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Job as you’ve never seen him

Presbyterian Association of Musicians Bible study imagines Job on an undersea tour with God as his guide

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Tavis Beck via Unsplash

MONTREAT, North Carolina — After teaching about Wisdom literature found in the Book of Proverbs on Thursday, Dr. William Brown turned to the Book of Job that afternoon during an Adult Bible Study class at the Presbyterian Association of MusiciansWorship & Music Conference being held this week at Montreat Conference Center.

Brown, who teaches Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, quickly went through the basics of what the book is about: God enters into a conversation with a member of the divine council, the satan, “who roams Earth to cast suspicion on people,” he said, and not “the epitome of evil” we see with upper-case Satan.

“Have you considered my servant Job?” God asks the satan, who responds, “does Job fear God for nothing?”

“It gets God’s attention, and God agrees to implement this horrific test to see if Job will renounce God in the face of deep suffering,” Brown said, suffering that includes a wind that kills all 10 of Job’s children and Job losing all his possessions and his health.

His friends come to console him, and at first they do help. They sit in silence with their grieving friend for seven days. “The problem begins when they speak,” Brown said.

They accuse Job of “a sin or two or three of four which would make sense of his great suffering,” but Job knows he’s guilty of no such sin. “It turns into an argument, and Job accuses them of being miserable comforters,” Brown said. “For Job to make sense of his suffering, he thinks God has committed a travesty of justice. He wants God to show up in court.”

God finally shows up in chapter 38, not in a courtroom but in a whirlwind. Recall Job’s children had perished because of a heavy wind. In chapters 38 through 41, God teaches Job “something about Creation and the world in which he lives,” Brown pointed out. “God is exploding Job’s world of privilege, power and prejudice by extending Job’s horizon.”

Dr. William Brown has taught all week at Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“God shows Job the wonders of the universe,” Brown said. “God doesn’t come to resolve Job’s suffering, but to expand Job’s mind and heart. As Job sits on his ash heap, God describes the world of Creation before Job. It’s as if God changes [Job’s] ash heap into a magic carpet. Job can imagine where the birthplace of life is.”

After God drops one of the greatest questions ever asked — where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? — God does “something wild,” according to Brown, describing to Job wild animals including the lion, raven, mountain goat, ostrich, hawk, vulture, Behemoth and Leviathan, “all described with great respect and admiration, as if God were the proud parent showing off these creatures to Job.”

“I have uttered what I did not understand,” Job tells God, “things too wonderful for me that I did not know … therefore I relent, and am comforted over dust and ashes [Brown’s translation].”

“God has succeeded where Job’s friends failed miserably,” Brown said.

Brown focused for a bit on Leviathan and took the class through a thought experiment of what more God could say by taking Job on an underwater tour of Leviathan’s environs.

“You call it the valley of death. I call it the womb of life,” Brown said, playing the part of the Almighty. Brown displayed pictures of deep-sea creatures as he continued his tour.

“Let’s go back 375 million years ago, a mere twinkle in my eye,” God tells Job in Brown’s mind. “Here’s fishapod, a missing link.” Brown named the creature Snout. Snout could breathe air and walk, although it “walked rarely and under protest,” he said.

“In 375 million years, that face will be your own,” God tells Job. “Come back to the surface and gird up your loins like a man. Take in the breath of life and live anew, knowing you have found kinship with the wild and equally so with the children of adam.”

“Job emerged slowly, and he took a breath, full and deep. He crawled back to his ash heap. Amid shocked silence from his friends, he stood up and he prayed — not for himself, but for his friends who betrayed him,” Brown said. “Then he walked back home, ready to begin his new life.”

For the next 140 years, Job lived his life “full of days,” the Bible tells us. For his second batch of 10 children, he extends his inheritance to his three daughters as well as his sons. “Job is ensuring his daughters a life of independence and freedom, like the creatures of the water,” Brown said. “They don’t have to marry. They have become independent and free. Job learned that from the wilderness God shows him.”

“He is now an anti-patriarchal patriarch, the first champion of gender justice in the Bible,” Brown said.

“It is left to us to imagine what else Job does in his new life. I don’t think he ever forgets his children who died in the catastrophe. To receive the blessing of his new family, he must have thought another disaster could come. It took courage, and he does so as a new man, a father and patriarch, all because he has emerged from the watery depths. He has survived and been transformed … Thanks be to God.”

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