The God of the Prologue: Job II

The first two chapters of Job, called the prologue, are quite shocking for modern Christian readers because of the picture they paint of God. Without a doubt, this is a god that you are not inclined to either worship or even know. It’s a long, long way from Job’s prologue to the Sermon on the Mount.

The opening verses are prose; they give necessary details about Job and his prosperous household: he’s got ten kids, seven of which are male, thousands of sheep and camels, and hundreds of oxen and she-asses. Most important, however, is this line regarding Job’s piety:

That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil.

That’s classic wisdom-talk. Job has the right attitude (fear of God), he’s free from sin, has a right relationship with God, totally committed to doing the right thing and most importantly he possess the moral fortitude to “shun evil.” This is the first intimation of the strength of character that will carry Job into confrontation with God, earning him his status as a hero.

And check out Job’s activities: he’s offering sacrifice, just in case the youngsters have inadvertently sinned “and cursed God in their hearts.” To “curse God” in this context is not to unload a string of cuss words in his direction. If you cursed God, you defied God in a way that forced him to destroy you.

How ironic, then, that Job offers sacrifice to protect his children from this sin! Cursing God is what the Satan expects Job to do, it’s what Job’s wife urges, and it’s what Job never does. But proving Satan wrong comes at a high cost, including the lives of those for whom Job offered sacrifice in order to prevent precisely this destruction.

The First Interview with the Satan

Meanwhile, back in the Batcave….er…up in heaven, God is having a bit of a gathering for the sons of God and the Satan has likewise appeared. As you can tell, the identity of heaven’s most infamous occupant is a title, rather than a name. All that “prince of darkness” stuff is much later. A translation such as “the Adversary” is adequate.

Now here comes the Satan’s first encounter with God (1:7-8):

Yahweh said to the Satan,
Where have you been?
The Satan answered Yahweh
Strolling about the earth
and patrolling it
Yahweh said to the Satan,
Have you considered my servant, Job?
Truly there is not one like him on earth,
a blameless and upright man,
who fears God and shuns evil.

Now all that’s very interesting. First, we find that God concurs with the narrator’s estimate of Job’s character, for Israel’s greatest are God’s servants. But is there a hint of pride in the expression “my servant?” And why is God even having this idle conversation with the Satan?

Hmmm… Let’s see what the Satan has to say: (1:9-11):

The Satan answered Yahweh
Does Job fear God for no reason?
Are you not the one who placed a hedge round him
round his house and round all he possesses?
You have blessed the work of his hands,
and his cattle are spread all through the earth.
Just stretch our your hand
and strike all he possesses,
and he will certainly curse you to your face.

So…the Satan’s argument is that Job fears God and shuns evil because of all the things God has done for him. Would Job love God simply because he is God and not because of all those blessings?

Then there’s the idea that Job will curse God “to your face.” On one level, this phrase simply suggests the depth of Job’s discontent with God. On another level, Job’s future challenge to God is concerned with “his face” in that Job will eventually demand that he be allowed to defend himself to God’s face (13:15; 23:4). And when Job finally does come face to face with God and God answers…

Finally and most interestingly, God agrees to this whole thing with no deliberation – he’s as ready to meddle with Job as the Satan is. Is God really that confident of Job’s fidelity? If so, why does he allow execution of the Satan’s plan? Hmmm…

The Satan Acts

Now what happens next is a report of the Satan’s activities. Notice that although the Satan suggested that God strike Job, God actually has the Satan do the dirty deed: (vv. 13-19)

One day [Job’s] sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother, when a messenger came to Job and said:
The oxen were ploughing
and the she-asses grazing nearby.
Then the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off,
The boys (servants) they put to the sword.
I alone escaped to tell you.

Sabeans are usually associated with Sheba, and Sheba usually gets traced to Saudi Arabia. The Sabeans should probably be thought of as a passing caravan since they were famous as traders in the ancient world. The disaster is a natural one.

This one was still speaking when another came and said,
A fire of God fell from heaven,
burned the sheep and the boys and consumed them
I alone escaped to tell you.

Here the disaster may be supernatural. Although the fire of God can be lightening, in this case it takes out an entire flock and their shepherds. This mode of operation both conceals the work of the Satan and points directly toward God.

This one was still speaking when another came and said,
The Chaldeans formed three companies,
made a raid on the camels and carried them off.
The boys they put to the sword.
I alone escaped to tell you.

In the third disaster, we return to another “natural” source of trouble. And it may well be that the reference to Chaldeans (neo-Babylonians) is anachronistic.

This one was still speaking when another came and said,
Your sons and daughters were eating
and drinking wine
in the house of their eldest brother
when suddenly a great wind came
from across the desert
and it struck the four corners of the house.
It fell on the boys and they died.
I alone escaped to tell you.

Like the “fire of God,” this wind is not a natural one. It comes from the desert, strikes one house and, as every other report has related, kills all the boys (servants). The unspeakable, the death of Job’s children, is never explicitly spoken of.

And how about that refrain, “I alone escaped to tell you?” Did you begin to both anticipate and dread it?

Job’s Response

Job’s response reflects his moral qualities. He tears his robes, shaves him hair, falls on the ground and worships. The first two verbal phrases are typical signs of mourning, but the last two express reverence. Finally, Job’s words are very important for the rest of the story:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb
and naked I shall return there;
Yahweh gives and Yahweh takes away.
Blessed be the name of Yahweh.

The first couplet anticipates in the remainder of the narrative. First, Job never asks “why” this has happened. Second, having lost all his possessions, Job is like the newly born or the newly dead. Third, this anticipates Job’s first speech, in which he will curse the day he was born (3:10-11). Fourth, the nakedness of death points forward to Job’s insight that death levels every human conceit (3:19) because mortals both come from and return to, the dust (4:19; 17:16; cf. 42:6).

The second couplet begins to open up Job’s insights on God. God’s activity in the world is apparent by his “giving” and “taking.” At the moment, God’s presence seems to be understood positively. Later, Job will denounce God on the grounds that these actions are arbitrary and cruel. Finally, Job blesses God and does not sin.

The Second Interview with the Satan

There’s a couple of differences between this interview and the first. First, the Satan is said to “present himself” on this occasion, perhaps because he was defeated in the earlier event. Second is Yahweh’s boast about Job in 2:3b:

He still holds fast to his integrity
So you have incited me against him
to swallow him – all for nothing!

So Yahweh was right about Job all along – and he’s bragging about it, after decimating Job to prove it. The real damage is to Yahweh, who we now know can be incited against an innocent human. The expression “to swallow him” is not a good sign, either. Mot, the Canaanite god of death is said to swallow humans, while Isaiah writes that God swallows death (Is 25:8). And finally, even Yahweh admits that the whole thing was for nothing.

So up comes another dialogue between the Satan and Yahweh: (2:4-6)

The Satan answered Yahweh,
Skin for skin!
All that people possess
they will surrender for their life
Stretch forth your hand now
and strike his bones and his flesh
and he will certainly curse you to your face.

Yahweh said to the Satan,
So be it! He is in your hand.
only watch over his life.

Sigh. Here we go again. No deliberation, no hesitation. There’s also a certain irony in the role reversal that first appears here. The Satan is expected to play the role of God, watching over Job’s life. Later on, Job will accuse God of playing the Satan’s role as spy in a sinister search for man’s sins (10:13-14; 13:27; 33:11).

To make a long story short, the Satan acts and Job is covered with itching, painful sores. Job’s final test in the prologue comes from his wife, who says to him: (2:9)

You still hold fast to your integrity
Curse Elohim and die!

There is no other information about her, or about her character. Augustine called her the diaboli adjutrix!

Job responds: (2:10)

You talk like a foolish woman
Shall we accept only good from Elohim
and not accept evil?

Although this speech is usually read as a rhetorical question, it’s also possible to take it as a statement: “We receive good from God, and we do not receive evil.” This is no small point. If the interrogative is the correct reading, then Job sees God as all-powerful but not completely good. If the statement is correct, God is good, but not all-powerful.

And of course, the irony of the situation is that while Yahweh can be incited by the Satan, Job’s integrity is impervious to his wife’s similar attempt.

The Bottom Line…Finally

The prologue paints a rather uninviting picture of God. He’s vain, easily swayed, ready to meddle in painful ways, and doesn’t learn. Job, who has no idea why these things have happened – and never finds out – behaves with the integrity we expected of the divine. Finally, the reader now knows that the responsibility for Job’s terrible condition lies solely with God. As the friends argue with Job, this knowledge puts the reader in a position to judge between them and finally to evaluate God’s speech in the final chapters.

"Thank you for what you said. The multitude of translations/translators are not wrong and to ..."

Child Sacrifice, A Traditional Religious Practice ..."
"Allegories and their meaning and their meaningfulness to people are real.Maybe the Great Jehovah is ..."

The death of Book of Mormon ..."
"Pier, check you scriptures. See if you can find the doctrine of “Doubt is an ..."

Thoughts on "Mormon Scholars Testify"
"Has anyone ever considered that God was speaking SARCASTICALLY in the 2 verses of Ezekiel ..."

Child Sacrifice, A Traditional Religious Practice ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment