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May the Day of My Birth Perish: Job III

April 2, 2012

In the last article I divided the book of Job into four main sections. I described what I think is happening in the Introduction and Conclusion (Chapters 1-2 and the second half of Chapter 42, respectively) and noted that these chapters give us a frame with which to approach the harder middle sections of Job, which I referred to as Job’s case against his friends (Job 3-31) and God’s case against Job (Job 32-42:6). From the Introduction and Conclusion we know the following important things: Job is innocent of any wrongdoing. He is actually the victim of such awful events because he is so good that God has bragged about him to the satan who is now attempting to break his allegiance to God. We also know that somewhere in the course of the book Job’s friends will say things that are incorrect about God and that Job will say correct things about God. Knowing this turns out to greatly simplify the task of understanding Chapters 3-42.

Before we start in on these chapters I wish to make it clear that reading the poetry in Job is not some mammoth feat of exegetical gymnastics. It’s a wonderful book. The main issue is simply that it is quite long and so unless one reads it in a single sitting (I recommend this) or reads it several times (I also recommend this) it becomes somewhat difficult to remember what everyone has said in their chapter-long speeches. (I also recommend taking notes. In fact, I recommend that one reads the entire book of Job through in one sitting on several different occasions and that one takes notes at least on the second reading. It’s sometimes distracting to take notes on the first reading.) I’m rather afraid that I’ve built up these poetic sections as some impenetrable fortress of words, but they are actually relatively straightforward once one deals with the length.

Job’s case against his friends follows a pretty simple format. Job opens it with a long speech. Job’s friends then reply to Job and Job responds between the speeches of each friend. The pattern of friends’ speeches is very close to being Eliphaz-Bildad-Zophar repeated three times. However, Zophar has no third speech. This is perhaps because there is little left to say on the topic – Bildad’s third speech lasts only five verses, not counting verse 1, “Then Bildad the Shuhite replied.” (Oddly, Job claims at the end that his friends have attacked him ten times while there are only eight speeches – although perhaps a speech and an attack do not quite line up or perhaps ten means simply “a lot”.) Job’s speeches tend to be longer than those of his friends and his final speech is extremely long. It is also clearly a final speech, wrapping up the section. It is probably important that Job gets both the first and last words in this section.

The speeches also follow other patterns. One perhaps unexpected pattern is that most of them begin with insults. While Job begins by explaining his condition to his friends the discussion soon becomes much more hostile. Job sarcastically suggests that his friends are so wise that wisdom itself will die with them and that they are the only people who matter. (Sarcasm may also be unexpected in the Bible. However, I find Job’s insult hilarious.) He also repeatedly states that his friends are hostile and unpleasant rather than comforting. Job’s friends, on the other hand, call his words a variety of poetic things that boil down to “worthless” and occasionally suggest that they would not even bother to respond to Job except that he has insulted either God or themselves. Job also says several times that it is only his misery that causes him to speak in the way that he does (probably referring to the openness of his main complaint against God and not the insults to his friends) and why can’t his friends just be helpful?

In terms of other patterns, Job’s friends seem very interchangeable. The basic pattern of Job-friend speeches and responses seems not to depend much on which friend is speaking. Job says pretty much the same set of things and his friends do too. It’s best to look at this pattern by examining the actual speeches.

Job’s first speech is an extended wish for death. In long poetic form he explains how he wishes he was never born and how it is cruelty that he must continue to live. Eliphaz replies by telling Job that God only punishes the wicked and so Job must have sinned against God. If Job would only admit his fault Job would be healed. Eliphaz also accuses Job of trusting in his own power to save him. Ironically, given that we know that Job is innocent, Eliphaz advises Job to trust in his own innocence before God to save him, which is why he must repent. Job responds by speaking again of his anguish, reprimands Eliphaz for being such a useless comforter, and asks that someone would point out his crime to him, for he is innocent.

At this point we have set the pattern for Job’s discourse with his friends. His friends repeatedly claim that God only allows good things to happen to the good and bad things to happen to the wicked. They extend this to Job’s case and accuse Job. They also extend this so it becomes an impossible trap – Job must be wicked or he would not be punished and so Job is wicked for refusing to admit guilt. Job responds by bemoaning his misery and his worthless friends and by pointing out that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

The remaining sections of Job’s case against his friends run something like this:

Job 8: Bildad responds to Job by reiterating Eliphaz’s point that God only punishes the wicked, and claims that God will one day do good things for Job again.

Job 9: Job responds that one cannot argue with God. This is a rather important point because it brings up a larger theme that Job wishes to bring God to court, somehow, and have this matter settled, but that Job lacks the capacity to do this. Job also notes that God does allow evil to befall the innocent and returns to the courtroom idea complaining that he is unable to make his case to God and that he does not even know what charges God has made against him!

Job 11: Zophar leads off by insulting Job and says that Job cannot understand God but he must be guilty and needs to repent.

Job 12-14: Job insults his friends and says that God does allow good things to happen to wicked – the simple theology of his friends is wrong. Job then returns to the idea of a court case and wishes he could argue his case before God. He accuses his friends of attempting to argue for God so badly that they would be in deep trouble if God did actually come to examine the case. He then states that if God would hear his case Job is certain that he would be acquitted. Finally, he wishes that God would just leave him alone and forget about him for a while. He does not like the attention he is getting.

Job 15: Eliphaz responds by insulting Job, stating that everyone agrees with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and says, again, that bad things happen to bad people.

Job 16-17: Job responds by saying that he could say the same thing if their places were reversed but it doesn’t do any good. Job then bemoans his condition, his friends, and reiterates his innocence, wishing that his claim of innocence could last forever.

Job 18: Bildad wishes Job would shut up and says that bad things happen to bad people.

Job 19: Job asks his friends how long they will attack him and says that God has attacked him so he doesn’t need his friends to do the same. He again says that he is innocent and that he wishes his words to this effect would be recorded for posterity. From this he flips the case around against his friends – his friends are accusing an innocent man and should worry for themselves.

Job 20: Zophar objects that this dishonors him and says, again, that God punishes the wicked.

Job 21: Job asks that his friends listen to him. After that they can keep on mocking him. He then denies their central claim that good happens to the good and bad happens to the bad by claiming that the wicked often do quite well for themselves.

Job 22: Eliphaz introduces a new idea, that God doesn’t gain from Job in any way (perhaps to suggest that He is an impartial judge). He then lists Job’s supposed sins (even though we know that Job is innocent), claims that this is why God has attacked Job, and tells Job to repent.

Job 23-24: Job hits back with a discourse on the theoretical court case between him and God. He claims that God would acquit him except that God can’t be found. It would be nice if God would hold set times for judgment so that the world could see regular justice. As is God’s judgment does occur, but not very fast. He then challenges his friends to prove him wrong.

Job 25: Bildad responds with a simple claim: God is too great for a mortal to be in the right before Him.

In Job 26: Job responds, saying, essentially, “Wow, aren’t you smart. Yes, I know that God is incredibly powerful.”

Job 27 begins Job’s closing speech. A line of prose notes that Job continues his discourse – this line seems to separate Job’s response to Bildad from his closing remarks. Job’s closing remarks (which run until the end of Chapter 31) includes some standard themes. Job protests his innocence in strong terms and refuses to either sin or admit guilt. He also agrees that God does destroy the wicked (although, it seems, not that this is something that happens exclusively to the wicked or that it is always immediate). Job introduces a new theme as well: he gives a long discourse on how precious wisdom is and how hard it is to find, ending by declaring that it consists of fearing God and avoiding evil. At this point another line of text breaks in, again telling us that Job continues to speak.

The next section of Job’s closing speech starts by contrasting Job’s prior blessedness with his current state and how he wishes to return to the good old days. He protests that he keeps asking God for justice but does not receive it. He then states that he did what was right and in a very interesting section lists out all the evil he could have done but did not do and asks that God curse him if he failed in any of this. This section functions as a detailed protestation of innocence in which Job claims that he would be happy to admit guilt if he had anything to admit. A line of prose then marks the end of Job’s words (although Job does speak very briefly in the next large section). Again, the fact that Job gets the last word probably means that Job wins this debate.

The next article will deal with the next large section.

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