I Do Not Understand the First Verse of the Bible

Published on 05/29/17


People often raise objections to theism in general or a point of theology in particular because they do not understand it. An atheist might say she cannot believe in a God who created a world so full of evil. An anti-trinitarian might say he cannot believe in the doctrine of the Trinity based on other statements claiming that God is one.

To be sure, age-old questions such as these are worth discussing. They are much bigger than our minds’ ability to comprehend, and they require considerable time to address fully in a satisfying way. But does the lack of a satisfying answer or a complete understanding of a concept require that we discard it from our beliefs? Are we only to believe what we fully understand?

The Claim of “In the Beginning”

The first proposition made in the Bible is as challenging to our understanding as it is simple to understand. Genesis 1:1 makes a straightforward claim that leaves many questions unanswered. It might be the most pregnant verse in the Bible, full of inferences, requirements, and expectations, while making essentially on affirmation: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” (1) Little is offered in the form of explanation, argumentation, or anticipation of the many questions that arise in the reader’s mind. It is simply a declaration that sets the stage for all that is to follow. A four hundred year old translation of a four thousand year old claim is the keystone to the Christian worldview, and one’s reading of the rest of the Bible is largely determined by how he views the very first verse.

A common folk definition of theology is faith seeking understanding, and there is certainly much about Genesis 1:1 we can understand. As the writer of Hebrews stated, “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” (2) We may not understand “how” the worlds were framed by the word of God, but we do understand by faith “that” they were framed by the word of God, and that this framing took placed when “God created.”

The ten words of Genesis 1:1 promote the theology of a personal God (Elohim, the subject) who created (bara, the verb) at some point in the past (beroshith, “in the beginning”) the known cosmos (hashamayim and haeretz, called “the heaven and the earth”), and who is referred to in both plural and singular language (3) simultaneously. These ten words also refute several beliefs, theories, and philosophies such as the denial of God’s existence (atheism), the belief in two gods (dualism) or many gods (polytheism), or that all is god (polytheism), or that all is god (pantheism), while also leaving no room for the theory that the cosmos is eternal (materialism), (4) or suggesting some sort of evolutionary process involved in creation (Darwinism, et. al.).

The Responses to Genesis 1:1

While Genesis 1:1 purports to have the answer to the question, “where did I come from,” it certainly does not claim to explain how this origin happened. If theists themselves confess that Genesis 1:1 does not answer every question then how much more so their atheist friends. For nearly two hundred years the popular view of Genesis 1:1ff. interprets it as anything but factual, much less scientific. Even Christian theologian Marcus Dods stated in 1854, “If any one is in search of accurate information regarding the age of this earth, or its relation to the sun, moon, and stars, or regarding the order in which plants and animals have appeared upon it, he is referred to recent text-books in astronomy, geology, and paleontology. No one for a moment dreams of referring a serious student of these subjects to the Bible as a source of information.” (5)

Others, however, see the amount of information given as sufficient. Leupold avers, “Man will go back in his thinking to the point where the origins of all things lie; he will desire to know how the world as well as all that is in it, and, most particularly, how he himself came into being. Here is the record, complete and satisfactory from every point of view, even if it does not perhaps answer every question that prying curiosity might raise. He, however, who will ponder sufficiently what is here actually offered, will find facts of such magnitude as to stifle unseemly curiosity as to secondary matters.” (6)

Both the theistic worldview and the atheistic worldview hold that an unusual event catalyzed the existence of the universe. (7) For the theist, the unusual event was God creating life with the words, “Let there be…” For the atheist, the unusual event is often termed a “big bang,” wherein a sudden explosion, presumably caused by nothing, resulted in the universe and all that is within it. Both theists and atheists believe there was a time when people did not exist, and a beginning to life as we know it. And both theists and atheists claim humility as the correlating characteristic of their positions, and hubris as the flaw in their opponent’s view. (8)

The atheist may very well admit (and often does), that he himself does not have the answer to every question about “the beginning.” But the one thing of which he is certain is that the answer is not found in the words of Genesis 1:1, and, therefore, other explanations must be given. For the theist, Genesis 1:1 is the answer, and all questions surrounding the origin of the universe are referred back to those opening words of the Scriptures. The theist is confident in the truth of “In the beginning, God created,” though he too is left with many questions he cannot answer.


As a theist I believe the claim made by Genesis 1:1, though there is plenty about it I do not understand. I do not understand how God has no beginning, the five year old boy in me still wondering, “Who made God?” I do not understand why God decided to create at all, and when He did, and how He did. I do not understand God creating the world knowing all the evil that would taint His creation, and the problem of suffering. And I do not have an answer to every question my skeptic, atheist, and doubting Christian friends have for me in relation to Genesis 1:1. I hardly understand the verse myself. But if I am going to believe only the parts of the Bible that I understand, I am not going to get past the first verse.

(1) This is the wording of the venerable King James Version of 1611. The earlier Tyndale translation approached the nouns in an anarthrous fashion (“created heaven and earth”) while many modern English translations give a plural rendering of the first noun, “the heavens” (cf. RSV, NAS, et. al.).

(2) Cf. Hebrews 11:3

(3) The word “God” in Genesis 1:1 is a plural, not a dual or a singular, while the verb “created” is in the singular number, not plural.

(4) “It is correct to say that the verb bara , “create,” contains the idea of both complete effortlessness, and creatio ex nihilo , since it is never connected with any statement of the material.” Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, Revised Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), p. 49.

(5) Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1854), p. 1.

(6) H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis , Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), p. 35.

(7) Biblically speaking the cosmos is presented as more of a bi-verse than a universe.

(8) “Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man will all his noble qualities… still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man , as quoted in Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction_ (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2011), p. 372.

How the Book of Joel was Preserved

Published on 04/23/16

The doctrine of preservation falls within the issue of authority. If God’s word has been imperfectly preserved to any degree, it is lacking that much in authority. Contrary to certain men’s opinions, the Bible does teach both the fact and means of its own preservation.

The entire ministry of the Old Testament (OT) prophet was based upon the authority of the word of God. The book of the prophet Joel opens with an introduction that functions as a summation of how the Hebrew Scriptures were preserved for subsequent generations. This section includes the fact of inspiration and the role and responsibility of the nation Israel in preservation.

“The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1). Joel opens with a phrase that occurs five other times in the OT (1). The phrase contextualizes the author’s respective book within the OT canon. All of the Tanak is the word of Jehovah; this book is the word of Jehovah which to Joel.

The phrase “the word of the LORD which came” employs two very common Hebrew words. The first is dabar, the noun which corresponds to the Greek logos and which signifies not an abstract idea or concept, but a word, expression, or matter. It first occurs in Genesis 11:1, where it is translated “speech.”

The second word is hayah, which is the Hebrew form of the “to be” verb. This book, then, is the word of Jehovah which was (given or come) to Joel. That Joel uses such a general word in referring to the inspiration of his book shows the miraculous nature of verbal, plenary inspiration, and how the process cannot be perfectly understood by the finite mind of man. Despite all the theories seeking to dissect how inspiration took place, the Bible believer must ultimately receive the fact of it by faith.

Joel, like all of the OT prophets, never seeks to prove the inspiration of his book to the reader. He simply declares his writing to be “the word of the LORD.”

“Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” (Joel 1:2). Joel begins his message with the imperative “hear this”. The demonstrative pronoun “this” ultimately refers to the entire book of Joel, which the prophet no doubt delivered as a series of sermons. The nation of Israel, beginning with the elders, was responsible to hear, that is, give ear, to the word of God. This would of course necessitate the declaring of the word by the prophet.

The phrase, “in your days, or even in the days of your fathers,” is a literary device Joel uses to draw his listeners’ attention back in history. Joel is challenging his listeners to recall the darkest day they have in their memories or have ever heard of, and to realize that it cannot compare to the day of the LORD which is to come.

“Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” (Joel 1:3). Joel follows up the first command to hear with a second command to tell. This is an intensive (2) imperative from sahfar, used in the sense of accurate recounting. From this Hebrew root comes the word “book”. (3) The prophet told the Jews to “book it.” Joel’s use of this verb was no doubt instruction to his listeners to write down his words to insure their accurate transmission to subsequent generations.

The word order is “of it to your children tell, and your children, and their children the generation after.” This is another expansive statement in Joel for literary purposes. Joel’s point is that the nation of Israel had the responsibility to hear his inspired words and to insure that the next generations would have these words. Quite simply, that is how we possess in our hands today the book of Joel, and by extension, the entire canon of the Hebrew Scriptures.

(1) Cf. Jeremiah 14:1, 47:1, 49:34, Hosea 1:1, and Micah 1:1

(2) This is the Piel stem, which signifies intensified action.

(3) The NT book of Matthew begins with the word “book.”

_Ne Cede Malis_ Brief Observations on the Bronx Flag

Published on 05/12/15

Bronx Flag

Many Bronx residents are not surprised to learn that the northernmost borough of NYC has its own flag, but few are familiar with its history, and perhaps even fewer are aware of the spiritual message and Biblical parallels that can be appreciated from it.

As can be seen in the picture above, the Bronx flag has three horizontal bands: orange, white, and blue, which parallel the Dutch flag.(1) Apparently, the flag was adapted by the Bronx officially in 1912. The colors were chosen to honor the Dutch heritage of NYC. The image in the center is the Bronck family arms in honor of Jonas Bronck. The Bronck family arms is a shield on which there is a picture of the face of the sun and sun rays rising from the sea, which are supposed to signify peace, liberty, and commerce. Atop the shield is a bald eagle, the national emblem of the USA, facing eastward as a symbol of the hope of the New World while acknowledging the heritage of the Old World. The shield is surrounded by a laurel wreath which bespeaks of honor and fame.(2)

One of the most interesting aspects of the flag is the motto of the Bronx borough which appears at the bottom: Ne Cede Malis, a Latin phrase which means, “Yield not to evil.” It is unclear to this author how or why exactly this phrase was chosen to be the Bronx motto, but, regardless, the motto is a truth well-worth obeying and is based on a concept that runs throughout all of Scripture.

Evil is first mentioned in Genesis chapter two where the LORD God admonishes the man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.(3) From the beginning of creation, man was not to yield to evil, and because of his failure to practice this truth mankind has been plunged into spiritual darkness and ruin for six thousand years.

The book of Genesis (and of course the entire Biblical narrative) continues this record of the successes and failures of various individuals resisting evil in its numerous forms. Some of the patriarchs yield to evil at various points (Abraham in his relation to his wife Sarah, Jacob in his relation to his brother Esau), while others, such as Joseph, stand tall as all time great examples of faithful living under the duress of temptation.(4)

The kings of Israel provide numerous case studies of the principle of Ne Cede Malis. Though often David’s failures to resist evil are what come to people’s minds when they think of him, the sweet psalmist of Israel nonetheless did not yield to temptation on numerous instances. One notable example would be the event recorded in I Samuel 26:8-11. Here, David has the opportunity to take Saul’s life from him at an opportune moment, but he resists the temptation for revenge, and instead leaves the matter in God’s hand.(5)

Furthermore, David most likely penned Psalm one, the locus classicus in Scripture on the blessed life of the one who yields not to evil. The ungodly counsel, the sinful way, and the scornful seat are all evils to be avoided if a man is intent on procuring a happy life. David knew this first hand and wrote to admonish others to follow his example.

One of the biblical passages that sounds most like a direct inspiration for Ne Cede Malis is Proverbs 1:10-19.(6) Here, King Solomon gives his son principles for not yielding to the many evils that surrounded him. Prerequisites to escaping temptation and not yielding to evil include fearing God (1:7) and honoring your parents (1:8-9). The temptations include lust and deception (1:11-12) as well as covetousness and the love of money (1:13-19). The path of escaping murder and the love of money involves taking a different path through God-honoring discipline and self-restraint (1:15).

More wise counsel from Solomon that coincides with the theme of Ne Cede Malis is found in Proverbs 7:1-27. Herein, Solomon details the methodology of the strange woman, perhaps from personal experience(7), and in graphic detail he illustrates the consequences of yielding to her evils. The characteristics of the strange woman are flattering words (7:5), being out at night (7:9)(8), wearing harlot’s attire (7:10), subtlety (7:10), loudness (7:11), stubbornness (7:11), constantly seeking to be out and about (7:11-12), impudence (7:13), hypocrisy and religious talk (7:14), materialism (7:16-17), cheating (7:18-19), fair speech (7:21), and an ulterior motive (7:21).

Yielding to the evils of the strange woman results in having one’s lack of discernment exposed (7:7), looking foolish (7:22), losing one’s life (7:23), going astray (7:25), being wounded and slain (7:26), and ending up in hell (7:27).

Other admonitions in Proverbs that express the sentiment of Ne Cede Malis are “depart from evil” (3:7), “go not in the way of evil men” (4:14), “remove thy foot from evil” (4:27), “it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil” (13:19), “a wise man feareth, and departeth from evil” (14:16), “by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil” (16:16), “the highway of the upright is to depart from evil” (16:17), “an ungodly man diggeth up evil” (16:27), “a prudent man forseeth the evil and hideth himself” (22:3 and 27:12), “be not thou envious against evil men” (24:1), among other such sayings.

In much the same way as the OT, the NT is filled with the concept of Ne Cede Malis. The Lord’s model prayer contains the plea that God “deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13). Christ admonished His own disciples to, “watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). He averred that, “when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34).

The Apostle Paul admonished church members to “abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9), to “be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), and to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).

The Apostle James told his readers to “resist the devil” (James 4:7), for certainly to stand against evil involves resisting the evil one himself. The Apostle Peter gave a similar exhortation in I Peter 5:8-9.

One potentially curious passage is Matthew 5:39, which perhaps could seem to contradict the sentiment of Ne Cede Malis. In context, the Lord is clearly teaching that the disciple of Christ is not to take matters of revenge, or of any expression of self-will, into his own hands. The evil not to be resisted in Matthew 5:39 is not the evil of Satan or the way of the world, but of personal offense and abuse brought about through one’s being a disciple of Christ.(5)

Imagine if residents of the Bronx began living in a way that exemplified the teaching of the Bronx motto, Ne Cede Malis. Violence and bloodshed would be seen as evils to be resisted. Temptation to immorality would be resisted. Thievery, sorcery i.e. drug abuse, drunkenness, idolatry and a whole host of other vices that undermine the moral character of our borough would be avoided.

At Commonwealth Community Baptist Church, we exhort our members and our community to follow the admonition of our motto here in the Bronx. Yield not to evil. Ne Cede Malis.

May God help us not to yield to evil, and may He be glorified.


(1) This is referred to as “the Prinsenvlag.”

(2) Much of this information is from Wikipedia, etc.

(3) Cf. Genesis 2:17

(4) Genesis 39:8 provides a great example of not yielding to temptation wherein it is said of Joseph, “but he refused,” when pressed upon by Potipher’s wife to engage in sin.

(5) Commenting on Matthew 5:39, Matthew Henry observes, “Three things our Saviour specifies, to show that Christians must patiently yield to those who bear hard upon them, rather than contend: and these include others. (1) A blow on the cheek, which is an injury to me in my body… (2) The loss of a coat, which is a wrong to me in my estate… (3) The going a mile by constraint, which is a wrong to me in my liberty.” Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vo. 5 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991 reprint), pp. 52-53.

Immutability and Identity, Part Three

Published on 04/14/15

The Bible makes several statements about the nature of man, what is sometimes termed the doctrine of anthropology. For instance, Isaiah 40:6-7 says, “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.”

And Psalm 103:13-16 says, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”

Human nature is in stark contrast to the character of God. This is true whether we speak of one who knows the Lord, such as Job, or whether we speak of the world at large. The world we live in, by and large, has an identity crisis. Mankind, for the most part, does not know who mankind is. Man is fickle. Man is malleable. Man is subject to change. How far will man go? Do men realize how far they have gone?

I want to read to you a fascinating quotation that I think illustrates what I am trying to say. It is found in the classic psychology textbook, Theories of Personality, by Richard M. Ryckman. In the introductory section to part two, Psychoanalytic and Neoanlytic Perspectives, Mr. Ryckman makes the following observation:

“Only a few people in human history have generated work so creative and provocative that it shapes the course of human values, thought, and behavior. Copernicus, the eminent 16th-century Polish astronomer, was one such individual; his discovery that the Earth was not the center of the universe forced us to reexamine our beliefs about our own omnipotence and omniscience. Darwin, the English naturalist of the 19th century, was another; his work forced us to realize that we too are part of the natural world and are governed to some extent by our biology. Sigmund Freud belongs in this elite company, because he compelled us to acknowledge that we are often driven to act impulsively and irrationally by unconscious conflicts of a sexual and aggressive nature.” (1)

So we follow the progression of thought expressed in the above quotation, and we find in fact a regression, or perhaps transgression, away from the divine revelation toward human reason. The essence of the Freudian viewpoint is: “there is nothing special about one’s actions.” That which man does, whatever he does, is the impulse of the subconscious, and so nothing is especially right or especially wrong, at least not as commonly understood by definitions of words such as “righteousness” or “wickedness.”

However, the only reason the Freudian viewpoint was able to be popularized was because it was built upon the Darwinian viewpoint. The essence of the Darwinian viewpoint is: “there is nothing special about man, that is to say, about humans.” Man is part of the animal kingdom, and while more advanced than other species, he is not truly special, at least not as commonly understood by such phrases as, “created in the image of God.”

However, the only reason the Darwinian viewpoint was able to be popularized was because it was built upon the Copernicun viewpoint. The essence of the Coperinicun viewpoint is: “there is nothing special about earth.” Earth is part of the greater cosmos, not occupying any special place in the so-called universe. While Earth is apparently uniquely habitable and admittedly beautiful, it cannot be thought of as the centerpiece of the heavens or in any way special in its physical relationship to the rest of creation.

What does any of this mean? It illustrates that man has lost his identity. Whether it is the philosophy of Copernicus, Darwin, or Freud, or of public opinion, pop culture, and humanistic religion, mankind has turned from revelation and lost the truth of his own identity. He does not truly know who he is, and so he does not know how he then should live. Therefore, people are left to do whatever is right to them, whatever is right in their own eyes. And so, when you go to visit the 9/11 memorial in New York City, to view the names of the nearly three thousand souls who were murdered on September 11, 2001, you find the names of a couple women who, next to their names stands the phrase, “and her unborn child.” That unborn child is memorialized because it is viewed, in this case, as a victim. And yet how many unborn children in America are not thought of as victims and not memorialized? Everything is completely relative. Anything can change. The world has cast off unchanging, rock-solid, immutable truth in exchange for handfuls of sand. The world does not know what to believe, and it will follow itself, like a dog chasing its tail in circles, rather than turn to the One of Whom it is said in Revelation 21:5-8:

“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

It is easy to overlook the man Job after chapter two of his book. We know the short introductory chapters. And we know the short concluding chapters. But how well do we know the long, long middle? Job lost his identity for a while; longer than we may be comfortable admitting. If Job had a Twitter account, and we were following his daily tweets, many no doubt would conclude that Job was lost.

But what if you had to visit ten graves? What if you lost all you had, all you had worked for, all you had become? What if the quality of life you take for granted were stripped from you in an instant? What if God told Satan about you? What if God allowed Himself, as it says in Job 2:3, to be moved by Satan against you, to destroy you without cause? What if your few friends, for whatever reason, did nothing to comfort, but in their words of encouragement, stuck rusty knives in your open wounds? And what if God did not answer? What if he let you go from bad to worse? How would your identity hold up? Do you want the opportunity to try to do better than Job did?

At the conclusion of the book, Job is blessed greatly, but he is a different person than the man we read of in chapter one. He is not described as he was once described.

We the readers of the book of Job never get a satisfactory ending because the man Job never gets a satisfying answer. We are told little about him at the end because the book of Job is not about Job, anymore than your testimony is really about you. If we focus more on people than on God, we will be dissatisfied. And that is true even when we study the history of God’s people, for the history of God’s people is more about God than about the people. The book of Job is somewhat about a man who was changed permanently, but it is more about a God Who changes never. Job never got an explanation to the changes that God allowed. But which would he rather have had: an explanation? Or God?

My counsel is that you not look for an explanation for the changes that happen in your life. Only look to the unchanging God, and to His unchanging truth.

As I said at the beginning, your family could change. Your church could change. Your country could change.

Far be it from me to in any way be the least bit disparaging to John the Baptist. That hesitation is part of the reason why I hold to the position I do regarding his statement in Matthew 11:3. But John was not immortal, only truth is. And so, whether he doubted for a moment or not, I am reminded that there is a blessing for me and for you, if, by the grace of God, we are not offended in the Lord. And do not think that that could never happen to you. We know what happens to those who swear that they will never deny the Lord.

Now that my introduction is concluded, I can get to my message. Fortunately for you, my message is one sentence:

The only hope we have in this life, is to find our identity in relation to the immutable God of heaven.

Immutability and Identity.


(1) Richard M. Ryckman, Theories of Personality, 9th Edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage, 2008), p. 27

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.