So today we come to the end of our short series on the book of Job. And I hope you’ve found as much in it as I have – I’ll admit to approaching these five weeks with some trepidation, unclear, as I’ve said that the answers offered by the writer of Job were words that I would find much benefit, much life, in.
In many ways, the book of Job has the problems of much of the Old Testament write large: the assumptions challenged by the author of a God so absolutely in control that nothing happens apart from God’s will; of divine justice so cut and dried that good leads to rewards and wrong to hardship; of a complete distinction between those who are the people of God and those who are the other; these assumptions, probed and challenged by the book of Job, just aren’t where I’m at, not scratching where I itch.
But dig a little deeper, as we have done, and it turns out that the theology that Job’s author rails against – the theology of purity, of justice which operates fundamentally by punishing the wrongdoer, of holiness which requires the exclusion of any other and is rewarded by material benefit – that these theologies are, sometimes explicitly but more often hidden, still very much at work today.
And so today we come to the final words of the book, and the final twists in the story.
The first twist, of course, is God’s words to Job’s friends – those who have been consistently arguing to Job that God must be trusted, must be right, must be acting justly. Over and again, they’ve told Job that whatever is happening to him must be God’s will and must therefore be fair: but God says to them “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
Now of course, the interesting thing about that line is that Job actually said very little of God. Most of his monologues have been more along the lines of “but I don’t understand, these simplistic descriptions of right and wrong and God and justice don’t seem to make sense, but I have nothing else to offer”
Perhaps it is this that God, in the words of the author of the book of Job, is affirming; Job’s questions, Job’s doubt, Job’s open lack of understanding, set against his friends answers, certainty, and declarations of wisdom.
But then there is one more twist in the story still to come. And it’s hidden in the concluding paragraph.
And the problem is, on one level this final paragraph, in which God restores Job’s fortunes and gives him back all that he has lost – and more – is actually the most offensive passage in the whole of the book.
In particular, where it says “he had seven sons and three daughters”.
Now right back in the beginning of the book of Job, in Chapter 1 verse 2, it says that there were born to Job seven sons and three daughters.
But all of those original ten children were killed in the opening chapters, in the great series of tragedies that tore Job’s life apart.
But here at the end, he has another family; God restoring his fortunes, the text describes it as; another seven sons and three daughters.
And I don’t know about you, but that just makes me want to pull this whole book out of the Bible. Job’s ten children all die – at Satan’s hand but with God’s permission; but it’s ok, God restores Job’s fortunes and gives him another full set of children.
Because, let’s face it, sons and daughters, they’re just interchangeable assets, right? As long as God gives him back the same number as he had to start with, it’s like nothing happened.
But then, just as I’m at the peak of my anger at the author, one final twist.
Now the book of Job, we need to recall, is one of the oldest parts of the Bible, in terms of the date in which the story was first constructed. It’s hard to be sure about these things, but there’s evidence that the story of Job existed, in more or less it’s current form, long before the writing of the creation story, the life of Abraham, or the exodus. While a few phrases or stanzas of poetry might date back as far, the book of Job is really early in development of Hebrew thought.
So with that in mind, notice this. At the end of the book of Job, he has three daughters – Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch, and seven sons – of whom we hear nothing more.
I challenge you to find anywhere else in the whole of the Bible that someone is reported as having both sons and daughters, and we are told the names of the girls, but not of the boys.
And while you are looking – in vain – perhaps you might also seek for another case in the scriptures in which the daughters are “given an inheritance along with their brothers”.
Here, in this ancient, this most ancient of stories, we have the tale of man who is righteous and faithful throughout, a man who God praises and whose prayers God hears, and a man who, in complete disregard for the custom of the day (for if it were the norm, it would not rate a mention) treats his daughters as people. People who deserve to have their names recorded – unlike many of the great women of the Bible who are just referred to as “a woman” or “someone’s wife” or “the daughter of” – and people who are worthy of inheriting the great wealth which has been the blessing of God.
And maybe this is a fittingly ambiguous end to a troublesome, thought provoking, question raising but not answering book.
That a storyteller from the depths of antiquity can be so casual about human life to treat Job’s first set of children as replaceable by his second; and yet at the same time be so egalitarian as to give Job’s daughters as much – indeed more – respect than his sons.
The book of Job, then, in a nutshell. Lots of questions. Hidden nuggets of wisdom. But very few answers