Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Job, a god-fearing, pious, and just man, with a fine family, and great wealth and property, has his whole life disrupted and his family destroyed by various disasters all because, we are told, YHWH could not refrain from boasting to Satan, his servant and one of the sons of God, about Job's perfection and piety. A wager between YHWH and his most faithful servant Satan allows the latter to inflict Job with terrible suffering in order to see whether he will curse God and thus prove Satan's claim that only the loss of everything will shake Job's piety. Set within a simple prose framework, the book consists of a series of poetic speeches by Job in response to his disasters and by his three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, in which they discuss Job's plight and seek to explain to Job just why his suffering is justly warranted (3–31). The cycles of speeches grind to a halt when the friends cease to answer Job, ‘because he was righteous in his own eyes’ (32: 1). However, a younger spectator, Elihu, enraged by Job's insistence on justifying himself rather than God, seizes his opportunity when Job's friends cease speaking and launches into an attack on him (32–7). The final cycle of poems represents YHWH answering Job out of the whirlwind (38–41) and two brief responses by Job to YHWH (40: 3–5; 42: 1–6). Thereafter YHWH restores Job to his former wealth, social standing, and philoprogenitive success, so that Job lives for another 140 years and dies a very old man, seeing four generations of sons.52 The book must be among the greatest of ancient writings exploring the problem of suffering in an unjust world where the god(s) appears not to care about the fate of the just. Within the poems of Job's protests and the timeserving apologias for divine injustice of his friends are to be heard a wide range of points of view expressed in some of the finest poetry in the Bible. The agony contained in Job's great outburst against the day of his birth (3), the sense of injustice humans experience when faced with the superior power of a deity who ‘destroyeth the perfect and the wicked’ (9: 22), so that ‘The earth is given into the hand of the wicked: he covereth the faces of the judges’ (9: 24), and the extreme frustration caused by having to listen to pious defenders of the indefensible, ‘ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value…Will ye speak wickedly for God? and talk deceitfully for him?…will ye contend for God?’ (13: 4–8): all express aspects of the human condition which modern readers will empathize with. Job's apologia for his life is a magnificent statement about social status and honour and its loss as catastrophe (29–31). The pity, the terror, the awful sense of loss are all in the poetry: ‘Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel. After my words they spake not again’ (29: 21–2), ‘But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock’ (30: 1), ‘I am a brother to the dragons, and a companion to owls’ (30: 29), ‘The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveller’ (31: 32). Job's pain, however, is only increased by the failure of his three friends to understand its depth or the awfulness of his experience of the injustice and silence of YHWH. In his pain Job seeks confrontation with YHWH so that he may serve his writ on him and put his case to him (23).

Chapter.  1010 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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