Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Look Behind the Curtain (Job 1-2)


The book of Job begins with a two-chapter introduction to set the stage for the poem. We begin in the heavenly realm, where the “sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” Presumably these “sons of God” are what we know of as angels, though this is not stated explicitly. Satan has been roaming all across the Earth looking at everything. God can’t wait to brag about Job to him:
Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?
Considering how often God is angry at man in the Bible, I’m rather startled when he gushes with pride over someone. The last time I remember this was with Abraham. Satan will have none of it. Job is a fair weather fan, he tells God. Make him suffer, and this supposed righteousness will evaporate.

Satan has a good point, and I wonder if we could ever take this consideration too seriously. I often hear people talk about how God will of course bring them to Heaven when they die because they are good people. The standard evangelical response is supposed to be “it doesn’t matter how good you are – you couldn’t possibly be good enough.” I understand the point, but I think we miss something if we jump to this. The fact of the matter is, as C. S. Lewis once said, that we often presume ourselves good when we are merely happy.

So God afflicts Job with tremendous suffering. He annihilates his assets, destroys his family, and infests his body with disease. And Job holds fast to his integrity – “in all this Job did not sin with his lips.” He’s proving to be the real deal.

Then his friends arrive:
They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Wow. That’s some impressive sympathy. Perhaps our posh modern culture has a bit to learn from the ancients, for whom intense suffering was a day-to-day reality.

The stage is set. Let the drama begin.

Comments:
Job 2:12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.
Job 2:13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Their lamentation is an enactment of mourning for the dead. Job seems "as good as dead" to them. Cf. The 7 day grieving process we saw in Genesis 50:10.

Another parallel is the state of Job being in a metaphorical sense "formless and void". The seven days of creation mirror a period of man's silence here with his friends where the only one speaking is God. His creative voice "behind the curtain" is working to make a new world for Job and his social context unbeknownst to everyone in the drama.

Job is unmade, so that God can re-make him ex nihilo.
 

My goodness, Mark! You're stealing my thunder. I like your points, although I'm not sure I'm ready to hop on board with the last. At least in the prologue so far, God is more concerned with proving to Satan that Job really is as good as he seems, than on addressing any flaws in Job.

Of course, in the scope of the entire poem, you may indeed be right. I'll have to see. ;-)
 

You are right about the prologue and the smack-down of Satan, but I think God is executing several plans and motives simultaneously. One for Job, one for his wife, one for Satan, one for each of his frends, and let us not forget, one for each of us who read it today.
 

I apologize for commenting so much. Your blog is thought provoking. If you want me to refrain let me know.

After reading through the prologue again, it seems God is not only proving it to Satan, He is using satan to prove it. Satan actually seems to be Yahweh's puppet. Job's faithfulness asserted before Satan is God's declaration of his righteousness, not Job's, and following round one of the disaster Yahweh says, "he still maintains his integrity, though YOU incited ME AGAINST him to devour him without any reason" (2:3).

"without any reason" implies that this is not happening for Satan's sake, which is irrational, but God's sake, because even though Satan's motives are malicious, God does indeed have a reason behind it, and will not capitulate to the devil's little test or game.

Satan continues to insist that man's faithfulness is based on physical blessings.

"But stretch out YOUR HAND and strike his flesh and bones" (2:5)

Yahweh's hand here stretched forth is using Satan as the means. And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life." (2:6)

But God declared Job righteous, made him righteous and will continue to keep him through the trial.

So even the enemy is an instrument in the hand of Yahweh to accomplish His will through/by/for Job. (Hebrews 1:14)

Note Job's perspective when he rebukes his wife:

"Yahweh gave and Yahweh has taken away. Blessed be His Name!" (1:21).

He does not blame Satan, or give him the credit/honor.
 

I'll let you know if my blog ever has the problem of too many comments. ;-)
 

One thing I would agree with here Mark is that there should be no question that it is God's hand doing the smiting, Satan's agency notwithstanding. This goes for any theodicy as far as I'm concerned. You can't get God off the hook for all the evil in the world by attributing it to his creatures. As you've stated above, He doesn't even want to be let off the hook. I think the rest of the book will confirm this quite nicely.

As far as determining what good purposes he has for all this evil - this is a little more elusive, both in Job and in life. One thing we can see is that Job's righteousness is given a chance to shine in ways it never was before. White shows up well on a black backdrop.
 

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