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).

Saturday, September 17

Job 24: Here Job leaves the limiting confines of his own experience to reflect more generally on man’s miserable estate. This reflection continues the startling challenge that Job had made in chapter 21, offering further evidence to dispute the “moral universe” idea defended by his three friends.

To these men, who have been consistently asserting that those who suffer deserve to suffer, Job raises the spectacle of those who clearly suffer unjustly. God sees all such suffering (verse 1), but He does not intervene, says Job.
Thus, men are obliged to endure the theft of their property (verses 2–4). They must bear with homelessness and exposure (verses 7–8). They have to sustain injustice and oppression (verses 9, 12). Hunger presses upon them (verse 10). Those thus oppressed do not deserve such things. But does God put a stop to all these moral outrages (verse 12)? Manifestly He does not.

Thus Job demolishes the theory that suffering is solely the lot of the wicked. Those who would defend the justice of God must do so in a way that takes seriously these sad facts of life.

And if the evidence shows that the just must sometimes endure injustice, is it not also true that the unjust go unpunished? Is it so obvious that God invariably chastises the sinner? Does God, for instance, invariably bring retribution on the murderer (verse 14)? Is it always the case that the adulterer is reproved (verse 15)? Does it never happen that the thief goes unpunished (verse 16)? Those who glibly contend that the world is founded on divine justice, says Job, had better take a closer look at such evidence!

Job is not arguing that God is unjust, of course, nor is he denying that justice itself is rooted in the structure of created existence. He is simply asserting that the evidence is complex and not easy to grasp. Job is taking seriously the classical problem of theodicy: How do we reconcile the existence of an all-wise, all-just, and all-knowing God with the simultaneous existence of evil?

Against his own accusers, Job is arguing that goodness and good fortune are not invariably and in every instance entwined. The simplest observations of well-known facts prove this not to be true.

This manifest separability of goodness from good fortune, a separability so often characteristic of life in this world, later prompted Emmanuel Kant to affirm the existence of a just God and a retributive afterlife as “moral postulates” demanded by the very structure of reason. Man’s innate sense that goodness and good fortune should go together, Kant reasoned, is an instinct that demands some future adjudication.

Sunday, September 18

Job 25: Job’s responses to his critics have had their effect, because these three appear to have become dispirited. They have reached the end of their limited intellectual resources. After the present brief rambles of Bildad, Job will hold forth without challenge until the end of chapter 31.

From the present chapter it is clear that Bildad the Shuhite has lost his way. As we have seen from the beginning, there was never anything very original about Bildad; he relied entirely on what his elders had taught him. Indeed, he made this trait his explicit boast to Job (cf. 8:8).

When we come to Bildad now, however, he does not seem to know what he thinks. One commentator, in fact, describes his speech as “short and out of keeping with his previous utterances.”

As the chapter begins, one has the impression that we are interrupting a line of thought already in process, as though somehow we are suddenly made privy to some secret musing of Bildad’s that we just happen to overhear.
Most of what Bildad says here is, in truth, simply a quotation from earlier discourses of Eliphaz (compare verses 4–6 with 4:17 and 15:14). Perhaps those words of Eliphaz had made a deep impression on Bildad. He is mumbling something that Eliphaz said earlier. He has no response at all to Job’s recent argument.

Anyway, when Bildad considers that man is only a worm (verse 6), this very thought apparently prompts him to be silent, for the speech ends abruptly, and we still wonder where his thought was leading him. Bildad does not seem to know.

This sudden disorientation by Bildad, along with the lack of any third discourse by Zophar, has prompted some biblical scholars to propose various reconstructions of the text at this point.

This futile and subjective exercise is not necessary, because the text as it stands is perfectly intelligible. The dramatic loss of direction on the part of Job’s critics shows simply that they have become undone. They have nothing left to say. Job has bested their best efforts. There is nothing further to add. Chapter 25 is the place where the earlier eloquence of Job’s critics ends with a whimper.

Perhaps there is an added significance in the fact that their efforts end with Bildad, who has been, more than any of them, the spokesman for a certain philosophical tradition. It is the tradition itself that is breaking down under the onslaught of Job’s intense, impassioned queries, so Bildad is the last of them to speak, and he has almost nothing to say.

Monday, September 18

Job 26: As Bildad has said nothing worth answering, Job declines to answer him. Instead, he discourses on the immense majesty of God in the phenomena of heaven and earth.

This is a further and significant development in Job’s spiritual maturation through the course of the book. Especially since his avowal of personal faith in his “Redeemer” in chapter 19, Job has become more preoccupied with the world around him than with the misery of his own existence. Now he contemplates what God has made. Job’s mind escapes, in this way, the confinement of his own suffering.

In the opening of the chapter, Job throws one final taunt at those who pretended to be his comforters. Just what have they accomplished (verses 2–4)?

Then he proceeds to consider the wonders of all creation, beginning with the world that has so often preoccupied him, the nether world—sheol and ’abaddon (verse 6), the realm of the dead. The juxtaposition of these two words is also found in Proverbs 15:11 and 27:20.

In the present passage, the word ’abaddon (often translated as “destruction,” as in Job 31:12) serves as a personification of death itself, which seems also to be the case in Job 28:22. This is likewise how the same word is used in Revelation 9:11, where it refers to “the angel of the bottomless pit.”

Though this region of the dead lies concealed from the sight of man, it is open to the eyes of God. For Job this truth is important, certainly, because his great fear, through much of this book, is that he will die and simply disappear from the gaze of God.

From his consideration of the world beneath, Job then rises to contemplate the heavens above. The “north” (siphon) of verse 7 refers to the lights of the northern sky, dominated by the pole star. The rendering of the canonical Greek text here, borea, may evoke in some readers a memory of the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis.

Once again, Job’s juxtaposition of the nether world and the celestial world, in both of which places God is present and knowing, puts the reader in mind of Psalm 139(138), where the Psalmist exclaims, “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell (sheol), behold, You are there.”

These lights in the heavens, says Job, are suspended over “emptiness,” tohu (verse 7; cf. Genesis 1:2). The earth floats beneath this emptiness above and mere “air” beneath. (This last noun, belima, which is found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, I have translated as “air,” because in rabbinical literature it bears the meaning of “upper atmosphere.” The canonical Greek text here, followed by several modern translations, says “nothing,” ouden.) Since many ancient texts, including the Bible, speak of the earth as suspended “upon the waters,” the imagery here in Job is doubly striking.

From air, Job moves on to consider water, first in its atmospheric form—clouds and vapors (verses 8–9), and then in its earthly form—liquid (verse 10). The shaking of the “pillars of heaven” (verse 11) suggests a booming storm. God adorns these heavens by His Spirit, Ruach (verse 13), a theological truth proclaimed also in Psalm 33(32):6. This is still descriptive of a storm scene, as is the “thunder of His might” in verse 14.

Tuesday, September 19

Job 27: Through the past several chapters, Job has been gaining a grip on his soul. His deep critique of the moral philosophies of his opponents has led him to neither skepticism nor despair. On the contrary, in this chapter we find him resolved to maintain the moral integrity that he displayed at the beginning of the book. Indeed, in his vow to do so, Job invokes the very God who has tried him so severely (verses 2–3).

As long as he lives, therefore, as long as “my breath [nishmati] is in me, And the breath of God in my nostrils [b’aphi],” Job will not use that breath, given by God, to “speak wickedness” (verse 4). Custody over his speech represents man’s most elementary stewardship, because breath itself is the first gift that man receives from God. Job’s reference to Adam’s reception of this initial gift seems pretty clear in the wording of the text: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils [b’aphyo] the breath [nishmat,] of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). (Elihu the Buzite will also cite this text from Genesis in Job 33:4.)

Whatever the cost, then, Job is determined to maintain this elementary stewardship of his moral life, no matter how painful, humiliating, and short that life may be (verses 5–6). All Job has left is his integrity, and he will wager everything on it. Job does not pretend to understand the moral structure of the world, as he has so often confessed. He does perceive, however, the difference between right and wrong, and he intends to live on the basis of that elementary perception.

If Job is right, though, then his critics are wrong (verse 7), so the judgment of God is inevitable in their case as well (verses 8–10). Like Socrates at his trial, Job is persuaded that God, too, knows the difference between a just man and an unjust man, so his unjust critics must beware. Job prepares, then, to lecture his three friends (verse 11) on the theme of the divine wisdom. (This lecture will be found chapter 28.)

Psalm 49 (48) may profitably be read with the second half of the present chapter of Job (verses 13–23). Both texts deal with the same theme and the same metaphysical problem, and in both of them the wisdom tradition of the Bible appeals to a universal theme of philosophy: mankind’s perennial quest for understanding. Neither text refers to God’s special revelation to the chosen people. No appeal is made to the divine words spoken on Sinai or to the prophets.

What we find in these two texts, rather, is the God-inspired thought of biblical man addressing the human mind on its own terms. Both passages treat of the universal mortality of men, “all the inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together.” Psalm 49, based on a strictly philosophical motif, mentions God only twice, and the second of these instances sounds the very note that Job has pursued: “God will deliver my soul from the power of the grave.”

Often men do not seek wisdom, being distracted by the love of wealth (verses 16–17). The initial steps toward wisdom lie in the consideration of the divine judgment that hangs over human life (verses 18–23).

Wednesday, September 21

Job 28: Job proceeds to meditate on the sheer inaccessibility of God’s secret designs, which lie concealed from human view.

In the previous chapter Job had considered the moral effects of money, or silver, on the conscience of man (27:16–17), but now he alters the sense and direction of the metaphor. These concealed wonders of the divine mind, he reflects, are more secret than veins of silver and other metals that lie buried in the bowels of the earth.

Because wisdom, like the lode veins of metals and nuggets of precious stone, lies concealed beneath the empirical surface of reality, man must dig for it. It is not available to him on the earth’s surface, the place where he earns his daily bread (verse 5). When he endeavors to dig deeper, nonetheless, man discovers that the divine secrets lie further down than his thought can hope to penetrate. God by His hidden wisdom made the world and continues to sustain it in existence. Wisdom rests at the very base of things, deeper than any precious metal or costly stone, and its worth is incomparably greater. Wisdom is buried, in fact, in the depths of God.

Job’s metaphor is strengthened by the remoteness from which these various metals must be brought. Gold comes from far-off Ophir (identified as Supara in India by Josephus, Antiquities 8.6.4, §164; cf. the Septuagint of 2 Chronicles 8:18) and Sheba in southern Arabia. Topaz comes from Ethiopia, equally far away (verse 19). Iron and copper are imported from Cyprus (the very name of which island gives us the root of “copper” itself). Pearls and coral are raised from the depths of the sea (verse 18).

In this text we observe that Job is no longer answering his critics; he has abandoned them to their shallow theories about how the world is constructed. Job pursues, rather, the mind of God, realizing even in his pursuit that the divine wisdom vastly transcends the mind and comprehension of man.

Only God knows the way to wisdom (verse 23). God gives to man only “the beginning of wisdom,” not its final meaning, and this beginning consists in “the fear of the Lord” (verse 28). By God’s gift man can make a start in his search for wisdom, and he does so by turning away from evil. This path of conversion, or “turning away,” is Job’s own chosen way, and it has been since the beginning of the book (1:8; 2:3).

Job cannot read the mind of God, then, not even in those matters that concern his own life and destiny; but he does know what God requires of him, and he has affirmed already his resolve to live in perfect integrity (cf. 27:4–7). That is to say, although Job is not given to share in the secret designs of history, even his own history, he does know what is expected of him, and this is sufficient. Like those Levites charged to bear the Ark without looking into it, Job must carry forward the divine wisdom in the plodding path of his life, even if he must do this in relative darkness.

For the rest, Job’s mind may quietly acquiesce in the evidence of divine wisdom revealed in the established structure of the world. Whatever else may be said about the formation of the elements, they display order and understanding, not chaos (verses 23–27).

Thursday, September 22

Job 29: These next three chapter contain the longest of Job’s soliloquies, in the course of which he surveys, for the last time, the overwhelming tragedy that has befallen him and the great moral puzzle that it poses to his mind. He first reviews in some detail the happiness of his former life (chapter 29), then his subsequent misery (chapter 30), and finally his own innocence throughout the trial (chapter 31).

The present chapter, then, is about “the way things used to be,” those former days when Job was content, wealthy, and universally honored. Job enjoyed prosperity in those days. His lot was like that of the patriarchs in Genesis, notably Jacob. God’s protecting presence was tangible in those bygone times.

Those were the days in which Job was conscious of God’s protection: “God watched over me” (verse 2). The reader here recalls that Satan had made that very point with respect to Job when he told the Lord, “Have you not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side?” (1:10). Job enjoyed, in those days, what the Psalmist promised: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, / So the Lord surrounds His people / From this time forth and forever” (Psalm 125[126]:10).

Bildad earlier taunted Job, “The light is dark in his tent, / And his lamp beside him is put out” (18:10), but Job can recall the days when “His lamp shone upon my head, / And when by His light I walked through darkness” (verse 3).

Job previously enjoyed the blessings that the wisdom tradition, notably the Book of Proverbs, promises to God’s loyal servants. Proverbs affirms of the Lord, “His secret counsel [sod] is with the upright” (3:32), and Job remembers those times, “When the friendly counsel [sod] of God was over my tent” (verse 4).

Respecting his relationships with his fellow men, Job was held in high esteem by everyone back then (verses 7–11, 21–23), not only because of his wealth, but also because of his righteousness and charity (verses 12–17). Contrary to the accusation of Eliphaz (22:6–9), Job was well known for his sense of justice (verse 11).

Job expected, moreover, to die in that state of universal approbation (verse 18), beloved of God and men. In those bygone days all these things seemed normal to Job, who related such blessings to his friendship with God and his doing of God’s will. But then, with no discernible explanation, everything changed all at once, and this change in Job’s fortunes is the subject of the next chapter.

What Job has established in the present chapter is that God formerly treated him as a just man, bestowing on him all the blessings that ancient wisdom had promised to just men.

Friday, September 23

Job 30: The motif of the present chapter, which is an extended and detailed contrast with Job’s earlier state as described in the previous chapter, is indicated by the repeated expression, “but now” (verses 1, 9, 16). This “but now” stands in contrast to Job’s “months of old” (29:2).

The thematic development of this chapter is the opposite of that in the chapter preceding. Whereas in chapter 29 Job began with his relationship to God (29:1–6) and then went on to speak of his relationship to his fellow men (29:7–25), in the present chapter he reverses the order, commencing with his alienation from his fellow men (verses 1–10) and then going to his sense of alienation from God (verses 11–31).

Formerly revered by elders, princes, and nobles (29:8–10), Job now finds himself contemned and reviled by utter nobodies. These have mocked him (verse 1) and treated him with obloquy (verses 9–10).

Never before in this book has Job been so harsh against his critics, even throwing back in their faces their low social standing. As we have seen, these three critics were men of the desert. Eliphaz came from Teman in the Negev, Zophar from Arabia, and Bildad from the far side of the Fertile Crescent. Now Job, in no little bitterness of soul, ridicules them as outlanders from the stark wilderness, “desolate and waste. . . . They had to live in the clefts of the valleys, / In caves of the earth and the rocks. / Among the bushes they brayed, / Under the nettles they nested” (verses 3, 6, 7). These are rough comments but hardly unique in the history of religious and critical thought.

For example, Thomas Aquinas later described the people in that part of the world as “bestial men dwelling in deserts,” homines bestiales in desertis morantes (Summa Contra Gentiles 1.6). If Job permits himself to be carried away somewhat at this point, we recall that he has, after all, been sorely tried by his critics.

All such treatment might be bearable from others, claims Job, but not from God (verses 16–19). In his supposed rejection by God, Job feels that his soul has been “poured out” (verse 16; cf. 10:1), an expression reminiscent of the Psalmist when he speaks of the Lord’s Passion (Psalms 22[21]:15–16).

Then, abruptly, Job stops speaking about God and turns to address the Lord directly (verse 20), for the first time since 17:3. In sentiments that form a counterpart to the previous chapter (29:2–4), Job accuses God of cruelty and persecution (verse 21), but most especially of remaining silent (verse 20).

We must note here that Job does not ask to be restored to his former state. He simply wants to know why he is being so treated, since he has never treated anyone as badly as both God and man are currently treating him (verses 24–25). He does not deserve this, Job avows, and he wonders why.