The Book of Job closes as it opened, with two speeches by Yahweh. In his first two speeches, Yahweh effectively gave the Satan permission to strip Job of everything except his life. By virtue of his response to these disasters, Job also retained his integrity.
1st Point: Integrity. It can be given up but never taken.
Three of Job’s sage-friends appeared to mourn with Job. After seven days, Job explodes in a curse against his nativity. As good sages do, his three friends apply their wisdom to the situation as they understand it and therefore counsel Job to repent. Unfortunately, the friends do not really understand the situation.
2nd Point: Understanding. It’s not wise to attach moral value to a tragedy.
The three friends are adherents of retributive theology, AKA “reaping what you sow.” Since Job was reaping disaster, he must have sown wickedness. Job also held to retributive theology but he knows slightly more than the friends, because he knows that he is innocent. In light of his own innocence, he uses RT to draw the conclusion that God is criminal.
3rd Point: Retributive theology. Is Job’s approach really superior to that of the three friends?
Starting from his perception of God as criminal, Job becomes increasingly fixed on confronting God in litigation. At the conclusion of the four-way dialogue, Elihu popped in, making it perfectly clear that God will not answer Job. Then God answered Job, making it perfectly clear that Elihu is a twit.
4th Point: God. If there’s one thing that’s clear about this narrative’s message, it’s that you can ask God some pretty straight-up questions.
So now, what exactly did God say?
Actually, let’s start with what he didn’t say. He never addressed Job’s claim of innocence, nor did he further explain the motivation behind his response to the Satan in the prologue. In fact, he doesn’t seem to much care about the whole issue. This, however, does not seem to inhibit him from doing a whole lot of talking.
The two Yahweh speeches are very similar in macro-structure, but quite different in content. Each opens with a question by Yahweh, effectively putting Job on the defensive. If Yahweh’s feeling guilty, he’s not acting like it.
The first question concerns Yahweh’s plan, which Job had attacked in his satirical doxology in chap. 12. Yahweh asks:
Who is this who clouds my design in darkness
Presenting arguments without knowledge?
The second question addresses Job’s attack on God’s integrity, which was launched from chaps. 9 and 10. In the second speech, Yahweh asks:
Would you pervert my justice?
Would you prove me wrong so that you may be in the right?
Yahweh requires Job to respond to his questions using an identical couplet in both speeches:
Gird your loins like a real man
I will ask questions and you will inform me! (38:3; 40:7)
I think that it is impossible to read this couplet without finding God sarcastic. The question is, how sarcastic? Is he hammering Job flat or just poking him a bit, the way we sometimes do with uppity teenagers?
Yahweh’s First Speech
At this point, the two speeches diverge. In the first speech, Yahweh questions Job on the design and details of the universe. None of the questions are properly within the province of mortals. There are three central themes to these questions: the structural, functional, and aesthetic, and each is applied to the creation, the heavens, the earth, and the animal kingdom. Sampling first the structural theme:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me if you have gained discernment!
Who fixed its dimensions? Surely you know!
Or who stretched out the measuring lines over it?
On what were its pillars sunk?
Or who set its cornerstone? (38:4-6)
Can you bind the fetters of the Pleiades?
Or loose the sash of Orion?
Can you lead out Mazzaroth (Corona Borealis?) in its season
Or stay the course of aBootes and his companions? (38:31-32)
Is it by your discernment that the hawk soars,
Spreading his wings to the south?
Does the eagle mount at your command
And build his nest on high? (39:26:27)
Yahweh’s functional theme establishes the processes of the universe, including limits and containment for the forces of evil and chaos. Everything has its place and its way and must respond to Yahweh’s commands:
Where is the way to the dwelling of Light,
And where is the place of darkness,
That you may escort each to its territory
And discern the path to its house? (38:19-20)
Can you lift your voice to the clouds
For a torrent of water to cover you?
Can you dispatch lightning on a mission
And have it answer you “Here I am?” (38:34-35)
Do you know the time when the ibex give birth?
Do you watch over the calving of hinds?
Can you count the months they must fulfill?
Do you know the time of their delivery,
When they crouch to deliver their young
And drop their offspring? (39:1-4)
Finally, there is an aesthetic theme. Yahweh seems to have something of a sense of the beautiful, the humorous, the joyful and the paradoxical. He makes it rain on places where there are no men (38:26-27), the stars sing at creation (38:7), the ostrich is a bird that can outrun a warhorse; its wings are ridiculous and yet they rejoice (39:13-17). And finally there’s the matter of the sea. To Yahweh the Nursemaid, it is a baby chaos monster to be swaddled in clouds and mist, then placed in a cosmic playpen:
Who hedged in the sea with doors
When he gushed forth from the womb,
When I wrapped him in robes of cloud
And swaddled him in dense cloud,
When I prescribed my limit for him
By fixing bars and doors
And saying, “Thus far you may come and no farther!
Here your proud waves break.” (38:8-11)
So it seems that Yahweh’s got quite an operation going. Things like Dawn and Death have their place, but lightning and hail must move in response to his commands. The wild ass laughs in his freedom; the warhorse thrills in his servitude. Rigid order has its place, but chaos roams within this order. Light and dark, death and life, wisdom and foolishness. Incongruity is not an anomaly, it’s part of Yahweh’s design.
And so I draw the following conclusions:
(1) Yahweh is proud of his creation and pleased to demonstrate its complexities and anomalies to Job. His sarcasm is the mild variety.
(2) Yahweh explicitly challenges Job to show the discernment necessary to design, create, and keep all this functioning.
(3) Yahweh implicitly challenges Job to apply what he has learned about the universe to his personal situation.
(4) Yahweh is not dealing with Job as a sinner, but with Job as an ignorant man. In this, Yahweh honors Job while at the same time exposing him for a fool.
That Job’s relationship with God is paradoxical should surprise no one by now. And Job’s response indicates that he, too, has gotten a clue:
Yahweh answered Job and said,
“Will the one with suit against Shaddai correct me?
Will the one arraigning Eloah answer me?
The Job answered Yahweh and said,
“Behold I am small, how can I refute you?
I clap my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, I cannot answer;
Twice and will do so no more.” (40:1-5)
And you would think that that would end it all, wouldn’t you? But no, Yahweh’s got a captive audience and he has a few more things to say. Fortunately, they can be dealt with briefly.
Yahweh’s Second Speech
Yahweh’s second speech opens with another question for Job:
Would you pervert my justice?
Would you prove me wrong so that you may be in the right? (40:8)
Yahweh goes on to challenge Job to take control of the entire universe and govern it according to the principles of retributive theology that came to so readily to him when he contemplated his specific situation (40:7-14). There is evil in the world, lots of it, actually. But Yahweh contains it, rather than destroying it. Can Job, now sitting on an ash heap, do better? If so, Yahweh will celebrate his victory (40:14).
Next up is Behemoth. This word is usually translated “cattle.” In Job, it is a land animal balancing the Leviathan who is a sea monster. The habitat and hunting methods used for each animal point toward the hippopotamus and the crocodile, but in context both are mythical monsters subdued by Yahweh.
Although there’s a great deal of controversy surrounding the role of Behemoth and Leviathan in Yahweh’s argument, the key point regarding Behemoth may be in the opening couplet:
Behold now, Behemoth whom I made along with you!
He eats grass like cattle. (40:15)
The overt reference may well be to the sixth day of Creation, the period during which God created the land animals and finally man. But the implicit point is that just as Yahweh is the master of Behemoth, so Yahweh is also Job’s master.
And you would think that this would be the end, no? No. Yahweh seems to have just gotten warmed up. Now he’s about to wax overly lyrical about Leviathan, the most dangerous of creatures. Job is therefore challenged to capture Leviathan:
Will he make covenant with you
To take him as you lifelong servant?
Will you play with him like a bird
And tie him down for your girls? (40:28-29)
Rather than continuing the challenge, Yahweh breaks off, insists that only he can control Leviathan, and then launches into a long description of Leviathan’s defensive and offensive capabilities. But the key lines are probably in Yahweh’s speech here:
Behold any hope against [Leviathan] is false;
At his very appearance one is laid low.
Is he not ferocious when roused?
But who can take their stand before my face?
Whoever confronts me I requite,
For everything under the heavens is mine.
Did I not silence his boasting,
His mighty word and his persuasive case? (41:1-4)
The point here is that no one, not even Leviathan, the king of all proud beasts, can stand face to face with God. Job had wished to confront Yahweh. Now, like Leviathan, Job learns that he cannot succeed in such a situation.
But there is a larger point here, one that includes both Behemoth and Leviathan. Both of these tremendous creatures are chaos monsters, enemies of the Creator God, and inimical to his purposes. And yet, he has not destroyed them. Instead, he has contained them, controlled them, and made them answer to his larger purposes.
And so I come back to Yahweh’s question at the beginning of the second speech:
Would you pervert my justice?
Would you prove me wrong so that you may be in the right?
I cannot help but wonder if what Yahweh is getting at is that Job’s sense of justice, of good and evil, of right and wrong, of wisdom itself, is just too narrow. If Job is innocent, must God therefore be guilty? In Job’s thought-world, the Creator God should logically kill both Behemoth and Leviathan as chaos monsters, but God’s wisdom does otherwise.
And so I conclude the following:
(1) Job’s logic has gone wrong.
(2) Just as Behemoth and Leviathan have a purpose to fulfill in Yahweh’s grand design, so too Job. Questions are not out of line, but the answers may well be as disconcerting as the situation that prompted them.
(3) Yahweh quite likes himself and his poetry. It is no real surprise that the personality behind the quirky universe has a few quirks of his own. I grin when I read the Leviathan passages.
(4) Job’s employment of retributive theology is also flawed. In fact, retributive theology is far too mechanical and determinate to ever under-gird a creation as beautiful, complex, and creative as the universe we inhabit.
(5) And as for Job’s friends, well, a mechanical application of a mechanical theory led to predictable results. Job’s own creativity and willingness to push the limits make his response superior to theirs.
And so we come to Job’s final speech:
Then Job answered Yahweh and said:
I know that you can do everything,
And that no scheme of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this who obscures my design without knowledge?”
Indeed, I spoke without discernment
Of things beyond me which I did not know.
“Hear now and I will speak,
I will ask and you will inform me.”
I have heard of you with my ears
But now my eyes see you
Therefore I retract
And repent of dust and ashes.(42:1-6)
I think that the “dust and ashes” Job turns away from is his adherence to retributive theology. I think he gives up the idea that the universe is founded on justice, or at least on justice narrowly conceived. Yahweh has his order and design; it answers to his purposes. And it is clear that he both delights in, and loves, his creation through and through.
But it is also perfectly clear that even the mighty Job, wisest of the wise and second in righteousness as a character only to Christ, is in no position to comprehend all of this. And so the fact remains that we, as also Job, will never fully understand our God, nor control our relationship with him.
Given this ambiguity, it stands to reason that our ability to advise and correct others in their relationship with God is severely limited. How can we help, when we see someone suffering as Job did? How do we provide something for those who have somehow lost touch with God?
The answer, I think, is also in Job. In the end, Job did not ask his friends to fix his relationship with God, he asked them to maintain their relationship with him. And that they could not do so because of their own relationships with God, is perhaps the saddest and cruelest irony of the entire narrative.
Is there one last “balancing act” in Job? Is it possible that the potential uncertainties of our relationship with God can be moderated by the potential for solid friendships? Do the wise create and sustain these friendships ahead of time, in anticipation of a future need?
For the Latter-day Saints, who teach a Heavenly Father to the exclusion of all else, especially a Master of the Universe, this sounds heretical. And yet, my experience with God is not unitary. I think that to ignore the potential for ambiguity in our relationship with God is to create unnecessary vulnerability. But can you teach it ahead of time without destroying the foundations of faith?
I was recently asked by a young(er) friend why Job, which has such a different picture of God, is even in the canon. I think this may be one answer: Job can be an inoculation. And if circumstances warrant, it can become a common point of departure from which to explore those aspects of God that are not part of the Sunday School curriculum with someone who really needs a friend.
Existence is fulfilled when man is aware not of [God’s] ultimate concern, but of becoming the concern of the Ultimate