Studies in Job

by Bryce Self

Job is often thought of a book of questions—embodying the questions that so often arise for broken humans in a disarrayed world.

Mostly these questions eventually boil down to one fundamental thought: “Why, God?”

Yet, formally the Book of Job is preeminently a book of answers. The word “answer” (Hebrew: ‘anah’) is used some sixty times in the course of the book’s 42 chapters. As each person in turn takes up their part in the dialogue, their speech is introduced as an “answer”. In fact, these answers taken in turns define the general literary structure of the book.

Setting aside for the moment the framework opening chapters 1 & 2 and closing chapter 42, the “answers” begin immediately with Job’s initial protest as chapter 3 begins.

"After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job spoke [answered], and said…” (3:1-2)

To what question(s) is Job seeking to provide answer(s)? At this time, he is ignorant of the two preliminary interchanges in the courts of heaven between the Lord and the Satan regarding himself.

He has heard the announcements of the serial messengers of disaster, his diseased body provides a mute but eloquent accusation, and his own wife upbraids job and accused God in the bitterness of her heart. Still, to this point nobody has asked any questions of Job. It is the beleaguered patriarch himself who asks the initial question which he and his friends will occupy themselves with for the remainder of the book.

"Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (2:10b)

When the weeklong soliloquy of silence between Job and his three friends on the midden heap does end, it is Job whose abrupt expostulation provides the opening gambit at an attempted “answer” noted above (3:1-2).

After this, each of the three friends provides an “answer" in turn, to each which Job again ”answers” in reply. After Job’s initial complaint, the first full cycle of the dialogue occupies chapters 4-14.

Eliphaz (4-5) Job (6-7) Bildad (8), Job (9-10) Zophar (11) Job (12-14)

Identically patterned, the second round of debating “answers” is related in chapters 15-21.

Eliphaz (15) Job (16-17) Bildad (18), Job (19) Zophar (20) Job (21)

Having established a systematic and readily recognized scheme, the author proceeds to demonstrate high literary skill by breaking his own rule. the third series of competing answers begins and continues as as anticipated, but does not finish with the rounded out repetition the audience has now come to expect. In this way, what follows is abruptly highlighted and emphasized. Eliphaz (22) Job (23-24) Bildad (25) Job (26-31)

But the third friend, Zohar, is not given a final say, leaving us both dissatisfied and expectant of resolution—exactly the situation into which Job has been maneuvered through circumstances controlled by those greater than himself. We find ourselves unwittingly identified with the protagonist of the narrative, and his questions (and inadequate “answers”) become immediately and pressingly our own. Into this conceptual tension a new figure is inserted: young Elihu the Buzite. He has not been previously introduced, but instantly takes center stage to dominate the dialogue for six full chapters (32-37).

Elihu's torrent of speech is only matched (and comes in direct response to) Jobs extended concluding peroration (26-31). It is Elihu who in his “answer” contradicts the wrong “answers” of the three friends (32), dares to correct the mistakes of righteous Job (33), and finally soars into full-flown vindication of God and His ways with mankind (34-37) in a magnificent paean of praise to the Lord’s greatness and His goodness.

Elihu does not only articulate the clearest and most extended and accurate depiction of the Divine character. Additionally, he plays the role of a herald or forerunner to the direct intervention and appearance of God Himself into Job’s precarious predicament. Now, much earlier, Job had bemoaned the lack of a mediator (or “days man”) to act as a go-between with him and God.

“For He is not a man, as I am, That I may answer Him, And that we should go to court together. Nor is there any mediator between us, Who may lay his hand on us both. Let Him take His rod away from me, And do not let dread of Him terrify me. Then I would speak and not fear Him, But it is not so with me.” (9:32-35)

And this is precisely the role that is assumed by the unlikely Elihu! If there is an identifiable Christ-figure int eh book of Job, it is surely this young man who interposes himself between the Sovereign Lord and suffering humanity to provide both correction and restoration of relationship. With a transition that manages to be simultaneously smooth and abrupt, the ending of Elihu’s elocution elides seamlessly into the direct manifestation and speech of the Almighty Himself.

"As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him; He is excellent in power, In judgment and abundant justice; He does not oppress. Therefore men fear Him; He shows no partiality to any who are wise of heart.” Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 'Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.'” (37:23-38:3)

Here, the theophany begins with the Lord condescending to actually enter into the ongoing dialogue and produce His own “answer” to Job. And here also is the launching place of one of the superlative passages in all of Hebrew poetry.

For the “answer” of the Eternal One is couched in the form of a series of questions, rhetorical, yet still requiring an elicited reply in heart if not by voice.

"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (38:4-7)

And so the questions continue, inexorably reverberating up through two full chapters (38-39), mounting up as high as the heavens are above the earth to demonstrate that His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways ours. A brief respite opens chapter 40 when God directly adjures Job, and the patriarch is literally stricken dumb when convicted of his own temerity and wisely choses the path of silence.

“Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said: 'Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.' Then Job answered the Lord and said: 'Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.’” (40:1-5)

Then, as if the point needed driving home (which apparently it did, and does), the questioning “answer” of God continues through two more additional chapters (40-41). This portion gives special focus on two of the greatest and most powerful of creatures: behemoth and leviathan. Their control and guidance is a preeminent demonstration of the Lord’s unsurpassed might as well as the unplumbed depths of His wisdom. The history of Job is rounded out in chapter 42 with his repentance (v.1-6), the rebuke administered to his three friends—significantly omitting Elihu (v.7-9), and th patriarch’s own full restoration (v. 10-17).

So if the book of Job is a book of “answers” we still have to get back to the initial starting point. Who was it who asked the first question which provoked this veritable onslaught of answers form both heaven and earth? If we return to the the opening chapter of the book, we find, perhaps to our astonishment, that it was the Almighty Himself who poses the initial rounds of query and response in an arena of which Job was certainly ignorant until after both his devastation and his restoration (1:6-9 & 2:1-4) "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.

And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.”

So the initial questions posed by God have to do first with position (“From where do you come?”) and second with character (“Have you considered My servant?”). These are the questions which every reader of the Book of Job is called into direct confrontation with, The book requires us to critically examine, define, and usual alter our default stance and perspective toward the events and circumstance of our own lives. We have as little knowledge as did Job of the real sources and forces and factor at work that shape our situations. Then comes the second question: how will I allow my placement to effect my personality, what character will I display in response to my circumstances? Will it be said of, as of Job, that “In all this he did not sin with his lips”?

What then of our thoughts, our hearts, our motives? Here is where the searching and convicting function of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit in conjoint operation come into forceful play

We cannot read the book of Job without beg challenged ourselves to that ever-renewed repentance and always-renewing faith in God that are the mainstays of our Christian life.

February 25, 2020