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88. Job 9, Job Responds

 

Though one might outline Job’s next speech (Chapters 9-10) in several ways, I will divide Job 9 as follows:

 

Job 9:1-12, The Torment (for Job) of God’s Greatness  

Job 9:13-24, God’s Anger and Moral Confusion

Job 9:25-35, There is no Umpire!

 

Crucial for understanding Job 9-10 are our answers to two questions: 1) What is the subject or focus of the speech; and 2) What is Job’s tone as he delivers it? If, for example, we see Job as continuing with his cynical approach to God which we said characterized his last words (Job 7:17-21), then we would take many of Job’s assertions of God’s glory and greatness here as not simply tongue-in-cheek but as radically critical. Yet if the tone is straightforward and honest, which is what I argue, then the affirmations might have another purpose—to declare that Job really isn’t deficient in theological understanding.

 

I argued that Job 3 was Job’s cry of pain, a cry that contrasted with the seeming equanimity with which he greeted his loss in Job 1-2. Though his pain seemed to be huge, uncontrolled and unremitting, the form of the speech was clear and neatly-balanced. Extreme pain was wedded to formal excellence.

 

Job 6-7 showed Job in a new light. Though I argued he was indebted to some of Eliphaz’s words, especially the centrality of kaas (anger, 6:2), I also maintained that both the tone and content of Job’s words changed. In Chapter 3 he wished that he had never been born; in Chapter 6 he wanted God to cut him off and end it all. In Chapter 3 there was no mention of friends; in Chapter 6 the friends play a major role—they are likened to deceptive, seasonal springs that dry up in the heat of summer. With the friends temporarily sidelined, Job then returned to addressing God in Chapter 7. The dominant tone of those verses is that God is an oppressive presence, closer to Job than even his spittle. But Job’s tone changes from anger and desperation to cynicism by the end of Chapter 7. He wants God to finish him off, but he also relishes the sense that if God did this, God would then be deprived of something very important—Job’s companionship!  

 

Job’s desperation deepens in Job 9. He sees that God has not honored his request to be cut off, and so he must keep living. But what options does he have? That is where we meet Job at the beginning of Job 9. Job is not only suffering but he realizes that the one whom he wants to approach with his complaint has all the cards. God is quick in argument and mighty in power. Job briefly scans other options than approaching God directly, such as throwing himself on God’s mercy (9:15) or asking for an umpire (9:33), but he discards both of those options. Job 10 then presents a mentally tormented Job who feels that none of his options has merit. Yet, before getting to that expression of torment, Job frames three questions in 10:1-9 that will be his ‘dry run’ at a developing legal case. His ruminations on the contrast between what he thought he knew about God and his actual situation drives him to uncomprehending despair. The best he can say by the end of his third speech is to repeat the idea of 7:21, but without the cynical overtones: “Let me alone that I may find a little comfort/brighten up a little” (10:20).  He will remain in this funk until he decides on a forensic or legal strategy to approach God in Job 13. But for now, we follow him deeper into his misery.

 

I also mentioned above that i see Job’s tone changing in Job 9. No longer is he beset with or dominated by cynicism; he is now increasingly overwhelmed by the seeming irreversibility of his plight. He also is overwhelmed by the greatness of God, a greatness that likely won’t work for Job’s advantage. Armed then with a despairing but less cynical attitude, Job speaks. Though his words can often be translated more than one way, he never enters into the obscurity expressed by Bildad in 8:16-19.