Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant [me] the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off!
This seems to be the crux of Job’s dispute with his friends. His friends seem to be saying, “Ask God for mercy, and if you are repentant He will give it to you.” Job seems to be saying, “Why bother? God already has it in for me. The best I can hope for is that he’ll finish the job.” So to speak.
Then should I yet have comfort; yea, I would harden myself in sorrow: let him not spare; for I have not concealed the words of the Holy One.
Now, this is a strange composition. Job really feels that to be destroyed (daka’) and cut off (batsa’) would be a comfort (nechamah), and what the NIV calls joy (calad) in sorrow (chiyl). That is the highest hope of which Job is capable. In contrast to Eliphaz’s refined view of God, Job appears to suffer from the opposite idealization:
What [is] man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? And [that] thou shouldest visit him every morning, [and] try him every moment?
I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?
Job is often accused of trusting his own righteousness, but that seems an oversimplification. Even if you read this as “If I have sinned” (chata’) as the NIV does, the implication seems less the presence of righteousness than its futility.
In a sense, Job seems to agree with Eliphaz’s view of God — that He is just and punishes only the wicked — but disagrees with his view of humanity — that people can repent and receive God’s mercy. To Job, God can always find sin in man whenever He wants. Thus, God is always justified in punishing anyone, and man has no recourse. The only sort of mercy Job feels one can ask of God is utter destruction. Or is it?
And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I [shall] not [be].
Between the weighty topics, rhetorical questions, poetic language, and unusual phrases — coupled with the ambiguous nature of Hebrew itself — I wonder how anyone manages to translate Job. The sense I get here is that Job is saying, “Look, I’m going to die soon anyway, why not give me a break and forgive me?”
There’s a hint of something going on here that is more than just whininess. Job does not merely want an end to suffering. He wants to be right with God. To his last breath, he wants to say that he has not concealed the words of the Holy One (kachad ’emer qadowsh). He has not effaced the sacred command.
I don’t understand that (yet), though my heart leaps in sympathy with him. Underlying his despair — perhaps intimately tied to it — is a steadfast loyalty to God. That is what elevates the book of Job from a simple disaster into an epic tragedy. Yet, if as Aristotle says every tragedy is built around a good man with a flaw, what is the core flaw in Job? And is it really responsible for the tragedy?
The humanist answer might be that Job’s flaw was to remain true to a vindictive God, and that he should have cursed God and died as his wife suggested. But that would be giving Satan what he wants. Which raises the question: why does Satan want that? Which is the twin to the question: why does Job refuse to give it to him? Job has no hope for this life, and apparently little for the life to come:
[As] the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no [more]. He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.
And that very sense of nothing to lose seems to loosen his tongue:
Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Yet, in all that he will not curse God, though he curses himself. Why?
I don’t know, but if anything the answer to that question seems even more important now than it did when we started. And just as far away.
God, grant me wisdom to understand what’s going on here. I feel a deep sympathy with Job’s plight, and his plea, though my mind fails to comprehend it. Maybe it is beyond my comprehension, but I still ask that you help connect my head and my heart, that I might grow in my ability to understand Job. And myself. Let me not be like Job’s friends, who focus on his words and theology but miss his heart. Help me to love others as I love myself — and to love myself as you love me. Amen.
I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to any readers who might be confused or troubled by my use of the word ‘man’ to refer to all of humanity. Words are touchy things, and I sympathize with those who feel excluded by such usage. As stated earlier, I do firmly believe that both male and female are equally in the image of God, and joint heirs in Christ, and I try to use inclusive language wherever possible. But, for my sins, I’m still a writer at heart, and sometimes the word ‘man’ simply fits a phrase better than the word ‘humanity’. I will try to restrict such usage to where there is no ambiguity, and I hope that you will accept the intent of inclusiveness even if it is not verbally obvious.