Study Guide

Book of Job Man's Status Before God

Man's Status Before God

'he will not let me get my breath,
but fills me with bitterness.
If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one!
If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?' (NRSV 9:18-19)

He will not suffer me to take my breath, but filleth me with bitterness.
If I speak of strength, lo, he is strong: and if of judgment, who shall set me a time to plead? (KJV 9:18-19)

If God is ever-present, does Job even need to summon him? Shouldn't he just be there waiting? This kind of thinking makes our brains hurt, but that's the point; it's supposed to be confusing—for us and for Job. Many scholars think the ending doesn't pack enough philosophical punch to solve anyone's problems—least of all God's and Job's. What do you think?

'For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him,
that we should come to trial together.' (NRSV 9:32)

For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment. (KJV 9:32)

Humans have ways to solve their disputes—we call them trials, and so does Job. Do God and men have that same luxury? They don't have documented manuals for trial practice, that's for sure.

If you think back to the frame story, though, you'll remember that heaven seems to work kind of like the human world—you know, imperfectly. Once again, the poetic narrative clashes a bit with the prose frame. But it definitely gives us a lot to think about.

'Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth,
and broader than the sea. (NRSV11:7-9)

Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?
It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?
The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. (KJV11:7-9)

You tell him, Zophar.

Remember, most Israelites lived their lives in a very small area. They weren't hopping spaceships for vacation or driving cross-country just to break a record. Traveling wasn't exactly easy.

But you know what? The scale question still holds for us: how can one person know the boundaries of the earth as well as the one who supposedly created those boundaries? 

P.S. Check out Zophar's use of rhetorical questions. Job has no choice but to agree with him, right?

'Those at ease have contempt for misfortune,
but it is ready for those whose feet are unstable.
The tents of robbers are at peace,
and those who provoke God are secure,
who bring their god in their hands.
But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.
Does not the ear test words
as the palate tastes food?
Is wisdom with the aged,
and understanding in length of days?' (NRSV 12:5-15)

He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.
The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly.
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?
In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.
Doth not the ear try words? and the mouth taste his meat?
With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.
With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding.
Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again: he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening.
Behold, he withholdeth the waters, and they dry up: also he sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth. (KJV 12:5-15)

The writer wants us to understand God's justice isn't just for humans—it's for all other living things, too. Job can only ask human questions, because, well…he's human.

Why do you think the writer put these words in Job's mouth?

'Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power;
they rise up when they despair of life.
He gives them security, and they are supported;
his eyes are upon their ways.
They are exalted a little while, and then are gone;
they wither and fade like the mallow;
they are cut off like the heads of grain.' (NRSV 24:22-24)

He draweth also the mighty with his power: he riseth up, and no man is sure of life.
Though it be given him to be in safety, whereon he resteth; yet his eyes are upon their ways.
They are exalted for a little while, but are gone and brought low; they are taken out of the way as all other, and cut off as the tops of the ears of corn. (KJV 24:22-24)

More complaining for Job. We're used to it. But notice how niftily the text switches between "God will give you stuff for serving him" and "Everyone dies, so get used to it." You have to think about both of these ideas to understand God in the Book of Job. How does Job react to this formula?

'But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Mortals do not know the way to it,
and it is not found in the land of the living.' (NRSV 28:12-13)

But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?
Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living. (KJV 28:12-13)

If mortals can't find wisdom, why do we have the ability to search for it? This is one of the crucial but unspoken questions of Job—and the whole Bible, actually. Man can think about his state in the world, but he can't escape it. Tough luck.

'I was eyes to the blind,
and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy,
and I championed the cause of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the unrighteous,
and made them drop their prey from their teeth.' (NRSV 29:15-17)

I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.
I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.
And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth. (KJV 29:15-17)

What did this good rapport with God get Job in the end?

'Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? (NRSV 38:4-7)

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (KJV 38:4-7)

God really makes his point here. How? By using rhetorical questions. Job does the same thing, sure, but his questions are about human affairs. This is the big stuff, folks.

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind? (NRSV 38:36)

Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart? (KJV 38:36)

God gave humans the power to understand, therefore opening himself up to questions. How's that for ironic? Or was it intentional?