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11. Why Does God Go Along with the Satan’s Suggestion?

 

What is most striking about this passage, however, is the way that God seems meekly to acquiesce in the Satan’s suggestion in verse 12.  Rather than raising an objection (‘Hey, you might really hurt the guy!’ or ‘Hmm. . .will I bear some of the responsibility for this?’), God just blithely plays along with the Satan’s little experiment. Why?


While more conservatively-inclined commentators tend to avoid the issue, David Clines, himself not known as a particularly radical critic, in his magisterial first volume on Job confronts it directly. God allows things to go forth because God really doesn’t know what will be the result of the Satan’s experiment. But God has to sign off on this, just like a department head has to approve an expenditure before a subordinate can get on with his or her research. One can imagine God mulling the issue and then saying, ‘Hmm. . .I also would like to see how this plays out. . .’

 

God’s words to the Satan are again more visual in the Hebrew than in the typical English translation. “Lo, all that he has is in your hands; only don’t send out your hand upon him.” The verb shalach appears for the fourth time so far; the word “hands” appears twice. The Satan must have been a trusted emissary of God to be charged with the sensitive task of testing Job’s loyalty. You don’t just let any subordinate do this. The Satan is given a rather broad permission; he/she/it just can’t “lay a hand” directly on Job. This is a sort of artificial distinction, as we all know, since sometimes the disasters that are most painful for a person are those in which the person’s body remains intact. Yet, it provides a nice literary device that allows there to be a second round of testing in Chapter 2.

 

Let’s be clear on this. What God says in verse 12 is not simply the divine permission to act—it is actually the divine authorization. But armed with this authorization, the Satan doesn’t hang around. The Satan directly departs from the “face” of God.  

 

One note in conclusion:  as the narrative unfolds, there is a plethora of terms relating to body parts. God asks the Satan to place in heart the loyalty of Job. God has blessed the work of Job’s hands. God authorizes the Satan to stretch out his hand and touch Job. The big issue will be whether Job will continue to bless, or will curse (same word) God to the divineface. While these bodily parts are being implicated, we as a reader are being sucked into the story: body and soul.