Friday, April 22, 2011

Introduction to Job's Friends

"Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures"--from the introduction to Job in "The Message" bible translation

In the story of Job we are told of Job's three friends who hear of his trials and come to comfort him. "When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him."

We are not given any indication that their honest and sincere intention was anything but exactly that... to sympathize and comfort. As we know from the story, however, their good intentions quickly deteriorated when they began talking to Job, so much so that "Friend of Job" has become a catch-phrase for one who is a false friend or one who only pretends to want to help.

The friends sit with Job for seven days and nights without saying a word. It should be noted that a custom at the time was for mourners to say nothing until the one they were mourning with spoke. Then they were free to speak as well. Job's friends honored this custom and allowed Job time to grieve. When Job finally did speak, his words were not what his friends thought they should be. That's when the discussions started and quickly became arguments about who was right.

The three friends are generally thought to represent three approaches of reasoning, but all come from the basic premise of "Torah Obedience" which is the belief that "if I keep the Torah, God will bless me and, in fact, is obligated to do so to keep his covenant." This simple formula gave shape and meaning to Israel's religion for centuries and is, in fact, still operative today even, unfortunately, in many Christian denominations. Many believe the purpose of the story of Job was to burst that particular bubble and return the shroud of mystery in which God so rightfully dwells.

Eliphaz the Temanite - - name probably means either "My God is Strength" or "God is fine gold" or some derivation of that; thought to be descended from Teman who was the son of Eliphaz who was the son of Esau. Since he spoke first, Eliphaz was probably the eldest and most noteworthy of the three. He appeals to experience ( I have learned… I have observed… I have seen… and then to mystical visions… “a word was secretly brought to me… can a man be more righteous than God?” “Happy is the man whom God disciplines” was Job happy? If you repent and return to the Almighty you will be restored… but Job had not done anything wrong

Bildad the Shuhite – name means “son of contention” or “son of shouting” - A descendant (or follower) of Shuah, son of Abraham and Keturah, whose family lived in the deserts of Arabia, possibly a member of a nomadic tribe dwelling in southeastern Palestine. Evokes human tradition and philosophy; “Inquire of past generations… Look at how things have always been… “Does God pervert justice?” Rhetorical questions don’t always get the answers we are looking for… Job might have answered him “yes, God IS perverting justice.”

Zophar the Naamanite – name means “hairy” or “expanse” or “pleasant abode” - descendant (or follower) of Naaman, probably also from the deserts of Arabia. Promoted Human Merit and Moral Law… Legalistic pronouncements… recites the fate of the wicked; focuses on rebuking Job for his words instead of understanding the pain behind them, so he generalizes and condemns

The 3 Cycle of Speeches
Cycle 1 – Job 3 / Eliphaz 4-5 / Job 6-7 / Bildad 8 / Job 9-10 / Zophar 11
Cycle 2 – Job 12-14 / Eliphaz 15 / Job 16-17 / Bildad 18 / Job 19 / Zophar 20
Cycle 3 – Job 21 / Eliphaz 22 / Job 23-24 / Bildad 25 / Job 26-27
Poem about Wisdom – 28 / Job 29-31
Elihu – 32-37
God 38-41 – Three Rounds of Speeches

More on Translation and Interpretation

Job’s Wife… was she cursing or blessing? Was she serious or sarcastic?

Song of Songs – I am black and beautiful… I am black but beautiful

Job 13:15…

NIV - Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.

RSV – Behold, he will slay me. I have no hope. Yet will I defend my ways to him.

New Living Translation - God might kill me, but I have no other hope. I am going to argue my case with him.

American Standard Version - Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope: Nevertheless I will maintain my ways before him.

New International Reader's Version - Even if God kills me, I'll still put my hope in him. I'll argue my case in front of him.

Good News Translation - I've lost all hope, so what if God kills me? I am going to state my case to him.

GOD’S WORD Translation - If God would kill me, I would have no hope left. Nevertheless, I will defend my behavior to his face.

What is it Job was hoping for? One of the overarching themes of the story… Justice

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Job's Wife: Old What's Her Name

In the story of Job, Job is struck with the most incredible level of suffering imaginable and his nameless wife shows up for one brief moment. Seeing her husband sitting in an ash heap, silently scraping his sores with a piece of broken pottery, she says, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (2:9).

Why are we not given her name? Wasn’t she important? At the end of the story we are even told the names of Job’s daughters (but not his sons… Job 42:14), but his wife is nowhere to be found (although she was apparently still there since he DID have 10 more children).

Hebrew names many times indicated some facet of the person’s character. In Hebrew tradition, Job’s wife was Dinah (“dee-naw”), one of Jacob’s daughters, which indicates when they believe Job to have lived. If she was in fact Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, her name means “Avenged; Judged and vindicated.” Interestingly enough, Job means “persecuted” in Hebrew and “Repentant One” in Arabic.

Why did the adversary not take her along with Job’s children? Was she under God’s protection, even though the story does not tell us so? Or did the Adversary spare her thinking he could sway her to his purposes?

What was going on in her mind? Fear, resentment, anger, grief?

She was certainly affected by the tragedies every bit as much as Job was, except for the sores on his body, and she was probably the one who should have been dressing them. The fact that he was scraping them with a potsherd may indicate that, in her grief, she was unable to care for her husband’s wounds. Her own wounds were too great for her to think of caring for his.

And yet, at the same time, she could not bear the thought that Job was silently accepting his fate. So she issued a challenge — her immortal words “curse God and die”. Our translation and interpretation of this passage is critical to understanding what was really going on with her.

“Do you still hold to your integrity?” Hebrew: tummah (‘toom-mah' – the feminine form of ‘innocence’. Masculine of integrity is “tom”). She was no doubt as steeped in the philosophy of Torah Obedience as Job was. Was she accusing him of sinning and deserving of his punishment?

“Curse God and die” – could also be “bless” or “kneel” – barach is supposed to include in it the ideas of both cursing and blessing and could have been used here as either irony or sarcasm, i.e., “oh yea, God is so good to us. You can bless him till (or while) he kills you”. Most English translations use “curse”, some say “bless”, some even say “renounce God and die”. If she was saying “bless…” it would align better with a righteous woman suggesting that if Job was going to die, he should be sure his last words were a blessing to God, as was customary at that time. If that’s the case, she was suggesting Job resign himself to his fate.

An interesting alternative perspective was introduced by Ilana Pardes, associate professor of comparative literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She posits that whatever Job’s wife’s words meant, her intention was that silent acceptance of his fate was not what he should do; that the kind of “integrity” Job was displaying lacked substance and what Job needed to do was to challenge the God who had afflicted him… even if doing so meant his death.

So perhaps she was the first to voice her doubts about the efficacy of Torah Obedience and to encourage Job to seek a deeper answer — one that would give rise to questions about the faith he held so dearly.

At first, of course, Job responded to his wife’s suggestion with a harsh rebuke: “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (2:10).

Notice however, that after the three friends arrive, Job’s first words come close to doing what his wife suggested. He does not curse God directly, but he does curse the day of his birth, thereby implicitly cursing the creator who gave him life.

So when Job’s wife called on him to “curse God and die”, she may have actually, maybe even unknowingly, initiated the thoughts that lead to Job moving away from Torah Obedience and finding a deeper knowledge and relationship with his God than he had ever experienced before.