Friday, August 19

Second Kings 20: This chapter includes three parts: Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery (verses 1-11), the delegation from Babylon (verses 12-19), and the final assessment of his reign (verses 20-21). It is difficult to date the first two of these components, notwithstanding the specific reference to “fifteen years” in verse 6. Since that same verse seems to presuppose an Assyrian threat, the reader wonders how Hezekiah’s sickness is chronologically related to the events of the previous chapter. None of this is clear.

Isaiah, consulted about the king’s sickness, apodictically foretells his death (verse 1). Isaiah’s prophecy to Hezekiah, like Jonah’s to Nineveh, is unconditional: “you shall die, you shall not recover.” Yet, as the event shows, this prophecy of Isaiah, like that of Jonah, is reversed. Apparently bothered by this paradox, Josephus (Antiquities 10.2.1) omits Isaiah’s first prophecy and narrates only the second, that in verses 5-7).

With respect to Hezekiah’s prayer (verse 3), we observe four things about the king: First, he has walked in God’s presence, like such men as Enoch (Genesis 5:21), Noah (6:9), Abraham and Isaac (48:15), and, of course, David (First Kings 3:6). Second, Hezekiah has walked in “fidelity”—’emeth; that is to say, he has imitated the Lord’s own fidelity. Third, he has walked with his “whole heart”—leb shalem; his internal thought and resolve has had both integrity and proper direction. Fourth, he has done that which is “good”; he has endeavored to follow what God Himself considers to be “good.”

With respect to the medical remedy prescribed by Isaiah, the application of a fig poultice to drain ulcers is mentioned by Pliny (Natural History 22.7) and by two much earlier (second millennium before Christ) Ugaritic texts about veterinary practice.

Since Isaiah has now contradicted his earlier prophecy about Hezekiah’s death, we should probably not be too hard on the king for asking for an ’oth, a confirmatory sign (verses 8-11). We recall identical requests from Gideon and Joshua.

The movement of the sun’s shadow has to do with its progression on a set of stairs adjacent to the royal palace; a person could tell the time by the position of the sun’s shadow moving up the stairs. In the execution of the “sign,” the shadow moves backwards. The king, understandably, finds the phenomenon convincing.

In the eastern half of the Fertile Crescent, during this period, the little kingdom of Babylon, still a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire, is beginning to test the latter’s strength—finding it increasingly less impressive! Within a century, Babylon will make its move, finally vanquishing Nineveh in 609. In the present text, Hezekiah receives a “friendly” delegation from Babylon, not suspecting its full political significance. Unwisely, he displays signs of his kingdom’s prosperity to the delegation. The Prophet Isaiah, who sees reality far into the future, mentions—“Hear the Word of the Lord!”—the danger incurred by the king’s imprudence (verses 16-18). When sixth century editors put the finishing touches on the Book of Isaiah, they were much impressed with his ability to discern events so far in the future, convinced that they were witnessing, in their own times, the historical developments foretold by him.

Saturday, August 20

Second Kings 21: Manasseh (687-642) and Amon (642-640), the two kings of Judah separating Hezekiah and Josiah, make no positive contribution to the spiritual health of the realm. Their careers are contained in this single and uninspiring chapter.

The infidelities of Manasseh stand in vivid contrast with the religious reforms of his father. In addition to reintroducing Phoenician Baalism—including child sacrifice (verse 6)—Manasseh brings in Assyrian astral worship (verse 5). In addition, fortune telling becomes prevalent.

There was a great deal of violence; Manasseh “shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (verse 16). Josephus must have had this text in mind when he wrote that Manasseh “barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, till Jerusalem overflowed with blood” (Antiquities. 10.3.1).

The most notable of the prophets murdered by Manasseh was the great Isaiah. According to an account recorded in the apocryphal story, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, Manasseh caused the prophet to be sawn in two. A passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, because it mentions this detail, is often thought to refer to the era of Manasseh: “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword” (11:36–37).

The Bible-reader is stunned by this massive apostasy within a single generation. What can account for so thorough and swift a fall from grace? It is likely that it should be ascribed to several causes, but I suggest that among those causes should be counted a certain erroneous and unwarranted sense of security, nearly tantamount to superstition and magic. When Manasseh was but a child, Jerusalem had been miraculously delivered from Sennacherib’s siege. That deliverance, which had arrived as though out of nowhere, gave rise in many minds to the persuasion that Jerusalem was invincible and would never fall to the enemy. Once saved, Jerusalem would always be saved.

The Chronicler gives more qualified account of Manasseh. According to this source, the king had a conversion in his later years, after the Assyrians took him captive and imprisoned him for a while (Second Chronicles 33:11-17). This account is strengthened by an Assyrian source called The Prism of Esarhaddon. According to this archival document, the new emperor, Esarhaddon (680–669), compelled the kings in the western part of the Assyrian Empire to come to the capital of Assyria to render their obeisance. The Prism names all these kings, among whom was Me-na-si-i Ia-ú-di, Manasseh of Judah.

In 640 Manasseh’s son, Amon, is slain in revolt after a very brief reign.

Sunday, August 21

Second Kings 22: When Josiah was born in 648 BC, the geopolitical prospects of the Kingdom of Judah did not appear too bad, for the Assyrian Empire, which had long oppressed the area, was on the verge of the decline that would bring it down before the century’s end.

From a religious perspective, nonetheless, the situation in Judah was bad indeed. Manasseh (687–642 BC), the very wicked king who was Josiah’s grandfather, had established Canaanite and Assyrian worship in Jerusalem itself, resorting even to the sacrifice of one of his sons, an act for which he was roundly denounced (2 Kings 21:1–15). From an apocryphal work called The Ascension of Isaiah (5:1–14), we know that the atrocities of this depraved king included his causing the Prophet Isaiah to be sawn in half (cf. Hebrews 11:37). Besides the melancholy biblical account of his reign, Manasseh is mentioned several times in Assyrian records, always as a subject king of the Assyrian Empire.

Josiah was six years old when his grandfather died in 642, to be succeeded by the boy’s unpopular father, Amon (2 Kings 21:19–26; Second Chronicles 33:21–25). When the latter was assassinated two years later, little Josiah acceded to the throne at age eight.

We know almost nothing of his early regency period, but Josiah soon became his own man. In 632, near his sixteenth birthday, he experienced a religious conversion, pointing him in a new direction. Four years later, on assuming the full powers of the throne, Josiah began a large-scale reform of the religious life of Judah, an ambitious project now rendered possible by the growing disarray of the Assyrian Empire (Second Chronicles 34:1–17). It was also in that very year that the Lord sent Jerusalem one of the greatest prophets, a young man named Jeremiah.

From a religious point of view, then, things were starting to look better.
Nonetheless, the best was yet to come. Among the features of Josiah’s reform was a thorough purging of the Jerusalem temple to rid it of all vestiges of idolatry. In 622, during the course of this work, the renovators discovered a very ancient manuscript, which historians identify as either the whole or central section of the Book of Deuteronomy. It had been lost for many years. After 622, therefore, Josiah had in hand a very specific text on which to base his continuing reform of Judah’s religious life. Point by point, he and his reformers began to implement the prescriptions of Deuteronomy (2 Chronicles 34:8–33), including the restoration of the Passover (35:1–19). For this reason, historians customarily refer to Josiah’s efforts as the Deuteronomic Reform.

Because several generations of “Deuteronomists” would continue to make that book the basis of Judah’s religious life, the ferment and effects of Josiah’s reform were to outlive the king himself. In the following century, those Deuteronomic scholars would serve as the backbone of Judah’s survival, and even flourishing, during the Babylonian Captivity. During that time of exile, it was under the impulse of Deuteronomic theology that they would edit and unify much of the historical material contained in the Bible.

The royal sponsorship of the Deuteronomic Reform came to an end, however, in the year 609. It happened in this way: As the Prophet
Nahum had foretold, the Assyrian capital of Nineveh fell to the
Babylonians in 612, but a good part of the defeated army survived.
Moving north to Haran, at the top of the Fertile Crescent, this remnant continued to hold out for three years, waiting desperately for help expected from Egypt. In 609 Egypt’s new Pharaoh, Neco II, to whom it was obvious that his country’s advantage lay in stopping the rise of the
Neo-Babylonian Empire, determined to go to the aid of those Assyrians.
With some Greek mercenaries, Neco moved up into Palestine, planning to join the Assyrians at Carchemish on the Euphrates. King Josiah of Judah, however, had ideas of his own. Knowing firsthand the evils of Assyria, he decided to throw in his lot with the Babylonians, so he led the army of Judah to meet Neco’s forces at the Megiddo pass. In the ensuing battle, the great Josiah was killed at age thirty-nine (Second Kings 23; Second Chronicles 35).

For Judah his passing was an unmitigated tragedy. The strong, devout Josiah was followed on the throne by a series of quislings, who governed an ever-diminishing nation until Jerusalem’s destruction in 587 BC.

Monday, August 22

Second Kings 23: Although repentance is profitable to the soul, Holy Scripture does not regard it as sufficient to undo the historical effects of sin. That is to say, by repentance I can change the course of my life—and my eternal destiny—but the bad things I have done, and the good things left undone, will still continue to run on their own. My repentance will not undo them as actions in history. Such is the practical meaning, I take it, of the adage, factum non fit non factum—”a thing done cannot become a thing not done.” It can be repented of, it can be forgiven, but it cannot be undone.

This truth about repentance was made clear at the discovery of the Deuteronomic Scroll in 622. When this document caused Josiah and his friends to realize how far Judah had wandered into sin, they immediately repented. The prophetess Huldah, consulted on this matter, assured them that the Lord accepted their repentance, but she also warned that their repentance would not avert the historical effects of so much sin. The accumulated transgressions of numerous generations would still bring about the destruction of the nation. Part of Josiah’s repentance was an acceptance of the divine judgment on the nation.

An integral component of repentance is the grace to leave in God’s provident hands the historical judgment of the manifold evil effects of our sins. We repentant sinners make such amends as we can (cf. Luke 19:8), but none of us can even know—much less avert—all the evil consequences our sins have unleashed in history. These things, once done, have already taken on a dynamism of their own, and God will deal with them according to His own wise judgment.

This truth about repentance pertains, not only to the bad things we have done, but also to the required good things we have failed to do. Only in our later years—long after we made the major decisions that governed our lives—do some of us come to realize how many possibilities we have squandered and how few duties we have fulfilled. But now it is too late: our education is long over, our children have already been raised, further opportunities are few, and our neglected friends lie cold in the tomb.

We find ourselves unable to undo any of it. We weep, with Joel, for “the years the locust hath consumed, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm.” We are obliged simply to accept the judgment of God, following the insight of the Psalmist: iudicia Domini vera, iustificata in semetipsa—“the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”

Repentance, then, as a turning from sin to God, involves more than a release from personal guilt. It means, also, handing over to the Lord’s judgment and providential care the countless historical effects of our myriad failures. That is to say, repentance places not only our individual lives but also our larger destiny—the myriad links that join us to the rest of mankind—under God’s sovereign governance of history. Repentance makes us participes rei, sharers of a thing vastly larger than ourselves.

Josiah’s death at Megiddo in 609—a bare thirteen years after the discovery of the Deuteronomic Scroll—was the beginning of all the punishments Judah would undergo as the binding historical legacy of its many infidelities. Jeremiah saw it and wept.

Tuesday, August 23

Second Kings 24: The opening verses of this chapter are tied to the closing section of chapter 23, which gave an outline of the reign of King Jehoiakim/Eliakim (609—December 7, 598). He was not a good king (cf. Jeremiah 22).

The Assyrian Empire effectively ended in 609 with the fall of Nineveh to the forces assembled by the Babylonians under Nabopolassar (626-605). His crown prince was a military leader named Nebuchadnezzar, who commanded the Babylonian forces that defeated the Egyptian army at the Battle of Carchemish.

On the death of Nabopolassar on August 16, 605 this Nebuchadnezzar assumed the throne and ruled until 562. He is remembered in Holy Scripture chiefly as the villain in the fall of Jerusalem and the ensuing Babylonian Captivity. The accounts of his reign in Daniel picture an unusual display of megalomania.

The two prophets contemporary to Nebuchadnezzar—Jeremiah and Ezekiel—call him “Nebuchadrezzar,” which better reflects his name in Akkadian sources: Nabu-kudurri-usur. Since we are considering him in the Book of Kings, however, we will follow the spelling of this later source.

After his conquest of the Holy Land in 604, Nebuchadnezzar apparently made an annual campaign into the region in order to collect the imposed taxation personally. The present chapter indicates that King Jehoiakim paid this tribute for three years and then rebelled (verse 1). This detail is significant, suggesting that something changed in 601.

This was the case: In 601 Nebuchadnezzar moved against Egypt and was soundly defeated by Pharaoh Neco II (610-594). After this defeat, Nebuchadnezzar left the region and returned to Babylon, where he spent the next eighteen months rebuilding his army. Feeling stronger, Nebuchadnezzar first defeated other states in and around the Fertile Crescent in 599-598, prior to moving against Judah (cf. Jeremiah 49:28-33).

According to the Babylonian Chronicles, Nebuchadnezzar’s army took up siege against Jerusalem on November 28, 598, and the city fell to that army on March 13, 597. During that interval, King Jehoiakim died on December 7, 598. He was succeeded by his 18-year-old son, Jehoiakin, who ruled only until the fall of Jerusalem three months later. When the city fell to the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiakin’s uncle, Zedekiah, king in his place, and Judah was once again subject to the throne in Babylonia.

In the hope that the citizens of Jerusalem would be more compliant to Babylon in the future, Nebuchadnezzar took much of its leadership into captivity at the other end of the Fertile Crescent. This large group included a young priest named Ezekiel.

Wednesday, August 24

Second Kings 25: Jerusalem continued to be rebellious to Babylon. Or, more exactly, it courted favor with Egypt, where the XXVIth Dynasty was still trying to challenge Babylon’s hegemony over the western half of the Fertile Crescent. This was certainly Jeremiah’s reading of the political situation, and he fell into strong official unpopularity by speaking against it. The pharaoh at that time was Apries, or Hophra, 589-570.

Within a decade, Nebuchadnezzar became weary of it all. He once again laid siege to Jerusalem, this time for 19 months. This lengthy siege probably means he needed most of his army to keep the Egyptians at bay (cf. Jeremiah 37:5). The king’s flight from Jerusalem during the famine was the first sign the city was soon to fall. He was captured and forced to witness the execution of his sons before his eyes were put out. Jerusalem fell a month later.

Solomon’s Temple was not destroyed in battle. It was deliberately razed, rather, when the fighting was all over. This destruction came from a cool decision and represented Babylon’s determination that Judah would no longer be even a little power on the earth. The treasures of the Temple were carried away to Babylon, as well, and Judah’s official leaders were duly executed. Over the region Nebuchadnezzar appointed a governor, Gedaliah, who befriended Jeremiah. After the departure of the Babylonian forces, this governor was assassinated by revolutionaries, who abducted Jeremiah to Egypt; these details are related at great length in Jeremiah 40.

The author of Kings, who wrote much later, knew that the fall of Jerusalem was not the real end of the story, even though it marked the end of the period of the kings. This writer knew that Jerusalem was restored in the next generation; he knew also of the fall of Babylon itself in 539. Although these later events lay outside of the scope of the present book, the author of Kings was well aware of them.

It is hardly surprising, then, that he chose to end Kings on a somewhat more positive note. He records that King Jehoiakin, deposed a decade earlier and currently in captivity in Babylon, was liberated from prison and permitted to spend the rest of his life at the Babylonian court, along with other captured kings who owed their very lives to the throne in that court. In that court he finally became somebody. Indeed, when we recall that poor Jehoiakin had reigned, in fact, for a bare three months, there is something distinctly pathetic in learning that, in the latter part of his life, he received “a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon.” Inscribed on clay tablets in the palace at Babylon, the actual figures of Jehoiakin’s regular “allowance” are still preserved, along with other receipts and inventory lists of the time.

Jehoikin’s change in fortune came in 561 as a kind gesture from the new Babylonian Emperor, Evilmerodach, or Awil-Marduk, who was assassinated the next year. Nebuchadnezzar was, in fact, the last of Babylon’s significant kings. Evilmerodach was succeed by Neriglissar (559-556), and he by Nabonidus (555-539). This last attempted a religious reform; favoring the moon god, Sin, over the sun god, Marduk, Nabonidus alienated the populace and especially the priests of Marduk. He fled to Arabia, leaving his son, Belshazzar on the throne to read the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5) and to face the advance of Cyrus and his Persians.

Thursday, August 25

Job 1: The Book of Job begins like the Psalms, by describing “the blessings of a man” (’ashrei ha’ish). “A man there was, in the land of Uz,” it commences, ’ish haya b’erets ‘uts. This parallel between Job and Psalms is significant. In the Hebrew text of Holy Scripture (though not in the Septuagint) the Books of Psalms and Job stand in immediate sequence.

In addition, In the Greek and Latin Bibles, the Book of Job serves as a kind of transition from the narrative books (Joshua through Esther) to the wisdom literature (Psalms through Ecclesiasticus). Job is at once a work of narrative and a work of sapient reflection; it is both history and (for want of a better term) philosophy.

This sequence, moreover, prompts comparative reflection on the beginnings of both Job and Psalms. The first chapter of Job describes him, in fact, as the embodiment of the ideals held out in the first psalm. Job “walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, / Nor stands in the path of sinners, / Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” On the contrary, he is “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, / That brings forth its fruit in its season, / Whose leaf also shall not wither; / And whatever he does shall prosper.”

Whereas the “man” in the first psalm is clearly a Jew, whose “delight is in the law of the LORD,” Job is only a manany just man, anywhere. St. John Chrysostom drew special attention to the fact that Job is only a man, not a Jew. That is to say, Job does not enjoy the benefits of the revelation made to God’s chosen people. The only revelation known to Job is that which is accorded to all men, namely, that God “is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

The first verse of Job introduces the narrative prologue (1:1—2:13) preceding the lengthy and complicated dialogue that forms the long central core of the book. This prologue contains six scenes:

(1) an account of Job’s life and prosperity in 1:1–5;
(2) the first discussion in heaven in 1:6–12;
(3) Job’s loss of his children and possessions in 1:13–22;
(4) the second discussion in heaven in 2:1–7;
(5) Job’s affliction of the flesh in 2:7–10;
(6) the arrival of Job’s three friends in 2:11–13.

Chapter 1, then, contains the first three of these six scenes. In the first scene (1:1–5) Job is called a devout man who feared God, a man who “shunned evil.” He thus enjoyed the prosperity promised to such folk in Israel’s wisdom literature. As we have reflected in our introduction to this book, Job is the very embodiment of the prosperous just man held up as a model in the Book of Proverbs.

The second scene (1:6–12) describes the first discussion between God and “the Satan,” “the Adversary.” Satan, the name of the “accuser of our brethren, who accused them . . . day and night” (Revelation 12:9–10), was also known to the Prophet Zechariah (3:1–4). The LXX identifies Job’s tempter as “the Slanderer” (ho Diabolos, whence the English derivative “devil”). Satan and “the devil” are identified in Matthew 4:8–10 and elsewhere in the New Testament.

According to the Hebrew text of Job, Satan is numbered among the “sons of God,” an expression that the LXX understands as a reference to the angels. The Christian Church, following the lead of such passages as Matthew 25:41 (“the devil and his angels”), understands Satan to be the leader of the fallen angels.

Satan’s argument against Job is simple and plausible: If a just man is so richly blest in his uprightness, who is to say that this just man is really so loyal to God? May it not be the case that the just man is simply taking good care of his own interest? Let the alleged just man, then, be put to the test.
Indeed, ever since the first man who lived in prosperity, Adam in the Garden, this demonic Adversary has been endeavoring to put man to the test. The greatest trial of Job will come in the consideration of his own mortality, which is the sad inheritance he has received from Adam. We must not lose sight of Job’s antithesis to Adam. Job’s faithful service to God in this book stands in sharp relief against the disobedience of Adam, which brought death into the world.
In this second scene (1:6–12), the discussion between God and Satan, we do well to observe three things:

First, the trial of Job will be like that of Abraham, who also enjoyed the rich blessings of a just man. Indeed, Job appears as a sort of Gentile Abraham. As St. Hesychius of Jerusalem remarked in his homilies on Job back in the fifth century, we should not wander too far from the trial of Abraham in Genesis 22 when we consider the trials of Job.

Second, God is an optimist (for want of a better word), in the sense that He has great confidence in Job. In this whole book, God is truly on Job’s side. Indeed, God is the only one in the story completely on Job’s side.

Third, Satan appears as a skeptic and a cynic, persuaded that men act only for selfish motives. That is to say, Satan believes that men are very self-centered, pretty much like Satan himself. Thus, Satan has a rather low view of man. God does not have a low view of man. Not least of the ironies of this book, in fact, is the great confidence that God places in Job’s fidelity.

When God consents to the testing of His faithful servant, the third scene (1:13–22) describes Job’s loss of his children and possessions. Now begins Job’s testing. In fact, here begins Job’s tragedy.

One does not have to live very long to perceive a certain perverseness about this world, life’s strange but innate contrariness that cripples man’s stride and corrodes his hope. Indeed, in terms of plain empirical verification, few lines of Holy Scripture seem supported by more and better evidence than St. Paul’s testimony that “creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). This futility is what Job is now going to taste.

This dark sense of things is what the ancient Greeks called “tragedy,” a subject the Greeks appear to have pondered more than most. The root word for “tragedy” means “goat” (tragos), an animal commonly associated with stubbornness, mischief, aberrance, and even damnation (Matthew 25:32–33). Tragedy is the cup that Job will drain before this book is finished.

Friday, August 26

Job 2: Satan tries to provoke Job to curse God (1:11), the very sin that Job abhorred and which he had been afraid his children might commit (1:5). In the present chapter Job’s own wife will tempt him in this way (2:9). The fourth, fifth, and sixth scenes are the substance of this second chapter.

In the fourth scene (2:1–7), Satan, disappointed at Job’s unexpected response to the initial trials, wants to afflict Job in his very flesh, persuaded that this new kind of pain will bring out the worst in him. He predicts that Job, in such a case, will finally curse God (2:5).

Back in Job 1:9, Satan had asked if Job was a just man “for nothing” (higgam), meaning “without getting anything out of it.” Now God throws this expression back in Satan’s face in 2:3—“you moved me to destroy him ‘for nothing’ [higgam]” (NKJV, “without cause”). That is to say, it was not Job that failed the test, but Satan. The reader discerns that God is actually taunting Satan here. As in Psalm 2, the Lord is laughing His enemy to scorn.

Satan, however, now takes his cynicism to a new level. Believing that man is at root selfish, Satan wants Job put to the test in his own flesh, his own person, not simply in his family and possessions. Job’s success so far, Satan believes, amounts to nothing more than the experience of survival. So, he contends, let Job’s survival be put at risk. Strip him down to his naked existence, deprived of health and reputation, and then see what happens. At that more personal level, the demonic cynic argues, Job will not fear God; he will curse God, rather.

God, ever the optimist with respect to Job, agrees to this new trial, thus introducing the fifth scene (2:7–10), which describes Job’s sufferings. These sufferings involve loathsome and unsightly infections that are often mentioned by Job in the later discourses. Treated like a leper, Job goes to sit on the city dump. He becomes a foreshadowing of the Suffering Servant prophesied in the Book of Isaiah: “In His humiliation His justice was taken away, / And who will declare His generation?” (Acts 8:33, quoting Isaiah 53:8 LXX).

Job is dying, and his wife tempts him to curse God before he does so. In short, Job’s wife reacts very much as Satan predicted that Job would react.
Indeed, we do perceive a change in Job at this point. If he does not curse God, Job also does not explicitly bless God as he had done in his first affliction (1:21). Instead, he humbly submits to God’s will (2:10).

In each case, nonetheless, God’s confidence in Job is vindicated. Satan has done his worst to Job, but Job has not succumbed. Like Abraham in Genesis 22, Job has met the trial successfully.

Having done his worst, Satan disappears and is never again mentioned in the book. The rest of the story concerns only God and human beings.

Job’s three friends now show up to introduce the sixth and last scene of this prologue (2:11–13), which directly prepares for the long dialogues that make up the book’s central section. The three friends are introduced here, precisely because of their important role in the long central section of this book.

Job’s friends, we are told, come to “comfort” him. This verb, “to comfort” (niham), is a very important word in the Book of Job. Introduced here at the story’s beginning, the expression “comfort” appears several more times, whether in the verb form (7:13; 16:2; 21:34; 29:25) or as the cognate noun (6:10). Whereas Job’s friends fail utterly in their efforts to “comfort” him throughout almost the entire book, they do ironically succeed at the end (42:11), after the resolution of Job’s conflict by God’s revelatory intervention.
A week of silence ensues (2:13), parallel to the week of revelry with which the book began (1:2, 4).