Archive for March, 2011

Day 437: Job 1

            The book of Job, in terms of development and structure, is easily the most complicated of all the books of the Old Testament, rivaled only by the book of Revelation in the New. Chapters 1 – 2 and the last 11 verses of the book provide a framework, although a flimsy one, in which to contain the complicated and sophisticated philosophical and theological arguments contained within. Commentators have also been prone to simplify the nature of the book and the character of Job, emphasizing the “patience of Job,” for example. Such a characterization is an unfortunate scraping of the surface, for the book of Job is a deepening maze of human attempts to understand the nature of God, the nature of humanity, suffering, and life itself. Still, the very struggle to understand helps us come to grips with some of life’s most persistent and crucial questions.

            1-5: “Long ago and far away” would be a good way to translate the opening words of the book. The setting of the story is impossible to date because it contains none of the usual references to rulers or to known events of history. The location is just as obscure. Uz is completely unknown elsewhere in the Bible or in other ancient literature, and the only place reference, that it is in “the east” (verse 3), is not helpful except that it probably is meant to indicate that the tale takes place outside of Israel proper. We are introduced to Job (not a typical Israelite name), a Noah-like character who is “upright and blameless.” He is a wealthy man with 10 children, thousands of animals and a mass of servants. His children are grown and we are given a happy family photograph with all ten of them gathering regularly for a big party, rotating between houses. Job is so religiously conscientious that he offers sacrifices following each party to atone for any sin they might have carelessly committed.

            6: The story moves from the earthly to the divine plane and we find ourselves in the courts of heaven where God is conferencing with the other divine beings come to report their activities. We meet the Satan (I agree with the many scholars who insist that the word indicates primarily a function in the heavenly court, not a distinct individual being). We first met the Satan in 1 Chronicles 21:1, where it was said that the “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people.” Therefore we understand the Satan to be one who not only accuses but also tempts. Nowadays we call that “entrapment.” It may surprise you to learn that the Satan is mentioned only 14 times in the entire Old Testament, and 11 of these are in the first 2 chapters of Job (the others are 1 Chronicles 21:1, Zechariah 3:1 and 3:2).

            7-12: God engages the Satan in dialogue, and the two of them square off against each other over Job. It is the Satan’s job to disagree with God and to challenge God’s assessment of particular individuals. God sees Job as an entirely righteous and faithful man. The Satan sees Job’s faithfulness as a function of his blessedness. God has blessed him with great wealth, he says, so of course Job is righteous. Take away his wealth, challenges the Satan, and see just how righteous Job really is. Again we see the Satan’s function as not just accuser but tempter as well. God agrees to allow the Satan to take away Job’s wealth and see what happens. In other words, God agrees that trials and temptations can sometimes be helpful in determining a person’s true character. We saw this, for example, when God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac. This attribute of God is most disturbing to me, but I confess that I find in it a troubling measure of truth.

            13-19: In a series of calamities Job loses everything. All his servants are killed and all his animals are destroyed by wildfire or stolen by raiders. Then the worst news arrives; all his children are killed when his oldest son’s house collapses on them. This last is unexpected, for modern readers do not think of children as wealth, but that is a common way of thinking in ancient Near-Eastern cultures.

            20-22: Job grieves but absorbs the blows with stoic faithfulness. It all belonged to God in the first place, he reasons, and God is entitled to take it away. There are many memorable nuggets of wisdom in the book of Job, and we find one of them in these verses: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.”

Day 438: Job 2

            1-6: We’re back in the courts of heaven, and the scene from 1:6 is repeated almost word for word until the last part of verse 3 where God boasts of Job’s continuing integrity in spite of his troubles. Neither God nor anyone else in heaven seems concerned about Job’s present condition. The Satan retorts that anyone would give up everything to save his or her own life, but threaten Job’s life and he will change his tune. God tells the Satan he can test Job in any way, but his life is to be spared.

            7-8: The Satan afflicts Job with sores from head to foot and the poor fellow is suffering terribly with sores. The description of his malady is almost exactly the same as we find among the curses in Deuteronomy 28:35. In other words, Job is suffering in exactly the way one whom God has rejected might be expected to suffer. Job is “sitting among the ashes,” which means that he is still mourning the awful death of his children. His only response to this new calamity is to pick up a piece of broken pottery and scratch himself with it. The implication is that he has already suffered as much as he can suffer and this new affliction adds nothing to the depth of his grief.

            9-10: Job’s wife, however, has resigned herself to being cursed. The troubles they have already experienced are as much as she can handle, and for her there is nothing left to do but die. Job’s reply to her grief is unkind, but he speaks another word that has become one of the oft-quoted nuggets of wisdom from the book: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

            11-13: Job has three friends who have heard of his misfortune. They join together to come and console him. They are not prepared for what they see, though, and Job’s appearance is a terrible shock to them. They are unable to say anything at all, but they sit silently with him for seven days. That, I think, speaks of true friendship, although their subsequent words may belie that assessment. Still, they do not speak at all until they have heard Job have his say.

Day 439: Job 3

            1-19: Chapter 3 begins a series of discourses which initially address Job’s pitiful condition and gradually move into discussions of broader and weightier matters. Job has been thinking about his situation silently for seven days, and now erupts in speech. His eloquent cry of despair is the despair of everyone who has ever suffered a devastating loss; his whole life, every day of it, is now worthless and he wishes none of it had ever occurred. He wants to erase from time the very day on which he was born. That being impossible he wishes that he had not lived beyond his birth, that he had been stillborn.

            20-26: He curses the terrible fate of the bereaved – day still follows day and he is forced to see the world around him; a world he no longer wants to see; a world in which he can no longer rejoice. Notice that he has moved from wishing the day of his birth had never dawned, to wishing he had died at birth, to facing the present crushing reality of what has befallen him, and the awful burden of his devastated soul.

Day 440: Job 4

            1-6: Eliphaz, like most people, is not willing to let Job simply vent his grief, but has to challenge his nihilism. You’ve always been somebody to look up to, he says, don’t blow it now.

            7-21: Eliphaz presents Job with arguments that he has probably heard Job make in the past: we think that surely the innocent are not the ones who perish, but then there are ample examples to show the folly of that line of reasoning. In nature even the strong are sometimes defeated by circumstances. He gives a dramatic presentation of a revelation that has come to him in a vision: human beings cannot be righteous or pure next to God. They all perish. Job is not exempt even though his reputation may be spotless.

Day 441: Job 5

            1-7: Eliphaz continues reporting God’s word that came to him in the vision. “Human beings are born to trouble, just as sparks fly upward.” In other words, stuff happens. It is as natural and as unavoidable as heat rising.

            8-16: He advises Job to simply surrender to God. Nature also witnesses that God does marvelous things, after all, and God does indeed seem to favor the poor and needy in this world.

            17-27: His argument here seems to be that suffering at God’s hand is itself a sign of God’s favor, and that once having endured such trials one can be sure that God’s protection will not fail. The future, in other words, in no way is set because of what has happened to you. Trust that God can still redeem your life.

Day 442: Job 6

            1-7: Job responds to the remarks of Eliphaz. He admits to having spoken rashly, but attributes it to his pain which, if weighed in a balance would be heavier than the sand of the sea, and food is tasteless now to him, he says.

            8-13: Like many who are faced with unending pain, he is no longer able to withstand his suffering, and wishes only that it would end.

            14-23: Job talks about how his acquaintances have shunned him since his illness began. This again is a common complaint of those who suffer from long-term or chronic disease, especially if the malady is tainted with social stigma as was (is still) the case with leprosy and other skin diseases. Apparently he is a well-known trader with foreign caravans, but they no longer stop at his door because of his condition. And even these three friends that are with him now seem to be afraid because of what has befallen him. However, he has asked nothing of them, he says.

            24-27: He wants to know what he has done to deserve his plight, and accuses them of sidling up to him to get some gain from his situation (“you would bargain over your friend”).

            28-30: Look at me, he demands, and tell me straight out what wrong I have spoken.

Day 443: Job 7

            1-6: Job continues bewailing his plight. He is in constant misery. The nights are unbearably long; the days pass too quickly and his hopes for any sign of recovery or improvement are dashed.

            7-10: He is convinced that he hasn’t much time left before his death.

            11-21: He insists that he has a right to complain, and his complaint dissolves into a series of “whys.” Why should God bother with human beings anyway (see Psalm 8:4)? Why is God using him for target practice? Why is he relegated to becoming a burden to his friends? Why doesn’t God forgive him? Doesn’t God know he’s going to die?

Day 444: Job 8

            1-7: Bildad speaks next, and his logic is cold and cruel. Job’s children got what they deserved, he reasons, and so will Job because God’s justice is not to be questioned.

            8-10: History (bygone generations) provides ample evidence, he says.

            11-19: Those who forget God wither like reeds without water, and wicked people will take advantage of them and prosper from their defeat.

            20-22: If you are blameless, he says, God will not reject you, but your fortunes will be restored.

Day 445: Job 9

            1-12: Job agrees with Bildad’s last statement but argues that it is not possible for a mere mortal to be blameless before God. God is wise and inscrutable. He describes God’s might in ever ascending images: God cannot be resisted by the mountains, or by the earth, or by the sun, or by the stars in their constellations. And then, coming back down to earth he declares that God can walk right past him without his knowing it.

            13-24: Rahab in ancient literature is a sea monster that symbolizes the awesome power of the tides and waves. But even this mythological beast cannot stand up to the power of God, says Job. Given all that, what hope does Job have of even being granted an audience with God, let alone of having God hear his defense? Job’s misery convinces him that God is too aloof to bother with distinguishing between the wicked and the good. After all, if God doesn’t allow the innocent to suffer then who is responsible for the suffering of the innocent?

            25-35: Job trembles before God because he is afraid that before God he is nothing, a creature so small and insignificant that God doesn’t notice whether he is blameless or not. He begs for a mediator, someone who can make a connection between him and God. If he weren’t suffering he wouldn’t be so afraid to defend his life. He insists that his state is not justified but feels that he cannot argue his case before God, for God is too mighty and too distant.

Day 446: Job 10

            1-22: Job’s mourning and misery now give vent to his anger at God. This again is a common stage of grief, regardless of culture or class, regardless even of religious faith. His complaint is eloquent. It seems to him that God has turned against him. It seems to him that it doesn’t matter whether he is righteous or unrighteous; God has the power and apparently the will to make him suffer regardless. He is consigned to his own end and wishes only for God to leave him alone for a little while.

Day 447: Job 11

            1-6: Eliphaz and Bildad have had their say, now it is Zophar’s turn. Like so many people he is afraid to simply let Job speak out his angst, perhaps because he, like all of us, sees that the fate of a friend who is suffering is only one step removed from his own downfall. He has to challenge Job’s anger at God, and even goes so far as to tell Job that he probably deserves even worse than he’s getting! With friends like these …

            7-12: He says that Job doesn’t know anything about God and has no right to judge God’s judgment.

            13-20: All you have to do, Job, is admit your guilt and God will forgive you. You’ll be well again and everything will be alright. You’ll forget all about this and you’ll be confident and hopeful again. God will take care of you. But if you persist in your wickedness it’s all over for you.

Day 448: Job 12

            1-6: Job becomes a bit combative – can you blame him? He resents being treated as someone whose wisdom is inferior. He can’t seem to believe that he is no longer respected. Again he laments that God is ignoring his plight. The irony of it is that those who can carry their god around in their pocket don’t have to be afraid of divine wrath.

            7-12: All living things in nature seem to instinctively know that the fortunes of life and death are in God’s hands; but one has to live awhile to understand that.

            13-25: God can do anything God wants to do. No rain cloud can resist God’s will. Neither can counselors, judges, kings, priests, the mighty, the trusted, the elders, princes, nor the strong. Not even darkness and light are independent of God’s will. Whole nations are at God’s mercy.

Day 449: Job 13

            1-12: Still on the attack, Job declares again that he is not inferior to his friends in knowledge. Still, he recognizes that arguing with them is pointless; his real complaint is with God. His friends would make more sense if they would just shut up. They can neither explain nor persuade God in anything.

            13-19: Just be quiet, he says, and let him talk this out. He wants to take his case directly to God even if it kills him. He knows he has a good case, but he also knows that God is a hard sell.

            20-28: Speaking directly to God now, Job prays first for God not to terrify him. Then he implores God to tell him what the charges are. It seems to him that God is punishing him for long-forgotten youthful transgressions and that he is suffering unfairly because it has not been made clear to him why the punishment is being given.

Day 450: Job 14

            1-6: Still speaking directly to God, Job makes his case. A man, he says, comes into being in much the same way as a wildflower, and like the wildflower lives for a short time and then dies. Why should God single out one of them for judgment? If a person is found to be unclean or unworthy, what can that person possibly do about it? Why can’t you, God, just look away and let us enjoy our little lives?

            7-17: Trees, he says, can sprout again after they have been cut down, but not people. People die. They don’t come back. Why can’t you treat us like trees? Let us hide in the grave for awhile until your anger abates, and then let us sprout again. If you would let me do that, then whenever your anger is done you could call and I would answer, my sins would be covered up and everything would be just fine.

            18-22: But no, that isn’t the way you want to run things, God. We are left to suffer just as surely as a mountain gradually erodes away.

Day 451: Job 15

            1-6: Eliphaz has been listening since his first monologue in chapter 4. Now he complains that Job would do away with the fear of God, and that if such a thing should happen there would be no longer a need to communicate with God. I’m not condemning you, he says; your own words condemn you.

            7-16: Are you really innocent as Adam was innocent when he was formed? You would ignore the wisdom that has been passed down through the generations. How dare you make light of the blessings God gives! Do you think anybody has a right to do that? In verse 15 he makes a disturbing statement: God doesn’t trust anybody or anything. In other words, nothing in the world is entirely without blemish, let alone you, Job.

            17-35: This is what I have seen with my own eyes, he says: the wicked suffer horribly for their waywardness. He goes into great detail about how the wicked are punished in every way. Accordingly, Eliphaz thinks that if Job is suffering as he has seen wicked people suffer, Job must therefore be wicked.

            I wonder if that has anything to do with the way people today tend to shun those who are suffering; subconsciously do we think on some level that they must deserve what they’re getting?

Day 452: Job 16

            1-5: Job responds to Eliphaz. Their words are no comfort to him, but he admits that what the three of them are saying are the kinds of things he might have said.

            6-17: Whether Job speaks or not his pain is unabated. He has lost weight, we see now, as is usually the case with a prolonged illness. Of course there is no way to tell just how long he has suffered to this point, but we know that he became ill before his friends arrived and that they sat with him for a week before they launched into the speeches we are reading now. Job is convinced, though, as the chronically ill often are that he has become God’s primary target.

            18-22: When Cain killed Abel God said to Cain, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) That imagery comes to Job’s mind, and he utters the wish that the same will be the case with him – that his blood will cry out from the ground and find for him a sympathetic voice in heaven. Verse 22 seems to mean that he thinks he will live a few more years, but that is not the case: he is referring to the entire span of his life as having been but only a few years.

Day 453: Job 17

            1-2: He is certain that the grave awaits, and it pains him that on the brink of death he has to listen to the judgments of his friends.

            3-5: Legal language pervades the entire book. Job laments that none of them will “go surety” for him, that is, post a bond and give him at least a temporary reprieve from his punishment. Verses 4 and 5 are obscure; Job seems to be addressing God, and saying that God has kept them from empathizing with him, and that their lack of compassion will be passed on to their children.

            6-7: God, says Job, has caused his suffering, and made him lose respect in the community.

            8-10: His friends have fallen quiet and he calls them back to the debate.

            11-16: His future has been removed, his hope is gone. There is nothing left but death and the grave.

Day 454: Job 18

            1-4: Bildad makes his second speech. His opening question echoes the opening of his first speech, “How long?” (8:2) He correctly diagnoses Job’s diatribes as evidence of 1) anger and 2) self-obsession. What he does not take into account is that when someone is enduring long-term pain those are natural responses. He would be wiser not to take Job’s jabs personally.

            5-21: The rest of his speech is a defense of his belief that wicked people can’t possibly get away with their wickedness. He paints a bleak picture of the miserable life to which they are consigned; a life that, by the way, resembles the life Job is living at the moment.

Day 455: Job 19

            1-12: Job, for his part, attributes all his suffering to God. Whereas before the imagery he used was from the court of law, now his imagery is more varied and colorful. God has “closed his net around me;” “there is no justice;” “he has walled up my way;” “he has stripped my glory from me;” “uprooted my hope like a tree.” In verse 12 the imagery is of warfare, with troops, siege works and encampments.

            13-22: Job’s grief continues: his family has turned away from him, even his wife and children. Servants ignore him. Friends have forsaken him. It is a pitiful picture. He begs his three friends to have pity on him.

            23-29: Job wishes his words were written down (they were!) so that after he dies his defense can still be made. He has a redeemer (next-of-kin who vindicates the death of the innocent) who will stand up for him after he is gone. And Job insists that he will see God. This seems to be a threat against Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar: if they continue to torment Job they will suffer God’s wrath.

Day 456: Job 20

            1-11: Zophar is insulted! He can’t believe Job continues to defend his innocence. Doesn’t Job know that no matter how rich, how powerful, how popular, how exalted the wicked may become, it is short-lived and they eventually perish like their own dung – which is a curious figure of speech since dung is not alive in the first place. Maybe that’s his point. The wicked come and go, he says, and nobody remembers them – like Hitler, for example. Their children are poorer than the poor, he says, and that is probably more accurate.

            12-19: Zophar continues the same track, imagining fantastic and unsurvivable suffering for the wicked.

            20-29: Their greed eventually overtakes them, he avers. Some of the metaphors he uses in the last few verses seem to indicate that he suspects that sooner or later the wicked become victims of other wicked people.

Day 457: Job 21

            1-16: Job replies: first of all, he says, I’m not complaining to you mere mortals. In the second place, I’m not interested in investigating the nature of evil. I’m in bad shape, don’t you see? Besides, the fact is the wicked often live to a ripe old age and their children prosper after them. They seem to get along quite well without God, and in fact prefer that God leaves them alone. Mind you, of course, that such a way of life turns my stomach.

            17-26: But since you brought it up, where’s your evidence? In terms of statistics, fellows, exactly what is the percentage of failure for the wicked? If God punishes them, show me the facts. If their children suffer because of their wickedness, what do they care? It seems to me that some of the wicked die having never experienced a single day of need, while poor people die having never experienced a day of plenty.

            27-34: The fact of the matter is if you ask around you’ll discover that the wicked are immune to the perils the rest of us have to face. Even when they die their graves are kept inviolable. You’re trying to “comfort” me with meaningless babble. The wicked don’t suffer, but I sure do!

Day 458: Job 22

            1-11: Eliphaz is back on stage. The reason you are suffering, my dear Job, is because you are one of the worst human beings who has ever lived. God certainly isn’t punishing you for your piety. You have taken advantage of your own family. You have stolen the clothing right off the backs of the poor. You have withheld basic human needs from the needy. You have turned away poor widows and orphans. That’s why you are suffering, my dear, dear friend.

            12-20: Do you think God is so high and lofty he doesn’t bother with judging the wicked? Don’t you see that the wicked go early to their graves, or are you sticking to the old shtick that God has “filled their houses with good things – but the plans of the wicked are repugnant to me.” The truly righteous see the truth that the wicked are consumed.

            21-30: So just agree with God (I mean, with me!) and good days will return for you. Turn back to God (obviously you turned away) and God will restore you. Put away your earthly wealth and let God be your treasure (in a few hundred years Jesus will say something like that), and then when you pray God will hear you. Everything will be back to normal. Don’t you know that pride goes before a fall? So be humble, Job.

Day 459: Job 23

            1-7: Job responds to Eliphaz’ last blast: if he could only stand before God and plead his case God would certain acquit him.

            8-9: But no matter where he turns he cannot find God. (Contrast this sentiment with the one found in Psalm 139:7-12.)

            10-14: In these verses we finally begin to see some sense of optimism in Job. Surely all this suffering will have a golden outcome.

            15-17: But God is God, and Job slips back into the terror of being in the hands of the awesome creator of the universe.

Day 460: Job 24

            1-8: Job points out that those who know God do not live any great length of days. The wicked on the other hand simply take whatever they want while the poor live like animals.

            9-12: The poor work at heavy labor and have nothing to show for it. They cry in anguish but God doesn’t pay any attention to it.

            13-17: The wicked, however, sneak around in the dark to steal and kill.

            18-20: The wicked fare no better than the poor, though. The grave takes them all.

            21-25: The mighty may live a longer and more secure life, prolonged by God’s hand, but they, too, wind up like everything else.

Day 461: Job 25

            1-6: Bildad argues that all human beings die because human beings are nothing more than despicable annelids. (Annelid / an-ni-lid/ noun: a worm with a body made up of segments, such as an earthworm. – ORIGIN from Latin annelus ‘small ring’)

Day 462: Job 26

            1-14: Job’s response is delightfully sarcastic. As onlookers to this conversation we have sympathized and perhaps empathized with Job’s situation and have been offended by some of the tactics of his three friends. Of course, we have the benefit of knowing that Job’s struggles have cosmic repercussions and that the whole “test” is whether or not he will “curse God and die” (2:9). His friends have attempted to move him to the place of cursing himself, but their council has at least consistently held God in the highest esteem. Job has questioned and even criticized God, but so far has remained faithful and has not cursed God. His friends see only Job’s condition, and have no reference point other than what they have witnessed and experienced. Still, when Job retorts sardonically, “Thanks for the encouragement, fellows!” we want to cheer. The old guy still has some fight in him. He launches into a long speech that will take up six chapters. He begins by theologizing about the power and might and mystery of God, and allows that God is unsearchable and inscrutable. What we can understand of God’s grandeur, he says, is just a peek at the fringes.

Job 27 (Day 463):

            1-6: Job refuses to give in to his friends’ insistence that he deserves his suffering. He acknowledges that his suffering is from God but declares his innocence nonetheless. It is a troubling position – can God, does God, initiate our trials? Going back to the conversation between God and the Satan in chapter 2, is Job suffering because God is testing him, or because God trusts him?

            7-12: The godless have no hope when trouble comes, says Job, implying that he still does have hope. His friends once looked up to him as a source of wisdom, but now they seem to see their own elevation in his suffering – that is to say, if suffering is punishment they must be better than Job because he is being punished and not them.

            13-23: Job describes the “portion of the wicked with God.” It is a troubling passage because he could be describing himself! All the things he describes as the fate of the wicked happened to him in chapters 1 and 2.

Job 28 (Day 464):

            1-6: There follows a philosophical reflection on the nature of wisdom. It seems out of place in the present discourse. First Job explores the mysterious depths of the earth and its wealth; silver, gold, iron, copper, and precious gems. He describes human efforts to mine these things. On the surface the earth appears benign and beneficial, for bread is produced from the grain that grows from the ground, but beneath the surface there is fire – a common belief of ancient people who observed volcanic activity and naturally assumed the bowels of the earth consist of fire and molten rock. They weren’t too far off.

            7-8: Those riches and those mysteries are completely unknown to other creatures.

            9-11: Humans, however, have the ability to change the surface of the earth and to tunnel into its depths.

            12-19: Wisdom, on the other hand, possesses a mystery that cannot be plumbed by human toil or by human searching. It is not to be found beneath the earth or in the depths of the sea. You can’t buy it, not with gold or silver or gems or coral or crystal or pearls or chrysolite – all the precious things to be found in the earth or in the ocean – or jewelry made with any of these.

            20-22: The source of wisdom is a mystery to all. You won’t discover its source on land or sea or under the ground or from a birds’ eye view. Even Death and Abaddon (the abode of the dead) know not from whence it comes.

            23-28: God knows. When God went about the work of creation God discovered wisdom and made it part of the world. What is wisdom? Wisdom is the fear of the LORD. It can be gained only through that understanding which is gained by departing from evil.

Job 29 (Day 465):

            1-20: Job remembers the “good old days” when everything was wonderful. Of course, he is remembering that things were a little more perfect than they actually were. We all do that; I have been in situations that caused me to long for easier days.

            21-25: Job’s recollection is that he was respected and revered by everyone and that he was regularly called on to settle disputes. If you read again the description of Job’s situation in chapters 1 and 2 you will see that he was a wealthy and righteous man, but to say that he “lived like a king among his troops” is a bit of hyperbole. People who are subjected to long-term suffering often take refuge in their memory of the past as an ideal time.

Job 30 (Day 466)

            1-8: It is a sad but true commentary on humankind that when one of us suffers others of us sometimes are glad to see it. That is perhaps the case especially when a wealthy or powerful person is in dire straits; those who have always been jealous of their status might celebrate. Job is making just such an observation, but his depiction of other folks in the community seems to me to be more than a little disdainful. The dismissed; the poor and hungry; the huddling, “disreputable brood” (verse 8) – aren’t these the very folks Job was claiming to have championed in the last chapter?

            9-15: Except for Job’s three friends we have not been told that anyone else has responded to Job’s calamities, but Job imagines that the “disreputable brood” is singing mean-spirited songs about him and are even actively opposing him. We wonder if that is actually the case or if Job is perhaps only expressing the paranoia of the oppressed.

            16-17: Job repeats the catalogue of his troubles.

            19-23: It is not certain who the antagonist is in these verses – the “he” in 19-20 and the “you” in 21-23. Some commentators think both pronouns refer to God. Others see a reference to the Satan in 19-20, and to God in 21-23. I lean toward that interpretation: the Satan has “cast me into the mire,” (19) but God has refused to answer his plea (20-23).

            24-31: Job does not understand how God can abandon him when he, Job, never abandoned the poor and needy. Again the catalogue of woes is given.

Job 31 (Day 467)

            1-4: Job continues to defend his life and assert his innocence. All of this is an effort to answer the question, “Why?” When disaster comes we instinctively look for our role in it: what have I done to cause this, or to deserve this?

            5-8: If he has done anything that would deserve punishment, then let the punishment at least be fair. He insists that his suffering is out of all proportion to his crime, if indeed there is any crime.

            9-12: If he has committed adultery that is indeed “a heinous crime,” but let the punishment fit the crime.

            13-15: He knows that mistreating his slaves is a sin and that God would be right to punish him for it. The implication, of course, is that he has done no such thing.

            16-23: He has never neglected the poor or the orphan or the widow because he fears the wrath of God.

            24-28: If he had put his wealth above his God that would be cause for punishment. He of course does not believe he has done that.

            29-37: He can understand being punished if he has ever rejoiced over the misfortunes of others or refused to offer hospitality to the stranger.

            38-40: If he has misused or abused his land that would be cause for an indictment against him.

            In all of these “if … then” scenarios Job is returning to the original legal imagery of the book. Basically he is demanding, “What charge has been brought against me?” He simply cannot imagine that he is suffering for no reason at all.

            And with that, his defense rests.

Job 32 (Day 468)

            1-5: The three friends (here called “these three men) fall silent in the face of Job’s stubborn insistence that he does not deserve his fate. Suddenly we meet a new character, Elihu. His presence is a surprise, and gives us the impression that perhaps there have been other onlookers the whole time the three men have been arguing with Job. His introduction is longer than any of the three. His name is the only Israelite name in the book (it means, “He is my God”). His speech is the longest of them all (32:6-37:24), and he quotes portions of the others’ speeches as well as anticipates parts of God’s speech which comes afterward. He is the only one who addresses Job by name. Many scholars believe his speech is a later addition to the story.

            Elihu is angry with Job for the same reason that made the three friends fall silent – Job has insisted on his innocence, thus justifying himself rather than God. He is angry as well at the three friends because they haven’t been able to “get through” to Job. He has been patiently waiting to speak out of respect for them because they are his elders.

            6-10: The first part of Elihu’s speech gives his reasons for speaking. He has been listening to them out of respect for their age, but surely age is not the only requirement for wisdom.

            11-14: He has waited for them to refute Job’s declarations of innocence, but they have failed.

            15-22: Since they have nothing more to add to the discussion, Elihu ventures to offer his observations. He can’t hold back any longer. He is ready to explode with the thoughts roiling about in his mind, swelling like fermenting grapes in a wineskin.

Job 33 (Day 469)

            1-7: Now Elihu turns his attention to Job, and the second part of his speech is a refutation of Job’s defense. He tells Job that he is going to challenge him, but his challenge will not be overbearing. In this he seems to be showing at least a bit of restraint in the face of a man who is suffering.

            8-11: He summarizes Job’s complaint, that Job is innocent and God is punishing him unfairly.

            12-28: Job has claimed that God doesn’t hear him. Elihu counters that God responds to us in ways that we sometimes miss; in dreams, for example, or even in our suffering. He gives an example of someone (like Job) who has wasted away to nearly nothing, for whom God grants a reprieve, and who responds with thanksgiving that God has heard their plea even though they sinned. The implication is that if Job will let them intercede for him, God will restore him; but first Job needs to admit that he needs an intercession. I think this is not really a bad argument.

            29-33: Elihu assures Job that God is quite capable of saving a person more than once, and invites him to interrupt whenever he wishes, but tells Job to pay attention because he, Elihu, possesses wisdom. Thus he sets the stage for launching into a sermon about the merits of God’s justice.

Job 34 (Day 470)

            1-9: Like the other three, Elihu finds fault with Job’s declaration of innocence. Job’s insistence that he is a righteous man who is suffering unjustly is for them evidence to the contrary because he is accusing God of being unjust; he is declaring that “taking delight in God” is pointless.

            10-15: So, Elihu launches a defense of God! God makes no mistakes, he says. God sees to it that everybody gets what they deserve. After all, God is God, and if God decides to take back the gift of life, everything that lives will die.

            16-20: No one can rule who hates justice. (I don’t think he’s right about that.) You, Job, are condemning the ruler of all creation who is the very epitome of justice.

            21-30: God sees everything, he says. You can’t hide from God. No one else is above God in judgment. He describes how God sweeps away the wicked no matter how mighty they are. If God is silent, no one else is allowed to judge; only God can condemn nations and their rulers. God set things up that way so that “the godless should not reign.” (You have to wonder how Elihu can come to such a conclusion.)

            31-37: If you repent, says Elihu, and admit that you deserve your punishment God will certainly “pay back to suit you.” Your situation proves that you have sinned, Job, and when you deny the obvious you are only being rebellious.

Job 35 (Day 471)

            1-8: Now Elihu attempts to respond to two of Job’s complaints: that being righteous is no guarantee for prosperity and that God refuses to respond to his plea for justice. In answer to the first complaint Elihu presents an interesting theological point: whether we are righteous or sinful affects the people around us, but has no affect on God.

            9-13: Job’s second complaint is that God won’t listen to him. He has made the point that oftentimes oppressed people cry out but God doesn’t hear them (see, for example, 24:12). Elihu’s explanation is that although the oppressed often cry out against their oppressors, God does not hear because they do not cry out in prayer. “Where is God my Maker?” (verse 10) is an acknowledged appeal to God for help, a recognizable prayer that God does indeed hear. Job has said that even animals and birds can see that he is being punished by the hand of God (12:7). Elihu responds that God has given human beings more wisdom than the animals and the birds (verse 11). However, Elihu says, “God does not hear an empty cry,” (verse 13) meaning that God only responds when the outcry is properly addressed to God.

            14-16: So, when Job claims that he is waiting for God to show up he is complaining in exactly the way in which God will refuse to respond. Therefore Job doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Job 36 (Day 472)

            1-4: Elihu takes it upon himself to defend God, but he seems to have a rather exalted opinion of Elihu, too.

            5-12: God, he says, is just and fair, but people don’t listen to him like they should.

            13-14: Godless people, when they are afflicted, don’t cry for help and as a result they die in disgrace – that is the rather simplistic view of life on earth Elihu has to offer.

            15: But now here is a profound expression; “God delivers the afflicted by their affliction.” I think he means that the suffering to which good people are subjected is a blessing, for it is by means of suffering that God molds you into the person God wants you to be. You can spend an entire day thinking about that.

            16: Job’s former state of living in luxury was God’s way of courting him so that he would want to be a righteous man.

            17-23: He proceeds to give Job advice on how he should react to his current situation. Here is how I would summarize each verse: (17) Job, you are obsessed with the idea that you are being treated unfairly because other people more wicked than you seem to be getting along just fine. (18) Don’t allow your suffering to cause you to second-guess God. (19) There’s nothing you can do to make all your distress magically disappear. (20) So stop wishing for death; that’s nothing but a cop-out. (21) You are being tested; don’t drop the ball. (22) God is always right. (23) It makes no sense to challenge God.

            24-33: Elihu then launches into praise for God’s might and mystery.

Job 37 (Day 473):

            1-5: Elihu describes God’s majesty and might using the imagery of a thunderstorm.

            6-8: Snow and rain fall at God’s command and serve, to people and animals alike, as visible signs (“a sign on everyone’s hand” = “a sign that is obvious to everyone”) of God’s power.

            9-13: He continues with his holy weather report – whirlwind, freezing weather, more rain and thunder and lightning. God sends all this for various reasons.

            14-24: Elihu finishes his lengthy speech by challenging Job to explain how God arranges the many and marvelous phenomena of the weather. Of course we mortals fear God, how can we not? What’s more, human wisdom is nothing to God.

Job 38 (Day 474):

            1-3: Finally, God enters the debate. We may not expect this because Job’s friends have made it clear that God is so much higher than we mortals and that we have no right to expect him to pay any attention to us. On the other hand, Job has begged to make his case face to face with God, and God is after all responsible for Job’s predicament. The interesting thing is that it is not altogether clear that the first part of God’s speech (chapters 38 and 39) is directed at Job; it could arguably be addressed to Elihu!

            4-7: This entire chapter seems to be designed to demonstrate how ignorant human beings really are. God begins with a series of questions about creation: where were you when it took place and who drafted the plans and did the work?

            8-11: When God set the limits of the sea, who shut it in?

            12-15: Did you make the morning, shape the sunrise or give color to it? By the very nature of things, the wicked are not wise and cannot rule forever; did you arrange the world in that way?

            16-18: Have you explored the depths of the sea or the darkness of death or the far reaches of the earth?

            19-21: Where are the sources of light and darkness to be found? You must know the answer because after all you are so old and wise. (God can be sarcastic, too.)

            22-24: Do you know where snow and hail are stored or how light is cast, or where the east wind goes?

            25-27: And who do you think is responsible for making it rain out in the wastelands so that grass begins to grow? Certainly not human beings; the desert is devoid of them.

            28-30: Dew and ice, do they have parents? No? Then from where do they come?

            31-33: Now the narrative turns to the mysteries of the night sky. The Pleiades is a cluster of stars (also called “the Seven Sisters”) which we identify as the “hoof” of the constellation Taurus, the “bull.” The word “Mazzaroth” is obscure; some scholars think it means “constellations,” which would make sense in the present context. The “Bear” is the constellation Ursa Major (which contains the star formation we call the Big Dipper) and “its children” is likely a reference to the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper).

            34-38: God asks more questions designed to prove our limitations. We puny people can’t control rain, lightning, clouds nor dust storms.

            39-41: Neither can we feed the animals and birds of the wild.

Job 39 (Day 475):

1-4: God’s examination of Job (or Elihu, or all of them) continues with the mysteries of nature. Mountain goats and deer are wild animals whose habits are not readily observed; they didn’t have the Nature Channel or zoos, and it is highly unlikely that any of them has seen wild goats and deer birthing their young.

5-8: So also in the case of the wild donkey.

9-12: The habits of the wild ox, likewise, are a mystery.

13-18: Likewise the ostrich, although these verses reveal a surprising amount of knowledge about the personal habits of that grand, earth-bound bird. But then, this is God speaking!

19-25: The horse is a domesticated animal and as such is the odd creature out in this chapter. Still, much about the horse remains in God’s mysterious domain. Explain, for example, how the horse acquires its great courage in battle.

26-30: Hawks and eagles also possess a fascination that human beings cannot explain. All of these creatures are part of God’s great creation, and their existence and their habits are beyond human ability to provide and beyond human understanding.

Job 40 (Day 476):

            1-2: “And the LORD said to Job” – God addresses Job here directly for the first time, giving rise to the idea that perhaps the last two chapters have been aimed either at Elihu, who has presumed to defend God, or at all the friends. There is no doubt, however, that in this section God has Job on the witness stand.

            3-5: Job’s response is total submission.

            6-9: Verse 7 repeats 38:3 almost exactly. “Gird up your loins” is a colloquialism that in our culture might be rendered “Get ready to defend yourself.” The repeat of this challenge lends credence to the theory that chapters 38 and 39 are not addressed to Job. God is indignant. Who is Job that he thinks he can challenge God?

            10-14: The gist of this passage is something like, “If you can do the things I have done, you ought to be able to overcome your troubles all by yourself.”

            15-24: God describes two unidentifiable creatures; Behemoth and Leviathan. Behemoth is a land animal, Leviathan a sea creature. In commentaries Behemoth is sometimes identified as a rhinoceros, sometimes as a hippopotamus (which would fit better with the description in verse 23), sometimes as an imaginary or mythological beast. The point is that it is futile for Job to question God, who alone is able to create such incredible creatures and who alone can tame them.

Job 41 (Day 477):

1-11: Leviathan is Behemoth’s ocean-dwelling counterpart. In commentaries Leviathan is sometimes identified as a giant crocodile, sometimes as a whale, sometimes as a mythological creature. Some scholars think both Leviathan and Behemoth are straight out of the popular religious myths of the day and that the main point of God’s speech here is to show that God is superior to them. Leviathan is pictured here as a powerful and elusive monster of which even “the gods” are afraid. That is to say, in the popular religious myths of the day the gods are afraid of this aquatic beast but God, of course, is not.

12-34: Leviathan is painted in great sweeping strokes of fantastic imagery; its powerful limbs, its thick hide, its awful teeth, its spiny back, and its interlocking scales. It breathes smoke and fire. Its flesh is impenetrable. Weapons are useless against it. It turns the sea into a foamy cauldron.

            If God can make such a creature as this, what makes Job think he can defend himself before God?

Job 42 (Day 478):

            1-6: Job is moved to shame. He has dared to question Almighty God, and now understands the folly of his defense. He quotes his own challenges (verses 3, 4) wryly, realizing now how mistaken he has been. By any human standard his suffering is undeserved, but no human standard can account for the mystery, the power, or the sheer complexity of God’s will. One may only accept one’s lot and trust that God is indeed in charge of it all.

            7-9: Having addressed Elihu and Job, God now addresses Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They have not spoken the truth, says God, as Job has. They have upheld the naïve supposition that the wicked always suffer for their wickedness while the righteous never have to suffer. They must now offer sacrifices and ask Job to pray for them.

            10-17: Job, for his part, is fully restored and doubly blessed, at least in terms of material wealth. He now has 14,000 sheep, 6000 camels, 1000 yoke of oxen and 1000 donkeys whereas before he only had 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 donkeys (see 1:3). Once again he is given 7 sons and 3 daughters (as if that somehow makes up for the loss of the other 10 children – see 1:2). In a curious twist, though, here the names of his daughters are given and they are awarded an inheritance along with their brothers, a rather liberal arrangement for those days. Indeed, it almost seems as if the whole point of the story is to show how Job came to honor his daughters as highly as his sons – even more highly, since the sons’ names are not given. But that couldn’t possibly be the point of the story. Could it?

            You have now completed eighteen of the Bible’s sixty-six books and four hundred seventy eight of its eleven hundred eighty nine chapters. Go get a cup of ice cream – Pralines and Cream.