Introduction to the Poetical and Wisdom Books: The NRSV has a full introduction to the 5 books classified in the Poetical and Wisdom Books. There’s a lot in there, especially about Biblical poetry. I just want to put this quote here and move on to Job:
The five Poetical Books were written or collected at widely different times and consist of a number of literary types: love poetry (the Song of Solomon), Temple liturgy (most of Psalms), and wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes). It is also likely that they entered the canon for quite different reasons: Psalms was used for prayers; the Song of Solomon was probably first canonized as an ancient love poem used in wedding ceremonies; while Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes may have been placed together in the canon because all three belong to a category of writings known as wisdom literature. These books thus do not form a coherent unit, especially when compared to other canonical divisions, such as the Historical Books or the Prophetic Books. “Wisdom literature” describes works that share, as their focus, reflection on universal human concerns, especially the understanding of individual experiences and the maintenance of ordered relationships that lead both to success on the human plane and to divine approval. (NRSV Study Bible, p. 721)
Introduction to Job: According to the NRSV Study Bible introduction, Job was written somewhere between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE. Based on the introduction in the NRSV Study Bible, this book should be right up my alley. Here’s a rather lengthy, but helpful quote about the interpretation of Job:
The book of Job is perhaps the most sustained piece of theological writing in the Hebrew Bible, and it is unique in the Bible for its sympathetic portrayal of differing theological points of view. The theme of the book is often described as the problem of suffering, but it is rather that of the injustice of undeserved suffering. By the standards of his day, Job’s suffering can only be a sign that he is a great sinner; resisting that implication, he demands that God explain why he, a righteous man, is being so badly treated. More than that, he reasons that his case shows that God is not governing the world in justice, and he argues that the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous in general are further evidence of God’s neglect of justice. When he replies to Job, God speaks only of his designs in creating the universe and does not mention the issue of justice, no doubt implying that Job is right, that justice is not a primary divine concern. (p. 726)
So…Job challenges God and demands an explanation. Fascinating. Up to this point (at least in the OT), there hasn’t been that much of this (at least as far as I can remember). Yes, there are examples of Moses challenging God and probably of some others, but this sounds like it could be different. Clearly I won’t know until I’m done, but I do find this to be very fascinating.
Now a bunch of info from the CEB Study Bible. I initially started to read it silently. However, as I read I made my lovely bride listen to parts of it. The introductions completely fascinate me. The introduction in the CEB study bible has a lot of references to science. Here are some quotes from the introduction in the CEB Study Bible related to science or just because I’m excited about it:
The book focuses on issues about nature and God’s care of creation…The dialogue between Job and his friends focuses on how to interpret the natural order (Job 4-37). Then the focus of God’s response in Job 38-41 is to understand how creation works; to that end, it has largely to do with meteorology, zoology, and cosmology. (p. 779 OT)
The book of Job shows that suffering may occur because of the nature of the world that God created and because God allows the natural order to be what it was created to be. God permits but doesn’t manage what happens in creation. God created a world filled with risks to human well-being, including water, the law of gravity, and wild animals. While these are resources that can enhance human well-being, God doesn’t provide danger-free zones to keep people like Job from the harm they can cause. (p. 779 OT; emphasis in original)
God’s critique of Job’s view reveals God’s openness to Job’s hard questions. (p. 780 OT)
Ok, this is really fascinating. One of the themes that I feel has emerged throughout my experience and throughout my time at Holy Comforter is the importance of asking questions. That is what drives science and I think it’s what can encourage people to better understand religion. Perhaps it can even help those who were driven away from organized religion to realize that whatever they left isn’t the only way to be religious.
One last, but again lengthy, quote:
The “lament” or “complaint” is prominent in Job’s speeches. The lament is a common human response to suffering. The lament also serves the broader purpose of a dispute between Job and his friends and between Job and God. Job keeps his faith in God throughout the dialogue. He understands that his relationship with God allows him to speak his mind without having to worry about God ending the relationship. Job’s understanding of the relationship is one of the reasons for God’s positive response to what Job says (see Job 42:7-8). Job will come to see (Job 42:1-6) that, in spite of appearances, God was and is faithful. Job 38-41 shows God’s faithfulness in letting the creation be what it is, even with all the suffering that creation may bring.
See, that is fascinating!!! I definitely need to read this book carefully.