Job 23:1-9, 16-17 – With soft hearts and glowing faces

Updated: Feb 6

Job said: “Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!”


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This is an optional Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 23. If chosen, it will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church by a reader on Sunday October 14, 2018. It is important because Job speaks as an upright man who longs for God’s presence, but is unable to hear his voice. The voice of Job is how all Christians must prove their faith in God, without signs that go the way we want them to go.


It helps to know that these verses are part of Job’s response to one of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, who visited him, urging Job to stop trying to make contact with God. The name Eliphaz (while questioned) is believed to mean God Is Agility or God Is Skill (from El – paz), implying Eliphaz believed in a god that blessed humans at birth with innate talents; not a god that helped one realize those talents or guide them to new ones. (Job 22)

Hermes [or Mercury] was the god of agility. The Hebrew word “paz” means “golden,” as “gilded.” Some believe Eliphaz means “God Is Agile”. That could say he worshipped a god such as Hermes. As such, Eliphaz might have been a doctor friend of Job.


Eliphaz’ philosophy was that God was too great to benefit from any association with human beings, regardless of how wise they were or how righteous they lived their lives. In regard to that religious belief held by a friend of Job’s, one must recognize that Job lived in Ur (at a time when the Sumerian culture was at its height, as a contemporary of Abram and Laban), when there were multiple gods commonly worshipped. Job, like Abram, was a believer in the One God of all gods, who cared for His subjects.


In Job’s response, we see the translation shows bitterness. This is somewhat misleading, as the Hebrew word “meri” means “rebellion,” although “bitter” is more found in “marah.” Job is rebellious, which means he was seeking selfish concerns that rebel against the notion that God has brought on his suffering. Job would have been bitter t that conclusion, but not bitter towards God.


When we read the word translated as “complaint,” we find that the Hebrew word “siach” means “talk.” The presentation of Job is as a poem, or a song, so it was a communication between Job and God, being done through “meditation” and “prayer” (acceptable translations here).  Rather than voicing his complaints, Job was praying aloud.

The use of “yadi” is clearly reference to a “hand,” but as “his hand” (God’s) this ignores Job being a “hand of God’s.” Rather than Job complaining about God’s weight being pressing hard against him, Job was saying he physically was finding it difficult to serve God, as “his hand,” in his present condition. Rather than feeling the weight of God’s punishment, Job is “listless.” His groaning from his pains makes it difficult to tell others to believe in his God, and have them believe his devotion.


Because Job cries, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling,” this says he wants to be closer to God. The Hebrew word translated as “dwelling” is “tekunah,” which implies a “fixed place,” but also a “seat.” Job thought he was close to God, but his life has become so changed he wanted to tell God how much he still loved him. He wanted to bow down before the throne of God. There, Job would be the greatest defense he could have. He would tell God that his state of being was not because he had turned away from God.


The “arguments” Job would present would actually be “corrections” that Job would promise. The “case” that Job would “lay before” God would be repentance, asking God to forgive whatever he did that brought on his appearance of sinfulness. Job would offer to do more – anything God asked of him – and Job would listen and understand anything God would tell him, especially if Job had done something wrong.  Job sought to please God, not challenge him with argument.

The Pharisees loved arguing law, just like they argued their case against the man born blind getting his eyesight back on the Sabbath. That’s not right!


When Job asked rhetorically, “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?” the word “contend” means God would be too high to quarrel with Job, who (like Eliphaz’ god) was too great to be understood by mere human beings. Job was not seeking to argue his case before the Lord. Therefore, he answered his own question, saying, “No;” but unlike the god of Eliphaz, the God of Job would listen to what Job (as small and insignificant as he was) had to say, as God’s servant.


When Job then offered the aspect of “reason with him,” that was not about Job using his brain in an attempt to logically point out how God must have missed something about how Job was an “upright man.” Instead, Job was saying that “an upright man” is “upright” (one who does what is right and proper) because the self-ego has been sacrificed, so ALL reason with him was the willingness to follow the insights of the Mind of God. Thus, he was found saying, “I should be acquitted forever by my judge,” as a statement of the promise of eternal life in Heaven he had been given, after death, for having sacrificed to God as one of His Apostles / Saints.


Job then went on to say:


“”If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.”


That does not mean that God has forsaken Job. Instead, it says that an upright man, one who follows the reason of God as one’s directions in life, does not act because one sees God before him, or beside him, telling him, “Go this way or that.” One who is upright by the reason of the Lord simply acts. One is the hand of God by letting His hand move one where He wants, unbeknownst to His servant beforehand.  A servant simply obeys, without question.  This is then Job stating his trust that God will not mislead Job in anything he does.


The reading then skips forward to verses sixteen and seventeen. We read, “God has made my heart faint.” This translates the Hebrew word “rakak” as “faint.” The word is better translated as “weak,” but best translated as “soft.” This is then Job alluding to his love of God and his “tender” feelings that have allowed God into Job’s heart. This is then the marriage of Job with God’s Holy Spirit.

When the verse continues [without the interruption of punctuation] with Job saying, “the Almighty has terrified me.” This means the fear of the Lord – the only fear one may be allowed, when filled with the Holy Spirit – was the commitment Job had to God, in that marriage. Job’s heart “trembled” at the thought of losing God. This is then a statement of absolute love in Job’s heart for God.


The final verse appears dark and dreary, as we read, “If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!” The literal translation from the Hebrew first says, “Because not I was cut off from the presence of darkness.” If those words were spoken in a vacuum, perhaps they could project as a wish of vanishing.  However, “Because” (from “ki”) is reference to the “terror” at the thought of losing God’s love.


That “fear” has meant that “not was I cut off from the presence of” God. The thought of losing God’s love would mean being “cut off from the presence,” and put into abject “darkness.”  It was the fear of God that kept God from allowing darkness to become a source of fear.  Symbolically, darkness (as the absence of light) is representative of death, while light is life.  Job had been cut off from darkness, by the promise of eternal life.


Then, the literal Hebrew says following that: “and from my face he did hide darkness.” Here, it is important to realize that the First Commandment says (paraphrasing), “You shall wear no other god’s face [on your face] before my face.”  In Exodus 20:3 the Hebrew word “panim” is written (as panaya“), which means “face or faces.” The same root word is written in Job 23:16 (as “ūmipānay“), which links the two verses in intent. While Job existed well before God gave Moses the Commandments, to give to the Israelites as their bond of holy agreement, he knew that sacrifice of self-ego meant “hiding the darkness that comes from one’s face.”

I like the way you favor me, son.


That means wearing the face of God, just as Moses’ face shone brightly after talking with God. A brightly shining face is the opposite of a face hidden in darkness. Therefore, it was the love of God in Job’s heart that kept him from being cut off from God (being in a dark place) and kept him from wearing the face of Job, which would only project the darkness of his bodily plight and the pain of the boils.


As an optional Old Testament reading for the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s own personal ministry for the LORD should be underway – one should be acting as God’s servant with complete faith of His presence – the message here is to be upright in the face of all darkness that can surround one’s body. The patience of Job is a virtue that all Apostles and Saints understand.


This reading from Job gives the impression that Job seemed desperate to plead his innocence before God, and get God to see how Job was unjustly being punished. We get that impression by beginning the reading with Job saying, “My complaint is bitter.” God knows all and Job knew that; so bitterness was not towards God.


Job was praying to God in the presence of his friend Eliphaz, speaking the truth of his faith, despite the groans of pain his body caused him. Eliphaz heard complaints and bitterness.  Job meant devotion and faith.  This dual meaning is intended, because we are all symbolized by how we react to Job. The way we respond to influences of others – the call to give up on God, because He does not serve us as we would wish to be served – is then how one lacking faith would act, if our lives were as painful as Job’s.


It is one thing to think one knows what it means to be an upright human being. It is another thing, indeed, to be upright. When Job was praying, “If I go forward or backward, to the left or to the right,” it is easy to perceive of ourselves trying to plot our courses, assuming our beliefs in God will catch us if we make a mistake and reward us when we go the right way.

It is more difficult to see how a Saint will be led by God to go against the norm, often finding him or herself standing alone, with those who serve other gods saying, “My god tells me not to sacrifice so much.”  This is why being a Saint and Apostle of Christ is difficult.  It demands the show of faith through sacrifice.


I am reminded of Saint Stephen, who was not one of the disciples of Jesus. He was a deacon of the early Christian assemblies in Jerusalem. Stephen probably was not his actual name, as the Greek word stéphanos means “wreath” or “crown.” That title then became synonymous with the depiction of halos over the heads of Saints.

Saint Stephen had become upright through the Holy Spirit, and, like Job and his covering of boils, Stephen withstood the bashing of stones against his head because his mind’s eye was fixed on Jesus at the right hand of God (“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. – Acts 7:55”).  Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60b)


One has to understand this reading of Job with the same sense of righteousness applied to Job.  One has to have a similar affiliation with the Holy Spirit to see that. Eliphaz had the eyes of a believer, much like many Christians have today. He probably heard Job’s prayer and mistook it as the pleas of a man who’s God had forsaken him.


Saul stood by and watched Stephen be stoned to death. (Acts 7:58b)  Saul did not think twice about that, having no clue that an upright man had just been murdered by persecution … while he held the coats of murderers.  Christians who see Job as a bellyacher are just as complicit with his persecution.  Still, when Stephen was arrested, the Sanhedrin was amazed by his face.


We are told, “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15)


That was the look that was on Job’s face when he made his prayer.  One has to read this prayer of Job from that perspective.


That has to be the look on the face of all Saints and Apostles. All who truly serve the Lord wear His face, having given theirs up for the grace of eternal life in Heaven.


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