A Persuasive Analysis of Arguments in the Book of Job

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The following was a college essay written by Savannah Berger. It has been edited and approved by Ariel Hobbs. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Savannah Berger, St. Mary’s University

The Book of Job is an anomaly belonging to the wisdom literature for its unusual thought-provoking character and diverse array of arguments on the justification for innocent suffering. The Book of Job begins with a divine introduction to God’s righteous servant, Job, but with objections raised by an advisor of God’s court, the Satan, regarding Job’s motivation for his righteousness, Job falls victim to purposely inflicted suffering as a bet between God and the Satan. Job’s reaction to this suffering will determine if Job’s righteousness is truly motivated by God or his own personal gain. With suffering inflicted, the human arguments between Job and his friends are marked by bewilderment, as this event in Job’s life goes against all previously assumed consequences of the theological world. A divine response to Job’s cries and suffering ends the book, but in an unexpected way, and Job’s life is restored in conclusion. This essay will examine three of the four main arguments in the Book of Job to decipher which is justifiably most persuasive. This essay will not attempt to decipher the arguments in their specific entirety, but rather in general terms for persuasive analysis. The arguments to be examined are that of Job’s friends, Job, and God.

Arguments made by Job’s friends are characteristic of traditional, Deuteronomic theology and rest on the assumption that God’s Justice is a directly proportional consequence to human action only. For Job’s friends, a God-fearing individual would only receive rewards and success, while a wicked individual would only receive disaster and punishment. So, in application to Job’s situation, the friends argue Job’s suffering must be due to sin; however, as the prologue points out, Job is not a sinner. So, as Job denies each of the proposed sins, the friends revert to accusing Job of the sins he must have committed to deserve his suffering. These accusations are heightened in Eliphaz’s third speech to Job where he says:

Is not your wickedness great, your iniquity endless? You keep your relatives’ goods in pledge unjustly, leave them stripped naked of their clothing. To the thirsty you give no water to drink, and from the hungry you withhold bread; as if the land belonged to the powerful, and only the privileged could dwell in it! (Job 22:5-8)

Although none of the accusations made by Eliphaz and other friends are true, each of them is driven to believe they are, so that Job’s suffering may fit into their accepted theological idea of justice. For them, the answer for Job is to admit to sin, reach out for God’s forgiveness and guidance, and listen. Eliphaz urges Job to toward these traditional solutions at the end of his accusatory lecture by saying:

Settle with him and have peace. That way good shall come to you: receive instruction from his mouth, and place his words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored. (Job 22:21-23)

While Job’s friends do share the traditional ways to find one’s way out of suffering, the motivation of Job’s friends in giving this advice can be brought into question. It is positive advice for Job to repent based upon the commonly agreed principle of a just God, passed down tradition, and keeping order within the community. Of course, repentance is what any other person experiencing suffering due to sin would be urged to do. Job’s friends’ arguments are persuasive because they are reinforced with tradition and common practice; however, Job’s situation is not a “common” one, as he established his innocence of sin to them multiple times. So, by urging Job to go through the process of forgiveness, the friends are openly denying the reality of the situation and indirectly asking Job to lie about himself for God. The friends recognize the danger that Job’s situation could cause to the sanity of followers, religious order, and accepted principles of God’s justice because his condition is so non-traditional. In fact, it is likely if the public were to know about Job’s unwarranted suffering and be told that even the righteous can/do suffer that chaos would break out, and perhaps the friends are trying to prevent this. Yet, this would undermine the persuasiveness of their argument. Nonetheless, the friend’s exclusively traditional arguments and solutions are not applicable to Job’s non-traditional circumstance.

Alternatively, Job’s argument through the book is marked by emotional distress with bursts of confident accusations as he experiences confusion surrounding his sudden, undeserved anguish; yet Job never curses God through all his suffering and firmly maintains his innocence. Like Job’s friends, Job operates under the assumption that God is supposed to be just, but he believes that suffering could be part of God’s will. Although, Job does not believe the suffering that he has been dealt is deserved. During Job’s dialogue with his friends, he speaks about confronting God and says:

But I would speak with the Almighty, I want to argue with God. Slay me though he might, I will wait for him. (Job 13:3, 15)

These verses show that Job assuredly knows he is an innocent man and demands an answer from God to justify his suffering. However, this confidence is repeatedly fleeting throughout his speeches, and is interchanged with moments of anger, turmoil, and sadness. An example of this emotional unrest is seen in the lines of Job’s response to Eliphaz’s argument of chapter 22 where Job states:

I would set out my case before him, fill my mouth with arguments; I would learn the words he would answer me, understand what he would say to me. Would he contend against me with his great power? No, he himself would heed me! But if I go east, he is not there; or west, I cannot perceive him; The north enfolds him, and I cannot catch sight of him; The south hides him, and I cannot see him. From the commands of his lips I have not departed; the words of his mouth I have treasured in my heart. But once he decides, who can contradict him? What he desires, that he does. For he will carry out what is appointed for me, and many such things he has in store. Therefore I am terrified before him; when I take thought, I dread him. (Job 23:4-6, 8-9, 12-15)

In this speech, Job starts off by confidently saying he wishes to lay out his case before God, but this is followed by a repeated cycle of questioning and reassuring that gives the reader insight to his distress during this time. Job ends his speech with the realization that even though he knows he is innocent he is truly powerless in his case against God. In a fair courtroom setting Job might be a strong defendant for his case, but in a courtroom where all roles except the defendant are filled by a single divine being, Job recognizes he frankly cannot win against a tyrant. The strength of Job’s argument lies in his motivation. For Job, his issue with suffering is not caused by lack of prosperity, but his relationship with God. Holding onto his honesty in the face of suffering and argument means to be firm in his experience, even when his situation seems to contradict all of what the world knows to be true. Also, Job is correct in his innocence, as proven by God in the prologue. The weakness of Job’s argument stems from his expectation of a patriarchally just God. As a once senior male, Job is very familiar with the task of discernment as a patriarch in his community, and he expects the same treatment of God. However, God has more to adjudicate than just community disputes, and Job’s limited frame of reference does not warrant him to make such requests or accusations.

The most elusive argument to be considered is that of God, which does not answer any of Job’s cries for an explanation of his suffering, but instead scolds Job for his assumptions of divine function and discusses the complexity of God’s creation. Beginning when God entered the bet with The Satan, God allowed The Satan to inflict suffering first by eradicating Job’s livestock, servants, and children, but later additionally allowed infliction of painful skin boils that covered Job’s body. God condoned suffering in God’s world on an innocent man for a test the man was and remained unaware of; however, during his first response to Job’s cries he begins with satirical questions asking:

Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? (Job 38:2-5)

The questions continue as God is offended about Job’s accusations of how God should be running God’s complex world, so God attempts to put things a bit more in perspective for Job. During God’s lecture of creation, he specifically mentions two dangerous, mighty creators named Behemoth and Leviathan. God describes these creators and details how they are only submissive to God.

Look at Behemoth, whom I made along with you, who feeds on grass like an ox. His bones are like tubes of bronze; his limbs are like iron rods. He is the first of God’s ways, only his maker can approach him with a sword. (Job 40:15, 18-19)
Can you lead Leviathan about with a hook, or tie down his tongue with a rope? Can you put a ring into his nose, or pierce through his cheek with a gaff? Will he then plead with you, time after time, or address you with tender words? (Job 40:25-27)

In these descriptions, God uses Behemoth and Leviathan as symbols of how even though there is wild danger in God’s world, God still has it under control. Simply, God’s world was not meant to prevent suffering, and it is much too complex for Job to think he knows better. Instead, Job should trust in God’s wisdom that goodness will come in the end to those who are truly righteous. The strength in God’s persuasive argument is that he provides a response to Job’s situation instead of an answer to Job’s questions. This shows that God cares about Job’s suffering and has not let his cries digress into the void; furthermore, if God were to have provided an answer to Job’s questions, it would undermine God’s argument that ‘divine justice’ in the world is too complex for human understanding. To explain, an answer would require transformation of divine reasoning into accurate human understanding, but a response only needs to transmit divine complexity into human perspective. Alternatively, the weakness in God’s persuasive argument was God’s condonement of inflicted suffering to Job by the Satan. One could argue that God seemed more concerned with proving the Satan wrong about Job than he was concerned with the sanity and contentment of a god-fearing man. This is supported by the fact that God let the Satan inflict two separate waves of suffering, and that God did not tell Job he was being tested like God has done for men in other stories of the Bible. This strongly suggests God’s focus was towards the bet, which brings God’s role in increasing the complexity of the world into question and decreases the strength of his argument.

Three of the four arguments in the Book of Job have been presented and analyzed for persuasive strength, and the most persuasive argument regarding innocent suffering and divine justice belongs to Job. An argument that changes its route to prove an objective truth is easy to question, but Job’s argument remained solid. Job maintained his honesty and story even when others were gaslighting him, and his steadfastness significantly supported the persuasiveness of his argument. As for the overstepping of Job’s argument into how God should function, Job should not be punished. Job’s response to sudden suffering and his expectations of God were based on and in human experience. His emotional turmoil was human, and his expectation of a patriarchally just God was human, but all of this should be expected because Job is a human. To add, in the end of the book when Job was shown the complexity of God’s world and function, one should note how Job admitted to speaking about things beyond his understanding, rejected those past words, and apologized for his actions. Job effectively carried his resilient argument to the end of the book, and once he finally gained even little traction in understanding his circumstance, he accounted for his weaknesses along the way. As a human who would also act humanly in Job’s situation, I sympathize with Job, respect his ability to discern admitting only to things he had truthfully committed, and view his case as definitively the most persuasive out of the four arguments in the Book of Job.

Edited By: Ariel Hobbs

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