Friday, September 11

Job 18: 1-21: Bildad contends that he and his two companions have been sharing with Job the rock-solid truth on which the moral life is founded. Job, however, has insisted on moving this rock (18:4). Does Job believe that the eternal principles of the moral order should be adjusted to suit his own case?

Bildad goes on to elaborate the punishments that wicked men, such as Job, must expect (18:5–11). His references to darkness (18:5–6, 18) appear especially severe when we bear in mind how desperately Job has sought enlightenment in his plight.

Bildad’s second speech is particularly cruel in its judgment of Job, listing each of his afflictions in turn as evidence of his guilt. For example, Job has just spoken of the approaching darkness of the grave (17:12–14). Now Bildad takes up that very theme against him (18:5–6, 18). Job has just mentioned his failing strength (17:7, 18), and Bildad turns it into sarcastic obloquy (18:7, 12–13). Job lamented that onlookers were shocked at his condition (17:6, 8), and Bildad makes the point a matter of further reproach (18:20). The grave that Job described as his future home (17:13–16) is evidence to Bildad that he is “a man who does not know God” (18:21). In short, Job shows every symptom of a man whom God has rightly abandoned, and Bildad makes even his sufferings a reproach to him.

Bildad, in this second speech, thus abandons even the scant sympathy expressed in his first. He further rehearses, rather, his simplistic and illogical claim that all human suffering can be reduced to the inevitable consequence of the sins of the man who suffers. This impersonal, even mechanical theory of moral retribution more closely resembles the Hindu “law of karma” and the Buddhist “chain of causation” than it does anything taught in Holy Scripture.
Moreover, in its emphatic denial of this mechanical and impersonal theory of sin and retribution, the teaching of the Book of Job on the mystery (sod) of human suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent and the just, prepares the believing mind for the ampler doctrine of the Cross, whereon an innocent and just Man suffered and died for the sake of the guilty and the unjust. The trial of Job was preparatory to the trial of Jesus. It is ultimately the Cross that vindicates Job’s cause.

This vindication by the Cross especially pertains to Job’s preoccupation with death and corruption. The Just Man who died on the Cross, tormented by the bystanders as a person rejected by God (Matthew 27:39–43), is identical with the Holy One who was not suffered to see corruption (Acts 2:27).

Saturday, September 11

Job 19: This is arguably the finest chapter in the Book of Job, containing his most memorable profession of faith.

Up to this point in the book, Job has attempted various “soundings” of the mystery of his sufferings, and these themes are remembered again in the present chapter. Thus, he speaks once again of the testimony of his conscience (6:30; 9:29; 10:7; 16:17), his appeal to God’s justice (10:2, 7; 13:23; 16:21), his sense of God’s friendship (7:8, 21; 10:8–9; 14:15), his desire for God’s vindication of his case (14:13–15; 16:19–20). This last theme, Job’s desire for God’s vindication, dominates the closing section of the chapter.

Job begins by wondering why his friends feel so threatened by his reaction to his predicament (19:4). Are they really so unsure of themselves and their theories? What, after all, do they have to lose? Job is dealing with God (19:6), not them, and the problem is on God’s side, not Job’s (19:7). Job argues that his sufferings do not come from some inexorable law (19:8–12), as Bildad supposes (cf. 18:5–10), but from God’s intentional choice.

Indeed, it was God who sent these alleged comforters to make him even more miserable (19:12–15, 19), to say nothing of his wife (verse 17)! He is wasting away (19:20) and now pleads for pity from these professed friends (19:21–22).

Then come the truly shining lines of the book, where Job places all his hope in God, his “Redeemer” or Vindicator in the latter days (verses 23–27). This noun, go’el, is the active participial form of the verb ga’al, meaning “to avenge.”

Both the noun and the verb are often used in the Hebrew Bible with reference to God Himself, and in these instances the Christian transmission of Holy Scripture has preferred the words “redeem” and “purchase” to translate this Hebrew verb. Thus, Psalm 74(73):2 says that God “redeemed” or “purchased” (ga’alta) His people in their Exodus from Egypt. Similarly, God is called the “Redeemer” (Go’el) of the fatherless (Proverbs 23:11; cf. Jeremiah 50:34). Such expressions are very common in the Book of Psalms (for example, 69:19 [68:18]; 107 [106]:2).

Particularly to the point with reference to the Book of Job is the use of this verb, ga’al, when it means deliverance from death or the underworld (Sheol). This context is found in Psalm 103(102):4 and Hosea 13:14.

When Job calls God his Go’el, therefore, he is speaking with the common voice of Holy Scripture. The Lord is explicitly invoked by this name in Psalm 19:15 (18:14) and 78(77):35. In the second part of the Book of Isaiah this word is a standard epithet for God (41:14; 43:14; 44:6; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7, 8, 26; 54:5; 60:16; 63:16).

Job’s Go’el is identical to his heavenly Witness (‘edh) in 16:19–20 and his “Spokesman” (melits) in 9:33 and 33:23.

Job’s appeal here is entirely eschatological. That is to say, he lays all his hope in God’s final, future, definitive judgment.

Until that day, and in testimony to that hope, Job wants these words inscribed in stone. Here we have the Hebrew Scriptures’ clearest expression of hope for the resurrection of the dead and the final vision of God. This chapter is one of direct preparation for the New Testament and the glory of the Resurrection.

Sunday, September 13

Job 20: Through the various soliloquies, prayers, and discourses of Job we may observe a distinct development and maturing of his thought. The critical observations of his friends, even their insults and obloquy, force him to examine his own ideas and perceptions more critically, to try fresh paths of reflection, to probe his problem anew from previously untried perspectives. Job’s mind is not monochrome; it actually changes and grows richer throughout the course of the book.

With Job’s three friends, the very opposite is true. In the eight responses that they make to him, the reader observes that the thought-content, if it can be said to alter at all, rather grandly declines. Job grows, that is to say, while his friends diminish.

The first speaker was Eliphaz, who largely based his argument against Job on his personal experience, his religious vision, insight, or veda. Although the thought of Eliphaz is certainly found wanting in the full context of the Book of Job, his first discourse did represent, in fact, a solid nucleus of profound insight. Eliphaz was, so to speak, an eyewitness. He represented a living contact with genuine religious experience. Whole civilizations could be constructed on the teachings of Eliphaz.

Next came Bildad, however, whose argument against Job appealed, not to any religious or metaphysical experience of his own, but to the inherited and established teaching of his elders. Bildad represents, as it were, the next generation of thinkers, and in the transition from Eliphaz to Bildad we observed insight declining into theory. Bildad was no eyewitness, but more of a character witness. He represented a tradition rather than an insight. Bildad’s ideas, compared with those of Eliphaz, were not vibrant. Indeed, they were somewhat stale.

Finally, when we came to Zophar’s contribution, there was neither insight nor theory, but mere opinion and prejudice. Moving through the arguments of these three men, we perceived a decline of insight into tradition, and tradition into bias. The respective arguments of Job’s friends, that is to say, followed a downward path.

Now, as these same three speakers take their second turns to speak, their arguments have become even worse, because each man can do no more than repeat what he said before, only this time in a much louder and more strident voice: “What?! Didn’t you hear me the first time?!”

The loudest and harshest of these is Zophar, who had neither insight nor theory even to start with. Zophar never possessed any argument stronger than a prejudice, and his second attempt is simply a more obstreperous version of the first.

Zophar’s speech here in chapter 20 and Bildad’s in chapter 18 serve as two sides to frame Job’s great profession of faith in chapter 19. The contrast between Job’s inspiring, living profession and the moldy, repeated vituperations of these two men could not be starker. The present chapter is Zophar’s perverted fantasy about what an evil man Job must be and what a terrible divine judgment awaits him. It sounds all the more ridiculous and improbable because it so closely follows on the grandeur of Job’s aspirations in the previous chapter.

Monday, September 14

Numbers 21:4-9: This reading tells of the incident of the Brazen Serpent. The “fiery” serpents are so called by the effects of their bite, whether a fever or a painful inflammation.

The theological significance of the Brazen Serpent is explained in two later biblical passages.

The first is Wisdom 16:5-7: “For when the fierce rage of beasts came upon these, they were destroyed with the biting of crooked serpents. But thy wrath endured not forever, but they were troubled for a short time for their correction, having a sign of salvation to put them in remembrance of the commandment of thy law. For he that turned to it, was not healed by that which he saw, but by thee the Savior of all.”
The great irony of the serpent is this: The serpent was our tempter. The serpent, then, symbolizes man’s fall. God, as the “Savior of all,” assumes an image associated with sin itself. The brazen serpent, then, became a type or prophecy of the Incarnation, in which God’s Son assumed the likeness of our sinful flesh in order to redeem us.
The Jews, then, in looking at the serpent in faith, were in fact, looking forward to Christ, who was symbolized in that image.

The second text is today’s Gospel reading, John 3:14-16: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

The expression “be lifted up,” used by our Lord in His discourse with Nicodemus, is repeated halfway through John’s Gospel, again with reference to the crucifixion: “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (12:32–33).

In addition to being a reference to the Crucifixion, the expression “lifted up” also alludes to a prophecy of God’s Suffering Servant: “Behold, My Servant will prosper; He shall be lifted up and glorified exceedingly” (Isaiah 52:13, LXX). As this text makes clear, the Lord’s lifting up refers not only to His crucifixion but also to His exaltation in glory.

Tuesday, September 15

Luke 7:24-35: Luke introduces a “John the Baptist interlude,” a literary construction to indicate the passage of time while the apostles are gone out to preach. This is the story of the apparent despondency of John in prison. There are two things particularly to observe in this story. First, the evangelist clearly relies on his readers’ familiarity with the entire career of John the Baptist.

2 Corinthians 1:15—2:2: Paul begins to correct a misunderstanding. He had disappointed some of the Corinthians by failing to visit them at a time when he was expected. Indeed, he had announced plans for such a visit (1 Corinthians 16:5). In fact, he changed his plans more than once. Recently he had planned to stop for visits twice at Corinth, once going to Macedonia and once coming back (verses 15-16). Even these plans had been changed, to the chagrin of some of the folks at Corinth, who thought the Apostle a bit fickle and irresolute (verse 17).

St. Paul defends himself, insisting that these changes of travel plans did not indicate a deeper spiritual problem. In his proclamation of the Gospel to the Corinthians he was not fickle or irresolute (verse 18). His readers, therefore, should not interpret his recent behavior as a sign of irresolution.

Paul uses this occasion to teach a lesson. Steadfastness of purpose, he says, is what characterizes the word that God speaks to us in Christ. It is an enduring affirmation, indicated by the perfect tense of the verb (gegonen–verse 19). That word is the same as when Paul and his companions had first preached it among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:11), because God’s promises are not subject to changes of plans (verse 20). They are always “Amen,” the same word that Christians speak back to God at the close of their prayers in Jesus’ name.

In fact, God has already sealed these promises in the hearts of the Corinthians at the time of their baptism (verses 21-22). This sealing is already a down payment or “earnest money” (arrabon) of their eternal inheritance (cf. 5:5; Romans 8:23).

Paul then returns to his disputed travel plans, saying that it was for the good of the Corinthians themselves that he had failed to show up when they expected him (verse 23; compare 13:2). Things were not yet right at Corinth.

Paul saw no value in returning yet again to Corinth while feeling distressed at the situation there. Such a visit, he felt, would only have made things worse (verses 1-2).

Wednesday, September 16

Job 23: Having listened to Eliphaz’s third discourse, Job apparently feels, “Why bother?” Consequently, in this chapter he limits his rebuttal of Eliphaz to a brief and entirely oblique repudiation of the latter’s slanders against him (verses 11–12).

As Job was entirely argumentative in chapter 21, so in these next two chapters he becomes entirely meditative. The tone of these two chapters is deeply sad, notwithstanding Job’s high assertion of faith in chapter 19. His mood is more somber now, as he reflects on God’s inaccessibility. If chapter 18 represented Job’s pillar of fire, the present discourse is his pillar of cloud, and both experiences are integral to his testing. Now he longs for a God that he cannot reach: “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him” (verse 3).

In verses 8–10 Job describes his sense of God’s absence in terms reminiscent of the psalmist’s description of God’s presence (cf. Psalm 139[138]). A comparison of these two texts is instructive. The Psalmist found God in whatever direction he turned: “You have hedged me behind and before, / And laid Your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5). God, that is to say, is in front and in back of him. God is also on either side of him: “Even there Your hand shall lead me, / And Your right hand hold me” (139:10). In short, the Psalmist finds that he can go nowhere and escape the presence of God: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? / Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (139:7).

Like the Psalmist, Job seeks God in every direction: “I go forward, but He is not there, / And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; / When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; / When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him” (verses 8–9). In short, Job’s experience seems, at first, to be the opposite of that in Psalm 139. Whereas the Psalmist found God everywhere, Job finds Him nowhere. As Eric Voegelin observed when commenting on this text of Job, “the search in space no longer reveals a divine presence” (Israel and Revelation [Volume 14 of Order and History], page 76).

It must be said, nonetheless, that this contrast between Job and the Psalmist is more apparent than real. Job is no skeptic about the divine presence. Indeed, he is overpowered by it: “Therefore I am terrified at His presence; / When I consider this, I am afraid of Him. / For God made my heart weak, / And the Almighty terrifies me” (verses 15–16).

In each case, moreover, there is the profound sense of being known by God. Thus, the Psalmist began his meditation, “O LORD, You have searched me and known me (vatteda‘) . . . . You comprehend my path . . . And are acquainted with all my ways (derakai)” (Psalm 139:1, 3). Job, for his part, affirms no less: “But He knows the way (yada‘ derek) that I take; / When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (verse 10).

The Psalmist does, in fact, finish his meditation with sentiments that we easily associate with the soul of Job: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; / Try me, and know my anxieties; / And see if there is any wicked way in me, / And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).

Thursday, September 17

Job 24: Here 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.

Thus, men are obliged to endure the theft of their property (verses 2–4). They must bear with homelessness and exposure (verse 1), but He does not intervene, says Job. osure 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.

Friday, September 18

2 Corinthians 3:1-11: The chapter begins with two rhetorical questions, the anticipated answer to both being “no.” Paul speaks of commendatory letters, to which there are other references in the New Testament (Romans 16:-12; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11; Philemon passim; Acts 15:22-31; 18:27). Paul asserts here that his relationship to the Corinthians renders such letters superfluous (verses 1-3).

In the Greek text the expression “not in ink but in the Spirit” is more melodious: ou mélani alla Pnévmati. Paul’s imagery here evokes Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Paul has “confidence before God” (pepoithesis pros ton Theon–verse 4, an expression that has no linguistic equivalent elsewhere in the Bible). He has this confidence “through Christ,” not from any self-sufficiency (verse 5). The infinitive logisasthai is better translated “to claim” than “to speak”: “We are not sufficient to claim anything” (compare 2:17). Paul’s competence comes from the God who commissioned his ministry (verse 6).

The Apostle introduces here his contrast of letter and Spirit (cf. Romans 2:27-29), which he will elaborate through the rest of this chapter.

What is perhaps most surprising in the first six verses of this chapter is Paul’s confidence in the Corinthian church, where he sees the activity of the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of the prophetic promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The Corinthians themselves are a testimony to the power and fruitfulness of his own ministry.

Paul them proceeds to contrast the Gospel ministry–the ministry of the Spirit–with the ministry of the Mosaic Law, a theme that runs through the rest of this chapter. Because “the letter kills” (verse 6), he calls the Mosaic ministry “a ministry of death” (verse 7). For someone that spent all his previous life in the study of the Torah, this is a very strong assertion.

The Apostle also introduces now the expression “glory,” which as a noun or a verb (“glorify”) appears thirteen times in the remainder of this chapter. Even the ministry of the Law, he says, was possessed of glory. How much more the ministry of the Spirit? (verses 8-9. Compare the same form of argument in Romans 8:32).