The Book of Job

Since I don’t have a job (jäb) I have time to read The Book of Job (ˈjōb).

Why would I do such a thing?

Reason 1:  It was recommended to me to help me answer the question of why God would allow the Notre Dame cathedral to go up in flames.

Reason 2:  It’s only 12,674 words long.  That’s like reading 12 of my longer blog posts or 24 of the smaller ones.

Reason 3:  I might learn something.

I think the story of Job can best be summed up by the synopsis in the New Student Bible (Expanded and Updated), New International Version, where it says:

Speakers of that day impressed their audience more by eloquence than by rigorous logic…

I’ll explain.  The Book of Job has three main parts.  The intro, the speeches, and the conclusion.  The speeches, while very poetic at times, don’t offer much in the way of logic.

But that’s the middle part.  Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Before I do, please allow me to issue some caveats:  I am not a biblical scholar.  I am not a priest.  I do not speak Hebrew.  Or Aramaic.  Or Greek.  I do not go to church.  I talk to a Jehovah’s Witness every couple of weeks when he comes to the door.

The interpretations below are my own.  There’s going to be some paraphrasing.  I’ll paraphrase in regular quotations and I’ll reserve the block quotes for literal quotes from Job.  The book starts like this:

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job

Immediately The Land of Oz came to mind.  I looked up Uz and according to Wikipedia, it is a region in the southern part of Israel, overlapping Eqypt and Jordan.

Now we know the setting.  Let’s get to the plot.

Job was God’s favourite person in the world.  He was blameless, honest.

At the beginning of the story, this how much “stuff” he “owned” (This will be important later):

  • 7 sons
  • 3 daughters
  • 7,000 sheep
  • 3,000 camels
  • 500 yoke of oxen (I believe that’s 1,000 oxen)
  • 500 donkeys
  • Large (unspecified) number of servants

One day God was approached by a group of angels, and for some reason, Satan was tagging along.

God asks Satan, “Where the hell did you come from?”

Just kidding.  He actually says, “Where have you come from?”

“From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it,” he replied.

That makes sense.  Satan hangs out underground.  That meshes nicely with what I was taught in Sunday school.  What is not clear in the Job story is where the conversation is taking place.  Maybe in heaven?  Maybe on earth?

God starts bragging about Job and tells Satan how great of a servant he is.

Satan’s not too impressed.  He pretty much says, “Yeah, he’s a great servant, sure, but it’s only because he has everything he needs.  If you take everything he has, he will surely curse you.”

God tells Satan to put his money where his mouth is and says, “Fine Satan.  Do your worst to everything Job has.  Just don’t hurt Job.”

I find it unusual that Satan is calling the shots here, but God works in mysterious ways.  This marks the beginning of Job’s First Test.

Job’s sons and daughters go to the eldest brother’s house to get drunk.  It should be known that the siblings have a rotating party-hosting schedule that is explained in Chapter 1 of The Book of Job.  It is also explained that after the feasting and drinking of these parties would subside, Job would always burn up an offering to purify his kin just in case they did any sinning at the party.

Just then, Job gets some bad news.

A messenger comes to Job and lets him know that fire from the sky burned up all of his sheep.  Then another messenger gives him an FYI that Chaldean raiders carried off his camels and killed all of his servants (except the one recanting the tale).

Then he finds out (via another messenger) that the party-house where his sons and daughters were pigging out and getting drunk collapsed from a mighty wind.  Only the messenger got out alive.

Job believes it was God who enacted these hardships on him, not Satan.  He’s sort of right because God told Satan to go ahead and do it.  But Job’s not mad.  He says:

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.

First test passed.

On another day, the angels showed up in God’s presence (with Satan tagging along again).

Again God asks, “Where have you come from?”

Satan says (once again), “I’ve been roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

God sings Job’s praises once again.  He reminds Satan of how great Job is.  Then he rubs it in Satan’s face that the total destruction of Job’s offspring and belongings had no effect on Job whatsoever:

And he still maintains his integrity, though you have incited me against him to ruin him without reason.

Satan isn’t convinced.  He posits that a man will give anything to keep his own life.  To get Job to curse God, it’s going to take some Jesus-on-the-cross level torture (Sorry – New Testament spoiler alert).

God takes Satan’s advice and gives him the go-ahead to commence torture:

Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.

So Satan goes ahead and gives Job some very painful sores from head to toe.  And thus begins Job’s Second Test.

At this point, Job’s wife showed up to cause trouble between Job and his God.  She says:

Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!

What follows is the actual verse that inspired the saying, “Bros before hoes”.  Job says:

You are talking like a foolish woman.  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?

So far, all of the punishment that Satan has doled out with the permission of man’s best friend has had no demoralizing effect on Job.  He really is an upstanding servant.

That’s when Job’s three friends show up.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  At first, they are there only for moral support.  For seven days they just lay there silently and keep Job company.

I guess seven days of torture were too much for Job.  He starts cracking.

First, he curses the day he was born.

This is when the speeches begin.  The friends each make a speech and each time they allow Job to respond.  There are three cycles of this.  Each friend speaks in turn, first Eliphaz, then Bildad, then Zophar, with the exception of the third cycle, where Zophar does not speak.

In the first cycle, the friends are kind of trying to get Job to see their point of view.  In the second cycle, the speeches become more intense.  In the third cycle, the friends are outright accusing Job directly of being a sinner.  They are saying he deserves the pain and suffering for the sins he must have committed.

Job can’t understand why God is doing this to him, so he demands his “day in court”:

Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you:

Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors.  Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply.  How many wrongs and sins have I committed?

Show me my offense and my sin.

Job would get his chance to speak with God.  But first, his friends would have to shut up for a few seconds.  Job finally renders them silent with a rebuttal in which he seems to convince them that he is a good man, not a sinner.  Here is a snippet from Job’s final line of defence to his friends:

If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit let God weight me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless.

His friends, who were quick to throw Job under the bus earlier, are either tired of arguing or accept Job’s argument that he is innocent.

Then something unexpected happens.  A fourth friend, who was keeping quiet in order to let the elder friends have their say, chimes in.  His name is Elihu.  He doesn’t buy Job’s whole, “I’m innocent” act:

So listen to me, you men of understanding.  Far be it from God to do evil, from the Alimighty to do wrong.  He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.

Elihu keeps up the tongue lashing for quite a few chapters.  Finally, God has had enough of all the speculation:

Who is this who darkens my counsel without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Job is finally going to get his “day in court”.  But first, God has to do some bragging about how awesome he is.  He starts with the obvious – creation.  Yeah, he did that.  Then he talks about making the sun rise and set.  Then the seasons.  Then the animals.  Then the weird stuff:

Leviathan and Behemoth.  I thought those were just the names of roller-coasters at Canada’s Wonderland.  God goes on to talk about two magnificent beasts that are really worthy of a blog post all on their own (which I am excited to write about at a later time).  Basically, he is describing a dinosaur and a water-dwelling dragon that are so magnificent that only he has the power to command them.  Job seems to know fully well what God is talking about, even though there is no evidence of such creatures existing in the fossil record of that time.

Kind readers, if you have stayed with me until now, I applaud you.  This is going to be my longest post to date, so thanks for your patience.

Job realizes God is the boss and he was wrong to doubt him, so he apologizes:

I know you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

Second Test Passed.

This causes God to calm down.  He is still pissed off at Job’s buddies (except for Elihu, who is not mentioned again) for feeding him a load of baloney, so he commanded Eliphaz to, you guessed it, burn up some animal sacrifices.  Seven bulls and seven rams to be exact.

Job is commanded to pray for his friends.  God accepts the prayer.  Everything is back to normal… well sort of.

Job’s sons and daughters were still dead.  Or were they?  It’s unclear.

Remember at the beginning, when I gave some numbers of Job’s “belongings”?  Well now that this whole ordeal was over, God replenished Job’s stuff for him.  He got some new sons and daughters.  He got some more livestock.  Job’s brothers and sisters even showed up and each one of them gave Job a piece of silver and a gold ring.

Job’s stuff after the ordeal:

  • Unknown pieces of silver and gold (+)
  • 7 sons (break even)
  • 3 daughters (this is a net gain because they were more beautiful than before)
  • 14,000 sheep (+7,000)
  • 6,000 camels (+3,000)
  • 1,000 yoke of oxen (+500 yoke)
  • 1,000 donkeys (+500)
  • 0 servants (Large (unspecified) loss of servants)

Job lived to the ripe age of 140.  Not bad.


So how does all of this relate to the Notre Dame cathedral burning up?

The moral of the Book of Job seems to be that bad things happen to good people (or buildings), but it’s all in God’s/Satan’s plan.

Based on all the donations pouring in from the top one percent bazillionaires, I would say that just like Job’s life after his ordeal, the cathedral is going to get a kick-ass makeover.  We just have to be patient, trust in God, and repent.  Some animal sacrifices might go a long way to help.

Like the message in my student bible said, it’s more about eloquence than rigorous logic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31 thoughts on “The Book of Job

  1. I’m impressed. You read the whole book and summarized it in, like, two days.

    It might be hidden under a lot of poetic stuff, but Job’s friends DO have a logical argument:
    1) God is just
    2) Bad things have happened to you
    3) Therefore, you must have deserved them

    This logic is VERY common in human philosophy. It basically sums up Hinduism. It’s also most people’s knee-jerk reaction when they see great suffering in the lives of others. We hope they did something to bring it upon themselves, because if they didn’t, that’s bad news for us because maybe we can’t avoid a similar thing happening to us.

    So, the fact that God says to these three friends “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my friend Job has” is just AMAZING. It proves there IS such a thing as undeserved suffering. Vindication!

    Also note the psychology … Job can stand almost any amount of suffering without questioning God, but what he CAN’T stand is being blamed for it and then gaslighted. Boy oh boy, can I relate!

    About the children … yes, I think they actually did die. Note from Job’s age (140) that he lived in the time of the patriarchs, when people could live to almost 200 and apparently keep having children that entire time. So, I think he actually had a second set of children.

    About the behemoth and leviathan, it’s not exhaustive, but please see my post about dinosaurs in the ancient world, especially the comments thread, if you don’t mind wild speculation.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for reading. I’ve tried a couple times to read the Bible cover-to-cover but it was too daunting. Picking one book and focusing on it was the way to go.

      The reason I was unclear if Job’s kids were permanently dead, was because of Job 42:11 which says, “All his brothers and sister and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him at his house.” To me, this would include his late children, but since it is not specifically mentioned, I assume (as you do) that they were gone and not coming back.

      Now, that being said, it seems unjust that God would “reward” Job in the end by doubling up his livestock, but leaving his kids six feet under.

      The other thing I’m having trouble with was the fourth friend, Elihu. In many ways, his speech echoes the friends’ message that Job is being punished for his sins, but God does not have anger toward him as he does the others. Why does Elihu get to lecture Job without repercussion? And how does he just pop up out of nowhere? The first he is even mentioned is when he first opens his mouth.

      I have a hard time believing the ages people lived to in the bible. I have seen any paleontological evidence that shows people lived that long. 140 is not out of the question, though. The oldest verified person was 116 and there are living people that claim to be up to 179. I draw the line at stories of 700-900 year old folks, without any real pysical evidence.

      As for the behemoth and leviathan… I’ve read a few of the possible explanations out there (I haven’t read your post yet) but I’m not buying those either. Leviathan does not sound like an alligator as some have suggested, and behemoth doesn’t sound like an elephant. Dinosaurs, maybe… but the fossil record shows they lived millions of years ago, not thousands. I’ll have to check out your post and get back to you on that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your points in order …

        I think we have to interpret “everyone who had known him before” with common sense. Job had been abandoned by all his acquaintances because of his misfortune. Now, all those weathercocks are back. Of course this doesn’t include anyone who has died since “before.” Despite the famous exceptions, resurrection is a very rare occurrence in the world of the Bible.

        About God “rewarding” Job but not bringing his kids back to life … I find that confusing. The kids were not being punished when they died. Neither was Job being punished by their death. That’s the whole point.

        Though the story is often framed as a series of tests and then a reward, I don’t think that’s what it’s really about. Instead, the goal is to raise some questions about God’s sovereignty and human suffering. There are no cardboard cut-out good guys and bad guys in this story. Yes, Job is a “righteous man,” but he’s not a one-dimensional character and the point of the story is not his righteousness, but the sorts of questions people ask about guilt, responsibility, and senseless suffering.

        I also don’t think the second batch of kids are meant to be replacements for the first ones. The new riches, children, etc., confirm that God is showing His favor to Job, but they don’t undo the fact of the tragedies that happened. And frankly, I don’t know of any Christians who see the second kids as replacements. Most of us read this story with fear and trembling, imagining losing our own children.

        About Elihu, I too find his role confusing and it’s interesting that he is seldom mentioned when the story is summarized. I don’t have time at this second to go back and examine his speech, but I don’t believe he is making the same argument as the other three. I think his problem with Job is NOT that he thinks Job “must have done something,” but rather Job’s attitude and claims as shown by his own recent words. Job gets so sick of being accused of being lawless that he comes close to claiming perfection for himself and/or to accusing God of injustice, and that’s what Elihu is calling him on, if I remember rightly.

        About the ages, the dinosaurs, etc. …. it’s whole different paradigm, one in which people have devolved instead of evolved. I won’t get into it here. I realize that for most people, it seems pretty far out there.

        Like

      2. I count ten resurrections in total (I could be wrong) in the Bible, so bringing back Job’s kids would have doubled that number. Maybe that would be too many to do at one time.

        I get that the death of the children is not a punishment for Job. It is a test. After the test is passed to God’s satisfaction, why not bring the kids back to life?

        I don’t think the book says explicitly that the kids were not being punished (unless I missed that part). At first I thought they could be being punished for all the wine-drinking. That doesn’t make sense, though, because the attack on the kids was orchestrated by Satan, not God.

        I really think the true point of the story is to disconnect sin from consequence, so that God can never be blamed if a bad thing happens to a good person, or a good thing happens to a bad person. Or a building in the case of the cathedral. If good people were always rewarded and bad people got what they deserved, everyone would believe.

        Elihu is not generally making the same argument as the others. I think you’re right about that. There is one line that stood out (ch34-v26) where he says God, “punishes them for their wickedness”. This part, at least, does seem to echo the sentiment of Job’s other friends.

        I look forward to the Leviathan debates.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 10 resurrections in 10,000 years. And, I’ve never heard of a mass resurrection.

        About the point being to disconnect sin from consequence … hmm. I agree, sort of, but not in a cheap sense of trying to get God off the hook, because I think He does take responsibility in the book too. I think the point is that God, and this world He has created, is not neat and tidy and that there is always more going on that we realize. It’s not, “Job, you’re wrong,” but rather, “Job, there’s a lot you don’t know.”

        “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …”

        It is fun talking Scripture with you on this Good, terrible Friday.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The fun part of the book of Job is not found in the bible, but in conversation with people who know what God was thinking. These geniuses glide over the biblical statement that Job was upright and good; that God is a lousy gambler; that God doesn’t know the future; the lives of the kids mean nothing to believers who somehow try to explain replacing children with other children (which is pretty stupid in itself). But like you describe so beautifully, Job’s new kids, like the repairs on the Cathedral, will be new, minus the wrinkles that give character to what time touches.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The lousy gambler part – do you mean how Satan was right and God was wrong about what Job’s reaction would be to the physical pain? I thought that was strange too. Actually, the whole dialog between God and The Devil is strange…like they are just buddies making a friendly bet over Job’s life.
      Maybe the key to getting over the traumatic event and loss of the kids is to live really long (140) so that it is all just a distant memory.

      Like

  3. Your writing is awesome! I never realized how interesting the old testament could be until I approached it like the Lord of the Rings. Thinking of it like a work of fiction made it so much more digestible, and once you’ve tackled that, you can begin to add the layers of religiosity, morality, history, and all that heavy stuff.

    The church needs more cynical, down-to-earth people like you in its ranks. I know you said you’re not a preacher, but you’ve done more to make sense of the bible than any of the preachers I was forced to listen to in my youth.

    Fantastic article.

    T

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. I like to learn about the Bible because it is an important book historically. I think of it like a work of fiction because I beleive that is what it is. I grew up going to church but I realized early on that I didn’t believe in it.
      I don’t know if a non-believer would be asked to do the sermon anytime soon, but thanks for the kind words anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great summary! You did skip over one important passage where Job says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). So at the end of the book Job has ten living children, and also ten children dead and buried, whose spirits are with the Lord in Paradise and who, like Job, will be raised on the Last Day for life in a new creation. J.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s