Book of Job
God forbid, if something bad happens, what do we do? What do we say? How do we perceive our friends or relatives towards us? Do we blame God? Bargain? Demand a rational explanation? Wonder “Why me?”? This is the story of Job whose mettle is tested.
The Book of Job is one of the books of the Old Testament and is arguably the oldest book in the set even though Genesis is book one. It is about a person called Job who lives in the land of Uz. The Book of Genesis starts, literally, with the beginning (or should I say, “In the beginning”), and about Adam and Eve and the flooding that destroys everything except Noah and his arc and party. Then it goes on to the story of the Patriarchs, Abraham and his son Isaac and his son Jacob (or as the books go Abraham who begat Isaac who begat Jacob who begat Joseph). Scholars place Job between Noah and Abraham.
“The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, The Odyssey because all life is a journey, The Book of Job because all life is a riddle.”
― G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
Job is a very very well to do, god fearing man. One day, God asks Satan if knows of Job and that there is none like him (this is per the King James translation). Satan answers that he does but it is not for nought that Job is god fearing since he is extremely well to do.
And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
God challenges Satan. Satan starts destorying Job.
In three fell swoops, three servants, in three beautiful almost identical consecutive verses come and tell Job one bad news after another - that all his camels dropped dead, all his goats dropped dead, all his children have dropped dead and all his possessions are destroyed. Bam bam bam! No punches pulled. And we are barely at chapter 1 verse 20.
The Hebrew translation reads, “Why have you set your heart upon my servant Job” as opposed to “Have you considered my servant Job”. God was not asking the devil if he wanted to attack Job. God was asking the devil why he wanted to attack Job. A case of lost in translation.
Job is in deep sorrow. And we hear this text which is quoted often.
Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
And just when we think things couldn’t get any worse for Job, God and Satan continue their dialogue, where God tells Satan that Job is still god fearing. Satan makes his next move that even though he lost all, he is still healthy.
But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
God gives permission (Ok, hurt him, but you cannot kill him), and Satan causes physical harm to Job who now has boils all over his body and is in even more pain and is lying down mourning near a mound of dung.
Here is a short sample of the various questions that Job asks of God, himself and his friends, which are sprinkled between lamentations and some words from his three friends.
- Why did this happen to me?
- I came with nothing, so I will go with nothing
- But really, Why?
- Why am I an insignificant one chosen?
- What is the reason
- Why these extreme punishments?
- What sin have I done?
- Tell me what I should do to relieve this?
- At least tell me what I have done wrong to deserve this?
- Why was I born?
On the other hand, the three friends, have their own theories and speak their mind to poor Job.
- It all happens for a reason
- May be you did sin
- Everyone gets what they deserve
- Why do you blame god?
- Probably one of your sons sinned?
- This still does not give you the right to talk about God
- Are you really being truthful?
- Don’t try to reason with how things are
- God does not punish good people
- God tests everyone and could do whatever he wants
Job must probably think who needs enemies when you have friends like this and eventually all stay quiet. The voice of God shows up in the end and gives them all a lesson. God asks, “Why are you counseling me? Trying to tell me what to do? Did I ask you? Were you there when I created all this?”. In the end, God chides the three friends and tells them to serve Job. And as for Job, “LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.”. So all is well.
As G. K. Chesterton writes in his essay on the Book of Job:
The book of Job stands definitely alone because the book of Job definitely asks, “But what is the purpose of God? Is it worth the sacrifice even of our miserable humanity? Of course, it is easy enough to wipe out our own paltry wills for the sake of a will that is grander and kinder. But is it grander and kinder? Let God use His tools; let God break His tools. But what is He doing, and what are they being broken for?” It is because of this question that we have to attack as a philosophical riddle the riddle of the book of Job.
God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as men are concerned, it is that it cannot be explained.
The book of Job is chiefly remarkable, as I have insisted throughout, for the fact that it does not end in a way that is conventionally satisfactory. Job is not told that his misfortunes were due to his sins or a part of any plan for his improvement. But in the prologue we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best. It is the lesson of the whole work that man is most comforted by paradoxes.
That is one way to know the meaning of life.
I added some snippets of Job’s and his friends’s in all its glory, from the King James Bible - please read on.
These are the books I read to get a good understanding of the Bible, the history and what it is all about and of course, the Book of Job.
King James Bible (Book of Genesis and Book of Job): There are many versions (I meant electronic versions since this in public domain) that are sold. I found this version to be well formatted and clear and easy to read. The books, chapters and verses are all well linked and hence easy to navigate back and forth.
The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon, Great courses by Prof. Bart Ehrman : A fascinating series of 24 lectures that gives a very good context of what the Bible is (new testament), the historic context starting all the way from the Old Testament and about all the books in the New Testament (starting with the disciples, the gospels, the languages, then through the epistles and finally Revelation).
What’s in the Bible: A One-Volume Guidebook to God’s Word by R.C. Sproul, Robert Wolgemuth : A very good summary of each and every book of the Bible in one chapter. This is in simple English and in narrational style. Each chapter also gives the context of the why and the important lesson it teaches.
The Old Testament, Great courses by Prof. Amy-Jill Levine : Another wonderful course from the Great courses series. 24 lectures analyzing all the books of Old Testament. Some books in more detail than others. Fascinating history and stories.
Understanding The Book Of Job - Separating What Is True From What Is Truth by Pastor Tom Tompkins : I got this hoping for a more deeper analysis of the Book of Job. This is more (all?) towards the religious and preaching angle. All the justifications for various passages that are prone to misinterpretation.
G.K. Chesterton: Introduction to Job
Wikipedia : [Book of Job[(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Job)
I read these in this order : 2, 3, 4, 1, 5, 7, 6
Short note on Old Testament
The Hebrew Bible / Jewish Holy Scripture is called TNK - pronounced Tanakh. Ancient Hebrew as well as modern Hebrew (I am told) has no vowels. So you make them up as you go along. I wonder if you are given SNG, would you make up Sing-Sang-Sung OR Snag-Snug? Jesus!
TNK stands for the first letters of the three main books:
T for Torah which means Teaching, also known as the Five Books of Moses
N for Ne’Vim - Prophets
K for Ketuvim - Writings
The god is called Yahweh, spelled YHWH - pronounced roughly as “Yaw Way”. Well, the Germans would be the first to translate this, hence we get JHVH.
You can correlate the German version easily.
- J for Y - Johann vs Yohann
- V for W - Volkswagen - FolksWagon, literally meaning people’s vehicle, FV (roughly fuh wah).
And now you fill that up with vowels, you get Jehovah! Ah, now I am reminded of the last scene in the Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark movie where Indiana Jones has to step on the right letters that spell Jehovah to cross a dangerous pit fall area and his father, Sean Connery whispers but “it begins with a J”. Another fun coincidence, (yesterday was Pi day for 3:14). Mission Impossible (the first) has a scene where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is contemplating what “Job 3:14” means - it is this book of Job and the chapter and verse, which when he searches leads him to the next clue.
Three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, arrive to console him and they are all in deep sorrow that they don’t say anything for a week. And then they start talking.
Very understandably, Job is in rant mode.
Let the day perish wherein I was born,
Which long for death, but it cometh not;
But his friends, who take turns in various chapters to speak to him, start off by suggesting that maybe he (Job) has sinned and that’s why God has punished him.
Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?
Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.
Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: JOB5.18 For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.
Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.
Job is rightly pissed off that these friends who were supposed to console him ends up causing more pain and is even more puzzled that he doesn’t even know why he is being punished. And until he knows why, he has a right to complain.
Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.
Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Job even complains to God asking why he was the “chosen one” for punishment.
why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?
And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?
Then the next friend Bildad the Shuhite, starts.
Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers:
Till he fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing.
Job is more frustrated. He says that he understands that he is not perfect but not has he done anything bad to deserve this. And more lamentations.
If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.
Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life.
If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction;
Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb?
I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave.
The next friend, Zophar the Naamathite, takes turn to suggest that getting punished by God is maybe a good thing.
And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.
If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him;
Who needs enemies when you have friends like this. Job is angry. Job is now directly bargaining with God, begging for a reason and for God to stop torturing him or at least give a reason. Got to give it to Job, he still does not deny his God.
No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.
But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?
Lo, mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and understood it.
What ye know, the same do I know also: I am not inferior unto you.
I desire to reason with God.
Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will.
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
Only do not two things unto me: then will I not hide myself from thee.
Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not thy dread make me afraid.
How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.
Now, Eliphaz the Temanite, argues that just because Job thinks that everyone gets what they deserve.
For thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity, and thou choosest the tongue of the crafty.
Thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee.
Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity: for vanity shall be his recompence.
Job has had enough, he proclaims that these friends are “miserable comforters”. That he too would talk all wisdom if he is well off and it is someone else who is being advised.
I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.
Shall vain words have an end?
I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you.
But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should asswage your grief.
But now he hath made me weary: thou hast made desolate all my company.
My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death;
Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure.
Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.
My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.
O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!
But as for you all, do ye return, and come now: for I cannot find one wise man among you.
How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?
Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard: I cry aloud, but there is no judgment.
He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths.
He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head.
He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree.
Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.
Why do ye persecute me as God,
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?
I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me.
Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me.
But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him.
For God maketh my heart soft, and the Almighty troubleth me:
All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils;
My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.
God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.
My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.
Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding?
Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living,
Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.
Then a person, Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, who was watching all this, starts to speak.
Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.
behold, there was none of you that convinced Job, or that answered his words:
Behold, in this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man.
Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.
For he hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God.
Then God comes out of the whirlwind to answer directly.
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.
Job answers that he does not and that he will shut up.
Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.
I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
And as noted above, God scolds them all, restores it all for Job and all is well.
Meaning of life series - to be continued.