The lectionary readings for the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament for the month of October are several passages in Job (Job 1:1; 2:1-10; 23:1-9, 16-17; 38:1-7, 34-41; 42:1-6, 10-17). I will only be preaching October 28, 2012 on Job 42. October 21, 2012 is Laity Sunday so I am not preaching. I thought this would give me the opportunity this week to give a few reminders of some basic background we need for better understanding this provocative book.
First, it is fair to say that in some regards Job has become as much a cherished work of religious communities as the world of art and literature. Since William Blake’s (1757-1827) twenty-two engraved illustrations of the Book of Job this biblical book has been carved in the imagination of so many artists and writers. Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) wrote the successful drama, J.B. Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958) wrote Job, A Masque for Dancing (really a ballet and not a masque). Many have thought that Franz Kafka’s (1883-1924) unfinished and posthumously published The Trial (Der Prozess) was influenced by the Book of Job.
Second, the Book of Job consists of difficult, sophisticated Hebrew (not for first year Hebrew students). The book has a prose beginning (Job 1:1-2:13) where the themes associated with Job’s question, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10) is placed. There are a series of poetic speeches mainly between Job and the three so-called friends (could enemies be worse?). Another so-called young friend, Elihu, comes along after those dialogues with the first three friends. The poetic section ends with the LORD speaking out of the whirlwind and Job giving a half-hearted first response (Job 40:3-5) and a second very conciliatory answer to God (Job 42:1-6). Did Job change his mind or what is the import of this last response? The book ends with a return to prose (Job 42:7-17), the so-called happy ending.
Third, the book is made up of repeated notes of irony, the friends and Job talking by each other, humor, anger, hopelessness and about every human emotion you could name. The author is unknown. The place where it was penned is unclear (and possibly a fictional setting but certainly the story is situated in Edom). The precise time it was written is unknown (probably somewhere between the 7th and 5th centuries BCE/BC). The way it was composed is debated (probably not by a single individual even over an extended period of time).
Finally, through all of these unknowns the book captures our attention. It haunts us. Even if we like happy endings we are called to wonder really what the final toll was on the man Job and his family, not to mention his “real” friends. It says, “….Job lived one hundred and forty years….saw four generations of his children’s children….he died, old and full of days.” And what about his thoughts regarding his first 10 children? And his wife….? Why the focus on the three new, beautiful, named daughters and no comment on the seven anonymous sons? Can we look with any hope for justice since at least this restored Job had no slaves? Remember at the beginning of the story he was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). And what is he now after the test?