Job 1-3

Good morning! Today with Job 1-3 we start a section of poetic and wisdom books in the Hebrew Bible. These are less concerned with history or law, but rather ask the question of what “good life” looks like, and how human beings might pursue that wisdom. The book of Job focuses most directly on why bad things happen to good people. If God has the power to stop undeserved suffering, why do Job’s afflictions continue? Job refuses to consent to the idea that he must have done some secret sin that causes his suffering, and he also refuses to believe that God visits evil on people willy-nilly. He trusts that God has an answer, and he laments that God’s wisdom is hidden from him even though he’s undergoing such pain. This is a philosophical book, and the situation it presents in Job’s life may as well be a metaphor for any unjust suffering. Most of the book is poetry, with a prose introduction and epilogue. The poetic heart of the book is its rawest and most real. The prose story of Job’s life which bookends the poetry help to give a context and “container” within which to manage the deeply resonant emotions and truth of the middle. I’ll be very curious to read your impressions as we work through the book together.

The opening chapter begins with what is essentially “once upon a time”, the clear suggestion that this is a hypothetical situation and should be approached as such. The writer goes to great lengths to emphasize Job’s righteousness, blamelessness and faith, out of which (in one manner of thinking) come his wealth, power and influence. The Satan here is a character in the heavenly court, a role to be played. (In Hebrew the title more closely means “the Accuser”.) Satan’s purpose is to explore the underbelly of human behavior, prodding and poking it to see what hidden, selfish intentions might secretly motivate those behaviors which appear virtuous on the surface. God calls the Satan’s attention to Job as a pillar of righteousness, and Satan says that’s because God shields him from all that’s evil in the world. If evil is unleashed, Job will forsake his faith. God then permits Satan to test this by stripping all the blessings from Job’s life, leaving him without livestock, servants, or children. Job gives the classic signs of mourning—torn clothes, shaved head, falling to the ground—and offers a stoic, non-protesting response. So far, according to the narrator, Job has committed no sin.

The same heavenly scenario starts chapter 2, only this time Job’s health and marital satisfaction are stripped away. His wife’s criticism—“Do you still persist in your integrity?”—is key for understanding Job. Integrity is everything for him, even more important than the other things he has valued and lost. His search for integrity is what will send him into deep spiritual caverns looking for answers. Job offers another stoic response when he breaks out in terrible sores, but he doesn’t not sin “with his lips”. (Whether he does so with his heart is a matter of hotly-debated opinion.) Three friends come to console Job, and their silent vigil with him for seven days and nights is most admirable. They are at their best when they are silent place-keepers with him, witnesses to his loss and willing to just be where he is.

The book’s poetic main section begins in chapter 3 as Job first starts to speak his lament. He offers a poignant, powerful, poetic cursing of the day of his birth. He wishes to just erase from existence the day of his birth, and therefore, all his life. This makes Job more approachable, because it shows that he’s human, affected by all the losses piled up around him. Anyone who has felt overwhelmed or at the end of their rope can relate to him. Job’s longing for death puts into beautiful words what I hear from the very old people I visit in nursing homes: “why am I still here? Why can’t I just die already??” For Job, consolation from suffering waits in the grave. Note that there’s no sense of heaven or hell here, just an afterlife place of shades where all souls go to have rest, the wicked as well as the righteous.

Let me float an early opinion. If Job is guilty of something (and I’m not sure that he is), I’d find it here in his wish for death. His desire for the End is absolutely understandable, and as I say I’ve heard it before, with sympathy. Yet, to be dismissive of the role that your life plays in the function of the whole world seems ultimately short-sighted. To wish that one were never born is to say that even God couldn’t possibly bring more good out of one’s life than evil. This presumes too much the place of God. But then again, that’s the theologian in me—the pastoral part of me says to simply meet Job where he’s at, not pronouncing judgment on his emotions as his friends will do. We’ll pick up the conversation there tomorrow, when Job’s companions start to reply. Happy reading!

Read Job 1-3.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Job 4-7. Thanks for reading!

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