Friday, 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).

Saturday, September 2

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.

Sunday, 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.

Monday, September 24

Luke 4:23-30: As both prophet and miracle-worker, Elisha stands in Holy Scripture as a very special foreshadowing of Christ. Except for Moses, no other Old Testament figure so completely combines both of those characteristics of our Lord as does this ninth-century prophet, who was also a healer of leprosy, provider of food and water, and raiser of the dead.

It is particularly proper, therefore, that Elisha appears as an illustration in Jesus’ first recorded public words, the sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth. In that sermon, the Lord recalls that “many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27).

The function of this reference in Jesus’ sermon is this: Elisha, who lived in the general neighborhood of Nazareth itself, was positioned to have many dealings with the Gentiles. His special service to the Syrian soldier, whom he obliged to be baptized in the Jordan, is understood here as Jesus’ turning to the Gentiles, now that His own compatriots have rejected Him.

2 Corinthians 11:22-33: Paul’s opponents are Jews, but so is he (verse 22; Philippians 3:5). They claim to be servants of Christ, but Paul’s credentials are stronger and more credible, and he proceeds to list them. Not only has he been beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:22-23); he has also often been in danger of death (verse 23. Paul’s list here contains some details not found in the Acts of the Apostles. From the latter work we would not have suspected, for instance, that Paul had already suffered shipwreck three times (verse 25) prior to the occasion described in Acts 27.

Eight times Paul speaks of “dangers” (verse 26) to describe the circumstances of his many travels. The culminating danger is that of betrayal by “false brothers” (cf. Galatians 2:4), a term that may include the critics he is answering.

All of these things have been endured in the context of Paul’s tireless ministry to the churches, a source of constant inner solicitude (verse 28). Inwardly identified with the plight of these churches, Paul suffers all that they suffer (verse 29; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

This mention of weakness (verse 29) brings the Apostle more directly to his theme—namely, power made perfect in weakness (verse 30). He recalls the humiliation and indignities endured throughout his ministry, beginning with his narrow escape while being lowered over a city wall in a basket (verses 31-33; Acts 9:23-25). Hardly any man is weaker or more dependent (with apologies for the pun) than a man being lowered in a basket.

Tuesday, September 25

2 Corinthians 12:1-10: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10: The variant readings in the manuscripts for verse 1 testify to the difficulties felt by many copyists, over the centuries, when they came to the beginning of this verse. Those difficulties admitted, the correct sense seems to be: “Though it serves no good purpose, further boasting is necessary.”

Paul mentions the spiritual revelations of which he has been the recipient, even in mystical rapture (verse 2). These experiences surely included the direct revelation that he received from the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; Galatians 1:16), also recorded by St. Luke (Acts 9:4-6; 22:6-8; 26:13-18). Speaking of an especially lofty experience fourteen years earlier, Paul’s sense of reserve prompts him to shift to the grammatical third person, as though he were speaking of someone else.

These spiritual revelations strengthened Paul in the apostolic ministry (Acts 18:9-10), and he would soon receive another one (22:17-22).

The mysterious character of such revelations is conveyed by Paul’s ironic expression “unspeakable sayings” (arreta remata–verse 4). The sheer ineffability of these experiences is mirrored in the irony with which Paul speaks of them. Thus, he is unable to say whether or not he was still in his body during the occurrence. Indeed, it is almost as though they had happened to someone else, a person distinct from powerless, frail Paul (verse 5).

The Apostle breaks off speaking of himself in this regard, lest his readers entertain too high a view of him. Such experiences, after all, had to do with his relationship to Christ, not his relationship to the Corinthians, as he had reminded them earlier (5:13).

Moreover, the Lord had taken care to humble Paul, so that he would not take personal satisfaction in those lofty flights of the soul (verse 7). His human weakness—“in the flesh”—was afflicted by a skolops, a torturing thorn, which he further describes as a satanic messenger that pounded the Apostle with closed fist (kolaphize). A comparison with Job, bodily afflicted by Satan with God’s permission, comes naturally to the mind of the student of the Bible, and perhaps Paul had something like this in mind.

Paul’s description indicates a bodily ailment of some severity—perhaps epilepsy, a diagnosis suggested by comparing this text to the description of the little boy in Mark 9:20. Whatever it was, nonetheless, this repeated or sustained experience was so humbling to Paul that he prayed for its removal (verse 8). Indeed, like our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemani (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42), Paul prays three times that it will be removed.

Like Jesus in the Garden, furthermore, Paul’s prayer, when God heard it, was rewarded with more than it sought (cf. Hebrews 5:7-10). Through this painful experience, and the prayer prompted by this experience, Paul discerned the working of divine grace in his life; he learned that his weakness was the locus and occasion in which the power of the risen Christ—“the Lord” (verse 8)—was revealed. He was instructed by this experience; it taught him, in his very flesh, that divine power is rendered perfect in infirmity (verse 9).

This experience, transformed in prayer, provided Paul with a sustained and renewing paradigm for all his life in Christ, an interpretive key capable of opening many doors otherwise closed. He found that it had sustained him in every sort of suffering and misfortune (verse 10). Through this insight “the power of Christ” (he dynamis tou Christou) was active in his life and ministry. In his weakness he was strong.

Wednesday, September 26

Job 33: Like the other components in he complex discussions of the Book of Job, Elihu’s contribution is a critique, not a final answer. For him the overriding discussion is not reducible to an either/or. Elihu disagrees with, and criticizes, both Job and the three comforters.

The present chapter is directed to Job. The latter, says Elihu, has gone too far in his demands for a trial between himself and God. Elihu confronts him on the point (verse 5).

Job’s three friends remained aloof from him, assuming a morally superior attitude. Elihu will do no such thing. He confesses himself at one with Job in their human solidarity, their descent from Adam (verses 4, 6). He will not talk down to Job as the comforters have.

That matter established, Elihu begins by summarizing Job’s protestations of innocence (verses 9–11), a claim advanced repeatedly throughout the book (cf. 9:21; 10:7; 13:18, 24, 27; 23:10; 27:5–6; 31 passim). This claim is pretentious, says Elihu, because “God is greater than man” (verse 12). That is to say, God owes man no explanations at all (verses 13–14), nor will Elihu attempt to act as God’s defender.

Then, like Eliphaz near the beginning (4:12–15), Elihu refers to dreams (verse 15), presumably the nightmares of Job himself (7:14). Such dreams, Elihu asserts, are providential. God employs them to draw men back from rash, dangerous, and unwarranted decisions (verses 16–17).

Elihu, displaying a compassion absent in the comments of Job’s three comforters, suggests that Job may have failed to recognize the true significance of his nightmares. Perhaps God intended them to pull him back from a reckless path.

The parallel between the dream of Eliphaz, Job’s first interlocutor, and the dreams mentioned by Elihu is not accidental. There is a deliberate correspondence between them and a contrast. Both men, in answering Job, start with dreams, but we are struck by a great difference of tone between the two. Eliphaz appealed to his own dream as the point of departure for establishing a moral judgment on Job. Elihu does not. He suggests to Job, rather, that his dream may have been the voice of God speaking to him in concern and warning. That is to say, Job’s nightmare, far from indicating God’s absence from his life, may have indicated the very opposite.

This approach will be operative in all of Elihu’s discourse. The three friends have understood Job’s sufferings to be simply punishments. Is there no other rational explanation? asks Elihu. Why presume that all suffering is by way of punishment?

Before putting that question to the three friends, Elihu first puts it to Job. Why not consider that these terrible sufferings, of which Job has so bitterly complained, represent God’s effort to preserve Job from the powers of death and darkness (verses 22–30)? Why not regard them, in fact, as a “chastening” (verse 19)? That is to say, is it really so obvious that suffering is always a punishment?

We readers, of course, instructed by the first two chapters of the book, are aware that Elihu is much closer to the correct answer than anyone who has spoken hitherto.

Thursday, September 27

Job 34: Elihu, have addressed Job, turns now to the other three characters in the story. These have not, Elihu believes, answered Job’s challenges to God in a proper way. That is to say, Job’s friends have made an inadequate presentation of the traditional wisdom itself.

Elihu’s remarks to Job’s critics are among the book’s best parts, variations of which will appear in God’s own account near the end. Elihu’s comments are heavily didactic, nonetheless, and seldom rise to the high poetic levels of the other speakers, especially Job himself.

Elihu’s chief objection to Job’s friends concerns their exclusive attribution of divine punishment to human suffering. Punishment and reward, Elihu argues, do not comprise between them the whole of God’s dealing with man. There is another and important aspect to the “negative side of God,” namely, divine correction and exhortation. God, says Elihu, is correcting and exhorting Job by permitting his sufferings.

We now meet explicitly for the first time (except in the introductory chapters in this book) a new thesis: God sends afflictions not only to punish, but also to admonish. If a man accepts these sufferings as God’s loving correction and invitation, rather than as a punishment, he will avoid the pride and self-satisfaction that may sometimes be the peril of a godly life. Such God-sent afflictions will serve, therefore, as a restorative. Neither Job nor any of his friends, Elihu believes, has sufficiently considered this perspective.

In order to advance this argument, however, Elihu must put to rest any notion of injustice in God. Such an idea involves an internal contradiction, Elihu contends (verses 10, 12); the very existence of the world depends on the thesis of God’s righteousness (verses 13–15).

There is no justice higher than God (verse 17), nor is the Almighty likely to be influenced by the more powerful of His creatures (verse 19). Truly, nothing in man’s experience is hidden from the gaze of God (verses 21–22). The font and source of justice, God holds all human activity to the same standard and the same sanctions (verses 24–28).

What Job’s comforters should have asserted is that God, through the sufferings that He has sent to Job, had only the latter’s proper correction in mind (verses 31–32). The insistence of his friends, however, that Job was being justly punished for his crimes simply provoked him to an improper assertion of his innocence. It was the responsibility of these men, says Elihu, to provide Job with proper instruction. The ineptitude of their arguments has served only to incite the sufferer into open rebellion against the Almighty (verses 35–37).

Moreover, Job’s call for a trial, in which he might argue his case against God, distorts the proper relationship between God and man. God is not man’s enemy or opponent. God needs opponents no more than He needs powerful friends, nor does He ever act from a sense of need.

Friday, September 28

Job 35: Having addressed Job’s companions, Elihu turns again to Job himself and gives a fair paraphrase of Job’s position. Do not some of Job’s comments suggest that he thinks himself more righteous than God (verse 2)? Job may not have made so outlandish a claim in so many words, but what he has said amounts to the same thing (verse 3; cf. 4:17; 13:18; 15:3; 19:6–7; 21:15; 27:2–6). Now, asks Elihu, is this at all likely?

He turns Job’s gaze upwards, then, to the physical symbols of God’s transcendence, the clouds above his head (verse 5). God is not, in Himself, altered by either man’s virtue or his vice (verses 6–9). God does what He does, simply because He is free and righteous. He is not more or less righteous or free because of anything man does. How, after all, can human behavior touch God?
Is Elihu’s own presentation of the question entirely adequate, nonetheless? While there is a sense in which God is not, in Himself, affected by either man’s virtue or his vice, this is hardly a sufficient statement of the case. It is certainly not true that God is indifferent to man’s state, and the full context of Elihu’s comments shows that he knows this very well.

Rather, the point Elihu has in mind to make in this chapter is that no one has a forensic claim on God; indeed, even to voice such a claim is, in some measure, to attempt to put oneself on God’s level. This, says Elihu, is what Job has done.
Is God indifferent to human suffering, or does He reject the cries of those in pain? No, but this does not mean that such cries are, in every case, really worthy of a hearing. Sometimes such pleadings are accompanied by the beating of a sinful heart (verses 12–13). Elihu’s point here is that not once has Job pleaded for forgiveness. His prayer has lacked humility. God hears man’s prayer because He is merciful, not because man deserves to be heard. If God seems to disregard Job’s prayer at the present, then, may it not be the case that there is still something wrong with Job’s prayer?

Job’s real trial, in fact, his true “temptation,” does not come from God. “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13–14). The trial endured by Job has demonstrated, not that Job has deserved to suffer what he has been obliged to suffer, but that, in spite of this fact, all is not well with Job. This painful trial has shown that Job himself is not beyond improvement. His prayer has made it evident that Job does not yet love God for God’s own sake.

Job’s pain has prompted him to argue that God both ignores the wickedness of evil men and neglects to reward just men (21:7–21). These are foolish words, retorts Elihu (verse 16). God has His own way of taking care of such matters, and things are not always as they appear, either with respect to God or with respect to ourselves.

God has not in anger punished Job for his words, nonetheless, and He has overlooked the foolishness of Job’s rebellious comments (verse 15). Job must now show the same patience that God has demonstrated. Job has complained that he does not see God, but Elihu insists that he must wait for God (verse 14).