Saturday, February 23, 2013

Job Introduction through 1 and Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 4-6

Introduction: The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1971), notes that while this book is typically classed as “wisdom literature,” the “wisdom” here is mostly from the mouths of the three of Job’s friends and is not much respected. The thoughts of Job form a kind of anti-wisdom writing.

The “wisdom literature” tradition was not just Jewish. There are examples of similar stories in many different cultures – similar in the sense that a man is plagued with great suffering and tries to reconcile his suffering with the idea represented by his god. There were wisdom writers all around and in fact the three “friends” here are foreigners. Eliphaz is from Teman in Edom. Bildad is a “Shuite” and Zophar a “Naamahite.”

Some think that the beginning and ending of the Book of Job are an ancient folk story that leads in to a long poetic analysis. There is no allusion in the story to any historical events. The writing is placed between the 6th and 3rd c. BC.

The Hebrew text of Job is “the most corrupt of all biblical documents” (239). The original has been continually worked over and revised. The 3rd cycle, in particular, is “confused and incomplete” (239). And Elihu’s arguments largely repeat what has been said by the three, and was likely added by someone who thought the thinking of the friends needed to be put more clearly or bluntly.

The Job of the folktale is the faithful and submissive believer. The poetic hero is a rebel in some sense. “The poem is hostile to the notion of the final reward of the suffering righteous; the prose epilogue endorses it” (240).

It is not easy to articulate any simple theme. The poetic portions, the lack of consistently rational argument, make it difficult to pin down. Generally it is agreed that the author is dealing with the problem of innocent suffering – is there any meaning to it? We are told that Job is innocent, but he represents the “intense inward agony, the agony of all humanity in those tortured hours when they feel themselves the victims of a meaningless and evil universe, when faith is swallowed up in the abyss of doubt and God seems to have vanished” (240). At the end, when he encounters God, he seems to return to a sense of peace that the God he knows is somehow beyond “human reckoning” and who must simply be adored. It is through “repentance” that Job finds restoration.

Job is “after a fashion, an oriental beatnik . . . remote and uncouth in his garb and visage. He is an angry man, an insubordinate campaigner against conventional doctrine” (241).

Good observation: “In our own generation, we too, like Job, are living precariously between the times. ‘Where is God?’ sensitive men are asking in this critical interim. Deep down they have lost the support of the old gods of culture, history, and progress. No God created in the image of man can satisfy their hunger. No version of religion that equates it simply with human wishes and ambitions or with the cult of individual happiness and success can meet their need. For our generation has known the wreckage of human hopes and has tasted the bitterness of doubt and despair. Job speaks to our situation because it speaks of the God who is found, through the night of man’s doubt and sorrow, at the center of the storm, even as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is found by needy men amid the darkness of the cross of Calvary” (241).

Job 1 – “There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil” (1:1).

Job is a man of wealth and piety living in the East. But one day, “the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them”  (1:6).  God asks Satan if he has noticed his servant Job – how faithful he is and true. Satan responds that Job has integrity only because he has so much – but if he were to lose everything he HAS, he would curse God.

So God gives Satan power over Job’s possessions. So in turn, Job loses all he has – first his oxen, then his sheep and finally all of his children - seven sons and three daughters. In response, “Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, ‘I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!’ In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God (1:20-22).

It is good that the story here is “literature” and not “history” because we are exploring an idea here, not real people. It would be hard for readers to accept that a “real” man would have the degree of purity and integrity that Job is presented as having, or that God would make such a “deal” with Satan, but a “story” can posit this and we can then focus on the underlying reality.

The Epistles of Ignatius [Letter to the Magnesians]

A good deal of Ignatius' letters involve his concern over the need to establish a sense of respect for the leaders of the church - the deacons, presbyters and especially the bishops. I am not an expert in this area, and it is clear that early Quakers believed at some point during this time, the church community went off into what they commonly called "apostasy". I am not sure I agree with this. I tend to think they were trying very hard to prevent the faithful from falling into apostasy, and that they way to do that was to establish a line of authority that maintained faithful instruction, faithful living, and a link back to Christ through a succession method they believed he would have approved of. I would be interested to hear what others think.

4 – “What is comes to is that we ought not just to have the name of Christians, but to be so in reality; not like some persons who will address a man as bishop, but in practice take no notice of him. I do not see how people of that kind can be acting in good conscience, seeing that the meetings they hold can have no sort of valid authority” (71-72). The footnote here says that the “services of the dissident faction, being held without the presence or sanction of the bishop, were considered irregular and invalid” (74).

5 – Ignatius says there are “two alternatives before us. They are life and death; and every one of us will have to go to his own particular place. There are two different coinages, so to speak, in circulation, God’s and the world’s, each with its own distinctive marking. Unbelievers carry the stamp of the world; while the faithful in love bear the stamp of God the Father, through Jesus Christ. Unless we are ready and willing to die in conformity with His Passion, His life is not in us” (72).

6 – Whatever divisions were going on in the community of the Magnesians is uncertain, but it is clear that Ignatius’ primary concern is with the continuing unity of the church. “[L]et  me urge on you the need for godly unanimity in everything you do. Let the bishop preside in the place of God, and his clergy in place of the Apostolic conclave” (72).  A footnote here says that the practice of churches (at least in this region) to give the bishop a seat “on a dais at the centre of a semicircle of his clergy (an arrangement coped from the position of judge and assessors in the lawcourts) . . . suggest a comparison with the Apostles on the twelve thrones around the Throne of God; the earthly hierarchy being thus a type of the heavenly” (72). This image will be repeated in other letters.

Might note here too that the outward structures of the early church were not imposed by the Empire but simply incorporated by Christians themselves – their way of understanding how one organized things.

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