In the “A Modern Parable” thread, Kirksey commented that he would be interested in a discussion of God’s being complicit in Job’s sufferings. So, Kirk, this thread is for you…
The Basic Story
There was a man in the land of Uz named Job. That man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.
(Job 1:1; Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text
, Jewish Publication Society, 1985; all passages here are from this translation, except as noted.) [Note: the Hebrew word translated as “fear” is yira
, which, according to Jewish commentators means something like “tremulous awe,” not “fright.] Job is also mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14 and 14:20, along with Noah and Daniel, for their righteousness.
“The Talmud cites no less than eight opinions about when Job lived, ranging from that of the time of Jacob to that of the Babylonian exiles’ return to the Holy Land. There is also an opinion that Job did not actually exist at all, and the story is a parable.” (The Stone Edition Tanach
, Mesorah Publications, 1996; this is an Orthodox Jewish Hebrew/English version.)
One day the divine beings presented themselves before Hashem, and the Adversary came along with them
I have substituted “Hashem,” literally “the Name,” for the divine name YHVH, according to the Stone Edition Tanach. “The Adversary” is ha Shatan
, “the satan,” in Hebrew. According to the Harper-Collins Study Bible (NRSV): “The article with the word Satan indicates that an office is involved, something like a CIA agent. The Accuser is therefore in the Lord’s imperial service. The word occurs elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible only in Zech 3.1-3.2; 1Chr 21.1”
Hashem said to the Adversary, “Where have you been?” The Adversary answered Hashem, “I have been roaming all over the earth.” Hashem said to the Adversary, “Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil!” The Adversary answered Hashem, “Does Job not have good reason to fear God? Why, it is you who have fenced him round, him and his household and all that he has. You have blessed his efforts so that his possessions spread out in the land. But lay Your hand upon all that he has and he will surely blaspheme You to Your face.” Hashem replied to the Adversary, “ See, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him.” The Adversary departed from the presence of Hashem.
A series of catastrophes then occurs, including the death of Job’s sons and daughters when a house collapses on them.
For all that, Job did not sin nor did he cast reproach upon God.
The Adversary reports to God again:
Hashem said to the Adversary, “Where have you been?” The Adversary answered Hashem, “I have been roaming all over the earth.” Hashem said to the Adversary, “Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil. He still keeps his integrity; so you have incited me against him to destroy him for no good reason.” The Adversary answered Hashem, “Skin for skin—all that a man has he will give up for his life. But lay a hand on his bones and flesh, and he will surely blaspheme You to Your face.” So Hashem said to the Adversary, “See, he is in your power; only spare his life.” The Adversary departed from the presence of Hashem and inflicted a severe inflammation on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
Nevertheless, For all that, Job said nothing sinful.
Job, in his suffering, is visited by three “friends” who argue that there must be a reason why God would have inflicted Job so. The following are a few brief commentaries by rabbis on the general thrust of the friends’ arguments (from the Stone Tanach):
Eliphaz: “He contends that suffering is not haphazard. Rather than railing about his fate, Job should examine his deeds and try to discover why God punished him,” i.e., Job must have sinned even if he doesn’t know it.
Bildad: Job should just repent. “If [he] would repent, the blessings [God] would bestow upon [him] would overshadow even those of the past.” (Ramban) In 18:4, “Addressing Job, Bildad asks sarcastically whether Job expects God (‘the Rock&rsquo
and the world to change as a consequence of his complaints.” (Rashi)
Zophar: “Zophar berates Job for thinking himself ‘virtuous in God’s eyes,’ since no mortal can fathom God’s doctrine. If all were known, Job would realize that he deserved to be punished even more.”
The “friends” make several more accusations and arguments against job as the narrative proceeds. Then the young Elihu speaks; his basic argument is: “God inflicts illness to make the victim consider his mortality and mend his ways, thereby saving his life in the process.” (Rashi) Also: “God is not responsible to a Higher Authority and has no need to pervert justice to destroy a man. Why should God deal with man unjustly? He could simply take back the soul that He granted man.” (Rashi) And: “Everything that He has brought upon [Job] is with a precise, deliberate purpose.” (Ramban) “Elihu pleads with Job to submit to God’s judgment and stop blaming Him for his plight.” (Metzudos)
The God replied to Job out of the tempest and said:
Who is this who darkens counsel,
Speaking without knowledge?
Gird your loins like a man;
I will ask and you will inform me
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Speak if you have understanding.
And so on. In his final statement, Job says to God:
I know that you can do everything,
that nothing you propose is impossible for You.
Who is this who obscures counsel without knowledge?
Indeed, I spoke without understanding
of things beyond me which I did not know.
Hear now, and I will speak;
I will ask and You will inform me.
I had heard You with my ears,
but now I see You with my eyes;
therefore, I recant and relent,
being but dust and ashes.
God then rebukes the three friends because they have not “spoken the truth about Me as did My servant Job.” God then restores Job and his wealth. His brothers and sisters and former friends have a meal with him, and console and comfort him …for all the misfortune that Hashem had brought upon him.
Some Possible Questions
(1) Considering God’s consultations with the Adversary, was God in fact the one who, using another’s agency, caused all Job’s suffering?
(2) If God was complicit, what was God’s purpose in causing Job’s sufferings? After all, the text seems very clear that Job was a sinless man.
(3) Considering the story as a parable, what might the point (or the points) of the story be?
(4) What, if anything, does the story say about God’s justness?
I’ll let you guys run with it for a while, if you want.
BTW, Has anyone read Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People
, which is essentially an exploration of Job?