Tag Archives: Job

Another reception history article on Job

In the second COVID-19 volume from the Stimulus journal, there’s another interesting article on Job and reception history. Nicholas List (postgrad student at Otago and intern at Grace Bible Church in Dunedin) dives into early church writers’ extracanonical interpretations of the book of Job for some insights on how to grapple with suffering in our present moment. I appreciated Nick’s point that reception history is an intimately pastoral endeavour. The “Job the wrestler” that early Christians pondered on is fascinating too. The more I think about all the back-and-forth between Job and his friends, the more it sounds like a couple of wrestlers duking it out in the ring! Some snippets below.

On Job the wrestler:

“Viewed in a different light, there is a sense in which Job’s athletic endurance can be seen as the struggle against the temptation to curse God in the face of tragedy.”

Should we approach our suffering in martial terms? According to early church writers,

“To see Job’s rent garments as both an expression of grief and preparation for combat is one way to faithfully negotiate the tensions of blessing the good Creator while living within a fallen creation.”

Reflecting on early writers’ embellishments on Job hoping for a resurrection:

COVID-19 has no regard for the gods of our society. Like Elihu in the Testament of Job, we may be tempted to mourn for the faded glory of these earthly thrones. Yet the early church reminds us that Job’s hope did not rest in the re-establishment of earthly thrones, but the inauguration of a heavenly one. Job’s hope in the resurrection reminds us that the true God has called us in Christ out of destruction to re-creation.

And an encouragement to look back to look forward:

“By reflecting on the pastoral applications and innovations of Job in the early church, we are better placed to reread scripture ourselves, continuing the deeply biblical practice of meeting the pressing issues of the present with insight from the past.”

I do wonder why these early church writers felt the need to play down the raw honesty of Job’s protests and to reimagine him as God’s defender against Satan (he’s plainly lamenting and protesting to God in the Hebrew text). Nick suggests it’s because these writers wanted to “mitigate the role of divine agency in probation” (i.e. let God off the hook for causing caused Job’s suffering). Job is not easy reading, and our tendency is to want to water it down or skip over it.

Anyways, it’s an interesting read. Go check it out! You can also read my own attempt at Job’s reception history here. I think there’s definitely more gold to be gleaned from this kind of study.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 3:1-10

Day 6 of #nzlockdown. We’re going through Job as fast as my rusty Hebrew takes us.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12 | Job 1:13-22 | Job 2:1-6 | Job 2:7-13 |


3:1-2 After this, Job opened his mouth, and he cursed his day.
2 And Job answered, saying:

3 “May it perish – The day I was born.
And the night [that] said: “A baby boy is conceived.”

4 That day – let it be darkness!
May God from above not seek it,
and may light not shine upon it.
5 May darkness and deep darkness claim it;
may rainclouds dwell over it;
may darkness of day overwhelm it.


6 That night – may darkness take it,
may it not rejoice among the days of the year
into the number of months may it not come.


  • After two chapters of the barakh / “bless” riddle (see previous discussion), the words for “curse” finally appears three times in this chapter. Job finally curses – not God, but the day he was born (v1). Has the adversary been proved wrong?
  • From verse 3, the book moves from simple narrative prose into some of the most artful poetry in the Hebrew bible (so apologies in advance for that slowing us down!).
  • A key feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, where one idea is stated in different but complementary ways (e.g. “day” vs. “night” in v3; “days of the year” vs. “number of months” in v6);
  • You know how when you’re feeling depressed, it’s hard to find words to describe how you feel? Job is searching for words too – he uses four different Hebrew words throughout vv4-6 (חֹ֥שֶׁךְ in v4, 5; צַלְמָוֶת and כִּֽמְרִ֥ירֵ in v5; אֹ֥פֶל in v6) to describe the darkness he feels.
  • In contrast to how God said “Let there be light” at creation, Job says: “Let there be darkness” (v4). For him, his suffering feels like a de-creation of everything around him.

7 Behold that night – let it be barren!
May no rejoicing come from it.
8 Let those who curse the day curse it,
the ready ones to rouse up Leviathan.
9 Let the stars of twilight darken
let it hope for light and have none;
and let it not see the gleam of dawn (lit: eyelashes of the morning).
10 For it did not shut the door of my [mother’s] womb,
and did not conceal trouble from my eyes.


  • The “de-creation” language continues: Job wishes the stars and lights all go dark like he feels.
  • Regarding the mention of Leviathan, it’s as if Job is so distraught that wishes that the “day cursers” (possibly professional mourners) could summon a chaos monster to swallow up the day he was born (also alludes to creation language).
  • The key point is in verse 10 – Job curses the night because it didn’t prevent his birth, and thus all the sorrow he’s now experiencing. At this point, he feels like it’s better not to have been born than to be alive and to suffer.

Some reflections:

  • We know the Job from chapters 1-2, but how often do we consider chapter 3 onwards? How often have you and I ventured into this kind of lament speech in the Bible? Could you and I pray these prayers? Sing these lyrics? Remember that Job is “blameless” yet God’s Word records him expressing deep, sorrowful lament. The Psalmists aren’t afraid to cry out to God, “How long, O Lord?” (e.g. Psalm 13, Psalm 88). And if even Jesus wept, then we have permission too as well.
  • Lindsay Wilson puts it this way: “Job offers two schemas for faithful Christians to follow. One is to imitate the patience of Job in the prologue. Then, when it is no longer bearable, the second is to model the laments and protests of Job in the dialogues.” The protests will come in this book, but for now, lament is presented as an appropriate response to suffering.
  • It’s not un-Christian to cry out to God in our sorrows. I fear that COVID will turn us all into a “stiff upper lip” people who just bury suffering in unhealthy ways, or glosses over it in denial. Cry out to God in your pain. Even if all you can wish for right now is that He’d just swallow everything up. If He’s your Dad, no conversation is off-limits. Pour out your pain to Him.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:6-12

Using our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew. A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes. Lord willing we’ll make some progress over the next four weeks.

Previously:


1:6 Now there was a day,
when the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh.
And the adversary also came in their midst.


  • The narrator switches to a scene in heavenly courts. It’s a rare glimpse in Scripture behind the curtain, into the spiritual realm.
  • What we see is not just one spiritual power, but the “sons of God” – perhaps angelic beings (see Job 2:1, 38:7). Whoever they are, they all present themselves before Yahweh in submission.
  • Yet the narrator singles out one being, who is literally called הַשָּׂטָ֖ן (“the Satan”) – it’s not so much a personal name here, but more an adversary (see also 1 Chronicles 21:1, Zechariah 3:1-2).
  • There is more behind the scenes in our chaotic world than we think. Our world is filled with unseen forces and adversaries, but they all must present themselves before Yahweh, our King of Kings.

1:7 And Yahweh said to the adversary, “From where have you come?”
And the adversary answered Yahweh, and he said:
“From wandering the earth, and from patrolling it.”
1:8 Then Yahweh said to the adversary, “Have you set your heart upon my servant Job? For there isn’t one like him on the earth:
a man blameless,
and upright,
and God fearing,
and one who shuns evil.


  • Yahweh allows the adversary to roam about the earth. Whoever this being is, He is free to patrol the earth at Yahweh’s command.
  • Yahweh’s description of Job is identical to the narrator’s in 1:1 – he is someone who is wholly devoted to God. The repetition emphasises that Job is innocent of all the later accusations against him.

1:9-10 And the adversary answered Yahweh, saying:
“Does Job revere God for nothing?
Have you not put a hedge around him
and around his house
and around all that belongs to him
from all around?

You have blessed the work of his hands,
And You have expanded his estate over the earth.


  • Does Job worship God because of the things he’s been given, or does he revere Him hahinnam (הַֽחִנָּ֔ם) – for no reason? That’s the key question of the book of Job for us. Will we worship God even when we have nothing left?

1:11 But now stretch out Your hand and strike all which is his.
[See] if he doesn’t “bless” You to Your face.


1:12 And Yahweh said to the adversary:
“Look, all that belongs to him is in your hand,
Only against him you may not stretch your hand.”

Then the adversary departed from the presence (lit: the face) of Yahweh.


  • There is an element of request in the adversary asking God to stretch his hand out. He knows that only God can decree this, and to what extent (v12).
  • The barakh (ברך) riddle continues here in verse 11. Why does the Hebrew text say barakh (to bless) and not qalal (to curse)? In context, the adversary clearly believes that Job will not bless, but rather curse God to his face.
  • In any case, this word will keep riddling us in the upcoming verses: what does it mean to ‘bless’ God?

My own reflections:

  • Is our wealth a curse or a blessing? Is suffering a curse or a blessing? It’s easy to assume that if we have stuff (toilet paper, a stocked pantry, work from home) we are blessed, but this heavenly conversation reminds us not to quickly assume what “blessing” means in our lives
  • For example, I think of how being in lockdown could be a blessing (time together, a simpler life, no traffic) yet also a curse (time to waste, be lazy with devotionals, become addicted to our smartphones, become bitter or selfish)
  • On the flipside, suffering may not necessarily be a curse. Perhaps there’s wisdom in what J.C. Ryle observes regarding sickness: “I know the suffering and pain which sickness involves. I admit the misery and wretchedness which it often brings. But I cannot regard it as completely evil. I see in it a wise plan and purpose of God. I see in it a useful provision to reduce the ravages of sin and the devil among men’s souls. If man had never sinned I should have been at a loss to discern the benefit of sickness. But since sin is in the world, I can see that sickness is good. It is a blessing quite as much as a curse. It is a rough schoolmaster, I grant. But it is a real friend to man’s soul.”
  • Re: God’s sovereignty. How powerful do I believe my King of Kings is over the chaos of this world? Job 1:6-12 paints him as Lord over all powers and adversaries. Do I believe this?
  • Do I love and serve God only because He gives me benefits (respect, appreciation from others, a paycheck)? Or when there’s no benefit to doing so? When no one is watching online? In the quietness of my heart? When everything is taken away from me? Will I love and serve God “for nothing”?

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:1-5

Using our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew.

A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes. Lord willing we’ll make some progress over the next four weeks.

1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz – Job [was] his name.

Now this man was blameless
and upright;
and God fearing
and one who shunned evil.


  • The narrator emphasises that Job is blameless – literally, tām (תָּ֧ם) means something like “whole”. This is an account of a righteous sufferer.
  • Uz is outside of God’s promised land (possibly Edom). So Job’s story isn’t just for physical descendants of Abraham, but for anyone who experiences suffering.
  • Interesting that God invites readers to reflect on suffering not by way of proverbs or epistles, but by presenting a story. To become wise, we must walk with someone as they suffer. In this case, Job.

1:2 And it was born to him seven sons and three daughters.
1:3 And his possessions was:
seven thousand sheep
and three thousand camels
and five hundred yokes of oxen
and five hundred donkeys
and many, many servants (sing.; perhaps “a large workforce”)


And this man was greater than all the sons of the east.


  • This guy is rich – like the CEO of Air New Zealand, for example.
  • Yet we don’t have to be millionaires to be able to relate to Job; compared to the rest of the world, most of us live in the top 95% of the socioeconomic spectrum.

4 Now his sons would come,
and they would hold a banquet – each house, each man [in] his day,
and they would send out and call for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.

When the days of feasting completed its circuit, then Job sent [for them]
and he set them apart
and he would rise in the morning
and raised up an offering for all of them.


For Job said: “Perhaps my sons sinned
and ‘blessed’ God in their heart.”
Thus Job would do habitually (lit: all the days.)


  • The Hebrew in verse 5 literally says: “Perhaps my sons sinned and barakhed God in their heart.” The word barakh (ברך) has a wide semantic range (to bless, to greet/farewell), but it does not mean curse.
  • Perhaps the scribe didn’t want to write “curse God” on the page.
  • Perhaps the author is using barakh euphemistically.
  • In any case, this word will riddle us in the upcoming verses: what does it mean to ‘bless’ God when we suffer?

My own reflections:

  • This is an account of a righteous sufferer, but every story of suffering poses unanswered riddles.
  • Life is not always as black and white as Proverbs. It is hard, uncertain and full of perplexing questions like “How will I keep afloat today? Why did all this happen today? Is being in lockdown or whatever God has given me a blessing or a curse?”
  • Job acts as a mediator for his children’s sin – his actions foreshadow a future Advocate who makes an offering for those he calls his own.
  • So there is no riddle with Jesus: He is the only one who is truly blameless, and made a perfect offering (his own blood) to atone for our sins.
  • I love Andrew Peterson’s line in the chorus of “Is He Worthy” – Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole? Jesus is that whole person that we need as our Advocate and Friend today.