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.

  • Mark Pickering

    I really like the Job story, and the prologue is perhaps my favorite part of the story. It looks to me just like a meeting of the council of the gods. The “adversary” could easily be God’s appointee, filling a given role to keep the children of men on their toes.

    I wouldn’t agree that the God of the prologue is “vain, easily swayed, ready to meddle in painful ways, and doesn’t learn.” He’s just as vain as the God of the rest of the scriptures, which befits the Master of the Universe. He’s not easily swayed by the “adversary” if he does this kind of thing all the time. He is definitely ready to meddle in painful ways, but the whole Creation can be described that way (e.g., “let us make man without an exoskeleton, such that single good blow will cripple or kill him…”). And God continues to tormet Job not because he fails to learn, but to push Job even harder to see if he will break.

    He’s certainly not a nice and cuddly God. He’s certainly “mean” and “cruel,” but he does it all for good reasons. And, don’t forget, Job gets all his stuff back with interest in the end.

  • Kaimi

    This is good stuff, Mogget. Thanks for the post.

  • Mogget

    Hello Mark,

    I read your post with interest. Since this is my first serious go-round with Job, it is quite possible that I am mis-reading or over-reading the text.

    That said, my thought is that closer ties to Job’s genre and to the text itself are desireable. In wisdom literature, the basic idea is that you reap what you sow. God makes this happen. In Job 1-2, Job is not reaping what he sows, so an explanation must be sought with God.

    First off, it may also be possible to read the assemblies in heaven as an ironic counterpoint to the festivities of Job’s sons. One is probably an innocent celebration of life, the other has something of a sinister feel by virtue of the plotting.

    I’m not sure I can think of other examples where God actively goes after the innocent in other examples of wisdom literature. Sometimes he is said to fail to respond, as for example, in the situations that produced the lamentation psalms, but this does not seem readily applicable.

    Then there’s the twice-made point, once by the narrator and again by God, that Job is as good as they come. In this light, some explanation of God’s willingness to even enter into a discussion of Job with the Satan is probably a good idea.

    Perhaps the central issue, however, arises from a close reading of God’s own description of the situation in 2:3b:

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

    Among the more striking things to deal with here are:

    –God’s own admission that he’s been incited, which in the OT never has a positive connotation,

    –God’s self-description borrowed from Mot (the Canaanite god of death) that he swallows people (the comparison with a God who swallows death itself [Is 25:8]makes the contrast even more pungent),

    –God’s judgment that the whole thing was “for nothing.” This last probably precludes a reading that suggests some “good reason” for Job’s situation.

    And there’s the contrast between Job’s interaction with his wife and Yahweh’s interaction with the Satan.

    Lastly, there are two points about the ending to keep in mind. First, the restoration of Job’s goods and family may be the result of meddling from folks who were unhappy with the original ending and so added their own conclusion.

    Second, the friends and Job both view Job’s situation without knowledge of the God’s actions and come to remarkably different conclusions. The friends defend God as you have and urge Job to repent. Job’s integrity is such that he cannot repent of what he has not done, so his reaction is to suggest God is a criminal.

    When God renders his judgment on the interaction, Job is said to have “spoken rightly” while that friends have angered God. What precisely Job “spoke rightly” about is, of course, up for debate. As with all great literature, a facile reading of the conclusion is probably going to turn out to be wrong.

    Finally, I confess a certain curiosity about your expression “master of the universe” in this situation as well as your analogy drawn from our lack of exoskeletons. Are these thoughts your own, did you hear them from a local teacher, or do they come from professionals such as CES teachers or the religion faculty?

  • http://ldsgospeldoctrine.net Kurt

    Moggett,

    I see Job’s offering sacrifices on behalf of his children to be an act of pride on his part. He should worry about himself, not his children. Offering sacrifices for someone else is a waste of time, an act of hubris.

    Job is a “righteous man”, but he will also be the first one to tell you he is righteous (16:14-17). Thus, he is self-righteous and extremely prideful (6:24). He demands throughout the dialogue that he is absolutely righteous and completely innocent (6:1, ch. 31). He insists that God has done him wrong and that his afflictions are unjust (10:1-7, 19:1-6). He even goes so far as to accuse God of caprice (ch. 24), all the while considering himself righteous enough to see God’s face (19:26)! During the dialogue Job is only too eager to return slap for slap when his three friends accuse him of wickedness (19:21-29). Job is not patient and longsuffering at all. He is an arrogant, self-righteous jerk who was afflicted because he needed to be humbled. And, fortunately for him, he ultimately is (42:1-6).

    The dialogue in book of Job from ch. 3-31 is a very contentious exchange. If we were to put this on film or on the stage it would be a lively argument where Job and the three old friends are yelling and accusing each other (Eliphaz’s accusation, 4:1-11; Zophar’s accusation, 11:13-15; Bildad’s accusation, 8:20). All, the while the younger Elihu sits and watches silently until the very end when he simply cannot take it anymore (32:2-3), and thus the sharp rebuke of ch. 32-37 which silences the other four and sets the stage for God to step in and speak His mind in ch. 38-42. Job is definitely not the patient, meek, passive character he is generally thought to be, quietly extolling the virtues of God as he is being afflicted, insulted and harassed. That is not Job at all. Job is prideful, brash, and contentious. It is not until the last chapter, after being humbled by God, that Job become penitent.

    Chapters 1-2 are a distorted view of God and Satan, the kind of distorted view that Job harbored before he is afflicted and humbled at the end, in the last chapter.

  • http://blogdiss.weblogs.us danithew

    Job may not curse God … but he certainly has a few vituperations to offer in chapter 3. He curses the day he was born and has a few suggestions about how that curse could be implemented by Nature. He also asserts that it would have been better if he hadn’t been born.

    Not a happy camper.

  • http://www.smallsimple.blogspot.com Eric Nielson

    Job is a strange book. I read it yesterday in anticipation of your posts. I am usually somewhat of a literalist when it comes to the scriptures. Job may cure me of this a bit. I read Job and think – this never happened, it’s just a story to learn from. This does not necessarily lower it’s value, but is a little disillusioning for me.

    I like your review of the first chapters. I think Kurt is a little hard on Job. I don’t want to go through what Job did to find out how patient he was.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    Mogget, I tend to read Job as a commentary on the pat answers and trite conclusions that wisdom literature usually comes up with. That is, I believe it is address to people who are familiar with wisdom lit and it is conversant in the tropes of wisdom lit, but I don’t think it shares the goals of wisdom lit.

    The purpose of wisdom lit is, ultimately, to divide everything up into digestable chunks so that the wise can make sense of it. Job’s story is meant to point out the foolishness of that process. Job isn’t the only one who accuses God of caprice. God himself admits to it by never explaining himself. Instead, we get a whole lot of information regarding why our thoughts are not God’s thoughts (most revolving around, “I’m bigger and more powerful than you, so shut up”). Job ultimately accepts this, because what other choice does he have? I am not sure that this is meant to be a “word to the wise”, though.

  • Mogget

    First of all, I would just like to say that I dissertated all day and got one page written. One stinkin page, defining the terms “motif” and “theme” for further use. And am I grouchy about it. First thing we do, let’s kill all the narratologists.

    OK.

    Offering sacrifice on behalf of others is probably best read in context as an act of piety, not arrogance.

    Job experiences a change, but whether that change can be expressed as pride-humility is more problematic. And any reading that suggests Job sinned must deal with two things:

    1) God formally approves of Job, declaring that he has spoken rightly in 42:8 and that God will accept Job’s prayer in behalf of the three friends who have angered God.

    2) In chapter 31 Job takes an oath of innocence. Since he doesn’t die, it’s hard to suggest he’s anything other than what the narrator and God report: blameless, upright, one who fears God and shuns evil.

    And that Elihu. He repeats snatches of what has been said before, but adds nothing new — his role seems to be to retard the flow of the narrative to add suspense. At least two things suggest he is not to be taken seriously:

    1) God makes no reference to him.

    2) In 34:23, Elihu says that it is not the place of humans to set a time to come before God in litigation. Contrary to Elihu’s predictions, God does indeed appear.

    The prologue is related by the narrator; Job never has any idea of what actually transpired. If the prologue is a distored report, the narrator is unreliable. That has some serious implications for reading the rest of the story.

    But more importantly, some evidence of distortion must be found inside the text of Job to support this conclusion. A general feeling that the prologue does not match other visions of El’s heavenly council doesn’t provide that sort of evidence.

    Job’s words are, in fact, strong and especially so since Christianity has so fully absorbed Stoic philosophy. If Job’s speeches are read against the lamentation psalms, they are not all that shocking.

    I’m not sure that Job is about either faith or patience. I’ve seen several tongue-in-cheek remarks to the effect that James, who made famous the phrase “the patience of Job,” could not have read past the second chapter. In any case, I don’t think the words “faith” or “patience” appear in Job. At the moment, they look like the product of Christianizing influences.

    I agree that Job responds to and rejects much of wisdom lit.’s wisdom, so to speak. But so far I tend toward the idea that God is playful rather than strictly overwhelming in final theophany.

    So we shall see. I could be quite wrong about all of this. It’s a great book though, so it’s rather a pleasure to deal with even when you’re wrong.

  • Melinda

    I think the book of Job is the Bible’s equivalent of a movie that is “based on a true story.” Perhaps a man lived who was righteous and blessed with everything. Then he lost it all. Eventually he got it all back. Hundreds of years after Job’s story has been an oral tale handed down, someone writes it down. It’s a drama about morals, and fictional elements get added in to emphasize the moral point. The conversation between God and Satan is fictional – the point is to set up a reason for Job’s suffering. But the listeners are not supposed to be judging God’s behavior (that’s new to current Biblical criticism), it’s a way to emphasize Job’s blamelessness in his suffering. Most of the book is written as a dialogue, not as a story or a history.

    I don’t have any expertise to back up my opinion, or experts’ opinion to offer. But I don’t try to make sense of God as portrayed in the Book of Job because I don’t think God did what Job’s playwright said he did.

  • Doc

    I had a very interesting thought as you reminded me of the colorful perspective of the Job prologue.

    This could be seen as a satirical view of the life of the Messiah. God and the Adversary meet and have a disagreement about how wonderful and incredible that Job fellow is(understated War in Heaven, Satan doesn’t want to leave his only chance at salvation to Christ, they have a falling out and he is left as the adversary with the power to bruise man’s heel).

    Christ comes to Earth, lives the perfect life, Satan gets his chance to show everyone– see, it was easy for him to be perfect before, Christ suffers more than any of us ever will, leaving the author to wonder exactly why it is God would let this happen, “what kind of reward for his trouble is that.”

    At the absolute apex of suffering Christ even cries out “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

    Without the perspective of the greater purpose God appears spiteful, vindictive, prideful. The perspective begs the question, “If God is real, why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?”

    I believe ultimately the answer is apparent because of our greater perspective. God is painted as shallow, manipulative precisely because we know better and it highlights the wonder of the character of God and the plan of salvation in a rather clever and unique way.

    Perhaps I am just crazy, but I feel like I’ve had an epiphany.
    Anyway, thanks Mogget

  • Doc

    What I am saying is Job makes the most sense as a type of the savior, with the story written from the perspective of one of the Third of the host of heaven who rejected God’s plan, sort of like the Screwtape letters by CS Lewis. Mr. Lewis teaches some truths very powerfully by taking the perspective of the enemy, a devil named Wormwood writing to his apprentice screwtape.

  • Mogget

    Yo, fellow Bible nerds! Do we agree that judging God’s behavior is really a new idea?

    Melinda,

    Your point is well-taken. As you will see, one possible reading is that God is not bound by our ideas of justice — that we’re not in a position to judge him. And as a corollary, God may not have created the universe based on our ideas of justice. So you’ve hit a good nail, square on the head. A reading that suggests some sort of incomprehensibility is a reasonable one.

    Doc,

    I think that there are a good number of christological readings of Job — it’s really not all that far from the blameless Job to the sinless Christ. So you’re not alone, though I’ve not heard your particular take on it before.

    Myelf, I’m not really doing a christological reading, although I may take a short excursion during the “God of Job” and talk about Job’s idea of a friend. It has some christological overtones, I think.

    But HP is the Job expert…

  • http://ldsgospeldoctrine.net Kurt

    Judging God’s behavior new? Well, what about Jacob/Israel wrestling with God until he got what he wanted, and Abraham challenging God’s will over the destruction of S&G? Not really judging/criticizing as with Job, but certainly not accepting it.

    Sin offerings for others taken as “piety”. Nah. Modernizing the context of the Law of Moses, that is the equivalent of me trying to repent for something one of my kids did. Doesnt work that way. Job has plenty of his own sins to worry about, and yet he offers sin offerings in behalf of others? Because he is too righteous to offer sin offerings?

    Job sinned:

    1) But that is after God’s explicit rebuke and Job’s confession/repentance, so that doesnt argue in favor of Job not being a sinner prior to the rebuke.

    2) Job doesnt die so his oath must be good? Non-sequiter. Matt 5:34, James 5:12.

    Elihu:

    1) The fact that the Lord doesnt condemn Elihu in the last chapter, when the other three are explicitly condemed, is at the very least a tacit approval.

    2) God’s appearance is not contrary to his prediction, it isnt a prediction at all. Elihu is suggesting a position of humility in not insisting God come forth to justify His actions. Elihu’s position is man is in no position to question God’s jusgement, as Job is doing.

  • HP

    Kurt,
    You need to be careful in using the NT to interpret the OT. You get interpretations that make sense to us, but may have been foreign to the original intents of the author. Also, Leviticus is cool with the idea of the generic sin offering on behalf of others. In fact, it isn’t ever generally stated that a sacrifice has to be for one’s own sins. So, I also don’t see Job’s sacrificing for his children as prideful; rather I see it as conscientious.

  • http://ldsgospeldoctrine.net Kurt

    OK, skip the modernisations.

    I think its pretty plain the original intent of the author of the book of Job is to portray him as an arrogant jerk, hence the Lord’s condemnation/questoining of him in ch. 38-41 and his confession of his need to repent in 42:6. If he had nothing to repent of, then what is he confessing there that is worthy of sackcloth and ashes?

    Where do you see a passage in Lev that talks about generic sin offerings on behalf of others? Lev. 16? Thats a pretty specific case, not for application outside of the scapegoat on yom kippur. Everything else in Lev appears to me to be quid pro quo by the individual for the individual, and not for someone else. What am I missing?

  • Mogget

    Kurt, buddy!

    I confess I’ve never seen your reading before. I see the same sort of anachronisms that HP mentioned. On first blush, it looks to me like part of what might be an attempt to domesticate Job. However, I’d like to know more before I decide because:

    1) It’s hard to adequately explain things in blog/comment bursts, so I might not really understand

    2) I’m a rank newbie and in no position to write things off with no investigation

    3) It would be rude and then I’d have to
    give myself a Mogget-nipping, which hurts.

    So can I send you some nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses and then ask some questions?

    Is this your own work or are you following someone else? If someone else, is it a published source and/or can you give me an author and title? I’d really like to take a longer look at the whole thing.

  • HP

    Kurt, you raise a good point. I probably used the term “generic” too loosely. There is at least one case wherein the leadership of a group is encouraged to offer sin offerings in case anyone in the group has inadvertantly sinned (or if the group as a whole has). The specific passage is Lev 4:13-21. It is part of a group of passages dealing with inadvertant transgressions. Lev 16 I see as pertaining to all sins, intentional and unintentional. I tend to think that the author of Job is recalling the situation in Lev 4 because of the language he uses in Job’s explanation. In any case, sacrifice on another’s behalf is not entirely unheard of.

    As to whether or not Job had pride, I would say yes. That said, I don’t think he had an overabundance of it. If he did, his three friends would be right and God would have rebuked Job instead of them. Job has to do with the humbling of people who have an acceptable level of pride, I think.

  • Mark Pickering

    Mogget,

    This is a response to the third comment, which is a response to the first comment.

    You have certainly studied Job more than I have, and I’m flattered you even acknowledged my comment. But I think a case for the God of this story can be made.

    The “for nothing” comment in 2:3 is problematic, but only because God’s statement is demonstrably false. God says to Satan, “you incited me against [Job], to destroy him for no reason.” But Satan didn’t incite God to “destroy” Job, but merely to “stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has” (1:11). Also, Satan didn’t incite God to trouble Job for “no reason.” He incited him to trouble to Job to prove a point, namely, that if God touches that Job has, Job will “curse [God] to [God's] face” (1:11). God proves his point, and it’s too bad we don’t get Satan’s reaction at the end of the story. We might presume that God knew this all along about Job, but did Job know this about himself? Many are those who seem to be plagued for no reason, but endure anyway. It is possible that it is all for a reason not immediately apparent to the sufferer.

    Regarding the happy ending, it may indeed be an addition. But, of course, the language and format are so artful that this is certainly a work of literature. Whether it is based on real events does not matter at all on my view. In fact, reading it allegorically, like the story of the Garden of Eden, allows for deeper meaning. Didn’t Jesus suffer in order to prove a point as well? And didn’t he also lack full understanding of why what he was doing was necessary (Lk 22:42)?

    As far as the Mot imagery, I’m not put off by it at all. The Old Testament is full of references to heathen culture (see references to the waters of chaos and Leviathan, for example), and I view that as literary influence on the author of the text rather than God self-consciously styling himself after Mot.

    That being “incited” is never a good thing in the OT is really putting the cart before the horse. The question is whether or not God’s being “incited” is a good thing in Job. I think if “Satan” is an “advocatus diaboli” or “adversary” that God employs as his off man or jester, his inciting God to do something can be good. I imagine God has a bevy of advisors and idea-men.

    In conclusion, I think Job can be read as portraying God’s actions as non-arbitrary. The book doesn’t fit with the other wisdom literature in the OT, but that is refreshing. I think the wisdom literature in the OT is rather dull and myopic.

    P.S.

    My comment about exoskeletons is inspired by H.L.A. Hart’s discussion of natural law in his Concept of Law. Hart said that certain things about the kind of being humans are determines the content of natural law. In brief, he said that if we had exoskeletons that made us invulnerable to one another, we would not need rules not to harm each other.

    I think that man being the kind of being he is rather than something else like an insect to all be part of the Plan of Salvation. I think we were created as very vulnerable so that we would suffer a lot. We certainly could have been designed better.

    My reference to God as the “master of the universe” comes from the Hebrew expression I was first exposed to when my dad took Hebrew lessons for a short while. The God of the OT thinks he’s hot stuff and poses as a powerful earthly king would–don’t question me or I’ll have your tongue torn out (like the kings of Assyria actually did).

  • http://ldsgospeldoctrine.net Kurt

    Mogget,

    Yo yo yo, wassap! My reading is anachronistic? Perish the thought. The analogies I offered are, but I was only trying to convey the thought. Regardless, who ever died after swearing a bad oath on their life in the OT?

    It my handiwork, I wouldnt dare blame anyone else for it.

    Check your e-mail.

    HP,

    I dont see Lev 4:13-21 representing/justifying Job’s case at all. That case if when the community has unintentionally sinned AND it has been discovered, then the community gathers in to acknowledge what they have done and the elders of the community put their hands on the bullocks head and they commit the sacrifice. It isnt an expiatory sacrifice just in case someone may have done something wrong at some point in time. What Job did with those sacrifices was contrary to the Law of Moses and was symptomatic of his personality. Now, one could argue Job wasnt Semitic so his offering wasnt bound by the Law of Moses, but the text is of, for, and by Jews, so its cast in that context. You have to admit that the offering of sacrifices on the behalf of others who might have sinned, when he does not do the same for himself, is at least hinting he is prideful.

    An “acceptable level of pride”? Not sure what you mean. You mean “unacceptable”?

  • Mogget

    My word, there’s been a lot of thinking about Job and his gods going on around here!

    Mark — do I really come across as a jerk? Eh, man?! Really! Nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses for you as well. They’re 100% chaste, so your wife won’t mind a bit…

    I shall have to take a day or so and try to digest it all.

    Meanwhile, I’m going to press on with my readings, because I need to get something together here PDQ, not because I’ve blown all this off.

    And I am still interested in the question of when we took up questioning God. In addition to Kurt’s thoughts, I’d say that any apologia or theodicy is implicitly a questioning of God.

  • Mogget

    OK, Mark, I thought about it enough to have a question…

    For what purpose has the implied author created a lying God? Or a God that doesn’t really know or can’t properly articulate what he’s doing? How does that move his purposes forward and how does it play out over the rest of the story?

    That’s a very unusual claim to make about what God says or does in the OT.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    Kurt,
    You are right. I am still not sure that I agree with you about the sacrifice as being prideful in and of itself, but you are right. I’ll have to think about this some more.

    Second, I chose my term carefully. An acceptable level of pride pertains to human perception, not divine. The point of Job doesn’t appear to be that Job deserved what was coming. It appears to be that he didn’t deserve it any more or less than anyone else.

  • Boring Mogget

    Ah…you know I remain where I was when we started.

    I think the LM is anachronistic in this instance. I think Job is deliberately archaized to the Primeval History so that Job is a rough contemporary of Noah and Dan’el the Ugaritic king per Ezekiel’s reference.

    Job sends for his sons and offers sacrifice as a priestly head of household, not under the LM. Precisely how this is done and how it works is not material to the story.

    I can’t make the leap to an unreliable narrator and God-character, either. There are far more likely explanations that produce far more coherent readings. Those first five verses introduce Job as one great dude and the sacrifices most easily fit that scenario as well.

    So…we might have to agree to disagree on this particular text, while retaining the potenial to agree again at our earliest opportunity.

    I’m sending everyone except Kurt a double helping of nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses. For Kurt, I’m keeping the Mogget-kisses in a lockbox, along with my SS savings. I trust he’ll be able to claim them in the resurrection. The SS is probably going to be a bigger problem.

  • Mark Pickering

    Mogget,

    I didn’t mean to imply that you come across as a jerk. People on in the bloggernacle simply never respond to my comments–that is, until now. And I don’t have a wife, so kiss away!

    On to your questions. I am not sure why you say that God in Job is a lying God, or that he is inarticulate. If God was wrong in saying that Satan “incited [him] against [Job], to destroy him for no reason,” I do not think that alone merits calling God a liar. This could be a sloppy reformulation on the part of the author. It simply doesn’t fit as a response to what Satan says just before that.

    I also do not think God’s failing to say to Job at the end exactly what this is all about is such a bad thing. That the book ends in such a confusing and open-ended way I find very exciting and evocative. It’s almost as if the author invites one to ponder something without just telling one what to believe (how often does THAT happen in the Bible?). Are the righteous who suffer doing so for a reason? Is anyone sufficiently righteous such that he does not deserve to suffer? My answer is that Job deserved to suffer in so far as all people deserve to suffer–even the most righteous people. To question God, who can do no wrong, is absurd.

    I think this is the message the book is getting at, but it wanted to make its point in a subtle way. Presumably the author did this because he did not want the casual reader to understand.

    You asked when we started questioning God and stated that theodicy or apologia is implicitly questioning God. I say that it is absurd to condemn an all-loving and all-knowing being, whose actions are always right. I do not think it is absurd or sinful to question God in so far as one is trying to understand why he does what he does. The book of Job itself is an invitation to consider this very question. This is another way of saying that the book of Job invites one to take on the role of “Satan.”

  • Busy Mogget

    Stand by, Mark. I won’t have much time for a couple of days…

  • J. Watkins

    I guess that I don’t have much to add here except to say that I’m following HP a lot. Job keeps coming across to me as a reaction to Wisdom literature, exploiting its narrow and incomplete world view by asking the dirty little questions they would have hated, like “why do bad things happen to good people if God is supposed to bless those people for being good?” (BTW, I’ve always heard it called the law of the harvest) It doesn’t portray God in the usual way precisely because its trying to say that we really can’t put God in a box.

    Another quick thought: How are we defining sin here? Is it in the “I had a bad thought so now I have to repent” way or is it in a “I forgot to sacrifice this week so now I need to repent” way or is it “I haven’t sinned against God seriously enough to merit being with held from the CK” way? This strikes me as important.

  • http://www.coldandcalculating.blogspot.com BrianJ

    Mogget,

    I wonder also about the different translations of Job’s wife’s words in 2:9. Some have her making statements, others translate it as an incredulous rhetorical question. More interesting is how her last phrase is translated: “curse/renounce/bless God and die.” What do you make of this?

    I’m not sure what to make of her words–and without understanding them, I’m not comfortable making any interpretation of Job’s response.

  • Mogget

    Yessss… Job’s wife.

    A post that captured and speculated on the top five crux interpretatum of Job would be both interesting and useful. Especially if it had an annotated bibliography….

    As far as interpreting ambiguous passages…
    NO GUTS NO GLORY! BWHAHAHAHA…

    More seriously, yes, we have to keep all of these things in mind. But when you teach, sometimes it’s best to gloss a little bit, get the full story out and in the open, and then go back. The thing about the prologue is that although it reads like a self-contained story, it’s not. Eventually you probably read backwards, letting the rest of the narrative help you make some decisions.

    Or at least that’s what I’m doing at the moment… ;)

  • Mogget

    Mark,

    Here’s vintage Mogget-hermeneutics. Your mileage may vary.

    Let’s distinguish between real-God and character-God. Real-God is in his heaven, doing his thing. Character-God is in the text.

    We apprehend real-God primarily through testimony. We apprehend character-God the same way we get to know Tom Sawyer: what he does, what he says, what other characters say about him, what he says about himself, what the narrator says about him, etc., etc.

    The question of overlap between real-God and character-God is always interesting. We learn about this, I think, via the witness of the Spirit after we have worked out character-God.

    One of the ways in which we almost always think character-God and real-God overlap is in the matter of reliability. Character-God is considered both omniscient and articulate unless there are extremely strong reasons to think otherwise. A disparity between what we expect of real-God and what character-God does is not enough to declare character-God unreliable. To the extent that we consider the canon authoritative, it’s far more likely to indicate a shortcoming in our theological reflections.

    It’s also unlikely that the behavior of character-God in the prologue is the result of some failing on the part of the implied author. If the rest of Job is a masterpiece, then it is unlikely that the oh-so-important prologue is inferior in that respect. If you find Job unworthy of either the status of literary masterpeice or the status of canon, then there are more options, of course.

    Wisdom lit. does have the idea that man is “made of clay,” but things like original sin, or the “conceived in sin” ideas simply aren’t there. Moreover, the narrator’s and God’ words to the effect that Job is unique, blameless, upright, fears God and shuns evil and has not sinned in his responses have to be given their due. The repetition of these ideas is deliberate; the reader is expected to pick them up and use them to interpret the rest of the story.

    That said, Job is not pictured as sinless, but as blameless, which does not mean that he had never sinned. If you read into the story that Job got what he deserved, then you’ll probably need to find that the three friends were right to one degree or another. From there, it’s not far to conclude that retributive theology is in fact how the universe works. You get what you deserve. Job got what he deserved.

    This reading is manifestly not born out by the dialogues or the conclusion. The testimony of the three friends is impeached by their failure to correctly observe and understand the situation as all sages are supposed to do. Moreover, God will have a judgment to render, as well. Job has to arrive at the end of the story innocent…maybe ignorant, but still innocent.

    In the end, there are many places in Job where the translation is uncertain and the interpretation even more so. That’s why I talk about “my reading,” which is my attempt to make sense of the text. Hopefully, my reading, in addition to being critical, takes due account of historically sensitive issues.

    This includes the negative nuances of a comparison with Mot the swallower-of-men. To attribute cloud-riding and subduing the Leviathan to Canaanite mythology is correct. The Israelite authors picked up this imagery to serve as symbols of power, although the Leviathan story does contradict the Genesis narrative in which God is unopposed and his word alone is effective. But God-like-Mot, the God of death is another story, especially after Isaiah went out of his way to have God swallow death.

    Similarly with the word “incite.” Words with a wide range of connotations can only be interpreted by context. But some some words do not have this wide range and “incite” is one of them. It’s always negative in English. The best evidence that this is also the case in Hebrew is the fact that in its other occurrences, it’s always negative.

    There’s just no way to read 2:3b as anything but the self-indictment of character-God as he’s portrayed in the prologue.

    So folks don’t like the character-God of the prologue. Well, some don’t. Others, whose lives have been shattered by the otherwise inexplicable, do. And it may represent an imaginative shortcoming to suggest that their reading is deficient. After all, one of the very clear messages of Job is precisely that you can question God — in very explicit terms — and not only survive, but get an answer…

    …t least if you’re like Job: blameless, upright, you fear God, you shun evil, and you don’t sin in your response to the bad things that happen to you.

    And if folks don’t like character-God in Job, then I guess they can simply dismiss him as having no overlap with real-God. The one response that is problematic is to work so hard to re-write the story to domesticate the theological challenges that the narrative is destroyed in the process. It’s better to just let it stand alone.

  • Mark Pickering

    Mogget,

    The distinction between real-God and character-God is a helpful one. But I do disagree with your statement that “There’s just no way to read 2:3b as anything but the self-indictment of character-God as he’s portrayed in the prologue.” I think you’re right that blaming the author for being inconsistent or sloppy is not a favored way to account for an inconsistency in the text. But there are a variety of ways to read 2:3b as anything but self-indictment of character-God, even if we attribute these words to character-God and do not cop out by saying the author messed up.

    The key is what character-God could mean by “no reason.” Does he mean no reason at all? Then character-God is worse than arbitrary–he did not even lay his hand on Job voluntarily. Character-God was having a seizure or something.

    Character-God could have meant that his reason was arbitrary, it must have had some motivation. Perhaps character-God likes to make people suffer because he is a sadist. Perhaps character-God likes to indulge the members of his court when they challenge him. Perhaps he likes to see whether or not people will be true to him even when faced by apparently undeserved suffering. To lay one’s hand on job for any of these reasons is not to do so for “no reason.”

    I read 2:3b’s “no reason” as having the meaning I listed last. It is not based on the “reason” of Job’s sin, and is therefore not a reason apparent to anyone who was not privy to God’s discussion with Satan. I read “no reason” as “no reason apparent to Job.”

    If God laid his hand on Job for truly no reason, that would contradict his earlier discussion with Satan. Faced with such a contradiction, we can either say that God does not act voluntarily, or that “no reason” doesn’t mean “no reason at all.” I think that the latter reading is more reasonable.

  • Mogget

    The word translated “no reason” can also appear as “gratuitiously,” “in vain,” “for no purpose,” “undeservedly,” or “without cause.”

    In 1 Sam 19:5, its use is similar to this one. Saul’s attempt to kill David is undeserved, a groundless hostility.

    I don’t think there’s any question that God and the Satan were testing Job. The point is that there was no reason to test Job. God already knew Job was upright, blameless, feared God, and shunned evil. Or so he said.

    Hence, no reason. Undeserved hostility. As with Saul, not a particularly rational or good decision.

    Having said all this, may I also say I’m glad you like my Mogget-hermeneutics?


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