Job - Session Two Expanded
I. Re-cap and Introduction – Let’s pay close attention to the trajectory of Job’s reactions to his experiences. He was quite bitter when he began to feel extraordinary pain. Follow closely, though, the manner and the subject of his words and feelings as the story proceeds.
A. Chapter 28 is extraordinary. It’s a widely celebrated poem and is worth reading in its entirety. Let’s look at least at verses 12-28.
What’s the path to wisdom, and how do we know we understand it?
(Fear of God is the source of wisdom, and we know we understand when we depart from evil. Only piety and resistance to sin bring salvation. This seems close to the lessons of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
In this world man may fail to perceive God’s justice; in this world he must fear God and refrain from sin. In the next world, he will understand. Ramban)
B. We’re not going read today Chapters 29 and 30, but I commend them to you to read and ponder. They are extraordinarily beautiful text relating to Job’s earlier successful years and his pained current years.
C. Chapter 31 portrays a wonderful account of ethical ideals. Can you identify its main components?
(not sinning with the eye, responsibility to God with accountability, a (previous, at least) sense of calamity for the unrighteous from a seeing and knowing God, not walking with vanity/deceit, covetousness, no adultery, no unfairness to/abuse of workers, no imperviousness to/lack of benevolence for needs of the poor/widow, no failure to open up house to those in need, no oppression, did not gather crops that were not his or paid for, no over-reliance on material things/wealth, no idolatrous worship of sun and moon, no ill regard for enemies, no need for shame and hiding it, innocent. This is a list of the duties of a universal brotherhood of man – each to the other.)
D. Chapters 32-37 introduce a new character to the discussion – Elihu. For a variety of reasons, most scholars think this was added much later. He seems unsatisfied with Job’s case but also unhappy with the friends’ arguments.
1. Read 32:7-9
What does this teach us about wisdom?
(It is not dependent on age, though we tend to think it does. Rather, it comes from “the breath of the Almighty” in “the spirit given to man” which “gives them understanding.” Is this the ruach, or Divine breath that gives life and intelligence to all? Is this the Holy Spirit? Or is it a certain innate understanding? Piety appears as a prerequisite to wisdom.)
2. Read 33:12-23; 34:12,19, 21, 28, 35; 35:3; 36:5-6
Seemingly more respectful and not directly accusing Job of being a sinner, Elihu presents his case against Job. What is it? Does it make sense?
(Ramban says Elihu had three concerns with Job: he charged God with inventing pretexts against him; God turned man’s fate over to natural forces (34:10); God is unconcerned with man’s conduct, not affected by whether man is righteous or not (35:3).
It begins here: God does not need to stoop to petty scrutiny of man. Don’t strive against God and don’t expect answers. God does speak to us, perhaps in reproof or punishment, but not always as we perceive.
Sometimes it comes in a dream. Or He opens the ears of man in chastisement, or through illness, or afflictions like Job’s, to get rid of pride, or shun evil.
God has implanted in our souls the wherewithal to know the truths – about God, what He does, what we can and must do, and the consequences. (the Malbim)
It helps if an angel can help interpret and turn him back to righteousness, and restored, so God will forgive and ransom to recovery.
God is mighty yet will not do wickedly and will not pervert justice. God is impartial. God sees and knows all. God is in charge. God hears the cry of the truly afflicted (albeit not the cry of the vain/evil). 35:12-13. 36:8-12 is a good account of God’s call to man to atone. Job just has gotten it wrong and/or needs atoning.
Elihu doesn’t come on as strong with the claim Job has sinned, but he rebuts Job’s claim that it is of no consequence to God whether man is righteous or wicked. He seems to think Job is impious (36:13), has erred, perhaps unwittingly, or has done wrong by allowing others to suffer. Ramban.
It is inconceivable that God would let man be prey to random forces. Ramban.)
Elihu speaks as if he has wisdom to offer Job, and invites Job to respond, if he wants to contest him. But we wonder if Elihu is just a more “nicely packaged” version of the other three. He also isn’t open to Job’s case or the possibility he’s innocent.
YET, Job does not rebut Elihu.
What do we make of that?
E. God intervenes! Out of the storm. 38:1. What might that mean?
(The storm of Job’s life? The obscurity/mess of the friends and Elihu’s statements? The condition Elihu envisioned? Or from where God comes to deliver such messages? Or that the prophecy is weak, obscured by the elements?
F. What does it mean when God refers to one (Job?) who gives murky counsel, with words without knowledge?
(Is it simply that Job doesn’t know and speaks confusedly? Or is this an indication the Job has shown as less than perfectly righteous as God thought in the beginning?
G. What does God reveal in chapters 38-41 that responds to Job’s challenge/questions?
1. God has laid the foundations of the earth and the amazing operations of all creation, but, though he searches and questions, man cannot understand. 38:4 and following, 39.
2. There is a bias in God’s creation against the wicked. 13, 15.
3. There is an order in the creation.
4. God cares for all species, including those below the level of humankind. 26, 39 and following.
5. God put wisdom in the innards and imbued the heart with understanding. 36. Doesn’t this suggest that we owe what we have in these ways to God, even with the limits, and should be grateful for it? See the contrast between us and other animals. 39:17, for example. Yet. Other animals have wisdom we don’t that was given them by God, not us. 39:26
6. God may be saying man should play a part in furthering righteousness and impeding wickedness. 40:10-14. Man should “gird his loins like a hero” and act. (38:3) (Look at verses 40:7-14 in particular.)
What is God saying here? Is God saying, “Have at it, big boy? You can’t do it. Maybe you’ll see how difficult it is even for Me to do.” OR “this is an enterprise that only I can deliver.” (Many commentators believe this and argue for it by noting the context in which it’s made).
OR is God inviting Job to join in the effort? Further, Job should begin this attack on the proud with himself! God’s willingness to praise Job for doing so suggests this possibility.
OR is God saying it’s God’s justice that must carry the day, not man’s?
What questions does God not answer directly?
1. Is life really altogether fair?
2. Can God be held accountable for suffering?
3. Is there justice in such matters?
H. Read 40:3-5; 42:1-6. What is Job’s response?
(Job acknowledges how small humans are and concludes that he must accept his fate. He has gotten the answer to God’s power in the universe. He hasn’t (and won’t) ask again about why the wicked seem to prosper. He seems to understand that man isn’t strong/wise enough alone to know/enforce righteousness and justice in the world. He appears humbled. This modesty is what God effected in him.
He hasn’t gotten all the answers to his questions. What does that mean? Has he concluded he won’t and can’t, and it doesn’t merit continuing to ask? (40:3) Is God man’s best hope, but not one with a perfect or sure answer to those questions?
He sees that God is righteous. Though he suffers, he knows he is righteous. He can’t easily reconcile this, but he now has a very deep fellowship with God. He has found himself and his God. His sufferings have their place in God’s inscrutable design, though he does not understand exactly how. This mystical solution is a key outcome of this book.
Some sages, such as Ramban and the Malbim believe Job always knew this but just wanted confirmation through this encounter with God. One piece of their proof is in 42:1: Job “knew God could do everything…,” grounded in the use of the past tense.
Job places great emphasis on the personal experience of God, not so much on what we “hear of You by hearsay.” 42:5
The Malbim argues that the whole purpose of life is to make one worthy of life in the World to Come. These moments of closeness to God that Job has experienced through this painful and difficult journey have thoroughly and wonderfully readied him for the afterlife.)
I. Read 42:7.
God rebukes the three friends yet welcomes their atonement. Why?
(It is wrong to assume that all suffering in the world is the result of God’s punishing people who sin. That should not be the easy assumption of others, especially friends who instead ought to show kindness to those in suffering (that is, until and unless they know that it is sin that is involved.)
Yet, the friends were trying to defend God and should be allowed a path back. Ramban.
NOTE that Job’s condition changes when he prays for his friends. 42:10.)
J. Read 42:10-17.
What do we make of the conclusion – with the restoration of Job’s wealth and his “new” family (remembering Ramban’s recounting of the early family’s story)?
(We do get the clear sense that the author wants to honor Job and set him as a model. His journey is one we’re meant to study and learn from. He was a good person. Bad happened to him. He questioned and challenged. He saw and learned. And, in the end, through faith, he grew to a position of faith that is highly instructive for us.
Yet is all now well? Does this ending give us a satisfying response to the challenges of theodicy? Partially satisfying?
Discussion – For post-Holocaust Jews and many others who live in the ethical realm, many insist on a more Jobian-than-Job position…)
III. Conclusion - As we wrap up our study of this very difficult book, let’s discuss the most difficult questions that arise from our study:
What do we make of the book? Are we as angry as enlightened? Why would God abuse a good person so? Is this the work of a loving God? You get the drift. And your conclusion is…?
III. Robert Frost on Job
It might be instructive to look at the fascinating work of the poet, Robert Frost, who endeavored to write what might be a new, final chapter of the book as a sort of play, entitled, The Masque of Reason. In it, Job and his wife are still questioning and upset with God for the trial. And God responds to them. Here are some of His lines:
1. God: “I’ve had you on my mind a thousand years to thank you someday for the way you helped me establish once and for all the principle there’s no connection man can reason out between his just desserts and what he gets.
Virtue may fail and wickedness succeed.
’Twas a great demonstration we put on…
Too long I’ve owed you this apology for the apparently unmeaning sorrow you were afflicted with in those old days, but it was the essence of the trial you shouldn’t understand at the time. It had to seem unmeaning to have meaning.
And it came out all right. I have no doubt you realize by now the part you played to stultify the Deuteronomist and change the tenor of religious thought. My thanks to you for releasing me from moral bondage to the human race.
The only free will there at first was man’s, who could do good or evil as he chose. I had no choice, but I must follow him with forfeits and rewards he understood - unless I liked to suffer loss of worship. I had to prosper good and punish evil. You changed all that. You set me free to reign. You are the Emancipator of your God, And as such I promote you to a saint.”
Do you see what Frost is arguing? Describe it? And then, from a traditional religious perspective, criticize it.
2. Job remains dissatisfied and says:
“But what is all this secrecy about?
I fail to see what…satisfaction a God can find in laughing at how badly men fumble at the possibilities when left to guess forever for themselves. The chances are when there’s so much pretense of metaphysical profundity the obscurity’s a fraud to cover nothing.
I’ve come to think no so-called hidden value’s worth going after…We don’t know where we are, or who we are. We don’t know one another; don’t know You…
You could end this by simply coming out and saying plainly and unequivocally whether there’s any part of man immortal, yet You don’t speak. Let fools bemuse themselves by being baffled for the sake of being. I’m sick of the artificial puzzle.”
To which, Job’s wife says, “You won’t get answers out of God.”
And God says, “My kingdom, what an outbreak!”
Before we get God’s longer response, what do you make of Job’s complaint?
3. God then gives a longer response:
“Job, you must understand my provocation. The tempter comes to me, and I am tempted.
I’ve had about enough of his derision of what I valued most in human nature.
He thinks he’s smart. He thinks he can convince me it is no different with my followers from what it is with his. Both serve for pay. Disinterestedness never did exist and if it did, it wouldn’t be a virtue. Neither would fairness. You have heard the doctrine. It’s on the increase.
He could count on no one. I could count on you. I wanted him forced to acknowledge so much. I gave you over to him, but with safeguards. I took care of you.
And before you died I trust I made it clear I took your side against your comforters in their contention you must be wicked to deserve such pain…”
God continues the case he had begun to make earlier. What’s he saying? I think it’s compelling, don’t you? But there’s a price to be paid, isn’t there?
III. Conclusion – What are our takeaways from our study of this remarkable book?