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Job: Why use me for your target practice? (2nd of three parts)

May 2, 2014

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Job, Act 2:  (Job 2:11 through chapter 7)

Job’s trials, in any event, are over the top (see prior post on Job) of what any one person should ever have to bear. Job’s friends think so too, and at first, they are exemplary friends. (Later on in the story we hear all of the “advice” they offer their friend, but in this section it struck me what great and close friends they truly must have been.)

After weeping and wailing like proper Hebrews in that time and setting, they also tore their clothes and threw dust into the air and on their heads. (We need a Rachel Held Evans type photo or illustration here as in from her fun but profound book,  A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”.)

That dust, one commentary tells me, would have come from the trash heap outside the town walls where dung and other rubbish was burnt and dogs hunted for carcases.

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Heaping dust and ashes on your head. Sometimes I wish we dealt with grief and troubles in such a visible, visceral way. What awesome friends.

Then, the Bible says Job’s friends “sat there on the ground with [Job] for seven days and night without saying a word, [emphasis mine] because they saw how much he was suffering.”

Most of us have trouble listening to or sitting with a suffering friend for one even one hour without trying to offer advice or misguided consolation or telling the story of what happened when Grandma lost three children to the flu of 1918 in three weeks. Or whatever. We have an excruciatingly hard time staying quiet when a friend is suffering. It is not human nature. Here the friends sit and are depressed with Job for one solid week.

And it is finally Job who breaks the silence and curses the day he was born. I can imagine what a relief this breaking of silence is to all of them. Job is human. He doesn’t curse God, but begins to voice his frustrations and despair. And goes on a bit. When bad things happen, after the wailing and the throwing around of the figurative ashes or dust, we lash out in anger, otherwise knowing as processing things.

When Job’s done with his first outburst, I love the way the Good News Bible puts the beginning of one friend’s response: “Job, will you be annoyed if I speak? I can’t keep quiet any longer.” The NIV puts it: If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? And the Shakespearean KJV goes: “If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? But who can withhold himself from speaking?” Later, in chapter 8, friend Bildad asks “Are you finally through with your windy speech?” If we fault the friends for piling on their critique, we maybe should also give them credit for their unflinching honesty.

The first friend, Eliphaz (Job 4) begins to present all of the typical questions and “explanations” we have for suffering, and some that we have thankfully mostly gotten rid of. And remember Job’s friends aren’t in on the secret revealed in the prologue, that indeed Job’s exemplary faith is so sincere that the Satan figure has brought all the mayhem to Job’s life as a “test.” Francis Davidson’s New Bible Commentary reminds us that Job’s sufferings are actually, in this telling, “evidence of the divine [God’s] confidence in him [Job].” Perhaps that’s where some people get the idea to say inane things like “when bad things happen, God must think we’re up to the test.” Thanks, but I’ll skip the test.

My overall reading of Job this time struck me with how remarkable it is that people in this relatively primitive time engaged in such deeply intellectual thinking and pondering. There are some references of course to the prevailing idea of the time that “someone sinned—either you or your parents—to have caused this great suffering” which we now profoundly reject, but the dialogue back and forth between Job and his friends contains:

  • Poetic and crisp descriptions: “God hung the stars in the sky.” (9:9)
  • Lovely metaphors: “A thing of dust that can be crushed like a moth.” (4:19); “The wicked roar and growl like lions.” (4:10)
  • Vivid and homey illustrations: “What taste is there in the white of an egg?” (6:6). Really! So they enjoyed a good fried egg now and then?
  • Thinking that plumbs the depths of their souls: “You see my fate and draw back in fear.” (6:21) This is what makes it so hard to deal with the suffering and illness and even death of close friends and family: we know that our time is coming.
  • And o.k., an occasional misspeak, as in this contradiction from one verse almost to the next. In Chapter 7, Job complains “when I lie down to sleep, the hours drag, (v. 4), and then in verse 6, the hours are suddenly passing “faster than a weaver’s shuttle.” Maybe it is because the hours at night drag and the daytime hours go fast? Hmm. Editor was asleep.

Job then responds and ends his rejoinder by asking God the question we can’t blame him for asking: “Why use me for your target practice?” (Job 7: 20, Good News).

We’ll look at a wrap up and some conclusions next time but don’t look for anything neat and tidy.

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Have you felt like you or your family was being targeted with a series of difficulties, illnesses, or misfortunes?

Have you ever had a “Job’s Comforter” who tried to give you sincere but misguided advice?

Or, have I been a Job’s Comforter to others?

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Target image courtesy of BPlanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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From → Faith

3 Comments
  1. The language of Job in the KJV I find fascinating, including the scientific information contained therein; for example, proof that the earth is round – Job 22:14 “He walketh in the circuit of heaven.”

    I have highlighted several verses in this book with dates recalling our own struggles. In February 2011 at the beginning of a grueling (Is there any other kind?) tax audit, this verse spoke to me: “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

    Your title is right on the mark along with the visuals. I am looking forward to Part III, Melodie.

    • The dating of the writing of Job is interesting and open to debate but what I’ve seen on the topic is that while Job may have been alive around the time of the patriarchs, this most certainly was put together later, perhaps during the time of the exile, when knowledge about the world was more complex. Thanks for sharing your own highlights of verses–interesting tie in to your tax audit (thankfully have not experienced one of those yet)!

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  1. Job, Act 3. God responds: Can YOU tie the Pleiades together? | findingharmonyblog

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