malevolent or mysterious? god’s character in the prologue of job

My latest article on Job will appear in the next volume of Tyndale Bulletin with the above title. Here’s the synopsis:

Readers of the Book of Job often believe that the prologue reveals the entire reason for Job’s loss and suffering and so the full background for all that transpires throughout the remainder of the work. Many readers find that this raises significant problems about God’s character as depicted in the book. There are, however, subtle indications both in the structure of the prologue and the content of the entire book which suggest that the exchanges between Yahweh and the Satan do not offer to the reader the complete rationale for Job’s suffering. Furthermore, it appears that the author of Job has deliberately created a riddle which, left unsolved, traps the reader into believing—as Job’s friends believe—that a full reason for Job’ s suffering is at hand. Solving the riddle, however, entwines the reader in Job’s ignorance and thus the book’s insistence that there is some wisdom only Yahweh holds.

If I’m right then I’d argue that many claims made about the book of Job are spurious. For example, in a recent article by Deane Galbraith on Job (h/t Jim West), the following from its synopsis could no longer stand:

The injustice of the story of Job also reveals itself repeatedly in God’s totalitarian, universalising strategies, which deny the uniqueness of Job’s case, where he is made to suffer arbitrarily because of the wager between God and the Adversary.

Many other scholars make the assumption that the prologue tells us all we need to know about Job’s suffering. Grab a copy of the next Tyndale Bulletin to find out why I think this is incorrect.

4 thoughts on “malevolent or mysterious? god’s character in the prologue of job

  1. Looking forward to this (though TB usually sits unread for 6 months, in my case – improving with age?).

    I’ve often wondered about the preaching I hear on Job. The sermons, even series, sound like preaching on narrative: lots on Job 1-2, on the final interaction between Job & Lord, and friends’ words summarised into narrative statements. But most of Job is poetry.

    Could this be related to your proposal? That is, we’ve thought the key is Job 1-2, & all teaching of Job sounds like Job 1-2.

  2. Hi Martin. I’ll look out for your article. I am actually in full agreement when you say that one of the central claims of the book of Job is exactly that it affirms that there is a wisdom concerning human suffering that belongs only to Yahweh. In fact, the argument of my article depends on the recognition of this precise appeal that God’s ways transcend human understanding. I cite, for example, Barth, KD 4.3.1:403-404 and Calvin’s Sermons (eg 136 (Job 35.1-7), 640.b.6), which already make substantially the same point. I identify the wager as one ‘reason’ for Job’s suffering, but importantly not as exhausting other reasons. It is this context in which the quotation you cite above is set.

  3. Hi Deane, thanks for clarifying. In the article itself I cite (both in the introduction and in footnotes) a number of scholars who assume that the prologue offers the complete rationale for Job’s suffering. Conversely, there are only a few who suggest that there’s more going on than meets the eye, and none I could find who offer any substantial exegetical justification for that claim. Hopefully I’ve presented some such basis for this view.

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