The Cruel God: Job's Search for the Meaning of Suffering

By Margaret Brackenbury Crook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Greatly Daring . . . Job 3

Job inquires why he was ever born, why he must continue to live, and why he is not allowed to die.

Job, in his misery, seats himself among the ashes, a mound on the outskirts of his commune where the waste is burned, a place on which the sick and the shelterless poor attempt to keep warm under the cold night sky. His three friends, journeying to comfort him, see him from afar; they find him hard to recognize for the change that has come over him. They sit before him in silence for seven days and seven nights, throwing ashes up and over themselves as they share his sorrow [2:1-13].

The three friends are Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They are foreigners. Eliphaz, their leader, is from Edom, long famous for its wisdom, and the others from neighboring regions. Apparently they are wisemen who had a part in the old story. (In the Epilogue, as the Poet tells it, the Lord, approving of Job, rebukes Eliphaz and the others because they have not spoken of Him what was true.) Perhaps we can feel our way back to something they told Job in that earlier Argument, which the Poet is replacing with his own work.

Everywhere in the ancient world, wisemen teach that the righteous prosper and the wicked perish; but they all know there are exceptions, that misfortune may unaccountably overtake an upright man. In such a case the wiseman usually advises a sufferer to continue to pay his vows to the deity he is accustomed to serve, that his god may be moved to take pity upon him and restore him to favor. Sometimes, however, the sufferer seeks guidance from an interpreter of omens or from a dreamer of dreams, or he obtains deliverance at the hands of another god.

One of the best-known poems recording experience of this kind, the so-called "Babylonian Job," follows this line. Search-

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