Bible Study @ Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hawthorne, CA
Winter Semester … The Sorrow and Hope of Job
Tuesday Jan 15
Saturday Jan 19
There are some serious textual issues in this section, the third cycle. Though I am cautious about “reconstructing” the text, I think we’re on safe ground with Robert Gordis
, an acclaimed rabbi, who suggests the following reconstruction. Rabbi Gordis is a conservative commentator who doesn’t jump to such conclusions easily:
“Thus, only the opening speeches of Elliphaz (chap. 22) and of Job (chaps. 23-24) are in order. Moreover, the closing section of Job’s reply (chap. 24) raises grave difficulties with regard to its interpretation and relevance.
Fortunately, much of the third cycle can be restored, especially when the stylistic traits of the book are taken into account. Chapter 25 is much too short for Bildad. Most of chapter 26, on the other hand, which is assigned to Job in our received text, is inappropriate to his position but highly congenial to Bildad’s. Similarly, the latter part of chapter 27,which is also attributed to Job, stands in direct antithesis to all he has maintained. It is, however, thoroughly appropriate for Zophar, to whom no speech at all is assigned in our present text.
Chapter 28 is a ‘Hymn to Wisdom,’ differing radically in its lyrical form from the dialogic structure of the debate. It reflects in brief compass the basic outlook of the poet, which is elaborated upon in the God speeches that constitute the climax of the book. Chapter 28 is therefore best regarded as an independent poem by the author of Job or by a member of his school.
By allocating the appropriate portions of chapters 26 and 27 to Bildad and Zophar, respectively, and by recognizing the independent character of the ‘Hymn to Wisdom’ (chap. 28), we gain an additional advantage. We are able to reduce the dimensions of Job’s reply, which is much too long, occupying six chapters in the received text (chaps. 26-31).
While the evidence of injury sustained by the text is clear, all proposed restorations of which there have been many, are necessarily tentative and uncertain. The reconstruction proposed here requires a minimal change of order in the Masoretic
The conflict worsens. Eliphaz is all the more convinced that Job is an evildoer, and to make his case, Eliphaz lays out a litany of Job’s misdeeds, and there is no escape from God on any of this. Period!
Up to this point, his friends have conceded to Job’s claim to be a good man. Good, but faulted; good, but sinful. Now, Job is painted as the worst man who ever lived! The rhetoric is amped up to its final level - Job is utterly wicked, totally evil. There is no good in him at all.
5 Is not your wickedness great?
There is no end to your iniquities.
6 For you have exacted pledges from your family for no reason,
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
7 You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
8 The powerful possess the land,
and the favored live in it.
9 You have sent widows away empty-handed,
and the arms of the orphans you have crushed.
10 Therefore snares are around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
11 or darkness so that you cannot see;
a flood of water covers you.
But hope remains for Eliphaz. All Job needs to do is repent sincerely and he will be restored, and more than that, Job will become a source of help and inspiration to others.
The friends have invoked tradition and the widely held consensus that God is great, that God knows us better than we know ourselves, and that He punishes only when He has a reason to punish. [Kushner, The Book of Job (Kindle Edition), p.88]
21 “Agree with God, and be at peace;
in this way good will come to you.
22 Receive instruction from his mouth,
and lay up his words in your heart.
23 If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored,
if you remove unrighteousness from your tents,
24 if you treat gold like dust,
and gold of Ophir like the stones of the torrent-bed,
25 and if the Almighty is your gold
and your precious silver,
26 then you will delight yourself in the Almighty,
and lift up your face to God.
27 You will pray to him, and he will hear you,
and you will pay your vows.
28 You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
and light will shine on your ways.
29 When others are humiliated, you say it is pride;
for he saves the humble.
30 He will deliver even those who are guilty;
they will escape because of the cleanness of your hands.”
Sounds good … but Job will have none of it. Job is not going to deny his own conscience in order to gain what Eliphaz promises - peace and healing with God. A bad deal is no deal at all. Sort of a like a forced police confession!
So Job ignores the specific charges leveled against him by Eliphaz and reiterates his claim - that if he could have a hearing with God, God would recognize the legitimacy of Job’s complaints.
Let me suggest that at the core of Jewish God-talk is the unshakable conviction that God’s most dominant attribute is His commitment to justice rather than power.
Other nations worshipped a powerful god, the most powerful they could find. Israel served a God who was both powerful and just, and they would spend the next 2,500 years trying to reconcile those two attributes with each other and with the collective suffering of the Jewish people and the anguish of so many individual Jews.
[the above two quotes are from Harold Kushner, The Book of Job, Kindle edition, pp. 82-83]
By the way, Job’s style reveals an excellent insight into how to deal with unjust accusations hurled at us … Job is not sidetracked by them, but remains focused on his own position, restating it consistently. In other words, don’t bother trying to answer the accuser - no answer will satisfy anyway. Just stick with your story and restate it.
Job introduces a new element: The Absent God. Job has looked for God, but hasn’t been able to find God.
“If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
10 But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.
11 My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
12 I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth.
13 But he stands alone and who can dissuade him?
What he desires, that he does.
14 For he will complete what he appoints for me;
and many such things are in his mind.
15 Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
16 God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
17 If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!
Throughout the history of faith, “the absent god” has been the subject of much writing, such as St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) and his “Dark Night of the Soul,” written for young monks who enter the monastery with much joy and spiritual conviction, often relating profound experiences of the divine.
But in time, many of these young monks found their joy dissipating and their sense of the divine decreasing, creating a crisis for many, wondering if they’ve done something wrong and thus destroyed their spiritual life, and rightly calling it, “a dark night.”
John writes to them words of encouragement.
God is “absent” only because their initial spiritual experience was immature, and like a child suckling on its mother’s breast, was very much a matter of need, and God was kind enough to meet that need.
But now it’s time for something else; it’s time to grow up.
In God’s “absence,” some of God’s best work is being done. But like a sculptor who veils her work from the public eye, God must veil God’s work from our prying eyes, lest we rush in and muck it all up with our suggestions.
Only when the work is done will the veil be removed, and will we be able to see the new work God has wrought in our life, without our help. Though, at the time, it seemed as if God were absent, God was doing some of God’s most important work.
Job experiences the absence of God!
And now, in Chapter 24, Job goes into a full-bodied description of how sinners get away with it, time and again.
Job clearly wonders if there is any justice whatsoever in the world.
As I read through Chapter 24, it became an ever-more painful portrait of injustice … again and again, Job reiterates what is found throughout the Prophets - the powerful get away with horrendous crimes against the poor; the powerful enjoy their privilege while the poor struggle to make ends meet, often driven to the very brink of death by starvation and disease.
As for the prophets, this is no accident, but the result of an unjust social system wherein, by the luck of the draw, if you will, certain people rise to the top of the food chain, and unless they’re profoundly conscious of just how lucky they are, they continue to feed off the poor, as Jesus notes, “devouring the houses of widows.”
Who are the poor here in Job?
Migrant farmers … perhaps they once were tenant farmers, or even owned their own land, but in the course of time, they’re now reduced to migrancy.
5 Like wild asses in the desert
they go out to their toil,
scavenging in the wasteland
food for their young.
6 They reap in a field not their own
and they glean in the vineyard of the wicked.
7 They lie all night naked, without clothing,
and have no covering in the cold.
8 They are wet with the rain of the mountains,
and cling to the rock for want of shelter.
The crimes against the poor intensify in this chapter … it would seem that the author wants the reader to be painfully clear that the world is ruled by injustice, that the powerful get away with crimes, and there is no one to bring them to trial.
21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
9 “There are those who snatch the orphan child from the breast,
and take as a pledge the infant of the poor.
10 They go about naked, without clothing;
though hungry, they carry the sheaves;
11 between their terraces they press out oil;
they tread the wine presses, but suffer thirst.
12 From the city the dying groan,
and the throat of the wounded cries for help;
yet God pays no attention to their prayer.
In vs. 12, blunt and without any hint of compromise, it is said, God pays no attention! The author pulls no punches here in trying to capture how it must feel and how the world must look to the poor and the oppressed who have so little to show for a day’s labor and years of hard work.
Monday morning, I read a piece by Frederick Buechner, one of my all-time favorite writers and Presbyterian minister, who recounted his student years under some very famous theologians, one of whom was James Muilenburg, an Old Testament scholar at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Buechner recounts what Muilenburg said about faith and confession:
“Every morning when you wake up, before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and then see if you can honestly say it again.”
Buechner than adds:
“He … didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t resolve, intellectualize, evade, the tensions of his faith but lived those tensions out, torn almost in two by them at times. His faith was not a seamless garment but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment that he clutched about him like a man in a storm.” [from Listening to Your Life, February 4 reading].
If nothing else, we might be very careful in how we look at the poor. In our time, we heard a lot of talk about “takers and makers” - where the powerful condemn the poor for being poor, “takers,” and congratulate themselves for being so resourceful, being “makers.”
Job was one of those “makers,” and now he’s lost it all. Was Job ever proud and arrogant about his place in life? We don’t know that. Job himself make it clear that he wasn’t; that he was a kindly and generous man.
At this point in chapter 24, we encounter a textual issue; it is suggested that vss. 18-24 are not Job’s words, but Job’s quotation of what his friends have said to him.
In fact, Job contends that the wicked, the powerful (here and elsewhere in the Bible, the wicked are most of the powerful) are rewarded in this life, without any punishment coming to them for their crimes against the poor.
Hence, vss. 18-24: Job repeats what his friends suggest: the powerful/wicked will always pay a great price for their crimes against humanity. That’s what the friends contend; Job, on the other hand, says No!
Vs. 25, then, belongs to Job: he challenges his friends - Prove me wrong!”
Chapter 25 & 26.5-14 - Bildad
Bildad refuses to deal directly with Job’s challenge on injustice in the universe and rather exults the glory and power of God, and, once again makes clear, in his own mind at least, that no one can stand before God and claim innocence. Nothing and no one can stand against God.
If Job has challenged his friends to refute his contentions about injustice, Bildad ends with a challenge to Job (vs.14): Who can understand God’s power?
Chapter 26.1-4 & 27.1-12 - Job
Job replies with biting sarcasm - Oh my, how you have helped!
Job is clear: he can expect no help from his friends. Therefore he stands alone, and stand he does. He will never concede to their claims that he’s in the wrong, that he’s guilty before God.
Job reiterates his faith in God’s justice and begs his friends to lay off.
Chapter 27.13-23 - Zophar
My trusted commentator attributes Chapter 27.13-23 to Zophar, who is not mentioned in the text; it would seem that the text is rather tangled at this point, having experienced some loss in the transmission.
I’m content with this “reconstruction” of the text, in spite of the fact that portions are simply missing and not likely to be recovered. Other commentators offer alternatives; Gordis’ is rather simple and gives clarity to what otherwise seems confused.
Zophar’s speech, then, adds nothing new here; he reiterates the conventional ideas of the day - the wicked who gather wealth will ultimately lose it and will be swept away.
Again, let me quote from my trusted commentator:
“While the beautiful ‘Hymn to Wisdom’ is not an integral part of the book of Job, it is a highly welcome product of the poet’s pen. In view of the vast dislocations sustained in the third cycle of the dialogue, it is easy to understand how this poem found its way into the text here. In its present position after the conclusion of the third cycle, the ‘Hymn to Wisdom’ is a well described as a ‘musical interlude’ between the debate and Job’s final soliloquy.” [Gordis, p.278]
In the finest of the Wisdom tradition, chapter 28 reminds the reader that wisdom is not to be found in this world, but only in God. Though humankind may know a great deal about life and even have religion and morality, knowing something about good and evil, the final abode of wisdom is in the heart of God.
Though final wisdom is not to be ours, the author reminds us that we know enough to be in awe of God - that’s wisdom (see Proverbs 1.7) and to avoid evil - that’s understanding (Proverbs 1.10).
And, as is found in the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is cast as a female.
Once again, we have covered a lot of material, but Job and his friends have not found a way through their arguments. Job’s friends remain adamant about his sinfulness, even as Job remains firm about his integrity and faithfulness to God.
Chapter 28 is almost a preview of what is to come.
But for that, we’ll have to wait.
As always, to be continued!
From Wikipedia ...
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible. While the Masoretic Text defines the books of the Jewish canon, it also defines the precise letter-text of these biblical books, with their vocalization and accentuation known as the Masorah. The MT is also widely used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles, and in recent years (since 1943) also for some Catholic Bibles, although the Eastern Orthodox continue to use the Septuagint, as they hold it to be divinely inspired. In modern times the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown the MT to be nearly identical to some texts of the Tanakh dating from 200 BCE but different from others.
The MT was primarily copied, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries CE. Though the consonants differ little from the text generally accepted in the early 2nd century (and also differ little from some Qumran texts that are even older), it has numerous differences of both greater and lesser significance when compared to (extant 4th century) manuscripts of the Septuagint, a Greek translation (made in the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE) of the Hebrew Scriptures that was in popular use in Egypt and Israel (and that is often quoted in theNew Testament, especially by the Apostle Paul).
The Hebrew word mesorah (מסורה, alt. מסורת) refers to the transmission of a tradition. In a very broad sense it can refer to the entire chain of Jewish tradition (see Oral law), but in reference to the Masoretic Text the word mesorah has a very specific meaning: the diacritic markings of the text of the Hebrew Bible and concise marginal notes in manuscripts (and later printings) of the Hebrew Bible which note textual details, usually about the precise spelling of words.