Friday, September 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 24

1 Corinthians 7.2—8.7: Paul turns apologetic, pleading the sincerity of his relations to the Church at Corinth (verses 2-4). In asking that these Corinthians “make room” (choresate) for him, Paul takes up the same metaphor (and verbal root) that he used earlier, when he spoke of a narrowness of affection (stenochochoreomai–6:12). Even as he defends his behavior, he is careful not to blame the Corinthians (verse 3). Perhaps we perceive here a touch of what in recent times came to be known as “pastoral sensitivity.”

Because Paul mentions death before life, using the aorist tense for the first (synapothanein) and the present tense (syzein) for the second, it is clear that the life referred to here (verse 4) is the eternal life that follows death. Paul will be with the Corinthians in his death and in the life that ensues. His subtle expression thus means a great deal more than “in life and death.”

Paul turns next to the recent return of Titus, whom he had dispatched as his apostolic delegate to the Corinthians (verses 5-7). Paul, we remember, impatient at waiting for Titus at Troas, had procured passage over to Macedonia in search of him (2:12-13). Titus at last arrived in Macedonia from Corinth (verse 6).

Macedonia is a pretty big place. How did the two men find one another in Macedonia? I mean, how would a friend and I simply meet up “in Chicago,” to say nothing of our meeting up “in Illinois”? In this regard, we should consider here the close and constant connections between the local congregations in Macedonia—at Philippi, at Thessaloniki, at Beroea, and so forth. These active connections are likely what brought the two men together.

Titus brings Paul news of the favorable reception that met his earlier letter, the letter of tears (verses 7-8; 2:1-4), the letter that Titus had carried to Corinth. Now Paul is able to put behind him whatever misgivings he had about the wisdom of sending that letter; it accomplished effectively the purpose for which he sent it (verse 9). The Corinthians have not disappointed him (verse 10). They have appropriately dealt with the disciplinary situation mentioned earlier (verses 11-12; 2:5-11).

Now that the delicate and critical situation in Corinth has been settled by the mission of Titus, Paul brings to the attention of the Corinthians the charitable collection of resources currently in process for the impoverished Christians in the Holy Land. The role of Titus in this collection will be crucial, as we see in chapters 8 and 9.

Paul proceeds to tell the Corinthians of the generosity of the churches of Macedonia, partly with the intent, no doubt, of encouraging a like generosity among his readers. Chief in generosity among the Macedonians, it seems, are the Philippians, who have already established the custom of sacrificial giving with respect to Paul (11:8-9; Philippians 4:15-16).

The collection had already begun at Corinth, in fact, during the previous year (8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), and it will continue into the following year (Romans 15:25-27).

Everything about this enterprise is grace, charis (verses 1,6,7,19). It begins with the generosity of God. The Macedonian Christians are poor, after all, and Paul strains his images to express how this poverty abounded in generosity (verse 2). This generosity was spontaneous (verse 2); the Macedonians asked for the opportunity to give (verse 4). Indeed, this giving was the expression of the gift of themselves (verse 5).

Paul is sending Titus back to Corinth as the bearer of the present letter. Hence he mentions now that Titus, on his return to Corinth, will be organizing the collection in that city too (verse 6). This will be the perfecting of the good ministry that Titus had already commenced among the Corinthians.

Sunday, September 25

2 Corinthians 8.8-24: Paul admits that the current admonition, in which much is made of the zeal of the Macedonians, is intended to test the commitment of the Corinthians (verse 8). With respect to self-sacrificial generosity, nonetheless, Paul appeals not only to the example of other Christians but also to that of Christ Himself (verse 9; Philippians 2:6-11).

To facilitate the collection at Corinth, Paul is sending, not only Titus, but two other emissaries to assist him in the work (verses 18-22; 12:17-18). Paul does not name these men, but it is not necessary to do so because their identity will be known when they arrive with Titus. Moreover, these men are, in part, delegates of the churches participating in the collection (verse 23). Luke provides a list of those who carried the money after the collection, in which list we observe that he mentions the origin of each man: Beroea and Thessaloniki in Macedonia, Derbe in Pisidia, and Asia Minor. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the two anonymous emissaries mentioned by Paul are included in Luke’s list (acts 20:4).

Clearly Paul was much concerned with this collection when he wrote the present epistle. Indeed, the highly artificial character of his style in chapters 8 and 9 seems to suggest uneasiness on his part respecting the reaction of these sometimes-troublesome Corinthians. Paul had only recently quarreled with some of them, and now he finds himself asking them for money! From a pastoral perspective, the situation was a bit delicate. Still, Paul could not neglect this collection, which he had promised to undertake (Galatians 2:10).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27

2 Corinthians 10:1-18: Job is not the only one who stands accused and feels he must defend himself. We come now to Paul’s lengthy self-defense for which it is arguable this epistle is most remembered. If Paul had inappropriate partisans at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), so he had his critics, and now he proceeds to answer them.

The Apostle begins with irony, perhaps even sarcasm, apparently referring to those who think him humble only in his personal presence but overly bold as a writer (verses 1,10). His critics regard him as sinful (“walk according to the flesh”) in this respect (verse 2).

Paul admits to fleshly limitations (verse 3), an admission earlier conceded in his image of the clay vessels (4:7) and later described as a thorn in the flesh (12:7). Being “in the flesh,” however, is no worse than being “in the world” (1:12). It is simply the human condition of frailty.

Paul shifts his metaphor from walking to warring (verse 3) (or from the Odyssey to the Iliad, as it were—from life as journey to life as struggle). Combat is the more appropriate metaphor for what Paul has to say (verses 4-6). If no evil forces were arrayed against us, walking might be an adequate metaphor for life, but this is not the case.

The real enemy is intellectual arrogance, a trait Paul addressed at depth in First Corinthians. This intellectual arrogance is what renders impossible the true “knowledge of God” (verse 5; 2:14; 5:6). Hence, a person’s first obedience to Christ is an obedience of the mind. The context of this point is Paul’s authority as an apostle, an authority on which he is prepared to elaborate at some length in the rest of the epistle (verses 7-8). To prepare for this elaboration, Paul devotes the second half of this chapter to a consideration of true and false boasting (verses 12-18). This section sets up the remaining chapters of this book.

Paul starts with obvious irony (verse 12) that one scholar translates as “Well, I really cannot muster the courage to pair myself [enkrinai] or compare myself [synkrinai] with certain persons who are distinguished by much self-commendation [synistano–3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 10:12,18; 12:11].” Unlike these persons, nonetheless, Paul has special claims on the Corinthians as the founder of their congregation (verse 14; 1 Corinthians 3:6,10).

Wednesday, September 28

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.

Thursday, September 29

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.

Friday, September 30

2 Corinthians 12:1-13: 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.

In the latter part of this chapter Paul finishes his self-defense and expresses his ongoing concern for the spiritual state of the Corinthians. He seems hesitant and perhaps embarrassed by the lengthy glimpse into his soul that he has just shared with his readers.

Nonetheless, he calls on the Corinthians to remember that his presence among them demonstrated the marks of authentic apostleship (verse 12). These marks included miracles. Indeed, theologians have recognized in this verse the essential features of an authentic miracle. First, it testifies to God’s omnipotence (dynamis). Second, it is a “wonder,” an act beyond ordinary expectation (teras). Third, it serves as a revelatory “sign” (semeion. Only here and in Romans 15:18-19 does Paul ever speak of miracles associated with his ministry, though Luke describes some of them in the Acts of the Apostles. We should observe that Paul did not include these miracles in his “boasting.”

Again employing sarcasm, Paul asks the Corinthians to pardon him for not being burdensome to them. Unlike the other churches in his ministry, they had not been obliged to support him (verse 13; 11:7-12).