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.