Saturday, 23 June 2012

Interpreting Job. Part 1

I find the book of Job one of the most difficult to understand.  Even though I have read it several times, the meaning evades me somewhat.

It addresses the issue of suffering. Some point to the message of Job as being one of the sovereignty of God. Though there may be some truth to this, the concept of sovereignty does not fully address the issues raised in the book. Further, Job is the protagonist; as such it seems that the book addresses man's interactions with God, not just an abstract attribute of God. I think suffering better summarises the theme of Job than sovereignty.

The structure is relatively straight forward. We have a narrative prologue and epilogue explaining the cause and outcome of Job's difficulties. The body of the book consists of poetic dialogue between Job and his friends, then Elihu, then God. The following outline breaks up the speeches where the book introduces the speaker, or their continuation.

Outline of the Book of Job
  1. Prologue (prose)
    1. Job's circumstances(1:1–5)
    2. Job loses his wealth and family (1:6–22)
    3. Job loses his health and his wife's support (2:1–10)
    4. Job's friends visit (2:11–2:13)
  2. Dialogue (poetry)
    1. Job (3:1–26)
    2. Eliphaz (4:1–5:27)
    3. Job (6:1–7:21)
    4. Bildad (8:1–22)
    5. Job (9:1–10:22)
    6. Zophar (11:1–20)
    7. Job (12:1–14:22)
    8. Eliphaz (15:1–35)
    9. Job (16:1–17:16)
    10. Bildad (18:1–21)
    11. Job (19:1–29)
    12. Zophar (20:1–29)
    13. Job (21:1–34)
    14. Eliphaz (22:1–30)
    15. Job (23:1–24:25)
    16. Bildad (25:1–6)
    17. Job (26:1–14)
    18. Job (27:1–28:28)
    19. Job (29:1–31:40)
    20. Elihu (32:1–33:33)
    21. Elihu (34:1–34:37)
    22. Elihu (35:1–35:16)
    23. Elihu (36:1–37:24)
    24. Yahweh (38:1–39:30)
    25. Yahweh (40:1–40:2)
    26. Job (40:3–5)
    27. Yahweh (40:6–41:34)
    28. Job (42:1–42:6)
  3. Epilogue (prose)
    1. Job's friends rebuked (42:7–42:9)
    2. Job's restoration (42:10–42:17)
There are several things we can be sure of reading the book, but there are also many questions.

For certainties we have God's comments to Satan, to Job, to his friends. These statements are true and reliable. We can also be certain of what the narrator writes in the prose passages, thus we know several facts,
  • Job was a righteous man
  • The events were an attack on Job by Satan
  • Job's suffering at his loss of property and family was intense
  • Job's physical suffering was intense
  • Job did not sin in his initial response to both episodes of loss
So far so good, but these are not the difficult questions.

4 comments:

  1. I think Job is the most difficult book to deal with in the OT. Not only are there all kind of difficulties in understanding the nuances of meaning, underneath it all there are pervasive difficulties in language. I've systematically taught and/or preached through Job from start to end four times through the years, and nothing else is quite as frustrating to get to the place where one is confident he truly has a handle what is being said.

    I have come to the conclusion that Job is about faith rather than suffering or sovereignty or any other philosophical or theological concern. Faith is a certain conviction about the existence and person of God that holds in trust regardless of circumstances or the permutations of human thought and analysis. Job makes sense as the demonstration of such a faith, and reveals that such a faith is actually what God is looking for in men.

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  2. To the list of certainties can we add that Job's sufferings were allowed by God to demonstrate that a human could love God "for nothing" (freely without being rewarded). That seems to me to be a significant part of the prologue and perhaps though less certainly to make sense of God's words at the end that Job spoke truely about God, while his friends did not!

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  3. SLW, yes I have heard similar about translation issues. From memory this was due to ancient Hebrew and rare words?

    I don't doubt that Job is an example of faith (and righteousness, Ezekiel 14), though not certain this is the main theme.

    Tim, probably. Somewhat covered by righteous in point 1.

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  4. Yes bethyada, rare words and sketchy Hebrew. Commentators tend to be equivocal. It's hard to get one's questions answered satisfactorily. The best explanation I've come across was that Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible and was likely in a non-Hebrew Semitic tongue originally.

    It took quite a while for me to settle in on the focus on faith, but when I did, it just seemed to hold the whole thing together better for me. Maybe I should specify that more and say, "Regardless Faith." Faith (sustained trust) regardless of...

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