Bill Long 5/30/05
Examining The Story Closely
The purpose of this mini-essay is to follow the flow of the Hebrew text of these verses, with special attention to unusual phrases or ideas that crop up here. The next essay will focus on the character called "The Satan"--don't worry about this creature here.
Getting Started--Job 1:1-5
The first five verses introduce us to Job. He is a man of perfection or integrity (tam), wealth and prolificness (10 children). The order in which the story relates his blessings is: (1) moral; (2) familial; and (3) economic. The last words of v. 3 say it all, "And it was that this man, this particular man, was the greatest of all the children of the East." What is involved in the concept of "greatness?" Some scholars point only to the resources controlled by Job (v.3), but I would like to see these words as summing up all of vv.1-3. His greatness consisted in his integrity, his children and his economic stature. Later we will learn that he was also a juge of note in the community (29:8-17). The Book of Job will be about a great man who is brought low through an unexpected tragedy.
One nice narrative touch is the mention in v.4 of the children's celebrations with each other. Domestic felicity reigns among the children. The verse is ambiguous regarding how often the celebrations take place. Literally v. 4 reads, "And they had a party the house, each man his day." In 3:1 Job's "day" is the day of his birth, but there is no reason that would require us to limit the celebrations to the birthdays of the seven sons. Nor do we need to imagine continuous parties. The verse stresses, through the frequency of the celebrations, the harmony which reigns in the family. But, v. 5 gives us another dimension to the story, almost the "shadow side" to the children's party. Job will sacrifice for the children at the close of these parties, lest they "cursed God in their hearts" in the midst of the family parties.
The words in 1:5 are rather simple but there are several phrases that should be noted. The phrase which talks about the days of the party "coming full circle" or "going around" (baqaph) suggests that the end of each party is in mind. What does Job do after the children 'party,' when they are 'cleaning up" the mess? Job cleans up their potential 'spiritual mess.' How? By "sending out" (the same verb as used in 1:4 for the brothers "sending out" for their sisters) and purifying (qadash) them. The language is remarkably spare as to how this happens--other than describing Job's early morning ritual of "offering sacrifices" (the standard word for sacrifice).
Three other phrases emphasizing Job's reliigous scrupulosity call for comment. First, Job performs these sacrifices "according to the number of them all (i.e., the children)." This phrase creates a vivid picture, for we see in our mind the image of Job going through a mental (check)list of all ten children and offering sacrifice for them one by one. Job wants to leave no stone unturned in making sure that he is doing all that he can to "sanctify" them. Second, Job does these exercises "continually" ("all days"). In keeping with the interpretation of v.4 above, this verse would stress the regularity and full scope of the sacrifices. Job was, in short, doing everything he could to "protect" his children.
Finally, there is the rather enigmatic phrase, "lest my childdren sinned and 'blessed' God in their hearts." He is making sure that the hidden sins of his children are "covered." But we must stop and look at the phrase "blessed God in their hearts." That is literally what the text says. A footnote in the Hebrew text suggests that "curse" is really meant for bless, and this makes sense. \You don't offer sacrifice for someone who inadvertently "blesses" God. Thus almsot all scholars have seen this as a euphemistic use of bless (barak), as if Job is speaking it with "quotation marks" or a knowing wink.
I want to point out a problem, however, on the issue of translating the verb "bless" in chs. 1-2. The word appears also in 1:10,11, \21 (participial form); 2:5,9. Almost all scholars will also want to render the "bless" in 1:11; 2:5,9 as "curse," on the same analogy to the use of "bless" in 1:5. Indeed, I think that this reading makes sense for 1:11 and 2:5 (which repeat each other), but is not a good translation decision for 2:9 (where Job's wife speaks--see my essays on Job's wife). I think that scholars uncritically and "automatically" translate barak as "curse" in 2:9 simply on the analogy of 1:5,11; 2:5. But, counteracting that translation will be the two usages of barak in 1:10 and 1:20, which are definitely to be translated "bless." You can tell by reading my essays on Job's wife that I think the stakes are pretty big on this question.
Job is a man of such upright conduct and pure heart that he can't bring himself to use the word "curse" even when he means to use it. It is almost as if the word "curse" is too close to the reality which it suggests for him to use it. Just as the Satan will say to God that God has set up a "fence" around Job to protect him, so Job sets up a "fence" around his language, lest it lead him down the road into unrighteousness. But by using his language in this way, Job is hinting to us that one of the theological issues stalking the Book of Job will be the propriety and reality of blessings and curses in the life of a man who has suffered deeply. A close attention to the Hebrew of these verses, then, helps to bring alive all these issues: Job's scrupulousness, familal harmony, Job's greatness, and the ambiguity of cursing and blessing in the Book of Job.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long