13 May 2012
Job introduced, debate, retributive justice
now that the argument is over, whose fault the suffering is
now that Job has issued a summons, gone to court against God
...the LORD speaks out of the whirlwind:
there is an order/justice in the world, though not perfect
it is WILD, not domesticated, not under (our) control
it is permeated with GRACE (rain where no one lives)
This week, we close out Job, what I have called "the gospel of Job", with a look at Job’s response to God (2nd speech), a response that includes quotes of Yahweh speeches (proving that Job was listening!).
Quote #1: "Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?"
speaking above my paygrade ... speaking "things too wonderful for me"
Not that his pain was wonderful
But that the way God orders the world is higher his pain:
the succession of questions on the Creation, the procession of creatures wild, is too wonderful
like traditional cultures that use totems as guides into deeper truth, the procession of creatures has taken Job on a journey beyond himself to marvel at the mystery and wonder of the larger world
Quote #2: "Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me"
Yes, there is assertiveness in the tone of God’s speech, even confrontation. But there is also invitation – invitation into a relationship with God that goes far beyond just hearing about God, a relationship that is interactive, a relationship in which our speech generates a response from God, in which God’s speech calls forth our reaction.
So, Job says, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you".
Now, we come to the final line of Job’s speech and a debated translation question in Job (just one of many! It is poetry!):
"Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes". This traditional translation would come as a shock after Job has spent the whole book saying that he is innocent, or at least innocent of any sin that would earn his level of suffering. And, it doesn’t quite fit when the Lord turns around and tells Job’s friends that Job has "spoken of me what is right" (repeated twice in 42.7, 8). So, if Job is repenting of sin, if he is despising himself, that doesn’t quite fit the larger text of the book and it does not expand enough for us to know what, exactly, he is repenting of, except, perhaps, for comments above his paygrade.
Is there an alternative translation? Persuaded by an alternate suggested by Gerald Jantzen (Job):
1. "Despise" requires an object (what or who am I despising or rejecting), not provided in the Hebrew text ("myself" is not present). There are textual variants for that word which are related to another Hebrew root, mostly spelled the same, which means "melt" or, figuratively of the human heart, "become faint". This alternative, "I melt", becomes similar to Isaiah’s encounter with God when he says, "I am undone"
2. Repent "of" or "concerning" – all other OT uses of "repent" with this Hebrew preposition indicate what you are repenting about, such as "repent of my sin", not where you are when you repent, "repent in York" or "in dust and ashes" (where Job has been located in the town garbage heap)
3. "Repent of/concerning dust and ashes" ... ? "Dust and ashes" is an expression not for mourning but for being human. This Hebrew expression is used only 3 times in the entire Bible:
Here in Job 42.6
In Genesis 18.27, as Abraham debates God’s justice in the impending judgment of the cities of the plain: "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes"
And in Job 30.19 (NIV), "He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes"
So, if Job repents of "dust and ashes", if he changes his mind, then there must be a change from 30.19 to 42.6. In 30.19, his experience of God is painful and aggressive, and his understanding of what it is to be human is a "reduction" to "dust and ashes". That is, Job is nothing more than the "sum of his parts". "You are dust and to dust you shall return", we say each year on Ash Wednesday as we make the sign of the cross in ashes on forehead or hand. But, are we only dust? In the Creation story, and remember, the LORD trots out Creation and Creature in the speeches Job is responding to .... In the Creation story, the LORD makes man from the dust of the earth AND breathes into him God’s breath, the breath of life "and the man became a living soul".
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are "dust and ashes", but we are not "reduced" to "dust and ashes". We bear the image of God, we carry the living breath of the Almighty, we are living souls.
"I repent of ‘dust and ashes’". That is, Job changes his mind about what this means. Job realizes that there is something glorious about being human, even being a human in pain. How did this happen? "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore, I melt, and I repent concerning ‘dust and ashes’."
God has chosen to be in relationship with you and me. We speak, and God listens, and God responds. God speaks, and we have the opportunity to respond. We can interact with the Creator of the universe! We are invited into this relationship! We can participate in the mystery of Creation!
Job had lived on "hearsay" of God: "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear". But God offers more than hearsay. God invites us into a direct, face to face, "now my eye sees you" encounter. And being "dust and ashes" is being glorious, being in the presence of God.
Here is the "gospel of Job": You and I are invited into direct, interactive relationship with the Creator God.
Maybe, like Job, you have survived on "hearsay". You’ve gone to Sunday School, attended worship. You’ve got a pretty clear idea about God, you’re not ignorant. And today you want more than "hearsay". You want God. All along, God has been inviting you into this deeper and more personal relationship. It is a glorious gift. Receive it today.
Resources for the study of Job:
David J. A. Clines, Job (Word Biblical Commentary, three volumes).
Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man.
Edwin M. Meeks, In Turns of Tempest.
David Penchansky, The Betrayal of God
Janzen, Job (Interpretation Biblical Commentary)