Ep 15 – The Book of Job
It’s time to get back to the Bible with an in-depth look at the Book of Job. Found in the Old Testament and written as a didactic poem, the Book a Job tells the story of…you guessed it…Job and his trails at the hands of Satan, his discussion with friends on the origin and nature of suffering, his challenge to God and finally God’s response. That is the part we are going to be looking at today, God’s response to Job. There is a lot to talk about in this Book such as God being challenged by Satan, Satan killing all his livestock, all his sons and daughters and even physically harming Job himself. We also have his discussion with friends about why he was suffering and then Job finally yelling out to God and commanding God to explain himself. You see, Job was blameless and worshipped God daily but Satan (in this form, Satan means adversary) approached God and said:
“You have blessed Job and given him everything and that is the only reason Job worships you. If you would take away your blessings, Job would no longer praise you.”
God, being all knowing and merciful, told Satan to piss off because Job was his boy…ok, maybe that didn’t happen. What God did instead was bet Satan that no matter what he do to Job, he would still praise him. Satan was free to do whatever he wanted expect for touching Job or in other words, killing him. All types of bad shit starts to happen. All of his livestock was killed or stolen and his sons and daughters were crushed by their house Wizard of Oz style. Job still praised God but Satan doubled his efforts and physically attacked Job with boils all over his body. Job’s wife told him to curse God and die but Job did not relent. If getting the third degree from his wife wasn’t bad enough, his friends came to give him a good tongue lashing about how he must have done something wrong or else why would God do these things to him? Still, Job held fast and said he has done no wrong and that he does not know why God was punishing him but he still worshipped his God. Cursing the day he was born and hearing his friends cast blame, Job got fed up called on God to explain himself. The Lord came down in a whirlwind of dust and offered a pretty lame excuse. Essentially God said:
“I am God, I make the rules and I do not need to explain myself to you, now deal with it but as a sign of mercy I will give you twice as much as you once had. Twice as much land, livestock and children plus I’ll let you live twice as long .”
That is a brief overview on the Book of Job. The moral of the story is simple…sometimes, shit just happens and sometimes bad things happen to good people. What I want to look at is some of the claims God made at the end. I want to focus on one specific piece…Leviathan. Is Leviathan a literal being or is it an allegorical creature and if it is, what is its meaning? The answer may surprise you.
In the Bible, Leviathan is a sea monster and is described in vivid detail by God in Job 41 1-34. Here are some of the characteristics of Leviathan:
- He has fearsome/sharp teeth
- Scales as thick as armor
- Breathes fire
- Thrashes the sea
A fearsome beast indeed and did this beast exist? Of course not but God himself said it so it must be true, right? This must be unique to the Bible then? There could be no pretext anywhere else in the world, correct? Not surprisingly, the ancient Near East was littered with references to sea monsters similar to Leviathan. One group of note, the Canaanite god Ba’al fought Yam, who was the god of the sea. There is a strong consensus from scholars that the Jewish religion started with the Canaanites. We’ll save that for another episode. We have examples for Sumerian text, Babylonian text, and Egyptian and Syrian texts. Sea monster myths were prominent in the region for many years before the Bible was written. In the Babylonian creation myth, the storm god Marduk slays his mother, the sea monster, goddess of chaos and creation Tiamat and creates the earth and sky from the two halves of her corpse . In Jewish context, the Leviathan is described as a dragon that lives in the Sources of the Deep and the land-monster Behemoth is his companion. Both will be served up to the righteous at the end of time. One interesting aside, it is said that God created a male and female leviathan but if they were to reproduce, they would consume the world so God killed the female leviathan. Didn’t God know that this would happen? Why create both in the first place just to kill on later? For an all knowing God, it sure seems like he foresee that one .
What is the purpose of Leviathan? The three dominate groups of this region describe Leviathan as the chaos monster or evil incarnate. It is seen in Babylonian, Canaanite and Jewish text as being a representation of evil. In the Book of Job, Leviathan, Behemoth and Satan create an unholy trinity of evil; these three play a huge role in the Book of Revelation later one. Leviathan is the first of the great acts of God and if Leviathan represents evil, God created evil and this is the theme throughout Job. All the bad stuff that happens to him, he cannot possibly understand the motives of God. God has a deeper, darker, mysterious reason for creating evil. This reeks of the phrase “God has a plan” that people say when bad stuff happens. You can find it’s beginning in the book of Job but the roots go deeper to the surrounding groups of this region in the ancient Near East.
In the Babylonian framework, humankind was created out of the blood of the slain chaos monster. Within this context, chaos is evil, evil is deep within us and shapes our lives and characters and is part of the very fabric of our being and evil is part of the high God Marduk’s plan in creating humankind. In Genesis, God created mankind blameless but they fell to temptation to the snake, a diminutive chaos monster. Eventually mankind kept choosing evil and it became a fabric of our very being. The moral of the Babylonians is still there, evil is within us.
Switching to the Jewish monotheistic frame work, evil is no longer a cosmic battle between high gods and chaos monsters, it now becomes about the creation of the monster (evil) and the control of the monster by an all-knowing, all-present, all-seeing God. This chaos monster can come in many forms whether through famine or war or politics but it is always there and God is trying to control it but it escapes from time to time.
The Jewish conception of time was linear, not cyclical like in the Babylonian and Canaanite religions. The Canaanite belief was that the high God Ba’al constantly defeated the chaos monsters Yam, Litan and Mot every season. Every year, when winter came and the vegetation was destroyed, the high God Ba’al was defeated and sent to the underworld and in spring, he returned and defeated the chaos monsters. This is the repeating pattern for all of eternity, with no final resolution. The ancient Jews reworked the Babylonian creation myth and the Canaanite recreation myth into their own Jewish myth. This was the Jewish apocalypse. The Jewish God would put an end to this with the utter destruction of the chaos monster or evil.
The prophet Isaiah reworks this myth as well, which preceded Job, in 1 Isaiah. God will capture the chaos monster, drawing him out of the water; there will be a messianic feast and then there will be a symposium after the meal where God will answer all questions. Once the chaos monster is destroyed, it will usher in a new creation, a new heaven and earth where there will be no suffering nor pain and God will become teacher and explain everything. Only God can draw out the chaos monster as he describes in Job, making the point that no man is able to do this .
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What’s the purpose of the Book of Job? Did Job exist? What does it say about God? I have given you a context to view the Leviathan within and that is the struggle between God, which is good and chaos, which is evil. The sole purpose of the Book of Job is to try to provide on explanation of evil and its role in God’s plan. It is myth building on myth. Job did not exist as a literal person but as a fictional character, like most heroes of the Bible. But, what does this say about God and His relationship with mankind? This is where it gets fun.
Does God have to create the best possible world? We can assert that God is the author of evil. Any argument to the contrary is wrong, plain and simple. But, evil serves a purpose. The argument from evil is usually a powerful one we atheist use against believers. We say, if God is so powerful, why not create a world without evil in it and that is a valid argument. The question that has to be asked is: can God create a better or best world? We only have this world to base this assumption on. If the God of the Bible exist, we only have the Bible as a reference and using the bible as our only reference point, He cannot create the impossible so we have to assume a better world cannot be created. This limits the power God has. So can we still fault God for creating evil if there was no alternative or the only alternative was non-existence? It looks like we cannot. The reason for evil is not punishment or character development but to create selflessness and selfless love between the divine and mankind as told in the Bible. In this context, God is a person and like you or I, has reasons for His actions. God must have had his reason for creating a world with evil in it and this is what the Book of Job tries to explain.
We cannot have good without evil, so the saying goes within the context of the Bible. We don’t really get any solid answers from the Book of Job but what we do get is a pat on the back, saying things will get better and the suffering in this life will be worth it for what is to come. Bad things happen to good people but is it God’s plan? The Leviathan type creature was very common in ancient Near East and is clearly a symbol of chaos and evil .
This is where back up and go back to criticism mood. This is a cop out to me, saying God has a plan is a lame attempt to justify bad things. Job is a fictional character so all the things that happened to him are fiction. The sad reality is that bad things happen to real people every day. Kids go hungry, babies are born with deformities, mother and fathers are struck down by cancer and people die in car wrecks. Families are torn apart and suffering is an everyday occurrence. Does it make you feel better knowing that God is allowing this for a greater purpose? Does it ease the pain knowing that God created evil so you can love him? Personally, this is the failing of religion for me. I cannot accept the fact that a god created this world with evil so we can love him and he’ll make everything better. I think this creates complacency in mankind. With a promise of a better tomorrow, why act now? Some religious groups strive to ease the suffering of this life but many don’t and many see suffering as divine. I am not one of those people. There is no God pulling the strings. Evil, as it were, is not a divine creation but a human condition. We cannot sit back and wait for a god to act, we have to act, we are the masters of our fate and only we can limit the suffering of this world, not a god whose existence is suspect.
This is just one explanation of many to answer the problem of evil and every culture has tried to come to some conclusion based on their belief system. It doesn’t make them right or wrong. We all seek understanding through our own personal means. I look to the natural world and seek understanding through science, some people use scripture. It is when people latch onto beliefs and refuse to see other possible paths that we run into problems. No truth is absolute and those that claim to have absolute truth are dangerous. These are important questions but instead of waiting for a god to solve your problems, get off your ass and do it yourself.
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What is the purpose of all this? Why do we have this Book of Job anyway? Why does God allow this evil to exist? This podcast tries to provide information in a way that listeners can come to their own conclusions. One thing I have discovered doing this podcast is that things are not always Black and White. I could have easily said that Leviathan is not real and that God is not real because He mentions Leviathan but that would be the easy way out. Leviathan is not a dinosaur or a whale or even a crocodile, it was not real. It is more nuanced than that. It is not as simple as that, it goes deeper. It is clearly symbol and the Book of Job has a deeper meaning than just the cause of suffering. In the first half of this episode, I pointed out the precursors to the Leviathan myth and what it symbolizes and how the Israelites interpreted this myth within their monotheistic framework. If we look at God as a character in a novel, we can learn things about Him by studying his character development. This says nothing of God’s existence but it does put God within a context so we can understand His actions.
At the heart of the Book of Job is evil and why bad things happen and taking in all the evidence presented, we can draw a reasonable conclusion based on the context of the Bible and not the natural world. The suffering of Job is not as important as the response from God. The Book of Job explains to the reader that God has a plan and evil is part of that plan. When we tie that in with earlier sea monster myths from Babylonian and Canaanite text, evil is in fact necessary for the creation of this particular world. This is what we are to draw from this story, not the fact that God allowed Satan to kill all of Job’s livestock and family (remember, this is just a story, it never happened in history). Again, I want to make this clear, placing God in His proper context allows us to view the Bible in a new light. We don’t have to hold it up as some supernatural text or some divine revelation about the world. What we can do is examine it and place it within its proper context and look back in time and see how people thousands of years ago viewed the world. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to poke holes in the text with science, for instance, the people that take it literally and I will continue to show the ridiculousness but there is another side, a more serious side. This is what this episode looked at, the underlying meaning of the text, which is why does evil exist and not whether a real Leviathan existed. I hope you enjoyed this episode and like always, I appreciate the feedback, both positive and negative.