8).
When we come to Bildad now, however, he does not seem to know what he thinks. One commentator, in fact, describes his speech as “short and out of keeping with his previous utterances.”
As the chapter begins, one has the impression that we are interrupting a line of thought already in process, as though somehow we are suddenly made privy to some secret musing of Bildad’s that we just happen to overhear.
Most of what Bildad says here is, in truth, simply a quotation from earlier discourses of Eliphaz (compare verses 4–6 with 4:17 and 15:14). Perhaps those words of Eliphaz had made a deep impression on Bildad. He is mumbling something that Eliphaz said earlier. He has no response at all to Job’s recent argument.
Anyway, when Bildad considers that man is only a worm (verse 6), this very thought apparently prompts him to be silent, for the speech ends abruptly, and we still wonder where his thought was leading him. Bildad does not seem to know.
This sudden disorientation by Bildad, along with the lack of any third discourse by Zophar, has prompted some biblical scholars to propose various reconstructions of the text at this point.
This futile and subjective exercise is not necessary, because the text as it stands is perfectly intelligible. The dramatic loss of direction on the part of Job’s critics shows simply that they have become undone. They have nothing left to say. Job has bested their best efforts. There is nothing further to add. Chapter 25 is the place where the earlier eloquence of Job’s critics ends with a whimper.
Perhaps there is an added significance in the fact that their efforts end with Bildad, who has been, more than any of them, the spokesman for a certain philosophical tradition. It is the tradition itself that is breaking down under the onslaught of Job’s intense, impassioned queries, so Bildad is the last of them to speak, and he has almost nothing to say.
Friday, September 21
Job 26: Bildad has not said anything worth answering, so Job doesn’t answer him. Instead, he discourses on the immense majesty of God in the phenomena of heaven and earth.
This is a further and significant development in Job’s spiritual maturation through the course of the book. Especially since his avowal of personal faith in his “Redeemer” in chapter 19, Job has become more preoccupied with the world around him than with the misery of his own existence. Now he contemplates what God has made. Job’s mind escapes, in this way, the confinement of his own suffering.
In the opening of the chapter, Job throws one final taunt at those who pretended to be his comforters. Just what have they accomplished (verses 2–4)?
Then he proceeds to consider the wonders of all creation, beginning with the world that has so often preoccupied him, the nether world—sheol and ’abaddon (verse 6), the realm of the dead. The juxtaposition of these two words is also found in Proverbs 15:11 and 27:20.
In the present passage, the word ’abaddon (often translated as “destruction,” as in Job 31:12) serves as a personification of death itself, which seems also to be the case in Job 28:22. This is likewise how the same word is used in Revelation 9:11, where it refers to “the angel of the bottomless pit.”
Though this region of the dead lies concealed from the sight of man, it is open to the eyes of God. For Job this truth is important, certainly, because his great fear, through much of this book, is that he will die and simply disappear from the gaze of God.
From his consideration of the world beneath, Job then rises to contemplate the heavens above. The “north” (saphon) of verse 7 refers to the lights of the northern sky, dominated by the pole star. The rendering of the canonical Greek text here, borea, may evoke in some readers a memory of the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis.
Once again, Job’s juxtaposition of the nether world and the celestial world, in both of which places God is present and knowing, puts the reader in mind of Psalm 139 (138), where the Psalmist exclaims, “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell (sheol), behold, You are there.”
These lights in the heavens, says Job, are suspended over “emptiness,” tohu (verse 7; cf. Genesis 1:2). The earth floats beneath this emptiness above and mere “air” beneath. (This last noun, belima, which is found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, I have translated as “air,” because in rabbinical literature it bears the meaning of “upper atmosphere.” The canonical Greek text here, followed by several modern translations, says “nothing,” ouden.) Since many ancient texts, including the Bible, speak of the earth as suspended “upon the waters,” the imagery here in Job is doubly striking.
From air, Job moves on to consider water, first in its atmospheric form—clouds and vapors (verses 8–9), and then in its earthly form—liquid (verse 10). The shaking of the “pillars of heaven” (verse 11) suggests a booming storm. God adorns these heavens by His Spirit, Ruach (verse 13), a theological truth proclaimed also in Psalm 33(32):6. This is still descriptive of a storm scene, as is the “thunder of His might” in verse 14.