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The poetry between Job and his friends is just a nice distraction. The really interesting innovation in Job occurs in the prologue, divine speeches, and epilogue. For while Job protests against divine retribution as much as one can, he ultimately keeps within the system upheld by his friends. That’s why he’s still looking for a Redeemer in the god who is tormenting him. He doesn’t seriously consider any other option. For all its facade of dissent, Job 3-31 is, in the main, an argument carried out within the system of divine retribution, in the well-worn mode of other ancient Near Eastern conversations.

But compare satan’s point in Job 1:9-11 and 2:3-6. The satan is challenging the very system of divine retribution itself. Do people serve God for reward, or only for God’s own sake (for no reason at all)? Now this is true innovation. And then the divine speeches refuse to give any reason for obeying God. The ground for obeying God is moved to a whole new level. Retribution is not the whole story, and it isn’t the most important principle of divine ethics anymore. Now, this is interesting! It removes God’s actions from any possible human scrutiny, asks the question Job did not ask (and was ignorant of; 9:17 is still dominated by expectations that divine retribution is the norm), and makes the protests of Chs. 3-31 beside the point. Protest against God requires at least some guaranteed grounds of his ethical actions, but once he is free of any knowable principle for action, protest is futile – Job can only keep silent and withdraw. Divine retribution can be used to justify almost anything as ‘good’, from the fall of a proud man to the holocaust of an entire people. But the transcendence of God lets him do absolutely anything he wants. And with any such totalising move, this results in an endless supply of suppressed voices to recover. Submission to the discipline of absolute authority is so exciting to think about! The prose and the authoritative divine speeches provides the really interesting departure and development within the book of Job.

It’s now gone 5:00 a.m. I should really stop thinking about Job when I’m in bed (proof-text: 4:12-16).

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