Why is heaven silent when good men suffer? Will one ever understand the hows and whys of evil? Is it possible to resolve to trust God only when going through the toughest of times? The Book of Job, one of the Wisdom Literature books in the Bible, boldly makes such inquiries and casts a shadow of doubt over the general belief in retributive theology. Do the righteous really prosper and are the unjust punished? Is Job accusing God as his enemy? Such questions have been echoed throughout Job and studied through out the years in commentaries of Job.
Unlike Proverbs, another Wisdom Literature, which holds that one must gain wisdom and fear God in order to prosper, Job’s story retorts that the upright may even be let down. Job is in a ???? where he contends strenuously to defend his uprightness before God and people. Is the application of the term??????? in Job 19:25 to YHWH? Is it in metaphorical legal sense or do we seek another literal kinsman? I will begin with the text as follows:
25 ??????? ?????????? ???????? ??? ?????????? ????????? ???????
26 ??????? ?????? ????????????? ????????????? ??????? ?????????
27 a?????? ?????|a ???????????? ???????? ????? ????????? ?????? ????????? ?????????
28 ???? ???????? ????????????????? ????????? ?????? ?????????????a?
29????????? ??????? ??????????????? ????????????? ?????????? ?????? ???????? ?????????? ???????????a? ??????????????????????????????????????????????
The Book begins by exposing on the man Job – of his uprightness, his wealth, his piety. Even though the Book of Job exhibits rhetorical nature in its content, especially the dialogues from Chapter 3-27 and the speeches of God from 38-42, the literary structure is in fact a narration. This antique literature is passing Wisdom by narrating the ordeal of Job in the form of prose (prologue and epilogue) and poetry (the dialogues sandwiched between). C.H. Bullock argues that “the literary unity of Job should be assumed so that the message of the book as a whole may be determined.” Upon attempting to properly understand Job 19:25-27, I will revisit the whole (grand) narrative. Every section is interconnected and cannot stand independently when one is looking for meaning.
Although a number of scholars have done a remarkable work in exegeting and studying the Book of Job. The major commentaries also do not have consensus with the identity of the go’el in Job 19:25. And the work that has been done thus far has tended to focus on the eschatological-resurrection debate. Following this, much of the method employed until now was restricted to literary, textual or historical criticism. Thus, this paper will demonstrate that the whole book is presented as a narrative (not only the prologue and epilogue) and needs to be treated as a grand whole. Thus, the analysis calls for a method of narrative criticism not only to have “a more profound and exact understanding of these narratives but also a fuller appreciation of their beauty” as well.
According to the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, four views have been held thus far concerning the go’el in 19:25: First, God as Job’s vindicator after resurrection since “liveth” can only refer to God and not mortal man. Second, God as a vindicator intervening and delivering Job from death cause it does not matter anymore after death. Some scholars of Job label this view as the “Ante mortem” view. Third, God as vindicator after death because Job’s consciousness will be aware even without flesh. This is otherwise known as the “Post-Mortem” view. And fourth, recent argument for a redeemer other than God since it is senseless to have God as a prosecutor and defender at the same time. W. A. Irwin is one who is not convinced that the go’el is God. Norman C. Habel is another proponent of this view by arguing that there is another divine witness to counter HaShatan but happens only after death. Against this belief, there are others who have identified the ???????? to be another divine entity or even Job himself. In this same line of argument, D.J.A. Clines insists that the advocate is only a personified form of Job’s cry and wish, thus, making Job as his own redeemer.
I will argue for the second view but also will add that there is an important element that many scholars tend to marginalize – the narrative. The readers know about the God-HaShatan dialogue but Job who happens to be the main character does not know the wager. The rationale behind this research is that the reader’s sympathy is needed and expected for the plot to build up. Job gives the reader hints about the direction of the go’el in 9:33 and 16:9. Following this, I follow scholars such as Robert Gordis and John E. Hartley, who agree that the word ???????? conventionally represents God in this passage against the “blasphemous” thought of a redeemer other than God.
To tackle on the issue of the identity of the go’el, this research will dig into the OT Scriptures with reference to go’el. From the outset, this paper assumes that this Godlike character needs to have a solution and authority to stand in the court where Job has summoned for an advocate to speak on his behalf. As this research paper unfolds, Job 19:25 along with other OT passages demonstrate that this go’el is non other than God himself.
1.4 Research Question
In this thesis, I will attempt to answer the following questions in this paper: Who is Job calling upon as a redeemer whom he can rely upon to be his vindicator? Is he so bold as to call upon God to the stand in the courtroom of the Great Judge Himself?
1.5 Thesis Statement
Despite the number of scholars who have argued on the identity of the ???????? to be Job himself or another member of the divine council, I will argue that following the narrative, one can only land on the conclusion that it is God. I believe this audacious statement of Job emanates from, first, daring God to stand as a righteous Judge to weigh the piety of Job and second, since no one at all can match His Matchlessness, let He Himself also take the witness stand and speak for Job. Secondly, in the narrative where Job had previously summoned God to the court of law, is now (in chapter 19) reaching its climax stage for he re-thinks, “if indeed this God will show up, who will stand as my advocate before Him? There is none who can exceed God’s authority. So let Him also be my go’el.” my paraphrase of Job 19:25-27. In the following pages, I will defend my thesis on the basis of narrative analysis of the Book of Job.
A great deal can be learned about the Book of Job when it is read as a narrative whole and not as independent sections. Job is pulling the plot for us in the events that unfold. It is a quest for God and a meaningful talk with Him. Goldingay also agrees that “it is more characteristic of OT narrative to allow the reader to infer from people’s words and actions what was going on inside them.” This thesis incorporates a comprehensive use of the classical Hebrew grammar and vocabulary study. It will especially employ the tool of narrative criticism. Exegesis of selected passages in accordance with narrative criticism will also be employed. If/when God reveals himself to Job as his go’el, which only happens in the end, the reader is compelled to understand 19:25 as an audacious statement of conviction.
1.7 Research Description
There are characteristics in the Book of Job that help to label it as a “good narrative.” And according to E. Phillips, a “good narrative is a complex interweaving of characters, plot and setting presented by the narrator, who speaks from outside the plot moving it forward by reporting activities, descriptions and dialogue.” All these are present in the Book of Job.
In this paper, I will present the significance of narrative criticism in terms of its ability in the (re-)building of the readers’ faith through events presented in the Stories of Scripture in general and the Book of Job in particular and how this method can be implemented in the interpretation of Wisdom Literature today. This paper will follow the following progression of thought: First, the context in which the dispute (????) is taking place will be presented – the setting, plot, characters will offer an engagement in the dialogue of Job with his family, servants, friends, and God as part of an exegetical study along with word studies. A narrative criticism applied to Job 19 along with selected passages will be outlined. And finally, I will offer a conclusion and recommendation on how to exegete texts from Wisdom Literature using narrative criticism.
This research will be limited to the narration that is on hand (the text in front of the reader). Even though I am positive of the significance of historical or literary criticism this research paper will focus on narrative criticism. There is a go’el concept in the Book of Ruth, however, it’ll be mentioned only in the Word Study segment and will not be researched in-depth. The “redeemer-passages” in Job are Job 9:32-35 (“arbiter”, ESV); 16:18-22 (“witness”, “he who testifies for me” ESV) and 19:21-29 (“Redeemer” ESV) and the focus in this paper will be 19:25-27.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
Several scholars who have written commentaries on the Book of Job have been baffled with this particular passage.
Robert Gordis presents a commentary on Job with a thorough exegesis, textual and philological examination.
Walter Brueggemann is an authority in Old Testament scholarship who hones in his case for understanding poetry in the Scriptures. When it comes to Job and his anguished rhetoric expressed in poetry, one needs “to pay attention to its line structure, its status as direct discourse and the sort of speaking voice that it presents, its diction and imagery, and its willingness to give expression to thought and emotion in a way that biblical narrative rarely does.” For Brueggemann, Job is an exceptional narrative poetry.
R. W. L. Moberly struggles on the compositional dates and on how the text should be read. He writes, “even if the general consensus that Job is an exilic or post-exilic text is correct (and I have no good reason to dissent), the important point is that the world within the text, both in the narrative …and in the poem …, makes full sense on its own terms.” He favors reading Job as a narrative but gently warns that while “…it can often be an important principle of narrative interpretation to attend to what is not said as well as to what is said” it is as equally important to leave it at that – uninterpreted, accepted and not itching to fill out the seeming “gap” in the narration.
Tremper Longman is more interested in Job’s relationship to the New Testament and a Theological observation on wisdom. He does, however, write that even though the passage is difficult, the go’el “does refer to Job’s seeing God, and so it seems likely that God is the redeemer.” Longman engages in a debate with David Clines about the tension in Job’s bi-polar belief about God – sometimes Job states God is like an enemy and at other times God will vindicate him. This Chapter is the later positive belief of Job.
Elizabeth Mia Peters comes close to the thesis of this paper when she writes in her paper, the proper context of Job is that of a narration which lets the reader to get an inside glimpse of the author’s presentation of God and Satan in Job 1:6 – 2:8. But her conclusion is hyper-Christianized and identifies Jesus Christ as being that Redeemer.
Norman Habel writes, “when Job needs a friend, he is confronted with theologians; when he calls for sympathy, he is given doctrine. His friends feel compelled to justify God before man.” The collective belief among Hebrews is that misery and sorrow are directly related to/or is consequence of sin. Job is no exception – he must have committed a grievous sin in order to be punished by God to such extent. God is judging him and will Judge him unless he repents. And the advocate that Job calls upon, needs to testify for Job’s innocence before that Judge.
As will be elaborated later, it is an understatement to limit the genre of Job to only one genre, namely rhetoric or lamentation or simply poetry. The whole of Wisdom Literature is full of colorful nuances in the way they use literary devices. However, as R. N. Whybray notes, there are certain elements that tend to stand out:
“it is hardly too much to say that the rhetorical question is the principal device of Hebrew rhetoric and oratory. It is especially frequent in the wisdom books because it is there that we find the most sustained arguments and discussions. These books make use of a rich variety of types of question for widely differing purposes, both – especially in Job – in the cut and thrust of argument between opponents and – in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes – in the calmer didactic atmosphere of the wisdom instruction.”
2.1 Interpretations of ????????
The go’el in OT had the following roles: payoff the slaves’ debts (Lev. 25:47–55), buy back the family’s land (Lev. 25:23–24), even the score for his victimized kinsman’s even to the point of killing (Num. 35:19), and perform levirate marriage to continue the line of his kin (Deut. 25:5–10). The nearest kinsman related by blood had the duty of caring for his relative’s home. Besides the above practical duties, the kinsman-redeemer must also follow up whether there was a just treatment of his relative or if there was an unjust death.
Bullock warns that it is not wise to read too much of the New Testament incarnate God-man Kinsman Redeemer in Christ, even if he is certain that Job might foresee something very close to that end. J. J. Collins decisively concludes “messianic prophecy has no place in the worldview of Job.”
However, in the previous immediate context, hear what Job emphatically states:
“Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!” (Job 19:23-24 ESV).
These lines look hopefully far into the future. There is a realization in Job that he is about to say something profoundly futuristic thus he wants it to be recorded. However, even here, at the climax of Job’s rhetoric, God is quiet and absent. Old Testament scholars such as Walter Brueggemann, Terence Fretheim and others have made a very important observation from Israel’s suffering in Egypt, “…the central redemption story of the Old Testament begins in the context of oppression and suffering marked by the absence of God from the narrative.” For sure the readers will come to know God as the Redeemer later on in the narrative. But for the narrative tension to build up, the narrator leaves God out of the picture.
Another scholar who is certain of God being the go’el is J. E. Smith. After listing several reasons, J. E. Smith is quite confident that Job’s redeemer is none other than God. One of the reasons that stand out and make Smith confident that the go’el is God is the fact that Job states on the day God would appear, they would not treat each other as strangers and God would not be an “???” towards “???????” – a word play between the word for enemy and Job’s name. The verb means to “be hostile to or treat as an enemy.”
Michael Fishbane compares and contrasts the Deutero-Isaianic redeemer and the one found in Job. He says the questions in Isa. 40:12–14 and 21–24 “is juxtaposed to the nothingness of nature and the delusion of idol makers” and that “the question is summarily asked, ‘can you liken God?’ (v. 18)” to any of these. And from Isa. 40:25 onwards, God asks the people if they can liken/compare him to anything. This is reflected in Job 38–39 when the redeemer asks Job whether he likens/compares/knows anything to and about God. The common denominator that Fishbane sees in both of these passages is to mend the broken marvel at God’s handiwork, a an awe that has the power to stir confidence in the Almighty and Omnipotent Lord and therefore encourage trust in His guarantee of restoration. And to this theophanic experience with his redeemer, Job inevitably repents in the final chapters of the only sin he committed – to speak without council.
J. J. Collins disagrees with the conventional view that the go’el is God because “throughout the book, Job regards God as his adversary, and so it would make no sense to expect God to be the redeemer.” Collins states that the “intermediary figure, such as the ‘umpire’ hoped for in 9:33, or…the heavenly witness … in 16:19…is presumably a member of the heavenly council.” Collins is actually not so much in favor of arguing on the identity of the go’el. He wants to focus more on “the hope of redemption.”
James Crenshaw, in a chapter called “The Search For Divine Presence: Job” in his introductory book finds a satisfactory epilogue “with Job’s acquisition of firsthand knowledge about God by means of the divine self-manifestation for which Job risked everything….” Crenshaw believes the audacity of Job pays of because the narrator unravels the tension in the final chapters of the book. The go’el does reveal Himself and Job does see God and is content.
D. J. A. Clines, on the other hand, argues that Job’s go’el is only a “personified innocence” speaking on his behalf. He insists that Job 19:25 and 16:19–20 refer to the same “own assertion of his innocence.” He further grounds his case by citing etymological definitions for the word in “Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament.” Clines tends to leave no room at all for Job’s advocate to be God. Job is good enough to stand before God. No “other heavenly figure who will defend his cause before God, since there is none – and least of all God himself, who has proved to be nothing but his enemy.” Nonetheless I have found this to be a weak argument in that Job is no match for God and wise speculation pushes one to believe Job himself would agree so. Even Clines’ bold statement that “God is his enemy, so he has no one to rely on except himself” is so unbalanced for a conclusion. Even for the audacious Job, it is incongruent with his convictions and he would not dare go so far as giving up utterly on God. For Job, I argue that this is nothing short of blasphemy. The pious Job would not hold on to such as a belief. Challenging God to appear is one thing, challenging Him as his equal is quite another.
The exegetical argument presented by S. R. Driver and G. B. Gray for this passage especially on v.26 as being “uncertain, ambiguous and difficult…that textual corruption at this point at least is almost certain” is a very simplistic approach to the ancient text at hand. They both seem fatigued and just want to put an end to their research by concluding thus.
3. THE UNRAVELING: WILL THE REAL GO’EL PLEASE STAND UP?
In this chapter, I will explain how my position on narrative criticism was able to account for the storyline of Job as a whole and the passage in particular with an exegesis. Furthermore, by employing the method of narrative criticism, I will attempt to demonstrate that the unraveling takes place in the progression of the narrative. Only the grand narrative unravels this suspense. Job’s cry was to see God face to face with the help of his go’el. When God does reveals himself in Chap.38 and following, the go’el is also revealed because Job does not seem to be continuing with his audacious request of ‘I need a go’el now!’ This quest of his seems to have been satisfied by this go’el who has revealed himself: “I thought to have heard of you before, but now my eyes show me thee” (Job 42:5-6 paraphrase mine). Like a beautifully braided hair, the final situation shows who the real go’el is.
3.1 On Genre and Structure
Roland Murphy lists Job among other Wisdom Books such as Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, and Esther in his work. Clines remarks that it may even be “due to happy accidents” that we have the Book of Job in our Bible. His list of Wisdom Books are quite comprehensive as he includes “two other Wisdom books appearing only in the Greek Old Testament and now included in the Apocrypha or among the Deuterocanonical books: Wisdom (or, The Wisdom of Solomon) and Ecclesiasticus (or, Sirach).”
Job raises issues of theodicy in a manner of ???? and not the typical didactic wisdom genre. John Hartley settles on Job being a “sui generis” i.e with multiple genres. Norman C. Habel’s structure of the Book of Job comprises of one plot: first, “Movement I: God Afflicts the Hero – The Hidden Conflict; second, Movement II: The Hero Challenges God – Conflict Explored; third, Movement III: God Challenges the Hero – The Conflict Resolved.” He just used the structure but did not use these to demonstrate further to which point the narrative builds up to discover the go’el.
On the contrary, I would present my own structure according to Job’s quest for his go’el and meaning for his distress: The first of stage in this narrative is the complication, where Job falls into four calamities and more. Job finds himself in tragedy and is victimized. Throughout the chapters following this one, the narrator makes it a point to tell us that Job struggles, questions his friends, boldly questions God (but note that he never questions haSatan), and finally Job gets his answer from God who changes Job’s perspective and widens his horizon of understanding the mysteries of this world. He emphatically declares, “now my eyes have seen” after a front seat in the theatre of The National Geographic (Chap.38-42). Friends try to give meaning – but do not satisfy him or themselves for that matter. They disappear from the scene until Job prays for them.
Alan Cooper centralizes on the plot as well because it is a crucial task of interpretation. For him, the interpreter that is reading Job with necessarily needs to sift the details the dispute: to portray and categorize the situations of all the characters, “and ultimately, on the basis of the revelation in chapters 38 through 41, to reconcile Job’s condition with a proper understanding of divine providence.”
Robert Altar tends to emphasize the poetic aspect in Scripture and the beauty that it contributes: “one sees in a single compact phrase how the terms of God’s poetry – which is to say, ultimately, His imagination of the world – transcend the terms of Job’s poetry and that of the Friends.” Poetry can only be sensed – with aesthetical sensoria – and not rationalized by the mind. The same is true in the progression of Job’s speech in Chapter 19. The question and answer taking place throughout Job in general and in this passage in particular “is used frequently throughout the Old Testament as a stylistic device wherever there is a discussion or argument between two or more persons.”
W. A. Irwin on the other hand chooses to focus on the progression of thought in Job’s speeches as reflected by the narrator who is also a skilled poet in presenting the debate among the characters not just dryly “but an Odyssey of the soul, revelation of the spiritual quest and suffering and discovery of an orthodox soul driven from his complacent position by stern facts.”
According to narrative criticism’s scholars, the accounts recorded in the Scriptures are to be read sequentially and completely with all its segments being linked to the work as a whole. Occasionally a biblical author will emphasis human action, at other times focuses on demonic forces, but at all times in all places they all communicate, at least indirectly, the overarching activity of the ultimate Author (God). Narrative criticism is “concerned with those elements in the text which are relevant to the plot or theme or story?line: how the text engages the reader in its world and system of values; they note the characteristics and points of view of the narrator.” Hans Frei and McGrath both agree that the crisis of Modernity and its implications on Biblical hermeneutics (attempting at an objective truth that can be derived by positivist approach) have passed and now it is time to reposition Biblical narratives as a way of carrying and delivering divine revelation.
3.2 Narrative Analysis of Job 19
Gerhard Von Rad made a paradoxical argument for the identity of the go’el quoted in length as follows:
“He conjures the earth not to let his blood trickle away, that his cry may not come to rest. Even in the cry in which he appeals to God as the avenger of blood, he reached back to a very ancient idea – God is the owner of all life: wherever life is threatened by some violence, God’s immediate interest is at stake. Job knows this, and therefore makes his solemn appeal to God – against God. In the tremendous tension of his struggle the picture which he has of God threatens to be torn in pieces before his eyes. Something of the sort had already been foreshadowed in Chap. 14. But there, Job sought a solution in the sense of a temporal sequence – the God of wrath acts, and then the God who loves his creature. But now the severance between the protecting God of the tradition and the destructive God of Job’s experience has so sharpened that they both exist together. Even if Job suddenly and rapturously experienced the God who was his friend, he is nevertheless not able to delete the reality of the God who is his foe. He makes solemn appeal from the one to the other, and he knows that the God who is his surety, his redeemer, will lead his cause to victory against God the adversary. Everyone who reads the book must see in the two passages, Job 16:19 and 19:23… the climax of Job’s struggle: nowhere else does such a certainty and consolation enfold him as here.”
Von Rad is apparently as baffled as all readers – is Job appealing to God against God? There is a paradoxical and dichotomous belief in Job – God the Judge is also God the advocate. What Von Rad does to understand this dilemma is introduce a “temporal sequence” that is only possible by embracing the narrative as a whole. This way, both the Judge and the go’el can exist simultaneously.
Gordon Christo made a closer study of Job 19 and has concluded that it is “the center of a structurally balanced composition.” He goes on to reveal “that vss. 25-27b can be viewed as: (1) the heart of the chiasm in 19:21-29, (2) the node of that speech, and (3) a pivot of the book.”
W. A. Irwin states that the book of Job as a whole has six sections and that “…a conclusion as to the author’s meaning is dependent in the first place upon the genuineness and unity of these sections.” He goes on to rightly say that he cannot rely on any translation and will always proudly stick to the Hebrew text only!
C.H. Bullock seems to notice a “superb language, with deep emotion,… the pitiable plight of a man” in six sections in this chapter as well. Consider the following outline of Job 19:14–19:
I. estranged from friends,
II. forgotten by guests,
III. repulsive to his wife,
IV. loathsome to his brothers, and
V. abhorred by his friends
VI. Ravaged by both emotional and physical pain, out of his troubled soul Job yet pleaded with his friends to have pity on him (19:21).
But then, a sudden shift seems to move Job. Even “as lightning dispels the dark night for a brief moment, he reaffirmed the faith he had confessed in the prologue, wishing that his words could be inscribed in timeless stone as a witness” on that day of meeting face to face with his go’el. Job had spoken before of an “umpire” and a “witness in heaven” 9:33 and in 16:19 respectively.
Job’s reply to Bildad is the crux of the dialogue! Subsequent to this dispute in the second cycle and Job’s fifth reply to his friends, Job exposes on God’s trustworthiness. Irwin makes another remarkable comment on this shift as follows:
“…we can yet trace some evolution of thought-apparently it is a device of the poet to portray the disorder of an agonized mind that he has Job pitch back and forth in his thinking and seemingly deny all consistent advance. Convinced of his own blamelessness, Job seizes upon the bold, yet rather obvious, idea: if he could but meet God face to face and argue his integrity with him he might win salvation. What happy illogic!”
Here Job’s conviction and audacious demand. However, Job also releases us from tension because of his admittance of a need for a third person to be present between him and his adversary. The climax is at this point of declaration and when the narrator retells and moves on “by an easy transition, the mediator becomes an advocate, himself pleading with God on Job’s behalf.” However, Irwin has correctly noticed further metanoia moments in Job even in the proceeding Chapter 23:10, “…when he has tested me I shall come forth as gold.” The end purpose of it all is for purification: “Has Job grasped some saving faith that God has a purpose in human suffering?”
However, only until here do I follow Irwin’s argument. From here on, he and I part ways because his logical flow led him to believe that the advocate cannot be God. On the contrary, I argue, following his line of logic actually must inevitably land on the conclusion that only God can stand as Judge and Mediator. This paper is just an exploration in one line of argument to understand the narrator-poet’s lesson in Job and especially in Chapter 19. And the findings for go’el in this paper necessarily provoke a deeper and wider study. As Irwin has humbly stated, “whether this be the author’s solution, we must in any case survey other lines of his thought.”
Another legitimate line of inquiry can be whether Job has changed his mind about the adversary? Until 19:21-29, God was his adversary according to the narrator. However, Gordon Christo believes that Job is now confident enough to think it is possible that God can be accessible to man.
Did Job plead to a higher court? Job seems to be always directing his complaint and appeal towards his friends, family, household servants and finally God. But never addresses HaShatan. Perhaps his worldview does not allow him to do so but Claus Westermann also believes that Job redirects his plea to a higher court.
Is there an eschatological innovation in Job’s declaration? Does he envision a go’el unlike any other human advocate? Job’s soliloquy, at this junction is one that addresses God and forgets about what and who surrounds him. This climax in v.25 is polemical in nature: ??????? ?????????? He emphasizes the outstanding traits of his go’el. He is certain that when all is said and done, this lawyer of his ‘liveth’ and ‘will stand upon the dust’. Unlike any other lawyer, simultaneously serving as the judge who metes out justice.
3.3 On Setting
The sequence of time in chapters 1-2 seems to be set on retardation. An earthly scene introduces us Job, the man from Uz (1:1) and with the same breath, the narrator takes us inside Job’s inner scene – his character “blameless and upright” (1:1). The narrator then takes the reader to God’s presence – heavenly scene (1:6-12). Chapters 3-19 is where the complication and rhetoric begins and sprinkled throughout is all the “Redeemer Passages.”
3.4 On Characters
Scholars agree on the setting of the Book of Job and the characters engaged in the ????features of the book of Job. The problems arise when it comes to the characters in the narrative: the participants of the jurisprudence. Is Job a flat character or round? In whose eyes is Job flat/round? How is God both the Adversary and Defender/Redeemer? Is God only the flat character having the role of the Accused? Consider the following contention articulated brilliantly by Christo:
“A complication is the flexibility of the roles of participants in Hebrew jurisprudence. The functions of accuser, witness, judge, etc., are not only somewhat undefinable, but also interchangeable. God appears to be a Job’s accused, his advocate, and his judge. It has also been observed that Job, though obviously the plaintiff, is depicted even as the defendant.”
Since there is no clear cut boundary of roles, says Christo, the characters complicate the narration to the extent that the identity of the go’el is ambiguous for many.
One understands the go’el as a mythic fertility god who has to die in sheol in order to be raised by arguing that there are two extra-Biblical ANE evidences: Ishtar’s Descent and North Syrian fertility myth.
Even if the narrator penetrates into the inner most thoughts of the characters, the narrator also has the power to withheld information from the reader. Bar-Efrat makes an observation that impacts one’s understanding of the characters whose “mental life…does not become a subject in its own right,” since their thought process is not laid out for all to see. As far as narratives are concerned, argues Bar-Efrat, it will not matter whether one approaches them using psycho-analytical methods because “direct descriptions of internal deliberations, mental conflicts or psychological uncertainties and vacillations.” But I beg to differ on this point because even the “brief glimpses of the inner lives of characters, informing us from time to time of the current situation in their minds” will suffice to draw out the traits of the characters.
Consider the character of God, a round character, who admits that Job is an upright person (Job 1:8) but then seems to give in to the request of HaShatan to test Job’s integrity and not even a fraction of a clue is given to the reader on how God feels about Job’s suffering on the account of a wager that God does with HaShatan.
Commenting on the volatile character of HaShatan, C. H. Bullock writes the following,
“The author obviously was aware of certain hazards as he told his story. Thus he took care to avoid two misconceptions. The first was that Satan not be identified among “the sons of God.” After a full statement about their appointed consultations with God, he added, “And Satan also came among them” (1:6; 2:1). Although “among them” could denote his legitimate rank as one of them, we are struck by the manner in which the author appended this to the main statement, which seems to distinguish not only his role but also his station from that of “the sons of God.” He did not want his readership to confuse Satan—”the adversary”—as one of the legitimate sons of God.”
The three friends of Job have a simplistic syllogism:
A) The righteous prosper and the wicked suffer.
B) Job is suffering.
C) Therefore, Job is not righteous or is wicked.
Even today their worldview is reflected in my own society.
Other characters include Job’s wife who is only heard from in Job 2:9 where “in her desire to help him in his suffering” asks Job to curse God and die. But he does not. Job’s seven sons and three daughters (who are never replaced in the end since their number is not doubled when every other restored wealth is), “fulfill a twofold purpose: first they are regarded as Job’s reward and subsequently they are the instrument of his trial.”
3.5 On Plot
The plot is defined as the “design and intention of narrative.” Job 19:25-27, the passage chosen for this paper, has the wider framework of Job calling for an audience before God. This being the framework of the plot, this particular passage has the intention of building up the suspenseful identity of the go’el, what he will do, and when he will be appearing.
In the initial situation, Job is pious, principled, prosperous and socially privileged. Not only that but he is admired by God; described by the narrator as blameless, and upright. Then the complication arises (Chap. 2-37): loss of property, loss of health, loss of meaning, being unable to understand why he is suffering he raises a series of questions. His questioning come to a brief pause in Chap. 19 where the rhetoric reaches its climax in 19:25. The transforming action in the narrative is Chap. 38, where the revelation of God occurs. The unraveling and final situation is the restoration of Job’s health, wealth, reputation, family and his acceptance of God’s appearance as a go’el.
3.6 On Narrator
Shimeon Bar-Efrat has recognized five possible categories of narrators: First, “Narrators who know everything about the characters and are present everywhere.” Second, “narrators who intrude into the story, adding comments and explanations, and whose existence is evident.” Third, “who relate what is happening from a remote perspective, offering a wide, panoramic view.” Fourth, “who watch things from above, seeming to hover above the characters; and Lastly, neutral/objective narrators.” He also asserts that any of these can occur simultaneously or in combination. Another feature of the narrator is that of an omniscient and omnipotent power to the extent that it is possible to even be “an ear- and eye-witness to conversations conducted in heaven by God and His minions (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–6). Nothing remains hidden to the omniscient narrator.” In this flow of argument James Crenshaw writes, “the narrator of the story, who freely intrudes twice to pass independent judgment on the hero (1:22; 2:10), recedes in the poetry so that other voices may be heard.” The narrator feels the need to pass on value judgments that necessitate the readers’ own judgment and directs the opinions held. Crenshaw rightly observes, the narrator shapes and forms the viewpoint of the reader about the characters presented. The readers’ are in the hands of the narrator and their conviction “within the poetry evaporates under the heavy hand of the narrator. Viewpoints collide everywhere, not just in the dialogue.” Viewpoints on the identity of the characters and whether or not they fit the description of go’el matter.
Two things need to be distinguished: The narrator is the story-teller that shares the event. The author, on the other hand, is the writer of the words of the story with the voice of the narrator and it could happen at times that they both “have very distinct or different voices.” The narrator shares with the reader information that no one can otherwise discover: blamelessness of Job, his uprightness, that he did not sin in all of these.
Another important tool in narrative criticism is characterization which can be either “the author’s ‘objective’ view or only the character’s subjective one.” The problem here is that there is the probability of the character being painted “by putting a description in the mouth of any other.” Or is the narrator attempting to guard the reader from the tendency to be subjectively tilted on one side concerning the character? Bar-Efrat concludes, “it will not always be easy to decide whether or not the author identifies with what the characters say in describing each other.” The dilemma is accurately demonstrated as follows:
“The narrator presents him as ‘blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil’ (Job 1:1), using four terms to emphasize his righteousness. God reiterates this direct characterization, even twice (1:8; 2:3), adding: ‘There is none like him on the earth’ (also twice) and: ‘He still holds fast his integrity’. These expressions of direct characterization are uttered by the narrator, who is the supreme authority, and by God, who is above every authority.”
This is a very tangible issue that needs to be dealt with. And once this is tackled, there is the case of getting the narrator’s comments that tilt our judgment. Bar-Efrat observes that “narrator also evaluates Job’s conduct: ‘In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong’ (1:22), later repeating: ‘In all this Job did not sin with his lips’ (2:10).”
I believe as the narrator goes, so goes the reader of the time. Consider what Shimeon Bar-Efrat states about the influence of the narrator on the reader:
“It has been claimed that the biblical narrator tends to imply the feelings of characters through their speech and actions rather than reporting them directly, and that readers have to draw their own conclusions about inner emotions from external behaviour. It is true that in most cases this is the approach adopted by the narrator but,…the narrator repeatedly penetrates into the minds of the characters, revealing their thoughts and emotions, aspirations and motives clearly. These inside views are sometimes given separately and independently, that is, without any record of actions or speech from which they could be inferred. On occasions, the information about the inner life of characters is given alongside reports of external behaviour which reflects their internal situation.”
By implication, the declaration of Job 19:25 about his go’el without encountering him, is a glimpse into his inner conviction about a Just Advocate, who later appears in the figure of God and whom Job settles for. Here is a tension of knowing which is not resolved in chap. 19 but is strengthened all the more.
Bar-Efrat observes that the narrator “knows and understands the nature of the characters,” so may feel the need to share with the reader special insight into the feelings and thoughts of the characters. He cites the example of Job 2:13 where the narrator says “no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:13)”
3.7 On the Point(s) of View
On stating the importance of the point of view of a narrative, Bar-Efrat lists quite a few motives: “First of all, it unifies the literature, “because it blends the multiplicity of viewpoints of the characters within one general vista.” On a second point, Bar-Efrat states that selection of view drives the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of retelling the story. Third, creates suspense and interest even mesmerizing the reader by involvement in the story. Fourth, “absorption of its implicit values and attitudes” to influence attitude of the reader is expected.
Kevin Vanhoozer explains how Paul Ricoeur sees Job’s friends as champions for the “ethical vision of the world: they conclude that Job must have done evil to merit his troubles.” From their angle, Job deserves what came on him. However, from the narrator’s and the readers’ point of view, Job is blameless, that God is not his enemy and that God will stand up for Job’s defense at last being his advocate and redeemer.
3.8 The Telos of the Quest
The quest for a go’el has come to an end in the theophany – the unraveling stage of the narrative. The cry for “vindication suddenly presented itself as ludicrous once the courageous rebel stood in God’s presence,” writes J. L. Crenshaw. Job is now silent – a wise decision on his part to let his go’el talk some sense to him concerning the ways of God. His go’el demonstrates to him “the error in assuming that the universe operated according to a principle of rationality.” After the go’el did his job of explaining the created order, Job seems to be satisfied with it. Thus, adding one more role for the go’el – not only is he a kinsman-redeemer, but a teacher of wisdom as well. Clines elaborates this truth in another profound way, “Job’s notion of a mediator is not someone who will prove to God that Job is in the right, but someone who will prove to Job that God is in the right.”
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Commenting on these beautiful words from Job 42:5, Clines writes the following which is worth quoting here:
“Which means to say: I knew you, but did not know you; what I knew of your workings (through the principle of retribution) was real knowledge, but it was not the whole truth about you. The whole truth is that you are ultimately unknowable, and your reasons are in the last analysis incomprehensible.”
When all is said and done, a faithful response is to position oneself as a humble “agnostic.” God speaks in the first and in the end – never intervenes in between. Not even in Chapter 19 since the narrator is building the event up to a climax.
Another element which the narrator brings in is the character presentation. Job is rather a round character – he changes – he does not stay as the frail one but as the vulnerable and malleable one once he is redeemed – by the revealing of the Go’el. Job is oscillating between personalities. Clines observes Job is “suddenly the old Job again, …and for a moment he knows he is the same man, still with the same capacities…in Chapter 19, the suffering has for a time been beaten back from occupying the whole of his imagination. For a time the Job of the prologue treads the boards with him as his Doppelgänger.” The reader knows about the initial bargain made by God and that he has also passed his test. He totally fits into the description of a round character given by Mark Allen Powell, “…those who possess a variety of potentially conflicting traits, and flat characters, are those whose traits are all consistent and predictable.”
God’s character is also round. In the beginning he seems to be very aloof and quiet but brags about Job’s piety in the beginning and in the end as well. Meir Sternberg muses on the portrayal of Job “…as ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and eschewed evil’ (1:1) looks so categorical as to leave no room for the subsequent emergence of the bold inquirer into God’s ways.” Meir sees a complication in the poetics of Job’s narrative in “Job’s epithetic and dramatic characterizations” which in turn hovers over the personality of his “character and lends some color to the friends’ (and Satan’s) insinuation that the upright Job is little more than the public image exposed by adversity.” This can be implicated on the character of God and the go’el. When the narrator paints the portrayal of God in the prologue, then in Job’s expressions and finally in God’s self-revelation later on, the reader is drawn to conclude there is no other go’el except God. Sternberg explains further how poetics in narrative plays a significant role in understanding it:
“Only with God’s approval of Job toward the end is the apparent contradiction resolved as an extension of the initial portrait: the dramatic disclosures form a whole with their antecedents within an unsuspected, because deliberately gapped, complexity of character and worldview alike. Moral perfection no longer subsumes but opposes unquestioning acceptance….Job acts counter to expectation…his character gains complexity not by appeal to new factors but to the new and newly assessed manifestations of the old.…The dissonance here is …intended not just to modify our view of a certain righteous man but to redefine the concept of righteousness itself.”
The unraveling is the acceptance of God as the go’el for Job. Job’s wife and friends are not the ideal go’el figures. A wish or a dream of a heavenly being does not show up. Even the fascinating suggestion from Elihu (33:23–30) about an angelic figure who may at times intercede for righteous casualties does not appear to speak on Job’s behalf. Longman insists, “No, Job’s redemption, the reversal of his suffering, comes from God himself,… who restores him.” Only God shows up and confronts, redefines and put in perspective the order of this world. The reader’s elevated position of knowledge of the proceedings that tool place in the heavenly court in Chap 1 and 2, align the suffering of Job vis-à-vis the identity and intention of the go’el.
4. Recommendation on Narrative Criticism and Wisdom Literature Exegesis
Even though it is legitimate to read the OT as a Christian Scripture, using “New Testament concepts as tools to hammer and chisel the book of Job into New Testament shape” is to be avoided while reading the Book of Job. Bullock states that it is far more impactful to let Job “speak out of its own environment.” The Sitz im Leben of Job does not allow for resurrection concepts to be implied by 19:25-27. Historical critical studies have concluded likewise. For instance, Bullock states it is totally unacceptable and wrong to treat the incarnate Christ as Job’s go’el in 19:25. He admonishes readers and students to “sit in silence, as did his friends, until Job has spoken.”
Though there are different measurements and qualifications for labeling a literature a narrative, the Scripture is full of this genre. This pushes many OT scholars to carefully find methods of interpreting narratives found in the Bible in a faithful manner.
When Narrative Criticism was introduced in the 1980s, it was an instrument to analyze mainly the Gospel records, Acts, and then the Old Testament stories. The items under scrutiny were “theme(s), repetitions of words and phrases, characters, setting, plot and conflict, point of view, symbolism, and irony.” The audience/reader/narratee and their response is also key to the interpretation of the theological lesson that the story brings forth.
Mark Powell gives practical suggestions on how to use the narrative criticism approach in studying the Scriptures. He suggests picking out literary elements such as point of view, narration, symbolism, irony, and narrative patterns need to be included.
I believe the Scripture is to be read sequentially and completely as a whole narrative. But this does entail the almost impossible task of putting together the varied chunks of pericope that are situated in different parts of the Scripture. I would recommend bringing in literary and historical critical methods into the triangle to reconstruct meaning. Without displacing facts so as to make room for faith or considering the facts only at the expense of faith, one can struggle with the Scriptures even when they present an inconsistent narrative.
Finally, I would also recommend the hermeneutics of humility, in which trusting God and waiting to see his purposes unfold in the desperate seasons of life are instrumental in understanding the ways of the go’el.
Via crucis, via salutis.
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6.1 Appendix I: ANE Literature Containing Parallels to the Old Testament
6.2 Appendix II: Map of ANE