Integrity on Trial: A case study of Job

Seeing the essential message of Job in terms of integrity

Lael Caesar, Ph.D., is associate professor of religion at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Job's suffering is no figment or fantasy. It is brutal reality. Yet when such suffering visits him, Job humbly submits to God and acknowledges Him to be supreme (1:20-22).

But Job was by no means an unemotional pawn in the altercation between God and Satan. He rips his clothing. He scrapes his scalp. He sits in dust. His is the story of misery and shame.

Job's friends come to commiserate with him. The verbal battle between these friends and Job rages through 28 chapters of claim and contradiction, logic and invective, appeal and insult.

The friends contend, among other things, for the following seven interrelated convictions: (1) that sin brings proportionate suffering in this life (4:7, 8); (2) that suffering is a proof of guilt (8:4; 18:7, 8); (3) that Job, as a sufferer, must be guilty of wrongdoing (22:5- 10); (4) that the good prosper in this life (8:20-22); (5) that prosperity proves goodness and consequent divine approval (22:21, 30); (6) that God is both just and supreme, and, as such, not to be questioned (11:7-9); and (7) that rather than resist God and aggravate his already lamentable situation, Job should repent of his sin and seek God's grace and mercy (11:13-16; 22:21-30).

Job, a theodicy?

Scholars have generally employed these arguments to argue that the book of Job is a form of theodicy vindication of the justice and goodness of God in spite of the presence of evil. But is the book a theodicy?

Job finds the arguments of his friends repugnant chiefly because of their implications for him as an individual. For if they are true, then he, a sufferer, must be wicked. He responds by accusing his friends of betrayal and treachery (6:15-20,27), by hurling scandalous charges in the face of God (9:22-24; 16:1 Iff; 19:6ff), by insisting upon an audience with Him (13:3), and scoffing at the notion of the wicked being deprived (16:7-15).

With Job's protracted oath (chapter 31) the fierce storm of words dies away to silence. Job is entrenched in self-righteousness (32:1) and his friends are enveloped in righteous indignation. They think they have spoken for God and have striven to make Him look good. Job cries out: "God knows that I am righteous. Let Him damn me if I am not." Will God speak once and for all, and settle this matter?

Elihu will not let us find out. He must speak for God. He makes an articulate contribution to the theological debate, though most of his arguments are quite common: God chastens men. His supremacy is unquestionable (34:10-30, 33); repentance brings restoration, otherwise damnation follows (36:7-12).

It is not clear whether Elihu completes his speech, or whether God interrupts him. But God's entry is sud den, stormy, aggressive, insurgent, and is directed exclusively at Job: " 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words with out knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct me!'" (38:2,3, NAS). God then leads Job on a slow tour of darkness and light, morning and night, birds and beasts, ice and rain, till Job forgets his pain and humbly confesses that he has found consolation in this revelation of Deity (42:2-6).

This done, God turns from Job to his friends. He is angry. Why should God be so angry? How can He feel driven to a threat that reduces its objects to such disgrace? After all Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are on God's side. They have fought for Him against the hot language of their intemperate friend. They have plead with Job to return to God (5:8; 11:13-16; 22:21-30). What kind of theodicy is this where God is angry at those who defend His good name?

Understanding God's anger provides an explanation for the book of Job which has been largely overlooked. For the value of the book resides in more than its celebrated literary mastery. In it God speaks. His interests are beyond those of mere story, poetry, rhetoric, and psychology. His affirmation of Job is ultimately an affirmation of some thing else.

That something else, I suggest, is integrity, not theodicy.

Integrity, the book's major theme

Behind the theodicy of the quality of divine justice the contribution most often attributed to the story of Job is actually the question of divine integrity. And the book of Job shows its concern with integrity. But though divine integrity is the primary focus, it is not unfair to see Job as an individual who offers the most powerful representation of this virtue.

We meet him, in 1:1, as blameless and upright, God-fearing and standing clear of evil. Because of his integrity, he becomes the subject of a trial (1:13). The entire book deals with a test of Job's integrity. In 1:8 God launches His challenge to Satan. The challenge issues in the test of Job's character. Not until 42:10 does the test end, whereupon God restores his fortunes. It thus appears that the book is designed to address the issue of Job's integrity.

The Hebrew adjective translated "perfect" in 1:1, derives from tamam, used in more than two hundred forms in the Old Testament. It speaks of "that which is complete, blameless, just, honest, perfect, peaceful, etc.; hence an attribute or an attitude that reflects genuineness and reliability." 1 The adjective tam, often understood as describing Job's perfection, is limited in its biblical usage but has an ample range and meaning. Seven of its fifteen biblical occurrences appear in Job.2 The word means blameless, innocent, sincere, quiet, peaceful, pious, pure, or healthy.3 Accompanying applications include the "perfect" lover in Song of Solomon (5:2, and 6:9) and Jacob, "a plain man, dwelling in tents" (Gen. 25:27).

Two aspects of general usage help us better understand tam. One is an idealistic portrait of a woman whom Solomon contemplates through the eyes of love and declares perfect (Song of Solomon 4:1-5,12-15, and 7:1-9). Second, there is the frequent combination of tam with yashar.

Five of the fifteen uses of tam are accompanied by yashar ( Job 1:1; 1:8; 2:3; Ps. 37:37; Prov. 29:10). Yashar means "straight, level, right, just, righteous."4 God created man "yashar" (Eccl. 7:29). He Himself is "yashar" since "there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Ps. 92:15). Because tam is not used of God, this us age in parallelism with yashar, assumes greater interpretive significance.

Three of the combinations of tam and yashar describe Job (1:1, 8; 2:3). And two of these flow from God's own pride in His servant (1:8; 2:3).

Tam, then, is virtue such as God treasures virtue so dear, that its possession makes the possessor God's exhibit to the universe. If Job is tam, it is not because he is sinless. For in the end he repents of his intemperate spirit (Job 42:6).

To be tam, as Job is described, is to commit singlemindedly to godliness and godlikeness. In the book of Job, tam is never applied to anyone except Job because no one else exhibits such pure and simple commitment to God. An examination of the friends' behavior bears out this point.

Eliphaz: Compromised by a spectre

Eliphaz's first speech is one of the most mystical of the entire book. In it he reports a visit from a spirit which informs him that God " ' "puts no trust even in His servants; and against His angels He charges error. How much more those who dwell in houses of clay...!"'" (4:18, 19, NAS). Coming as it does at the very beginning of the friends' response to Job's plight, and set in context of the dialogue between God and Satan, this description of Eliphaz's alleged night visitor cannot be taken without question. In view of God's expressed confidence in Job (1:8; 2:3), Eliphaz's position is unacceptable. Eliphaz repeats the same theory in his second speech:" 'Behold, He [God] puts no trust in His holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in His sight; How much less one who is detestable and corrupt ...!'" (15:15,16, NAS).

Some commentators sidestep the issue of the truthfulness or falsehood of Eliphaz's claim to a supernatural encounter. Edouard Dhorme, following Thomas Aquinas, finds it "needless to ask whether he [Eliphaz] really experienced this vision or whether he imagines it for the purposes of his argument."5 Accepting arguments based on falsehood on the same level as those based on fact reduces the book's raw realities of physical and mental anguish to an inconsequential game of philosophy.

But the book of Job is not a game. It is an intense struggle between God and Satan, between good and evil. And Eliphaz cannot be dismissed lightly. Whether or not he has been visited at night, the gist of his argument is wrong. When Eliphaz speaks, and when Bildad and Zophar echo him, they are under the influence of the one who brought the charges against Job's integrity to begin with. When men pay heed to spirits that glide past their faces (Job 4:15, RSV) and attribute the message to God we should not wonder that God is angry. When Eliphaz questions the man of integrity, the man of God's confidence, then God does well to be angry.

Job's integrity and his friends

Bildad's final speech insists on the same position taught to Eliphaz by the night visitor:" 'If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight, How much less man, that mag got, and the son of man, that worm!'" (25:5,6, NAS). Thus Job's friends significantly ground their opposition to him in a claim that is untrue. They cannot trust him because God does not trust any of His creatures. He puts no confidence in them.

But God does. He has let the council of heaven and the forces of evil publicly know that His confidence is in Job. It is this declaration that gives rise to the drama of the book. The story evolves from a confrontation between God and Satan. Satan seeks to prove God wrong by launching vicious attacks against an innocent man. Now, through the agency of friends, Satan continues his assault on Job, attempting to destroy him and his integrity, thus proving his original argument against God. This adversary will stop at nothing.

When decimating loss, poverty, the demise of his family, broken health, and the exasperation of a frustrated spouse all fail to accomplish his nefarious purposes, the adversary resorts to revelation. Whether actual or fabricated by Eliphaz, his is a "revelation" bolstering Satan's stance. It teaches a lie about God even while it comes as revelation. Eliphaz experiences it, and recounts it to all. Zophar and Bildad hear it and accept it. And when men invoke the supernatural to prove that God is cynical as well as vicious, anxious to dispense punishment and destruction; when human beings take the name of God, who is love, in order to justify the callous destruction of those God deems faithful, then we should not be surprised that God is angry.

Only Job does not accept Eliphaz's revelation: " 'Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn the words which He would answer, and perceive what He would say to me. Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me. There the upright would reason with Him; and I would be delivered forever from my Judge'" (23:3-7,NAS).

Job's is an astonishing faith. Doubts assail, and he seems to waver:"' [God] is not a man as I am that I may answer Him; that we may go to court together'" (9:32, NAS). And Zophar responds: " 'Would that God might speak, and open His lips against you,' " (11:5, NAS), then you would know how much more punishment you actually deserve (verse 6). It does not matter much that this violates the precise formulas of punishment in proportion to transgression. Zophar wants Job to understand and concede how wicked he is. But Job will not con cede: " 'And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall be hold, and whom my eyes shall see and not another'" (19:25-27, NAS).

It is an awful journey. One Job must take absolutely alone.

Integrity and Jesus

No human experience so nearly parallels the passage of the son of God into the chasm of eternal separation from God as does the story of Job. Ellen White's explanation of the purpose of the book of Job offers an astonishing insight. "It was generally believed by the Jews that sin is punished in this life.... Satan, the author of sin and all its results, had led men to look upon disease and death as proceeding from God, as punishment arbitrarily inflicted on ac count of sin. . . . Thus the way was prepared for the Jews to reject Jesus. He who 'hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows' was looked upon by the Jews as 'stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted;' and they hid their faces from Him. Isa. 53:4, 3. God had given a lesson designed to prevent this. The history of Job had shown that suffering is inflicted by Satan, and is overruled by God for purposes of mercy. But Israel did not understand the lesson. The same error for which God had reproved the friends of Job was repeated by the Jews in their rejection of Christ."6

What Israel did not understand is that there are people of integrity who suffer innocently. In Job's case, as later with Jesus, they become, for the sake of their goodness, the special object of Satan's hatred and abuse. But, in the end, the mercy of God delivers them from the obliteration to which Satan wills them, so that they may shine as His stars for ever.

We see another comparison be tween Job and Jesus in that cry of anguish from the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46, NAS). Job's anguished pleas and Christ's desperate cry affirm trembling but unshakeable faith. Job's search for his God and the cry from the cross both say the same thing. Job and Jesus know, by faith alone, that at the bottomless depths of their pit of dark despair, there is God and He is still their God.

Integrity and me: the final crisis

Soon the mystifying combination of false opinion, of convincing yet distorted pictures of God, combined with fervent action in His name, will produce the " 'time of trouble' such as never has been'" (Daniel 12:1, RSV). This will recreate the scenario of the book of Job. The Bible alerts us that, just as with Eliphaz, there will be those who will once again find their support in the activities of the spirits (Rev. 13:13, 14). When that time comes, those of un swerving integrity will hear again the taunts of Job's friends: " 'Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect?' " (Job 22:3, NAS). Above the jibes of cynics, God calls out: "Yes, there is!" But for now He looks for people who will exhibit the effects of His power and grace to the whole onlooking uni verse. God looks for people who display integrity like that of Job.

1. J. P. J. Olivier, in Willem A. VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 4:306-308, 9:462,306.

2. Gen. 25:27; Ex. 26:24,29; lob 1:1,8; 2:3; 8:20; 9:20,21, 22; Song of Solomon 5:2; 6:9. Ps. 37:37: 64:4; Prov. 29:10.

3. Olivier, ibid.

4. Hannes Olivier, in Willem A. VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 2:563-568, #3837; 563.

5. Edouard Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job, trans. H. H. Rowley, with a preface by Francis 1. Andersen, (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson, 1984), 49, citing Aquinas who states this view in St. Thomas Aquinas, The literal Exposition on Job, trans. Anthony Damico, with an interpretive essay and notes by Martin D. Yaffe, Classics in Religious Studies, 7, (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1989), 118.

6. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940),471.

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Lael Caesar, Ph.D., is associate professor of religion at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

April 2000

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