The book of Job is the subject of reflections from August to October. Relying on the Revised Common Lectionary’s readings for Tuesdays, I draw on nominated passages from Job to offer us encouragement and to guide our living week by week.
Job 21: 22-28, 34 (NIV)
22 “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?
23 One man dies in full vigour, completely secure and at ease, 24 his body well nourished, his bones rich with marrow.
25 Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good.
26 Side by side they lie in the dust, and worms cover them both.
27 I know full well what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me.
28 You say, ‘Where now is the great man’s house, the tents where wicked men lived?’ …
34 “So how can you console me with your nonsense? Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!”
Bringing to a close the second of the three rounds of address-and-response speeches, this reply from Job follows Zophar’s second speech. Zophar had tried to convince Job that wickedness inevitably was punished by God. Zophar claimed (chapter 20):
4 “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on the earth, 5 that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.
6 Though his pride reaches to the heavens and his head touches the clouds, 7 he will perish for ever, like his own dung; those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’”.
Job had immediately challenged his friends’ views on God’s justice for the wicked. Over a long life Job had observed the apparent absence of God’s retributive justice applied to those whose behaviour was blatantly wicked. Job needed to demonstrate to his friends that the link they perceived between wickedness and suffering did not exist. It was invalid because, despite the fact that he was suffering greatly, Job had not been wicked. In making this point, however, Job was not suggesting that the good inevitably suffer while the wicked manage to escape justice. Life was not a simple formula of righteous person and reward, wicked person and punishment. Life was and is complex and the patterns, if they exist, are often hidden from us. Addressing in his commentary on Job the respective fates of good people and evil people, F. I. Anderson* quotes Rowley: “In life no moral differences explain their diversity of fortune; in death as little do they explain their common fate” (p. 189).
Yet Job remained confident that God was and is a just God and that God’s judgement would eventually be brought to bear on all whom he has created. The truth of verse 22, “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?” may even have been hidden from Job at this stage of his suffering, however it was forcefully revealed to him by God in the closing chapters of this book.
*H. H. Rowley, The Book of Job, NCB, 1970, p. 189, quoted in F. I. Andersen, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Job, IVP, Leicester, 1976, p. 201.