The Book of Job

Of all the books in the Bible, Job is the most unique. Its poetry surpasses any other poetry in the Bible, even David’s masterful lyricism in the book of Psalms; its philosophy is deep enough to make Plato blush and its subject matter of the utmost importance, even to this day.

There are a few things to note before delving into Job, though. It is most likely not a Hebrew work, as there is no mention of any of the staples of Hebrew literature: Abraham, Moses, the Exodus, or Yahweh; indeed, while all the characters in the cast of Job are monotheists, the monotheistic religion present is likely just a literary device, since the portrayal of God here differs from the majority of Hebrew scriptures.

Various other factors point to the non-Hebrew origin of Job. The numerous references to nature the various allusions to mythological creatures as well as allusions to various creation-myths all point to someone who was quite familiar with other cultures view of mythology and religion.

The dialogue between the characters of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zohar, Elihu and Job is an almost Greek-styled dialogue, but still brimming with metaphor, poetry and dialectical fire.

But there is an important point to make her about the genre of Job, one that is perhaps the most important note one could make of the book. Job is not intended as a theological treatise; it is wisdom literature, and not intended to be taken absolutely literally. Wisdom literature relies on metaphors, poetry and other devices to get a point across, and not to demonstrate the literal goings-on of whatever is in question. Other examples of Wisdom Literature include Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, as well as ancient non-biblical sources such as Aesop’s Fables. They all consistently seek to convey an idea for understanding, not necessarily a literal fact for academic dissection. To read Job as a literal theological study of a dialogue between Satan and God or how God punishes or rewards people is not the intent here. Faithfulness is the subject here; the absolute faithfulness of Job, and the absolute faithfulness of God.

Having contextualized the book somewhat, we can now begin to delve into the meat of the story. The overall story is well enough known; Job is a righteous man who is the victim of Satan, acting with God’s permission because God knows that Job is a completely upright man. Disaster after disaster is heaped on Job, his unhelpful friends try and convince him that his problems are the result of a hidden sin, and in the climax of the story, God speaks from a whirlwind and sets Job straight. It is God’s speech to Job that I wish to focus on here.

Robert Alter, translator and biblical scholar, makes this point about Job:

“The third – and, ultimately, decisive—level of poetry in the book is manifested when the LORD addresses Job out of the whirlwind. Here, too, the Job poet’s keen interest in nature is evident, but in an altogether spectacular way that, one might say, trumps Job in the game of vision. The poet, having given Job such vividly powerful language for the articulation of his outrage and anguish, now fashions still greater poetry for God.” (“The Wisdom Books,” 2010, W.W. Norton and Company)

Even as a non-Hebrew, the Job poet still is aware and reverent to the idea of an almighty being, so much so that his greatest poetry is reserved for this being. It is the content of the speech to Job, however, that have caused much discussion over the centuries. After two chapters of majestic, breathtaking imagery and poetry, God says to Job;

“And the Lord said to Job:2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (Job 40: 1-2)

To which Job withers and gives an appropriately self-demeaning reply; however, there is no real answer to Job’s problem given, and it is this fact that has sparked controversy for hundreds if not thousands of years. Again though, Alter answers:

“Many readers over the centuries have felt that God’s speech to job is no real answer to the problem of undeserved suffering, and some have complained that it amounts to cosmic bullying of puny man by an overpowering deity. One must concede that it is not exactly an answer to the problem because for those who believe life should not be arbitrary there can be no real newer concerning the good person who loses a child (not to speak of ten children)   or the blameless dear one who dies in an accident or is stricken with a terrible wasting disease. But God’s thundering challenge to Job is not bullying. Rather it rousingly introduces a comprehensive overview of the nature of reality that exposes the limits of Job’s human perspective, anchored as it is in the restricted compass of human knowledge and the inevitable egoism of suffering.”

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Sources:

Quest Study Bible. NIV.Michigan. Zondervan. 2003. Print.

Alter, Robert. The Wisdom Books. New York.  W.W. Norton & Company. 2010. Print.

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