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Have You Considered My Servant Job? Job II

March 26, 2012
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In this article I will begin the task of discussing the plotline of Job. I find it easiest to block Job into four main sections and numerous smaller sections found within the four main sections. Some of the boundaries of the smaller sections are blurry, but they generally correspond to speeches made by particular characters or by clearly-delineated sections of those speeches. By breaking Job down in this manner this forty-two chapter book becomes quite a bit more manageable.

The four main sections are the Introduction (Job 1-2), Job’s case against his friends (Job 3-31), God’s case against Job (Job 32-42:6), and the Conclusion (Job 42:7-end). Two of these, the Introduction and Conclusion, are in prose. The middle two are composed of long poetic speeches. It is absolutely critical to read and understand the poetic sections of Job if one wants to understand the book (or enjoy it – the poetic sections are wonderful) but the prose sections are somewhat easier to tackle. Because of this, and because they frame the other two sections, understanding them is a useful starting point to figure out the book. If we interpreted the poetic filling of the book in a way that made nonsense out of the events in the more-easily interpreted bookend sections it would be very likely that we had misinterpreted that more difficult middle section.

The Introduction section to Job sets the scene. Job is a good man who loves God and he is also a man who is doing quite well in material and familial terms. We find out that he is so careful to do right that he even offers sacrifices when his children might have cursed God internally. This leads to unforeseen consequences as Job rapidly becomes the focus of a heavenly drama.

The heavenly scene that starts in verse 6 is a court scene in both senses of the word. It is, first and foremost, God holding court from His throne like a good Near Eastern monarch, hearing the requests of His subjects. It is also a court scene in that it rapidly becomes a trial. These two are not always cleanly separated in the ancient world where the king was the highest judge in the land and they are not clearly separated in Job.

With the divine beings (literally “the sons of God”) that come to petition God comes the satan. He is clearly God’s satan, God’s accuser, and he and God square off in a duel of words. God brags about Job. It seems clear from the responses that this is a point for God – Job is evidence of the success of God’s divine plan. The satan responds by claiming that Job does not actually love God but, rather, that his allegiance has been bought. Again, this is interesting. The implication is that whatever points God has against the satan from Job would be nullified if Job were a bought man. All of this is especially interesting because the terrible events that happen to Job all unfold from this moment when Job is held up as an example of God’s victory. In the book of Job bad things not only happen to good people, they happen to Job specifically because he is such a good person. If he had not been such an exemplar he would not have been worth bringing up when God and the satan sparred in the heavenly court.

From this point the familiar events of Job occur. Almost everything Job can lay claim to is struck with disaster. Job’s livestock and the servants or slaves (the Hebrew word can mean either) that guard them are stolen or killed. (Incidentally, the fire from heaven that strikes Job’s sheep and shepherds sounds quite dramatic and oddly supernatural but lightning is sometimes described in these terms too – see Exodus 9:23 in Hebrew.) Job’s children are also all killed. These disasters happen so rapidly that each messenger arrives on the heels of the one before. Job responds by mourning (he tears his clothes and shaves his head, both traditional mourning rituals) but also praises God.

God holds court again, the same challenges are issued, and the satan insists that God has simply not taken enough from Job. “Skin for skin – all that a man has he will give for his life!” the satan says, and claims that if God takes Job’s health from him then Job will curse God to his face. The terms being set, God hands Job over to the satan to be harmed with the stipulation that he cannot killed. In short order Job is so afflicted that he is scraping his hideous sores with a broken piece of pottery for relief.

Three important things happen at the end of the Introduction. One is that Job’s wife suggests that very thing that the satan had said Job would do – that he should curse God. Job’s wife seems to believe that God would then strike Job dead. The second important thing is that Job refuses to sin but claims that he should accept both good and bad from God. This is an interesting comment given how his first speech opens and his long-running contention in the next thirty chapters that he should not need silently accept such things. Finally, Job’s friends (three of them, at least, since Elihu is not mentioned) show up with the intention to comfort Job. If one read only to the end of Chapter 2 one might even believe that they were doing a good job of this. Of course, it seems to me that I know a lot of people who must have stopped at the end of Chapter 2, given how they read the book.

The next thing that happens is that Job begins the first of the poetic speeches that will fill almost the entire rest of the book. However, if one is having difficulty with the poetic sections it actually helps to skip all the way to the end and read the brief section of prose that concludes the book.

In the Conclusion two important things happen. The first is that Job’s friends are reprimanded. Whatever conclusions one comes to about the intervening forty chapters if it doesn’t come out in such a way that Job’s three friends are wrong it isn’t worth much. Moreover, we have a fairly specific charge from God: “you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has”. Job, then, must be saying true things about God in the intervening poetic sections and his friends must be saying incorrect things. This information is quite useful for any attempt to understand the main part of Job.

The second important thing that happens in the Conclusion is that Job’s fortunes are not only restored but they are increased. I believe pretty much everything after verse 10 in Chapter 42 is about Job getting good things – respect, money, possessions, a family, and, finally, a long and full life in which he witnesses the establishment of his clan. One verse, however, may not be so. In verse 15 Job gives his daughters an inheritance. Is this Job valuing his daughters since he lost their sisters to untimely deaths or is this Job continuing on in goodness? Either way, Job’s clan is clearly a great one by the end of the book of Job.

Armed with this information we can begin to tackle the two large poetic sections of the book.

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