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230. Job 23-24 Pursuing Job’s Case Yet Further
Job 23-24 is Job’s next speech, his eighth so far. Though his other speeches are sometimes difficult to follow, they usually cohere. We know where he is going and why he is heading there. But this speech is different. Job 23 poses no problem from the perspective of organization or meaning. Job 24, however, is disjointed. The first several verses of Job 24 sound similar to Job’s words in Job 21, but scholars have often noted how 24:18-24 sit uncomfortably in the rest of this section. A popular approach these days is to attribute these words to one of the friends, perhaps Zophar. This then emboldens scholars to shuffle the rest of the Third Cycle, especially Job 26-27, attributing various lines to various speakers as long as they seem to “fit” with their theology.
I don’t head down that road in this commentary. Or, better said, my initial reaction isn’t to head down that road. I will try to see if there is an explicable, and even convincing way that the text can be explained as is. One of the reasons I hesitate in shuffling parts of the Third Cycle around is that non-sequiturs and even some absurdities are already present throughout the text of Job. When we combine this with textual and vocabulary difficulties that we already know are there, we might better admit ignorance at times than rush in to tidy up the book.
Job 23, however, shows few problems of organization or meaning. Job begins by picking up on an earlier spirit, the spirit of confidence that actuated him in Job 13, but he ends with terror. We might trace the arc of meaning of Job 23 by looking at its outline:
Job 23:1-7, Confidence in Laying Out His Case Before God
Job 23:8-12, Looking for God—in all the Right Places
Job 23:13-17, The Return of Job’s Feeling of Terror
Job was ready to present his case several chapters earlier when he said, “I have indeed arranged my case; I know I will be vindicated” (13:18). Strengthening him in preparing and defending his case would be his witness in heaven (16:19) and the Redeemer of his life (19:25). After speaking about the not-so-insignificant issue of the prosperity and happiness of the wicked (21), Job is ready to return to his case. That, indeed, is what he most cherishes at this point of his life.
But if the earlier chapters focused on the substantive preparation of Job’s case, replete with allegations against God (16:7-15) as well as protestations of innocence (9:20-21), this chapter brings up a procedural hurdle: God is nowhere to be found. Job really wants God to appear to answer him. This procedural complaint won’t be dealt with until God actually appears and speaks in Job 38, but God’s absence bothers Job considerably here. He simply can’t find God; how, then, is he to hale God into court?
Yet there is another, more subtle, issue that Job presents here that never is resolved in the Book of Job—and that is whether God is fundamentally Job’s opponent or his judge—or both. When Job first called for a daysman or mediator in 9:33-35, he did so assuming God was his opponent. The mediator would lay hands on both parties and then allow each to speak. But Job 23 assumes that God is also the judge: “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:10). The assumption in Job 23 is that Job will appear to make his case before God’s tribunal or seat. At this point we don’t know if lack of clarity on this point will lead to theological difficulties. We just note that in Job 23, God is back in the role of being judge. It is just that God seems to be on judicial holiday, with no contact information left behind.