"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Blasphemy (?!) of Job

Have you ever started reading the Book of Job, been amazed at how much he suffered, and how well he seemed to accept the bad things in life in the first chapter or two, and then read the bulk of the Book, and wondered what happened to this guy of whom was said  "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing." (1:22)?    Because he totally did that!  

I finished reading a fantastic book, Re-reading Job:Understanding the Ancient World's Greatest Poem by Michael Austin, last night.  A Facebook friend read it last year, and highly recommended it. At times I enjoy reading how other people* understand biblical books, and so I put this on my Amazon Wishlist and received it for Christmas.  The author captured my attention from the first page.  There are many good points throughout the book, and I didn't start noting them much until I was in the last few chapters.  Here are a few things that took my attention there.

From the chapter, "Why Job's Redeemer Does Not Live - and How He Does"...

The author talks in detail about why this phrase from Job does not speak of Christ.

"But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last."

However, New Testament truths are in the Book of Job.

"When Job lists his virtues in his final speech, he says nothing about praying, fasting, or physically worshipping God in any way.  Rather he talks about how he has treated other people:"

see Job 31:16-20

Job, his friends, and the author of the poem simply take it for granted that 'virtue' is best seen as a measure of how well we treat other people.  The author has no desire to start a fan club for Yahweh. The poem says nothing about praying, sacrificing animals, or singing psalms of praise.  It doesn't even say anything about refraining from idol worship - the go-to definition of morality in the culture that produced Job  This is one of the more relevant connections between Job and the New Testament.  'Pure religion' in the Book of Job means something very similar to what it means in the Book of James: 'to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world' (James 1:27)."

(pg. 114)

When Job says things that many would consider blasphemous, remember the Jewish audience of this poem. Even to be in the presence of someone talking against God was serious.    "Jewish law took blasphemy very seriously.  Blasphemers had to be stoned, and those who heard the blasphemy had to do the stoning (Lev. 24:13-14)."

"... to sympathize with Job as he criticized God would have made them complicit in his blasphemy.  To remain free of sin, they had to abandon a friend in a time of great need."

"Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Job's Comforters fear being contaminated by something theologically objectionable. The priest and the Levite do not want to risk ritual uncleanliness by touching a dead body. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar don't want to risk the moral contagion of listening to Job's blasphemous complaints against God. In both cases, the representatives of the orthodox religion choose abstract theological purity above the physical and spiritual needs of another human being. For both Jesus and the Job poet, it is the wrong choice."  (pg. 116)

I might post more about this later. My arm is sore from being on the computer too long this morning! :) 

*  This is written by a Latter-Day Saint, but aside from relatively few references to Joseph Smith, books like Mosiah, Church teaching, or a Mormon hymn, I could relate to most everything.


S Wibby said...


I remember teachers pointing out that he does charge God with wrongdoing, and that the statement therefore emphasizes the first part - he "did not sin" by doing it.

The bit about blasphemy here is interesting to me. I'm not quite sure it fits, but I'm also not sure it doesn't. There are some assumptions here about blasphemy and culture and it would be interesting to dig deeper and find out how accurate they are. Like, yes blasphemy is serious, but is "complaining" about God blasphemy? Why didn't all of Israel just start stoning each other in the desert? So much of (later) Jewish thought seems to encourage calling God to task, it seems odd that it would be a stonable offense here. Doesn't mean it wasn't though, things change. Also worth noting that Job wasn't a Jew so I'm not really sure it applies, but again it might. Maybe even moreso, if religion in Edom was strict on that and the author is emphasizing that God understands and forgives, or that people do suffer unfairly sometimes and shouldn't be blamed.

Thanks for sharing! Lots to think about.

Susanne said...

I oftentimes hesitate to post excerpts like this because *I* have the context of the book in my head (since I just read it) while others don't. I appreciate your feedback. Yes, the author does very often point out that Job wasn't a Jew, but he does say that it was included in a Jewish canon of Scripture along with other Wisdom books (I hope I'm remembering that correctly.)

At times he tries to understand how a Jewish audience would have read this poem, and what it could teach someone who grew up under the Law (the bit about Leviticus and blasphemy) yet what was more important (relationships with people rather than ritual - both of which are in the Law. Maybe ritual at times got more attention than caring for others.)

I also wondered about the "did not sin" part that mentioned. I actually pulled that verse out of my own head and included it since I must think blaspheming God or complaining against God IS sin. Yet, maybe the lesson here is that it's not. In fact the author points out later in the book that God can handle it.

Yes, lots to think about. Thanks for what you added!