Clines on the Purpose of Job’s Test

From David Clines’ Job 1-20:

If now we move beyond the story-line and essay a probe into the theological resonances of this element of the story along the lines sketched in the Comment on v 6, the uncertainty in the divine world presses for a resolution. Is the problem one of heaven’s making or of earth’s? Suppose that an immutable law of retribution were heaven’s design; the question would always wait to be posed whether the retribution was no simple single process of cause and effect, but an endlessly revolving circle, with no possibility of discerning what was cause and what effect. That is, if the godly were always rewarded with earthly blessings which in turn promoted greater godliness, heaven would be confronted with the perennial chicken-and-egg conundrum, and heaven itself would not know what was really happening on earth. But suppose the immutable law of retribution were only a human inference on the part of the “wise” (or the naive) about the manner of heaven’s working, would not those shy of immutability in the deity crave some heaven-inspired drama to cripple the dogma and open up space in heaven and on earth for personal freedom? In either case the trial of Job is as necessary for loosing the causal nexus between piety and prosperity as it is for establishing the independence of suffering and guilt.

Yahweh delivers into the Satan’s “hand” all that Job possesses (but not the man himself). It is understood that Yahweh has agreed to “stretch forth [his] hand” and “smite” what is Job’s, and the delegation of the actual task to the Satan is entirely what we should expect given the scene of a monarch and his courtiers. Nothing is to be made of the fact that “Yahweh himself will not smite. He permits the Satan to do it” (Peake). This for three reasons: first, delegated permission is delegated authority and the ultimate delegator has the ultimate responsibility; second, the story does not distinguish between command and permission; third, if there is any significant difference between God’s part and the Satan’s part in the affliction of Job, Job’s complaints against God in the speeches (always against God and never against the Satan) would be to that extent wide of the mark, a conclusion the book as a whole does not allow us to entertain.

Leave a Reply