Category Archives: Job

You have heard of the Patience of Job

 

The Epistle of James has the only other mention of the man Job outside of the book that bears his name, the other reference being Ezekiel 14.

“Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” James 5:11 KJV

Here we see a commendation of Job and an example held up by James for us to imitate in our times of suffering.  It’s not all too uncommon to hear of the patience of Job, as seen in the passage purposefully cited from the King James Version above.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a colloquial saying to apply towards a patient person, “he’s got the patience of Job.”  However, if one takes the time to read carefully through the Book of Job, we actually see that Job was not patient…at all (Consider Job 4:2,5; 6:11; 21:4).  How then can we reconcile James’ declaration of Job’s patience with the perceived impatience that he displayed in the midst of his very tumultuous trials and afflictions?

The answer is to simply slowdown in our reading of James’ epistle and hold off on applying our traditional understanding to this passage.  In doing so, we may ask a few questions of the context, focusing particularly on the meaning of the word being used here, translated as patience in the KJV above and as steadfastness in the ESV, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

First, let’s note the flow of the argument being made in James.  In the opening of chapter 5, which of course is an interpretive division, the author introduces a reproof against the rich, which were already in the cross-hairs earlier in the letter (James 1:10-11).  In 5:6 we read, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”

Here we begin to see the upcoming focus for our verses of interest, namely the persecution of the righteous.  Therefore, when we arrive at verse 7, we may better understand the upcoming context of patience in suffering, Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord”, “See how the farmer waits for the previous fruit of the earth, being patient about it”, “You also be patient.”

James’ epistle is introduced with a discussion on patience in suffering and he picks it up here again in chapter 5.  Immediately seeing the call for patience might tip us towards understanding that Job is the prime example for patience in suffering, as seen in verses 10-11, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

In this passage, we first see a general reference to the prophets, who are an example of suffering and patience, or better, “patience in the face of suffering.”  This may refer most notably to those prophets for whom books of the Old Testament have been named, i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea,etc. who suffered for the sake of the Lord’s name and the proclamation of His Word.  We might also cross-reference Hebrews 11 to see are more rounded out list.

The word “patience” (makrothu) used here in reference to the prophets is the same word used throughout James 5 up to this point and can additionally mean forebearance or longsuffering, so patience is a fitting translation.

Next, we arrive at the example of Job in verse 11, but note that in the phrase used in reference to him, “the steadfastness of Job” we have a different word than what was used in first example, the prophets.  Even the ESV recognizes this by choosing to translate the word as steadfastness rather than patience, signifying a different word is likely being translated.  Here we have the word hupomone, already introduced in James 1:3, and there is some semantic overlap between the two.  However, the latter use seems to carry a stronger meaning and in nearly every other New Testament use it implies perseverance in the face of trials or affliction (see Luke 8:15; 21:19; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:6; 2 Cor. 6:4; 2 Thess. 1:4; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; James 1:3-4; Rev. 1:9; 2:2-3; 2:19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12) .

If the author wished to continue maintaining the same point, he could have just as easily used the same word here.  But he didn’t.  In my humble opinion, I think this is because Job is seen as a different case, set apart from those others who suffered, even unto death.  Job’s perseverance was markedly different because the depth of his suffering was markedly greater.  To this point, one commentator has remarked, “patience can be described as passive endurance; by contrast, perseverance is the active determination of a believer whose faith triumphs in the midst of afflictions.”  With the prophets, we certainly see endurance in the face of many trials, even unto death.  However, with Job, we see this active determination of triumphant faith in the face of the harshest afflictions.

In this section of James we read of a strong exhortation for the righteous to bear with suffering in patience.  However, this is taken a step further when we read of Job’s perseverance, recalling to mind for us the severe affliction that he endured through faith by the Grace of God.  No, perhaps rather than praising someone for the patience of Job, we may more accurately honor those who display the perseverance of Job, triumphant faith active in the midst of trials.

Sola Gratia!

Digesting Dialogues and Diatribes

 

The majority of Job consists of speeches and attempted dialogue between Job and his three friends that arrive at the end of chapter 2, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Each offer counsel to Job in their respective turns followed by a retort by Job.  This section essentially stretches from chapter 3, beginning with Job’s lament, to chapter 27 where Job concludes the dialogues with an interlude (ch. 28) before preparing for his closing remarks in chapters 29-31.  The speeches can most easily be digested by separating them into three cycles with introductory and concluding remarks by Job.

Historically, the focus of studies on the book of Job have centered on the prologue (chs. 1-2) and the epilogue (ch. 42) with little emphasis on the dialogues.  Reasons for this may abound, but are likely due to the complexity of the language and the lack of desire to dive into the weeds, so to speak.  However, as with any good Bible study, the diamonds are beneath the surface.

Cycle one begins in chapter 4 with Eliphaz’s response to Job’s lament and runs through the entirety of chapters 14.  Following Eliphaz is Bildad in chapter 7 and Zophar in chapter 9.  This order is repeated in cycle two with the counseling speeches occurring in chapter 15, 18, and 20 respectively, while Job’s response and commentary again intermingled between them.  Cycle three again opens with a word from Eliphaz in chapter 22 followed yet again by Bildad in chapter 25.  However, this time in the cycle Zophar is mysteriously absent and is instead replaced by an additional speech by Job (chs. 27-28).  Of the three cycles, the first is arguably the most critical as it outlines each participants main argument.  The subsequent cycles contribute to the overall sweep of the book but add a lot of repetitious argumentation.

As mentioned above, the lament of Job in chapter 3 opens the section of speeches.  Here we find the faith of Job and his confidence in God rattled as emotion and grief begins to overwhelm the stalwartness that was so evident in chapters 1 and 2

“’21 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.’ 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:21-22

10 But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Job 2:10

Job’s lament can be broken down into three strophes or divisions the first of which is his desire that he would’ve never been conceived (vs. 1-10).    In the next division he desires that he would’ve died at birth (vs. 11-19).  In the third and final division, Job wishes that death would be immanent for those suffering (20-23), particularly as it is applied to his case.  Though Job did not sin with his lips in chapters 1 and 2, one is left wondering if cursing the day he was born is shortsighted in its failure to recognize that God had ordained his birth and may have plans beyond what Job can see, a theme which will permeate Job.

A helpful tool for understanding chapters 4-27, and really the rest of the book of Job, is to breakdown the speeches into digestible bites.  The chapter breaks, though a fallible interpretation, offer some help in recognizing where natural pauses or changes of direction might occur.  Next, four principle observations may be asked of each speech, the main theme, key verse or verses, and key error(s) and truth(s).

Attempting to identify the main theme in these chapters of Job can prove to be difficult.  The language is often that of similitudes and the structure archaic Hebrew poetry.  However, that doesn’t mean that the task is impossible.  Generally speaking the speeches either identify a main point early on or devote the majority of the content towards the main idea.  So for instance, though Bildad has much to say in rebuking Job in chapter 8, verse 3 would seem to establish a major theme for him, namely the justice of God, “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?

Second, and more pointedly, identifying the main verse or verses of the speech can help weed out some of the supporting verses and aid  in clarifying the main theme.  Here you are looking for a key statement that either expresses a critical truth concerning the character of the speaker, audience, or God, a detail about a change in the situation, or a doctrinal proposition being put forth, just to name a few.

Third, as has been previously mentioned in these speeches we need to take the good and leave the bad.  Remember that in stating this, it is a recognition that both parties in the debate have good things to say, though many times it is wrongly applied, particularly by Job’s friends.  However, having said that, there are also many errors or inconsistencies that are stated as well, sometimes simply in the form of inflammatory or unhelpful counsel.  By identifying these key errors and key truths it will provide guardrails for correctly interpreting the content and meaning of the dialogues.

Thankfully for the sake of interpretation, the cycle of speeches get shorter as the book progresses and the content of the speeches begins to become repetitive.  In the opening cycle, the focus is upon the character of God by means of the affliction of Job.  In cycle two, the focus is much more on the character of the wicked and the justice of God meted out against them.  By the time we reach cycle three, we get much of the same with the addition of Job expressing in clear terms the suffering AND prosperity of the wicked, along with the divine prerogative of God to delay His justice as He sees fit.

Understanding the central portion of Job is foundational for understanding the role of Elihu and the purpose and meaning of God’s reply in chapters 38-41.  As such, there’s no reason to rush through or even skip this section as many have tried to do in the past.  Sometimes the treasures and gems are hidden away in locations for those willing to put forth the effort to find them.

 

 

Interpreting the Book of Job

 

The book of Job can be a challenging and intimidating study, not only for the content focusing on the suffering of Job, but the difficult language, poetic style, historic references, etc.  Add to this the archaic Hebrew language and commentaries will be divided on how to interpret some of the more challenging passages.

How then should we approach Job?

Our first answer might be, with humility, but after that there are several interpretive keys that will help us understand the main flow of the book, even if some of the obscurity remains a mystery.

First, the purpose for the book may be found in the interaction between God and Satan; Satan vs. God, not God vs. Satan.  God is not actively engaged in a struggle with Satan.  Satan is not a loose cannon or a rogue employee.  He’s a dog on a chain, but he’s God’s dog, completely unable to act apart from the permissive will of God, as we see here in Job.

Within this interaction, we have our first interpretive key for understanding Job.  Initially we must note that God has called Satan to His presence.  At first glance it may be easy to presume that this interrogation takes place in heaven, but in reality we cannot be dogmatic about the location.  In other words, we don’t know for sure that Satan was “in heaven”.  Additionally, we have no indication that this is a recurring event, nor that it lasts for an extended period of time.  What we do know is that it is God’s own initiative to offer up Job to Satan.

With this, Satan begins his antagonism toward God in which he questions God’s very character.

“Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” Job 1:9-11

“Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” Job 2:4-5

Satan is asserting that the reason Job is blameless and upright is directly related to God’s hand of blessing on him.  In a sense then, he becomes the father of the prosperity gospel.  He challenges God to remove His hand and to watch how Job will curse Him to his face.   Fittingly in is his role as the accuser of the brethren, Satan’s accusation of Job to God is that should his possessions and then his health all be taken away, he would then curse God.  By this, Satan is challenging the very character of God by challenging the character of Job which God has just boasted of.  In other words, Satan believes that the way to attack the integrity of God is to attack the integrity of Job.  If his faith turns out to be a fraud and his character hypocritical, then Satan will be proved truthful in declaring the Job only served God for blessing.  Inherently, this implies that God is not worthy of being served in and of Himself.  Keeping this in mind while reading through Job will help in navigating the purpose of Job’s affliction.

Second, the character of Job is critical to maintain the flow of argumentation between Job and his three counselors.  In the opening of the book we are given 2 couplets describing the character of Job: blameless and upright, fears God and turns away from evil.  This does not mean that Job has some kind of sinless perfectionism, nor does it mean that Job was a super-saint.  It means that Job was not living in any kind of open sin.  It means that Job was not hypocritical, claiming one thing yet living a lie behind closed doors.  God affirms this in His own declaration of Job’s character as He repeats it to Satan, twice.

Knowing that Job truly is a godly man and knowing that there is no indication of an unrepentant sin helps us understand the perspective of the friend’s accusations against Job, as well as his insistence on his innocence.  Additionally, it helps us understand the vigor with which Job defends his integrity and desires vindication.

Which brings us to the third interpretive key, namely the line of argumentation from the perspective of the counseling friend’s.  The central argument that they make against Job is the equivocation of sin and affliction.  They each see a 1:1 correspondence that points backward from the affliction that a person is experiencing, to a sin that they must have committed.

As noted previously, this is a strict application of the doctrine of retribution, though as seen in Job, is wrongly applied.  Essentially, the counseling friends of Job fall into the same kind of trap that our Lord’s disciples did in John 9,

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

It should be pointed out that the law of retribution is not a foreign concept to Scripture, indeed it is a central tenet.  However, the problem from the friend’s perspective is their incorrect application, subordinating God to His own principle and insisting that Job’s affliction must be the result of retribution.

Fourth, it is common to read Job and take all that he says as good while taking all that his friends say as bad.  This will inevitably lead to misinterpretation.  Personally, I’ve been hesitant in the past to quote from anything that the friends have to say even though it may look and sound like a truth simply because it came from their mouth and traditionally they have been viewed as poor counselors (which they are!!).  However, better advice might be to take the good and leave the bad.  This applies both to Job and the counselors.  Each side has some good points, though as John Calvin points out, Job maintains a good case but pleads it poorly; the others bring a poor case but plead it well, “when we have understood this, it will be to us as it were a key to open to us the whole book.”

Finally, there is a temporal layer in the argumentation from both Job and his friends that must be noted.  The friends consistently appeal to the blessings of God in this life directly flowing downstream from repentance of sin.  This over-realized eschatology frames their application of the prosperity gospel to Job’s situation.  As an aside, this is precisely the error of modern day proponents of the prosperity gospel.  They press the promises of Scripture, particularly those of the Old Testament, which mention material blessings into this age.  Indeed, God may bless His children materially in this life, but on the other hand, He may not.  Ultimately, the material blessings of scripture, i.e. health, wealth, and prosperity are fulfilled in the age to come.

The breadth, width, and depth of Job is immense and it can inevitably be overwhelming.  Preparation in studying Job may be just as important, if not more so, than the actual study.  Outlining a plan with a few of the interpretive keys mentioned above can be a helpful step in rightly interpreting the book and properly applying its richness to the Christian life.