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Tomarken.com » The Book of Job:A Lecture
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Tomarken.com > Criticism > The Book of Job:A Lecture (03-06-04)
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The Book of Job:A Lecture

Dr. Yarrum
01.25.04-Fort Lauderdale, FL

The following lecture was delivered by Dr. Yarrum, also known to some as Murray Stiegman, at Nova University on 1/28/91:

THE BOOK OF JOB

It is not widely known but I have a part time position reviewing new manuscripts for a well known publisher. A few weeks ago, I received in the mail a manuscript called “THE BOOK OF JOB”. It was accompanied by a long letter explaining that this book was to be part of a much longer compil- ation of books variously called the Bible or the Holy scriptures, whatever, and the Bible was written some time ago by unknown authors in a foreign language. The letter went on to say that the Bible concerned itself with the origin of the universe and other weighty matters. It also gave a rambling history of a Middle-eastern nomadic tribe called the Hebrews and their singular relationship with a really imposing figure called GOD.

After a few more pages of background the letter urged me to get on with my reading of JOB and send off my review by the end of the month. As was customary, they did not name the author.

I take a good deal of time in my reviews and take pride in my work, but considering the urgency of the assignment,I had to rush. I did the best I could. If I seem confused at some points, I apologize.

Let me begin with the cast of characters-seven in all. There is of course,Job. He lived in a land called Uz. I guess he would be an Uzzite.

His wife- who has no name -except Job’s wife. Job’s three friends- fellow Uzzites from different towns- Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. And two very important characters- God and Satan.

Let me give you a brief sketch of the story and then we’ll go over it in more detail.

One day God and one of his angels named Satan are having a conversation and God gets to boasting about his servant Job , who is an upright man who feared God and shunned evil. Satan, dutifully playing Devil’s advocate says, “Of course, that’s because he is rich and happy”.

Thereupon God says, “0,K, He is in you hands. Do whatever you want with him. I’m sure he will never curse God.

And the bet is on.

Tragedy upon tragedy strikes Job, and finally he is left upon an ash heap- his children all dead, his wealth wiped out, his body covered with boils. Only his tortured wife remains beside him.

His three friends come to mourn with him, but they try to convince him that he must be guilty of some great sin, that God is a just God who rewards the good and punishes evil. This drives Job crazy because he cannot imagine any sin he might have committed that would merit such horrible retribution. He gets up on his hind legs and demands that God himself tell him why he has been selected for this punishment. Acting as his own lawyer, he would bring God to trial.

Well! he screams so loud and so long that God finally answers him. And God’s answer convinces Job that his questioning of God’s purpose was pure chutzpah, and he bows his head acknowledging God’s inscrutable power.

God has won his bet with Satan; Job is given more children and all his wealth is restored. He lived to a hundred and forty years and saw his son’s sons. So Job died being old and full of days.

And that’s the plot- not very complicated. Not enough for a mini-series.

Let’s go back to the characters- in the order of their appearance. I visualize Job as a successful businessman, about forty years old. He was in a very interesting line of work. He was a nomad. Traveled a lot and he raised livestdick and children. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 oxen and so on. He also feared God and shunned evil. The next character is God. I had to think hard about how to discuss God- particularly before an audience of liberal minded, educated, emancipated and semi-assimilated professionals. God is a very delicate subject. It’s easier to talk about sex than God. If you were to admit that at sometime in your life you cheated on your mate, it would raise few eyebrows and a few whispers. But if you came out of the closet and openly declared that you believe in God, you’d be subjected to a thousand challenges.

Some years back ten or so of my friends, had a weekly discussion group which we called “Everyday Living.” There were only two subjects that were tacitly accepted as taboo. You could talk about any personal subject, except Death and Religion.

The one was too immediate and the other too controversial. I guess that for most of us, our grandparents were religious people; they went to temple or shul regularly. Mine did but I never discussed the subject of God with them.
After his father died, my father became an agnostic which is a euphemism for atheist.
When I went to college we talked a good deal about God. That was the time and place to do it. When you enter the business world, you stop talking about God. That is not good business.

All politicians believe in God. Not too many atheists get elected to public office.

For the sake of my report, let us all be generously open. Since God plays such a major role in the Book of Job, Let us indulge the author and assume there is a God. We are permitted to challenge the author to define his God with as much scepticism as if he were here among us.

So who is Job’s God? Job knew him as the Omnipotent Creator of the Universe. And since Job was wealthy with a happy family, he knew that He was a just God, to whom he gave thanks and sacrifices and for whose sake he lived an upright life and shunned evil. He did his share and God did his and it was a good relationship. He never had to think deeply about God because up to now he had nothing to complain about.

What Job did not know was that he was the subject of discussion between God and Satan.

Now who is Satan? The author is a little obscure here. I suggest some rewriting at this point. Satan, the author says is one of the sons of God. When God asks Satan “Whence comest thou?” Satan replies that he has been visiting the earth and inspecting it.

So Satin is accountable to God but he has a postion of some authority like chief of staff. God says,” Hast thou considered my servant Job?” At this point Satan succeeds in putting doubt in God’s mind as to Job’s motives for loving God. While God is omniscient, he is not above making bets. While the Hebrews believed God to be unique,they did ascribe some human weaknesses to him. Here He is trading on inside information and playing Satan for a sucker.

On the other hand, since Satan is God’s own creation, the wager with Satan is some form of celestial solitaire for His own amusement.

Anyway, back to the story. God turns Satan loose on Job. “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thy hand.” Well, in a few disastrous moments, messengers come to Job and he loses all his wealth and all his children.

Job, of course, is devastated. He tears his clothes, shaves his head and falls to the ground saying, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job did not sin or blame God.

When God Meets Satan again, he gloats that Job held fast to his integrity. But God adds “Although thou didst move me against him to destroy him without cause.” This omnipotent God is saying, in effect, I’m not responsible for torturing Job; the Devil made me do it”.

Did God create Satan to be blamed for anything that went wrong in His own universe?

(I digress here to add some notes in the margin of the manuscript).

Gratuitous- Two meanings.
To determine whether Job serves him gratuitously (not for sake of receiving a reward). God smites him and brings suffering on him, as God himself confesses, gratuitously (without sufficient cause). The motive is not befitting a deity.

Satan wants to try again and God permits him to make more trouble. Satan, doing his job as Cheif of Staff, says “A man will give up anything he owns so long as his own body is safe and he is alive. But touch his flesh and bone and he will curse you to your face”.

And the Lord said “Behold, he is in thy hand, only spare his life.”

So Satan smites Job with sore boils from head to foot.He is in agony. At this point, Job”s wife, (whose name is Job’s wife), says “Why hold to your beliefs, curse God and die”. Let us remember that she is as much a victim as Job is. It is her children who are destroyed. She too has lost everything and, in addition, she must care for a sick husband. She is a loyal, loving wife. But Job is the one who is being tested; she just happens to be in the vicinity. God is not interested in her opinion of Him.

-Job 5-
But she is reproached by Job, “What shall we receive good at the hands of God and shall we not receive evil?” Still Job did not sin by cursing God.

Now just because he will not sin is no reason why he cannot mourn and curse the day he was born.

“Why did I not perish at birth?”

He longs for death. His three friends have come to mourn with him and comfort him. For seven days, they sit and say nothing-which is fine with Job. Then they start to talk.

We all know how difficult it is to comfort someone in mourning. You use banalities. As you say them, they sound so useless. It is so much easier to send a condolence card. Some thing simple such as “with deepest sympathy.” If you wrote that on note paper, it would not have the same salutory effect as going to Hallmark and chosing a card with some flowers on it. Then too, since the price of the card is printed on the back, it shows poor taste to send one that costs less than $1.50.

Well Job’s friends had no such sensitivity. Job is seeking some answers about this wild and cruel God and the friends give him “religion” with a small “r”.

Eliphaz tries to answer Job’s complaint by contending that God is just, that the innocent are protected and the wicked are punished. He says “But man is born into trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.” Put your trust in God. “He maketh sore and He bindeth up. He woundeth and his hands make whole.” Do not despair. This all for your own good.

Job rejects him. What kind of friend are you. Make me under- stand what wrong I did. Your argument is not as strong as mine. I argue out of pain and despair. Your words are words of uprightness. My cause is righteous. I can taste crafty devices in your words. I will complain of my anguish and bitterness.

And he complains directly to God.
“What is man that Thou shouldst magnify him and set Thy heart upon him and remember him every morning and Test him every moment?” Why have you made a target of me? Why do you not pardon my trans- gressions before it is too late for I will be dead?

His friend Bildad tries another approach. He attempts to to convince Job that he had sinned and was being punished for it. To deny this would assert that God is unjust and that would be blasphemous. Although at first it might seem otherwise, if one persists, he will discover that God’s justice does indeed operate in the natural and human realm of this world.

Job is now getting tired of his friend’s excuses for God. He says that God destroys the innocent and the guilty without distinguishing between them. He mocks at the guiltless and the earth is given into the hands of the wicked. He turns back to argue with God, “Why are you trying to destroy me? What do you expect of some- thing you yourself fashioned from a lump of clay?”

The third friend, Zophar, chimes in. He affirms that man is finite and imperfect and therefore dares not challenge God or to question His ways.

At this point I want to remind you, that this is a review of a book; that all the characters are fictional. I don’t want to lose you in deep philosophical discussion. We are still in Broward County and it is _in the morning. Publix is calling and K-Mart beckons. I merely want you to understand the difficulties I face in my duties as a book reviewer. This Book of Job is beautifully written in majestic poetry. There is every possibility that it will be chosen Book of the Month. The author had succeeded in catching me up in the plot and I felt it necessary to understand why Job stated that his friends were white washers and liars and spoke falsely for God. Was he just delerious with pain or was he speaking the truth?

The stakes in this argument are very high. Remember that the Book of Job, if found eligible, might be included in the Bible, and if it is, it throws into doubt the messages in the preceding books. Job’s friends are citing these teachings which give evidence upon evidence that God did punish the guilty and reward the good.

I checked back to be positive about it.

He drove Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden because they had disobeyed Him and eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He punished Cain for slaying Abel.
He saved Noah and his family when He flooded the earth to rid it of evil doers. He saved Lot when He destroyed Sodom because there was too much he-ing and he-ing instead of he-ing and she-ing.

He rewarded Abraham when he was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He rewarded the innocent Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery. He punished the Hebrews who worshiped the Golden Calf while Moses was busy on the mount. And God dictated the Ten Command- ments promising his blessings if you obeyed them and punishment if you did not.

Job was contending that in the world that he knew, this system did not exist- Bible or no Bible; I felt I had to alert my publisher of my misgivings. I made a note to warn him of problems if he pub- lished the book without some rewriting. “Get in touch with the author because he is subverting our entire social system. Our society is based on a moral ideal where good is rewarded and guilt is punished.

While religion is officially divorced from the government, our morality stems from the Judeo-Christian ethic. If God punishes and rewards, then man is doing God’s work when he does the same. And Job contends that in the world of his experience no such moral system exists. No wnder Job’s friends are upset with him.

Job demands to know why he has been chosen to be punished. He says “I tried not to sin; but even if I had, where is the proportion? I see naked wickedness all around me and these men prosper. What collosal sin could I have committed to receive such unspeakable punishment? He calls upon God to meet him in open court, to speak to Him without fear, to ask what is God’s complaint against him. Job is not resigned or patient. He shouts his pride, he shrieks his pain, he fights with a God who eludes his attacks. His real torture is that he is alone- estranged not only from man but from God. He accuses God, his enemy, of caprice, sadism, and inhuman cruelty. He compares God to a wild beast, a drunken brute, a monster of irresponsibility. He demands justice. He defends himself against God as a prince, as an equal and pleads the record of his life as testimony.

He demands to know why the good suffer. And here we are aware that in Job’s case it is the best man, the most righteous, suffering the worst fate. God is silent.; and now Job asks in a crescendo of questions, “If I have walked with falsehood, if my heart had gone after my eyes, if my heart had been enticed by a woman, if I had rejected the cause of my servant, if I have withheld anything that j the poor had desired or eaten my morsel alone, if I have seen any- one perish for lack of clothing, if I had made gold my trust, if I had rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me;”

If he had done any these things then he acknowledges that his punishment would be just; But he is innocent and God is to declare to him where he had done wrong.

His friends are left far behind. The quarrel is now between Job and his God.

Now the author must give God his turn. As in a law suit. God must answer. But God is a better lawyer and instead of answering, He poses questions for Job to answer.

God’s voice issues from the whirlwind, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its measurements? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Who has brought the torrents of rain to the land where no man is, to the desert where there is no man? “God’s questions first begin concerning the laws of nature. He then turns to the order of the animal world, “Can you hunt the prey for the lion or satisfy the appetite of the young lion? Who provides for the raven his prey?”

Nature and the universe are so diverse and vast, that the mere listing of these questions undercuts Man’s fond belief that it was all created for his sake, and created expressly for his needs. On the contrary, nature and the universe have their own laws, separated and unrelated to man’s needs. But even more, nature is indifferent to the morality so central to man.

God goes on to emphasize this point,”The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are they the plumage of love? She leaves her eggs on the ground forgetting that a foot may crush them. She deals cruelly with her young. And the the eagle, he spies on his prey and her young ones suck up blood.” The thrust of God’s argument is to show overwhelmingly the a-moral character of existence.

Well, to you, my friends and to me, this is no big news. Most of us have long accepted the teachings of evolution. We know that for millenia, dinosaurs were kings of the earth- and disappeared. Saber- toothed tigers and mammoths had their day and disappeared.

I remember the movies I’ve seen of dinosaurs chewing each other to bits, and in my fascinated horror I always hoped that the smaller dinosaur, the cutest one, would escape the big nasty teeth of tyrranasaurus Rex.

-Job 9-
When I watch nature films and they show the hungry lioness stalking the adorable antelope, I’m always happy when the antelope gets away. So though I am an evolutionist and I know that the lion must surely catch and eat cute little antelopes to survive as successfully as he does, I don’t want to witness the pain of the victim. In spite of my understanding that the lion must eat, some- thing inside me says that the pursuer is the bad guy and the victim is good and should be protected. I am looking for a moral system among animals and if I could intervene on the side of the victim, I would. And I also know that such intervention would upset the balance of nature. I have a problem between nature and my human values.

If I have a problem, think of Job’s. He is obviously a creation- ist. He knows nothing about fossils and Dr. Leakey; probably never read Darwin and the “Descent of Man”. He never once doubts that God created man from dust; that God controls the universe and created its laws. Never even doubted that God had a special relation- ship with man. He surely believed that He was a just God.

And here God tells him straight out, man is not my only concern. I have other business to attend to, so stop whining and trying to hog all my attention; And stop trying to impose your little scheme of human morality on Me.

Poor Job! He is now cowering on his ash heap. This fearful voice out of the whirlwind terrifies him with naked physical force. But what the voice says terrifies him even more. Up to this point, he was challenging God to meet him on a one to one basis. He was the lawyer for the defense and God would be the prosecutor. Job would make his case based on God’s own laws of justice which Job claimed God was violating. And now God is shouting at him that Job is completely ignorant of God’s law. Job is not even qualified to address the court. “Who hath given Me anything beforehand that I should repay him? Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is Mine”.

Job, overwhelmed, can only respond, “Behold, I am of small account. I lay my hand upon my mouth”. He is silenced.

And then God, speaking out of the tempest addresses Job’s complaint about the wickedness in the world that goes unpunished by God. “Will you condemn Me that you might be justified? Deck yourself with majesty and dignity. Clothe yourself with glory and splendor, (You) look at him that is proud and abase him and (you) tread down the wicked where they stand, (you) hide them in the dust together. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can give you victory!”

Job now understands and repents. “Therefore have I uttered that which I understood not. Things too wonderful which I knew not”.

What does Job now understand?
1. That man is not the center of the universe.
2. That the order of the world is a-moral.
3. That God has placed upon man the task of treading the wicked. He must realize that it is his own hand that will give him victory. It is not up-to God to do man’s work.

When I reached this point in my reading I had to stop. I went for a long walk. In spite of its controversial them, and the shotcomings I had noted, I was fascinated. The Magnificent poetry, the rolling cadences, the brilliant imagery made it evident that the writer was a master of language. While the characters were plainly fictional, the theme of injustice in an inhuman world was so pert- inent and compelling that I knew we had a masterpiece on our hands. It was not until the next day that I could resume my role as an objective critic. That’s what I was being paid for.

The end of the book is a prose epilogue. God tells the three friends of Job that he is angry with them and they must apologize to Job.

What is their sin?
1. They had affirmed that man is indeed the center of the universe and thus assumed that the natural world could be understood in moral terms.
2. They had trivialized the suffering and agony endured by the just man, Job.
3. They had insisted that God’s law is the functioning moral law and that suffering was inflicted only on those who had violated it.

Job’s ordeal is now ended. His wealth is now restored and more. The author is quite precise.
His original 7000 sheep are now 14,000.
The 3000 camels are 6000. The 500 yoke of oxen now 1000. That is 100% profit.
As for sons and daughters he broke even- 7 sons and 3 daughters.
In the prose epilogue, the author has taken pains to keep the character of God consistent. God is now ready to conclude this little venture he had with Satan; and He wishes to compensate Job for his sufferings. So He decides to give him double his former wealth and a new set of children. That ought to do it!

In His majestic indifference, He cannot be concerned that Job and his wife could never forget the ordeal they had endured. They would never cease to mourn the loss of their ten children, even if they had been given twenty to replace them. These are merely human emotions, not subject to arithmetical solutions.

You may be interested in some further notes I added to my publisher. It is very apparent that God never answered Job’s question, “Why hast thou made me thy target?” When God speaks out of the tempest He seems to be blustering to avoid an answer. He seems to be saying “I am too busy and powerful to bother with your questions. Too busy?

In the prologue, God has taken His precious time to schmooze with Satan; taken the trouble to prove to Satan and himself that Job was worthy of His attention; taken the time to observe Job’s reaction to the calamities that befell him. Could God have told Job the truth? “Well, Job, one day I was talking to Satan about your loyalty to me.” Job is puzzled, “Satan? Satan, who? I thought You were the all-power ful, all-knowing God”. God is now exasperated, “Shut up already, I’m sorry I bothered with this whole experiment. I’ve got to get back to work.” Job would be aghast. You tortured me as an experiment? As if I were no more than a fly whose wings were pulled off?” God is now really upset. “I wiped out generations of dinosaurs and and never got any complaints. You, humans, are really annoying Me”.

I completed my report this morning and sent it off to my publisher as I had promised. I added only two caveats warning him where he might expect some flak.

1. The book as written might stir up a great deal of opposition from groups who insist that God does indeed punish the wicked and reward the good, but He does so in the afterlife for which they have devised a Heaven and a Hell.

2. I remembered that in 1958, Archibald McLeish, a playwright and poet wrote a play called “J.B.” with a similar theme and story line. I advised my publisher to determine whether the author of “The Book of Job” may have inadvertently been influenced by it.


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