Job - Session One Expanded Session 1
I. Introduction - a book in the Wisdom books - Ecclesiastes, Job, and Proverbs - that is about disputation and lament, and challenges the others.
The wisdom books are largely rationalistic, humanistic, and universalistic, though also God-centered.
Note that since this book is not located in Prophets, it is seen more as a book of a fictional sort. This is imagined by the author. This is NOT God speaking or acting. It’s for us, as readers, to react to it in that regard. The writer puts Job in a horrible position and has him reason his way through it. We see some of these sorts of challenges in our lives and learn much from studying Job’s reactions and the book’s conclusion.
Job’s name is Iyyov - iyyov is one who is hated; ahov is to love and ayov is to hate; oyyev is an enemy; ohev is friend. So, perhaps we have a combination! Perhaps God has difficulty, as does Job.
A. Talmud (BB 15a) suggests there may never have been a Job. This is a typical figure to teach men the virtue of resignation.
Various sages: he lived, and at various times, from Moses to the destruction of the First Temple. The Malbim says Moses wrote it to help the people suffering in the desert.
B. Maimonides held that Job is a parable meant to exhibit the views of mankind in regard to providence.
C. Job is presented however in the text as a man of human integrity, a servant of God. He was unique, pious, fair, compassionate, and just. Ezekiel groups him with Noah and Daniel as supremely righteous. Ezekiel 14:14
Yet, the satan (the roving secret agent from Heaven, the adversary, the opponent, the provoker) suggests that it’s because life is easy and rich for him, as if he’s a “paid guardian,” only being good because it’s good for him.
There’s great division on other aspects of Job, too. Did he serve God out of love or fear? Opinions are across the lot.
D. Job continues to trust in God but is somewhat defiant. He’s a God-arguer who does not get estranged from God. He neither rebels nor accommodates.
He protests, yet he trusts. He goes into exile but returns with deepened trust and healing.
E. Is this a necessary counterpoint in the Tanach to the clear world portrait in Torah of blessings and curses, delivered in accord with following the mitzvot?
F. Various understandings of the book’s purpose
Is it a study of why the righteous suffer? And how does it all fit into a world where all events ascribe to a Heavenly message? How do we deal with apparent unfair workings of Divine Governance?
This is a sort of struggle between dogma and human experience.
Is there a connection between prosperity and piety? Is it something different than material prosperity?
Or is the connection less clear altogether in our world of experience, leading to the conclusion God simply operates more mysteriously?
Or is it a more mixed and nuanced conclusion in which we understand parts of the picture, that there is Divine justice that we can sometimes and in some circumstances perceive (as with the outcomes for the friends and Jonah) and there is mystery for others (how this commenced, etc.)?
The Malbim puts the challenges posed by the book in the form of this syllogism:
Major premise: If God governs, no righteous person would perish or suffer, nor would any wicked person prosper.
Minor premise: However, we have seen righteous persons who perish or suffer, and wicked people who prosper.
Conclusion: Therefore, God does not govern.
This syllogism can be defeated in three ways:
1) By refuting the major premise by showing that though God governs it is conceivable that a righteous person could perish or suffer,
2) By refuting the subject of the minor premise by showing that the so-called righteous person is not really righteous, or
3) By refuting the predicate of the minor premise by showing that the righteous person does not really suffer or perish or does so in only temporary ways.
Eliphaz and Bildad refute the minor premise options by arguing that the “righteous person” must’ve sinned and merited some punishment to suffer.
Zophar refutes the major premise by saying that we can’t altogether know what is just or unjust or righteous or unrighteous. God knows, and we must accept it.
Job rebuffs all this in ways we’ll study. Mainly, he attacks them for drawing general conclusions from a single individual. His situation has its own truth they just ignore. And there are wicked people who objectively are quite happy for a long period of time and who die without suffering.
As to relief in the hereafter, the friends make the point, but it is unconvincing to Job.
By the way, the friends have a much harder time with the problem of the wicked prospering. Eliphaz says their prosperity isn’t real. He’s never at peace. Bildad says the wicked don’t prosper in the long run. Zophar argues similarly.
G. Some say the book dates to the 4th century BCE. Others think the redactor/editor/poet had an ancient source upon which it is constructed. The “outside” of the book seems to be an ancient tale, with the “innards” a newer, more complex theological discussion within the framing story. We’re unclear.
H. Finally, the book has developed even greater interest in the 20th century – with the emergence of the philosophies of existentialism and absurdism on the one hand and the price of totalitarianism in the form of the Holocaust on the other.
A. Read 1:1-22.
People of faith are generally prepared to believe that bad things happen to good people - even in God’s world. But how do we respond to a book in the Bible in which we’re shown that God proactively acquiesced in the death of many in Job’s family and the destruction of much of his property, and merely upon the dare of Satan as to Job’s supposed faithfulness?
1. Ramban teaches based on 42:10 that these events of horror were never described and only mentioned by a messenger because they never happened! The Satan took all of Job’s property and children and hid them in the desert until he returned them at the end of the story.
The Satan knew that God would not harm and kill his children and household because the Divine only wanted to test Job.
2. It’s just a story of an account and does not reveal God’s true nature or account.
3. While the text says that Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil, there is a history of Job in the Talmud that is not so “perfect.”
It has it that Job was one of the three royal advisors to Pharaoh who deliberated over the plot to murder all the male Jewish newborns. Upon learning of the proposal, Job was indifferent and did not protest the decree. It was because of this inaction that God was open to the suffering that befell him. Sotah 11a
4. It may have been that Job was benevolent and compassionate relative to others of his time. He is said by some to have emulated Abraham in his goodness and hospitality and sense of justice. He constantly made offering to God and was always concerned about the possibility of blaspheming God. Then, we may have to see this story as a test of him and his faith.
5. Or, we simply live in a world in which the order is such that the innocent can and do suffer, irrespective of how good we are. And we must remain humble and faithful and good in the face of it.
6. Or, as Job seemed to worry about, it may have been some sin or impiety on the part of his children that brought on some or all of their suffering and the loss.
7. Or, it may mostly be a statement that the seemingly simple message in Torah that there is an always-just God who blesses and curses in clear and straightforward ways as cleanly befits our merits and deeds is not so simple and often something more complex and different.
8. Or, as in other cases in the Bible, this was a trial that God creates for man, hopefully, to pass, in order to advance man’s understanding and position in ethical, spiritual, and other ways. Here, Job is tried to show his piety.
Perhaps the world in which the Tanach is finally put together required an opening to such complexity to blow open the ground for more nuanced possibilities. Experience did not always confirm such a comfortable faith.
We may be less sure and more ignorant than the beliefs of earlier generations. We must be humble, while holding onto faith in an ultimate justice.
All the variation in the literature about the identity of Job and the character of Job undergird the reality that we have all these possibilities.)
Why did God create a Satan? Wouldn’t the world be a more God-oriented place if there weren’t such a provocateur around stirring us up to do evil?
(The sages say that God wants us to prevail over Satan. We are to resist, grow, become great, and earn God’s favor and reward.
How Job responds, wavers, and overcomes is the subject of this book. In the end, Job conquers his personal Satan and is an example to us all.
We bring it on ourselves by making it more hospitable for Satan in periods of general spiritual weakness.
The Satan exposes weak spots, say, here where it appeared Job was righteous only because he was comfortable and “could afford to be.”)
B. Read 2:3
This verse contains four attributes that seem to define the ideal in human service to God. Irrespective of our study of Job, they’re nice to see and understand. What are they, what does each of them mean, and how do they relate to each other?
(One is integrity, tumah. You can also see it in 2:9 and 31:6. This is a sort of wholeness.
One is uprightness, straightness, yashar. This is a characteristic of conduct that results from the first. It’s a rightness pleasing to God.
One is a fear of/reverence for/worship of God, yere Elohim. This suggests an attitude of devotion to God, making one’s views/behaviors conform to God’s word/deeds/expectations.
One is an avoidance of wrongdoing, sar mera. This also connotes eschewing or shunning evil and a doing of what is right.
It’s as if we have an orientation in our selves, such as the first two, that get formed more fully by the latter two. And the first three help lead outward, to action, in the fourth.
C. Look at 3:3-10.
This appears on the surface to be nothing more than Job cursing the day of his birth.
Many sages see it as a reflection of Job’s view now that God must no longer reward or punish and has removed Himself from the affairs of man, thus subjecting him entirely to the laws of nature. This is because he is innocent yet now faces great pain associated with punishment.
In faith, he can’t believe God is responsible. It must instead, he reasons, be the bad luck of the stars around his birth.
Rambam sees Job’s error as having equated success with health, wealth, and children. It should be all about relationship with God. (But isn’t Job’s position understandable, given language in the Bible?)
D. Read 4:1-9
Eliphaz makes an interesting charge amidst his case. Explain both his case and the charge.
(Eliphaz holds the “Torah view.” God may prescribe, but generally man has freedom of choice. So, Job’s suffering must be a consequence of sinful action, not astrology, etc. He must’ve been deficient in his worship of God.
Eliphaz concedes later in this chapter that the righteous may suffer but will not perish.
(As Bildad later argues in Chapter 8, this suffering is intended by God, however, to help prevent their further perdition. 4:7-11. Again, as Bildad argues, it’s also possible that on account of the bad a person experiences, he will receive some good in the future, perhaps in the World to Come. Job will rebut all this.)
Further, in 5:4-5, he argues that the apparent success of the wicked is transient and/or a matter of chance and their wealth will ultimately be inherited by the righteous.)
He says Job taught, rebuked, and strengthened others, but when it came to him, he sinks. This happens often, doesn’t it? Is Job hypocritical, was he wrong earlier, or is it just harder when it happens to you?)
E. 1) We see in chapter 6 Job’s response. What do you learn? Look specifically at 6:1-4, 14.
(Job rebuts Eliphaz. He knows he’s righteous and can’t believe he’s being punished in any way. He’s too weak and hurt to worship God any better, so surely that was not God’s intent in punishing him, a righteous person.
Some commentators believe Job begins in this chapter to move away from the view that the constellations, et. al., are the cause of his suffering. But he still can’t see God as being involved in individuals’ circumstances. He arrives at this conclusion because he knows he has done no wrong.
Actually, he sees God as attacking him. 6:4.
In any event, he can’t understand his friends. “To him that is ready to faint kindness is due from his friend.” 6:14)
2) Read 6:14-29
1. What’s Job’s point? It’s central to the importance of this text?
2. Explain the powerful metaphors of the wadi and the heat.
3. Explain the use of the word, words, in verses 25-26.
(Job is insisting that he’s being truthful and is in pain. He believes his friends owe him kindness above all else and at least some deference that what he’s saying is true, that is, unless they have objective evidence against him.
They’re like flash floods that cause damage instead of the nourishment water should bring. It gets hot, and they vanish. They come as if to help, bringing support. But they are unreliable and assail him instead. It’s shameful.)
F. Read 7:17-21; 9:22-23
This is at the core of the challenge of the book.
1. Does this represent lost faith? Or questioning? Doubt? Do people of faith feel this way? When? How? How is it resolved typically?
2. Compare and contrast with Psalms 8:4: what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
(Perhaps God pays attention to humankind, but there appears to be no moral order. God appears indifferent – at best. Job wishes He’d just leave well enough alone.
When we know we’re innocent/good, it’s hard to see bad things happening to the good, hard to believe in Divine justice and hold on to faith. Do we think there will ultimately be justice, or do we lose faith
The Malbim suggests that out of Job’s argument in Chapters 9 and 10, one other possibility arises: Do we perhaps think all we do is compelled in some way, and, though we’re expected to act responsibly in our choices, we really have no power? God knows all and may have set all in order, and all is foreordained.
The Malbim also sees a basis in the early verses in Chapter 9 for the view that God has established overall order that is fundamentally good but that bad can sometimes befall individuals.)
G. Read 11:5-11 (and even beyond)
Zophar now steps forward.
1) What’s his position?
(He seems to be saying God knows all, and it may be that a righteous person could suffer without it being deemed unjust. His soul may flourish, for example.
Plus, he argues, we have trouble knowing who is truly righteous. Here we have Job’s opinion. Was he righteous, or not? God knows, he argues, and we do not. He is saying Job is likely wrong in his self-assessment.
Yet, we do have free will in choosing what to do. Job, he says, is wrong in asserting otherwise.)
2) Yet, what strikes you most about his discourse to Job that is most ironic and likely most troubling to God in the end?
(How the heck do you know what’s at the depths of the Divine Mind, pal?)
H. Read 13:15-16; 19:25-27.
As much suffering as Job has experienced, these seem to be his summative beliefs. They’re fascinating statements of faith. Explain them.
(He still believes in God and yearns for Him, even if God were to kill him. God will, he has faith, be his salvation (because faith, honesty, and merit would justify him). But he seeks to explain and justify himself to God and believes that if he were meek and silent (a hypocrite), God wouldn’t have a place for him in His presence. (Ramban)
In 19, we see that God is still seen by Job as the living Redeemer. He has hope God will bring him near, reconciled, and see he’s innocent.)
I. Read 15:7-12
Eliphaz comes right back and attacks Job for daring to question God. In what ways do you think God might later support Eliphaz in this, and in what ways might there be opposition?
(Eliphaz is right in saying that humankind (and Job) cannot fully or even much know all about God and God’s doings. Yet, these issues have been raised from the beginning. We have traditions and understandings. Who is Job to insist on having his own understanding?
But neither does Eliphaz! Job has reason and right to stand up and make his case. God hears. And while God may appreciate the “support,” He expects love and kindness from the friends to Job, not this.
(Note that the Malbim suggests verse 11 alludes to Eliphaz’s reference to life after death and the soul’s living on after the death of the body.)
J. Read 21:7-15.
Is there a better complaint of “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Don’t we sometimes think the same thing? What’s the answer?