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.

Saturday, September 10

Job 17: Our mortality is the substance of the Fall that we sinners inherit from Adam. In other words, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). We have it on this same authority that “by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one” (5:17). In short, “sin reigned in death” (5:21).

It is the teaching of the Christian Church that by reason of Adam’s Fall, man without Christ is under the reign of death and corruption, because “the reign of death operates only in the corruption of the flesh” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection 47).

As the physical expression of sin, death chiefly represents man’s final and definitive separation from God. That is to say, apart from Christ, death is simply sin in its final stage. It embodies everything that sin means. It is the ultimate alienation from God. Consequently, if there is one sure general characteristic of death in the Old Testament, it is death’s utter separation of a man from the knowledge, remembrance, and praise of God.

Thus, King Hezekiah, after his own very close encounter with the grave, commented that what he most feared about death was its concomitant exclusion from the praise of God: “For Sheol cannot thank You, / Death cannot praise You; / Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth” (Isaiah 38:18). “For in death there is no remembrance of You,” lamented David; “In the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). And the sons of Korah mourned, “Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? / Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction? / Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? / And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Psalm 88[87]:11–12).

Always there is that same rhetorical question: “Who shall praise the Most High in the grave?” (Sirach 17:27)—“What profit is there in my blood, / When I go down to the pit? / Will the dust praise You? / Will it declare Your truth?” (Psalm 30[29]:9). It was the common doctrine of the Old Testament that “the dead who are in the graves, whose souls are taken from their bodies, will give unto the Lord neither praise nor righteousness” (Baruch 2:17). It is in the Book of Job, as we shall see in due course, that this perspective of death’s finality is most forcefully challenged in the Old Testament.

Still, the notion of an “afterlife with God,” following death, is entirely alien to the Hebrew Scriptures. Indeed, it is also alien to the New Testament, unless a person has died in the redemptive faith of Christ. It is Christ alone who delivers man from death, including the saints of the Old Testament. Nowhere in the Bible is there an afterlife apart from Christ. Whatever after-existence there may be apart from Christ, it is certainly no real lifei.

This hopeless Old Testament view of death, then, is what Job is facing in the present chapter. He is staring at death’s approach, his entrance into “the land of forgetfulness,” his final separation from the One whom he has loved and trusted all his life, and he is doing so with no sense of God’s presence or His favor. The dark words of this chapter, nonetheless, will not be Job’s last comment on the subject of death and corruption.

Sunday, September 11

Job 18: Bildad contends that he and his two companions have been sharing with Job the rock-solid truth on which the moral life is founded. Job, however, has insisted on moving this rock (18:4). Does Job believe that the eternal principles of the moral order should be adjusted to suit his own case?

Bildad goes on to elaborate the punishments that wicked men, such as Job, must expect (18:5–11). His references to darkness (18:5–6, 18) appear especially severe when we bear in mind how desperately Job has sought enlightenment in his plight.

Bildad’s second speech is particularly cruel in its judgment of Job, listing each of his afflictions in turn as evidence of his guilt. For example, Job has just spoken of the approaching darkness of the grave (17:12–14). Now Bildad takes up that very theme against him (18:5–6, 18). Job has just mentioned his failing strength (17:7, 18), and Bildad turns it into sarcastic obloquy (18:7, 12–13). Job lamented that onlookers were shocked at his condition (17:6, 8), and Bildad makes the point a matter of further reproach (18:20). The grave that Job described as his future home (17:13–16) is evidence to Bildad that he is “a man who does not know God” (18:21). In short, Job shows every symptom of a man whom God has rightly abandoned, and Bildad makes even his sufferings a reproach to him.

Bildad, in this second speech, thus abandons even the scant sympathy expressed in his first. He further rehearses, rather, his simplistic and illogical claim that all human suffering can be reduced to the inevitable consequence of the sins of the man who suffers. This impersonal, even mechanical theory of moral retribution more closely resembles the Hindu “law of karma” and the Buddhist “chain of causation” than it does anything taught in Holy Scripture.
Moreover, in its emphatic denial of this mechanical and impersonal theory of sin and retribution, the teaching of the Book of Job on the mystery (sod) of human suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent and the just, prepares the believing mind for the ampler doctrine of the Cross, whereon an innocent and just Man suffered and died for the sake of the guilty and the unjust. The trial of Job was preparatory to the trial of Jesus. It is ultimately the Cross that vindicates Job’s cause.

This vindication by the Cross especially pertains to Job’s preoccupation with death and corruption. The Just Man who died on the Cross, tormented by the bystanders as a person rejected by God (Matthew 27:39–43), is identical with the Holy One who was not suffered to see corruption (Acts 2:27).

Monday, September 12

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 these instances 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 [106]: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(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.

Tuesday, September 13

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.

Wednesday, September 14

Job 21: Much of this chapter 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.”

Thursday, September 15

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 bank robbery.

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).

Friday, September 16

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[138]). 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).