This week in my Old Testament course we took a look at the wisdom literature in general and I looked at the book of Job in particular. I listened to episode 270 of the Professional Left (henceforth to be referred to as PL) podcast (from around the timestamps of 22:00-32:00) and their discussion of Job. Advanced warning of language used within the podcast, but it is worth a listen. I won't be summarizing their words, instead I will just be looking at what it is that they get right about Job, what they get wrong, and where are the grey areas that need more information.
PL levies the claim that God makes a bet with the Devil. This is a mixture of being true and false. God does indeed make a bet, but it is with the accuser, a heavenly being whose has the job of trying to get God to find humans as being guilty. Because the accuser in Hebrew is ha-satan, our podcasters attribute this title of satan to the Devil. But when the book of Job was written ha-satan didn't have any of those cultural meanings behind it that we think of when we hear "satan". So PL misunderstands the role of ha-satan in the podcast, but they are trying to talk about the right thing, and that's the wager God enters into with ha-satan concerning Job. Dr. Lester points out in his lecture that this wager isn't even initiated by ha-satan, but by God.
PL correctly identifies that God is the epitome of a righteous man in the Old Testament (they technically call him the "other" righteous man after briefly mentioning Noah). This plays out in the scripture where Job is called "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1), and then later God echoes the narrators words exactly when challenging ha-satan (1:8 and 2:3).
PL states that God murders a bunch of people in this bet with ha-satan and this is true with an asterisk after it. Technically, God doesn't kill anybody in Job, instead ha-satan does. However, ha-satan kills Jobs family and servants with the express permission of God to do so. God knows full well what ha-satan will do and gives the ok for it. So God doesn't really kill anybody, nor is it God's idea to kill people to test Job, but God is certainly ok with the plan to do so.
PL rightly points out that Job is pissed off at God for turning on him, and the even maintain Job's blamelessness like happens in the story. Job is always adamant that he did nothing wrong and this is true. Job wants to know why God is treating him in this fashion, or as PL puts it "where the hell do you get off doing this?" What PL misses here is Job's deep understanding that by asking God this question and demanding an audience that he cannot win for God is more powerful than he is and there is none who can fairly decide between him and God. This is exactly what happens when God shows up to respond to Job. Instead of answering Job's questions, God explains how much bigger God is than Job and how Job could not possibly understand things because of that (Job 38-41).
Early on in their discussion PL brings up the perspective that the lesson of Job is about how the inner life is more than what can be represented by a lifestyle. This seems like a pretty simplified explanation but is decently adequate. What's missing here is a discussion on wisdom and how this message that being righteous doesn't necessarily equate to a good, comfortable life, is counter the the conventional wisdom found within scripture and within ancient Semitic people's worldview.
Dr. Lester discusses Carol Newsom's experiment of looking just at the narrative frame of Job in which Job is righteous, has everything taken from him, but is then vindicated and given more than he had before as payment for his suffering. This fits within the conventional wisdom, that Job had lots because he was good, unjustly had things taken away, and was therefore rewarded even greater for that injustice. All is well. But in doing this we ignore the arguments Job has with his friends and is these arguments that force God to come and respond to Job, even if God never answers the questions. Job is rewarded for speaking correctly and those arguments Job gives run directly counter to the conventional wisdom espoused by his friends.
PL talk about how Job has lived up to the contract, God's covenant with the people, and God ignores this completely. This is Job's argument. He is not being punished because he has failed to follow his end of the covenant, but because God isn't upholding God's end of the covenant. God ultimately finds that Job is correct in this and rewards him for it. PL also mentions how Job is given a new family as part of his rewards with a large emphasis on how the book seems to just think the original family was unimportant because Job gets this new (and better) family in the end. They particularly focus on Job's wife, however, unlike their assertions Job's wife is never killed. She survives with Job. While this certainly doesn't excuse the idea that Job's new kids make up for him losing his earlier children, the wife isn't treated as being necessarily like chattel as PL argues.
PL took a good attempt at examining Job for a ten minute discussion that included other things as well. They didn't fare too poorly, but more information on the context of wisdom literature and having examined the text to make sure all of their claims were accurate would have helped their discussion.