Friday, August 26
Job 2: Satan tries to provoke Job to curse God (1:11), the very sin that Job abhorred and which he had been afraid his children might commit (1:5). In the present chapter Job’s own wife will tempt him in this way (2:9). The fourth, fifth, and sixth scenes are the substance of this second chapter.
In the fourth scene (2:1–7), Satan, disappointed at Job’s unexpected response to the initial trials, wants to afflict Job in his very flesh, persuaded that this new kind of pain will bring out the worst in him. He predicts that Job, in such a case, will finally curse God (2:5).
Back in Job 1:9, Satan had asked if Job was a just man “for nothing” (higgam), meaning “without getting anything out of it.” Now God throws this expression back in Satan’s face in 2:3—“you moved me to destroy him ‘for nothing’ [higgam]” (NKJV, “without cause”). That is to say, it was not Job that failed the test, but Satan. The reader discerns that God is actually taunting Satan here. As in Psalm 2, the Lord is laughing His enemy to scorn.
Satan, however, now takes his cynicism to a new level. Believing that man is at root selfish, Satan wants Job put to the test in his own flesh, his own person, not simply in his family and possessions. Job’s success so far, Satan believes, amounts to nothing more than the experience of survival. So, he contends, let Job’s survival be put at risk. Strip him down to his naked existence, deprived of health and reputation, and then see what happens. At that more personal level, the demonic cynic argues, Job will not fear God; he will curse God, rather.
God, ever the optimist with respect to Job, agrees to this new trial, thus introducing the fifth scene (2:7–10), which describes Job’s sufferings. These sufferings involve loathsome and unsightly infections that are often mentioned by Job in the later discourses. Treated like a leper, Job goes to sit on the city dump. He becomes a foreshadowing of the Suffering Servant prophesied in the Book of Isaiah: “In His humiliation His justice was taken away, / And who will declare His generation?” (Acts 8:33, quoting Isaiah 53:8 LXX).
Job is dying, and his wife tempts him to curse God before he does so. In short, Job’s wife reacts very much as Satan predicted that Job would react.
Indeed, we do perceive a change in Job at this point. If he does not curse God, Job also does not explicitly bless God as he had done in his first affliction (1:21). Instead, he humbly submits to God’s will (2:10).
In each case, nonetheless, God’s confidence in Job is vindicated. Satan has done his worst to Job, but Job has not succumbed. Like Abraham in Genesis 22, Job has met the trial successfully.
Having done his worst, Satan disappears and is never again mentioned in the book. The rest of the story concerns only God and human beings.
Job’s three friends now show up to introduce the sixth and last scene of this prologue (2:11–13), which directly prepares for the long dialogues that make up the book’s central section. The three friends are introduced here, precisely because of their important role in the long central section of this book.
Job’s friends, we are told, come to “comfort” him. This verb, “to comfort” (niham), is a very important word in the Book of Job. Introduced here at the story’s beginning, the expression “comfort” appears several more times, whether in the verb form (7:13; 16:2; 21:34; 29:25) or as the cognate noun (6:10). Whereas Job’s friends fail utterly in their efforts to “comfort” him throughout almost the entire book, they do ironically succeed at the end (42:11), after the resolution of Job’s conflict by God’s revelatory intervention.
A week of silence ensues (2:13), parallel to the week of revelry with which the book began (1:2, 4).
Saturday, August 27
Job 3: This chapter switches from prose to poetry, the style that will be maintained until almost the end of the book. Job now breaks the week of silence, beginning his lament, a lament that reminds us more of Jeremiah and some of the Psalms, perhaps, than of Israel’s wisdom literature.
Chapter 3 is, in fact, a prayer that is paralleled in several of the psalms. This chapter is simply a lamentation, much like the biblical book that bears that same name.
Like Elijah pursued by Jezebel, Job is weary of life. Indeed, a more detailed comparison between Elijah and Job is amply warranted by the resemblances between this third chapter and 1 Kings 10. The faith of both men is tried in adversity and discouragement.
Job is also to be compared here to the suffering, afflicted Jeremiah. The present chapter resembles the dereliction recorded in such texts as Jeremiah 15 and 20. Like Jeremiah (20:14–18), Job curses (yeqahlel) the day he was born (cf. also 1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:3, 8; Sirach 23:14). Job does not, however, curse God.
Still, Job has become impatient; he is beginning to experience even God as an enemy. Job’s “let there be darkness” (3:4–6) stands in opposition to God’s “let there be light” in Creation (Genesis 1:3). In verses 11–12 Job begins the great question “Why?” that will fill so much of the book. This very question that Job begins to utter, “Why?” is also heard frequently from the lips of the psalmist. It will in due course be given its definitive sanction by Christ our Lord (Mark 15:34).
In 3:20 the “Why?” becomes more intense and less rhetorical. Theodicy’s major problem, how to reconcile innocent suffering with a just, merciful, and almighty God, is now introduced. It is this “Why?” that Job’s three friends will endeavor to answer in the discourses of the following chapters. These friends have their own theories on the matter of evil. None of them really suspects the truth of the matter, namely, that God is permitting Job’s faith to be tempted.
The Book of Job illustrates what we may call the Bible’s “apocalyptic principle,” the rule that asserts that “more is happening than seems to be happening.” Like Abraham in Genesis 22, Job does not realize that his faith is being tested. Indeed, this is an essential aspect of the book’s drama. God knows that Job’s faith is being tried, Satan knows it, and we readers know it. None of the other dramatis personae in this story, however, has a clue about what is really happening, not even Job. Indeed, especially not Job.
This important interpretive key, the apocalyptic principle, appears in various ways in Holy Scripture, from the “deep sleep” that the Lord casts on the sentinels of Saul (1 Samuel 26:12), to Assyria’s being used as the rod of God’s wrath (Isaiah 10:5), to the unwitting prophecy uttered by a blasphemous high priest (John 11:49–51). In all such cases there is more happening than seems to be happening. At the Bible’s end, the apocalyptic principle forms the very substance of the Book of Revelation. The entire Book of Job is built on this same interpretive principle: More is going on than appears to be going on.
Sunday, August 28
Job 4: Throughout the book Job is addressed eight times by his three comforters, an arrangement that permits the first of those speakers, Eliphaz the Temanite, to address him three times. It is probably because he is the eldest of the three men (cf. Job 15:10) that Eliphaz speaks first, and this is surely also the reason that, near the end of the book, God addresses Eliphaz directly as the spokesman of the group (42:7).
A native of Teman, Eliphaz exemplifies the ancient wisdom of Edom (cf. Genesis 36:11), concerning which Jeremiah inquired, “Is wisdom no more in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished?” (Jeremiah 49:7). Eliphaz represents, then, the “wisdom of the south,” the great desert region of the Negev and even Arabia, where only the wise can survive.
In his initial response to Job (chapters 4 and 5), Eliphaz appeals to his own personal religious experience. Eliphaz, unlike the other two comforters, is a visionary. He has seen (4:8; 5:3) and heard (4:16) the presence of the divine claims in an experience of such subtlety that he calls it a “whisper” (shemets—4:12). This deep sense of the divine absolute, born of Eliphaz’s religious experience, forced upon his mind a strongly binding conviction of the divine purity and justice. This profound certainty in his soul became the lens through which Eliphaz interprets the sundry enigmas of life, notably the problem of human suffering.
But this perspective is too narrow, because it does not permit Eliphaz to discern the difference between punishment and trial. For instance, as the Book of Wisdom (11:4–14) commented, both the Egyptians and the Israelites suffered thirst. In the case of the Egyptians, the thirst was a punishment for the drowning of the Hebrew infants in the Nile. In the case of the Israelites, on the other hand, the thirst was a trial of their faith. They both suffered the same torment, but it signified something different in each case. The Egyptians were being punished; the Israelites were being tried.
The shortcoming of Eliphaz, then, consists in his confusion of these things. He and his companions are unable to see that the sufferings of Job do not mean that something is wrong with Job; they mean, on the contrary, that something is right with Job. “The friends of Job,” wrote St. Gregory the Great, “being unable to distinguish these different kinds of scourges, considered him to be smitten because he was guilty. Hence, they endeavored to vindicate the justice of God for smiting him. They were compelled to blame blessed Job for injustice, unaware that for this reason, in fact, he was stricken—that his scourge might redound to the praise of God’s glory.”
If we compare Eliphaz to Job’s other two comforters, moreover, we observe a gradated but distinct decline in the matter of wisdom. Eliphaz begins the discussion by invoking his own direct spiritual experience, his “vision,” his veda. As we shall see, however, the second comforter, Bildad the Shuhite, can appeal to no personal experience of his own, but only to the experience of his elders, so what was a true insight in the case of Eliphaz declines to only an inherited theory in the case of Bildad. Living mystical insight becomes merely an inherited moral belief. True vision declines into theoretical dogma.
The same line of decline progresses further in the case of Job’s third comforter, because Zophar the Naamathite, unlike Bildad, is unable to invoke even the tradition of his elders. We shall see that Zophar is familiar with neither the living experience of Eliphaz nor the inherited learning of Bildad; his is simply the voice of established prejudice. That is the line of declination: real vision, accepted teaching, blind prejudice.
In these three men, then, we watch an insight decline into a theory, and then the theory harden into a settled, unexamined opinion. Thus do the voices raised against Job throughout this book become ever less persuasive or even morally serious.
As they individually address Job, moreover, each of these men seems progressively less assured of his position. And being less assured of his position, each man waxes increasingly more strident against Job. The tone of Job’s comforters, therefore, becomes ever less coherent, even as Job himself rises to ever greater eloquence and conviction. The contrast between these two processes—Job’s increasing assurance and his friends’ growing insecurity—forms one of the strongest pillars in the dramatic structure of this book.
Along with the decline of moral authority among these three men, there is a corresponding decline in politeness, as though each man is obliged to raise the volume of his voice in inverse proportion to his sense of assurance. Thus, we find that Eliphaz, at least when he begins, is also the most compassionate and polite of the three comforters.
Monday, August 29
Job 5: Eliphaz is shocked by Job’s tone. Instead of asking God to renew His mercies, Job has been cursing his own life. And since God the Creator is the author of that life, Job’s lament hardly reflects well on God, says Eliphaz. This perverse attitude of Job, he reasons, must be the source of the problem. Job’s affliction, consequently, is not an inexplicable mystery, as Job has argued, but the result of Job’s own rebellious attitude toward God. Job’s lament, Eliphaz believes, is essentially selfish, expressing only Job’s 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. Absolutely no created thing is pure in God’s sight, neither angels (4:18) nor men (4:19). A deep humility before God, therefore, is the only attitude appropriate to man’s true state.
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.
This severity of Eliphaz will become the dominant temper of his second and third speeches (chapters 15 and 22), where he will no longer demonstrate deference and compassion toward Job. His former sympathy and concern, characteristic of chapters 4 and 5, will disappear, because Eliphaz will have repeatedly listened to Job professing his innocence. Job, Eliphaz believes, by emphatically denying a moral causality with respect to his afflictions, menaces the moral structure of the world. This is the great shortcoming of Eliphaz’s comments.
What should finally be said, then, of this Edomite’s argument against the suffering Job? 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.
Tuesday, 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 had 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
Wednesday, August 31
Job 7: Job does not even bother to answer Eliphaz any further. What we have in this chapter is, rather, 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 that level.
Thursday, September 1
Job 8: Job’s second respondent, Bildad, is even less tolerant that Eliphaz. To his ears Job’s 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. The truly great stories cannot be understood on a single reading, because the entire narrative must be known before the deeper significance of the individual episodes can become manifest. Generally we do not understand any great story well until our second reading of it. This insight is preeminently helpful in the case of the Book of Job.
Friday, September 1
Job 9: If we find Job becoming ever more despondent 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.
First Timothy 6:3-12: We cannot fail to note that Paul is not offended by the social inequalities inherent in slavery. Indeed, he takes these inequalities for granted, because the Gospel contains no mandate to dissolve all the political and social inequalities in the world.
Paul endeavors, rather, to apply the principles of the Gospel to the world as he finds it, not as a social reformer might want it to be. Although Paul affirmed that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), he showed not the slightest democratic impulse. Although he insisted that “you are all one in Christ Jesus,” this truth never posed itself to his mind as a basis for an egalitarian political or social system.