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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Job

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The Prologue ( 1:1–2:13 )

In five scenes of elevated prose ( 1:1–5; 1:6–12; 1:13–22; 2:1–6; 2:7–13 ( 3:1 )) the narrative introduces the main characters in dramatic conflict and the theological issue that will be explored. Part of the problem is the heavenly backdrop of two scenes, for this information is hidden from the hero and his detractors. The Adversary poses the issue in a terse question: Does Job serve God (᾽ělōhîm) for nothing? Its staccato rhythm expresses impudence, as does the laconic answer in 2:2 (Gordis 1978: 15). A series of calamities puts Job to the test, and he emerges as a faithful servant despite excruciating circumstances. The arrival of Job's three friends advances the conflict to a different level, one occasioned by poetic debate.

( 1:1–5 )

The five scenes alternate between earth and heaven. The story opens with a description of an exceptional man, Job, who had a full quota of children (seven sons, three daughters; both 7 and 3 are complete numbers) and possessions (7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 each of oxen and she-asses; 7 and 3 again, equalling 10; 5 and 5 equals ten, a complete number). The description moves outward, from the most intimate to the most distant (Newsom, 1996: 349). v. 1 , the reversal of normal order for the verb calls attention to the predicate, Job. A complete (tām has this meaning rather than ‘perfection’) man of integrity, he was also morally straight, religious, and ethical. A non-Israelite, his home was Transjordanian Uz, a name probably chosen as an audial pun on the sages' word for counsel, ῾ēṣâ (Weiss 1983: 23). v. 3 , none surpassed him in the East, just as no king rivalled Solomon in wisdom, according to 1 Kings 4:30 [MT 5:10 ]. v. 4 , ‘in turn’ (lit. each on his day) probably refers to the several birthdays of the sons, not to constant rounds of feasting. The brothers' inclusion of their sisters in these festivities is extraordinary for the ancient culture; their unusual generosity is matched by their father in the epilogue ( 42:15 ). v. 5 , the narrator views Job's offering of sacrifices as another positive attribute. Job worries that the children may have missed the mark and blessed Elohim without recognizing their guilt. Alternatively, the verb b-r-k is used euphemistically, in place of g-l-l, hence ‘cursed’. Ironically, Job's goodness brings about his terrible misfortune, including the death of his children.

( 1:6–12 )

The idyllic setting, except for Job's unease about his children, shifts, both in location and tenor. An Adversary (haśśāṭān, a title rather than a proper name) joins the assemblage of divine beings and responds to the deity by means of a pun on his name (śŭṭ, to wander). This heavenly Adversary is a counterpart to Job, suspecting everyone just as Job suspected his sons (Weiss 1983: 40). In a rhetorical question indicating ongoing rivalry, YHWH brings up Job's name and vouches for his integrity, using the same language as v. 1 , but the cynical Adversary accuses Job of serving God because it pays well to do so. To determine who has correctly seen into Job's heart, the Adversary proposes to put him to a test by removing all indications of divine favour, here understood as possessions (including children). YHWH agrees to the test, turning Job's possessions over to the Adversary, with a single restriction, that he not harm Job's person.

( 1:13–22 )

The third scene begins on a happy note but quickly descends to the depths of human suffering. Successive messengers inform Job and the reader simultaneously of four calamities, two of heavenly origin and two inflicted by human foes (note the symbolism, four for completion, heaven and earth for the entirety of space). Repetition gives the awful news a stupefying effect. One by one the lone survivors tell Job of his losses: marauding Sabeans killed his oxen and donkeys, a heavenly fire consumed his sheep, Chaldeans stole his camels, and a mighty wind demolished the house in which his children were feasting, killing all of them. These messengers mirror the heavenly ones reporting to YHWH; only the fourth interjects a sign of emotional distress (hinnēh). The Sabeans were probably northern Arabians rather than people from the south or Africa. Chaldeans were semi-nomads, not the later Neo-Babylonians of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, who conquered Judah in 587 BCE and took many citizens of Judah into exile. As this tale of woe unfolds, ‘Satan lurks, waiting for the blasphemy’ (Dhorme 1967: p. xxx).

Job responds to this litany of destruction in the manner of a faithful servant; he mourns according to custom and quotes a proverb, adding his resolve to bless YHWH. Job does not say he will return to his mother's womb—not even mother earth. The Hebrew word šāmmâ is a euphemism for Sheol, the land of the dead (cf. Eccl 5:15; Sir 40:1 ). The proverb uses synonymous and antithetic parallelism (naked/came from ǁ naked/return to), while Job's addition limits itself to antithetic parallelism (gave ǁ took away). v. 22 , the narrator intrudes long enough to pronounce judgement on Job, whom he declares blameless.

( 2:1–6 )

The fourth scene opens like the second, as if nothing has intervened, although YHWH concludes with an indictment of the Adversary. The word ḥinnām (tr. ‘for no reason’) repeats the word that the Adversary singled out as Job's flaw ‘Does Job serve God for nothing [for no reason]?’ v. 4 , ‘Skin for skin’ implies a culture characterized by barter rather than monetary exchange, but its meaning is unclear. It may suggest equal value, or the expression may refer to exchanging one kind of skin for another kind. Job's possessions accord with the (pre-)patriarchal setting, but his sons dwelt in houses, not tents. The Adversary incites YHWH to intensify the test by striking at Job's health. When referring to the deity, the stretched-out hand signifies misfortune. This time, too, YHWH limits the Adversary; Job's survival was essential to the story's dramatic unfolding.

( 2:7–13 )

Smitten with a disease of the skin that cannot be identified on the basis of the poetic allusions in the dialogue, Job scrapes himself with a piece of broken pottery, either to ease the itching or as a sign of self-mortification. In his isolation, Job's wife repeats YHWH's affirmation of her husband but turns it into a question: ‘Do you still persist in your integrity?’ What she urges him to do is unclear. The verb bārak may be undecipherable (Linafelt 1996 ). In favour of translating it ‘curse’ is Job's harsh reply. He likens her to foolish or vulgar women. The LXX attributes a longer speech to Job's wife, and the Testament of Job presents her in a much more favourable light, giving her an actual name, Sitis (the Targum at 2:9 calls Job's wife Dinah). Job reminds his wife that we receive both good and evil from God. He implies that if people receive good they cannot reject the bad. The narrator enters the story for a second time, changing the language ever so slightly. Later Jewish interpreters seized this opening to accuse Job of sinning in his heart while outwardly uttering devout sentiments. The visit by Job's three friends (kings in the LXX) from Edom and Arabia provides a transition from prose to poetry, one appropriately characterized by profound silence. Their stated purpose in coming was pastoral—to bring consolation—and their long silence (only here does the phrase ‘seven nights’ occur) as they sat with him on the ash heap confirms that positive intention. Their act of throwing dust heavenward may have been apotropaic, to frighten away evil powers. The name Eliphaz occurs in Gen 36:15 ; the names Bildad and Zophar are not found elsewhere in the Bible. Teman was in Edom; the location of Shuah and Naamah is uncertain. The final scene of this popular narrative appears in 42:7–17 , which tells about Job's restoration.

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