Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wisdom Texts: the Book of Job (Work in Progress)

The term "wisdom texts" is a designation that has been given to the books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The description is common in professional Bible studies. So in harmony with this familiar way of designating certain Hebrew Bible texts, I want to discuss some general features of the so-called Wisdom texts and their contents. My comments are based on lecture notes I once used in tandem with Robert B. Laurin's Old Testament introductory work.

1. The wisdom texts contain instruction for living the "good life." What is the best way of living? Why are we here? Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes seek to answer those questions and they show worshipers of God how to apply knowledge intelligently (Proverbs 27:11). For example, Proverbs 1:7 states that wisdom begins with fearing YHWH (Jehovah). Ps. 111:10, while not part of the wisdom texts, also repeats this truism: genuine wisdom begins with reverential fear of God. Job likewise emphasizes this point (Job 28:28).

2. Some aspects of life considered in the wisdom texts include living peacefully with others (Proverbs 15:1; 16:32); handling money wisely (Proverbs 22:7; 23:21); understanding the value of a godly wife (Proverbs 18:22; 31:10-31). But the most important consideration in the wisdom texts is one's relationship with God (Proverbs 6:16-19; Ecclesiastes 12:12-13).

3. One unique feature of Job is how the book wrestles with human suffering. Some question whether Job deals with this perennial issue, but the book certainly raises the question, Does God cause suffering? Furthermore, Job makes us wonder about our basis for faith in God. Some answers given in Job are that God does not bring about general human suffering and the book affirms that humans should worship God regardless of personal circumstances.

4. In Job, we equally learn about three "friends" or "comforters" of Job: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. These men purportedly visited Job to give him comfort, to be his friends. However, all they did was accuse Job of sin and they unwittingly misrepresented God's will, purpose, and nature. The men later repented as Job ministered in their behalf, but yet another character appearing in the book is Elihu. He was a wise young man, who patiently waited until the "comforters" of Job finished speaking. Job's wife plays a minor part in the book. She's known for telling Job to just curse God and die; he reprimands her by saying she speaks as one of the foolish women do. Job admonishes his wife to accept the good and bad which the true God allows. Regardless of his dire circumstances (loss of property, children, and diminishing health), he will not give up serving Jehovah. Job doesn't know why he's suffering; he even begins to justify himself instead of God. Nevertheless, in the end, Job is rewarded bountifully by God--even receiving twofold what he lost.

5. Job is a book filled with speeches by Job himself and the other characters mentioned above. However, the weightiest speech is given by God himself in Job 38-42. Jehovah reminds Job of his relative insignificance: he was not around when God founded the world. At that time, the morning stars applauded and the sons of the true God sang out with joy. This final speech is given in the midst of a windstorm as Jehovah makes it clear that he is God while Job is not. The book's epilogue is chapter 42, wherein Job is blessed, but also repents in dust and ashes.

6. A question lingering from the book of Job is whether God tempts humans or not. The book itself seems to deny that any injustice can exist alongside God. He is perfectly righteous and holy and just. One Bible writer would later affirm with utmost clarity that God himself does not try people with evil (James 1:13-17). The same Christian writer points to Job as a sterling example of patience and endurance. Additionally, James writes that we see Jehovah's compassion and mercy in his dealings with Job (James 5:10-11).

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