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SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF

JOB*

 

 

 


ELMER B. SMICK

 

Modern redaction theory assumes that some parts of the book of

job are less genuine than others. The job of the Prolog is not the

job of the Dialog. Bruce Vawter says in his Job and Jonah, "It is the

poetic job and the poetic job alone who is of interest to the sensitive

observer of religious experience." Then after quoting john L.

McKenzie to the effect that the Prolog is so unrealistic that it becomes

revolting Vawter demurs somewhat. For though the story is untrue

to life it is "not unfortunately untrue to what is perceived as life by

the majority of our fellow beings."1 In other words the author is

using the prose story that he might parody that conventional wisdom

in order to make a more profound theological statement. Unfortu-

nately that conventional wisdom includes Psalm 1, which is not false

though it has only one side of the truth when it affirms that everything

a righteous man does prospers. Vawter at least considers job a

literary unit and not the work of a mindless redactor. Terrien's

commentary in Interpreter's Bible is typical old-school historicism. On

historico-critical grounds he determines what is genuine and then

interprets the rest in terms of genre, setting, and intention. To

Terrien the book is a "festal tragedy" for celebration during a hy-

pothetical "New Year Festival." For such historicism the date and

source are usually tied closely to the interpretation. Some see the

book as a product of the Exile, even viewing it as a parable of the

suffering nation. But J. J. M. Roberts maintains one cannot use the

date of the book "to provide a ready-made background for its inter-

 

*Studies in the Book of Job (Semeia 7; ed. Robert Polzin and David Robertson;

Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977. 154) The Book of Job and Ricoeur's Her-

meneutics (Semeia 19; ed. by john Dominic Crossan; Chico, CA: Scholars Press,

1981. 123).

1 Job and Jonah: Questioning the Hidden God (New York: Paulist Press, 1983)

43, 44.

135

 


136 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

pretation, and lacking this an historical framework is hard to estab-

lish, since Job simply ignores Israel's epic and prophetic traditions."2

Many critics have lost interest in source criticism and other aspects

of historical criticism. They find other types of literary criticism more

rewarding. Although most accept a redaction view of the book's

origin they prefer to deal with it in its final literary context in terms

of rhetoric and structure, and various new hermeneutical approaches

including sociological, psychological, and semeiological emphases.

Comparative linguistic research continues but with a chastened meth-

odology.3 Structural studies have resulted in a tendency to look on

the book as a unified literary work rather than a conglomeration of

vaguely related and sometimes unrelated or even contradictory ma-

terial. As the quotation from Bruce Vawter above shows, the incon-

gruities are now looked upon as purposive and integral to the book's

meaning. In 1977 R. M. Polzin devoted Part II of his book on biblical

structuralism to an attempt at structural analysis of the book. His

synchronic analysis stands in contrast to the diachronic interpreta-

tions of earlier literary- and form-critical scholars.4

This article will examine some recent semeiological approaches

as presented in issues 7 and 19 of the experimental journal Semeia.

In keeping with the purpose of Semeia the approach is exploratory,

probing new and emerging areas and methods of criticism and the

application of new hermeneutical principles. There are eight con-

tributors to Semeia 7 and eleven to Semeia 19, each with his own

viewpoint. Our purpose is not to deal with every view and every

critique but to present those aspects of these studies which reflect .

 

2 See J. J. M. Roberts "Job and the Israelite Religious Tradition," ZAW 89

(1977) 110.

3 A. R. Ceresko's Job 29-31 in the Light of North-West Semitic (BibOr 36,

Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1980) is a prime example of the welcome

change.

4 Polzin concludes with the statement, "The figures of the story, far from

being arbitrary, capricious, and mutually contradictory, interrelate with one

another to help form a coherent message" (Biblical Structuralism, Method and

Subjectivity in the Study of Ancient Texts [Semeia Supplements; ed. Wm. A.

Beardslee; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977] 120). Two excellent syn-

chronic analyses appeared in Studia Biblica 1978: 1 (JSOT Supplement Series

II; Sheffield: JSOT, 1979) entitled "The Book of Job: Unity and Meaning,"

by J. A. Baker (pp. 17-26), and "The Authorship and Structure of the Book

of Job," by J. F. A. Sawyer (pp. 253-57). Also see C. Westermann's The

Structure of the Book of job: A Form-Critical Analysis (Philadelphia: Fortress Press,

1981)


SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF JOB 137

 

 

most clearly a hermeneutic which tends to reverse the traditional

approach to the book. Because the traditional approach may not

always be the correct approach we will also try to remain open to

any perspective that does not violate the principle of the analogy of

Scripture.

In Semeia 7 (pp. 1-39) William Whedbee interprets the book of

Job as comedy. Comic staples are said to be there-incongruity,

repetition, U-shaped plot and the presence of archetypal characters.

For example Elihu, a comic character who speaks banal words, ap-

pears with precise timing. God is expected following Job's challenge

at the end of his peroration (31 :35-37) but Elihu appears instead,

a Johnny-come-lately, from nowhere. The author creates a brilliant

caricature of the friends as wise counselors. As for Job, his discursive

rambling has no orderly progression but he is a master of parodies.

In chapters 3, 9, and 14 he is said to parody the complaint formula

and 9:2-10 is thought to be an ironic parody of Eliphaz's doxological

hymn in 5:9-16 which Job uses to twist Eliphaz's intention and

convey the opposite meaning. As Whedbee puts it on page 16, Job

quotes Eliphaz verbatim in 9:10 (cf. 5:9) ''as a fitting climax to his

sardonic song to a God of chaos."

Whedbee's idea is provocative but is Job sarcastic about God's

power and wisdom so that the statement, "His wisdom is profound,

his power is vast" is irony? There is no contextual signal that the

meaning should be reversed in 9:4-13. To Job the question is not

whether God is all powerful but how he uses his power, God's justice

not his power is Job's problem. Job is not using irony when he asks,

"Who can say to him, 'What are you doing?' (9:12). Job would

have had no dilemma had he only believed God was less than

sovereign. Believing in God's sovereignty his imagination construct-

ed a phantom god who was unjust (9:16-24). There was no other

logical way out of the dilemma. As he says in 9:24, "If it is not he,

then who is it?" But Job inconsistently still believes God is just by

whom he can swear (27:2) and by whom he will be vindicated (13:18).

Our main explanation of this is that Job is a sufferer whose reason

and experience conflict and as a result so do his words. He argues

God against God. Refusal to accept this incongruity at face value

led the tidy minds of earlier critics to rearrange the text.

This irony approach which reverses the meaning of a text has

merit but must be contextually controlled. Whedbee's view is a con-

siderable improvement over David Robertson's extreme and un con-


138 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

trolled use of irony in his article, "The Book of Job: A Literary

Study."5 Robertson believes the irony in the book is pervasive. When-

ever Job speaks positively of God it is tongue-in-cheek. As in chapter

9 Job says in 12:13, "To God belong wisdom and power; counsel

and understanding are his." Instead of extolling God's wisdom and

power Robertson also sees this as a criticism of God for not being

very wise or powerful. A wise man destroys in order to rebuild, but

when God does, it is impossible to rebuild. "What he tears down

cannot be rebuilt" (12:14). A wise man would use the weather for

good but God "holds back the waters and there is drought and when

he lets them loose they devastate the land" (12:15). In other words

God mismanages the universe; he uses his power unwisely. Again,

if this is the correct interpretation then Job has no basis for his

theodicy dilemma. A more restrained view sees here a parody not

of God but of the counselor's lopsided and simplistic understanding

of God's relationship to the world. Job is attempting to answer

Zophar's question, "Can you fathom the mysteries of God?" (11:70).

He is saying that God's actions are indeed mysterious and strange.

The mystery is profound but he knows as much about it as they do.

In an often overlooked use of irony in 12:12 Job expresses amaze-

ment that they who are sages are so shallow: "Is not wisdom found

among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?" That

sarcastic question leads into the poem on God's wisdom and power

in 12:13-25 which is a powerful statement of the sovereign freedom

of God. He cannot be made to act in ways suitable to man. God's

mysterious acts in the history of man only serve to prove the case .

(12:16-25).

A major issue is the meaning and function of the Yahweh speeches.

How one resolves these speeches and Job's response to them is an

important key to a comprehensive interpretation of the book. Von

Rad's view is traditional: The purpose of the speeches is to glorify

God'sjustice towards his creatures, to show that he is good but that

his justice cannot be comprehended by man, it can only be adored.

But to David Robertson the author's purpose in the speeches is to

prove that Yahweh is a charlatan god. What Job suggested God would

do in 9:14-20 he actually does in the speeches. But does he? (Cf.

9:17.) Is the author putting on the lips of Job irony as a parody of

Yahweh who is presented as one who has the power and skill of a )

 

5 Soundings 56 (1973) 446-69.


SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF JOB 139

 

 

god but who cannot govern with justice? Is Job's repentance tongue-

in-cheek? Is Job mocking God when he predicted he would knuckle

under--"my mouth would declare me guilty" (9:20a, 13-15)? As

additional proof of the parody on Yahweh Robertson offers the

thought that, m the EpIlog, God approves of Job's sorry words. So

the poet like a medicine man has developed a strategy for curing

man's fear by ridiculing the object feared.

In contrast, Whedbee hears in the Yahweh speeches a playful

festive note. The irony is best interpreted as elements in a comic

vision. E. M. Good was correct m noting that Yahweh shuts the issue

from "justice" (Job's question) to "order" when he says to Job,

"Would you annul my mispat?"6 Whedbee thinks Robertson's tongue-

in-cheek repentance of Job might be compatible with his comedy

view of the book but surmises it is too simple. Job's repentance is

an authentic response of the hero because he has now been given,

through the vision, a double view, that is, a divine and human view

of himself and the world. He now sees the world through God's

eyes. Also, the genuineness of Job's confession following his re-

pentance becomes important to Whedbee for it is equivalent to the

recognition scene in a comic plot: "I talked of things I did not know"

(42:3). Many modern interpreters discount the Epilog but Whedbee

emphasizes it since such a happy ending confirms his comic per-

spective. Though too constrictive this approach is nearer the nerve

center of the book than Robertson's unbridled views. Certainly in

the first Yahweh speech there is a twinkle in the LORD'S eye as he

walks with Job through his creation, contemplating with him by

means of ironic questions the marvels of nature. This he does not

to humiliate Job but to prove to him that he, the Almighty Creator,

is still his friend: The whimsical note comes through clearly in the

ostnch passage m 39:13-18. Imagme a bIrd wIth legs that can tear

open a lion, that has wings but can't fly yet can run faster than a

horse. God's pointing out how his creatures appear ridiculous has

a serious purpose. He is teaching Job something of his sovereign

freedom.

L. Alonso Schokel proposes a dramatic reading of Job in four

acts. Among the groups of actors Elihu represents the audience who

eventually intrudes upon the stage. After the Prolog, God as spec-

 

 

6 See Good's Irony in the Old Testament (London: Allenson, 1965) and S. H.

Scholnick, "The Meaning of mispat in the Book of Job," JBL 101 (1982) 521-

29.


140 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

tator, who overhears but cannot be seen, is addressed but does not

respond. One purpose is to transform the audience into the cast,

for only by participating can the meaning be understood. But to do

so puts one under the gaze of God. Like Job we all discover the

chasm between us and God. We see ourselves in Job as both villain

and hero. After such suspense in the drama, at long last God, the

director of the strange play, leaves the spectator role and assumes

the part of an actor. Job has complained that he cannot see God,

but now out of the whirlwind God's mask vanishes and Job sees him

for who he is.

James G. Williams correctly warns that the Scriptures as a whole

will not fit easily into types or genres derived from outside the biblical

tradition. For example, historically personages of the comic type are

of inferior classes or of the nouveaux riches. There is also the matter

of defining comedy. Is being funny or amusing a necessary ingre-

dient? Williams thinks so. Is the inevitability of "natural law" beyond

good and evil basic to comic perspective? If so that excludes the

Bible, according to Williams. Alonso Schokel ignores the Epilog

probably because it was difficult to work into his dramatic interpre-

tation. The happy ending through Job's newly won twofold vision

fits the comic perspective better, though Whedbee fails to mention

Job's daughters with their whimsical names and the implied marriage

festivities.

The information theories of language on which this semeiological

approach is based call for signs and signals in the text in order to I

detect a subtlety such as irony, but as Williams says, "The ironic

manner of speaking is adverse to signals." The hermeneutical test

of irony is whether it makes sense of the text; in Williams' words,

"a sense that is faithful to the context and to that for which the text

is the pretext." Williams sees the whole book dominated by the image

of Job as intercessor in the Epilog. Hints throughout the book point

to this. In the Prolog God puts great stakes in Job as his servant.

He is intercessor for his sons in the Prolog. And in the Epilog this

is expanded to the "friends" themselves, of whom God says, "You

have not spoken the truth about me." Eliphaz unwittingly speaks of

Job's happy ending when he says Job's repentance would be followed

by an ideal life (5:22-27) and by Job's ability to deliver the guilty

(22:29-30), which ironically becomes the "friends" themselves in

the Epilog. The purpose of God's ironic rhetorical questions to Job

is not to belittle him but to prove Job is important to God. How


SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF JOB 141

 

 

could a mere mortal establish justice on earth? "Or could he?" asks

Williams. "The irony of an ironic reading is that God's questions

may conceal the 'literal' truth." So Williams sees the structure of

the book outlining Job's spiritual journey.' This comes close to the

traditional view that sees God accomplishing a higher purpose

through Job's suffering though one might seriously question Wil-

liams' use of the divine irony, as we shall see later.

Issue 19 (1981) of Semeia is entitled "The Book of Job and Ri-

coeur's Hermeneutics." It consists of a general essay by Loretta

Dornisch on that subject followed by four essays on Paul Ricoeur

and Job 38. Part III is made up of six discussions of the preceding

essays. According to Ricoeur the historico-critical and semeiological

methods are not in conflict. Ricoeur holds that writing detaches the

meaning from dependence on the writer, freeing it for other times

and places. Because the original time and place no longer exist the

writing is freed from the author's meaning. Since we interpret out

of different traditions there are many possible meanings but not an

infinite number. Different approaches should aim for a logic of prob-

able interpretation, a convergence rather than a conflict of inter-

pretations. Historical and sociological tools are valid so long as one

avoids the illusions of source, author, audience, etc., as end goals.

"A text accomplishes its meaning only in personal appropriation.

The moment of exegesis is not that of existential decision (Bultmann)

but that of meaning."8 But this moment of meaning must be distin-

guished from the moment when the reader grasps the meaning, when

it is actualized for the reader. This he calls the moment of sig-

nification." The semantic must precede the existential.

Ricoeur criticizes the standard interpretations of the Book of Job

for systematization, which precludes the play of symbolic meaning

on multiple levels. We let "histoncism, the genetic problem, aware-

ness of internal inconsistencies in the text to interfere with our

understanding of the many levels of meaning, the intended symbolic

or paradoxical incongruities, and even the resistance to systemati-

zation, all of which are precisely ways the author uses to communicate

the complexity and ambiguity of the human condition."9

There are troublesome notions here. First of all, how do we keep

the text from becoming absolute, totally divorced from the author's

 

7 Semeia 7.140-41.

8 Semeia 19.12

9 Dornisch quoting Ricoeur (Semeia 19.14).


142 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

intended meaning? M. W. Fox criticizes Ricoeur on this very point.

Though Ricoeur rejects "the fallacy of the absolute text" Fox doesn't

see how he can do this along with his acceptance of "semantic

autonomy." Inscription (writing) entails, according to Ricoeur, "dis-

connection of the mental intention of the author from the verbal

meaning of the text, of what the author meant and what the text

means.

On this Fox observes: "The author's meaning is reduced to a mere

historical datum with no more relevance to the text's meaning than

does the interpretation of each and every reader."10 If this criticism

is valid, which it appears to be, it fatally damages the foundation of

Ricoeur's hermeneutic. But its superstructure is also shaky. Ricoeur

thinks there can be a convergence of methodologies. The historico-

critical and the semeiotic approaches can be joined since to him the

history of the text remains a part of the text. So there are many valid

methods for interpreting Job and many meanings are the result. If

this sounds confusing it is because it is. The only limitation on the

number of meanings a text can have is based on the continuing

history of the text, the ongoing dialectic of tradition and interpre-

tation. However, there still remain some lessons to be learned from

Ricoeur's developing theory of interpretation. Dornisch lists five key

themes which when applied to the book of Job clearly reveal Ricoeur's

theory as of 1981.

The first of these is "symbol." Interpretation of symbols is not

the whole of hermeneutics but is the condensation point. In symbol,

language is revealed in its strongest force and with its greatest full-

ness. "The symbol is the privileged place of the experience of the

surplus of meaning.11 Is it ever valid to use this principle of extended

meaning? All literary tropes are symbols but can they convey an

extended message? I think this is possible only when we can show

from the context that the author intended the symbol to be used in

that way. Later I will attempt to show that the second divine speech

in Job fits the context and the purpose of the book when viewed

from this perspective. In contrast historico-critical opinion considers

the speech an irrelevant addition.

A second Ricoeurian theme is what he has called "Explanation-

Understanding." "Explanation calls on any human discipline that

 

10 Semeia 19.60.

11 Domisch quoting Ricoeur (Semeia 19.17).


SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF JOB 143

 

can legitimately research the text. Here the goal of interpretation is

governed by the relationship of explanation and understanding. Un-

derstanding begins as a guess, moves through a complex set of

procedures involving a dialectic of explanation-and-continually-de-

veloping-understanding, and reaches a state of conclusion at the

t lev~l of a~propriatio~. Such a pr?~ess moves fro.m a guess to vali-

datIon usIng the logIc of probabIlIty along the lInes developed by

E. D. Hirsch."12 Every exegete must ask, "What are my presuppo-

sitions and, what is my hermeneutical theory?" Without accepting all

of Rlcoeur s phIlosophIcal baggage I find It very dIfficult to find fault

with this procedure.

The rule of metaphor is Ricoeur's next theme. Metaphor is more

than ornamental figure, It IS "the place of the creatIon of new lan-

guage, new meaning, new being." To Ricoeur metaphor permeates

the prose and poetry of Job and this is different than merely seeing

many metaphors. Metaphor provides not an analogical model but a

theoretical model which by means of "a language of extravagance"

describes a new vision of reality. The metaphorical twist in Job moves

through "complex processes of describing and redescribing reality,

reaching a climax in Job 38, where the rhetorical shift is so dramatic

as to bring about a new vision of reality."13 The importance of

metaphor can hardly be overemphasized but Ricoeur may be doing

just that when, on the basis of his rule of metaphor, he asserts that

all interpretations partly miss the mark because the text is irreducible.

Ricoeur thinks philology, history, etc., can help us better understand

the metaphor but they can't translate the metaphor or substitute

for it.

This leads us to the philosophical basis of Ricoeur's interpretation

theory, which is rooted in German idealism with its suspicion of

propositional truth. This idealist tradition has been criticized by

Buber and other philosophers for failing to recognize the reality of

encounter and dialogue. For example, A. Lacocque views the Job

text as a grand metaphor where Yahweh is a controlling symbol and

qualifier and the inexplicable suffering of man is a limit-experience:4

He makes a Ricoeurian case for claiming Job is about "the impotence

of religion and philosophy." Religion (the counselors) and philos-

 

12 Semeia 19.18.

13 Semeia 19.13.

14 See his article in Semeia 19, Part II, entitled "Job or the Impotence of

Religion and Philosophy."

 


144 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

ophy (job) give way to an existential I-Thou relationship exhibited

in the divine speeches, where both parties are affected by events

lived in common. What the text means goes beyond what the author

meant. The surplus of meaning in the symbolic Job speaks of a

powerless God who is nevertheless still God and not a God of re-

tribution but one who suffers with us. This view raises the question:

"What God?" It is a view which many modern interpreters think

dominates the book. The answer is given in various forms. To

Lacocque the Tetragram is the key. The main point is Job in process

from "religion" to intimate relationship (covenant) with that God

whose name is YHWH. Lacocque sees a new ontology of God arising

with the divine discourses beginning in chapter 38. In this new

relationship and understanding Job moves to being "the suffering

servant" as in Isaiah 53. There are concepts here that deserve more

study. It is far superior to the view that answers the question, "What

God?" with the reply that Job's appeal to a go'el is to a sympathetic

personal or patron God while rejecting the high god YHWH with

his retributive justice.15

Another aspect of Ricoeur's hermeneutic centers on his view of

narrative. The key here is to understand the relationship between

history and fiction which requires that one separate historical "truth

claims" from fictional "truth claims." This is not surprising bearing

in mind that Ricoeur, as a French Protestant during the 1930s, was

strongly influenced by Barth and Kierkegaard. For him the biblical

text must communicate a kerygma that calls for personal response

and must never become a dead letter. A theory of metaphor and a

theory of narrative raises the problem of imagination for Ricoeur.

That is the power of forming images of things that are absent.

Imagination frees itself from the confines of reality. It frees us from

the symbols history has created for us and gives us power to recreate

that history to a new reality. Ricoeur thinks the author of Job is using

bold imagination to teach a new theological reality. The story projects

a world with a narrow ideology which because of his suffering Job

questions. He pushes his questioning to a boundary, a limit, a new

horizon where the questions cannot be denied even though there is

no answer. To see is not to see. It is such paradoxical incongruity

that leads to new levels of symbolic meaning in the book. There are

elements of truth in this approach but with Ricoeur's presuppositions

 

15 See footnote 17.

 


SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF JOB 145

 

the new meaning comes at the expense of the analogy of Scripture.

The God whom Job sees is "the inscrutable God of terror" and the

book of Job is a dramatic refutation of the theory of retribution and

the ethical view of the world, a view both Job and the counselors

were afflicted with. Since the publication in English of Ricoeur's The

Symbolism of Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1967) a number of similar

hermeneutical treatments of the book of Job have appeared.

A. Lacocque's "Job and the Symbolism of Evil" represents a faith-

ful application of Ricoeur's hermeneutic while D. Robertson's ap-

proach uses only some of the pnnaples.16 Some, like Robertson, see

God caricatured as a god of power and skill but one who can't govern

with justice; others see in the book a god so transcendent, so far

(removed from man, and so concerned with all the earth that he has

no time to care or understand if one righteous person suffers. The

latter is the view of J. B. Curtis, who believes the book contains a

positive assertion of a personal god who thinks like a human being

and can therefore be Job's advocate, witness, and intercessor before

the unconcerned high god.17 Such a view flies in the face of Job's

clear monotheistic assertion in chapter 31 where Job denies alle-

giance to other gods (the sun or the moon) under oath. He concludes,

. . . for I would have been unfaithful to God on high" (v 28).

Unfortunately the methods and the presuppositions of such critics

stand in the way of an interpretation based on the context and on

the analogy of Scripture. But a discriminating use of those insights

that are valid judged from a right set of presuppositions can add to

our understanding of the book of Job.

The Theophany is the key to the book but we must accept the

entire Theophany. Unlike Semeia 19 which deals only with chapter

38 both divine speeches are important for a full appreciation of that

message which fits the purpose of the book. The author is not pre-

senting a parody of a high god who is indifferent to Job's suffering

nor is he using irony to humiliate Job. The irony is meant to instruct

not to humiliate. Job now has the privilege of sitting at the feet of

the same God whom the Hebrew author, under Israe s covenant,

 

16 On page 314 of The Symbolism of Evil Ricoeur states, "The book of job

is the upsetting document that records this shattering of the moral vision of

the world." See Biblical Research 24-25 (1979-80) 7-19 for Lacocque's article

and others, and footnote 5 above for Robertson. See Semeia 4 (1975) for

additional material on Ricoeur's interpretation of Scripture.

17 JBL 102 (1983) 549-62.


146 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

knew as YHWH. He is the One Job so desperately wanted to see

(9:11; 23:3-4). Far from being crushed Job is being made wonderfully

aware of who God is in a universe full of paradoxes and yet filled

with wonder. Job learns to take God at his word without understand-

ing the mysteries of his universe much less the reason why he is

suffering. F. I. Andersen has stated it well, though with a somewhat

hyperbolic conclusion:

Job is vindicated in a faith in God's goodness that has survived a terrible

deprivation and, indeed, grown in scope, unsupported by Israel's historical

creed of the mighty acts of God, unsupported by life in the covenant

community, unsupported by cult institutions, unsupported by revealed

knowledge from the prophets, unsupported by tradition and contradicted

by experience. Next to Jesus, Job must surely be the greatest believer in

the whole Bible.18

G. B. Gray in speaking about the relationship of the Yahweh

speeches to the purpose of the book of Job notes that what these

speeches do not contain is almost as important as what they do.19

The speeches do not reverse God's judgment in the Prolog about

Job. The Accuser was wrong in impugning Job's inner reasons for

being righteous and the friends were wrong about Job's outward

conduct as a reason for his suffering. God's rebuke of Job in 38:2

was only for what he said during his intense suffering, not for earlier

sins. The latter would have proved that the purely penal theory of

suffering was correct. The friends by their theory implied they knew

completely God's ways. One of the purposes of the Yahweh speeches

is to show that neither they nor Job possessed such knowledge. God

shows Job how limited man's knowledge is. He begins with the words,

"Who is this that darkens my counsel ['esah = purpose] by words

without knowledge?" (38:2). He then proceeds to turn Job's attention

away from the legal aspect of mispat to its ruling aspect and thereby

Job comes to see the larger dimension of God's relationship with

his creatures. On the surface it would appear that the speeches

concentrate only on the natural world but careful reading reveals

something more. In the first speech (chapters 38 and 39) God's

creative works are in view and Job learns of the wonder of natural

paradoxes and of the sovereign freedom of the Creator and Sus-

 

18 Job: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity

Press, 1976) 271.

19 A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of job (Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1921) Introduction, par. 38. "


SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF JOB 147

 

 

tainer. job is humbled and agrees that his words about God's mispat

were based on ignorance. "I put my hand to my mouth. I spoke

once, but I have no answer-twice, but I will say no more" (40:4,

4 5). The second speech begins on an entirely different note. The

introduction in 40:8-14 tells about God's power and ability to crush

the wicked and to look on every proud one and bring him low. The

purpose here goes beyond showing job that God is Creator and

Sustainer of the natural world. It is to convince job that God is Lord

also of the moral order which includes the justice aspect of mispat

Appropriately job's response this time is repentance, for this is what

he questioned (42:1-6). Far from its being a meaningless appendage,

in this second speech Yahweh as his own defense attorney moves to

the very heart of his case. From his limited perspective job has

misunderstood God's attitude toward wickedness. Those who con-

tend either that Yahweh is amoral or that one purpose of the book

is to set aside the biblical doctrine of justice and retribution must

ignore 40:8-14. job's preoccupation with his own vindication had

obscured the real issue-that God alone has the power and majesty

to destroy evil and save the righteous. The message is that job's

right hand can't save but God's can (40:14).job must now acknowl-

edge God not only as Creator but as Saviour. It is precisely these

two attributes of God that stand behind the Yahweh speeches (his

power and his justice). Seeing 40:8-14 as prolog to the descriptions

of Behemoth and Leviathan reveals how they serve the purpose of

the book in a subtle and yet forceful way. Here is where I believe a

semeiological hermeneutic is called for. Both terms (Behemoth and

Leviathan) are used literally and metaphorically in other OT pas-

sages. Metaphorically Leviathan represents forces that oppose

Yahweh, whether at the Red Sea in Ps 74:14 or at the End Time in

Isa 27:1. The intensive ending on Behemoth turns the ordinary word

for a bovine into a monster (cf. Ps 73:22).20 Those who insist these

creatures are literal must face two questions. Why are they not men-

tioned in the first speech where they would belong? And why the

hyperbolic language and the stress on their invincibility? But if they

are graphic symbols of cosmic powers such as the Satan in the Prolog

then the speech is a fitting climax. The Accuser cannot be openly

mentioned without revealing to job information he must not know

 

20 The Canaanite goddess Anat conquered the seven-headed Leviathan

along with a bovine creature called "the ferocious bullock" (ANET 137, line

41).


148 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

 

if he is to continue as a model to his readers who must suffer in

ignorance of God's explicit purpose. So Job never learns about the

events in the divine council. But his repentance shows he has gotten

the message of the second speech-that God is also omnipotent in

the moral sphere. He alone will put down all evil and bring to pass

all his holy will. There is nothing else Job needs to know, except

that this Sovereign Lord of the Universe is his friend (42:7, 8).

G. K. Chesterton, in a chapter entitled "Man is Most Comforted

by Paradoxes,"21 enlightens us considerably on why he believes God

appears to Job with a battery of questions rather than answers. Ches-

terton is convinced that a trivial poet would have had God appear

and give answers. By these questions God himself takes up the role

ofa skeptic and turns Job's rationalism (e.g. his doubts about God's

justice) against itself. God ironically accepts a kind of equality with

Job as he calls on Job to gird up his loins for a fair intellectual duel.

Job had asked God for a bill of indictment (31:35). But God has no

indictment, he merely asks the right to cross-examine this one who

has been plying him with questions. Though called the Socratic

method Jesus used this questioning technique masterfully. He ques-

tioned those who came with their questions (Luke 1:1-5; 20:1-8,

27-44). The method sometimes plies the doubter with questions

until he doubts his doubts. Job is simply overwhelmed with mysteries .

and paradoxes for which he has no answers but in the midst of it

all he comes to understand what is too good to be told, that God

knows what he is doing in his universe. Job had many questions to

put to God but instead of God's trying to prove that it is an ex-

plainable world he insists that it is stranger than Job had ever imag-

ined and yet in all the strangeness there is brightness and joy and

divine opposition to evil and wrong. Thus the reader comes to un-

derstand that in a world of such paradoxes Job was suffering not

because he was the worst of men but because he was one of the best,

a man who suffered only to prove that God was true and the Accuser

a liar.

Indeed, he is a grand type. In all his wounds he prefigured the

wounds of that One, who as the antitypical innocent sufferer, the

 

21 See L. L. Glatzer, The Dimensions of Job (New York: Schocken, 1969) 228-

37.


SEMEIOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF JOB 149

 

only truly holy man and God in the flesh, provided for us the ultimate

solution to the problem of evil.

 

 

 

 

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

S. Hamilton, Massachusetts 01982

 

 

 

 

:

Westminster Theological Seminary

2960 W. Church Rd.

Glenside, PA 19038

 

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