Friday, September 2

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.

Saturday, September 3

Job 10: 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.

Sunday, September 4

Job 11: Job’s most strident critic is Zophar, 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.

Monday, September 5

Job 12: Job begins a speech (12:1—14:22) which 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.

Tuesday, September 6

Job 13: Has Eliphaz experienced the presence of 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.

Wednesday, September 7

Job 14: 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, would have finished his life begging, like Goethe, “More Light!”

Thursday, September 8

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, then, 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.

Friday, September 9

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.