AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 63, 2015
DAVID J. A. CLINES, Job 38–42 (Word Biblical Commentary Volume 18B; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011). Hardback. US$49.99.
The book of Job continues to challenge and puzzle readers who seek to engage honestly with it. Following the format of the Word Biblical Commentary Series, David J. A. Clines’ study of Job 38–42 forms the third and final volume on the book. Introductory issues of date, authorship, purpose etc. are addressed in Volume 1. This work analyses God’s response to Job’s questions regarding his suffering and Job’s replies. Employing rhetorical questions in the form of a lawsuit, God redefines Job’s quest for justice as an issue of creational design rather than one of theodicy. Thus, knowledge and correct understanding are the key factors to engaging with life. As Job is instructed to gird his loins for a legal debate (38:3), so readers need to prepare to wrestle with understanding this powerful book.
At the beginning of each section Clines presents his own translation of the text, sometimes comparing it to the major versions (e.g., NIV, NEB, JB, NJPS, NAB). He discusses textual variants, grammatical structures and interpretive options. He also includes helpful comparisons with related languages (e.g., Arabic, Aramaic and Akkadian). Although undertaking a scholarly approach, he makes difficult sections of the Hebrew text accessible to the everyday reader. Brief discussions on issues of form, structure and setting are followed by extensive commentaries and explanations of the text. Half of the volume comprises an exhaustive bibliography of works on the book of Job from various fields of study including biblical studies, art, literature and music. Job has obviously fascinated scholars over the ages and continues to do so.
Clines poignantly describes Job’s plea for justice as wistful, hopeful, despairing, taunting and aggressive (1088). However, God apparently ignores Job’s concerns, preferring to address issues of cosmic order: the “divine Design” (1096), “the universe Project” (1089). While undoubtedly powerful, of more importance is God’s skill and insight. Though it is not the reason for his suffering, Job is accused of lacking understanding of the broader picture and speaking without knowledge, thus ignoring and obscuring the divine plan. He is not wicked or offensive, just ignorant.
With current interest in ecological readings of biblical texts, Clines’ focus on God’s intimate knowledge of and delight in creation is important. Though not a “cosmic policeman” (1096), God has carefully arranged the sea, the underworld (realm of the dead) and the upper world (place of light, darkness, rain, constellations and clouds) (1098–1114). Clines describes Job’s presentation of the universe as “anthropomorphized” (1091) which contrasts with some indigenous readings of Scripture that seek to hear Earth’s voice.
Though reading somewhat like a zoological report, Clines’ descriptions of animals, birds and reptiles are informative, entertaining and grounding. Twelve pages are devoted to a discussion on the appearance and habits of crocodiles (“Leviathan” of 41:1–34; also identified as a dolphin, whale, sea monster or dragon) (1190-1201). Even included are websites for video clips (e.g., 1196 and 1200). An amusing discussion on possible (and impossible) ways of catching crocodiles is included, as well as their nutritional value (1194). Whether, as Clines muses, God may be a little too attached to crocodiles (1203), one wonders if God’s knowledge of them matches his.
In his replies to God Job acknowledges the humiliation of his human limitations but still he does not confess or repent of sin (40:3–5 and 42:1–6). Nevertheless, in view of God’s omnipotence, he chooses to withdraw his lawsuit. Expressing despair (indignation? sarcasm?), there seems no point in further debate when God obviously has a different agenda. Nevertheless, his divine encounter prompts Job to accept consolation, conclude his period of mourning and resume his life. Sadly, his quest for justice remains unresolved and unsatisfied.
The epilogue shifts the focus from universal issues to those of society and family (daughters, village and farms) (42:7–17). Rather than addressing questions of the meaning of the universe and justice, Clines proposes that Job concludes with a new question: “What is important for an authentic human existence” (1242). He helpfully reminds us that issues of justice and theology all have individual contexts, drawing an honest yet frustrating conclusion that the big questions of life persist and remain unanswered; they “will not go away. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them” (1242). Clines’ careful exegesis of Job 38–42 is readable and useful. While perhaps not the final word on Job, it makes a significant contribution to studying this challenging book.