Book of Job Chapter 2: Lowering the Boom
Here’s my take on Chapter 1.) Tonight we’ll look at Chapter 2. (Text of Chapter 2 here.)
Chapter 2 starts with a repeat of the scene from Chapter 1 with a gathering before God at which Satan appears. Once again, God points out Job’s integrity – this time in the face of enormous suffering.
One of the challenges of the Book of Job is God’s complicity in Job’s suffering. As I said in my comments on Chapter 1, God not only allows Satan to visit tragedy on Job, but He actually offers Job up as a target for this treatment. This doesn’t sit well at all with our understanding of God as a protective force for His people. This difficult state of affairs continues in Chapter 2. Here we find an oddly worded sentence which points both to the fact that God is manipulating Satan and that He is willing to take responsibility for causing Job’s suffering. Verse 3 says, “you incited me against him to ruin him without cause”. The Netbible translates “incite me” as “stirred me up”. This is a rather odd thing to say as it was God who actually provoked Satan’s desire to ruin (lit “swallow up”) Job. But, like a manager who allows an employee to think their new assignment was their own idea, God allows Satan to think that he rather than God is in control of this situation. The other odd thing about the sentence is the imprecise pronouns which obscure who is bringing about ruin. God does not say, “you incited me against him so that you could ruin him without cause.” Rather, by simply saying “to ruin him”, God leaves open the possibility that it is not Satan, but God who has brought Job to ruin. In which case, Satan is merely the tool by which God has done this work. Satan, of course misses this distinction (as do most of us, come to think of it).
Now, I do know that I am treading in some ugly territory here. Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that God would be behind our suffering. Especially when it gets to the really icky stuff like victimized or dead children. Many people simply will not entertain the idea that God would be this cruel. Yet here we have a case where terrible things, including many innocent dead people (including most likely children), happen. And the line of responsibility goes right back to God. And He does not deny it. What are we to do with a God who would treat us like that? I’m afraid that is a question which delves a bit deeper than I can go with it tonight. However, what I will say is that it points to the very nature of the human condition. We often overlook the fact that the fall of man was not brought about simply because of disobedience. Rather, the fall was the natural consequence of consuming the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the promise that they would “be like God, knowing good and evil”. However, that knowledge was not for us to have. Once we aquired it, we were no longer able to walk with God face to face. Adam and Eve immediately began seeing evil where they had not perceived it before and their whole relationship with God was warped as a result. At the very least, all of this indicates that how God handles good and evil is different and separate from our experience of good and evil. I believe that part of what we see at work in the book of Job is a small window into the complexities and counter-intuitive nature of God’s relationship with suffering.
There is one other important thing of note about the sentence in question; God specifically says that Job’s ruin was “without cause”. This is important to note because it stands in contrast with the ideas which many people have about suffering. As we shall see, when Job’s friends speak they assume that there must be a cause for Job’s suffering and it must have originated with some sort of sin on Job’s part. We often hear that this was a mindset which was particular to the Jewish people. However, it is a sentiment we find in many religious traditions and which we ourselves with often fall back on as well. Look at how we often view the less fortunate among us; we see a poor person and say, “if you stay in school, get married and don’t have kids until you’re married then you won’t wind up poor in America.” What we don’t/won’t see is that the person we are saying this to was born to a drug addict, lived in 20 foster homes before being put into the street at age 18 and has been repeatedly abused throughout her entire life. We don’t want to see the senseless suffering, so like Job’s friends we insist that it must be a person’s sin which accounts for their suffering. It makes us feel safer, I think. At any rate, this tendency to assume a cause and effect relationship between our behavior and suffering is something which God clearly wants us to overcome. Or at least to expand our thinking beyond simplistic formulas which allow us a false sense of security. God makes a point of repeating that Job’s ruin has been “without cause”. Without this distinction being made, it would be far to easy for us to read the words of Job’s friends and nod in agreement that Job must have done something to bring this suffering upon himself. God does not want to allow us that comfortable delusion.
Satan responds to this with a terribly callous phrase which reveal the workings of a completely corrupted mind. “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.” The phrase “skin for skin” recalls the sacrifice of atonement where in the “skin” of an animal was offered as a sacrifice so that a man’s “skin” would not have to suffer the deathly consequences of his sin. Basically Satan is saying that it is no wonder that Job is not cursing God because it was not him who had to deal with death – others took that place. He thinks that Job is willing to deal with the loss of his household and wealth in order to retain his own life. Can you imagine the thinking which goes into this idea? What kind of person says, “take my children and those in my household, just don’t kill me”? Jesus said that there was no greater love for a man than to lay down his life for another. This act of love is something which Satan cannot understand. To him, the more reasonable answer is that a man will do anything, including offering up those around them, to protect his own life.
God, of course knows better. He also knows that His ultimate goal for all of this isn’t simply to prove Job’s faithfulness – otherwise He would have allowed Satan to bring Job to death in order to prove that he would not then turn on God. Besides, He knows a man’s heart and has no need of such proof. Nor is He under the illusion that Satan will see Job’s faithfulness and repent himself. It is Job himself that God is concerned for. He is well aware that Job is invested in the idea of his righteousness and God as a capricious deity who must be appeased. And as was true in very ancient days and in Jesus’ time and in our own time, there is little in this world which is harder for God to get through to than a righteous man’s heart. So he allows still more suffering to come upon Job.
Job is afflicted with boils from head to foot. This is a terrible disaster for him. Not only is it painful and unsightly – it puts Job into the category of “unclean”. He must remove himself from the city to the portion of the city dump where people deposited the ashes from their fires. He does not even have anyone to clean and dress his wounds. Job is left alone, in pain, scraping his own wounds with a piece of broken pottery to keep them clean.
And certainly we cannot get through Chapter 2 without addressing Job’s wife. She, of course, infamously tells Job, “Curse God and die.” Job’s wife has gotten a bad rap over the years. She is often painted as a mouthpiece for Satan trying to tempt Job to sin. However, she is suffering enormously as well. Apocrophal writings include this speech by Job’s wife:
How long will you hold out, saying, ‘Behold, I wait yet a little while, expecting the hope of my deliverance?’ for behold, your memorial is abolished from the earth, even your sons and daughters, the pangs and pains of my womb which I bore in vain with sorrows, and you yourself sit down to spend the night in the open air among the corruption of worms, and I am a wanderer and a servant from place to place and house to house, waiting for the setting sun, that I may rest from my labors and pains that now beset me, but say some word against the Lord and die.” (quote via netbible.com)
The life of Job’s wife is in utter ruin as well. It is extremely callous of us to see her as in league with Satan in attempting to trip Job up rather than as the cry of a woman in pain. And although this is getting ahead of ourselves here, it is interesting to note that at the end of the Book of Job, God demands atonement from Job’s friends for speaking against His servant Job, but not from Job’s wife.
The chapter ends with the arrival of three of Job’s friends who have come to comfort him in his calamity. My NAB (New American Bible) translation includes a note which says that these men are coming from areas which are known for their wisdom. When they approach Job, they find his situation probably worse than they expected. Job looks nothing like himself. They do not say a word, but rather simply sit down and wait for 7 days until Job speaks first. The seven days is probably significant. The ancient Hebrews observed seven days of mourning after the death of Abraham and after the burial of Saul. The fact that the men sit silent for 7 days is a sign of the depth of their grief.
So, that’s Chapter 2. I’m actually ready to do Chapter 3, so I’ll probably get it up tomorrow. I can’t make promises for Chapter 4, but stay tuned.