Job 15-17

Good morning! We continue today in Job 15-17 with the “conversation” between Job and his three companions. In actually, they talk past each other for most of the time, and I wonder how Job has the mental energy to speak or write these replies! But then, I remember that this is a debate about the goodness of God, set within the context of a “what if” story. The pathos and emotional impact of Job’s writing is so powerful that we can be drawn into the emotion of the characters. Today Eliphaz describes the caustic results of challenging God for established religion, and Job vents his deep anguish.

Eliphaz says at the opening of chapter 15 that it’s not wise to keep arguing with Job, but he feels they must. The cost to religion is too great, for Job is “doing away with the fear of God”. In essence, with his bravado and challenge, acting as though he were equal to God, Job sets an example that others might follow. He opens Pandora’s box, and once people start to question the religious reasons for righteous behavior, they’ll never think the same way again. Here, I think Eliphaz has a point. My experience of studying Job in college removed a naïveté about ethical behavior always leading to beneficial ends. Sometimes good people don’t finish first, which is a challenge to grapple with but ultimately good for humans to consider. It doesn’t threaten or harm God to have people thinking, challenging, and probing our understandings of the divine. Instead, I believe it honors our Creator if we fully use the gifts of intellect and reason we have from God, so long as they are not turned to deadly purposes. But Eliphaz prefers a simpler cause-effect morality taught by conventional religion. Therefore, he reiterates that the ways of the wicked will catch up with them; they are doomed to live in sorrow and die in ruin.

Job describes how wearisome the blizzard of words has become to him, yet suggests that he might do the same as they, and try to talk comfort into them if the positions were reversed. But as for his state now, Job cannot find comfort whether he speaks or is silent. God has made it unbearable either way, which reveals the limits of human beings, and how short he comes from being able to address God as an equal. Despite these limits, Job maintains his innocence and prays for the earth to bear everlasting witness to his suffering. Surprisingly, at the same time as Job assails God for unjust treatment, he also refers to God as his witness, since “he that vouches for me is on high”. To my mind, this is an extraordinary act of relationship, like challenging one’s parents for mistreatment while calling on them to be the caring parents they are supposed to be. Job still trusts in God’s righteousness even though he has experienced what he believes is its opposite. Therefore, he pleads with God to maintain “the right of a mortal with God”. He dis/believes that God will take seriously his claims of unjust treatment, but only God is in the place of doing so.

Job’s misery in chapter 17 brings to mind Nelson Mandela’s 27 years behind bars in apartheid South Africa. That’s a nearer example of the sort of righteous longsuffering Job describes, and perhaps we can imagine the anguish more easily. In Mandela’s case, the suffering went on for so long that surely he sometimes doubted his own power to endure, and maybe even the wisdom of his actions. We see Job in perhaps a similar mindset, half-mad with agony. Sometimes he mutters the conventional morality—“they that have clean hands grow stronger and stronger”—but then immediately afterward he despairs of such vindication and spirals into deeper lament. As the chapter ends, Job wonders whether hope itself will die with him.

These are bleak passages, and I find it sometimes hard to decipher the arguments passing back and forth. But hang in there with Job, and skim where you must for sanity’s sake. We’re more than half-way through the conversation with these three friends, and will be at the point of God’s response in just one more week. “Happy” reading!

Read Job 15-17.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Job 18-21. Thanks for reading!

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