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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Job 1

 

 

Introduction

Job 1:1-2. Job's Fortune and Misfortune.—These chapters come from the original "Volksbuch" of popular story, and relate how a certain Job in the land of Uz was the most pious man of his time and more fortunate than all his neighbours. It is further related how the Satan disputed the sincerity of his religion, and twice by God's leave put him to the severest proof: these tests, however, Job triumphantly endured. Finally it is told how three friends came to comfort him.


Verses 1-3

Job 1:1-3 describes Job, his piety and good fortune. The literal translation of the opening words would be "Once upon a time there was a man." The use of the perfect denotes that we are dealing not with history but saga. Its purpose is to call attention, not to the exact time of events, but to the individual typical case. It is uncertain what land is meant by Uz. Syria and Edom have been suggested; on the whole, Edom is perhaps the most likely. Job's name is introduced without the addition of his descent, as is usual in the case of a thoroughly historical personage (1 Samuel 1:1). The meaning of the name is not known—it formed part of the original tradition. When it is said that Job was perfect and upright, this is from the point of view of civil morality—it is not meant in a theological sense. Job's fear of God in the story of the Volksbuch is particularly evidenced by his scrupulousness and dread even of offending in word (Job 1:5; Job 1:22, Job 2:10).

The ideal character of the description of Job's family and wealth is noteworthy. The perfect numbers, seven and three, predominate. Moreover to complete Job's happiness, sons being more esteemed than daughters, he has the larger number of the superior sex. In a word, he is fortunate all round. As to the details of his wealth, as a great Eastern Emeer, he has oxen, asses, sheep, and camels. The oxen, being for ploughing, are counted by the yoke; Job's she-asses only are mentioned, as being more precious than he-asses, because of their milk and their foals—the reader is expected to supply the necessary number of males. The camels were used for heavy burdens and distant journeys. All this implies that Job had very extensive lands. The amount of arable land is measured by the number of yoke of oxen. The seven thousand sheep require extensive pastures. Finally, of course, to such wealth in cattle and land corresponds a "great household."


Verse 4

Job 1:4 f. illustrates in particular the above-given general description of Job's piety and happiness by a picture of the usual life of himself and his family. Job's sons are all like the sons of a king, each of whom has his own house and possessions (2 Samuel 13:7; 2 Samuel 14:30). Job's children are apparently all unmarried, and live for a joyous life, each day a feast. "It is to be remembered, that we do not stand on the ground of mere history here. The idea shapes its material to its own ends" (Davidson).

Along with this joyous life goes the most scrupulous piety. Job continually unites with his children in sacrifice, to atone even for unintentional impiety, of which they may have been guilty. The sanctification preparatory to sacrifice would consist of ablutions, change of raiment, etc. (Genesis 35:2, Exodus 19:10; Exodus 19:14). The sacrifice offered is the pre-exilic sacrifice of atonement, viz. the burnt offering only; the LXX adds the sin offering, to conform Job's worship to post-exilic usage. The particular sin that Job fears is that his sons, when their hearts were loosed with wine, may have had blasphemous thoughts of God. Actual blasphemy was in ancient Israel punishable by death (1 Kings 21:13); but for Job, even blasphemous thoughts must be atoned for by sacrifice. The Volksbuch regards irreverence as the most to be dreaded of sins (Job 1:22, Job 2:10, Job 42:7). Job is so careful, that he makes atonement for unconscious and perhaps even non-existent sins. For "heart-speech," cf. Psalms 14:1.


Verse 5

Job 1:5. The above exposition follows RVm against RV text, accepting the translation "blaspheme" in preference to "renounce." AV, in virtual agreement with RVm, translates "curse." The Hebrew literally means "bless." It is suggested by Davidson and others that since partings were attended by blessing, to bless came to mean "to say good-bye, to renounce." If we translate "curse," "blaspheme" (Duhm, Peake) then we have to do with a euphemism which seems very natural in the writer of the Volksbuch.


Verses 6-12

Job 1:6-12. The disinterestedness of Job's piety is brought into question by the Satan in the council of heaven. We are now to see how misfortune may come absolutely unprovoked by sin. The sons of God, who come to present themselves before Yahweh, are the angels. They are referred to in Job 38:7 as witnesses of the creation. In Psalms 29:1 (see RVm) they appear as ministers of God's heavenly temple. Here they form the court and council of Yahweh. For a similar scene in heaven, cf. 1 Kings 22:19.

Amongst these sons of God appears one, who is known by the name of the Satan, or the Adversary. "The word Satan means one who opposes another in his purpose (Numbers 22:23; Numbers 22:32) or pretensions or claims (Zechariah 3:1, 1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23; 1 Kings 11:25), or generally" (Davidson). Here Satan appears as one of the angels, a minister of Yahweh, whose office it is to oppose men in their pretensions to a right standing before God. We find the same conception in Zechariah 3:1* (in 1 Chronicles 2:11* Satan, without the article, has become a proper name). The character of the Satan is that of an observer of men, whose affair it is to see whether they live well or ill, but who exceeds his office in so far as he betrays a spiteful interest in the discovery of their failures. This testing of Job is carried out with the greatest refinement and evident delight. He is not at all moved by Job's patience (Job 2:4). "To a certain extent the Satan is a personification of the spite of circumstance" (Duhm). No one can escape from him since all have faults unknown to themselves. Ancient Israel ascribed the blows of fate, otherwise inexplicable, to the machinations of some inimical power. The Satan is, like the angels in general, a relic of a poly-dæmonistic stage of religion. With the disappearance of polydæmonism before monotheism, the Satan has become a minister of the Divine Providence. But he is still somewhat of a free lance—even Yahweh has to ask where he has been (Job 1:7).

Yahweh calls the Satan's attention to the integrity of Job (Job 1:8). But the Satan cannot conceive of any man serving God without reward (Job 1:9), and complains that Yahweh has made a hedge round about him, as one makes about a valuable vineyard (Isaiah 5:5) to keep out marauders. If there had been the least gap in the hedge, the Satan would have found it out long ago. Let Yahweh touch his substance (Job 1:11) and Job will curse Him to His face. The Satan uses the form of an oath: lit. he will curse Thee, if not (may evil betake me).


Verse 12

Job 1:12. Yahweh gives permission to try Job, conceding the Satan's right to have the matter cleared up, though Himself knowing that the Adversary is wrong. The Satan having obtained this leave, loses no time before he acts upon it.


Verses 13-19

Job 1:13-19. Job's Misfortune.—The activity of the Satan is depicted, though he himself remains invisible. "Between Job 1:12 and Job 1:13 there is an interval, an ominous silence like that which precedes the storm. The poet has drawn aside the curtain to us, and we know what is impending. Job knows nothing . . . he does not know that he is being played for like a pawn. Suddenly the catastrophe overtakes him. Messenger after messenger, each taking up his tale of ruin before the other has concluded his, announces that all has been taken from him" (Davidson). The ideal character of the narrative should be observed. The catastrophe takes place on the day when the feast was in the eldest brother's house, i.e. the very day on which Job had just purified his children by sacrifice. Heaven and men alternate their strokes, which follow with ever-increasing severity. In each case one alone escapes to tell the tale.


Verses 14-19

Job 1:14-15. The First Stroke.—"The asses were feeding," a touch reflecting an absolute peace. The Sabeans are the Bedouin, Saba (1 Kings 10*) being S. Arabia.

Job 1:16. The second stroke.—The fire of God is the lightning, "to be sure lightning on the scale of a saga, since it destroys in a moment 7000 sheep and their shepherds" (Duhm).

Job 1:17. The third stroke.—The Chaldeans are the inhabitants of the Persian Gulf, who are not yet a great world-power. The division of the force, so as to attack on three sides at once, marks an organised raid. The camels might otherwise have escaped by their swiftness.

Job 1:18. The fourth stroke.—The wind was a "whirlwind of the south" (Isaiah 21:1), or from the desert. The "young men" includes of course Job's daughters, and the servants, all but the one who brings the tale.


Verses 20-22

Job 1:20-22. In the preceding section the narrative surged forward, depicting the unbridled rage of the Satan. Here on the contrary we have a beautiful picture of complete rest and resignation, and are taught how a truly pious man bears trials. Job rises: as a man of rank he had received the messengers sitting. He rends his mantle and shaves his head, making himself like a beggar or a slave in token of his humiliation. Then he abases himself to the ground in silent prayer, acknowledging his submission to the decree of God.

Job's words (Job 1:21) are not to God, but to man. "This sentence and the related Job 2:10 may well be described as the creed of all Oriental piety" (Duhm). Observe, however, that in the poem the attitude of resignation is not that of Job, but of the friends, especially Eliphaz (Job 5:8, Job 22:21). Note also that Job does exactly the opposite of what the Satan expected—he does not curse, but blesses God. The lesson of this chapter is that, as suffering is not always the result of sin, so in the case of a pious man it is not even a temptation to sin.

Job 1:22. The exact meaning of the second clause is uncertain—perhaps we should follow Syr, and translate "offered God no irreverence."

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Job 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/job-1.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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