Friday, August 29
Job 5: Job’s lament, Eliphaz believes, is essentially selfish, expressing only subjective pain. Therefore, Eliphaz becomes more severe in his criticism of Job, referring to him as “foolish” (5:2, 3) and speaking of Job’s perished children in an insensitive way (5:4).
In Eliphaz’s experience of the divine claims, on which his objections to the lament of Job are based, there has been a dominant emphasis on God’s utter purity and transcendence. Here Eliphaz touches a theme in the Prophets (for instance, Amos 5:4, 6), going on to describe God in terms of justice (Job 5:11–15) and benevolence (5:9, 10, 16). Eliphaz contends that Job, instead of complaining about God, even by implication, should be putting his trust in God (5:17), who delivers (5:19–20) and heals (5:18), even as He corrects and chastises.
Though it is too severe and personally insensitive, Eliphaz does make a basically reliable case. Indeed, in God’s final revelation to Job near the end of the book, we meet some of the very themes that initially appeared in the first discourse of Eliphaz.
Moreover, in the final verses of this, his first speech (5:25–26), Eliphaz ironically foretells the blessings that Job will receive at the end of the story (42:12–17). However much, then, Eliphaz managed to misinterpret the implications of his own religious experience, that experience itself was valid and sound. To say that Eliphaz was wrong in his assessment of Job does not mean that Eliphaz was wrong in respect to everything he proclaimed.
Indeed, with respect to the exchange between Eliphaz and Job, we have the impression that the two men are arguing at cross purposes. Most of Eliphaz’s claims are beyond dispute, nor will Job dispute them. Above all, Job himself will bear witness to God’s purity and transcendence, about which Eliphaz has been most insistent. Indeed, as the story develops we shall see that Job knows far more on this subject of God’s holiness and purity than Eliphaz could imagine. The difference between the two men is that Eliphaz has never been tested as Job is being tested. Job knows this difference; Eliphaz doesn’t.
Acts 26:12-32: Paul continues recounting his own history, not omitting his earlier persecutions of Christians, and then goes on to describe his conversion. We have here the third and most elaborate account of that event in the Acts of the Apostles and the only version of the story to contain the detail about Paul’s “kicking against the goad,” a metaphor for resistance to divine grace. This detail insinuates that Paul had already been feeling the pangs of conscience for his grievous mistreatment of Christians. This verse suggests, then, that Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus represented a sort of climax to a spiritual struggle already being waged in his own soul.
Saturday, August 30
Job 6: Each of us tends to universalize or absolutize his religious experience, and Job believes that this is what Eliphaz has done—he has projected his own experience onto Job. Basing his objections to Job solely on his own limited vision, Eliphaz has failed to appreciate the unique dimensions of Job’s suffering.
Job says that he expected better of this friend. Eliphaz and the others know him well enough not to take him for the sinner they now imagine him to be. They have interpreted Job’s sufferings as evidence of his sinful state, whereas they should be trying to see his affliction as Job himself sees it. They have not sufficiently weighed his grief, Job says (6:2).
Now Job’s comments will begin to take more direct aim at God. Eliphaz, after all, has set himself up as God’s spokesman, and Job’s response will respect that arrangement. Eliphaz had called God “the Almighty” (Shaddai in 5:17), the divine title that is now taken up by Job himself (6:4, 14). That is to say, the God that Job now addresses is specifically God as identified by Eliphaz.
Job insists that his complaint is no more unreasonable than that of an animal denied its basic sustenance (6:5). He wishes that God would take away his life (6:8–10); he knows that he has not betrayed God and does not deserve this suffering.
We readers, who are familiar with the prologue of the book, are aware that Job is right. Indeed, whereas Job has only the testimony of his own conscience, we readers have the testimony of God Himself, who has already declared Job to be a just man.
Thus, when Job reproaches his friends, we readers stand with him; like dried-up streams, those friends have failed the parched traveler who looked to them with hope (6:14–20). Job has asked so little of them, nothing beyond their simple friendship (6:22–23). Instead of showing compassion for a suffering friend, however, Eliphaz has treated those sufferings of Job chiefly as an occasion to rehearse the religious convictions born of his own limited experience.
Like the friends of Job, many men are too quick to blame, especially when faced with unexplained suffering. Commenting on this chapter, St. John Chrysostom refers to the rash judgment of the citizens of Malta when they saw Paul bitten by the snake in Acts 28:4—“No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” Similarly, the apostles, when they beheld the man born blind, immediately wanted to place the blame on somebody (John 9:2). Thus the self-appointed comforters of Job add the grievous burden of calumny to the already heavy load of his sufferings.
Sunday, August 31
Job 7: Job is no longer simply answering Eliphaz. This chapter consists, rather, of a new lament, a kind of soliloquy about the tragedies to which human existence is subject. Job likens them to three particularly miserable kinds of men: an unwilling military conscript who is in constant danger for reasons that do not interest nor concern him, a day laborer forced by his desperate circumstances to earn just enough to stay alive until he goes back to work the next day, and a slave. Human life is both hard and short, that is to say, occasionally relieved by the shadows that give a slight reprieve from the oppressive heat (7:2).
The very transitions between day and night, which in Israel’s traditional wisdom literature provide a sense of stability and structure (cf. Psalms 104:19–23), become in the oppressed mind of Job the source of enervating boredom, anxiety, and apathy (verses 3–4). He experiences already the corruption of death (verse 5). It is a life without hope (verses 6, 16).
Job addresses God, asking only that God will “remember” him (verse 7), for he knows that God regards him (verse 8). To die, however, as Job sees it, is to disappear even from the sight of God (verses 9–10); the finality of death is addressed several times in this book (7:21; 10:21; 14:10, 12, 18–22; 17:13–16). Death represents, for the author of Job, the major preoccupation, and a hopeful quest for a life after death is one of the deepest and most moving aspects of the book (19:25–27).
Job then begins to turn his lament into a prayer (7:11–21). His spiritual dilemma comes from the knowledge that all these terrible things have befallen him, even though throughout his life he has known God as someone who loves him and whom he loves. Has God now become his enemy? Or will God return to search for him once more? And if God does come to look for him, will He arrive too late? Will Job be already dead and gone (verses 8, 21)?
Whereas for Job’s friends his sufferings raise the question of justice, for Job himself those sufferings raise, rather, a question about friendship.
Observe how, in verse 18, Job ironically alters the sense of Psalm 8:5, which asks, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” Those words—“What is man?”—words that originally referred to man’s grandeur, become, in the mouth of Job, a lament over man’s degradation: “What is man that You should exalt him, that You set Your heart on him, that You should visit him every morning, and test him every moment?” Clearly the religious experience of Job by far transcends that of Eliphaz. Alas, his other friends will not rise even to the level of Eliphaz.
Monday, September 1
Job 8: To the ears of Bildad, Job’s second respondent—a man even less tolerant than Eliphaz—the foregoing lament seems to be an attack on the justice of God and the entire moral order. Unlike Eliphaz, however, Bildad is able to make no argument on the basis of his own personal experience. He is obliged to argue, rather, solely from the moral tradition, which he does not understand very well. Indeed, Bildad treats the moral structure of the world in a nearly impersonal way. To the mind of Bildad, the effects of sin follow automatically, as the inevitable effects of a sufficient cause. The presence of the effect, that is, implies the presence of the cause.
If Eliphaz’s argument had been too personal, bordering on the purely subjective, the argument of Bildad may be called too objective, bordering on the purely mechanical. In the mind of Bildad the principle of retributive justice functions nearly as a law of nature, or what the religions of India call the Law of Karma.
Both Eliphaz and Job show signs of knowing God personally, but we discern nothing of this in Bildad. Between Bildad and Job, therefore, there is even less of a meeting of minds than there was between Eliphaz and Job.
We should remember, on the other hand, that Job himself has never raised the abstract question of the divine justice; he has shown no interest, so far, in the problems of theodicy. Up to this point in the story, Job has been concerned only with his own problems, and his lament has been entirely personal, not theoretical.
Bildad, for his part, does not demonstrate even the limited compassion of Eliphaz. We note, for example, his comments about Job’s now perished children. In the light of Job’s own concern for the moral well-being of those children early in the book (1:5), there is an especially cruel irony in Bildad’s speculation on their moral state: “If your sons have sinned against [God], He has cast them away for their transgression” (8:4). What a dreadful thing to say to a man who loved his sons as Job did!
Like Eliphaz before him, Bildad urges Job to repent (8:5–7), for such, he says, is the teaching of traditional morality (8:8–10).
Clearly, Bildad is unfamiliar with the God worshipped by Job, the God portrayed in the opening chapters of this book. Bildad knows nothing of a personal God who puts man to the test through the trial of his faith. Bildad’s divinity is, on the contrary, a nearly mechanistic adjudicator who functions entirely as a moral arbiter of human behavior, not a loving, redemptive God who shapes man’s destiny through His personal interest and intervention.
Nonetheless, in his comments about Job’s final lot Bildad speaks with an unintended irony, because in fact Job’s latter end will surpass his beginning (8:7), and “God will not cast away the blameless” (8:20—tam; cf. 1:1, 8; 2:3). On our first reading of the story, we do not know this yet, of course, because we do not know, on our first reading, how the story will end (for example 42:12).
So many comments made by Job’s friends, including these by Bildad in this chapter, are full of ironic, nearly prophetic meaning, which will become clear only at the story’s end, so the reader does not perceive this meaning on his first trip through the book.
Tuesday, September 2
Job 9: If we find Job become increasingly despondent during through the course of this book, let us bear in mind that he is responding to friends who prove themselves increasingly obtuse and insensitive. Bildad, in his objections to Job, was far worse than Eliphaz.
Job’s response to Bildad follows the same threefold outline that we saw in his response to Eliphaz in chapters 6—7. There is a direct response (9:2–24), a soliloquy (9:25—10:1), and an address to God (10:1–22).
Ironically, in Job’s direct response, which takes up most of this chapter, he largely ignores the self-righteous ranting of Bildad. Indeed, we have the impression that Job has “tuned out” Bildad at some point and gone on to recall Eliphaz’s earlier comment (4:17) about man’s inability to be just in the sight of God.
That earlier remark of Eliphaz posed for Job a problem he addresses in the present chapter. If God’s will is that which determines justice, and there is no other measure of justice to be consulted, how does a man of clean conscience deal with the problem of suffering? (This is, of course, the great problem of theodicy. Job’s analysis of it, however, is not theoretical; he has too much personal pain for purely abstract thought.) If man is unable to perceive God as acting justly, must he not think of God as acting in anger? And how can man perceive God’s anger as just, in the absence of any condign self-accusation in his own conscience? Job knows that God is near, but he cannot discern the path that God is following (9:11).
Job’s impulse is not to answer God in this respect, but rather to supplicate Him (9:15). Is there no difference between God’s violent treatment of nature (9:4–5) and His violent treatment of man (9:17–18)? Is God’s justice truly indistinguishable from His power (9:19)? Is justice rational, or merely willful?
Meanwhile, even as he ponders these deep, perplexing questions, Job seems to be dying (9:25–26), and he fears dying without being reconciled to God (9:30–33). Truly his plight is dire.
Wednesday, September 3
Job 10: Job reasons that God must be different from what his friends believe Him to be. If these friends have so wrongly judged Job, whom they do see, how can they rightly judge God, whom they do not see?
Job essays in this chapter, then, various theories to elucidate the problem under consideration, only to reject all those theories in the end. Is God cruel (verse 3), or deceived (verse 4), or shortsighted (verse 5) with respect to Job? No, Job answers. God knows that he is innocent (verse 7).
Having mentioned God’s “hand” in verse 7 (“there is no one who can deliver from Your hand”), Job goes on, in verses 8–12, to meditate on God’s fashioning him by hand (“Your hands have made me and fashioned me”). This moving text is especially reminiscent of Psalm 139 (138):13–15.
All this care did God take in this creation and preservation; was everything for naught, Job wonders? Does he himself value this “life and mercy,” Job inquires, more than God does? Not a bit. God holds these matters in His heart, he says (verse 13). Feeling full of confusion at such thoughts, Job pleads only that God look upon his sufferings (verse 15).
Aware that he is not a wicked man, Job is compelled to imagine that God afflicts the just as well as the unjust, for reasons best known to Himself (verses 16–17). We readers, in fact, know this to be the case. We know exactly what those reasons are. We have the advantage of overhearing those early conversations between God and Satan in the first two chapters of the book.
In this respect we readers of the Book of Job enjoy a great interpretive edge over the human characters within the story itself, because from the very beginning of the story we have known its true dynamics and direction. Remembering that Job is being tried by a God who has great confidence in him, we readers are entirely on Job’s side in this contest and hope he will not fail his period of probation. For this reason we also know that the speculations of Job’s three friends are far wide of the mark.
At the same time, especially as Job expresses his longings in these lengthy soliloquies, we readers become conscious of the deeper dimensions of his character, levels of soul more profound than what might have been expected of that observant doer of God’s will introduced back in chapter 1. God, of course, has known these things all along; God was already thoroughly familiar with Job’s heart.
Throughout the story we ourselves are gradually given an insight into that heart, perceiving dimensions that we might not have anticipated. We begin to discern Job’s radical longing for God, his deep need for God’s approval. Though the verb itself is not used in the text, we are looking at a man that actually loves God.
Thursday, September 4
Job 11: We come now to the first speech of Zophar, Job’s most strident critic, a man who can appeal to neither personal religious experience (as did Eliphaz) nor inherited moral tradition (as did Bildad). Possessed of neither resource, Zophar’s contribution is what we may call “third-hand.” He bases his criticism on his own theory of wisdom. Although he treats his theory as self-evidently true, we recognize it as only a personal bias.
Moreover, Zophar seems to identify his own personal perception of wisdom as the wisdom of God Himself. Whereas Bildad had endeavored to defend the divine justice, Zophar tries to glorify “divine” wisdom in Job’s case. If it is difficult to see justice verified in Job’s sufferings, however, it is even harder to see wisdom verified by those sufferings.
Like the two earlier speakers, Zophar calls on Job to repent in order to regain the divine favor. (This is a rather common misunderstanding that claims, “If things aren’t going well for you, you should go figure out how you have offended God, because He is obviously displeased with you.”)
Zophar also resorts to sarcasm. Although this particular rhetorical form is perfectly legitimate in some circumstances (and the prophets, beginning with Elijah, use it often), sarcasm becomes merely an instrument of cruelty when directed at someone who is suffering incomprehensible pain. In the present case, Job suffers in an extreme way, pushed to the very limits of his endurance. It is such a one that Zophar has the vile temerity to call a “man full of talk” (11:2), a liar (11:3), a vain man (11:11–12), and wicked (11:14, 20).
The final two verses (19–20) contain an implied warning against the “death wish” to which Job has several times given voice. This very sentiment, Zophar says, stands as evidence of Job’s wickedness.
The author of the Book of Job surely understands this extended criticism by Zophar as an exercise in irony. Though the context of his speech proves the speaker himself insensitive and nearly irrational in his personal cruelty, there is an undeniable eloquence in his description of the divine wisdom (11:7–9) and his assertion of the moral quality of human existence (11:10–12). Moreover, those very rewards that Zophar promises to Job in the event of his repentance (11:13–18) do, in fact, fall into Job’s life at the end of the book.
In this story of Job, men are not divided into those who have wisdom and those who don’t. In the Book of Job no one is really wise. There is no real wise man, as there is in, say, the Book of Proverbs. While wisdom is ever present in the plot of the story, no character in the story has a clear grasp of it. True wisdom will not stand manifest until God, near the end of the narrative, speaks for Himself. Even then God will not disclose to Job the particulars of His dealings with him throughout the story.
Friday, September 5
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.