Conspiracy in Heaven; the story of Job – Monday, 26th Week in ordinary time – Job 1:6-22
The book of Job is one of the seven books that form part of wisdom literature. It is a book of prose and poetry. The bulk of this book is poetry but the prologue and epilogue is in prose. The prose section mirrors a style of writing from the patriarchal age, that is from the time of Abraham. Why do we say so? In the prose section, wealth is not measured in terms of coin but in terms of the number of cattle and slaves or notice the age of Job, it mirrors the long life of the patriarchs. Also, Job makes sacrifices like a priest indicating that there was no temple at this time. Because of this, there arose in the Jewish Talmud a thought that the author of this book was Moses himself though the fact is that we do not know who the author of the book is. Scholars have opined that this book was written sometime between the 6th century BC and the 3rd Century BC though some peg it as close as Genesis itself.
Job is not the name of the author; Job is at best a nick name which means hated or persecuted. The author, who was a Jew, has given his work a foreign setting. That is fitting, since the problems that Job faces transcend national boundaries. Even more, the language he speaks is the language of human suffering that is experienced by everyone.
The book deals with every day questions. Why would a God of love permit suffering and where is he when people suffer? Why do the innocent suffer? No book in the Bible has ever asked as many questions as the book of Job does; in fact, it has three hundred and thirty questions. The book of Job raises question, it does not answer them. It encourages us to wrestle with these questions, but does not give neatly packaged answers.
Job is presented to us as a righteous man, in fact it is God who in verse 8 brags about this “blameless and upright servant” whom God says “there is no one like him on the earth for he fears God and turns away from evil.” This is the most beautiful compliment that God could pay any human. God says, “there is no one like him on earth.”
Job is from the land of Uz which probably located in the desert east of Palestine and North East of Edom. Job is a man prosperous beyond measure. He is blessed with a family of ten children; seven sons and three daughters. No father is more devoted to his children than Job, for when the children feast together in celebration of a birthday, Job, fearful perhaps of some irreverent conduct on their part, continually makes intercessory sacrifices to God on their behalf (verses 4-5).
The setting to the story moves from earth to heaven and we are transported to the heavenly court. The sons of God, i.e. the angelic beings, are assembled before the divine Presence. ‘The Satan’ (not a name but his title; meaning the Adversary or accuser) has slipped in among them after having ‘toured the earth.’ He stands on the side of the servants of God and plays the part of prosecuting attorney for the heavenly court. But ‘The Satan’ was not going to take the certificate of merit that God gave Job too lightly. Satan’s premise to God is that Job and by extension all of us are faithful to Him only because God has blessed Job with everything he could possibly want or need. Satan retorts that Job would not be the good and pious man he had not benefitted from God’s benevolence.
So, Satan is commissioned to strike down all that Job has but not Job himself (vs. 12). Job is the unwitting butt of a cosmic wager. A grim series of disasters hammers Job’s prosperity into the dust. All his wealth, his flocks, and his servants are destroyed either by the fire of God (i.e. lightning, vs. 16) or by marauders who come miraculously at Satan’s behest from the ends of the earth. But the crowning blow is the death of all his children (verses 18-19). He himself suffers from a serious skin disease and he is reduced to sitting miserably on an ash heap. He accepts with resignation the physical evil which God sends him, just as he had previously accepted the contentment he enjoyed.
Such is Job’s faith that Satan is defeated. But Job’s suffering is so deep that he utters a cry of lamentation not of despair. When some friends, “Job’s comforters”, come to sympathies, he protests his innocence, for such afflictions were usually seen as punishment for sinful behaviour. Nevertheless, Job does not complain against God. Yet he curses the day of his birth and longs for death to bring an end to his sufferings. All through, he maintains an attitude of acceptance and trust in God which is strengthened by his suffering.
The overall lesson is that even good people may suffer greatly in this life and this can be a test of their faithfulness. Nor is it possible for the human mind to grasp fully the thoughts of God and to understand why things happen the way they do. So, the book in general deals with a problem which is still a source of great puzzlement and contention: How can God allow a good and innocent person to suffer?
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