Job 28 – the “selah” of the book

If you read the scholars about the lyric poem on Wisdom found in Job 28, they are all over the map.  It came from somewhere else, they say, or it does not fit, or it interrupts the flow and so on.

It comes after the cycle of dialogues from the three friends, and just before Job’s 3 chapter summary self defense (ch 29-31).

It is beautiful poetry, and as such, a challenge for the translators.

I particularly like the image of miners, hanging down from ropes in dark caverns, swinging back and forth as they search for rare gems.

It seems best, from here, to see chapter 28 as an interlude.  It is like the notes in the Psalms, “selah”.  People used to read those in churches, because it was embedded in the text of the King James Version.  However, when the psalms are laid out in poetic shape on the page, the “selah” usually goes to the side.  It marks, we believe, a time for the worshipper to reflect on what has just been said. Probably there is a musical interlude at that point. 

Observe the placement of the selas in Psalm 32 – they seem to follow poetic stanzas.

So Job 28 fits in the same way.  It is a little pause, before we press on toward the conclusion. 

And of course the point is clear – humanity is brilliant at finding treasures in the earth, through great effort and physical courage.  However, we have not been able to find wisdom.   This leads to the thought that God has to give that which we can not uncover for ourselves.


Zophar – the Dogmatic

In a previous post, we said that Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Job all have distinctive personalities that come through their speeches.  Eliphaz is the gentle counselor, who also is willing to pour salt into the wound.  Bildad is a moralist, seeking to lay blame on Job for his faults.  Zophar is much like Bildad, however he has a unique personality.  He is very sensitive to and critical of those who stray away from his dogma.  In Ch 20, he begins by talking about how offended he is at Job, and then he delivers a 3 point sermon on how Job is the problem.  Thus he feels that he has defended God, dogma and himself.

In reading the text of Ch 20, it even breaks out into an alliterated outline –

  • The Rule  v. 1-11, esp v. 5,6
  • The Results  v. 12-18
  • The Reason v. 19-29

We know people like this.  They can not afford compassion, because they are defending their system of belief and the Lord.  One would think if the truth is so established, and if the Lord is who we say he is, the Dogmatist could lighten up.  But, perhaps, it is his self-understanding that is in danger.

 Fresh Read

Job’s Friends

Reading the text gives us a sense of the people speaking to Job, as well as Job.  Now we have to deal with the formal poetic nature of the text, and it moving from Hebrew to English.  Even so, with all of that, the person of the speaker comes through. 

Job is honest, perplexed, thoughtful, to the point, long-suffering to a point, yet capable of turning verbally against his tormentors, and even against the almighty.  See Job 19:8-13 for his clear accusation against the Lord. 

Eliphaz (check Chapters 4 and 5) is elegant, cultured, subtle, and we think, gentle in demeanor, yet he nevertheless pours salt into Job’s wounds and twists the knife in his cut.  Check out how all the things that will come to the repentant are exactly what Job has lost.  Lets call it the iron fist in the velvet glove.  Or we like the term “The Silver Stiletto”. 

Bildad (check Chapter 18) is a sledge hammer.  There is no subtlety here.  Job has gotten just what he deserves, and what else can anyone expect.  “the Hammer” is a good moniker here.

There is the debate over whether this was a real event or a kind of extended parable, but the personalities argue to me for the real event – however much the actual discussion has been transformed by the literary style.  Or the anonymous author is as good as forming interesting characters as Shakespeare – and with only words! 

We are still working on Zophar and Eliphaz.


Reading Out Loud

In preaching the book of Job, one has to remember that it is poetry and that it is primarily a book to be heard.  Up to the time of the Late Roman Empire, it is believed that people read out loud what was written.  Some think St. Augustine was the first to read silently.  Certainly an epic poem like the Iliad or Beowulf were told aloud, maybe around the camp fire at the end of the day.  Job would have been also read aloud. 

When Eliphaz says, “Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7) Imagine that Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are seated at the doorway of his tent, near a fire, under the stars as they speak in the coolness of the desert evening.  I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure they were not reading silently off of a computer screen. 

Reading the book out loud gives you some other ways to observe what is going on.  First of all, you feel the pulse of the parallelism – even in translation.  Then as you read you make decision about the text.  Is Eliphaz being gentle in Job 4, 5 or is he being guarded until he can make his veiled accusations?  Does Job speak in sorrow or in bitter accusation?

Try reading Chapters 3-5 out loud, imagining that you are Job and then Eliphaz.  It won’t take you more than 10 minutes to do it, but it will add to your understanding.


The Starting Issue

The concept of FRESH READ is that we read what the text has to say; we avoid seeing what we expect it to say.  Just as in art, drawing starts with observing, so in reading, we have to start with careful reading.

Most people think that Job is about the problem of evil. Certainly that is a major topic that is discussed in a variety of ways.  However let us note carefully what starts this all off.

Job was blameless, just, and pious.  When the Tempter entered before God, he was asked what he thought of Job.  The Tempter’s reply was:  “Does Job revere you without cause?  Have you not protected him, and caused him to prosper in every way?  If you take all that away, he will turn away from you.”  (my free translation)

So the starting point is not suffering, but faith.  Do we only have faith because of the benefits, or because it makes us happy.  Will we retain faith if we are stripped bare of all we hold dear?

Think how you would answer that.  How is religious faith presented to you or by you to others?  Are you attracted by the benefits or by the Lord alone?

It is a tough question indeed.