Going Toward Trial I (Job 12)
Bill Long 1/24/05
Gaining a Perspective on Job 12-14
The next several lessons cover Job's fourth speech, chapters 12-14. Even though the ideas in 12 seem quite different than those in 14, we can follow the general outlines of the speech fairly easily. This study will illustrate that flow briefly and then turn to the intellectual/emotional background behind the first stage of Job's argument--Job 12.
Job 12-14 at a Glance
Crucial to understanding Job 12-14 is the sense that Job is separating himself almost completely from his friends (12); then turning to address God again (13); and then, upon realizing the futility of this exercise (13:24-28), descending into the most beautiful and poignant sorrow imaginable (14). One of the reasons that Job communicates so strongly to me is the quality of fierce longing that emerges from almost every line he speaks. He so much wants to know why things have gone awry; he so much would like to restore a relationship with God; but he simply cannot do so. The "noise" of his illness and psychological pain is such that he feels no comfort is available to him. But he never stops longing for understanding, insight, and, ultimately, a kind of spiritual communion which nevertheless eludes him.
Returning to Job 12
I think the key to understanding Job 12, a passage that has confused scholars and other students of Job considerably because of the surprising way that Job seemingly confesses his belief in a reliable God (12:13-25), is to see it sandwiched by 12:3 and 13:2. They say:
"But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these? (12:3)."
"What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you (13:2)."
That is, the verses in between 12:3 and 13:2 will take up the subject of the equality (some read this as superiority) of Job's knowledge, when compared with the friends. Why should this be the problem? Precisely because the friends have given Job the impression that his problems lie in his lack of understanding. Perhaps, they think, Job really doesn't know the wisdom theology that they espouse. Perhaps he was inadequately trained and schooled in this manner of thinking which they all knew was true. Part of the friends' pique derives from the sense that Job has abandoned first principles and in his great suffering. We saw this approach in the gentle Eliphaz, who exhorts Job to think that the same thing has come upon him that came upon others whom Job counseled to put trust in God; we saw it in the more shadowly Bildad and the unforgiving Zophar, who seemed offended that Job had forgotten the basic principles of wisdom theology.
But what Job is trying to say in Job 12, and 12:3 and 13:2 help to capture it, is that he really knows the theology as well as any of them. He is not one whit inferior to them in understanding. The problem, as Job sees it, is that he has gone beyond the tradition. Or, to put it in another way, the tradition isn't supple enough to handle the experience he has had and the questions he brings. It is therefore not so much a matter of faulty education, as the friends would have it, as Job's sense that the tradition is not fully adequate to deal with the enormity of his loss.
Job therefore wants to give the impression in ch. 12 that the knowledge his friends possess is basic and easy knowledge. It is assumed knowledge. It is so-called Sunday School lessons which Job knows as well as anyone. Wisdom theology flows from his tongue like nursery rhymes from a preschool teacher. Thus, the crucial question that we must face even before reading the text of Job 12 is how we react when others attempt to "go beyond" the theology we shared in common OR how we go beyond our inherited theological categories when new and inexplicable realities swim into our ken.
1. When have you felt tempted, if ever, to "burst out" of your inherited or previous theology? What doctrines or beliefs have you questioned?
2. What was the occasion that led you to question inherited or previous theology? A great loss? A boyfriend/girlfriend? Just the normal process of growing up? How difficult a process was it for you to question the previous theology?
3. This question is for those who haven't questioned their beliefs. If you never have really questioned your inherited beliefs, do you have trouble understanding those who do? Do you find Job a very interesting person?
4. In this passage (12) Job tries to show the friends that he knows the traditions as well as they. Were you ever tempted in your re-evaluation of faith to "show others" that you had not "abandoned" faith, but that you really knew the "basics" as well as anyone?
5. Describe as best you can the mental process you went through in questioning your theological inheritance.
6. What was the role of friendship in this process. That is, did you share your deepest doubts with anyone? With whom? What was his/her reaction to your sharing these doubts and new thoughts?
7. Did you ever have to "reassure others" that you really had not lost your mind? Did you ever think that you had lost your mind?
8. What was the result of your questioning process or is the process ongoing? Are you a person who feels you have to have definite and clear beliefs about God and the universe in order to feel comfortable in the world? Does it bother you when others question their faith?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long