Job – The Whiner
Loyalty and Suffering: The Question of the Loyalty of Friends and the Suffering of the Loyal. The idea of justice and good people suffering is a point first brought up in the Old Testament in the Book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is the first author in the Bible to question God’s allowance of good people to suffer and bad people to prosper. Jeremiah was punished for speaking the word of Yahweh. The people of Judah hated him and punished him as a traitor to his country. He questions why Yahweh would let this punishment, not only of himself, but of his people, to occur. The Book of Job re-asks this question, for Job is a loyal man of Yahweh, who is put “on trial” because of a bet between God and Satan, who sits on his council. Job has everything taken away from him, is persecuted by his friends, takes his case to a “trail-like” atmosphere and is rewarded for his loyalty to Yahweh in the end. This book brings to light a few questions that need to be answered:
1. Are the arguments presented for Job’s suffering satisfactory?
2. Where does Job’s friends’ loyalty lie, with him, Yahweh or elsewhere?
3. Was Job’s “reward” for being loyal just, or was it just compensation for being accused for something he did not do?
In chapter three the following chapters, Job’s friends interpret his suffering but do so falsely. These false accusations lead the friends to become more and more estranged from Job on the ash heap. Eliphaz, the oldest and thus the wisest friend, speaks first. He says he speaks from experience. He says suffering results from human activity and it is divine punishment for wicked living (4:8-9). He says he has had a dream (4:12) in which a voice questioned if anyone could be sinless before God. It is Eliphaz’ way to get Job to admit his sinfulness. Evidently Eliphaz was troubled that Job had not repented.
It could also be a divine discipline for which Job should be grateful, but the audience knows he is wrong. With Eliphaz we seem to have returned to an understanding of life somewhat similar to Proverbs. Since Job is innocent, he believes that God must be the source of his suffering, “The arrows of Shaddai stick fast in me…my spirit absorbs their poison” (6:4), and he has every reason to complain. Once again Job laments, this time he asks to die. Job is disappointed in his friend, for his counselling was no comfort to him. His understanding of life is sharply different to theirs.
He suffers because of betrayal by his friends, “my brothers have proved deceptive” (6:15). Job believes God is treating him as if he were a monster. He is sure God loves him because after he dies God would be looking for him, but it would be too late, he would be no more. Neither Job nor the author of Job had a belief in life after death. So God must intervene now. In the prologue and epilogue of this book, Job is said to be a man that performs sacrifices and prays to Yahweh on behalf of everyone around him: friends, family, etc. In Gabel and Wheeler’s book, they state that: “…Job performs sacrifices and prays to Yahweh on behalf of his children and friends; but in the large poetic bulk of the book, where Job and his friends investigate in minutest detail the ways a man may sin and thus deserve suffering, cultic matters are never once mentioned (115.” This would have been the greatest defence for Job, one that should not have been overlooked, nor should it have been brought up, since Yahweh’s name is sometimes defined as “a God who remembers” (Notes, 9/3).
If Yahweh remembers Job following the covenant, how can his suffering be just? Bildad responds next, arguing from the idea of theology. God is just and therefore God cannot be the cause of human suffering. Therefore, if God is not the cause of suffering, humans are. According to Bildad, Job’s children died prematurely because they sinned. Since God’s justice is beyond question, Job’s children must have been sinners. In other words, Bildad believes in the same doctrine of retribution as Eliphaz does. Bildad suggests that Job is responsible for his own future. He must seek God and if he does, God will reward him. Then, Bildad practically accuses Job of not staying close to God. Bildad says evil people flourish only for a short time (8:14-19), and escape is possible for Job but depends on Job himself (8:20-22). He believes he was consoling and wise, but the audience knows that he has been cruel and also portrayed God as cruel. Job believes we are powerless against God.
He asks how anyone can claim to be just before God. He talks about the might and power which God, as the Creator, must have; he can shake the mountains and tell the sun not to rise (9:5-9). However, Job feels that he is in a hopeless situation because he has a just complaint against God. But what chance has he against God? He doesn’t believe there is any point in summoning God. Even if Job did make contact with him, he doubts that God would listen. Job has no way to charge God because there is no arbitrator between them. Gabel and Wheeler state that “although the wisdom writers assumed the existence of a deity who created and sustained the world, they had no sense of a personal relationship between believer and God. (116)”
This leads to Job’s imaginary address to Yahweh, in which he feels he should have never been born. In class, we have been taught that Yahweh had a close relationship with His people. Where is that relationship now? If this is the same Yahweh that is talked about throughout the Bible, in Psalms, for example, why would He not speak with Job? This idea, again, brings injustice to claims of Job’s sins and the need for his suffering. In chapter 10, Job seems to be introducing a kind of imaginary address to be delivered before a hypothetical court where God is also present. Job gives voice to his loneliness, his uncertainty and his suffering not being heard by God.
Job believes that God created him in love and is the cause of his suffering. Job can find no answer and asks why he was born. Because there was not yet a developed belief in the afterlife, rewards and punishments must be meted out in this life. This chapter could be considered Job’s preparation for his “court-date” with God. Job is “practicing” an argument to the court in his defence. One could also see this as a subpoena for God to appear in court. Gabel and Wheeler state: “…Job pleads that God appear (in court, as it were) and state plainly what wrong Job has committed that warrants such ill fortune. (119).” This address, that God can hear (for He hears all), is a message (or a subpoena, as stated before) for God’s court to hear him out and allow him to defend himself. Aren’t all men allowed to defend themselves or is God above that? Zophar, Job’s third friend mocks him and attacks him directly. According to him, Job’s complaints are babbling nonsense and Job’s suffering is less than he deserved. Zophar claims that God’s ways are incomprehensible; therefore, in questioning God, Job is blaspheming.
Although Job cannot know the mind of God, ironically Zophar does, e.g. that certain people are deceptive (11:11). He also believes that if Job would repudiate sin, his life would return to brighter than noon. Zophar falls into the same trap as Eliphaz and Bildad in defending the doctrine of retribution, inevitably picturing God as unloving and humans as deserving nothing but suffering. Once again Job complains that his friends have left him down. Their explanations of his suffering do not satisfy, “I have a brain as well as you, I am in no way inferior to you” (12:3). In Job’s estimation, his friends are worthless doctors (13:4). He believes the only wisdom they could have is to be silent. On the other hand, Job will continue to speak out. He has only one thing to do, to demand a hearing from his torturer despite the misunderstanding between them. God is implicated in Job’s suffering and only God can give meaning to his torment. Job grows angrier and finds the courage to confront God his persecutor, “I have no other hope than to justify my conduct in his eyes” (13:15,18).
In chapters 29-31 Job will ‘take God to court’. Job demands that God stops torturing him and reveals his crimes to him. A tree cut down may sprout again, but Job will never rise again. It is heartening to read that Job believes God still loves, that someday God will long for the work of his hands. Who is Zophar to speak? Is he God or a messenger from God? How does he know that Job will be returned to his status? It seems that Zophar is playing God and knows what God is thinking. If Job does not know what God is thinking, how can Zophar know. This temptation to repent, if Job would have followed, may have ended his life right there. Remember, Job is being tested for his faith. If he gives up and repents for sins he has not done, would that be a sin in itself? In the end, Job was made twice as prosperous as before. His wealth doubled, he had ten more children, and lived 140 more years of his life. God lets Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar know that he is very angry for having spoken falsely of Him. He is upset that they had filled Job’s mind with false thoughts, making him resent God.
The fact that they were all speaking as if they knew exactly what God was doing might have also upset him. Therefore, to rectify having spoken of God in this manner, they each must take a certain amount of sacrifices to Job, and Job would offer their sacrifices to God and pray for them. Finally, Job gets an answer, but is it really an answer? Yahweh answers Job in a form of questions, belittling him, but why? More testing? Why would Yahweh tear him down like this? Babel and Wheeler state: “…we must not that the hero’s (Job) harsh judgment of the justice of God was muted by the author himself by having Job admit, after God has responded to him so crushingly, that he has been in over his head and has spoken of matters too great for him to handle. (123)”
What has Job spoken of that is over his head? The truth? Nothing? All Job did was ask for an answer as to why he is suffering. He knows that he has done what he was supposed to do. He prayed and made sacrifices, but to what avail? To have his family taken away, his life ruined and a cheap buyout at the end. This is almost like the movie “The Fugitive,” where a man is falsely accused of a crime (sin), is sentenced (suffering) and is given a cheap watch and a buyout to say…”I’m sorry.” Thanks, but no thanks. He got everything back, but he got nothing back. He got a do-over with a new family, friends possessions, etc., but not the original. He got a new life, but the life was not the one he knew, but one set up for him to live as an apology. As for Job’s friends, with friends like these who needs enemies? Whose side are they on? Where does their loyalty stand? In the end, Yahweh punishes them, but it is too little, too late.
The question asked is: Where does their loyalty lie? I think it is answered, to a certain extent. Their loyalty is definitely not with Job, for they have judged him when they are in no position to judge. Their loyalty is not with Yahweh, for they have tried to take his role as the judge. The book does not answer, though, if their loyalty is with Satan. He is the one that wants to test Job. Are they in a secret agreement with Satan, sent on a mission to belittle Job so he can win his “bet?” This leaves something to question. Not one argument against Job, throughout his trial, seems to be satisfactory. Job always has an answer for what his friends accuse him of. His words prove that he is a man of his word and his faith. I feel that there was never an argument that proved him guilty, and in the end, Yahweh saw the same. Job’s “reward” for his loyalty, also, has no validity or satisfaction. In the end, Job’s loyalty was to Yahweh and his friends (for he prayed for them). He did not get back what he lost, but got replacements that did not have the same value as the original. Is this justice? I think not.
Standard Bible Old Testament