“If not, you listen to me; be silent and I will teach you wisdom (Job 33:33).” I chose this verse because it strikes me as fairly contradictory to my philosophy as an educator and the best practices that I try to employ in my work. I want my learners to be active participants in everything that we do in a teaching scenario, and strive to ensure that they aren’t just passively receiving information. Rather, I work to create learning scenarios and environments wherein they have the chance to speak, to explore, and ultimately to synthesize information in order to determine how it relates to their own lives. None of that can happen if I enter into the educational context with the assumption that I’m the source of wisdom and they’re merely recipients. We’re in this together, and that’s the only way that I truly know education to be authentic.
“Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite of the family of Ram became angry; he became angry with Job because he thought himself [more] righteous than God (Job 32:2).” It’s easy to get annoyed with people who we perceive to be self-righteous, and I’d be beyond less than honest if I were to say that I’m someone who doesn’t fall into that category. I have certain people in my life who abjectly drive me crazy with their self-righteousness, which often takes the form of acting ‘holier than thou.’ So I relate to Elihu in that sense. But when looking at the case of Job in the larger context, it does seem like kicking a guy while he’s down. On top of everything else that Job has suffered, he has to deal with his friend being pissed at him for his attitude?
Readers, my apologies. This is the first time that I’ve truly had a multi-day slack off since starting this project. I have a pretty good excuse – I had surgery (everything’s fine!) last week, and particularly during the initial recovery, was way too tired/achy/out of it to focus on my blog of all things. So I missed several days, but now that I’m feeling good enough to call myself back in action, I’m eager to catch up. So here’s the plan: I’m going to do a brief quote from each one, and then kick off full steam ahead tomorrow. Thanks for bearing with me!
Despite everything that has happened to him, and all the angst of the previous speeches, Job still ultimately refuses to curse God. “For as long as my soul is within me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will speak no injustice and my tongue will utter no deceit (Job 27:3-4).” This quote definitely seems like one for the books, one to live by. It’s like a mantra of sorts, a guideline for life, saying that no matter what, he’ll be true to his values and who he is.
“Now whence does wisdom come, and where is the place of understanding (Job 28:20)?” Job definitely speaks with wisdom, and so do many people in my life in particular and in the world as a whole, but the concept is extremely amorphous. It’s not just about being intelligent or worldly or bookish or some combination of the above, but is an immeasurable quality that I don’t think we can fully understand. “I was a father to the needy, and a cause that I did not know, I would investigate (Job 29:16).” We do have some wisdom qualities demonstrated here. Job recognizes when there’s something important that he doesn’t know about, and takes tangible steps to rectify those gaps. That takes wisdom, as I would define it at least.
“For I hoped for good and evil came, and I looked forward to light and pitch darkness came (Job 30:26).” This verse is just depressing. It’s awful to expect the best and to truly hope for it and then to get the worst. It seems like good intentions should pay off at least some of the time, and yet they don’t for Job, and for so many other well deserving people.
“If I consumed its strength without money, and I caused pain to its owner, instead of wheat, thistles shall emerge, and instead of barley, noisome weeds. Job’s words are ended (Job 31:39-40).” This seems like an odd place to pause on. It’s not the end of the book, so at the most it’s the end of this particular speech. So why note it, unlike with the ends of any of the other epic soliloquies given in this book? And why end with this particular verse, about how if things aren’t done correctly, the potential bounty and beauty can become worthless in the end?
“How have you helped the powerless, saved the one who has no strength in his arm (Job 26:2)?” This question from Job is aggressive in its delivery, and strikes me as almost accusatory. That could just be how I’m reading into it, because it’s something that I think about, albiet not enough. I know, without being too self congratulatory, that I spend a lot of time doing good. I work for a nonprofit, educate the next generation, and do my best to fulfill my mission in life of hopefully bringing light to others as I meet them on their Jewish journeys. But sometimes, I think about how much I’m not doing on any given day. How I’m not spending my weekends volunteering, or cleaning up the community, or even necessarily actively making myself more aware of all of the issues facing the world outside of my own bubble. But I want to do enough so that the next time I encounter this question, I can have a more confident answer.
“Have His troops a number, and on whom does His light not shine (Job 25:3)?” Bildad the Shuhite is once again the speaker here, and he’s referencing God as a being with infinite power and capacity. This is demonstrated in the two examples that he gives to represent that infiniteness. The first is God’s troops, the individuals who fight (physically or metaphorically) to carry out His will. The second is both a compliment and a converse to that, representing all people and places in some way, because according to this philosophy there’s no one who God doesn’t touch in some capacity. So in some way or another, we’re all in this, and it’s up to us to recognize it and honor it.
“He feeds the barren woman who will not bear, but he does not adorn the widow (Job 24:21).” A sentence like this shows that for many of us, it seems like God’s presence, and the presence of blessings in our lives, are almost arbitrary. In any moment, we can easily see how blessed others around us are – or we perceive them to be – but it’s much harder to recognize the blessings in our own lives. It can seem unfair when we don’t experience the blessings that we’re hoping for, in the way that we want. So I want to live as though everything is a blessing, even if it’s one that I don’t understand in the moment.
“Behold, I go to the east and He is not here, and to the west and I perceive Him not. In the north, when He made it I do not see; He wraps up the south and I cannot see (Job 23:9).” While in this case Job is not successful in his pursuit of God, what I like about it is that he went about actively searching for Him. So many of us sit still, waiting for things to find us or to happen to us. It’s easy to justify this methodology of leaving things up to ‘fate.’ But I firmly believe that we make our own fate, and it’s up to us to search in every physical/proverbial direction in order to find what we’re looking for. If something is important enough, we have to turn over every stone, look behind every corner, and journey wherever we need to in order to reach our goals. December has officially started, so people are starting to think in terms of resolutions – so maybe this year, let’s each pick one that matters that much to us.
“Can anyone teach knowledge for God? But He judges high-handedly (Job 21:22).” As an educator, when I saw this sentence it made me think about the challenge of educating for spirituality and emotion, as well as knowledge. When the content itself is the only thing that matters, there’s a tangible, clear-cut way to measure success in education. But when, like I do, one is also committed to conveying an emotion, and is invested in developing a relationship between the learner and the material, things are much harder. So how do we teach for things that are beyond just knowledge, and that go deep to the core of our learners?
“Does a man benefit God when he teaches them wisdom (Job 22:2)?” This question is much easier to answer. I believe that education is holy work. Therefore, when an educator conducts his or her work, they’re somehow partnering with God to create the spark of learning, excitement, and hopefully love, that their learners experience.
Zophar the Naamathite is the speaker in this chapter. He describes the lot in life of a person who is truly wicked. “Do you know this from time immemorial, since man was placed on the earth, that the triumph of the wicked is short, and the joy of the flatterers is but a moment (Job 20:4-5)?” It’s comforting to think about this idea, that the tenure of any wicked person is really only fleeting, and that they won’t triumph in the end. Otherwise, it can be completely overwhelming to deal with the world as it is today. I’d much prefer to be a glass half full kind of person, and to see an eventual turning of events that skew in favor of good people.
Job responds to his friends, who have been speaking for the last few chapters. His opening line is, “How long will you grieve my soul and crush me with words (Job 19:2)?” All this verse made me think about is how futile it can sometimes be to attempt to comfort someone. We can have the best of intentions, but if someone isn’t in a place to hear what you’re trying to say, or if you just can’t relate and end up putting your foot in your mouth, things can totally backfire. I never want to inadvertently hurt someone, particularly someone who I care enough about to try and comfort. So what could Job’s friends have done differently? None of them are being targeted and cursed, so how could they relate? Is there anything we can do to truly make another person’s pain somehow better?