The Book of Job

The book of Job challenges the simple equation of suffering with punishment, by telling the story of one righteous man's confrontation with overwhelming misfortune.

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God's Answer to Job

The outcome of the drama is that the collapse of a complacent view of the divine economy can be overcome. For Job this came about through a sudden overwhelming awareness of the complexity of God's manifestation in reasonless phenomena of nature. Job's flood of insight comes in a storm--we may suppose, through the experience of its awesomeness.

One may compare and contrast the midrashic word play, that has Job hearing God's answer out of a "hair" (which is a homonym of "storm" in Hebrew)  from contemplation of a microcosm. The grand vista of nature opens before Job, and it reveals the working of God in a realm other than man's moral order.

Job responds to, and thus gets a response from, the numinous presence underlying the whole panorama; he hears God's voice in the storm. The fault in the moral order--the plane on which God and man interact--is subsumed under the totality of God's work, not all of which is reasonable. Senseless calamity loses some of its demoralizing effect when morale does not depend entirely on the comprehensibility of the phenomena but, rather, on the conviction that they are pervaded by the presence of God. As nature shows, this does not necessarily mean that they are sensible and intelligible.

The God of Nature:  Powerful and Uncanny

It has been objected that God's speeches (chapters 38‑41) are irrelevant to Job's challenge. God--the objection runs--asserts His power in reply to a challenge to His moral government. But this sets up a false dichotomy. To be sure, God's examples from nature are exhibitions of His power, but they are also exhibitions of His wisdom and His providence for His creatures (38:27; 39:1‑4; 26).

Through nature, God reveals Himself to Job as both purposive and nonpurposive, playful and uncanny, as evidenced by the monsters He created. To study nature is to perceive the complexity, the unity of contraries, in God's attributes, and the inadequacy of human reason to explain His behavior, not the least in His dealings with man.

For it may be inferred that in God's dealings with man, this complexity is also present--a unity of opposites: reasonability, justice, playfulness, uncanniness (the latter appearing demonic in the short view). When Job recognizes in the God of nature, with His fullness of attributes, the very same God revealed in his own individual destiny, the tumult in his soul is stilled. He has fathomed the truth concerning God's character: he is no longer tortured by a concept that fails to account for the phenomena, as did his former notion of God's orderly working.

Job's Transformation and the Epilogue

Job ends up a wiser man, for he sees better the nature of God's work in the world and recognizes the limitations of his former viewpoint. The manifestation of his peace with God, of his renewed spiritual vigor, is that he reconstitutes his life. He is a vessel into which blessings can be poured; he who wished to have died at birth now fathers new sons and daughters. That, in addition to answering the demands of simple justice, is the significance of the epilogue (which many critics have belittled as crass).

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Moshe Greenberg

Moshe Greenberg is professor of Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and recipient of the Israel Prize in Bible, 1994.