Friday, 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!”

Saturday, 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.

Sunday, 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.

Monday, September 10

Mark 14:43-52: Only in the Gospel according to Mark do we find the brief but colorful account of the young man who was apparently “spying” on the Lord’s
arrest in Gethsemane: “Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked” (14:51–52). There seems more than ordinary merit in the attractive view that that young man was the author of this Gospel, John Mark himself. Who else?

Not much older than a boy, John Mark was the son of a woman named Mary, in whose home the earliest Christians in Jerusalem met for their common worship (Acts 12:12). Also a relative of the Apostle Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), Mark was included in the missionary team of his kinsman and St. Paul (Acts 12:25; 13:5).

Although Paul felt disappointed with Mark in that early stage of the ministry (Acts 15:36-39), It is instructive to observe that he very favorably mentioned Mark within the very last lines that we have from his pen: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

This verse would also explain how Mark got to Rome, for he most certainly got to Rome. We find him there with St. Peter shortly afterwards (1 Peter 5:13). John Mark stayed on at Rome several years more as an assistant to St. Peter, following whose death he went to Alexandria in Egypt, becoming the first bishop of that city.

When he arrived at Alexandria, Mark was carrying a copy of a small work that he had written while he was still back in Rome. It was the Gospel that bears his name (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.16.1).

Early historical testimony to Mark’s writing is remarkably uniform. Eusebius cites our first witness, Papias of Hierapolis, about AD 140, who quoted an anonymous elder: “Mark, having become an interpreter of Peter, recorded accurately whatever he could remember, though not in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, he followed Peter, who crafted the teachings according to needs, but not as though making a correct sequence of the Lord’s sayings. Thus Mark did not err in writing the single components as he remembered them” (3.39.15).

Tuesday, 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).

Wednesday, 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.

Thursday, 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.

Friday, 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.”