Immutability and Identity, Part Two

Published on 04/08/15

Notice Job 3:11-16, particularly verse 16. Here the man Job is in the midst of cursing the day he was born. He is wishing that he would have been born dead. He asks why his life on earth could not have ended on the day it began. And by the time he gets to verse sixteen, he is wishing that he would have been as “an hidden untimely birth.” Job is requesting that there would have been a concealed, secret event that would have caused him to have been delivered at a stage of development which would have been too early for him to survive. As many rabbinic and Christian commentators have pointed out, this is likely the earliest reference to abortion in the Bible. Some translations, such as the popular Japanese version, have the word for “aborted” right in the text. Other translations handle it as “miscarriage.” And this all occurs within Job’s first discourse in the book that bears his name, where 3:1 says that Job “cursed his day.”

The day in view is obviously the day Job was born. His birthday is the object of his cursing. But is “the day” the ultimate recipient of Job’s cursing? Is the day more responsible for Job’s life than the physician or midwife who saw to his safe delivery? No. But are the physician or the midwife more responsible than the father and the mother of Job, who brought him forth as their son? No. But are Job’s father and mother the ones ultimately responsible for Job having been born? Is he only cursing his parents, because the responsibility of birth stops with them? Or is there a higher authority, who saw to it, through unique providence, that a certain child would be born on a certain day, and would live to become the man who we read of in the book of Job? And so, who ultimately is the object of Job’s cursing that we read of in the third chapter before us? Who is Job cursing?

We can trace cursing through the book of Job. In Job 1:5, Job is concerned that his sons might have cursed God. In 1:11, Satan says that if Job is touched he will curse God to His face. In 2:9, Job’s wife makes the infamous statement, “Curse God, and die.” And then we have Job cursing in 3:1.

Now a few commentators have tried to sanitize this. They have tried to make it not sound so bad. That is a difficult task. Others have come across sounding something like the prodigal son’s elder brother, implying that they would never have acted like this because they are Christians. Well, I may be entirely mistaken, but nevertheless my position is to let the text say what the text says, and just to deal with it even tough it is not pretty.

So who was this man who cursed God and desired death? If I were to say to you, “I know someone who curses God and who is for the death of a newborn child, and I have the documentation,” what opinion of that person would you have? Who is this person in Job chapter three anyway?

This person in Job chapter three is the same person in Job chapter one.

Many of us could quote verbatim or at least paraphrase closely from memory the words of Job 1:1. Look at those words for a moment. As I hinted at earlier, I believe Job was the first book of the Bible to be inscripturated. If that is so, that would make these words in 1:1 (not the English words but the Hebrew words), the very first God-breathed words to man.

As I mentioned before, the book of Job is a matchless commentary, a divine commentary, on anthropology, the doctrine of man. In fact, the first word of the Hebrew text of the book of Job is “man.” The typical Hebrew structure of word order is that the verb precedes the noun, i.e. “was man” as opposed to “man was.” It may be that the book of Job departs from the usual Hebrew sentence structure in its opening words in order to emphasize that the reader is entering into the ultimate book about man. Job is the divine commentary on what man can expect to find out about man. It is a study in human nature.

We do not have time to study the historicity of the man Job, nor the geography of the land of Uz, nor the fascinating etymology of his name. We do, however, want to look for a moment at the description of his identity found in Job 1:1.

Job is described as perfect and upright, one that feared God and eschewed evil. The word “perfect” is the Hebrew adjective tam. A possible and popular interpretation of this word in Job 1:1 is that of blamelessness. Job was blameless so far as he or his fellow man could tell, for none of his friends, as they struggled in vain to uphold their allegiance to the retribution principle, could ever name an instance where he was to be blamed.

But “blameless” may not be the way one should understand the word “perfect” here. It may be that Job is being identified here as a perfect man, that is, as a supreme specimen, a perfect example of man at his best and most complete. There was nothing lacking in the life of the man Job. He was as good as man gets, the ideal man, the perfect. One commentator observed concerning this Hebrew expression:

“The Hebrew idea of perfection referred to physical and mental health, soundness, completeness, entirety, “roundness.” A perfect man was comparable to a “finished product.” Job was not only well rounded, self-possessed, and balanced, he was also well adapted to his social environment, upright (yasher), by practicing straightforwardness, and justice in his dealings with his fellow men. Integrity and uprightness are complementary ideas (See Pss. 25:21; 37:37; Prov. 29:10). The narrator proves to be a master of psychology. He shows that Job had a “well-integrated personality” (to use the modern expression), as evidenced by a sense of social integrity. But he goes further than modern psychologists when he indicates in another double expression the secret spring of that mental equilibrium: Job feared God, and eschewed evil.” (1)

Another key passage that may aid us in our understanding of the Hebrew adjective tam is Genesis 25:27, where it is used to describe Jacob as “a plain man.” The passage contrasts Jacob with his unstable and impetuous brother Esau. As one commentator observes, “the two characters are utter opposites, as the two nations will eventually be. Plain or (RSV) quiet represents the Hebrew tam which has a suggestion of ‘sound’ or ‘solid,’ the level-headed quality that made Jacob, at his best, toughly dependable, and at his worst a formidably cool opponent.” (2) The word “plain” in the AV represents a pun, I believe, providing a contrast with Esau’s word “field,” while giving insight into the disposition of Jacob. This is the archaic use of the word “plain,” meaning, “having not visible elevation or depression; flat; level.” The pun is that it refers both to Jacob’s demeanor as well as his geographic location. Why Genesis 25:27 is so significant to understanding Job 1:1 is that it shows that tam does not necessarily need to be understood as “blameless,” for that description certainly does not fit Jacob, but rather, the word should be understood with the sense of completeness and soundness, i.e. perfect.

And let me briefly state that the AV never translates tam as “blameless,” whereas all of the modern translations which I checked do translate it as “blameless.”

Getting back to the word tam, if this Hebrew understanding of “perfect” is correct for Job 1:1, then it may not only shed light upon what the narrator, the LORD, and Job mean when they refer to him with this adjective, but it may also give an early insight into the very heart and crux of Job’s problem: Job is perfect man, but he is not perfect God-man. He is man, within and without, complete with the very nature of original man, Adam. Job is the best man, and so, when the perfect man is cut open, all that he is spills out. This is how we get from Job 1:1 to Job 3:16. This is where Job’s pride, and anger, and self-centeredness come from for the next forty chapters. It took a lot to get it out of Job, but it finally came. All of Job chapter three comes out of perfect man. Being called “perfect man” is not necessarily a compliment; it is, in fact, the problem. And apart from the perfect God-man, the perfect man is corrupt, lacking in true righteousness.

So which is the real man; the Job of 1:1 or the Job of 3:16? Which is his true identity? What can cause a man to go through such a deep disorientation? Job is not the only example of this phenomenon in the Bible. We in Scripture our “heroes of the faith” act mad, deny that they even know the Lord, offer their wives to pagan kings, and act in a variety of ways that appear incongruous with who we believe them to be. These men change before our eyes. In these moments their identities changed, at least to those of us observing them. Like the prodigal, they are with the father one day, and the next they are amongst the swine in their fields. And do any of us, like the prodigal’s older brother, look at these men and think that we would never do something like that, because these many years we do serve the father, neither transgressed we at any time his commandment?

It is these thoughts that we will conclude with in part three.

(1) Samuel Terrien, “The Book of Job,” The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 3) New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), p. 909.

(2) Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p. 152.


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