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?
Today’s speaker is Bildad the Shuhite. He speaks about wicked individuals, and among other things, he says, “His remembrance shall be lost from the earth, and he has no name in the street (Job 18:17).” In Hebrew, and in the Jewish tradition, there’s no real word for history. The modern word used is historia, which obviously comes from the English/Latin. Instead, traditional Hebrew uses the word memory and its variations. Memory is very important in our tradition, and it’s something that we live out in our lifecycle events, holidays, and throughout the year. So it makes sense that one of the biggest curses that can fall on someone is having their memory be lost. When that happens, it can seem like a life was meaningless, as if the person never existed. This weekend at synagogue, the announcement was made that this week is the yartzeit (death anniversary) of one of my great-grandfathers. Even though I didn’t know him, it’s special to have the occasion to mark his memory, and to honor him in that way. Everyone deserves at least that much from their families.
“Yet the righteous holds on his way, and the one whose hands are clean grows stronger and stronger (Job 17:9).” I like how this verse tells us that someone innocent, with proverbial clean hands, will grow stronger over time. Each of our experiences adds to our development as people, and just as bad choices often lead to subsequent bad ones, I truly believe that strength begets strength. So an innocent person who benefits will continue to do so in each stage of life. It’s kind of like the real-life application of ‘you are what you eat’ – if we behave cleanly and strongly, that’s the kind of people we will be.
Another double day – sorry squad!
We’re starting with a profound, and timely question. “To debate over a matter from which he derives no benefit and words in which there is no avail (Job 15:3)?” The question, in context, is asked by our buddy Eliphaz the Temanite, but I’m thinking of it in the context of Thanksgiving. I’m lucky enough to be incredibly close with my family, and while we all get along very well, there are still some topics that inevitably lead to controversy, particularly when the extended family comes together. So given that tomorrow, everyone will be gathering for Thanksgiving, I love that this question calls out the kinds of debates that families stereotypically have around holiday celebrations. There’s usually not even a potentially positive outcome from these kinds of arguments, and no one benefits. So why bother at all, instead of just enjoying the day?
Job responds to Eliphaz in the next chapter. “Is there an end to words of wind? Or what will bring clarity to you that you should answer (Job 16:3)?” This holiday, let’s all commit to not speaking without thought or need. Let’s be intentional, and only bring joy and gratitude with our words.
“Man, born of woman, short of days and full of fear (Job 14:1).” I’m interested that in this verse, man is referred to in terms of his relation to woman. Lately, particularly on social media, there are sometimes posts cautioning men against sexual harassment and assault by reminding them that every woman is someone’s wife/daughter/sister/mother. And then, someone else tends to make a clarification: every woman is someone, and that’s enough. Women shouldn’t only be judged as legitimate and worthy in relation to their roles in the lives of others, but as whole, real people all by themselves. So how does it work now that it’s the inverse in this verse? All men are literally, physically born of women, so shouldn’t they be described in relation to us?
“Why do You hide Your face and regard me as Your enemy (Job 13:24)?” This quote is one from Job as he calls out to God, but I think the message can be taken in any number of ways. Nowadays, it’s very easy to get trapped in our own silos, speaking and posting into an echo chamber of likeminded people and opinions. So the people we associate with are obviously our friends and our inner circle, but those who are outside of our social networks are hidden from us. And when people are external to our understandings of what is comfortable and acceptable, it’s way too easy for them to become our perceived enemies. We all need to be confronted with those who are different from us, and to meaningfully grapple with those differences in order to develop a more nuanced view of the world, and of ourselves.
“In elders there is wisdom and in longevity there is understanding (Job 12:12).” I’ve highlighted verses similar to this one in the past, but I feel like it’s important to reemphasize a few points. Our society has a fascination with youth, which sometimes comes at the expense of respecting the wisdom and experiences of those who came before us. Older generations are trying to stay cool and ‘with it,’ which is great when it comes to relating to youth and the future, but we younger people should also turn the tables and reach out to them more for learning and expertise.
We meet another friend of Job’s now, Zophar the Naamathite. “Can you find out the mystery of God; can you find out the limit of the Almighty (Job 11:7)?” The seemingly obvious answer to this question is, of course, no. We can’t delve into the deepest mysteries of God and the universe. There is so much that we don’t know, and that we can’t know. While it can be scary to think of all that’s out there that we don’t understand at this point, and it can seem insurmountable at times, it’s also exciting to consider that in a world where it seems like there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s so much wonder still to be had.
Job asks God, “Are Your days like the days of a mortal, or are Your years like the days of a man (Job 10:5)?” As was immortalized in the musical Rent (don’t judge) our days can be measured in any number of ways, but regardless of how we mark them, each one has a finite amount of time. For many of us (or maybe just me), it never feels like there’s enough time in the day on a regular basis, yet when I look back after a month, or a year, or any extended period of time, it seems like things have zoomed by. Time seems to pass so quickly, even though certain moments can drag. How do you mark your days? I find that mine are marked through to do lists, school, work, phone calls, and the other mundane things, as well as the regular pleasures of reading, family, friends, and meals. What are your markers?