Was Job an Edomite or an Israelite?

The faith of ... Job

Image: Julia Meuer

During his exile in Babylon, around 587 BC. BC, the Jews have lost everything. In their desperation, some are driven to deprive their existence of any value until they even question their belief in the righteousness of God. In this post-exilic context, the book of Job - the fruit of contributions from many authors - was written between 450 and 350 BC. Written in BC. [1] In this complex masterpiece, a prose story (1-2 and 42.7-17) and a poem in verse (3.1-42.6) overlap.

This dramatic work is inscribed in the wisdom literature movement that was very common in the ancient Orient. It offers reflections on the great questions of existence: evil, suffering and death. In the imagination of the epoch the signs of success and wisdom were: a long life, abundance of children, health and an abundance of wealth; in contrast, signs of a lack of wisdom were seen as suffering, poor quality of life and premature death.

Yet experience contradicts this way of looking at things at all times and everywhere; for there are people who are known for their wisdom and yet suffer. A way out of this impasse has been found: if a lack of wisdom is not the cause of suffering, then it is sin. So how can one explain that there are righteous and innocent who suffer while wicked triumph? The Book of Job tries to answer this question by looking at the case of a righteous man who suffers, which was an unreal paradox for the mentality of this epoch.

In the center of the book that bears his name is Job, a pagan from the land of Uz (1,1), an area of ​​the land of the Edomites [2], neighbors of the Israelites and descendants of Esau (Gen 36: 1… 28) . Job is described as a blameless and righteous man who fears God and shuns evil (1: 1; 1: 8; 2: 3). He is a sage who has years of life and wealth and many children. But his life is turned upside down one day when the adversary (literally Satan) [3] receives permission from God to test him.

Defeated in his goods and children, struck in his flesh by a serious illness, Job refuses to curse God as his wife suggests (2: 9). In this critical situation, Job's friends enter the scene who, with absolute compassion for him, try to find an explanation for all the calamity that is falling upon him. In their respective speeches, Job and his friends contrast their views of divine justice. The three friends of Job: Elifas (5.17), Bildad (8.20) and Zofar (11.6) stand up for the traditional thesis of earthly retribution: one reaps what one sows here on earth. In other words, if Job suffers it is because he has done something bad, so he must humbly acknowledge his sin. Job urges his friends to show him where he might have been wrong (6:24). He opposes her preconceived answer with the experience of painful injustices that fill the world: “To mockery for my own friends, I should be, I who call on God to hear me, a mockery of the pious, the righteous ... In peace are they Violent people tents, they are full of security, who anger God ... ”(12: 4 ... 6). Faced with Job's refusal to allow himself to be persuaded to make atonement, the young and quick-tempered theologian Elihu comes to the aid of his friends by recalling that “what man does, he (God) pays him back after everyone Behold, he lets it hit him ”(34:11).

Job does not accept this theology (21.34), which is refuted by everyday experience: the wicked always survive (21.7) and the innocent perish (9.22f.). He himself, who was innocent, was unjustly struck by calamity (23.7; 24.25). Because of this, Job revolted against God because evil contradicts his holiness and righteousness and portrays of him the image of a god without goodness, a “guardian of man” (7:20; 10: 1-22). Job cries out to God, but God does not answer him (30:20); as if Job didn't count for him. One can only be afraid of such a god (23:15). Nevertheless, the most amazing thing about Job is that, despite the absence and silence of God (9.2ff.), He continues to hope in him: "But I, I know: my Redeemer lives, he is the last to rise above the dust." (19.25; 23.4). Job has the deep certainty that the absence of God is only apparent and that he does not succeed in grasping his presence (23: 2-9).

In the storm [4] of suffering, bitterness and criticism, God intervenes, not only to answer Job's questions, but interestingly (38: 1) to reveal the transcendence of his being and his intentions (38, 4), and to confirm that he is right. At the same time he denounces the theology of the friends of Job as a false belief: “You did not speak right about me like my servant Job” (42.7). Job regains his health, God gives him even more goods and children and he dies “old and fed up with the days of life” (42:17). So the story ends with a happy ending: justice always triumphs and the just is rewarded. On the side of a theological finality, the book probably pursues a social goal: to calm the impatient, to silence the rebels, and thus to protect the general social and religious order.

With all the space that the book of Job gives to despair and the struggle against God, it throws an interesting light on the origin and meaning of the suffering of the righteous, although it asks more questions than answers. Perhaps one will never find a satisfactory answer to this existential question; because evil is meaningless. Job knows how to keep his faith beyond suffering. It is a parable for man's fidelity to God beyond material circumstances. Isn't this gratuitous belief a sign of true religion? Moreover, the book of Job dares to question the theology of earthly retribution, which is a revolution for this epoch.

Even though in this world the violent often have the last word, and the wicked manage to impose their law, the “righteous” must fight evil in all its forms. The crucified of history can dare Job's cry. This cry is a cry of need, not hopelessness, which is still addressed to God himself in the midst of all suffering.

Questions about the exchange:

What is at stake in the story of Job?
According to the friends of Job, what is the reason for his misfortune? What can we deduce from this?
How can Job's faith inspire our relationship with God and our pastoral practice?

[1] Some exegetes place the publication of the book of Job in the pre-Mosaic epoch, others in the second century. The most widespread opinion places it in the post-exilic epoch.

[2] Edom is the land of Mount Seir (Ez 35.15), which corresponds to today's extreme south of Jordan. See Dictionnaire de la Bible et des religions du livre, p. 161.

[3] Satan symbolizes "the accuser" par excellence (cf. Zef 3, 1-2). 1Chr 21: 1 is the only text in the Old Testament that uses it as a proper name, without an article. Satan can be a hypothesis to explain the origin of evil.

[4] The storm refers to the old-fashioned theophany of Yahweh, who expresses his terrifying omnipotence (cf. Ps 18.8-16; Ez 1.4; Ex 13.22). That God reveals himself to a Gentile, in the person of Job, is extremely rare in the Bible.