Job 29-31 — Job’s Monologue

Whatever the nature of the pause in Job 28, the narrator resumes Job’s voice in Job 29-31. This is Job’s final speech (“the words of Job are ended,” 31:40). It divides into three sections: (1) Job remembers the past (Job 29), (2) Job protests the present, and (3) Job swears out a writ (Job 31). Job reminisces fondly, protests loudly, and demands that God hand down an indictment.

This is a stunning monologue. The movement from past scenes of joy and friendship with God to the present horror of seeming divine abandonment is gut-wrenching. Then the movement from mourning and weeping (30:31) to oaths of self-imprecation that seek divine vindication is equally hair-raising.

Fond Memories (Job 29)

Job longs for the past, the “months of old, as in the days when God watched” over him (29:2). Those were the days when….   Job begins sentences in 29:3, 5, 6, & 7 with the Hebrew preposition that is translated “when.”  In those days and months:

  • Job walked in darkness by God’s light
  • God’s friendship was with him
  • His children still surrounded him when the Almighty was with him
  • His steps were washed with milk (i.e., prosperity)
  • He was seated at the city gate
  • Young and old respected him
  • Nobles and Princes were silent in his presence

The language retells the prologue in some ways. It includes Job’s renown, his children, his prosperity, and his friendship with God.  He stresses how others waited for and received his counsel (29:21-25). They remained silent as they waited for Job to speak. They honored him as a chief among them, “like a king among his troops.”

And Job remembers that he feared God and shunned evil as well (1:1, 8; 2:3). Job remembers that he was “commended” and “approved” by those who heard and saw his life (29:11), and he states the rational:  “because I delivered the poor…” (29:12). This approval, I think, even includes God because Job was dedicated to a way of living that embodied the fear of God.

What kind of life is that, according to Job? The wise person cares for the poor, orphan, and widow (29:12-13). This is “doing right” (righteousness and justice) and Job wore it like a garment (29:14). He aided the lame, blind, needy, and stranger. Job’s life was oriented toward justice and he opposed the unrighteous so that they would “drop their prey from their teeth” (29:17). This is wisdom ethics, and Job lived it. So, Job lived with the hope of rest and long life (29:18-20).

Significantly, the last word of this fond remembrance is the word “comfort.” What the friends failed to do as “miserable comforters” (16:2) Job provided to mourners (29:25). What Job provided to others is what he now seeks from God.

Present Protest (Job 30)

“But now…..”  Those words alert us to a shift in Job’s voice. Three times Job calls attention to the contrast (30:1, 9, 16) with wa’attah (“but now” or “and now”). The present stands in strong contrast with the past.

The first section (30:1-8) laments the lack of respect Job receives even from the children of those who deserve no respect.  “Job has exchanged the respect of the most respectable,” Anderson writes (Job [Tyndale series], p. 235), “for the contempt of the most contemptible.”

The second section (Job 30:9-15) describes their contempt and Job’s own crumbled reality as his “prosperity has passed away as a cloud” (Job 30:15). Job, according to the NRSV/ESV rendering, attributes this to divine action–“God has loosed my bowstring and humbled me.” [God is actually supplied; it is not in the Hebrew text. However, it is an appropriate rendering since the move from plural to singular is best understood as a reference to God.]

The third section is the most harrowing of all (30:16-16-31). It moves from talking about God in the third person (30:16-19) to directly addressing God (30:20-23). The language is vivid and stark. Job has experienced violence at God’s hand and has become as “dust and ashes” before him. Job cries and God does not answer. “You have turned cruel to me,” Job protests; “with the might of your hand you persecute me” (30:21).

Job accuses God. He knows God has done this to him and he expects God to ultimately bring him to death (30:23). These accusations remind me of the recent BBC movie “The Trial of God.” It is the story of Auschwitz inmates who put God on trial. The movie surveys multiple theodic responses to their suffering. The final speech is a protest, and it is a protest that God is not good (Trial of God–the Final Speech). Yet, when the guards come to collect them for the gas chambers, the Rabbi who gave the climatic speech counsels that they pray. There is no other possible response. Job protests but he prays–his prayer is a protest but his protest is also a prayer.

Job laments that even though he “grieved for the poor” and helped the needy in their disasters when he “looked for good, evil came” (30:26). Instead of light, he received darkness…and he continues to sit in that darkness, in a “sunless gloom” (30:28). He cries for help but he is treated as a jackal and an ostrich. He can do nothing more than weep and mourn. Now, at the present, this is his life, and this is his protest.

Job’s Testimony (Job 31)

So, what changed? God was friendly to Job when he was righteous, but now God attacks Job. What changed? Job does not think he has changed; he is still committed to righteousness.

This raises one of the significant questions of the drama.  Job voices it in 31:3:  “Is not calamity for the unrighteous, and disaster for the workers of iniquity?” Calamity is what has befallen Job (30:13) and what the wicked deserve (30:12). God knows Job (31:4) and Job knows what God expects in terms of righteousness (31:2). So, why does innocent, righteous Job suffer what belongs to the unrighteous? If the unrighteous suffer, why does righteous Job suffer?

Job swears an oath concerning his righteousness. He takes an oath of self-imprecation, that is, he curses himself if he has violated God’s righteousness. Most of the chapter assumes an “if…then” form.  If, Job says, I have been unethical, then I deserve punishment; then I deserve the calamity I have experienced.

This form provides the author of Job a wonderful opportunity to catalog wisdom ethics. It is ethics based upon creation theology rather than upon the Torah. It is Yahwehist ethics in the mouth of Edomite wisdom–a wisdom derived from the fear of God within creation and wise living as a human being within God’s good creation. He covers such topics as:

  • lust (31:1)
  • honesty (31:5)
  • adultery (31:9)
  • justice (31:13)
  • care for the poor (31:16-21)
  • attitude toward wealth (31:24-25)
  • love of enemies (31:29-31)
  • secret sin (31:33)
  • ecology (31:38-39)

Given space and time, it would be important to pause over each of these ethical values to hear the wisdom in each. Indeed, each finds its place in traditional wisdom ethics as well as covenantal (Torah) ethics.

What is significant for Job, however, is that he knows what is right and he claims to have lived his life in compliance with God’s values. He fears God and shuns evil, just as God said he did (1:8; 2:3).

The climax of this chapter comes in 31:35-37. Job interrupts his self-imprecations in order to voice his desire. What Job really wants is a divine indictment; he wants to know what he did wrong. He wants to know why God has done this to him, and if God is going to prosecute him, he wants the bill of indictment.

His oath is his testimony–he has signed it (placed an “X”  [literally, taw–the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet] at the end the document). It is his plea (“Oh” in 31:35 which is how he began the monologue in 29:2). Job has given an honest account, and he now placers it before God. He wants to be heard and he is confident that his life has been an ethical one.

And so end the words of Job (31:40b). They end with a sworn oath that pleads for a divine hearing. Job, like all of us, wants to be heard. Now he will sit and wait for God to answer…or will God answer? And what kind of answer will he give?

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