The God of the Friends: Job III

Things change dramatically at the conclusion of the prologue. God, the Satan, and Job’s wife all disappear and the latter two never re-appear. Their places are taken by three friends who have come to comfort Job: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The action then, is built around two conflicts: one between Job and the absent God, the other between Job and his three nearby friends.

But the effects of the prologue remain, for the prologue has created a near-omniscient reader. This reader knows that Job did not sin (1:22; 2:10b) and knows that everything that happened to Job and his family happened because the Satan incited God. The reader is in a position to judge the responses of the four friends, none of whom share the reader’s insight. The cruelty and irony displayed throughout are exquisite, although time prevents an adequate demonstration.

And yet, the reader doesn’t really understand God, either…

The three cycles of dialogue break down like this: (chaps. 3-27)

Job’s opening statement (chap. 3)

First dialogue cycle
……Eliphaz (chaps. 4-5)
……Job (chaps. 6-7)
……Bildad (chap. 8)
……Job (chap. 9)
……Zophar (chap. 11)
……Job (chaps. 12-14)

Second dialogue cycle
……Eliphaz (chap. 15)
……Job (chaps. 16-17)
……Bildad (chap. 18)
……Job (chap. 19)
……Zophar (chap. 20)
……Job (chap. 21)

Third dialogue cycle
……Eliphaz (chap. 22)
……Job (chaps. 23-24)
……Bildad (chap. 25)
……Job (chap. 26)
……Zophar (does not speak in the 3rd round)
……Job (chap. 27)

We’ll look at Job’s initial outburst, one description of God from each of the three friends, and a final speech by Eliphaz that wraps up the end state of the relationship between the four friends.

Sitting on Ashes with Job

The three friends meet up before joining Job and fail to recognize him, suggesting that the foursome have met on other occasions. Words like “friend,” and the duties of a friend to “comfort” and “console” in time of trouble have far more meaning in the OT than they do today. A friend (rēa‘), was characterized by deep loyalty and trust. Job will eventually accuse the three of abusing this trust.

The four sit together quietly for seven days, a reasonable amount of time for mourning, but also time for Job’s feelings to come to a head. Job’s outburst at the end of this period is not a curse against God, but against his own nativity:

Perish the day on which I was born
And the night that said
“A male has been conceived.”

That day! Let it be darkness”
Let Eloah above not seek it
Let no light shine on it
Let darkness and death’s shadow reclaim it!
Let cloud hang over it”
Let demons of the day terrify it!

That night! Let sinister dark take it!
Let it not be counted in the days of the year!
Let it not appear in any of the months!
Oh, that night! Let it be barren!
Let no joyful sound penetrate it!
Let it be damned by those who curse day!
By those ready to rouse Leviathan!
Let its twilight stars remain dark!
Let it hope for light that never comes
Nor see the eyelids of the dawn!

Because it did not shut the womb doors
And so hide misery from my eyes.

(Eloah = singular of Elohim)

Pretty good curse, eh? If you look closely at it, you’ll see a curse on the day of Job’s birth and a curse on the night of his conception, both of which are personified. The final couplet gives the grounds for the curse. In Job’s world, curses were thought to have real power, so Job has set some serious forces in motion against the mundane movement of the calendar that would normally make the day of his birth present each year:

–In the line “That day! Let it be darkness” (yēhī hōsek), Job is reversing God’s yēhī or, “Let there be light,” (Gen 1:3)

–The night is to be eradicated by a “sinister dark” greater than itself!

–Calling up Leviathan calls up the powers of chaos confined by God in the creation – more about Leviathan when God speaks.

And how about that “eyelids of the dawn” stuff? No other word for that except “cool!”

(I’m mostly using Norm Habel’s translation. Time. Hopefully I’ll get more done on my own by Sunday.)

Eliphaz Speaks (chaps. 4-5)

Eliphaz’ speech in chapters 4 and 5 is a great introduction to sapiential counseling. The wise friend offers sound counsel to a sufferer – restoration is possible if Job takes Eliphaz’ advice. This advice comes from both personal experience and the wisdom traditions taught by and for the sages. There’s a lot more that could be said about how the sages “did their thing,” but let’s move on and look at some specific counsel (4:6-9):

Is not the fear of God your confidence
And your hope the very integrity of your ways?
Recall now! What innocent person ever perished?
Or where have the upright been annihilated?
As I have seen, those who plough iniquity
And sow trouble – they reap it!
A breath from God and they perish
A blast of his nostrils and they vanish.

Here is the heart of the friend’s retributive theology, and it is typical of what is found in wisdom literature: you reap what you sow. The innocent don’t perish, the good are not destroyed. Ever. The wicked suffer, the evil are destroyed. Always. And God is the guarantee of this justice. Except that the reader has also read the prologue and knows the real situation with respect to Job…

Since Job did not immediately die after his outburst, Eliphaz also reassures Job that God can restore him (5:17-19):

Yes, fortunate is the one whom El corrects.
So do not reject the discipline of Shaddai.
He it is who inflicts pain and then binds.
He wounds, but his hands then heal.
In six calamities he will deliver you;
In seven no evil will befall you.

Shaddai = ? = the Almighty in the AV

The idea that suffering is a form of divine discipline is very old. Eliphaz does not [yet] suggest that Job has committed some great crime, but urges that he accept that God’s plan for his life includes periods of discipline. The irony is that Job’s circumstances do not arise from divine discipline, but from the Satan’s incitement. Eliphaz is revealed as an unreliable voice, someone whose input must be weighed before being accepted.

Bildad Speaks (chap. 8)

Bildad’s opening remarks are far more hostile than those of Eliphaz. He also opens the matter of God’s justice, which will eventually dominate Job’s thoughts. For Bildad, God is such that his justice is always perfect and to him this means that Job’s children died because they sinned (vv. 3-7):

Does El pervert justice?
Does Shaddai pervert the right?
Your children must have sinned against him,
And he dispatched them over to their wickedness
But you, if you go early to El
And implore the mercy of Shaddai,
If you are pure and upright,
Then he will rouse himself for you
And restore your righteous abode.
If your beginning was small
Your end will flourish indeed.

The reader, of course, knows why Job’s children died. This little vignette is a cruel reminder of the peril of attaching a moral value to tragedies or inventing reasons and rationales rather than simply supporting those who suffer. Finally, since Bildad’s interpretation of the deaths of Job’s children is wrong, the remainder of his remarks are also unreliable and cannot be accepted at face value.

Bildad next spins a little parable and you’ll never guess what distinguishes those who succeed from those who perish (vv. 12-15):

One plant is still fresh and uncut
When it withers, quicker than grass.
Such are the paths of all who forget El;
The hope of the godless will perish.
Their confidence is gossamer,
Their trust but a spider’s house.
If they lean on their house, it does not stand;
If they grasp it, it gives way.

Zophar Speaks (chap. 11)

Zophar opens by suggesting that Job has spoken like a fool with a “spate of words,” and twists Job’s protestations of innocence into a claim to have spoken pure truth. Zophar’s speech suggests he knows the hidden things of God, and if Job knew them he would understand that God has, in fact, been merciful (vv. 4-12):

You may say, “My teaching is pure,
And I am innocent in your sight”;
But oh, if only God would speak,
And talk to you himself.
He would expound the secrets of wisdom,
For there are two sides to understanding.
Know that God extracts from you
Less than your guilt demands.
Can you find the mystery of Eloah?
Can you find the limit of Shaddai?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
It is deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
Its measure is wider than the earth
And broader than the sea.
If he glides past or imprisons
Or arraigns—who can restrain him?
For he knows deceitful men.
When he sees evil, can he not discern it?
A hollow mortal will become wise
When a wild ass’s colt is born human!

Zophar’s idea that God has some mystery to him, some facets not discernable to humans, is superior to that of Eliphaz and Bildad. But the reader finds irony in the fact that neither Job nor Zophar actually know what’s going on in spite of all the talk of mysteries. And the reader also knows that Job did not sin (1:22; 2:10b), so Zophar’s teaching on God’s hidden compassion actually offers a God with no compassion. Zophar himself is revealed as unreliable.

But that business about the wild ass’s colt is pretty cool…


Anyway, Eliphaz goes all the way in chap. 22 and openly accuses Job of sin (vv. 5-11):

Is not your crime enormous,
Your depravity beyond bounds?
For you take your brother’s pledge without cause
And so strip the naked of their garments.
You give no water to the weary
And you hold back bread from the hungry.
The land belongs to the one with the strong arm!
The privileged person inhabits it!
Widows you sent away empty,
And you broke the arms of orphans.

And of course, Job did none of that. But consider Eliphaz’ reasoning on Job’s guilt. It’s not based on evidence because there is no evidence (Job did not sin), but on Eliphaz’ interpretation of feelings expressed by Job. Eliphaz claimed “terror” and “darkness” as the ever-present fears of the wicked (15:20-24). Since Job lamented his “terror” (3:25), “darkness” (19:8) and “scare” (21:6), these prove Job’s guilt (vv.10-11):

So snares encircle you now,
And the sudden terror scares you,
Or a darkness you cannot see
And a surge of water that may cover you.

You feel discomfort? It’s because you sinned, says Eliphaz. Once again, that’s a cruel approach to someone who suffers. Job’s accusation of betrayal by his friends has quite a bit to recommend it.

And what to say about the God of the Friends? He’s pretty much mechanical, limited to reacting to what humans do. His moral character is impeccable but his range of activity is limited by our activities. We get what we deserve, and when we see what others have, we know what they deserve.

Can say as I much like this God, either.

17 Replies to “The God of the Friends: Job III”

  1. Mogget,

    This is outstanding. You have given me some ideas to use when I teach those lucky 16 year olds in SS this Sunday.

    Nothing to add, really, but I just wanted to register my thanks.

  2. I’m a late comer to the discussion and so I get to take all of this in quickly, comments and all. Lucky me.

    This review was fabulous. Read again: Fabulous! It went a long way to reinforcing my support for HP’s theory that this is a reaction to Wisdom lit (though certainly not limited to that purpose). Everyone takes the standard line: God doesn’t do bad things to good people, only to bad ones. So be good for goodness sake.

    But the wonderful irony remains: they are all wrong! God isn’t who the friends think he is or even who Job thinks he is (though he’s not as far off as the others). It doesn’t matter if we find fault with Job, for the purposes of the story, he hasn’t sinned. And because we never really get to understand God’s motivations, the point is driven in further: life is way more complicated than just “you reap what you sow”. God is infinitely more complex than we know. Our job is to be loyal to him regardless.

  3. Re: “Perish the day on which I was born”

    I’m sure you are familiar with Stephen Mitchell’s work, The Book of Job, but for your readers who aren’t, I thought I’d mention it. He translates this passage more forcefully, rendering it:

    “God damn the day I was born.”

    It took the forcefullness of that phrase in my ears to wake me up to the should-have-been-obvious fact that Job is, you know, cursing.

  4. Job is, you know, cursing

    Fine. Just as long as you don’t say he’s taking the Lord’s name in vain, because in a biblical sense, he’s NOT.

  5. Yes, using “g-ddamn” does more clearly convey the force of Job’s curse to modern readers. But I have two reasons why I hesitate to use it:

    1) It also convey a sense of the vulgar to modern readers which is not part of the Hebrew

    2) It sometimes reads the modern idea that cursing is simply matter of slinging imprecations around back onto the ancient world where these things were thought to have far more effect than we attribute to them.

    But yes, you are right about the need for something more. A nice footnote in a translation is definitely required or else the force of the passage is missed.

  6. David J and Mogget,

    Agreed and agreed. It is the force of the words in Mitchell’s translation that I found useful, despite their (distracting) implications. “Perish the day I was born” in my ears sounds too much like “I wish I was never born.” Read that way, Job is just lamenting–not conjuring up darkness, death, and demons.

  7. Oh,totally dude. It bleeds into the rest of the chapter, which is a lament.

    Now…did you get the hint about doing the post on the difficult parts making us an annotated bibliography?

    Mogget loves help…

  8. I was taught that taking the Lord’s name in vain is oath-related, not profanity related (sorry Elder Oaks, and others of the GA robe who use Exodus 20 this way), and that teaching was received by way of some good ol’ Hebrew exegesis, form criticism, narratology, and lastly, that intellectual (spiritual?) “click” when something just plain makes sense.

  9. Oh, totally dude.

    Okay, this is weird. I start so many of my agreements with folks with the words “oh totally dude.” FPR has this telekinetic centralizing neural effect upon its readers… so beware.

  10. Ah, well. And I was batting my Mogget-eyes at you so enchantingly…

    Sometimes when we don’t know what a word or a phrase means, it makes no difference. For example, in the Whirlwind speeches of Job, there are some start or constellation names. We can tell from the context that they must be stars or constellations, but we really don’t know which ones. And it doesn’t really matter as far as understanding the thrust of the passage.

    But there are places where not knowing something makes it impossible to have much confidence in a reading. The little interchange between Job and his wife is such an example. Are they questions or statements? Particularly with Job’s response, the answer is pretty important. Places like that are called crux interpretatum.

    Job has its fair share; driven by translation issues, textual corruption, syntactical ambiguity, or unfamiliarity with wisdom lit., or possibily by authorial intent. We just don’t know for sure. So to list the top five, to lay out the possibilities, and to provide a bibliography of major positions is a major help. And also a major piece of work.

  11. I know that to make this comment in the face of the tremendous amount of other stuff in this post probably renders this human into a wild ass, but I just have to work with what I’ve got:

    Eloah is the the singular form of Elohim? I’ve been led to believe that Elohim is the name of God (as in HF) Um…. explain?

  12. My dear FHL,

    It will take far more than this to turn you into an onager… As far as I know:

    El or Eloah is generic “god.” In Hebrew, the -im ending is the masculine plural. So Elohim is literally “gods.” But it is very rarely used with plural verbs or adjectives, which suggests that the pluralization arises from something other than the headcount of a group of deities.

    Two possibilities:

    1) the “majestic” plural

    2) an intensification of the basic idea.

    In any case, Elohim is a title. Sometimes others such as Eloah, El, Shaddai, El Elyon, etc., are found in prose but they are far more likely in poetry. There’s no accounting for literary taste.

    Anybody else?

  13. Mogget/FHL, it might also be a contracted form of the superlative “God of Gods,” which makes sense given Israel’s perpetual competition with other deities. In other words “Our God is the bestest one of ’em all!”

  14. But Job is still Old Testament, right? In which case, the God of the Old Testament is … (*KAPOW* as a lightning bolt from David J. strikes poor FHL)

    Or is this another one of those “One in Purpose” cases?

    It’s all so confusing. Maybe if I’d grown up in this church… no, I’m pretty sure I’d still be confused.

    But, OK, it’s a title, not an actual name. That’s something. =)

  15. The ‘one in purpose’ thing is lame, lame, lame. Nobody in the ancient world ever thought that.

    To say to a Mormon that “elohim” is a title carries too much theological baggage, I think. Everything in the church is a “title” = Adam, Enoch, Noah, Mordecai, Tim the Enchanter, you name it. It’s as if everybody is nobody because they just typify everything else through their theophoric names. I don’t really buy that. The text doesn’t play the “this name is a title” game as often as Mormons think it does, and outside of Elias/Elijah, I honestly can’t think of another instance where that happens. That said, I think the word “elohim” is a simple descriptor of what Yahweh is. It’s like this: FHL is a man (if indeed you are — your pseudonym is asexual), and FHL is your name. Likewise with God: Yahweh is an Eloah (or elohim outside of Job), and Yahweh is his name.

    What Mogget was getting at is that the author of Job probably wasn’t Israelite. Not only does he avoid the tetragrammaton (“Yahweh”), but also does not use the normative Israelite word for “God” (Elohim), which is sort of like a double-whammy.

  16. You know, about that author of Job and his denominational preferences…

    Job reminds me of Rahab the alewife of Jericho. She’s no Israelite, but she’s an excellent Yahwistic theologian.

    So now…is the author of Job not an Israelite? Or is he an Israelite taking advantage of the theological possibilities of a character who’s not an Israelite to make some points about Yahweh that would othewise set hair on fire?

    It strikes me as uncanny that “Yahweh” is found in the prologue and the whirlwind speeches, but not elsewhere.

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