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Michael Bittle SID 8943314
Old Testament Wisdom Literature OT 2CO3 Instructor: Edward Ho June 14, 2010
1 Coming from a culture that believed deeply in retributive justice, The Book of Job is about faith: resolute, unwavering faith, which defies all laws and logic. Job’s faith stands as a testament to the truth that God is the centre of the universe and, as such, He must be worshiped for no other reason than He is God. In our world where “bad things happen to good people”, Job teaches us wisdom – that what is truly important in this life is developing a deep and abiding relationship with our Creator which can, and should, transcend all human experience. Daniel J. Estes, in The Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms, highlights Job as “one of the greatest masterpieces … in all of world literature.” (Estes, p. 11). According to Estes, Job challenges “the mistaken assumption … of retribution theology” and demonstrates that “divine justice … lies outside of human understanding.” Estes says Job “reveals that … Yahweh is free and beyond human comprehension.” (all Estes, p 23). On theodicy, Estes suggests Job “demonstrates that some suffering falls outside of retribution” and “there is human suffering that is not caused by personal sin”. Indeed, Estes concludes “Job answers the question posed by the problem of evil by affirming that humans cannot comprehend fully the ways of God.” (Estes, p. 27). William P. Brown, author of Character in Crisis, would agree with Estes that Job is “one of those rare literary works that is both radical and profound” (Brown, p. 50) but views Wisdom literature from a particularly different perspective. Brown says Job is focused on the deformation (Brown, p. 50) and reformation (Brown, p. 83) of Job’s character. Brown says: “Job … is not satisfied with simply dismantling conventional models of wisdom and morality … [but poses] unspeakable questions and … broadens the horizons of the traditional model of character.” (Brown, p. 50). He asserts, “It is
2 important to keep in mind that Job is primarily about Job and not about someone else, even God, or something else, including theodicy.” (Brown, p. 51). Indeed, Brown views the underlying purpose of Job to articulate how Job transitions from “the traditional notion of the ‘fear of God’ as divinely inspired terror” (Brown, p. 116) to a “radical trust in God.” (Brown, p. 117). Our beloved instructor, Ed Ho, would recommend to us that we read Job more literally than suggested by Brown. Pastor Ho would suggest that Job is a great ironic narrative, that “Job serves as the unequivocal voice of the author” (course notes) and that the “character God … represents one the dominant religious voice at the author’s time.” (course notes). As such, the God ‘character’ in Job should be perceived as an object of irony and not really God himself. Pastor Ho would go on to say that the main point of Job is not simply to argue against retribution theology although, if we accept that Job’s friends were wrong, this is an important aspect of Job. He would also say Job does not simply address the reasons for innocent suffering unless we also ignore the Heavenly dialogues. Most importantly, Pastor Ho would suggest that the main purpose for Job is to teach us about the appropriate response to suffering, and remind us that we should not challenge God unless we are truly innocent. Estes and Pastor Ho might agree that we suffer sometimes because we need to travel the spiritual journey to renew our faith, that “suffering, then, is not always punitive, but rather may be instructive.” (Estes, p. 27). The major sections of Job can generally be described as (a) the prologue, with the Heavenly council (Job 1-2); (b) the dialogue between Job and his friends, with three cycles of speeches (Job 3-27); (c) the monologues, on Wisdom, Job’s soliloquy on innocence, and Elihu (Job 28-37) ; (d) the Divine dialogue between God and Job (Job 38-
3 42:6); and (e) the epilogue (Job 42:7-17). Estes approaches Job along these lines, but includes the Wisdom poem and Job’s soliloquy (Job 28-31) in with the dialogue (Job 3-27). He views the Wisdom poem as an “interlude” between the dialogue speech cycles and Job’s massive soliloquy, intended to refocus the reader to anticipate the coming theophany. (Estes, p. 93). Indeed, when the voice does speak from the whirlwind, Estes asserts this “is Yahweh as the covenant God of Israel who answers Job out of the whirlwind” (Estes, p. 113), overlooking the fact that Job does not belong to the covenant. Estes goes on to describe Job’s restoration as a “blessing” which demonstrates that “in the larger flow of Yahweh’s plan he does indeed reward righteousness” (Estes, p 127) and concludes “Job compels us to trust the character of the Lord when we are unable to comprehend his ways.” (Estes, p. 128). Brown views Job from a very different perspective: it is all about Job’s integrity. (Brown, p. 82). Job 1-31 is described as the Deformation of Character, where Job’s character is reshaped from through his trials and confrontations from being a quiet, pious man to an angry victim demanding a face-to-face confrontation with God, but that throughout all this Job’s integrity remains intact. From the prologue, Brown views God as a “tester” of men’s faith who nonetheless has confidence in Job’s integrity; and hears Job’s wife ask the most leading question: why does Job not simply set aside his integrity so that he may die quickly. In the dialogue (which Brown calls the Discourse), Job’s friends “attempt to discredit the thesis of Job’s integrity … [yet] Job persists …to challenge God face to face.” (Brown, p. 82). Brown sees Job’s vehement assertion as to the legitimacy of his integrity, and his subsequent shift from viewing God as being just to being capricious (Brown, p. 83), as creating the framework for his Reformation of
4 Character in Job 32-42. The Reformation begins with the Elihu monologues, whom Brown says is completely misunderstood by mainstream scholars and who was “intended to be a commendable figure … who comes close to a prophetic understanding … [of] God’s direct role in human affairs.” (Brown, pp. 84-86). This in turn sets the stage for God’s appearance before Job and his friends. Brown expends a considerable effort describing God’s character (Brown, pp. 89-102), concluding “God is not the exacting or arbitrary judge and warrior Job has envisaged … [but] is characterized ultimately by creativity, self-restraint, and gratuitous pride” guiding all elements of the universe “with blessing and balance” (Estes, pp. 102-103), thereby reforming Job’s character to adopt a wider worldview of his relationship with God and all of God’s creation. Pastor Ho says the prologue and epilogue together create a framework and, in contrast to Estes and Brown, cautions us that the prologue is designed to be understood as a parody. “Through subversive uses of the sapiential didactic narrative genre, the divine council type-scene, and the testing motif, the naivety of the belief that the plight of Job originates in some kind of heavenly decision is exposed by this threefold parody.” (course notes). As noted earlier, the God character in Job should be seen as an object of irony, and the consolation motif involving Job’s friends “turns out ironically to be a disputation.” (course notes). Pastor Ho also sees the Elihu speeches as a buffer between the dialogues and the Divine speeches, delaying the coming of the whirlwind theophany and would therefore question whether the Divine speeches are the climax or really the anticlimax of Job. Pastor Ho disagrees with the conventional interpretation of the Divine speeches and Job’s responses, and would say that the theophany and Divine speeches simply reflect Job’s expectations and add nothing new to his belief or understanding.
5 Furthermore, unless Job 42:3a and 42:4 are taken as unmarked attributed quotations, we cannot truly say that Job is humbled by his theophanic encounter. (course notes). I particularly like elements of each of these three interpretations: Ed Ho’s insight into the use of parody, Brown’s views on character development, and Este’s ultimate perception that God can be trusted. As someone involved in pastoral counselling for over 15 years, I have seen men subjected to the satan’s whimsical abuse of power, who ended up groveling in the gutters of life crying out with despair and anger, like Job, that God has abandoned them (Job 30:20). Ed Ho’s view of the prologue enables me to approach Job with a sense of perspective, that while I may take the story of Job at face value, I also recognize that what the narrator thinks he knows about God and what I think I know about God is not all there is to know about God. Brown’s view of Job throughout the dialogue with his friends clearly shows the result of someone who pits himself in an adversarial relationship with God but who, in reality, is struggling only with his perception of God. That a person as blameless as Job can experience a complete deformation and reformation of character means there is at least some hope for the rest of us who are not as blameless. Finally, with respect to Este’s and those more conventional scholars who read divine purpose into the whirlwind theophany, we must not ignore the fact that God was completely aware of all that had transpired and of all the dialogue between Job and his friends. Even if Job could not feel the presence of God throughout his suffering, God was in fact present. It was only after all human wisdom had fully run its course that He made His presence known: God appeared when He was needed, and not a moment sooner. For all of us who at times suffer despair, God’s silent but enduring presence offers hope.