(to return to Table of Contents, click here)
16. Job 2:1-6, Round Two, The Screws Tighten: Planning Phase
1 "One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Satan, 'Where have you come from?' Satan answered the Lord, 'From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.' 3 The Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.' 4 Then Satan answered the Lord, 'Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.' 6 The Lord said to Satan, 'Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.'"
A typical device in ancient sacred and classic literature, especially poetic literature, is to repeat a tale or lead idea, changing only a few words in a second telling. We see it repeatedly in the “Airs of the States” or first 150 poems of the Shijing (诗经), the first book of classic Chinese poems. We also see it in the Jataka tales preserved in the Pali Canon, especially in the final half of those 547 mixed but brilliant tales of the Buddha’s previous lives. The difference here is that we have repetitive language and a very similar story repeated in prose form. Job 2:1-2, and the first 20 words of verse 3 echo almost precisely the words of Job 1:6-8. Yet as the story unfolds we have a different test, though the results appear at first blush to be the same.
All 12 Hebrew words of 1:6 are repeated in the first twelve words of Job 2:1, with 2:1 adding the final three words: “to stand before/present (themselves) before the Lord.” But those final three words in 2:1 repeat three words from earlier in 2:1. This probably represents what scholars call a dittography, where a scribe’s eyes fell on the text he was writing and inadvertently copied an earlier phrase to end his sentence. I am sure that in the history of commenting on this text someone somewhere has tried to point out a special reason for lehityaseb al-yahweh to have been used twice in 2:1 beyond the possibility of dittography, but no convincing theological or spiritual explanation comes to mind. The heavenly court is just gathered again, with the Satan again standing in their midst.
Not only is the Satan standing there, but in response to the divine question about his whereabouts, the Satan just repeats his words from 1:7. Job 2:2 expresses God’s question, “Where are you/have you been?” with ey mizeh tabo, while the same idea was expressed in 1:7 with meayin tabo. Just to note one interesting feature of the author’s literary method; he will often use the future tense (technically the Qal Imperfect) as here, to express a present (and sometimes even a past) reality. The future tabo is used to express the vividness of the action. The Satan has been around, “going to and fro on the earth, and walking upon it.” The Satan’s words are a great way of expressing congeniality but evasiveness at the same time. Then, in language following 1:8, God asks the Satan if he has considered the fourfold laudable characteristics of God’s servant Job (2:3).
The final seven words of 2:3 give us our first hint that a different story or “verse” is in view. A full translation is, “And he still keeps holding fast/clinging to/hardening himself in his integrity even though you have incited me against him to consume/swallow him for no reason.” As we see, several verbal choices, all within the same general ballpark, are offered to us. But our choice of English words will tip our hand on whether we see God gloating over or mildly chastising the Satan. We also will need to decide if God is trying to duck responsibility for Job’s distress in these words.
The verb usually translated “holds fast” is the common and multi-purpose Hebrew verb chazak, literally “to grow strong.” It can be used in this sense in 2:3, and it is probably best rendered this way, but an intriguing possibility is to read it in connection with chazak in the early Exodus narrative, where God repeatedly “hardens” (chazak) Pharaoh’s heart against Moses, Aaron and the people of Israel. If we were to translate it here as “harden,” it would stress that Job is becoming ever-more fixed in his integrity, perhaps even to the point of some (unfortunate?) stubbornness.
Job is fixed in his tummah, the noun form of the word tam (perfect, blameless), which we have already seen three times. Tummah only appears five times in the Bible, four of which are in Job (the other is Proverbs 11:3). The Proverbs 11:3 appearance is fascinating because it circles back to another term in Job’s ethical armamentarium: yashar. It says, “The integrity (tummah) of the upright (yashar, see Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) will guide them” (nachah is the verb for “lead” or “guide," which appears 39x, three of which are in unrelated Job passages). Job’s holding fast or even hardening himself in his integrity thus receives an unintended commendation in Proverbs.
God’s final four Hebrew words in Job 2:3 are potentially explosive. Literally they are, “And you enticed/incited/persuaded/misled/lured/stirred up/instigated/urged/moved me with/against him to swallow him/consume him.” I give all these translation possibilities for suth, as well as a few other words in the passage, even though many of them are incompatible with each other. Is God trying to shirk responsibility or shift blame here? There is no doubt that God had to authorize the first disaster of Job 1; it will be the same in Job 2. But our translation of suth in 2:3 will determine to what extent we believe God is engaging in blame-shifting here. Suth only appears 18x in the Bible, with two of the others placed on the lips of Elihu in the crucial passage of Job 36:16, 18. I will translate it here in the most neutral way possible: “persuade.” So God would be saying to the Satan, “You persuaded me to (move) against him. . .” What God says the Satan did was persuade God lebalo Job. The verb bala occurs 49x in the Bible, but its most memorable appearances are in Numbers 16:30, 32, 34, where the earth opens to swallow Korah and his rebellious band. Finally, God chides the Satan for moving against/persuading God to act this way chinam, “for no reason.” God has gently turned this word used by the Satan in 1:11 back on him. The Satan asked rhetorically whether Job is serving God chinam, “for no reason.” Now God uses the same word to talk about the Satan’s unreasonable or “for no reason” provocation. But we can’t quite escape the feeling that God is whining a bit more than we might think appropriate for the Ruler of the Universe.