Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

God Answers Job: The Conclusion of the Narrative

Posted on: June 30, 2011

Job 38 – 42

God speaks to Job from a whirlwind. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush, and to Elijah He spoke in a still small voice which followed wind, earthquake and fire.

Theophanies often occur in the bible through natural phenomena, especially extreme weather. Other cultures often held the god of thunder to be preeminent among their gods.

Does God’s answer to Job, which expresses God’s might, transcendence and power of creation, seem any more helpful than the responses of Job’s friends?

God’s first words are a question; ‘Who is this that darkens counsel in words without knowledge?’ Are they a rebuke to Job, who expressed a wish for the darkness of oblivion?

Robert Alter points out that God speaks first of the creation of the earth (38:4-21), then of meteorology (38:22-38), then of zoology (38:39:39:40). The cosmogony includes the control of the sea, also prominent in Mediterranean cultures.

The meteorological verses invoke snow, hail, wind, storm, rain, ice, cloud and lightning, and reference the constellations mentioned by Job in 9:9: the Pleiades, Orion and the Bear. Some translations have ‘rooster’ for sechvi – שכוי in 38:36; BDB suggests celestial phenomenon, meteor or rooster. The word seems to be a hapax. Its meaning in the Yerushalmi is rooster. Lions are distinguished as young or old, lavi and kefir. The bestiary of Job includes the raven, the goat, the gazelle, the donkey, the ox, a large bird which may be a peacock or an ostrich, and the stork, and tells us at least that the author had good zoological knowledge. The verses about the horse have been made familiar to modern theatre-goers by Peter Schaffer, who quoted them in his play Equus. The hawk and the eagle are mentioned. Implicit is God’s providence in the life cycle of all these creatures.

God then calls on Job to answer:

Shall he that contends with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproves God, let him answer it.

Job replies that he is unworthy and has no answer. God speaks again from the whirlwind. He draws Job’s attention to the animal Behemoth, literally ‘beast’ a herbivorous counterpart to leviathan in its mythical proportions. Alter comments that behemoth is derived from the Egyptian hippopotamus, just as leviathan is a mythical version of the Egyptian crocodile. The habitat of behemoth is the river, an indication that this is a hippopotamus rather than a bovine. Rabbinic tradition holds that behemoth and leviathan will be served at the banquet for the righteous in the world to come.

The description of leviathan which follows, sea monster or whale, may be derived from Lotan, the sea monster of Canaanite mythology. Without vocalization, the Hebrew word leviathan -לויתן- resembles the name Lotan.

How can we use this CV of God’s omnipotence?

When Job at last replies he says:

I knew (past tense: ידעת) that You can do everything.

This significant use of the past tense, not ‘I know now’ but ‘I know already’ is all the more striking as the word is spelled defectively, without a yod at the end. A footnote to the text tells us that the qere is yada’ati. Job’s question in 42:3 ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ is a reference to God’s question to Job: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel, with words without knowledge?’

God asks ‘Mi zeh makhshikh etzah vemilin beli da’at?’

Job retorts ‘Mi zeh ma’lim etzah beli da’at?’

But he is speaking of himself because he goes on to say: ‘I told but did not understand’. Something in Job’s relationship with God has changed – ‘I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, and now, v’atah, my eye has seen You’.

Although God has rebuked Job, when he turns to Eliphaz to rebuke him, He refers to Job as His servant. Eliphaz and his two companions did not speak correctly, nekhonah, of God, unlike Job. The fourth friend, Elihu, is not mentioned; Elihu occupies only chapters 32 – 37.

God tells Eliphaz that he, Bildad and Zophar should offer seven bulls and seven rams, while Job prays on their behalf.

And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

God says of Job ‘I will lift up his face’; thus Job’s prayer is acceptable when the prayers
of his companions are not. There may be an implication here that the the sacrifice of rams and bulls is less potent than the prayer of the broken and contrite heart.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Why does God lift up Job’s face when He has just rebuked him? How is it that God and Job are reconciled?

The Talmud says the following:

Job speaketh without knowledge, and his words are without wisdom. Raba said: This teaches that a man is not held responsible for what he says when in distress.

Job is reputed in popular culture to epitomise patience, but we have seen that he is not always patient. He can complain just as well as the next person.

Maimonides regards Job’s impatient questioning of God as due to a lack of knowledge which is expressed by Job himself when he says ‘I did not understand’.

However, God’s favouring Job above his friends seems to vindicate Job’s argument that suffering is not an indication of retributive justice and a divine rejection of the view of, for example Eliphaz, ‘Whoever perished, being innocent?’ This may be satisfying dramatically, but it leaves the problem of theodicy unanswered.

Rabbi Theodore Friedman in Encyclopedia Judaica writes:

The enigmatic character and dubious relevance of God’s reply to Job have suggested an interpretation that…denies that the book was written as an attempt to solve the mystery of the suffering of the innocent. Neither the colloquy nor the theophany penetrate to the reason for Job’s suffering. That reason, however, emerges quite clearly from the prologue and epilogue. Job’s suffering is merely a divine test of his piety. In addition to controverting the conventional view that suffering is punishment for sin, the book proposes not an answer but an experience. The message of Job is neither theological nor philosophical. It is profoundly religious.

Job’s agony, suggests Friedman, is that Job feels isolated from God; even that God has become his enemy.

God’s reply from the whirlwind is tantamount to the assurance that suffering need not spell isolation from God.

In his patient role, seen at the beginning of the narrative and in his final answer to God, Job becomes a model of proper conduct in the face of suffering.

A saying from Pirkei Avot is:  It is beyond our power to understand why the wicked are at ease, or why the righteous suffer.

In this final chapter, poetry gives way to narrative.In 42:7-8, God refers to Job three times as his servant, avdi Iyyov. It evokes the opening narrative of the book, where, in conversation with Satan, God designates Job His servant. Here God uses the term when talking to Eliphaz.

The friends make the sacrifices as God commands and God restores Job’s fortunes, recomensing hime twice over, we are told; the expression is Hashem shav et shevit Iyyov. There is some similarity to the verse from Isaiah that Israel has received double  for all her sins, in that instance, a double portion of retribution.

This is what happens to Job:

His brothers, sisters and friends all come round, eat with him, comfort him, and bring him gifts of money and gold. We know they had stayed away from Job during his afflictions, because he complained that his friends abandoned him. The only people who visited at that time were Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu.

The quantity of his flocks, camels and cattle does indeed double – precisely twice the numbers mentioned in chapter one.

Whereas he had seven sons at the beginning,he now has fourteen, but the number of daughters is the same: three. Rabbinic comment is that they were twice as beautiful as the daughters he lost.

And he called the name of the first Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch – Jemimah, because she was like the day [yom]; Keziah, because the emitted a fragrance like cassia [keziah]; Keren-Happuch because – so it was explained in the academy of R. Shila – she had a complexion like the horn of a keresh (antelope).

The pseudepigraphical ‘Testament of Job’ develops the theme of the inheritance Job gave his daughters. The daughters protested that Job had distributed his goods only among his sons, but Job reassured them that he had not forgotten them. He had three golden boxes brought to his daughters and in each box was a beautiful, multicoloured cord – possibly a phylactery. These cords enabled the daughters to speak charismatically, in the dialect of angels, as well as having curative powers, from which Job had benefited during his illness.

There is a masonic order of women called The Order of Job’s Daughters, founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1920.

There are six extant manuscripts of the Testament of Job, dating from no earlier than the eleventh century, four in Greek, one Slavonic and one Coptic. No Hebrew or Aramaic version is known.

The Septuagint version of Job has an additional paragraph not found in the Masoretic Text:

And it is written that he will rise up again with those whom the Lord raises up.

This man is described in the Syriac book as dwelling in the land of Ausis, on the borders of Idumea and Arabia; and his name before was Jobab; and having taken an Arabian wife, he begat a son whose name was Ennon. He himself was the son of his father Zara, a son of the sons of Esau, and of his mother Bosorrha, so that he was the fifth (*1) from Abraham. And these were the kings who reigned in Edom, which country he also ruled over. First Balak the son of Beor, (*2) and the name of his city was Dennaba. After Balak, Jobab, who is called Job: and after him, Asom, who was governor out of the country of Thaeman; and after him Adad, the son of Barad, that destroyed Madiam in the plain of Moab; and the name of his city was Gethaim. And the friends that came to him were Eliphaz of the sons of Esau, king of the Thaemanites, Baldad sovereign of the Sauchaens, Sophar, king of the Minaeans.

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