Before digging into the text of Job is is helpful to understand the roles played by the major characters in the book. Section two of the recent book How to Read Job by John Walton and Tremper Longman III discusses each of the players. There are chapters dedicated to God, Satan, Job, Job’s human advisors, Job’s advocate, and the use of Behemoth and Leviathan. Their discussion will undoubtedly challenge the assumptions of (almost) every reader. The most important thing to remember is that Job is wisdom literature – it is not a historical account. The characters are structured to teach a lesson. As such they are exaggerated caricatures. This includes aspects of the way that God is portrayed (probably the suggestion that will encounter the greatest push back).
The portrayal of God. The portrayal of God as one who wagers with the satan, wipes out Job’s family, and refuses to answer Job’s questions causes a great deal of consternation for many readers. Walton and Longman suggests that these features are part of the literary construction of the book and shouldn’t be taken as a description of God.
We conclude that we would not use any of these story elements to provide sound theological teaching about the nature of God. God is a character in the book of Job, and it is important to examine what the author does with the character rather than what the character does. To extract that teaching, we look to the message of the book.
… In the message of the book, points are being made about God’s justice, God’s wisdom and God’s policies. (p. 47)
According to Walton and Longman, God’s wisdom is key to understanding the message, while God’s policies, particularly his policy of blessing the righteous (and to a lesser extent his policy of allowing the righteous to suffer), serve as the main focus. “The book promotes the conclusion that the way God operates the world is more complicated than people can imagine and that, therefore, God’s way cannot be reduced to a simple equation.” (p. 48) … “In his wisdom he has created the world as he deemed appropriate, and we trust that wisdom.” (p. 49)
The challenger is not Satan. I discussed this in a post several years ago, The accuser is not Satan based on the full commentaries by Walton and Longman. The challenger in the divine council is not the being referred to in the New Testament as Satan. “Job 1:6 would lead us to understand that a certain celestial being whose precise identity is unimportant and who has the current and perhaps temporary status of challenger is being introduced into the narrative.” (p. 52) The satan, or the challenger, questions God’s policy of blessing the righteous. He does not tempt, corrupt, deprave, or posses … he is not rebuked, rather he is answered. And this sets up the scenario of the book. “The satan, this challenger in Job, however, is not an independent agent opportunistically fulfilling his nature. Whatever he does he does through the power of God; all events of the book are understood as God’s actions.” (p. 55) It goes further than this though … “The challenger comes among the sons of God, who are members of the heavenly council (not mere angels, who are messengers for the council). This standing gives him legitimate status and identifies him as one whom God has delegated to perform certain tasks.” (p. 55) He plays no role in the book beyond questioning God’s policy and thus setting up the scenario.
Job is righteous. The book of Job is not about Job, it is about God’s policies and God’s wisdom. In a way, Job is “the star witness for the defense of that system.” (p. 56) In the book Job is righteous – a concept that seems to give Walton and Longman the most trouble. (This was true in their full commentaries as well.) Job is not perfect, but he is a righteous man. If he has a flaw in the book, it may be his self-righteous defense before the challenges of his three friends. Job’s righteousness is “motivated by the belief that righteousness is the appropriate life response to such a God, regardless of the expectations of society or the anticipation of gain.” (p. 59) In the book Job has integrity, he demonstrates that he does not serve God only for the blessings it brings him on earth. He is not correct in all he says in his various speeches – he questions the policy of allowing the righteous to suffer and demands justice. This provides another sub-theme for the book. But he doesn’t “curse God and die” when his blessings are removed.
Job’s Friends. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all defend the retribution principle. Because Job suffers, he must have done something to deserve it. In the first cycle his friends advise him to repent and admit his sin, the second cycle focuses on the fate of the wicked. In the final cycle Eliphaz and Bildad ramp up the accusation and exhort Job to repent. According to Walton and Longman “we see that the friends are interested in helping Job appease a god who is angry (in their minds undoubtedly and justifiably so) in order that he might be restored to favor and prosperity.” (p. 69)
After the dialogue between Job and these three, a fourth, Elihu, makes a speech. He suggests that God is testing and refining Job. “Elihu claims that Job’s responses to suffering mark him as lacking the humility that characterizes true righteousness.” (p. 71) This is a variation on the retribution principle – and one that would justify Job’s suffering. But this too is refuted by the message of the book.
Job’s Advocate. Although it is popular in Christian circles to see Job’s plea for a redeemer or advocate as a foreshadowing of Christ. This doesn’t fit with the form and message of the book. (See more details in the earlier post: I Know That My Redeemer Lives.)
Behemoth and Leviathan. These are not creatures we should try to identify. They are legendary creatures, perhaps chaos creatures. It makes no sense to think of hippopotamuses or crocodiles (the most common speculation). According to Walton and Longman, Job is instructed to emulate Behemoth and think about God like he thinks about Leviathan.
Behemoth cannot be moved and Leviathan cannot be challenged. … These two creatures are used as illustrations from which humans should learn some important lessons. Humans should respond to raging rivers with security and trust (as Behemoth does) should not think that they can domesticate or challenge God (since they cannot challenge or domesticate Leviathan, who is inferior to God). (83)
In the end, “Job needs to find stability in rough waters, and he needs to have more respect for Yaweh.” (p. 85) His second response to God (42:1-6) shows that Job understands – and so should the reader.
Which of these descriptions challenge your views?
Where would you disagree with Walton and Longman (and why)?
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