This is the third in a series of blog posts where I’ll outline the argument of my new book, Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God, which is scheduled to be published by Baker Academic this fall (November 2021).
This is a follow-up to my second post called, The Importance of Lament for Understanding Genesis 22.
Making Sense of the Book of Job
Some years after discovering the lament psalms, with their validation of vigorous prayer to God, I began teaching a unit on the book of Job as part of a course on the Old Testament.
William Blake – Job rebuked by his friends
Job is usually understood as raising (but never quite answering) the problem of suffering. Since it is not clear that the book was intended to answer this problem, many different, even contradictory, interpretations have been proposed.
However, one thing most interpreters (whether in the church or in academia) agree on is that God’s answer to Job from the whirlwind was a slap in his face for daring to question divine providence.
But the more I studied Job, the more I began to realize that this interpretation is fundamentally wrongheaded.
God did, indeed, criticize Job’s faulty theology (his assumptions that God micromanaged the cosmos) in the first speech from the whirlwind.
After this speech, Job was reduced to silence. So if God wanted to shut Job up, why is there a second speech?
I suggest that the point of God’s second speech was actually to encourage Job, by affirming the validity of his lament. This is why Job is praised for having “spoken rightly” of God (Job 42:7). In fact, one of the details of Job 42:7 that is usually lost in translation is that the Hebrew says that Job has spoken rightly to God. His direct complaints to the Creator are here validated.
I first presented an academic paper on this topic in 2004, with various iterations over the years. I finally wrote it up into a journal article, “Does God Come to Bury Job or to Praise Him? The Significance of YHWH’s Second Speech from the Whirlwind” (2017).
This article is the basis for an expanded chapter in Abraham’s Silence on God’s two speeches from the whirlwind, where I clarify the difference between the two speeches (something not usually explained in commentaries).
Abraham’s Silence has two chapters on Job, which together take the reader through the entire drama of the book—both the narrative frame and the poetic dialogues—with a focus on the sort of vigorous speech that God desires.
Abraham in Genesis 22
Then we come to Abraham.
Ever since I came to value the honesty of the lament psalms and discerned that God was validating Job’s bold complaints, Abraham has been a puzzle to me.
In fact, Abraham himself vigorously challenged God in Genesis 18 (and God accepted his challenge). So why did Abraham draw back from doing this in Genesis 22?
In my next blog post, I’ll examine this shift between Genesis 18 and Genesis 22.