Monday, October 20, 2003

Job 29: Job Revealed

This essay is #33 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. This link has been corrected and will now take you to the beginning.


Then Job continued his speech: “O that I could be as I was in the months now gone, ..."

With the refrain, "Then Job continued his speech:" the author concludes his interjection and we are once more in the midst of Job's situation. How different his words were now from what they were when he wanted to curse the day of his conception and birth. Job now had the stage. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had been silenced. Job was now able to talk about his past and his present. A close reading reveals many good things and some not so good things about him. Job is a book of real people, so we would expect this. This soliloquy of Job reveals him to be a complex character. He is godly, but far from perfect.

Here is the opening of Job's last speech:

Then Job continued his speech: “O that I could be as I was in the months now gone, in the days when God watched over me, when he caused his lamp to shine upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness; just as I was in my productive time, when God’s intimate friendship was experienced in my tent, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me; when my steps were bathed with butter and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil! (Job 29:1-6)

This is the description of the good life: intimacy with God, surrounded by family, and having steps bathed in butter. Job had everything that he wanted on the home front.

When I went out to the city gate and secured my seat in the public square, the young men would see me and step aside, and the old men would get up and remain standing; the chief men restrained from talking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles fell silent, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. (Job 29:7-10)

Not only did Job have the ideal home, but he had political status in the community. The city gate was the place of government. He had the respect of the young, the old, and the chief men. They became silent when Job arrived. Job had great honor.

As soon as the ear heard these things, it blessed me, and when the eye saw them, it bore witness to me, for I rescued the poor who cried out for help, and the orphan who had no one to assist him; the blessing of the dying man descended on me, and I made the widow’s heart rejoice; I put on righteousness and it clothed me, my just dealing was like a robe and a turban; I was eyes for the blind and feet for the lame; I was a father to the needy, and I investigated the case of the person I did not know; I broke the fangs of the wicked, and made him drop his prey from his teeth. (Job 29:11-17)

Job saw himself as the champion of the down and out. It was for this reason that he was so revered at the gate. The opening line, "as soon as the ear heard these things" refers to the sudden silence of the young, old, and chief men when Job took his seat in the gate.

Then I thought, ‘I will die in my own home, my days as numerous as the grains of sand. My roots reach the water, and the dew lies on my branches all night long. My glory will always be fresh in me, and my bow ever new in my hand.’ (Job 29:18-20)

But here Job lets us know that he expected payment for his good works. His righteousness was what secured his home, gave him length of days, and made "his glory" always fresh. A curious flaw has finally surfaced and Job's next remarks amplify it:

People listened to me and waited silently; they kept silent for my advice. After I had spoken, they did not respond; my words fell on them drop by drop. They waited for me as people wait for the rain, and they opened their mouths as for the spring rains. If I smiled at them, they hardly believed it; and they did not cause the light of my face to darken. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I lived like a king among his troops; I was like one who comforts mourners. (Job 29:21-25)

Job considered himself to be the center around which his community revolved. Look at the descriptions Job uses to describe his importance. People waited for him as they would for rain? And what kind of attitude must Job have had for him to say about himself, "If I smiled at them, they hardly believed it?" Are these not the words of someone who thinks overly highly of himself? Job relishes the attention of his fans. Although in the beginning he speaks of God's presence and friendship, what we read here is what he misses the most. Indeed, it might be that God was just one more being in orbit around Job.

It is no accident that these revelations come after the treatise on wisdom. Before then, we the readers had been caught up in the argument about Job's losses. On this side of the treatise, we know to seek wisdom for living. Now the author can let Job reveal a subtle flaw. Job was upright, feared God, and turned away from evil. Nothing has changed here. Job served and protected his community. Job was a good man. In this sense, no one could point a finger and accuse Job of any sinful or wicked action.

But all these good things were setting Job up for failure. Job 29 gives us a window into the Job that the Lord saw. Job's last speech will develop this further. Then will come the very interesting speeches of Elihu and the Lord Himself.

Next: How things changed for Job

<>< Test Everything. Clings to what is good. ><>


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