Good morning! As we continue in Job 22-24 down this path of Job’s anguished and defensive conversation with his companions about the justice of God in the world, I’m finding myself aware anew this reading of the emotional power of Job’s descriptions. The character Job uses vivid imagery that is impossible to ignore, especially when he’s describing his misery and desolation. I find myself drawn—sometimes against my will—into an emotional, sympathetic connection with Job, wincing as he describes the brutality of what it is to suffer in life-denying depression. Could this be one of the ways the writer(s) of Job sought to have an impact with the book? Perhaps it’s no accident that readers like ourselves are challenged to increase our compassion quotient. By connecting with Job, we are also made more tender to those who daily suffer around us in body and soul.
Eliphaz in chapter 22 is far from compassionate. Rather, he imagines what Job might/must have done to deserve suffering (“the wrath of God”) in this way. Has he neglected the poor, hungry, thirsty, widowed or orphans? That must be why “snares are around you, and sudden terror overwhelms you”. Eliphaz then returns to his counsel from early on—just agree with God. When God punishes you (as Eliphaz interprets this calamity), don’t ask questions, but simply agree and seek to do better going forward. That’s the path of righteousness, which will ultimately lead to Job’s vindication.
It won’t surprise you that Job won’t budget an inch in his assertions of righteousness. He says he cannot find God anywhere, no matter where he searches. And if God determines not to be found, Job will never succeed, no matter how long he tries. Yet proceeding on the hypothetical that he would encounter God, Job asserts that he would surely learn what God has to teach and understand God’s wisdom. (This presumption will be put to the test in due time.) Job’s core conviction is that he’s done everything required by God, dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” with such vigor that he’ll be judged pure as gold if the Almighty would ever agree to test him directly. Yet failing that, Job reiterates his terror, dread, and desire to vanish into thick darkness. Here we see the book operating at the emotional level—inviting commiseration with Job—while at the same time continuing a philosopher’s challenge to divine justice.
Job 24 presents one of the strongest critiques of “the way things are” (im)morality I’ve ever read, and lays the blame for it at God’s doorstep. The wicked commit lavish and excessive abuses of power, yet the promised days when God will make things right are delayed so long a reasonable person must doubt God’s intention to follow through. Instead, the wicked ride roughshod over anyone and everyone, doing whatever they want without any checks on their behavior. Meanwhile, the needy are left to scavenge for scraps, naked in the wet and cold. The poor do backbreaking labor in the fields and presses, yet they perish from hunger and thirst while “God pays no attention to their prayer”. (Can you feel the emotional power of this rhetoric? Ouch!) The wicked prosper in the dark of night, and are protected (unlike the poor) by God’s power.
As we close today’s passage with Job’s raw bitterness, it’s remarkable to remember that such skepticism and brazen doubt are included at the heart of the Judeo-Christian book of faith. Those who see something of God’s guidance in these pages don’t have to be afraid of challenges as fierce as these. God can handle the fiercest critiques, and we can grow by grappling with Job’s grief. These chapters increase our ability to voice the doubts and questions we bring to faith as well. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Job 25-28. Thanks for reading!