rvining at log.on.ca
Wed Nov 15 15:28:27 EST 2000
In recent posts R. W. Ponder, B. Rea and M. Kauk have thoughtfully
pondered the meaning of Job 42:6. If I may be so bold as to try to sum
up in one awkward sentence their thinking, it would be thus: Job appears
to repent/reject/have a change of heart, in regard to either
sin/impiety, or, that he should grieve/despair, or that he is
comforted.. To further muddy the waters is the idea of double meaning;
that the text may be supercharged with meaning at multiple levels
(RWP). Careful Tanakh readers know that this is a frequently-appearing
rhetorical device, i.e. to be elliptical, laconic; to be deliberately
vague, so as, I suppose, to stimulate the reader to think for
himself. If this be true-that the author means to be deliberately
vague, it seems futile to try to pin down *a* meaning, if it was the
author's intent to suggest a number of possible meanings. Why bother?
Why bother? Because, in this case, my hunch is that the author had a
clear, non-vague meaning in mind. Specifically, that his Job will not
wimp out at the end. Au contraire, based now on 1sthand knowledge, he
will be more defiant than ever. Elihu, as if anticipating the event,
says everyone is awed by Him. (37:24) Well, not everyone. Job may be
somewhat awed, but not into capitulation. He is not taken in by the
bombast. For the grammatical/lexical (RWP) basis for my
persistently-defiant Job, I depend heavily on Miles, et al. who present
a textual reading consistent with Job's obduracy.* Given that each side
can marshal textual expertise to sustain their viewpoint, we wind up
with a philological impasse.
Given the stalemate, it makes sense to turn, as suggested by RWP, to
the theological/hermeneutical content of the whole Book, to see if there
be some guidance. Some enlightenment as to what this brilliant author
is up to in crafting this profound drama. Thinking of all of the text
leading up to what is the linchpin of the story, verse 42:6, and, also
being mindful of all that happens thereafter, will this author sketch a
repentant, or, a somewhat- repentant- in- some way, Job; a Job, who
enlightened and informed by this theophany, sees the light, no longer
has to contend with this deity, but is released from the terrible
treadmill of his own words (RWP). Does all of the context (much before,
a little after) suggest to us that this author will have his hero come
to know after all that YHWH is just, and will vindicate him? Is he
really overwhelmed, overcome by the tornado encounter, the baffling
speech (BR)? Has this been a comforting experience? (MK)
My sense of the story is a resounding No to all of the above. Throughout
the author will have Job utter blasphemy upon blasphemy against God.
That He is a heartless Enemy, Who enjoys the sport of using Job for
target practice. A cruel Bully who terrorizes his hapless victim;
crushing and battering him without mercy. He is vindictive, even
sadistic; a God Who laughs when He sees the innocent suffer. It would be
hard to overstate how blasphemously condemning were the words the author
puts into the mouth of Job.
Having made these daring accusations, the author sketches a Job
determined to face the One he has so brazenly condemned. Job wants
confrontation; does not want to let his Tormentor off the hook, as he
invokes the Earth itself not to hide the evidence. He wants a permanent
record made; one that God cannot avoid, whether in this life, or after.
He will go out of his way to get a reluctant God into court. He will not
quibble. He will be flexible and accommodating. It makes no difference
who speaks first or last. Let's get on with the hearing.
Fearful Elihu warns Job against such a risky, possibly fatal encounter
with the lethal God. "I won't ask to speak with God! Why should I give
Him a chance to destroy me?" Job, on the other hand, who has
characterized God as being like a soldier gone mad with hate, is
undeterred. "Even though He slay me, I am going to state my case to
Him". Even though he knows his formidable Foe holds all the cards, and
is not above hiding and twisting the evidence, he persists. In the
epilogue frame story, the author has God say twice that it is Job who
has spoken the truth about Me. It is understandable why God didn't want
a court hearing.
But, He will be heard, in a way- without cross-examination, avoiding
all Job's protestations. With a masterful, setting-of-the-stage,
anticipatory build-up, the author will have God finally speak. Not in a
still, small voice, but out of the storm, He will thunder. Stand up
like a man. Gird up your loins, if you want to do battle with Yahweh
(up to now Shaddai or El, but strategically at this point, YHWH the
fearsome warrior-god). It is with withering sarcasm the Almighty
Sovereign assails (continues to assail) the pathetic, bereft- of-
family- and fortune, unrecognizably-deplorable, tortured wretch who sits
scraping his sores with a potsherd. The bullying continues. The
demeaning, belittling bullying behavior of the manifest God, is more
devastating than the merciless physical crushing and battering that Job
experienced earlier. Job is dismayed.
Dismayed? Perhaps, somewhat. But, Job kinda knew it all along. Now, on
the basis of 1st hand knowledge, he is convinced. Therefore, he is not
completely surprised that the Attacker makes ad hominem attacks on
him. Asking him questions, the purpose of which is to aggrandize the
majestic Almighty at the expense of this pathetic, petty creature who He
will diminish yet further, or try to. God would make him grovel. Job
is dismayed. But, never fear, this author will not have him grovel. Mock
deferential, yes, but this is as cuttingly defiant, as the Great
Sarcastic's sarcasms are cuttingly demeaning.
Job has an agenda of big-time issues. Unmerited human suffering. The
prosperity of the wicked- the suffering of the righteous. Retributive
justice is not working. Above all, God is not just. God says to Job you
have challenged the Almighty. God will deal with none of these, which
is His prerogative. His theme is His power, which Job has already
conceded. Here, unlike other places in the Tanakh, God does not temper
His power with justice. As if, might makes right. In 40:9- 14, God
mocks a pitiful, helpless Job; taunting him that if he could emulate
His strength (including pouring out fierce anger, bringing down and
crushing) then, "I will be the first to praise you". God makes fun of
Job. Job is dismayed. God would rather go on and on about Leviathan's
legs and the Behemoth's great power, and how incredibly strong are these
massive creatures-only I can defeat them. God is on a power trip. The
issue of justice is ignored. But, notably, God never challenges Job's
assertion of His being unjust. How could He when the skillful author
has carefully contrived a tale making it impossible?
If there be an argument in Job, perhaps Archibald Macleish captures it
when he puts these words into the mouth of Nickles in the play "J.B."
"I heard it in a yellow wood.
If God is God He is not good.
If God is good He is not God".
This, I believe is the author's viewpoint which he tries to set forth in
his masterpiece. Harold Kushner deals with the same theodicy issue in
"When Bad Things Happen to Good People". For him, as in Jewish tradition
generally, God must be just. Kushner resolves the dilemma by limiting
God. By denying His sovereignty, God can then be just. Job will not do
this. He will continue to aver both- that He is sovereign , and, thus,
that He is unjust.
God does not deny this; the idea of justice is off topic. For this
heresy God does not slay him. In Isaiah 40:2, God appears to admit that
He overdid the punishment of His people. I punished her "double for all
her sins", an injustice. Later, He will bless his people doubly; in
atonement? 61:7. Job was unjustly treated by God, then doubly blessed.
*Job 42:1-6: Then Job answered the Lord.
"You know You can do anything.
Nothing can stop You.
You ask, "Who is this ignorant muddler?"
Well, I said more than I knew, wonders quite
"You listen, and I'll talk", you say.
"I'll question you, and you tell me".
Word of You had reached my ears,
But now that my eyes have seen You,
I shudder with sorrow for mortal clay"
There is a change in Job. Based on his encounter with God, he is able to
transcend his personal preoccupation. In his last words, altruistically,
he expresses his concern for all mankind, given a God like the One he
has just seen.
* "God: A Biography", Jack Miles, p. 325, for translation; pgs.
425-430 for technical grammatical/lexical argument.
On 11/10/00, Dan Wagner mentioned the article "Job: Repentant or
Rebellious", found in WTJ. I would like to read this article. What does
WTJ stand for?
Robert Vining, Owen Sound, Ontario rvining at log.on.ca
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