Dominion and fear [are] with him, he maketh peace in his high places.
How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean [that is] born of a woman?
Blidad, in his team’s final “at-bat”, wins the award for brevity — a scant six verses! His mercifully brief plaint seems to be that if God truly has dominion (mashal), how can man hope to be justified (tsadaq)? Here Bildad appears to be endorsing the view that God is sovereign, and in Himself defines right and wrong, so that man has no basis for judging either himself or God. Not quite, but something close to that.
Job apparently takes this as a cue to go into closing arguments, which he does for the next five chapters. After the obligatory smack, his main points seem to be:
* God rules
* I am right
* The wicked are toast
* Wisdom belongs to God alone
* I was once blessed, helpful and respected
* Now I am despised and rejected
* If I was evil, I deserved it — but I’m not so I don’t.
Looking at this chapter by chapter, rather than verse by verse, two things strike me. One, Job does a fascinating, er, job of affirming several key points which his friends no doubt consider contradictory. Yes, wisdom and power are God’s alone, but I still assert my righteousness. Yes, God punishes the wicked, but I am still punished though I am not wicked. Interestingly, Job does not repeat his earlier assertion that the wicked are sometimes not punished; perhaps he’s conceded the point, or just decided it merely confuses the issue.
The second thing that strikes me is the depth of Job’s vision of morality in Chapter 31. It is far from the neurotic legalism I had earlier accused him of. Digging into it, we find Job condemning
I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?
If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit?
If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or [if] I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door;
If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me;
* Ignoring the poor:
If I have withheld the poor from [their] desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;
* Exploiting the poor:
If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate:
If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, [Thou art] my confidence;
If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking [in] brightness;
* Hating enemies:
If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him:
If the men of my tabernacle said not, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied.
If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom:
* Peer pressure:
Did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence, [and] went not out of the door?
Even if you assume Job fell short of these ideals, whom among us even aspires to that much goodness? Or, deep in our heart, really wants to be that good? Not I. I find it hard to even think about being that generous, much less aspiring to do it. Job’s morality encompasses money, sex & power; both internal attitudes and external behaviors; sins of commission as well as of omission. It’s very humbling to contemplate, especially given the rather uncharitable things I’ve occasionally said about Job along the way.
In that context, Job’s closing plea is all the more poignant:
Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire [is, that] the Almighty would answer me, and [that] mine adversary had written a book.
If I might paraphrase, borrowing from the NIV:
God, why are you doing this to me? I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked of me. At the very least, tell me what you have against me. If I have wronged you, I’ll be the first to admit it. Hell, I’ll confess it publicly. But at least let me tell my side of the story before you judge me and cast me away.
Or something like that. God has set him an impossible riddle, written in fire on his very bones, inscribed in pain on his own flesh. Is there no hope? Will Job never receive an answer?
Stay tuned. The words of Job are ended, but two more characters have yet to weigh in, as we’ll soon see.
God, I am humbled before Job. I confess that I rarely dream of such height and depth of virtue, much less discipline myself to achieve them. Lord, the world is full of hurting people, and I rarely accept their pain as my own. Grant me the compassion of Job, that I might live a life that honors you. Whatever his other flaws, teach me to value righteousness and to fear God as much as he does. Amen.