The Justice of God and the Story of Job

Job is one of the most ancient pieces of literature known to humanity and is an outstanding example of what is known as the “wisdom literature” of the ancient world, to which the books of the Proverbs and the Psalms found also in the Bible belong too.  The story of the “suffering of the righteous” and attempting to understand why this should be so in a universe where right and justice are surely preferred and God is conceived of as “just”, is found in many cultures and some view the biblical version of the story as an appropriation, with suitable changes to fit the Hebrew view of God, of the “Babylonian Job” story.  That said, whatever way you want to conceive of the story, it is a probing examination of the human condition and the relationship of humanity to God.

It is particularly interesting that it was included in the canon of the Hebrews because the writer pushes questioning the moral rectitude of God as far as is possible (some would say beyond what is possible!).  This is mitigated by proper respect for the literary genre, which helps us to understand we need to consider it within the content of the Hebrew scriptures as a whole, where the concept of the justice of God of the Hebrews is foundational and well-worked out.

The Hebrew name for God tells us a lot about how the ancient Hebrews thought of God and helps us interpret Job, particularly when God speaks for himself in the great speeches “answering” Job’s complaints.  The name is known in theological circles as “the sacred tetragrammaton” – the Hebrew consonants YHWH.  Vowels were added for phonetic reasons, giving the possible renderings YaHWeH or JeHoVaH (‘J/V’ substituted for ‘Y/W’ for phonetic reasons in the Latin alphabet).  Owing to the intractable argument over which is the “proper” pronunciation and a good deal of superstition and fear of the ancient translators mispronouncing or misspelling it, thus incurring the wrath of the Almighty, it is rendered “LORD” in many English versions (copied in many other languages) and similarly kurios = “Lord” in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the OT.  All these designations linguistically and semantically imply God is “the ruler and owner of all things” in contrast to the then dominant contemporary pagan view of “the gods” as often subject to, rather than the origin of, the universal order.

This essay does a surprisingly good job at this, as it was a short undergraduate essay (2300 words) and I answered it with a spiritual flourish, rather than write a dry theological tome characteristic of too much Old Testament studies.

A PDF is found here.

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