Let My Arm Fall From the Shoulder! (RJS)

Let my arm fall from the shoulder? What?! This doesn’t seem like much of a curse – until we look at alternate translations. Longman’s is more graphic “may my shoulder blade fall off my shoulder, and my arm be broken at the socket.

We are nearing the end of a long, spread out, interaction with the book of Job. If interested you can find the earlier posts here: Wow, Job, Justice or Wisdom?, The Accuser is not Satan, Job is Innocent… And He Proves Faithful, Job’s Lament (And What’s in it For Me?), God’s Role in the Cosmos, Is God Just?, I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Oh Where Wisdom? (Hint – Not in Science).

The climax of the book of Job comes when Yahweh answers Job from the whirlwind in Chapters 38-42. Before looking at this section, however, it is worthwhile to pay attention to the final speech delivered by Job. Chapters 29-31 of Job contain Job’s final lament and plea for justice. He calls curses on himself, among them “let my arm fall from the shoulder” should he be guilty and deserving of the suffering he is experiencing. In their commentaries John Walton (Job (The NIV Application Commentary)) and Tremper Longman III (Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)), take slightly different approaches to this passage, although they agree in its main thrust.

In the book of Job, Job’s friends don’t assume that his sin, the one that caused Job’s great suffering, was some ritual sin against God. Rather it was a failure to live a righteous life. And what did this righteous life entail? Well Eliphaz the Temanite in his third speech gives a list of Job’s presumed offenses:

Is not your evil abundant,
     and is there no end to your guilt?
For you have exacted pledges from your brothers for no reason;
     you have stripped off the clothes of the naked.
You have not given the weary water to drink;
     you have withheld food from the starving.
The powerful possess the land;
     the favored reside in it.
You send widows out empty-handed;
     you crush the arms of orphans.
                                                    (22:5-9, Longman)

Job does not respond directly to Eliphaz’s charge in the next chapter. Rather he expresses a desire to encounter God and make his case. A desire he expresses repeatedly. He does address and deny the charges in chapters 29-31.

In the first section (Ch. 29) Job recalls his former life, before misfortune befell him. God was with him and he was respected by his fellow men.

The youths saw me and hid;
     the aged got up and stood.
Princes restrained their speeches;
     they set their hands on their mouths.
The voices of the Nobles grew silent;
     their tongues clung to the roof of their mouths.

When an ear heard it blessed me.
     When an eye saw, it bore testimony on my behalf,
because I rescued the poor who cried out for help,
     and the orphan who had no helper..
The blessing of those perishing came on me.
     I made the widow's heart shout for joy.
I clothed myself in righteousness, and it clothed me.
     My justice was like a robe and turban.
I was eyes to the blind,
     and feet to the lame.
I was father to the needy.
     I examined the cause of the stranger.
I broke the jaw of the guilty;
     I removed the prey from their teeth. 
                                                         (29:8-17, Longman)

The righteousness of Job was the core of the way he conducted his life. He was compassionate and generous toward his fellow man (male and female). Ritual worship played a role. He offered sacrifices after all, for himself, his children, and at the end of the book for his friends as well. But this was not the defining feature. He rescued the poor and the orphan, he cared for the widow, he was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, and a father to the needy.

In chapter 30 he contrasts his previous life with his current suffering and calls out to God, by whom he has, he feels, been despised and humiliated. According to Longman: “When Job heard cries from the needy, he was moved and acted on their behalf. He felt empathy for the needy in a way that neither God nor the three friends have demonstrated toward him.” (p. 351)

Chapter 31 wraps up Job’s speeches. After this chapter he speaks again only briefly in response to God. In this chapter he once again declares his innocence. He has not lusted after a virgin or slept with a married woman. He has not mistreated the poor. Had he done any of these his suffering would be deserved.

If I deprive the poor of some pleasure,
     or cause the eyes of the widow to fail,
or if I eat my morsel of bread alone,
     and let not the orphan eat of it -
If I see anyone perishing for lack of clothing
     or a needy person without covering,
if I have raised my hand threateningly against an orphan,
     because I saw I had allies in the gate,
then may my shoulder blade fall off my shoulder,
     and my arm be broken at the socket.
For I was panic-stricken at a calamity from God;
     I could not bear his majesty.
                                                    (31:16-17, 19, 21-23 Longman)

And he has not made wealth his God – if he had all his suffering would be deserved.

If I place my confidence in gold,
     or my security in fine gold;
if I rejoiced at the abundance of my wealth,
     or because my hand had found much;
this would be a criminal offense,
     for I would have defrauded God above.
                                                    (31:24,25,28, Longman)

Powerful words. And it gets better. Job calls a curse on himself. If he rejoiced in the disaster of those who hate him, asked for their life with a curse, failed to open his door to a traveler, concealed his guilt in his bosom, eaten produce without paying, then may he suffer the punishment he deserves. May the land give him brambles rather than wheat and stinkweed instead of barley.

God’s wisdom is an important theme here. John Walton takes a rather harsh view of Job’s discourse, suggesting that it display a false, and rather manipulative view of God. If the primary question is “Why do God’s policies allow righteous people to suffer?” Job’s response is to insist on his righteousness. He attempts to force the point with his call “let the Almighty answer me.” (v.35) But the corollary to Job’s view is that God is rendered something less than God.

If Job prevails in the confrontation, God is reduced to a powerful being who possesses neither wisdom nor justice. He is a chaos creature who is not just arbitrary, capricious, or inscrutable; rather he is uncontrolled even by himself. … In Job’s scenario, God is no God at all.

… Job’s attempt at wisdom, entangled in his struggles for coherence, requires him to discount God’s wisdom.(Walton p. 332)

Longman is not quite as hard on Job as Walton is, but the fact remains that Job knows he is innocent (and here we know from the prologue that he is right). This leaves him in a quandary. Because of his innocence Job rejects option 1 assumed by Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar (and in ch. 32-37 by Elihu) – that he suffers because he has sinned and therefore needs to repent to restore himself to God’s good grace. His suffering is not a deserved punishment. But the apparent alternative, that God is capricious, unjust and unwise, is also unsatisfactory. Something has to give.

We can relate to Job’s quandary. Much suffering in this world appears to be excessive and undeserved. At times this suffering appears to be built into the very fabric of the world. We are not invincible, and accidents happen all the time, automobile accidents, plane crashes, falls. Natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes. Cancers – an apparent consequence of the evolutionary mechanisms that give rise to the diversity of life – strike without regard for person.

Job calls out for justice. “Oh that someone would listen to me! Here is my signature! Let Shaddai answer me!” or in the NIV “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me.”

God will come, but Job will be silent in the face of the God in whom wisdom is found. To this we will turn in the next post.

How do you resolve Job’s quandary?

Is suffering strictly a just consequence for sin?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • mteston1

    Not sure whether I ever “resolved” Job’s quandary but as I ponder God’s responses in 39-40 my “imagination” takes me (and maybe Job) to that amazing place where life & death, order & chaos, light & darkness, power & weakness are so very very close. The “eagle” dwells and soars and makes its home on the rock. The image is both of beauty & barrenness, of soaring but also I think danger. Again, has Job noticed how the “mountain goats” bring forth their young? The poetry is precise and detailed, almost teasing out life itself. Teasing out life, all the while the forces of non-life, death are there, if not harnessed would squash this fragile thing called life. Yet, again, even in its fragility life is potent. Fit into the larger picture of catastrophe and suffering, such a picture of life exploding everywhere can go unnoticed. Such explosive life giving potential needs as much an “explanation” as the destructive chaos. The image of the “horse” snorting and pawing in the valley, “laughing at fear” again, for me, is a kind of thumb in the eye of wadding in the pools of despair over such matters or instead, nodding in affirmation of a “power” that runs all through creation showing up in all kinds of ways and creatures, always pushing back the boundaries of chaos. In chapter 40 I sense in the poetry that Job is beginning to be amazed as his eyes are beginning to notice the boundaries of the powers of life and death, humbly he says, “I lay my hand on my mouth.” As I read over and over again and tried to envision what God was saying to Job, the “Behemoth” really opened this up (for me). This “massive” creature covered in muscle (power), a mini universe of power wrapped, contained if you will, in muscle and flesh, and here was the clincher . . . “eating grass.” This creature it says, “is the first of the works of God.” This creature is a portrait of creation, if you will, docile eating grass, but wrapped in power, almost inexplicable. Filled with both “life and the power of death as well.” Both brute and beauty. Filling one with both amazement, wonder, and appropriate respect and fear. I think the universe, my own life context should be viewed with such awe. He lies under the lotus trees, you could almost “miss” this creature, a kind of parable for creation itself, and if the river rises with turbulence he is not frightened, and no hooks or nose piercing can snare him. The portrait is of both calm and potential chaos. Again, a portrait of Job’s life, both calm and a season of turbulence. It is written in creation everywhere. In the beginning of chapter 38 you sense in the poetry this profound “laying of foundations” and Job not fully appreciating such forces. The edges of those forces butt up against each other in creatures, in creation, in life, in death, everywhere. Thus the “awe-full-ness” of creation. I imagine science continues to reveal and peal back that same “awe-full-ness” and expose the edges where life and death, chaos and order rub. At least for this human being, that is how I “reckon” with reality. My bride of 35 plus years works in oncology and the same forces seem to be at work in the human cell with cancer. One moment the cell divides nicely leading to life. At another moment, the cell loses its capacity to order its multiplication and moves beyond its boundaries in chaotic growth and becomes deadly. We are indeed, “fearfully and wonderfully” made. (sorry so long)

  • Tom F.

    From Walton: “… Job’s attempt at wisdom, entangled in his struggles for coherence, requires him to discount God’s wisdom.(Walton p. 332)”

    If the wisdom of God is that God *is* a being who possesses wisdom and justice, than this appears to be rather circular. Isn’t the question *whether or not* God is such a being? Perhaps I am simply missing Walton’s point, I am trying to understand it from your summary.

    Is Walton saying you either can struggle for “coherence” or you can uphold “God’s wisdom”?

  • mteston1

    I think you’re on to something there Tom. I am also wondering if the issue is about something larger than justice. I do think your question about who or what the “being of God” is might take the unpacking of Job in an entire different direction. As I spent the day ruminating on the larger matters of the material after I read this blog, I’m wondering if the focus on the “details” is in the wrong place. Job’s friends focusing again and again on the details of Job’s “moral” standing or lack thereof may not be the detail point. The materials around God’s answer just don’t seem to even address such “questions.” Yet those questions seem to not only preoccupy Job’s friends but still preoccupy much of today’s questions around the text, notions of suffering and pain. As you point out, “is there a larger question around just WHO this God IS? God’s responses appears to place a premium on paying attention to the delicate balances of the natural and material existence and how potent it all is. I think that move allows us an interesting overlap with of all areas, science. I think the images in God’s response to Job drive me to ask very different questions about life and living/dying, suffering and joy/amazement, and what characteristics such images allow us to get a glimpse of with God.

  • Tom F.

    Well, I’m glad that’s helpful, I really just meant to ask a clarifying question. It was just hard to understand what Walton was saying in that quote.

    As to your larger points, in that God’s answer seems to revolve around his “potency” relative to Job, I’m not sure. It feels sort of a-theological, in the sense that it defeats (a kind of) theology. God’s identity is not a theological formulation in terms of attributes and characteristics, his identity in that portion of Job is based upon his actions as creator. Whether this means Job has been doing an okay thing (like Longman) or a bad thing (like Walton), its not clear where to go theologically speaking after the dialogue. God’s answer radically relativizes *all* of the dialogue in the book, much of it having varying levels of theological sophistication, but in the end showing all of them to be futile. What do any of the proposed theologies in the book have to say alongside God’s answer?

  • RJS4DQ


    I think the description of creation in Job 38-41 is key, and you make some interesting points here.

    I’ve been continuing through Job in part to set up a meaningful discussion of this last section. At times it seems we flatten scripture into lifeless propositions and “facts” and squeeze out (or ignore) the depth and meaning. The poetry is precise and detailed, and beautiful.

  • RJS4DQ

    Tom F.

    My summary doesn’t quite do justice to Walton I am sure. But I feel at times that he is struggling to reconcile his theology with the text. For that matter, Longman seems to have the same problem at times, although he doesn’t quite take it to the same place that Walton does in this passage. After all – from our perspective Job’s friends and Elihu all seem to make sense, their theology seems quite sound. This is especially true for those among us with a strong reformed theology, but is more or less true for all of us. Toss in a little “original sin” and it all fits together.

    But … but the book of Job makes this out to be wrong. Job’s friends … in the end they have to bring seven bulls and seven rams for sacrifice and God accepts Job’s prayer and doesn’t deal with them according to their folly.

    The book of Job is a powerful thought experiment causing us to think and ponder and wrestle.

    But most evangelicals seem content to argue that the accuser must be Satan (i.e. the Devil) and the incident historically accurate and ignore the depth of the text.

  • mteston1

    It’s funny Scot that you use that term “flatten.” I hesitate to write at any length in response to blogs like this. I actually was trying to edit/delete my entire response yesterday because, I too, am looking for conversation partners, even community that looks at such “texts” with another set of lens than the usual one’s employed. Tom above responds to my post around the “potency” of God in relationship to Job. I would dare say that the material in 39-41 abounds with God trying to get Job to wrestle with the amazing “potency” of the “material/natural/creature” paradigm, that he/we live in an amazing context. As I read I actually hear and see God trying to get Job to wrestle with the “forces” that are “harnessed” in the universe, cosmos, creation but never “controlled.” A couple examples. Had some friends just spend some time in Africa and go on a Safari. They came back with pictures and stories of “close encounters” with a lioness and her cubs, elephants, etc. Now those are “amazing” stories but it is also a dangerous and daring picture of reality, a close encounter if you will where the line between awesome wonder and real danger exists. Too close the lioness turns and becomes not beauty but threat. There is an unpredictableness about that encounter that one risks by being alive and there at the same time. To often in our safety/security rich desires we wish to have such places “controlled.” But “harnessing” such “forces” is one thing, controlling them is quite another, and I dare say, both creation and the incarnation teach that the God we worship is no control freak, although our read and desire is that such a being, God be just such a God. Such a display of control would change the very nature of the reality we and Job live in. I could even use the example of how human beings share this self same capacity to harness but not fully control the “forces” of materiality/nature. The flight of a large aircraft or any other vehicle powerfully propelled. When accidents happen, well there is always, “Why did God . . .?” You know how that conversation goes. But in sharing the creative capacity of God, the capacity to “harness” but never full control, there is that boundary, that point at which we are in a kind of no man’s land where “all bets are off” when operating in a “power rich” environment. In chapter 41 of Job there is the discussion, again, around Leviathan, this creature that embodies all this kind of unbridled power, “will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on a leash for your maidens?” (vs.5) The obvious rhetorical answer is, “absolutely NOT.” This creature portrays a kind of force and power that Job wants “answers” to and for but the poetry pushes Job/us to recognize that existence is filled with conditions that are explosive, which is the nature of creation, materiality, our human condition, allowing for the eruption of life and existence, the same forces that can backfire. In chapter 41 vss. 4-6 words like, you cannot “covenant with, play with, or bargain with” this kind of power. I also think this poetry points to the reality that these “forces” are not “personal,” as if somehow they’re against me or you. They just are. Job has taken everything personally, as too often we do. I remember a few years ago, that guy named Steve Irwin, the infamous Crocodile Hunter, being taken out by a stingray. Here is a guy that walked that fine line when dealing with these “wild” forces, all manner of leviathan and wild beasts. His own demise came at the expense of a stingray. Who would have thought a thing? But I think what made Steve Irwin who he was was his recognition of the wonder and danger of his work, the wonder and danger of life and life’s wild side. I’m wondering if the Gospel of Mark’s version of the “temptation” of Jesus in the “wild” has something to do with a healthy respect for the fine line between life and this amazing wildness. Jesus appears to recognize his own vulnerability as a human and refuses to use his relationship with God to be reckless. Well instead of flattening these texts over the last few years I have been pondering these things because this wildness is amazing and I personally believe it beats the alternative, control, security, safety, everything with fixed, predetermined outcomes. It makes you say, Wow! which could be as close to worship as some will ever get.

  • Phil Miller

    Job is kind of a good litmus test as to how far one is willing to go to protect a certain theology. I find it kind of ironic that in the passage you quote from Walton, he’s going out of his way to say what the text doesn’t say. The text is pretty clear – God considered Job righteous. But Walton seems to be trying very hard to protect a notion of total depravity that is foreign to the text. Job may have been righteous in some way, he seems to be saying, but not righteous enough. So in some way, he says, Job was wrong to question why this is happening to him.

    I just find this interesting because it seems like almost backwards to the conclusion we’re given in Job at end. Yes, we aren’t given reasons, but God doesn’t condemn Job either. At the end of the book, Job is again affirmed as being righteous. In fact, God says that throughout the ordeal Job has spoken truth about Him.

  • mteston1

    “God considered Job righteous.” and as you note Phil that never changes through the ordeal. Job’s relationship and respect for God never changes from beginning to end. IMHO Job’s grasp of the reality, conditions, and context of life and living is what needs adjustment. Dare I say his simplistic view of that context needs shattering. The poetry used in the response appears to address the life and living context that too often is reduced to a kind of “tit for tat” view of a kind of “justice/fairness/moral” equation so often.

  • Patrick

    When a human is said to be righteous in the text, I don’t think that means “relative to God”. It means that human is seen by God as righteous because we’ve accepted His view as valid.

    David was called at the end of his life by God “an upright man in all his house”. An adulterer and murderer. Also an “upright man in all his house”.

    So there’s that. IF that’s valid, that comment about Job as righteous would have no bearing on original sin either way.

  • mteston1

    RJS4DQ back your way after reading this excerpt from “Wonders of the Solar System” by Brian Cox . . . [The spirit of exploration] is desperately relevant, an idea so important that celebration is perhaps too weak a word. It is a plea for the spirit of the navigators of the seas and the pioneers of aviation and spaceflight to be restored and cherished; a case (is) made to the viewer and reader that reaching for worlds beyond our grasp is an essential driver of progress and necessary sustenance for the human spirit. Curiosity is the rocket fuel that powers our civilization. If we deny this innate and powerful urge, perhaps because earthly concerns seem more worthy or pressing, then the borders of our intellectual and physical domain will shrink with our ambitions. We are part of a much wider ecosystem, and our prosperity and even long-term survival are contingent on our understanding of it.

    And maybe if God were to respond today to a Job he would respond with this tidbit . . . But most revelational of all is Cox’s gift from illustrating what our Earthly phenomena, right here on our seemingly ordinary planet, reveal about the wonders and workings of the Solar System.

    Tornadoes, for instance, tell us how our star system was born — the processes that drive these giant rotating storms obey the same physics forces that caused clumps to form at the center of nebulae five billion years ago, around which the gas cloud collapsed and began spinning ever-faster, ordering the chaos, until the early Solar System was churned into existence. This universal principle, known as the conservation of angular momentum, is also what drives a tornado’s destructive spiral. ‘This is how our Solar System was born: rather than the whole system collapsing into the Sun, a disc of dust and gas extending billions of kilometers into space formed around the new shining star. In just a few hundred million years, pieces of the cloud collapsed to form planets and moons, and so a star system, our Solar System, was formed. The journey from chaos into order had begun.’

    Again, instead of “answers” we get wonder, amazement right before our eyes, face to face with the power, grandeur, and beauty of ordered and harnessed powers. Which could, mind you lead us to worship. But once everything has been “flattened” out there is no “curiosity” left only answers to questions leading not to wonder but despair.