Just Who Is God Anyway? Reflections on Job 1:1, 2:1-10

The reason that Job, at first a very traditional believer, finally threw it all over, may be found in the first chapter of the story. This faithfully conventional Job had ten children who enjoyed nothing better than partying up a storm, being always certain to include all ten of the siblings in the festivities. And old Job, convinced that sacrifice to YHWH was ever required to keep the God at bay, to assuage the possible fury of the divine one, after each one of these soirees offered up ten whole burnt offerings, one for each of his children, fearing that "It may be that one of my children has sinned and cursed God to themselves" (Job 1:5). These delightful men and women, sires of the paragon Job, would surely never curse God publically, out loud, but perhaps silently in the deepest recesses of their hearts, they may have questioned their God so much as actually to curse God; well, Job wanted to be sure. So every morning after the latest party, Job would drag ten kicking and screaming beasts to the local sanctuary and offer them up to the hungry deity who in Job's mind was always eager to discover some slight, some sin, and therefore always ready to unleash a mighty thunderbolt in response. Job must have smelled like burnt beast every day of his life in those early days!

But what Job did not know at that time was that his behaviors apparently had precisely nothing to do with the responses of YHWH. His huge attempts to be faithful in the conventional ways did him no good at all. The author of Job, writing a literary fable, presents us twice with a portrait of a heavenly court of gods, presided over by YHWH, among whom one finds the Satan, not Mephistopheles of horns and tail fame, but the prosecuting attorney of heaven, whose role is to report on the actions of humans to God. Job is judged righteous, but the Satan pushes YHWH to take away Job's goods and then his health, promising that the supposedly faithful Job will at the last curse God right in the divine face. God wants to know the results of this terrible test, and so bids the Satan to do his worst, which he proceeds to do straightaway (Job 2:1-10).

The result? In one very clear sense, Job does curse God as the Satan promised. At least he curses the God he thinks he knows, the traditional and conventional God of his upbringing (see Job 9:22-24 for the harshest curse one might imagine, though many other texts could be named). But the effect of Job's railing and cursing against his fate and his God is to clear the decks for a new look at God, the very thing the author of Job hoped that we would do. Chapters 1 and 2 are the curtain raiser of the drama, the opening act of the play, designed to present to us the old God, the God of the friends, the God whom Israel so often claimed to know and worship. It is that God that Job's author is set to do in. And in the next forty chapters, he will do precisely that.

Can we preach from Job 1 and 2? Only if we make it clear that this God of demanded sacrifice and whimsical testing of the chosen ones is not the God we have come to worship this day or any day. That God, the real God of Job, will show up later in the play, and all those who would hear of that God will need to promise to come back for the next three weeks to witness just who that God may be.

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