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Friday Bible Blogging - Job 31 to Job 42

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.

BibleIt's been a busy past few weeks. First there were Christmas and New Years, and all the chores, functions, and activities associated with those (even though I do most of the writing for this blog during my lunchbreaks, I do a lot of the prep work for this series on weekends, plus I took off Christmas week). Then it was especially busy at work as we had a big review meeting and a lot of prep work for that. I was even out of town for the meeting two days this week. I just haven't had much time at all to work on this series. I only got two posts up in December, and this is my first post in January. It feels good to be back into it, and I'm hoping that I can jump right back into my old groove.

After so much repetition in the earlier parts of Job, things pick up a bit in these final chapters. We get two more characters (one being the Almighty himself), and much, much more to comment on. Actually, there was so much to write about that I even got a little excited to do this entry, and it's been a little while since I've actually been excited to do one of these entries.

One aspect I haven't commented on too much in my entries so far on Job is the theme of a trial or a lawsuit. Job wants to bring his case against God to some arbiter who can decide who is in the right. He's spoken of indictments and witnesses throughout the book.


Job, Chapter 31

Chapter 31 concludes Job's final big speech. In this chapter, he focuses mainly on maintaining his own innocence.

There was a bit of misogyny:

'If my heart has been enticed by a woman,
   and I have lain in wait at my neighbour's door;
then let my wife grind for another,
   and let other men kneel over her.

Because obviously, if you've done wrong, then the appropriate punishment is for your wife to fall into prostitution. She's just one of your possessions, anyway.

There was one aspect that was somewhat good. Job talked of how he hadn't mistreated his slaves. Compared to previous books, it's nice to see a mention that slaves should be treated well, and Job affirming his common humanity with them. Still, it's talking about how to treat slaves. I know - don't judge people from the past based on modern day morality. But by the same token - don't hold up the Bible as a good source of morality.

There also appears to be another continuity goof in this chapter. Verse 37 would make the most sense as the conclusion of his speech, but the chapter goes on a bit longer with three verses that would seem to fit better earlier in the chapter.

I did like the way the chapter ended, rather matter of factly, "The words of Job are ended."


Job, Chapter 32

Chapter 32 introduces a new character to the story - Elihu. He had been listening to all the previous speeches, and deferring out of respect for his elders. But now that they've all had their say, he can't help but voice his opinions. This first part of his speech in this chapter was just calling out the others for not satisfactorily answering Job, and explaining that he had something worthwhile to say. He did make a good point that wisdom is not limited only to the elderly, and that even someone young like him could say something worth listening to.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) mentioned that there's some discussion over whether Elihu's speeches were originally part of the book or not. He isn't mentioned in the prologue or epilogue, 32:1 mentions "these three men" - Eliphaz, Bildad, & Zophar, and if you get rid of Elihu's section, Yahweh's response immediately follows Job's last speech.


Job, Chapter 33

Elihu reprimanded Job for trying to put himself on par with God, "God is greater than any mortal. / Why do you contend against him..." Most of the chapter was pointing out God's power and how great he was.

There was one verse that caught my eye:

to spare their souls from the Pit,
   their lives from traversing the River.

That sounds suspiciously like the River Styx, not the modern Christian conception of the afterlife. Perhaps it's just poetic license. Or, more likely considering the Jewish belief in Sheol, that really was part of the belief system of this writer.


Job, Chapter 34

Elihu continued to call out Job, particularly for the way he talked about God after his bad fortune.


Job, Chapter 35

Elihu made a point about human actions having no effect on God.

If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?
   And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
If you are righteous, what do you give to him;
   or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness affects others like you,
   and your righteousness, other human beings.

It seems a little counter to the New Testament teaching from Matthew 25:40 ("just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me"), but not so out of character for the type of god presented in the Old Testament. But to tell the truth, the last part of that passage is something I can agree with. Actions should be judged by their real world consequences on other people.

Elihu also responded to one of Job's earlier complaints, that God doesn't always help those in need. Elihu's response makes God sound more callous than the rightest of right wing ideologues:

There they cry out, but he does not answer,
   because of the pride of evildoers.

God may have the power to help them, but it's their own pride that keeps him from doing anything. Maybe if they'd just praise him a bit more, he'd do something to lift them out of their oppression.


Job, Chapter 36

Elihu continues his speech, first defending that God does indeed punish the wicked and reward the righteous, then getting in a bit of criticism of "the godless". A large part of the chapter was pointing out that God
sometimes teaches us lessons in ways that we don't always understand, and that Job shouldn't ignore this as a possibility for a lesson.

Beware that wrath does not entice you into scoffing,
   and do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.

There was one verse I found a bit humorous from a modern perspective.

Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
   the thunderings of his pavilion?

Yes, we can, actually. We now have meteorologists who understand what causes various weather phenomena, including clouds and thunder, and can give us pretty accurate forecasts out to a week. And we have climatologists who understand global climate and can predict how what we're doing is going to affect the
climate.


Job, Chapter 37

This was the conclusion of Elihu's speech. It was basically more of the same, praising God and his greatness, and urging Job to reconsider his words against God.


Job, Chapter 38

Now it's time for God himself to come into the story, addressing Job directly. This entire chapter was God talking about how great he was, bragging about all his accomplishments that a mere mortal like Job could never dream of doing. He never addressed Job's complaints about injustice. The NOAB offered a potential explanation, "The divine speeches are notable for their silence ofver Job's complaint of injustice, as if God means to say that administering justice is not part of his cosmic plan." Again, this aloofness matches the character of the OT god, but isn't the way most Christians imagine God to be.

I did like the way God first addressed Job, kind of like the uncle who gives you a shot of whiskey telling you it'll put hair on your chest.

   Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
   I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

There was a verse that mentioned "when the morning stars sang together". Like I've said before, it's hard to tell if this is poetic license, or if the writer really believed that stars were divine beings.


Job, Chapter 39

God continued on with his boasting of his own might and power - another 30 verses worth.


Job, Chapter 40

After momentarily wrapping up with his boasting, God asked Job if he still wanted to "contend with the Almighty". Now, I'll admit that I read Job's response a bit differently than the scholars from the NOAB. For refernce, here's the entirety of what Job said.

'See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
   I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
   twice, but will proceed no further.'

I took that to mean that Job had been put in his place, and was done complaining about his situation. But the interpretation from the NOAB was, "Strikingly, Job does not capitulate; he says only that he will not repeat what he has already said. He defers his response until he speaks again in 42.2-6."

When God continued on with his speech, after first asking Job, "Will you even put me in the wrong? / Will you condemn me that you may be justified?", he responded sarcastically by telling Job to try it for himself.

Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;
   clothe yourself with glory and splendour.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
   and look on all who are proud, and abase them.

I only quoted a bit of God's sarcasm here - it continued for several verses.

There's an interesting passage in this chapter if you spend any time following creationists, where God describes "Behemoth". It's a big, powerful animal, that only God can approach. But just what exactly is it? According to the likes of Ken Ham, it might have been a dinosaur (seriously), while according to the NOAB, the scholarly opinion is divided over the hippopotamus or simply a mythical creature. If I had to bet, I'd wager on the hippo idea. It certainly fits with all the verses about living in the water and rivers. The only verse that seems out of character for a hippo is the one about the tail, "It makes its tail stiff like a cedar". But, when you consider how many euphemisms the various Biblical writers had for genitalia, this verse takes on a new meaning (Google also turned up an entirely appropriate image - you should click on it, it's fairly funny and mostly SFW).


Job, Chapter 41

This chapter was similar to the Behemoth section from the last chapter, but this chapter was devoted entirely to "Leviathan". The NOAB notes two possible interpretations - a crocodile, or "the mythical chaos monster". Many aspects certainly do seem crocodilian, but the fire breathing is something I've not yet seen in any nature documentary.


Job, Chapter 42

Job finally was able to answer God, and it seemed to be a response just utterly full of despair.

I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

It's completely hopeless to try to go against God's will. After a few verses describing how he finally understood God's true character after having met him in person, Job finished off his response with the only action he had left.

therefore I despise myself,
   and repent in dust and ashes.

According to the NOAB, 'despise' is probably better translated as "melt, be discouraged", making the extent of Job's despair even more clear. The NOAB also indicates that 'repent' is not the proper translation (especially considering that Job never admitted guilt), and that that verse probably means that Job is merely done with his mourning and ready to get back on with his life.

Job's reply was the last of the poetry. The chapter concluded with the prose epilogue. First, God was angry with Job's three friends (apparently not Elihu) for not speaking the truth about God while Job had. They were commanded to offer sacrifices for their forgiveness. This seems to indicate that Job's complaints about God not administering justice were true.

The final verses closed with a passage that I've always found horrible. It doesn't start off too bad, "And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before." (The NOAB noted that the two-fold restitution was in keeping with the lawsuit analogy.) The bad part of this is that restoring what Job had lost included giving him new children. I never liked the implication of that when I was younger, but now as a parent I absolutely hate it. There's no way that children can be replaced like they're some type of property.

---

The book of Job is quite a dichotomy. Out of all the Biblical books I've read so far, it's one of the best from a literary perspective. The poetry is rather good, if repetitious. But the message delivered is also one of the bleakest. We're all slaves to the whims of God, whatever they may be. And God isn't particularly concerned with actual justice, nor justifying his actions. He's powerful, we're not. If you've been a good and blameless person, and God decides to make your life absolutely horrible just to test you, there's not a damn thing you can do about it other than take it. And you sure as hell better not complain, or even consider blaming God for what he's done to you, because then he might decide to actually punish you and make your situation even worse. It's a universe of might makes right, and God's the mightiest of them all.

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.

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