Day 5 in Job, sitting in this riddling but relevant part of Wisdom Literature together.
2:7 So the adversary departed from the presence of Yahweh,
and he struck Job with evil ulcers from the sole of his foot up to his crown.
2:8 And he took pottery to scrape himself, while sitting in the midst of ashes.
- It’s a pretty frightful disease that renders him disfigured beyond recognition (2:12), with foul breath and smell (19:17, 20), and with worm-filled sores (16:8). This last point has led some to suggest it’s a parasitic disease of some sort (e.g. lymphatic filiarisis)
- The ashes will reappear at the end of the story (42:6); it could signify repentance, mourning (in line with Job’s actions in 1:20), or a specific location – the LXX translates it as “the dung heap outside the city”.
2:9 Then his wife said to him,
“Until now you hold fast to your integrity. ‘Bless’ God and die!”
2:10 And he said to her:
“You speak like one of the foolish women would speak.
Shall we receive the good from God, yet the evil we don’t receive?”
In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
- Job’s wife gets a bad rap – so much so that other versions (LXX, Targum) add rather fanciful narratives in defence of her. But what she actually says in the Hebrew is caught up in the barakh riddle too (see previous discussion). But even if she doesn’t say “curse”, but what does she mean? “Bless” God and die? “Farewell” God and die? “Speak well” (eulogise) of God and die? Let’s not be too quick to judge her.
- It’s also important to note that Job doesn’t say she is a foolish woman, only that she speaks like one. In our suffering we’re prone to say and do things that don’t necessarily characterise our normal attitudes to God. Remember too that Job’s wife is never rebuked at the end of the book.
- Job saying “Shall we receive” means she is included in his suffering – When someone is afflicted, those around them also suffer to some degree too (i.e. syn + pathos, “sympathise”). Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to be a Job’s wife…
2:11-13 And Job’s three friends heard of all this evil coming upon him.
So they came, each from his place:
Eliphaz the Temanite,
and Bildad the Shuchite,
and Zophar the Naamathite.
And they decided together, to go and to comfort him.
Then they lifted up their eyes from a distance,
but they could hardly recognise him.
And they lifted their voices and they wept,
and each of them tore his robe,
and they sprinkled dust upon their heads into the heavens,
and they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights.
Now there was no speaking [of any] word to him, for they saw how great the pain [of his was] – exceedingly [so].
- We’re introduced to Job’s friends. While most people import their counselling paradigms into this narrative (e.g. “isn’t it wonderful that they sat and said nothing for seven days? When someone suffers, the best thing is to say nothing.”), the text is again ambiguous about the meaning of their actions – are they sympathising with him as a friend, or mourning for him as one already good as dead? Perhaps Job’s initial response to them in the following chapters will tell us.
- The last two words of this narrative block (chapters 1-2) sums up Job’s state – “the pain [was] great”. At least they recognise that.
- Job 1-2 presents suffering as a riddle. It’s a riddle what Job, his wife and others are doing throughout this book. It’s a riddle why some suffer and others don’t. This ambiguity contrasts with the cause-and-effect view we get in Proverbs, Deuteronomy and other places. And it flies in the face of our unbiblical and prepackaged ideas about health, wealth and prosperity, e.g. “if I bless God, He’ll give me health/happiness/wealth”; “If I have enough faith, God will give me this”. God is still God, but in ways that do not fit our neat and tidy — and dare I say it, pagan — formulas.
- This section also presents the right response to our friends who suffer as a riddle. It’s a riddle — we’re conflicted between wanting to comfort them or to rebuke them; wanting to say nothing, to wanting to say everything! Wisdom is often learning not just God’s truth, but God’s timing.
- Was not the cross of Christ the ultimate riddle of suffering? Why should Jesus, despite a perfect unblemished life, have to suffer and die for sinners? That does not fit into our neat and tidy formulas of what should happen in life, yet in God’s mysterious plans it’s precisely how He chooses to bring repentance and restoration for the world.
- My prosperity doesn’t mean I have loved God more. My poverty doesn’t mean I have loved God less. Job’s condition must be altered for us to see the genuineness of his faith. Perhaps God’s brought such a massive change to our lives through coronavirus for this reason too: “that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at Jesus Christ’s revelation” (1 Peter 1:6-7). How will we respond?