Culture

The Bible as Literature: Job—Afflicted and Relationship Challenged

Job was an upstanding man in his community, a good guy who didn’t seem to do wrong or harm anyone. “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1) People came to him for advice and he was well liked by all, from children to the leaders of the community. He had it all. “This man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” (Job 1:3) You might say he lived a charmed life, or at least this is what Satan thought as he gazed upon the earth. Like Greek gods sitting above the expanse of the earth playing chess with humans as pawns, Satan challenged Yahweh saying that if Job didn’t have it so good he wouldn’t continue to serve him loyally. In effect, that Job was only loyal because he had it easy and was spoiled by God. Yahweh agreed to remove his favor from his servant so his loyalty could be tested. Satan pulls out all the stops, taking away his riches, and even his sons and daughters in an effort to get him to curse God or turn away from him.

Instead “he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:21,22) Satan was then granted permission to touch Job himself, which previously he had been denied. “So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” (Job 2:7) Unaware of the source of all this evil that had been brought down upon him, “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2: 9,10)

A bit of a lengthy intro, but when considering whether it is God or his companions that Job is angrier at, I feel it helps to consider the perspective from which one reads the following 40 chapters of Job’s distress. Here is where Job, in all his calamity, meets with a verbal Chinese water torture. His friends come to console and comfort, but who needs enemies when you have friends like these? Sure they were well meaning… but whoa.

His friends, rather than assume his innocence and support him, believe that he must be guilty of something worthy of this affliction by God (or as we know, by Satan with permission from God). After seven days of silence they start in on him, badgering him about the wrong that he must have committed, and are persistent though Job continually asserts his innocence and defends himself.

In Job chapter 13 a fed up Job lashes out at his friends, insulting them and basically asking them to just shut up. “Lo, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!… Your maxims are proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay. Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may. I will take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hand.” (Job 13:1-5, 12, 13) Again he insults them and their advice, and asks them when will they just shut up? “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end?” (Job 16:2-3)

In chapter 19 we see why Job asks them to shut up when his patience is worn from the accusations and argument and he says “How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words? These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me? And even if it be true that I have erred, my error remains with myself. If indeed you magnify yourselves against me, and make my humiliation an argument against me, I know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net about me.” (Job 19:2-6) His friends do no good for him—they do not argue for him, but rather argue against him and in doing so wear him down as he stands treated as a man guilty of the accusations.

All that he really asks is for some sympathy and faith in his righteousness from his friends who should know him. He laments, “All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me… Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!” (Job 19:19-21)

In the verses of we learn that according to Job, friends are no good if God turns away from you. They are just another possession to be taken away, or being in human form, turned against you. “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.  If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open.” (Job 12:13,14) And at Job 19 verses 13 through 19 Job pours out his heart at all that God (or Satan) has taken away from him, “He has put my brethren far from me, and my acquaintances are wholly estranged from me. My kinsfolk and my close friends have failed me; the guests in my house have forgotten me; my maidservants count me as a stranger; I have become an alien in their eyes. I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer; I must beseech him with my mouth. I am repulsive to my wife, loathsome to the sons of my own mother. Even young children despise me; when I rise they talk against me. All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me.” As Job believes, if God has turned against you friends are of no avail as he can turn those from you as well.

In conclusion, though Job makes many an impassioned plea to God and pours his heart out in all its wretchedness and hopes to die, he never curses God. Instead he’s bewildered and just begs and reasons for God to take away his affliction because it is not warranted. I feel that he must have been angrier at his friends because he was restricted from being angry at God, but his friends should have believed in his innocence and supported him. In a way, this would make humans more loyal than God. However circling back to the beginning Job was really afflicted by Satan, an evil spirit, and God let Job be tested as a means to proof of his own sovereignty.

I find it interesting that at the conclusion of this story, God and Job are in good standing again, and God himself turns his anger on Job’s friends “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7) It is then up to Job to play priest for his friends so that their sins may be forgiven. It’s a good thing Job is a real friend!

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