Job Pt 1 (Chapters 1–2)

by Glenn on August 23, 2014

The Old Testament lectionary reading has taken me to the book of Job. It’s been a while since I’ve read it through. I’m only two chapters in, but what an odd, difficult-to-process book.

We meet Job the man in the first five verses. Two things we need to know about him: 1. he’s rich; and 2. he’s good, blameless before YHWH. It’s hard to place this book in time, but Job is sacrificing animals for his children, so it seems like he has some understanding of Mosaic law and the need for sacrifices, although I know many commentators place this story before the time of Abraham. While it’s not clear when, we do know what: Job is a good man who is doing well. There wouldn’t seem to be much in the way of drama there.

But then the story moves to Heaven where we meet Satan (“accuser” in Hebrew) who comes into YHWH’s presence with the angels (“the sons of God” in Hebrew).

I associate Satan with the ultimate act of betrayal. He is thrown out of heaven (Jesus: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky …” Luke 10:18), condemned to hell, and trying to take as many people with him as he can. This is the narrative I’ve grown up with.

But here Satan is in YHWH’s presence and the tone of their conversation feels rather amicable. YHWH asks Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan responds, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” “Whatchu been up to?” “Oh, just kickin’ it.” Chuck Smith in teaching this passage makes a joke of God asking, “Where’ve you been?” commenting, “As though he didn’t know.”

Then YHWH asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” He seems rather proud of Job’s uncommonly godly nature. Satan tells (“accuses”) YHWH that Job is only good because he is blessed with all those kids and stuff. Job is godly because it’s in his own self interest. YHWH says, “Very well, then…” and tells Satan he is free to take everything away from Job, although he cannot touch his physical person.

When all of Job’s kids are dead and his flocks and herds destroyed, Job makes that incredible statement:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21)

Satan comes back into the presence of God who asks, again, “Have you considered my servant Job.” Satan now complains that Job is only good because he feels good. There’s that expression, “skin for skin,” which sounds like a kind of proverb. By itself it isn’t clear what it means, but the rest of the verse does make it clear that from Satan’s perspective people will happily give up things for the purpose of self preservation. Satan’s next accusation is that if Job’s physical person is involved, i.e. if he is in enough pain, then Job will deny YHWH. And so, if the first calamity wasn’t troubling enough, YHWH allows a second calamity giving Satan permission to afflict (though not kill) Job. Satan hands Job a case of painful sores (boils?) from head to toe.

Job’s wife (unnamed as I recall) tells Job, “Curse God and die!” (Chuck Smith suggests this might have been a loving act. She sees her husband suffering so badly that her heart aches and all she can think about is seeing Job released from his pain.) Job responds, more measuredly,  “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

Job has three friends—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite (named here because they have the coolest names)—who hear about Job’s troubles and decide to hang with Job in the midst of his suffering. They sit with Job for seven days and say nothing.

So, in the Cast of Characters, we have:

Job: who disabuses us of the notion that if you are a good person, you will have a good life. (Or, at the very least, forces us to consider the definition of the good life.) Job 2:3 has the LORD stating that Job was ruined without reason. Yet something within Job remained unchanged. After all this calamity strikes Job, the narrator of the story says, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

YHWH/the LORD/God: whose question, “Have you seen my servant Job?” brings drama to the story of Job. A good and rich man is going to be tested: Is he good because he is rich; or is he rich because he is good? And then there’s the question: what is the value in being good? God’s relationship to Satan is troubling: 1. Why are God and Satan on such casual terms? 2. Why does God feel the need to prove anything to Satan? 3. In Job 2:3 YHWH tells Satan “you have incited me …” and I wonder, how can an all-powerful God be incited?

Job’s wife: is the nihilist. After a second round of calamities she tells her husband, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:10)

Job’s friends: seem very compassionate. They exercise the “gift of presence,” being with a man in indescribable pain/sadness/crisis.

Job’s seven sons and three daughters: don’t have much in the way of dimension. They seem to get along and enjoy “feasting” among themselves. Job shows great concern for them. But then they all die. Why? What was the point of their lives?

What is this story about? Is this an actual story or an allegory? Was there a real Job or is he a character created to help us ask questions, so many questions, about God. Two chapters in, it’s too soon to know.

Job with his wife and three friends as painted by the Flemish artist, Gerard Seghers (1591–1651)

Job by the Flemish painter Gerard Seghers (1591–1651)