Job Again--The Third Cycle Ends (Job 27)
Bill Long 2/16/05
If Job 26 caused problems for interpreters, ch. 27 poses yet more. The "big question" is who speaks which words. On one level, the answer is easy, and it will be the answer I adopt: Job speaks them all. There is no indication in the text that anyone else but Job speaks after Bildad concludes in 25:6; therefore one should only ascribe words to someone else if there are compelling reasons to do so. Once you begin to start attributing words to other speakers, you end up with a pastiche of verses attributed to various speakers or a rearrangement of the text that is tantamount to rewriting the book. And, it seems like once you begin to make creative suggestions about who, other than Job, speaks in chs. 26 and 27, you tend to disagree with everyone else. For example, Professor Newsom sees 26:1-4 as spoken by Job (interrupting Bildad) but 26:5-14 as spoken by Bildad again. Then, she says Job 27 is spoken by Job. Many other scholars would say that Job 27:1-12 are Job's words but 27:13-23 are Zophars. Obviously these scholars want to "help" the author of the book "fill out" the third cycle. Perhaps they were helpers in their third grade classes, too.
The problems are compounded, however, even if you accept that Job 27 is spoken completely by Job. The major outstanding issue is whether vv.13-23, which is a speech that could have easily been spoken by one of the three friends in the second cycle (i.e., it talks about the fate of the wicked, though the picture is not as gruesome as that painted by any of the friends), is said by Job with a "straight face" or ironically. Professor Newsom adopts the latter--Job is ironically mimicking the friends here.
I, in contrast, adopt the perspective that Job is speaking soberly and truly here. The implications of this statement are significant: Job's last words in the third cycle are basically a reaffirmation of the theology of the wisdom tradition. However, even though Job reaffirms the language of the tradition, he has not resolved the issue of why he has been singled out. So, the basic issue of the Book of Job remains unresolved, but Job now comes back to the theology that the wicked will eventually be punished.
Phew! I bet you thought you were going to have a much easier day! Suffice it to say that as the Book of Job develops, we have portrayed to us a highly complex person (Job) in a wrenchingly dissonant situation who will not abandon his own sense of personal integrity and righteousness. With this long introduction in place, let's look at the chapter.
1 "Job again took up his discourse and said: 2 'As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, 3 as long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, 4 my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. 5 Far be it from me to say that you are right; until I die I will not put away my integrity from me. 6 I hold fast my righteousness, and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.'"
A. If we look at 26:5-14 as spoken in bitter mockery, what is the tone of these verses?
B. Usually when a Scriptural author invokes God as his witness, he next says something positive before making his vow. Here, Job invokes the God who has "taken away my right." Irony here? Why is he invoking God at all here, since it seems that he is having trouble trusting God?
C. Is Job's emphasis on his integrity off-putting to you? Welcome? Do you believe him? Or, is this the sign of arrogance, an arrogance that will have to be recompensed later by God?
D. Have you ever had experiences in life where you understood how important your integrity was to you?
E. Job emphasizes his integrity. Job is probably, at this stage, a very hard person to live with. Any connection?
7 "May my enemy be like the wicked, and may my opponent be like the unrighteous. 8 For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts them off, when God takes away their lives? 9 Will God hear their cry when trouble comes upon them? 10 Will they take delight in the Almighty? Will they call upon God at all times?"
A. This is the "other shoe dropping." In the first six verse Job has stressed his integrity; now he expresses his "hope" for his enemies. Compare this to the language of Ps. 55:15.
B. Does Job seem to be referring to anyone in particular here? The friends? God? or just generic foes?
11 "I will teach you concerning the hand of God; that which is with the Almighty I will not conceal. 12 All of you have seen it yourselves; why then have you become altogether vain? 13 'This is the portion of the wicked with God, and the heritage that oppressors receive from the Almighty: 14 If their children are multiplied, it is for the sword; and their offspring have not enough to eat. 15 Those who survive them the pestilence buries, and their widows make no lamentation. 16 Though they heap up silver like dust, and pile up clothing like clay-- 17 they may pile it up, but the just will wear it, and the innocent will divide the silver. 18 They build their houses like nests, like booths made by sentinels of the vineyard. 19 They go to bed with wealth, but will do so no more; they open their eyes, and it is gone. 20 Terrors overtake them like a flood; in the night a whirlwind carries them off. 21 The east wind lifts them up and they are gone; it sweeps them out of their place. 22 It hurls at them without pity; they flee from its power in headlong flight. 23 It claps its hands at them, and hisses at them from its place.'"
A. My contention is that these are Job's final words of the third cycle and that they are spoken soberly, as a statement of Job's belief. What would be the implications of such an approach?
B. Psychologically, then, the movement of chs.26 and 27 would be as follows: mocking speech, claim of personal integrity, sober declaration. Is this "true" in the sense of how imitative mockery "works" in human interaction? That is, is mockery nothing else than a kind of intense inner pain, that might naturally be "resolved" by a claim of integrity and then sober declaration of personal belief?
C. Job believes these things in 27:11-23, but in chs. 21 and 24 he seemed to believe the opposite. Is this an argument against my thesis or can you reconcile the two?
D. Job's speech on the fate of the wicked here seems to be toned down, especially from Zophar's vicious words of ch.20. Is there any significance to this or are Job's words about the wicked as vitriolic as are the friends' words in the second cycle?
So, my approach is that Job reconciles himself in this speech to the beliefs of the tradition--that the wicked will indeed be punished, but he remains unreconciled regarding the central question he raised earlier--"make me understand how I have gone wrong" (6:24). The jury is still out on that one, so to speak. Job entertained the notion for a while that God had turned the moral world upside down, but I don't think he ever really adopted that as his position--it was more of an outburst resulting from pique at God's continued absence and silence. Job's belief in a basic principle of justice at the heart of the universe is just too strong to abandon his belief in a moral order. But, there is no moral order for him. That is his problem that remains. And that will be the focus of the remainder of the Book of Job.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long