Posted by: mattcolvin | August 18, 2012

Notes on Job 1


(Medieval German manuscript illumination. Satan afflicts Job while Job’s wife tells him “Benedic Deum et morire!”)

Saturday of the 10th Sunday after Trinity: Job 1.

The fact that Job is called “the greatest of all the people of the East”, and yet is not called a king, may be due to the antiquity of the book, that it antedates the widespread institution of kingship that originated in Mesopotamia. His name might be more rightly transliterated as Iyob, since the usual “Job” does not capture the initial aleph pointed with hireq and the doubled yodh that follows.

1:3 “and a very great household” — the Hebrew is literally “very great service (abudah)”.

1:4 – Job’s seven sons feast “in the house of (each) man (on) his day”, by which we are to understand that this feasting went on seven days a week, with each of Job’s seven sons taking a turn as host. We may either see this as a pleasant and convivial way for brethren to dwell together in unity, or perhaps as a rather excessive sort of dissipation: when every day is a holiday, none is.

From a narratological point of view, the significance of this arrangement, combined with the standing invitation for the three daughters to join the sons in their revelry, is just this: it puts all of Job’s children together in one place so that they can all be killed at once by the collapsing building.

I have always found it rather remarkable what Job does for his children:

“Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt-offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and renounced God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.”

On the standard evangelical model of God’s relationship with men, what could Job possibly hope to accomplish by all this sacrifice? Either his sons have renounced God in their hearts, or they have not. What could Job’s sacrifices avail either way? Yet the Bible does not present this action as wasted effort. Perhaps God does not always deal individually?

1:11 – “Reach out your hand, pray, and strike all that he has” – Alter points out the outrageousness of Satan’s use of the polite “Na” (“please”, “pray”) in a request for the destruction of all of a man’s possessions and children.

The calamities fall upon Job in the most theatrical and relentless manner. He does not have time to catch his breath: each new messenger of woe arrives “while [the previous one] was yet speaking”, so that the successive losses of oxen and asses, camels and servants, and finally, sons and daughters break upon Job likes waves.

1:20 – Job goes through a series of culturally significant actions: rending of clothes, shaving of head, and prostration. These are acts of grief over sudden calamitous news. Robert Alter notes that shaving in mourning was prohibited in Israel, so that the readers would be reminded that Job was not an Israelite.

1:21 – “Blessed be the name of the Lord” — Job’s righteous response to his plight is made the more poignant by the fact that both Satan has said that Job will “bless God to His face” and Job’s wife has urged him to “bless God and die” – where “bless” is a euphemism for “curse”. Of course, Job does not use “blessed” euphemistically at all, but in its normal sense.

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