Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Welcome To Job

You can sense a distinct change in feel as you step over from Esther into the book of Job.  Up until Esther, the Bible has a distinct historical feel, largely supported by the genre.  The books from Genesis to Esther are all narratives, but Job through Malachi are a different animal.  Beginning with Job, the Old Testament transitions into poetry and prophecy and wisdom literature, and these have a very different feel than historical narrative.  It can be interesting and fun to try to piece together the history behind these writings, but Job through Malachi are blatantly about the relationship between God and man.  They are un-apologetically theological in nature.  As we begin our journey into Job, if we approach the book wearing the same historical-critical lenses we've been wearing so far, we'll immediately run into problems.

Here is what I mean.  The book of Job is one of three books that make up a section of the Old Testament called "Wisdom Literature."  The other two books are Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. We cannot appreciate the function of these books if we try to force them to answer questions they are not asking.  Here's a few examples of what I mean.

The book of Job says Job lived in the land of Uz.  If our historical critical reflex kicks in, we'll want to know if Job really lived, and if so, where was Uz?  The book of Job also starts out with a vision of heaven where God calls his court together and the Satan also comes.  If we don't appreciate that this is wisdom literature we'll immediately assume that we should take this literally, that God holds court in heaven, and that Satan (Hasatan in hebrew, literally meaning "the accuser") spends all day long walking around looking for people to point out to God.  Now for all I know, that is how things work, but the book of Job isn't the place to look if we want to prove it.  I'm going to overstate this to make a point, but the book of Job doesn't care if Job truly lived of where Uz was.  The book of Job isn't trying to explain what heaven is like, either.  It is ultimately a book that wrestles with the nature of human wisdom and how that relates to a God that is not human.  If we're willing to have that conversation, the book of Job has a lot to say.

So, as has become my mantra, "Learn to ask the questions the Bible is asking."  That mantra will serve us well in Job, and throughout the rest of the Old Testament.  As for Job, there is wisdom there.

Stopping point: Job 4

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