Internet Dialogue on Job
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Christine: Another question regarding what Job’s wife said has come up that about 700 people on the Herman Melville list are discussing regarding the book of Job. My Tanach says she tells Job to “blaspheme” God and die in chapter 2. Another member is claiming a book written on errors in translation says this passage has been mistranslated, that it should be “bless” God and die. If you could shed some light on this it would be helpful to a lot of people.
Thank you, Christine
Moshe Ben-Chaim: The Rabbis taught that the word “bless” here indicates the opposite. But since God is the recipient of this curse, the Torah veers away from making such a statement to teach how far from reality one is who curses his Maker. The Torah doesn’t even want to utter the phrase “curse God.”
Additionally, the context makes no sense if he is to truly bless God, and then die. Why would blessing God be evil and cause his death? Job himself says right after this verse, “shall we take the good and not the bad?” Meaning, this is bad that has come upon him, so a blessing makes no sense as his wife suggested. He is rebuking her for suggesting a wrong response. He is telling her, “although in pain, shall I curse God and not accept even the evil in life?”
It is clear that “bless” means curse in this case.
Gordon: I like Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim’s argumentation and tend to think that on this one, the Protestants have got it right: “bless” stands for “curse.” The Catholics were detoured by an excess of philology and a defect of good sense. I think the meaning of Job’s wife’s remark may be something like: “So, what are you going to do? Curse God, then die?!” With her irony, she is helping him along the right path. Thanks, Tamar.
Moshe Ben-Chaim: Gordon, Job’s wife was not being sarcastic, but really meant for him to be done with his torturous pain by literally cursing God, and then dying by God’s hands. This is proved by Job’s response, “Shall we take the good and not the bad?” Meaning, he was thereby critiquing his wife for her suggestion that he abandon the bad in life by talking the easy way out and bringing his sudden death by cursing God.
Phil: As many others have already pointed out, the book of Job seems to have had a strong impact on Melville. My own sense is that the character of Job served as a model for Ahab. They both have undergone physical and psychological trauma, they have a strong sense of indignation and outrage, they have been warned by pious bystanders about how they should behave, and they pursue their course according to their own internal compass, rather than external advice.
Tamar: Ahab cursed God and died, losing everything. Job did not curse God, lived and had his losses replaced. Job was, ahem, a camel who went through the proverbial eye of the needle so to speak....a rich man who had a strong and trusting relationship with God. And the Lord even gave Job twice as much as he had before, when he prayed versus cursed. Job maintained his integrity. Ahab did not. Ahab made a covenant with Satan. Satan is openly portrayed in the Book of Job as a corrupter of men. Ahab went for the bait while Job resisted Satan’s attacks upon him and his family.
I note that in chapter one that Job was concerned for his children, that they might have “sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” He offered burnt offer rings for them “continually” lest this be the case. I further note that the concept of “cursing God” is focused on repeatedly in chapter one. Satan challenged God that he could get Job to curse God to his face two different times, first when his possessions and ten children were taken from him without cause and secondly when he touched Job himself with sore boils from head to foot.
So the whole purpose of all these series of disastrous events was for one thing....for Satan to get Job to curse God to His face. It looks to me that Satan used Mrs. Job’s tongue to help get the “job” done. And especially after losing ten children in one fell swoop, it must have been a pretty tempting possibility. But he withstood the temptation. Job was a man of great faith. Ahab was a man of no faith.
Moshe Ben-Chaim: Keep in mind; “Satan” here refers to Job’s corrupt, underlying philosophy. There is no creature called Satan. It is God’s method of describing Job’s own deficient views. God depicts Job’s opinions as “Satan”. Job felt, as long as life is good, he would follow God. Thus, if he lacked some of his good in life, he would not follow God. Job’s evil counsel is referred to as “Satan”.
God afflicts Job based on his own lack of knowledge and perfection, although he did not sin in action. Thus, we learn that God may allow tragedy to affect someone who is not perfect. But once Job heard Elihu’s words, and God’s words, he learned new truths and perfected himself. This is why he received his good life again, in greater measure than before, for now, he was good in greater measure.
Jake: I’m not exactly sure of the specifics, but there seems to be a debate on “The Adversary” in Job. Is he the same as Satan? I think many Christians would say that it is. I don’t know the specifics of the Jewish beliefs, Rabbi... but from what I understand you do not believe in Satan as an actual being, so of course Job would be less of a battle between good and evil and more of a test of humanity. Many people I have seen (including myself) see a very disturbing picture painted in Job, mostly through the image of Satan. Why would god take up a bet with Satan? Why would he ruin a poor innocent man’s life just to prove himself more powerful than Satan?
Moshe Ben-Chaim: Job was subject to his tragedies only until he corrected his deficient knowledge, and even this correction, was by God’s graciousness. Maimonides points to the omission of the appellations “intelligent” and “wise” in reference to Job. Although upright, he lacked wisdom. It behooves us to review Maimonides clues to the book of Job:
“…listen to the following useful instruction given by our Sages, who in truth deserve the title of “wise men” - it makes clear that which appears doubtful, and reveals that which has been hidden, and discloses most of the mysteries of the Law. They said in the Talmud as follows: “R. Simeon, son of Lakish, says, “The adversary (Satan) evil inclination (yezer ha-ra’), and the angel of death, are one and the same being.” Here we find all that has been mentioned by us in such a dear manner that no intelligent person will be in doubt about it. It has thus been shown to you that one and the same thing is designated by these three different terms, and that actions ascribed to these three are in reality the actions of one and the same agent. Again, the ancient doctors of the Talmud said, “The adversary goes about and misleads, then he goes up and accuses, obtains permission, and takes the soul.” (Guide for the Perplexed, Book III, Chap. XXII)
The entire “so to speak” discussion between God and Satan must be understood as a metaphor. We see above that Maimonides clarifies Satan to be man’s evil inclination. Which man are we discussing here? It is Job; Satan here refers to Job’s instincts. When the Satan says, “put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face” this refers to Jobs sense of justice, i.e., Job ultimately felt obligated to God as long as he possessed his health. His children and wealth were taken from him at first; yet, he did not rebel until his was stricken with boils. (Maimonides highlights this point) Only then did Job curse the day he was born. And it was this corruption that God euphemistically says, “should smite him”. This means that Job’s incorrect philosophy (Satan) was the reason why he was smitten. It is worthwhile to read all of Maimonides words in this chapter.
Job sought to find answers, and exposed the false philosophies of his three friends, Bildad, Tzofar and Elifaz. God later validated his arguments defending God’s justice, but Job required additional wisdom. Elihu and God eventually penetrated his mind, and with Job’s recognition of new ideas, he was worthy of God’s intervention, and was restored to even greater stature.
Jake, What you thought was God’s “bet with Satan”, was in fact a conversation which never took place: God’s “address to Satan”, was really, God verbalizing for us from where came Job’s tragedies; it was from his false views. One, who is ignorant, as Maimonides teaches earlier in his Guide, removes him from God, and is subject to what might befall him through nature, or man. Interesting is that these two causes – nature and man – were responsible for Job’s tragedies. And what you thought was God destroying some “poor innocent man’s life”, was in fact, God perfecting someone who possessed false ideas.
There is much more to be said about these opening chapters of Job.