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The Book of Job - The Bible

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Themes: Providence, Suffering, Theodicy

 

The title character of The Book of Job is introduced as a man “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil” (1.1). The Lord notices Satan among the sons of God who present themselves, and he asks Satan whether he has noticed this upright man: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth…?” (1.8). Satan proposes to take Job’s prosperity away, claiming confidently that if his possessions and blessings are taken away, he will curse God to his face. God concedes, saying, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand” (1.12). 

 

Job’s losses are staggering. Seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she-donkeys, very many servants, and seven sons and three daughters were all taken away in one day. Job tears his robe and shaves his head and falls on the ground and worships, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1.21). 

 

When the Lord proudly points out that Job “still holds fast his integrity” despite the destruction he experienced, Satan argues, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But put forth your hand now, and touch his bone and flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (2.4-6). The Lord allows Job to be covered with boils, and Job’s misery is compounded by his own wife telling him to “Curse God, and die” (2.9). But the narrator maintains, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2.10). 

 

Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to comfort him. When Job curses the day that he was born, however, his friends proceed to makes a series of speeches wherein they argue that Job must have sinned in some way. 

 

Eliphaz tells of mysterious “visions of the night,” wherein he sees a spirit that tells him that God does not even trust his own servants, and so even more so he can not trust “those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundations is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth” (4.19). Job responds in distress: “O that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances!” (6.2). And he points out that this friends are not helping but rather being greedy and callous in their reproofs: “You would even cast lots over the fatherless, and bargain over your friend” (6.27). In like manner Bildad and Zophar give arguments for God’s justice which they infer must mean that Job must be guilty, and each time Job responds to them, becoming even more distraught and adamant of his own innocence, and distressed at the absence of God’s answer to his problems. “Why do you hide your face, and count me as your enemy?” Job asks the Lord he has known but whom he cannot at present see,  “Will you frighten a driven leaf and pursue dry chaff?” (13. 24-25), lamenting his own weakness and wishing God would show himself. He answers Bildad’s accusations with distress: “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words? These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me?” (19.2-3), indicating that his so-called friends add to his suffering by seeking to justify their own ideas of God by putting Job in the wrong. But Job has faith to be rescued by God, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (19.25-27). 

 

A previously unnamed participant in the discussion, Elihu, suddenly speaks up, scolding Job and his friends, speaking, as he puts it, on God’s behalf. Following the furious exposition of his view of the Lord’s plan, the Lord himself speaks from our of a whirlwind, proceeding to ask a series of rhetorical questions. The Lord paints a verbal picture of a creation known and cared for, beginning with the rousing query regarding the earth, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (38.4), and finishing with a series of questions about the gigantic sea-beast, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down his tongue with a cord?” (41.1). Job answers the Lord with humility: “I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted” (42.1). The Lord then vindicates Job in the face of his friends, telling Eliphaz, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42.7). Job’s wealth is restored in numbers greater than he had lost, and he is blessed with ten more children. 

 

Opening questions:

 

What is Job’s complaint? Does the Lord address Job’s complaint?

Why does Job call his friends “miserable comforters”?

Why does the Lord say that the friends did not speak rightly of Him, as Job has?

Suggested Pairing:

 

Human Suffering - Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus; The Bible, The Book of Job;
Epictetus, The Handbook; Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

Feedback:

 

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