Alas, we come to Job. His is not a story that I have ever enjoyed even concept of. A bet? I hate to sound blasphemous, but I would imagine God above this sort of thing. Then again, it is often theorized that this is a legend or parable type of story and not one meant to be taken at face value as the chronicles of the Kings are. There is no great way to know, but the fact that there are scenes in Heaven in the same style as the conversations between gods in the Iliad suggests that there is still a chance that Job’s woes were real but the conversation between God and Satan are speculative, added for literary purposes in a style that is consist in ancient writings, though I’m not sure of the time this was written, adding to the problematic nature of it’s difference.
It’s quite easy to notice that the voice and style is very different from everything we’ve seen so far. Whichever the case, here we go.
This is where the legendary bargain is made between God and Satan that Satan can mess with Job’s life. Here were his guidelines:
Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.
God has agreed to let Satan do whatever he wants to everything around Job, but not the man himself, to prove what a blameless and upright man Job was and Satan gets the deal by insisting that Job is only like that because he has everything he could possibly want. It’s logical to come to that conclusion, so God lets Satan do the test.
So far, this is the first mention of Satan or any other opponent to God that I’ve noticed. Also, it’s the first time we have a scene, if you will, of God being not in the presence of humans. This is “a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord.” This does start off sounding like men at the tent of meeting or the temple, but it’s the context that suggests otherwise. Why would God have such a casual conversation with Satan in front of humans and how would Satan get into the tent of meeting in the first place?
This is where the study portion of my Bible kinda loses me. It refers to Satan as the same “by his character” as the serpent in garden. I’ve met plenty of bad people in the world who could sound pretty similar given this much information. It may be a little hasty to assume that a serpent who is only referred to as an animal in the beginning is suddenly the rival of God. It seems agreed upon by the powers that be of the church that the serpent and Satan are one and the same, but I haven’t seen them actually tied together that way in the text just yet. Maybe its still coming.
There is an interesting note along with this that the term “satan” is actually used a few times earlier to denote various adversaries of other people, but is somehow referring to someone specific here.
So, the “sons of God” are angels or some form of heavenly council, but there’s still a problem. We have an account of the story, so someone either spilled it some time later or anthropomorphized it at some point after the resolution of the story.
The chapter ends with Satan getting to work and immediately kill the oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and all the servants attending them, and all ten of Job’s children along with all the servants attending them and Job’s reaction is this:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
That’s a lot of death and some mourning practices that we’ve seen before (the tearing of clothes has been a consistent mourning practice so far), but the prayer is new and so God wins this round.
Everyone meets up again in heaven and Satan manages to provoke God again, this time the guideline is to preserve only Job’s life. So Satan gives him boils all over, which sound pretty awful, and even Job’s wife insists that he should:
Curse God and die.
Not sure how quickly death is supposed to come on the heels of cursing God. Maybe it was different then and it was akin to suicide? Not sure what she was thinking other than being mad at him. I get it, though. Those were her kids too and if she blamed God and was mad at her husband for insisting that God is blameless in this (especially when the reader knows that God had everything to do with his misfortunes) then I could totally understand her yelling something like that. With ten kids so suddenly gone, I can see her yelling at lot worse than that.
Then his friends, having heard what happened to him, come to sit with him. This is my favorite part in this story of such awful personal tragedy for Job because I wish that people did this when we were mourning more. They just came and sat with him silently for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word for that time, they just sat with him in “sympathy and comfort”. This is so much better than all the things that people say during tragedies that are just ridiculous, or meaningless, or further enraging. It’s almost like insult to injury that you have to deal with all the dumb stuff people say when you have a personal tragedy like this.
At the end of the seven days, Job finally speaks. When he does, he utters a long speech that basically laments the day that he was born and that he has continued to breathe life. Notably, he does not blame or admonish God, he does not cry out any sort of “why” to God. He just hates that he had even been born.
One of Job’s friends responds to the lament for two chapters about his situation. He makes the case that perhaps all of this has happened because there was a lack of righteousness on someone’s part. He doesn’t directly suggest whose, but of course it can easily be assumed that the friend means Job himself since so much of it was his things that were destroyed along with his children, plus the boils.
The point is that it was suggested that there was fault with the victim of all this and a lot of it seems to come from things he has said to comfort and talk to others in the past. There is no mention of some absurd coincidence or a “these things just happen”, as we often say today.
Finally the message is to turn to God for deliverance from these woes.
Job responds for two more chapters, beginning with a hope that he could figure out what he did wrong and that God would just kill him rather than let him go on like this. At one point he even says:
Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray.
He goes on to basically ask what the deal was, to admit that he doesn’t understand but that he seeks understanding. There are parts where I feel like he’s talking to God and others where I feel like he’s responding to his friend, but it’s not as clear as I would prefer.
The next friend begins talking now, insisting that this punishment was actually on the children themselves and implore Job not turn away, but go to God in all this, that he will yet be rewarded with greater than he had before.
Job responds to this friend now, saying that he couldn’t possibly go to God with such a question. They could not have a conversation on equal standing where he can demand a response from God. All he can do is wish for death.
In this response, he says a lot of things that people still talk about today. He mentions that God is as likely to punish the innocent as the wicked and that he doesn’t save the innocent in times of disaster. It’s important to remember though, that these are the rants of a man in mourning and should not be taken as the way that God does or doesn’t act. This is his impression as a mourning father. Even if he is right, this not a good context to take these ideas from.
He also goes on about innocence and being in the right a lot which are concepts that are entirely subjective. I know that part of the premise of this story is that Job is legitimately a righteous man and that is why he is the one being tested, but presuming absolute innocence when you must abide by such a complex set of laws as the Law of Moses seems a little arrogant to me.