Friday Bible Blogging - Job 1 to Job 10
This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.
Well, once again I've missed my Friday goal, but at least I'm not too late. I plan on not posting this Friday since it's Thanksgiving week, and I'd rather spend my time preparing for and enjoying the holiday. I should be back to normal posting for the first part of December, but then I imagine that Christmas will throw me off again.
This week's entry begins the foray into the Wisdom books. They are sometimes referred to as the Poetical books because of the high proportion of poetry they contain (but this is when taken as a group, as the book of Ecclesiastes doesn't contain any poetry). Biblical poetry is a bit different from the poetry most English readers are used to. It doesn't rhyme, and doesn't appear to have meter (though there's a minority group of scholars who think it may have had meter in older pronunciations of Hebrew). It's poetry comes from its structure - making a statement, and then following it with one or more statements that vary according to certain patterns. These follow on statements are related in some way to the first statement, but it's not always clear which statement is the main theme of the stanza, and which is meant as supporting text. As an example of this structure, consider the first three lines of poetry from Job (Job 3:3).
'Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
"A man-child is conceived."
The first line mentions 'day' in the first phrase, and being 'born' in the second. The following lines mention the opposite of day, 'night' in its first phrase, and 'conceived' as the analog to born in the second. It's a parallel structure with opposites.
Given the amount of white space on the pages due to the poetry, I'd originally thought that I'd make it through these verses faster. However, I find myself subconsciously studying the structure of these verses at the same time I'm reading them for content, forcing me to actually read them more slowly.
The overall structure of the book of Job is prose 'endcaps' surrounding the poetry that makes up the bulk of the book. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) notes that there's some debate over whether or not the book was compiled from different sources. The prose/ poetry divide is the most obvious break that could denote different source materials (with the prose portions being older), but scholars have also debated whether some of the poetry portions might be later additions, and whether or not the original order of the verses has been preserved, "but a tendency among scholars to regard the book as a unified whole is becoming noticeable."
Chapter 1 is the first chapter of prose prologue. Job is presented as an idealized man, "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil." He had sons, daughters, servants, livestock of various kinds, and was just successful in general. But one day when the "heavenly beings" all gathered together, the Satan and God had a conversation about Job, where God boasted about how upright Job was. The Satan countered that it was easy to be faithful when you've got it so good, and challenged God to "stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." God agreed to the challenge, and allowed the Satan to do what he wanted to Job, so long as he didn't harm Job directly. So, the Satan killed all of Job's livestock, servants, and even children (though it appears that some of the actions were committed by God himself). And these were mostly violent deaths - raiders putting them to "the edge of the sword", the "fire of God" coming down from heaven and burning them up, and even a wind blowing over a house to make it collapse on Job's children. But at the end of the chapter, even though Job "tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped", he did not curse God or commit any sin.
One notable aspect from this chapter was that Job was from the land of Uz. He wasn't an Israelite, though he did worship God. However, as noted in the NOAB, the terms he used for God included 'El', 'Eloah', and 'Elohim'.
The NOAB noted that 'the Satan' was not the same character that many Christians think of when they hear that term. Since it's so interesting, I'll quote that entire footnote.
6-12: The gathering of the divine council in heaven (cf. Kings 22.19-12; Ps 82.1) includes "the Satan," i.e., "the adversary" of Job and other humans (cf. Zech 3.1), not of God; he is not the "devil" of later Jewish and Christian literature (see textual note b). Here he acts as God's eyes and ears on earth. He questions whether Job's righteousness is for its own sake of for the sake of its reward.
Note that the 'textual note' from the NRSV translation read, "Or the Accuser; Heb ha-satan"
Chapter 2 began with another meeting of the "heavenly beings", and again God boasted about Job. This time, the Satan said that Job would probably give in if things were to happen to him directly, "Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives." So God gave the Satan permission to torment Job physically, just so long as he didn't kill him. And Job was inflicted with sores from head to foot. Now destitute, his wife asked him why he wouldn't just "Curse God, and die", presumably because God would kill Job for such an insult. But Job still persisted in not cursing the Lord, "Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" The chapter closed with three of Job's friends who had heard of his troubles coming to meet with him, but then mourning as if he were dead as soon as they saw him.
Chapter 3 begins the poetry. Most of the verses in this chapter are variations on the theme of Job lamenting that he was even born, and wishing that he were already dead. Although it's not an uplifting message, it is rather moving.
Chapter 4 was the first response from one of Job's friends, Eliphaz. Keep in mind the mindset of the Jews when this was written (and still among many religious people today). They believed that God would reward or punish people based on how good they were. Heck, this has been a theme throughout the Bible up to this point. Job's friends couldn't believe that he was being made to suffer so badly for no reason, or that if he was, that God wouldn't eventually set things right. After describing Job as a basically good man, Eliphaz told him this:
'Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plough iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
After going on a bit more in that vein, Eliphaz went on to describe a vision he'd had, where a spirit came to visit him in the night, and told him how nobody can appear pure before God, not even angels, and especially not mere mortals.
Eliphaz went on with his speech, speaking to the human condition, and how suffering is just an inevitable aspect.
For misery does not come from the earth,
nor does trouble sprout from the ground;
but human beings are born to trouble
just as sparks fly upward.
Actually, the NOAB notes that the third line above would be better translated as "Humans beget suffering for themselves", that we bring it on ourselves.
Eliphaz went on to describe the good nature of God, that even when he causes or allows bad things to happen, he will redeem people in the end, "For he wounds, but he binds up."
Job responded to Eliphaz, maintaining his innocence. In this his section, Job is even more explicit in hope that God would kill him to end his suffering, "that it would please God to crush me". Job also berated his friends for not being true friends and assuming the worst of him. To a large degree, it was more of the same theme from Job - lamenting his position and his powerlessness to do anything about it.
Job continues his personal lament, and also touches a bit on the general human condition.
There's a passage that even mocks Psalm 8.4. The passage here is "What are human beings, that you make so much of them, / that you set your mind on them..." Contrast that to Psalm 8:4, "what are human beings that you are mindful of them, / mortals that you care for them?" Whereas Psalms showed wonder that God would care about humans, Job shows bitterness that God gives humans undue scrutiny.
It's now Job's other friend's turn to speak, Bildad. He started off with a figure of speech that gets used a few times more in this book, and I found it pretty humorous, "How long will you say these things, / and the words of your mouth be a great wind?"
Bildad's response is similar to that of Eliphaz, except Bildad is not as charitable in assuming that Job is innocent. Most of Bildad's response boils down to saying that God punishes the wicked accordingly, and that if Job is innocent and upright, his current sufferings will be set right.
Job responds to Bildad, and now there's an even stronger sense of hopelessness. Just consider his first few lines of the chapter.
'Indeed I know that this is so;
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
Job went on to describe many of the great accomplishments of God to highlight his power, and then listed all the examples of how lowly he himself (Job) was. I especially liked these lines.
There is no umpire between us,
who might lay his hand on us both.
Chapter 10 continues on with Job's speech that he started in the previous chapter. It's more of the same theme - Job's powerlessness, his suffering, and his wish that he'd rather be dead or to never have existed than to have to go on experiencing this suffering.
There were a couple verses that caught my eye, especially for the footnote in the NOAB.
Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese?
You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
According to the NOAB, the understanding at the time was that a man's 'seed' would coagulate into the fetus inside the womb.
So far, the book of Job is interesting. The poetry is actually pretty good, and there are some moving passages. However, I'm only a quarter of the way through, and it's already starting to seem a bit repetitious. I hope it moves on to more themes in the coming chapters.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.