The God of Job: Job IV

The thing to understand about Job is that he, like his three friends, assumes that God ought to react to human actions, to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. The three friends used this approach to God to argue that Job’s pitiful condition demonstrated his guilt. Job, on the other hand, knows his own innocence and so concludes that God is a criminal. And since God is a criminal, what is needed is a trial.

Aye yi yi. Most heroic stories display a hero with the moral fiber who stands up to evil and defeats it. Job is a hero whose moral fiber brings him into confrontation with God.

We’ll start out in chapters 6-7 as Job figures out that his friends aren’t friends and neither is God. Then we’ll shift for a bit into chapters 9 and 10, listening to Job’s reflections on the difficulties of bringing God to trial and on his own innocence. Finally, we’ll go to chapter 12 for Job’s satirical doxology and a parting message for his friends.

Job in Chapters 6 and 7

In chapter 6, Job makes it clear that for all Eliphaz’ subtlety, he knows that Eliphaz has judged him guilty. This, to Job, is not the behavior of a true friend. Instead, true friends remain a source of comfort and support especially when it appears that God has turned against him (vv. 14-21)

The despairing need the loyalty of a friend
When they forsake the fear of Shaddai.
My brothers are fickle, like a wadi,
Like a bed where streams once ran.
They grow dark with ice;
Snow conceals them.
Once they thaw, they disappear;
In the heat they vanish from their place.
Their course twists around;
They reach the wasteland and perish.
The caravans of Tema look to them;
The trains of Sheba count on them.
They are disappointed in their trust;
When they reach them they are confounded.
So you are nothing now!
You see tragedy and shrink with fear.

Job’s friends are frightened by what God has done. In the growing breach between Job and God, they rejected Job. Job’s standards are higher. Real friendship is based on human compassion and loyalty, not a shared faith, and it survives when all else fails. In yet another ironic cruelty, the friend’s fear of Shaddai has rendered them afraid to offer the very compassion commanded by fear of Shaddai.

Or for folks who don’t like the expression “fear of God,” the friend’s concern for a right relationship with God has rendered them unable to offer the compassion required of them by a right relationship with God.

In chapter 7, Job addresses God, making the point that life is short and transitory. It ends in Sheol, from which there is no return. Under those circumstances, a man must speak out when his days are spent in torment. In the ensuing passages, this lament will morph into a legal complaint (vv. 9-12):

As clouds disperse and vanish,
So those who descend to Sheol do not rise.
They return home no more
And their place knows them no more.
Therefore I do not curb my mouth;
I rail in the torment of my spirit,
I complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Am I Yamm or Tannin
That you place a muzzle on me?

Yamm and Tannin are symbols of chaos in Canaan mythology. Yamm is the primordial sea god, while Tannin is both a sea monster and a chaos deity. Is a man covered with oozing sores and sitting on ashes really a threat like Yamm and Tannin? Serious irony!

And yet if Job is truly an innocent man abused by God’s arbitrary acts, then Job is a living testament that the universe is not founded on God’s righteousness and ordered by God’s justice. Aye yi yi. The reader has read the prologue…

Job in Chapters 9 and 10

Moving to chapters 9 and 10, Job responds to both Eliphaz and Bildad by turning his thoughts to his own innocence and the idea of a trial:

Job answered and said:
Of course, I know that this is so:
A mortal cannot win a suit against El.
If one chooses to being him to trial
He would not answer one charge in a thousand.
He is wise and of heart and mighty in power.
Who then can challenge him and emerge whole? (9:1-4)

How then can I answer him
Or select my charges against him?
Even though I am in the right, I cannot answer;
I must plead for mercy to my adversary at law.
If I summoned him to court and he answered,
I do not believe he would hear my voice. (9:14-16)

If it be a trial of strength—he is the Mighty One!
If it be a trial at court—who will arraign him for me?
Though I am innocent, my mouth would condemn me;
Though I am blameless, he would declare me perverse. (9:19-20)

This is the sort of reasoning that leads Job to ask for someone to intervene, to even the playing field with God, so to speak. In the end, he settles on his go’el, that is, his redeemer (19:25-27):

I, I know that my redeemer lives
And afterwards he will rise on the dust—
After, that is, my skin is peeled off!
But from my flesh I would behold Eloah;
I, I would behold him
My eyes would see him, not another’s—
My heart heaves in my breast.

This figure is the opposite number to the Satan, a individual who rises in the divine counsel to move God to vindicate Job. If the Satan is the Prosecutor, then Job’s go’el is a kinsman who serves as the Defense. And Job really wants to be in that courtroom when his redeemer stands to defend him.

(Are ya gettin’ some Christian vibes here? Even though the resurrection stuff is a no-go? Inchoate, but nevertheless…)

Job has one other thing to say about God before we leave this section. In affirming his own innocence, Job draws some conclusions about God’s justice. The friends taught that the guilty are punished and the innocent vindicated and protected. Job is convinced otherwise (9:21-24):

I am blameless!
I do not know myself!
I loathe my life!
It is all the same. Therefore I would say:
“Guiltless and guilty, he destroys both!
When a scourge brings sudden death
He mocks the despair of the innocent.
The earth is handed over to a criminal;
He blindfolds her judges.
If not he, then who?”

Job affirms his innocence in the word “blameless,” used by both God and the narrator in the prologue. His transformation under God’s response to the Satan’s speech has made him unrecognizable, even to himself and he wishes to die rather than live under God’s intimidating presence.

In these circumstances, he begins to formulate the charges he would bring against God. God is arbitrary in his execution of justice, treating the guilty and the guiltless equally by destroying both. As evidence, Job offers the example of scourges. In these plagues, famines, or pestilences, God mocks the innocent who cry to him for help. Finally, God is the author of social disorder as well as cosmic disorder (vv. 5-7) and personal disasters (vv. 11-12).

Aye yi yi. No guts, no glory, I guess.

Job in Chapter 12

This is Job’s doxology on God’s wisdom, followed by a few choice words for his friends. As you know, Job is no longer impressed with how the universe is being run, so consider this your satire alert:

With him are wisdom and power,
His are counsel and understanding.

Hm. Nothing wrong there. In fact, these are the attributes of the ideal ruler (Is 11:2). They are also the attributes of primordial Wisdom (Pr 8:15).

When he breaks down there is no rebuilding;
When he imprisons there is no release.
When he holds back the waters, they dry up;
When he lets them loose they overthrow the earth.

Here find that God’s perfect kingship is demonstrated in the way he disturbs the created order and overthrows the social organizations of humans. When he withholds rain, there are droughts. When he sends rain, there are floods.

With him are might and efficiency,
Those who are mislead and who mislead are his.

This introduces the rest of the doxology, as the efficacy of God’s wisdom is displayed by a picture of the world as a crowd of clueless, befuddled, half-dressed wanderers groping in utter darkness.

He makes counselors wander naked
And makes judges go mad.
He undoes the belt of kings
And removes the girdle from their loins.
He makes priests wander naked
And subvert temple officials.
He deprives the trustworthy of speech
And takes the discernment of elders.
He pours contempt on the great
And loosen the girdle of the valiant.
He exposes the depths of darkness
And brings deep gloom to light.
He leads some nations astray and destroys them;
Others he scatters and leads away.
He deprives a people’s leaders of their mind
And makes them wander in a trackless waste.
They grope in darkness with no light;
He makes them wander like a drunkard.

The final verse return to the original point of contempt. By depriving social leaders of their minds, society is left to flounder and wander. God, along with Wisdom, was supposed to have set up a “way” for everything, but that’s not quite how it all worked out.

And finally, Job has some words for his friends (13:1-5):

Behold, my eye has seen all this;
My ear has heard and understood it.
What you know, I know too.
I am not inferior to you.
Yes, I would state my case before Shaddai;
I would insist on arguing my suit with El.
But you, you fabricate lies.
You are all quacks.
If only you would remain silent,
It would count as wisdom for you.

I included this so that you can see here how the relationship between Job and his friends has deteriorated. Plus, that last couplet cracks me up every time I read it…

Anyway…we come to the God of Job. Job assumed that God was supposed to rule his world with retributive theology. If you’re good, you’re rewarded. If you’re bad, you’re punished. If you’re bad enough, you’re destroyed. Since it obviously isn’t run on these lines, God must be a criminal. God is arbitrary, inefficient, cruel, and does not rule wisely. He’s after Job, and Job wants to bring him to court and talk to him about it.

Aye yi yi. He’s gonna get his wish, too, but it’s not gonna turn out quite the way he imagined it would.

5 Comments

Filed under Marginalia, Speculation

5 responses to “The God of Job: Job IV

  1. Julie M. Smith

    Hey Mogget, can you email me?

    Julie at times and seasons dot org

  2. J. Watkins

    The best part of all this is where it is going. The ultimate irony is when God confronts Job he wins him over by spouting stuff that sounds suspiciously like the sort of things that those Wisdomists would say! If the main point of the story is that God does not always act in predictable ways, and that those who think he does are wrong, and Job knows it first hand that they are wrong, isn’t it amazing that God uses all the Wisdom-esque sayings to appease Job without ever answering the question or being predictably straightforward? Or do I have this part wrong?

  3. Ahh… ancient Israelite liberal authors. How dare they suggest that keeping Torah doesn’t bless!!! 😉

    You know, I think most Mormons (innocently?) find themselves in a similar predicament — the notion of quid pro quo works-based righteousness. Job is a wake-up call.

    Thanks Mogget!

  4. Mogget

    Nah, J. Watkins, you’re on the mark. The issue to to decide why Job decides to finally shut up, not why he speaks out in the first place.

  5. JWL

    The Mormon idea that Christ is our spirit Elder Brother adds an interesting twist to the use of go’el in 9:25 since the oldest son in a family would have been the kinsman most likely to be designated as a go’el under the Mosaic law.