The prose prologue to the book of Job, found in chapters 1 and 2, introduces a number of issues that challenge standard Christian presuppositions. The commentaries by John Walton (Job (The NIV Application Commentary)) and Tremper Longman III (Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)), both their agreements and their differences, help us explore the ways that the book of Job challenges our comfortable presuppositions.
I started the post last week putting out three major points from the prologue of Job:
First, Job is not on trial, God is on trial. Although the legal metaphor is not carried through consistently in the book, it appears most strongly in the prologue.
Second, the challenger or accuser is not Satan.
Third, Job is innocent, and he proves faithful.
The book of Job is not about Job, it is a thought experiment that explores the way God works in the world and the appropriate human response to God. The challenger or accuser is almost certainly not Satan as understood in later Christian theology. Today I would like to concentrate on the third point – Job is innocent, and he passes the challenge – he worships God through proper motive.
Job is not a sinner in the hands of an angry God. In the book of Job we see no hint of Job as a sinner in the hands of an angry God. He is not portrayed as intrinsically guilty through the sin of Adam. The message of the book is not that Job, and the rest of us, should rejoice in God’s mercy, marveling that he/we occasionally get blessings instead of the destruction, punishment, and devastation we all deserve from the depravity of our very being.
Job is portrayed at the beginning of the book, and from the very mouth of God, as righteous. (I quote from Longman’s translation as the NIV used by Walton is readily available elsewhere.)
And Yahweh said to the accuser, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, and innocent and virtuous man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:8 – Longman p. 76)
After loss of his wealth, servants and children by a combination of “natural” and human disasters, we have one of the most famous passages from the lips of Job:
Job rose up and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. Yahweh gave and Yahweh took, blessed be the name of Yahweh.” In all of this, Job did not sin, and he did not ascribe wrongdoing to God. (Job 1:20-23 – Longman p. 76)
When the accuser returns to the council God again extols Job’s righteousness.
And Yahweh said to the accuser, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, and innocent and virtuous man, fearing God and turning away from evil. He still maintains his innocence though you enticed me to injure him for no good reason.” (Job 2:3 – Longman p. 77)
After Job is struck with boils and is sitting outside in the dust we have another famous exchange, this time between Job and his wife. But still Job did not sin.
And his wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your innocence? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You are speaking like one of the foolish women. Should we receive good from God and not receive evil?” In all this, Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10 – Longman p, 77)
Longman finds is unlikely that the wording of the last phrase here indicates that Job sinned in his heart. “The point of the story is that Job ends these two tests by staying firmly in relationship with God.” (p. 90 – Longman) Walton agrees: “This leaves unaddressed the question whether he has “cursed God in his heart,” but nothing has indicated any wavering of his commitment.” (p. 105 – Walton) We have no evidence or reason to believe that Job sinned in his heart.
The innocence of Job. The innocence of Job does not mean that he lived a life of absolute perfection. He may have spoken to people with unreasoned anger, he may have occasionally succumbed to pride … who knows. In fact he admits something like this in the dialogues to come. Absolute perfection isn’t the point, and the ancient Israelites didn’t have a naive view of human perfection. Righteousness and innocence meant being right with God – and there are many, many OT passages that indicate that this was considered humanly possible and could be expected.
Longman has a serious discussion of the theological implications of the innocence of Job. As Christians we need to take the entire Bible into account. The story of Job does not negate the words of Paul in Romans, or render the atoning work of Christ unnecessary. But it should, perhaps, challenge some of our assumptions and presuppositions as we try to understand the nature of God’s relationship with his creation.
Walton returns to his emphasis that God’s policies of reward for behavior are on trial. If people only love God, or appear to love God for what they get out of it, it is meaningless. All Job did that was “righteous” may have been out of purely selfish motivation. There is no indication in the description of the ritual righteousness of Job that he loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Although we find in the dialogues that he behaved properly toward the poor, the widow and orphan, there is also no indication that he loved others as himself. (Interestingly the image at the top of this post, from William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job, depicts the righteousness of Job through his acts of charity as Satan prepares to smite Job with boils.)
Job passes the test because his actions because his action in the face of loss of his wealth and health reveal no flawed motive for his awe and worship of God. God was incited against Job to ruin Job without reason (Heb. hinnam)(Job 2:3) and Job remains faithful.
Such assertions confirm again that nothing that happens to Job can be construed as punishment for some offense; Job’s righteousness continues to be confirmed from all sources. We should again emphasize that Job is not portrayed as totally sinless, but as one who does not deserve the tragedies that have befallen him. (p. 101 – Walton)
Asking the wrong questions. Is God cruel to accede to the challenge put forward by the accuser? This is the wrong question to ask. It is the wrong question to ask because of the form, genre, and purpose of the book of Job. Walton puts it quite clearly:
Finally, I would again emphasize my belief that even though built on a forensic model, this is wisdom literature and is devised as a thought experiment, not as something that Yahweh actually did. It is designed to raise issues and discuss philosophical options. If so we should not misguidedly enter into a discussion of whether Yahweh’s action was justifiable or cruel. (p. 110 – Walton)
I think we would also be misguided to dig too deeply into the innocence of Job or draw too much significance from his innocence. This is a thought experiment, not the record of an actual event. But insofar as the purpose of the innocence of Job is to challenge the idea of what Longman calls Retribution Theology and Walton refers to as the Retribution Principle, the innocence of Job does tell us something of the relationship between God and man. And I think it does set limits on the degree to which we should view mankind as sinners in the hands of an angry God – deserving only of devastation and destruction.
Does the innocence of Job challenge your view of God’s response to “original sin”?
What should we make of the innocence of Job?
If you would like to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.