Approaching God (Job 13:1-19)
Bill Long 1/26/05
In the previous lesson I focused primarily on Job's "hymn" to the wisdom and strength of God in Job 12:13-25. My point there was Job was trying to show to the friends that he was "not inferior" to them in understanding. After all, maybe the friends thought that Job's "lapse" in faith was because he didn't have enough "knowledge" about God--thus they filled in the gaps. But Job will have none of it. This very long speech (12-14) then begins with Job's showing his "equality" with the friends.
What really is happening, however, is that Job is showing himself "superior" to them. When he describes God's work in the world, he does so with ironic twists that show that he knows the classic doctrines of wisdom theology but that he wants also to give them a "tweak" from his new perspective on life. Pain has brought into Job's life an entirely different way of seeing things. The way that he sees God, as evidenced in 12:13-25, is that God is one who reverses the fortunes of great people. Ah, can we ever get away from our experience as the defining characteristic of our theological thought? When all went well for Job, no doubt he adopted the pleasantries and optimistic spirit of wisdom theology; now that his tables have been overturned, he sees God as one who "makes fools of judges" and "looses the sashes of kings." Is there theology that is not shaped by our experience of life? But even when Job's theology is shaped by his experience, it is shaped "in conversation" with the inherited tradition.
In this lesson we will focus on the transition in Job's thinking in 13:1-19. Here, once he has discarded the knowledge of his friends, he is free to try to approach God. In these verses, he does two things: (1) he puts down the friends once again (4-12) and (2) he speaks of the perils of approaching God (13-19). We begin with a few preliminaries.
"1 Look, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. 2 What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. 3 But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. 4 As for you, you whitewash with lies; all of you are worthless physicians."
A. For the first time Job introduces language about his "case" before God (v. 3). Later, in 13:18 he says, "I have indeed prepared my case." What would be the elements of Job's "case"? How does law function for Job? Does it give him comfort? Enhance his defiance?
B. In this passage and others Job derides his friends. Here it is "you whitewash with lies." In 12: 2 it is "wisdom will die with you." In 16:2 it is "miserable comforters." How is the relationship among the four going now?
"5 If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom! 6 Hear now my reasoning, and listen to the pleadings of my lips. 7 Will you speak falsely for God, and speak deceitfully for him? 8 Will you show partiality toward him, will you plead the case for God? 9 Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him, as one person deceives another? 10 He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. 11 Will not his majesty terrify you, and the dread of him fall upon you? 12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay."
A. What is Job saying to the friends here?
B. Job accuses the friends of speaking falsely for God (v. 7). What might he have in mind?
C. I have always liked v. 12--"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay." What are the "maxims" that the friends have uttered? Why are these so-called Potemkin villages (i.e., cardboard "sets") that really do not help a person in need?
"13 Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may. 14 I will take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hand. 15 See, he will kill me; I have no hope; but I will defend my ways to his face. 16 This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. 17 Listen carefully to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. 18 I have indeed prepared my case; I know that I shall be vindicated. 19 Who is there that will contend with me? For then I would be silent and die."
A. The words in v. 14 seem to be a proverbial statement suggesting that he will now "stake all" or "gamble all" on what he is about to say. In this regard it is similar in thought to 7:11 but even more extremely said. What is the big "gamble" for Job now?
B. Verse 15 is one of the more controversial in the history of the interpretation of Job. The King James version, beloved to many, has, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." But that isn't the best translation, as all modern versions recognize. The NRSV has "See he will kill me; I have no hope; but I will defend my ways to his face." Note that the NRSV also has the traditional translation in a footnote, as if even the best translation is almost too controversial in the face of hundreds of years of sermons and Christian piety. But, there we have it. Clines translates, "He may slay me; I am without hope. Yet I will defend my conduct to his face." What would be the difference in interpretation between the KJV and the modern versions? If we adopt the modern version as the best reading, what does the text say? Maybe one of the greatest ironies of Job, the greatest reversals, was in his work with the translators!
C. Verse 16 appears strange in this context. Or is it? Is Job just affirming the traditional theology after all? Can we say that this truly is a window into Job's faith, a lazer-like insight that states what he ultimately believes to be true?
D. Verse 19 seems to suggest that Job is so confident of his eventual victory (who will content with me is almost a gloat, then) that if someone arises to successfully challenge him he will fall silent and, possibly because of embarrassment, or simply because of the fact that all his resources have been taken from him, quickly die. Is this how you read the verse?
Job has now turned an intellectual corner in the book. It is as if he is now finally discarding, in his mind, anything the friends have to say and launching beyond the traditional theology to approach God. It is lonely territory that Job is now exploring. He has no other compatriots in this journey. Do you ever feel you have left the counsel of your friends and launched into a theological space of your own? When? What was it like?
Make no mistake about it. Job is a rebel. The tradition isn't good enough for him. Are you still with him?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long