Jul 1, 2009

Job's Character Assassination

Job's Theology

Job's Character Assassination - Chapter Five

In previous chapters the righteous and prophetic character of Job has been established. Notice has also been taken of the accusations made against Job and of Job's vindication and apology. In this chapter further notice will be taken of the character assassination of Job, by his "friends," and by later interpreters.

Job said to his religious friends and counsellors:

"I am afraid of all my sorrows, I know that thou wilt not hold me innocent." (9: 28)

In previous chapters it was observed that it was no sin or weakness in Job for him to fear and dread calamity. Here he confesses a continued fear of tribulation and loss.

Notice, however, Job's return accusation against his accusers. He says to them - "you will not hold me innocent," or "you are determined to find me guilty."

Some err here, as in other places in the dialogues of Job, in thinking that Job here speaks to God, rather than to his "friends." God is spoken of in the third person throughout this chapter, and the ones spoken to, his "friends," are spoken to in the second person. This seems to be a common error with interpreters of Job. They seem not to know when Job is addressing and accusing his "friends," and when he is speaking to God, whom he never accuses of wrong, injustice, or cruelty. But, more on this in future chapters.

Job says:

"If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction; For it increaseth." (10: 15, 16)

This confession of Job is revealing. Job does not believe he is "wicked," but "righteous." He knows that the wicked will be the recipient of endless "woe," while the righteous will be the recipient of eternal joy.

Job being "righteous" did not beget pride, presumption, or arrogance in him. Though righteous, he was nevertheless humble, dependent, and unworthy.

Job confesses that he does not "have all the answers." He confesses his "confusion" regarding the "why" of his circumstances.

Furthermore, these words are not addressed directly to God, but to his "friends," especially to Eliphaz. Who is Job addressing when he says - "see my affliction" and "how in increases"? Surely not God, who Job understood already fully saw his afflictions, yea, even having sent them, and needed not be called upon, therefore, to "see" or "behold" them. But, Job clearly is calling upon his "friends" to "open their eyes" to see him, and in doing so, see themselves mirrored.

Besides, when he confesses "I am full of confusion," this is not said to God, but to his "friends."

Job said:

"My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me." (10: 1, 2)

This language shows that Job is not speaking to God, but to his "friends." God is spoken of in the third person. In speaking to his "friends," he is telling them what he would say to God, if he were addressing God, showing that he was not then talking to God, but to them.

Part of Job's "confusion" consisted in his ignorance of the "why" of his sufferings. He could eliminate certain reasons. He knew it was not because he was a wicked living man. He knew it was not because God was mean or unjust. He simply did not know the exact reason. He wished to know the reason, however; And, in the end, he gets his request and comes to know the reason.

Though Job suffered a terrible "character assassination" from Satan, and from Job's "friends," God nevertheless defended his character. Job has also continued to suffer "character assassination" by many Hebrew and Christian commentators on Job.

For instance, a writer wrote:

"The devil delights in fear and knows how to use it. Take Job, for example. We know that God allowed satan to go after him, but I believe that was because Job himself allowed it. Peter said that satan is like a roaring lion, going to and fro, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). So satan went looking for how he could devour Job. Paul said, “Do not give place to the devil.” He cannot come in on us if we do not give him a place, and if we give him place, he will not pass by an open door but will go right on in. That is why James said, “Submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee” (James 4:7). If we resist the devil, he must flee.

So, it was not enough that God allowed satan to pursue Job. He would also have to find Job with his guard down, leaving a place for him to enter in. I think we find that place in Job 3:25, where Job says, “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.”

Where did this fear and dread come from? Certainly not from God, for it was not the fear of the Lord, but the fear of circumstances."

See here

This is a false, though common, "interpretation" of the character of Job. Here the writer, without any foundation of support from the Book of Job, or from any other Bible book that comments upon Job, charges Job with sin, with "giving place to the Devil," for allowing him an entrance into his life. Yet, the writer gave no proof of this, only his opinion. Did this writer miss all the divine commentary by God in which God vindicates Job? Job was declared by God to be just, upright, the very best or most righteous of all men, and yet commentators, like the above, nullify this divine testimony and make Job out to be contemptuous person. What is it that makes modern commentators on Job to disregard the divine testimony of Job and insist on his guilt? What makes them share the false views of Eliphaz and Job's other "friends"? What makes them think that their view of Job coincides with God's view of Job?

Is it not a great sin to speak evil of the prophet Job? As much so as to speak evil of Moses, David, Isaiah, or one of the apostles?

Another writer, writing concerning the history of interpretation regarding the Book of Job, wrote:

"St John Chrysostom (c.347-407) wrote a long series of homilies on the Book of Job, of unknown date. Until recently dispersed among homiletical catenae and unedited manuscripts, they have now been critically edited and form two volumes of the series Sources Chrétiennes. Chrysostom’s principal concern is the character of Job himself, whom he regards as a divinely appointed model of virtue (I,16). Job’s words, he affirms, are such as are suitable to a man grievously afflicted but loyal to his Maker. He behaves as a true philosopher (I,18), but without falling into the error of ‘insensibility’ (1,21). In saying that his suffering is excessive, Job does not accuse God of injustice, but simply denies that he has merited it by his sins (XII, 11). His complaints, says St John, should be compared to those of certain psalms, and are no more to be condemned than these are (VII, 7&13). Even if some of his words seem ‘shocking’ (XXXVIII, 1), they are spoken from simple ‘discouragement’, not from blasphemy or wickedness (III, 1), and in any case do not express his real self (X, 1). Job shows piety when he speaks of the works of the Most High (XII, 1), restraint in cursing only the day of his birth (III, 4) and humility in waiting until the end of the dispute before enumerating his acts of mercy (XXXI, 7). Finally, much of Job’s vehemence in complaining to God comes from his very zeal for the divine honour – he is afraid lest his continued sufferings should lead him to sin and grieves lest his own condition should be a source of scandal for others (XI, 4).

St Gregory concentrates, like St John Chrysostom, on the personal integrity of the man Job. He remarks that just as the stars appear one by one in the night sky, so in the Old Testament the different virtues are gradually revealed by the different saints: longanimity by Noah, obedience by Abraham, chastity by Isaac, and, by Job, patience (Preface, VI, 13). Throughout his commentary, St Gregory insists that Job could not have sinned in his words; otherwise, one would be making the devil victorious in his combat with God, and also contradicting God’s own words in praise of Job’s speeches (e.g. Preface, III, 8; Book XXXV, 9). If Job repents when the Almighty appears to him, it is for interior movements of impatience which he had not wholly checked, and for the ‘sins of his youth’ of which he speaks earlier in his discourses (Jb. 13, 26). This explanation, however, while convincing in itself, may still lead us to wonder why Job specifically repents of his words (Jb. 42:3).

St Thomas' Expositio super Iob is a commentary on the literal sense of the book. Unlike St Gregory the Great and St John Chrysostom, the angelic doctor's principal concern is not the character of Job himself but the doctrinal dispute between Job and his friends. Job is maintaining, says St Thomas, that the proper time for the divine retribution of just men and sinners is not in this life but after death; his friends maintain that divine retribution is found principally or even exclusively in this present life. However, Aquinas does take care to defend Job’s behaviour and speech against the charges which the three consolers bring. Job is a man ‘perfect in virtue’ (Prologue, 69-70). He is pure and innocent insofar as a man may be so, having kept himself from all mortal sins and having nothing gnawing at his conscience (9, 660-3; 16, 263-6; 17, 30-2). More particularly, he is free of all the crimes which his friends postulate in his past life and of which they accuse him in his present distress, namely blasphemy, pride, despair, hypocrisy, greed and useless anger (4, 6-9; 8, 327-9; 13, 225-6; 15, 19-46, 321-8 and passim).

Why then, according to St Thomas, does Job repent at the end of the book? It is because Job realises that his manner of speaking of God was imperfect and in some respects at fault. The substance of Job’s words was perfectly correct: God does principally reward the just and punish the wicked in the next life. It is for this reason that God praises Job’s words and reproves his friends’ (Jb 42:7). Moreover, Job did not rebel against this providential order – he maintained himself in true interior submission to the divine will. However, goaded as he was by his friends’ reproaches, he sometimes let his words go beyond due bounds, with the result that his ill-disposed friends falsely supposed him to doubt God’s justice. Hence, though Job himself was not proud, some of his words ‘seemed to savour of presumption’ (38, 10-13; 39, 350-1). On the other hand, whilst Job’s fault was light, his friends committed the serious sins of teaching false dogmas, slander and even ‘accepting the person of God’ that is, justifying Him solely by reason of His power and without being truly convinced of His justice (13, 94-103; 42, 61-2). This is why they are condemned at the end of the book and only reconciled to God through Job’s intercession."

It thus appears that the early Christians did not share the same view of Job as later commentators and interpreters. Though I do not agree with all that is said by the early church fathers, cited above, yet it is clear that they were much more cautious about protecting the righteous character of Job, rather than assassinating it, as have modern interpreters.

The same writer, under the sub-heading, "Moderns on the patience of Job," wrote:

"The 20th Century has seen a new interpretation of the character of the man, Job. According to this new exegesis, Job is essentially a rebel, who renounces his former submission to God’s will in order to defend his own justice. In his dialogue with his three friends, he puts into question the very notion of a loving Providence, and rages against the injustice of his lot. It is only after the appearance of the Almighty, according to this interpretation, that Job once more submits his will to the will of God, and confesses God’s justice. A few quotations may serve to sketch this new interpretation.

This view of Job as essentially a rebel is not limited to French authors. It is apparently shared by The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. In their article ‘Job’, Fr Mackenzie and Fr. Murphy O’Connor have this to say about the patience of Job:

The proverbial phrase ‘the patience of Job’ seems to derive from the Epistle of James (King James Version). It is both a nuisance (Job is not patient) and inexact (hypomone) means steadfastness or perseverance.

This portrait of Job as a rebel seems to have become the ‘orthodox’ position for today’s exegetes. Two books published quite recently by a leading Catholic publishing house, confirm this. In Job: The Power of Hope, François Chirpaz affirms, Job tells God that He has no right to make a creature endure the sufferings which He is making Job endure’. Similarly, in Job, the Man who spoke well of God, W. Vogels remarks, ‘For the most part, Job is an example of rebellion and of impatience’. Certainly we have come a long way from the Iob inculpabilis admired by St Hilary of Poitiers.

We have argued that the conclusion to the Book of Job, and the Epistle of St James, imply that the man Job did in reality possess the qualities for which he is praised in Christian tradition. Therefore any exegesis of this biblical book which makes its hero an example of religious doubt or defiance must be seriously mistaken. In other words, to find a coherent interpretation of the Book of Job, it is necessary to rejoin the tradition of the Fathers of the Church.

This tradition, as we have seen, does not affirm that Job was entirely free from blame of any kind, and innocent of even the smallest venial fault. But it does affirm that Job possessed all the virtues – including faith and patience – to a high degree, and that he did not lose possession of these virtues when tested by God. To suppose otherwise is to fall into the error of Eliphaz, Baldad and Sophar, who let themselves be fooled by appearances into imagining that Job’s ‘complaints’ were incompatible with a humble and devout heart."


Another writer, who also seeks to condemn the character and theology of Job, wrote:

"After Job's first response, God narrows His focus down to Job's acute problem. The verse Job 40:8 seems to be the closest we get to understanding Job’s sin of arrogance. “Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” Righteousness can easily slide over into self-righteousness. We live righteous lives when we live by God’s ways. But when we look down upon others for not living up to our set of standards, then we have become self-righteous. We judge ourselves to be right and others wrong. God in 40:8 revealed Job's sin by identifying how he condemned God. Job thought himself to be right and God wrong. Job's self-righteousness depended upon God's error. Although we might think bad of Job for doing this, this slide into self-righteousness is very common and produces a deadness of the soul absent from any grace and full of legalism." ("Book of Job 38 - 42:9 – A Living Commentary")

See here

This commentary has it all wrong! Job is here accused of having an "acute problem," of being guilty of the sins of arrogance, pride, self-righteousness, and of "condemning God." The writer even acknowledges that such a character description "might" cause us "to think bad of Job," and yet has no reluctance to promote such a view! The writer even implies that Job was "dead in soul"!

Must we condemn Job, as the above writers, in order to vindicate God? Are not both God and Job vindicated in the story?

It is ironic and perplexing how these kinds of "interpreters" of Job, like Job's "friends," want God to be vindicated even though such vindication condemns themselves!

Job ended his speeches with a word of warning to his three critical and judgmental "friends." (See 19:28-29) They accused Job of being a most wicked sinner, but were they not also sinners? Yea, more than he? They said that God was punishing Job for his grievous sins, but will he not condemn and punish them as well? They will have to answer to God for the way they have spoken to and about Job.

"So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God." (32: 1, 2)

Elihu is not immune, as some have wrongly imagined, to errors concerning the character and theology of Job. He too thinks Job is self-righteous and given to self-justification. But, Elihu is wrong. Job did not trust in his own righteousness for salvation, but in his "Redeemer" and in his God. He did believe that he was innocent of the sins charged against him. Job did not believe he was more wicked than his "friends" or the host of wicked men who did not share his degree of sufferings.

Another writer offers the view that Job was initially righteous, when he sufferings began, but then began to sin when he began to talk!

"We know that Job's affliction was not because he sinned. But Job's affliction brought forth the corruption and depravity of his heart. Pain revealed his true character."

This is truly a false interpretation of the story of Job and one that has no support from scripture or reason. It is sad that this type of "commentary" is prevalent on the Book of Job. Yes, pain and suffering did reveal Job's true character, but that character was righteous, and not wicked, as our "interpreter" has asserted.

This same writer continued, saying:

"I'm persuaded that the sin of which Job repents is his demanding that God answer Him, as though God were some how accountable to him. The sin of the clay demanding of the potter, "Why have you made me this way?" (Romans 9:20)."

"This is a sin, which common experience shows us that we all share. We dare question God's providential dealings when things don't go to our liking. In essence God's rebuke of Job in chapters 38-41 is well summarized by Paul's answer to the questioning lump of clay in Romans 9. "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Presbyterian Deacon)

See here

Is this so? Is not this "interpreter" guilty of "character assassination" against God's holy and inspired prophet?

As will be shown in the next chapters, Job's "repenting" in chapter 42 is not repenting of any overt or heinous sin committed during his trial, nor of any false theological utterances, but his "repenting" is of a different character, of which more will be said later. Also, God does not "rebuke" Job for sin or error in theology. That would be to contradict what he said in vindication of Job, both at the beginning and ending of the story.

No comments: