We’ve been looking at How to Read Job by John Walton and Tremper Longman III. The first three sections of the book focus on Job in its ancient Near Eastern audience. As Old Testament scholars, both Longman and Walton agree that a meaning detached from the ancient context will necessarily go awry. As Christians, however, we believe that there is more to the text than the ancient audience realized.
After all, now Job appears in a broader context – the canon – and we need to read the book in light of the whole canon, including the New Testament. The New Testament gives us an inspired continuation of the story of redemption that goes back to Genesis; thus we can look back on the earlier story in the context of its continuation. (p. 148)
This is something like reading a novel, especially a good mystery novel or watching a movie or TV show.. The clues present in the early part of the story make more sense when the outcome is known. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (i.e. the Old Testament). Luke 24, along with other passages in Paul and the Gospel’s make this point. Thus, for Christians it is important to consider the Old Testament in the context of this fulfillment. Walton and Longman give some guidelines. (These are paraphrased from p. 150-151.)
- Always begin by reading the Old Testament passage in the context of its original setting before reading it from the perspective of the New Testament.
- Christ’s relationship to the OT is more than a handful of Messianic prophecies – but we should also be careful of seeing Christ everywhere.
- There must be an organic connection between the OT and its christological significance. (“Organic” needs some discussion.)
- The NT citations of the OT are not always based on a historical-grammatical reading of the OT. These are in keeping with first century methods of interpretation.
- Different books and even different parts of the same book may point to Christ in different ways.
- The connection can be on a thematic level – like the connection of Christ with wisdom and the importance of wisdom in Job.
- We must reflect intellectual humility when describing connections not clearly expressed in the NT.
I know that my redeemer lives? Well, yes … but not in connection with Job. Both Longman and Walton argue that it is not correct to identify Jesus with the redeemer desired by Job. Jesus is not an advocate arguing a case before an angry God (Job’s desire) … he is God’s Messiah to redeem the world.
An important connection between Job and Christian faith is found in the answer to the question “do we fear God for nothing?” Do we worship and follow God’s ways for the good we get or because he is God?
God never promises that those who follow Jesus will live pain-free lives. Indeed the Christian disciple is one who will follow the example of the sufferings of Jesus and be willing to “take up the cross” of sufferings in this life: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:38-39) The Christian life, according to Paul, is one of joy, but a joy in the midst of suffering. … Paul models proper discipleship, which is relationship with God, not for the goodies but because of his love of God. (p. 154)
Who is wise? The book of Job, in the wisdom literature of the OT, addresses this question.
Only God is truly wise, and that is his point when he confronts Job from the whirlwind in Job 38-42, a conclusion that is anticipated in Job 28 and that is recognized by Job when he sees rather than simply hears Yahweh. As a result, in the midst of suffering Job submits to the wisdom and power of Yahweh (Job 42:1-6). (P. 156)
In both the Gospels and the epistles we read of the connection of Jesus with the wisdom of God. Here we should understand a connection between the book of Job and Christian faith.
Jesus is the very epitome of God’s wisdom. Jesus is the answer to the question of where we find wisdom. When the book of Job asserts the wisdom of God, the Christian understands a that Jesus displays God’s wisdom in all its abundance. (p. 157)
Although Job is righteous and an innocent sufferer (the prologue and epilogue make this clear), the comparison with Jesus is incomplete. Jesus was righteous in everything, not in need of sacrifice and repentance. In addition, Jesus suffered voluntarily for the sins of the world. Job’s suffering was involuntary and individual.
Jesus is the ultimate answer to suffering. But this answer, other than trusting in the wisdom of God, is not expressed in the book of Job. Job teaching us that suffering can originate from sin (our own or that of others), because the world is fallen, or can simply originate from the nature of the unordered world. Suffering can have purpose – but not necessarily. We, like Job, are to persevere with the steadfast endurance of Behemoth.
The book of Job teaches us that we should not always expect easy answers; that we should not put ourselves in God’s shoes expecting to understand all of his ways. In his preeminent wisdom, God does not rule the cosmos according to his justice. The retribution principle is not some absolute law according to which the cosmos operates. Our appropriate response is to trust in God’s wisdom whether we understand or not, and to follow his ways because he is God rather than for some anticipated benefit.
What messages do we, as Christians, take from the book of Job?
How do these differ from the message understood by the original audience?
What answers should we expect from Job?
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