Satan visits God. God boasts of Job, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. Satan- not Milton’s character, or even anyone in Revelation- says Job only worships because God has increased his possessions: if God takes them away, he will curse you to your face. God allows Satan first to take away Job’s children and possessions, and then his health. They agree that being good and retaining integrity mean worshipping God. Job refuses to curse God.
There is a strong strain in the Bible saying that the good prosper and the bad suffer. Well, Basher Assad is richer than the refugees in Lebanon, not all of whom can be more wicked than he, but we read Deuteronomy 28: If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands that I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. Psalm 37:25:
I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
It is echoed when Jesus heals the man born blind, in John 9. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus.
The book of Job refutes this view. Job’s comforters assert it:
‘Consider now: who, being innocent, has ever perished?
Where were the upright ever destroyed?
8 As I have observed, those who plough evil
and those who sow trouble reap it.
God numbers the hairs on my head- a beautiful, caring image– but here, God will not let Job swallow his spit. God’s presence and constant interest becomes a threat.
Job’s dialogue with his friends descends from intuitive integrity in Job and sympathy from his friends, to embittered self-justification in Job and outrageous accusation from his friends at the end (ESV Study Bible). Dramatically, this sets the stage for the appearance of God: the Elihu passages, also asserting that
He repays everyone for what they have done;
he brings on them what their conduct deserves.
It is unthinkable that God would do wrong,
that the Almighty would pervert justice.
are probably a later interpolation, by someone who missed the point. In the end, God answers Eliphaz, telling him to ask for Job’s prayers, but does not mention Elihu.
Then God speaks. Initially I wrote that he starts with his creation of the world, and then his operation of it, but he does not. Instead, he asks questions. Did you create the world? Do you rule it? This so masculine God, yet with a womb, bullies Job with irony: Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! Job is silent. But that is not enough for God:
Unleash the fury of your wrath, he says.
I am God.
I can do what I like.
Who the fuck are you?
Have you ever prayed, God, what are you playing at? This resonates with me. This is a God I recognise.
Job submits and repents.
Probably the writer believed the world did not move- of course it doesn’t, if it did we would fall off, how could we not feel the world moving? How could he imagine the world moved? That theory started with Aristarchus. Job is restored to prosperity- God does it– though there is no suggestion that mitigates his loss, or the deaths of his children.
Oh, Violet, your target is so puny! Biblical literalists, forsooth, who may indeed believe Job is historical, even that his conversation with his Comforters was couched in precisely that poetic language. Read the book. It is beautiful. Faced with the ludicrous idea that good people prosper because God rewards them, it refutes it utterly.