Friday, August 31

Job 7: Job does not even bother to answer Eliphaz any further. What we have in this chapter is, rather, a new lament, a kind of soliloquy about the tragedies to which human existence is subject. Job likens them to three particularly miserable kinds of men: an unwilling military conscript who is in constant danger for reasons that do not interest nor concern him, a day laborer forced by his desperate circumstances to earn just enough to stay alive until he goes back to work the next day, and a slave. Human life is both hard and short, that is to say, occasionally relieved by the shadows that give a slight reprieve from the oppressive heat (7:2).

The very transitions between day and night, which in Israel’s traditional wisdom literature provide a sense of stability and structure (cf. Psalms 104[103]:19–23), become in the oppressed mind of Job the source of enervating boredom, anxiety, and apathy (verses 3–4). He experiences already the corruption of death (verse 5). It is a life without hope (verses 6, 16).

Job addresses God, asking only that God will “remember” him (verse 7), for he knows that God regards him (verse 8). To die, however, as Job sees it, is to disappear even from the sight of God (verses 9–10); the finality of death is addressed several times in this book (7:21; 10:21; 14:10, 12, 18–22; 17:13–16). Death represents, for the author of Job, the major preoccupation, and a hopeful quest for a life after death is one of the deepest and most moving aspects of the book (19:25–27).

Job then begins to turn his lament into a prayer (7:11–21). His spiritual dilemma comes from the knowledge that all these terrible things have befallen him, even though throughout his life he has known God as someone who loves him and whom he loves. Has God now become his enemy? Or will God return to search for him once more? And if God does come to look for him, will He arrive too late? Will Job be already dead and gone (verses 8, 21)?

Whereas for Job’s friends his sufferings raise the question of justice, for Job himself those sufferings raise, rather, a question about friendship.

Observe how, in verse 18, Job ironically alters the sense of Psalm 8:5, which asks, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” Those words—“What is man?”—words that originally referred to man’s grandeur, become, in the mouth of Job, a lament over man’s degradation: “What is man that You should exalt him, that You set Your heart on him, that You should visit him every morning, and test him every moment?” Clearly the religious experience of Job by far transcends that of Eliphaz. Alas, his other friends will not rise even to that level.

Saturday, September 1

Job 8: Job’s second respondent, Bildad, is even less tolerant that Eliphaz. To his ears Job’s lament seems to be an attack on the justice of God and the entire moral order. Unlike Eliphaz, however, Bildad is able to make no argument on the basis of his own personal experience. He is obliged to argue, rather, solely from the moral tradition, which he does not understand very well. Indeed, Bildad treats the moral structure of the world in a nearly impersonal way. To the mind of Bildad, the effects of sin follow automatically, as the inevitable effects of a sufficient cause. The presence of the effect, that is, implies the presence of the cause.

If Eliphaz’s argument had been too personal, bordering on the purely subjective, the argument of Bildad may be called too objective, bordering on the purely mechanical. In the mind of Bildad the principle of retributive justice functions nearly as a law of nature, or what the religions of India call the Law of Karma.

Both Eliphaz and Job show signs of knowing God personally, but we discern nothing of this in Bildad. Between Bildad and Job, therefore, there is even less of a meeting of minds than there was between Eliphaz and Job.

We should remember, on the other hand, that Job himself has never raised the abstract question of the divine justice; he has shown no interest, so far, in the problems of theodicy. Up to this point in the story, Job has been concerned only with his own problems, and his lament has been entirely personal, not theoretical.

Bildad, for his part, does not demonstrate even the limited compassion of Eliphaz. We note, for example, his comments about Job’s now perished children. In the light of Job’s own concern for the moral well-being of those children early in the book (1:5), there is an especially cruel irony in Bildad’s speculation on their moral state: “If your sons have sinned against [God], He has cast them away for their transgression” (8:4). What a dreadful thing to say to a man who loved his sons as Job did!

Like Eliphaz before him, Bildad urges Job to repent (8:5–7), for such, he says, is the teaching of traditional morality (8:8–10).

Clearly, Bildad is unfamiliar with the God worshipped by Job, the God portrayed in the opening chapters of this book. Bildad knows nothing of a personal God who puts man to the test through the trial of his faith. Bildad’s divinity is, on the contrary, a nearly mechanistic adjudicator who functions entirely as a moral arbiter of human behavior, not a loving, redemptive God who shapes man’s destiny through His personal interest and intervention.

Nonetheless, in his comments about Job’s final lot Bildad speaks with an unintended irony, because in fact Job’s latter end will surpass his beginning (8:7), and “God will not cast away the blameless” (8:20—tam; cf. 1:1, 8; 2:3). On our first reading of the story, we do not know this yet, of course, because we do not know, on our first reading, how the story will end (for example 42:12).

So many comments made by Job’s friends, including these by Bildad in this chapter, are full of ironic, nearly prophetic meaning, which will become clear only at the story’s end, so the reader does not perceive this meaning on his first trip through the book. The truly great stories cannot be understood on a single reading, because the entire narrative must be known before the deeper significance of the individual episodes can become manifest. Generally we do not understand any great story well until our second reading of it. This insight is preeminently helpful in the case of the Book of Job.

Sunday, 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.

Monday, 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.

Tuesday, 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.

Wednesday, September 5

There are three scenes in this section: (1) the conspiracy of Jesus’ enemies (verses 1-2); (2) the anointing of Jesus in the home of Simon of Bethany (verses 3-9); (3) the betrayal of Judas (verses 10-11).

The first scene is brief. The Passover, in context, includes both the Passover itself and the festival of the Unleavened Bread that follows it. Jesus’ enemies, aware that the city was full of pilgrims from all over the world, hoped to be able to seize Him by stealth at a time when everyone in the city would be preoccupied with the Passover and its preparations. They believed that they might at last realize the plot that they had long been planning (cf. 3:6;11:18; 12:12).

In the longer second scene we are presented with a contrast in the figure of the anonymous woman that anoints Jesus “for burial.” Even in the midst of this outpouring of love, it is clear that not everyone present in Bethany that day took a very high view of Jesus. There are complaints (and they seem to come from more disciples than simply Judas) that the Lord is being too well treated! Mark and all his readers appreciate the irony of this disrespect, for the Lord is about to pour out His blood for their redemption, while they are squabbling about the price of the woman’s ointment.

In response to what happens in the second scene, Judas Iscariot appears by name in the third scene as the Lord’s betrayer. His cooperation is necessary to the plot, because Jesus might be hard to locate in the city when so many pilgrims thronged its streets and buildings.

First Timothy 5:17—6:2: Timothy must take better care of his own health, says Paul. Here we gain a genuine insight into the young man’s character. This section informs us, first, that Timothy, throughout his many labors, also suffered from a poor constitution. It also indicates that Timothy was an ascetical man, whose self-denial and mortification were sufficiently austere to raise the concerns of even so disciplined an ascetic as Paul. Timothy, in short, lived a life of mortified habits and self-control, even to the point of endangering his health.

Besides those social relations created by the structure of the Church itself, there were specific social relations that were brought into the Church from outside. One of these was the relationship between slave and master, a relationship potentially problematic and sufficiently complex to be addressed here (6:1-2) and in several places in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 7:21-22; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; Titus, 2:9-10; Philemon, passim; 1 Peter 2:18-21).

Thursday, 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.

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!”