St. Job and the pre-incarnate Logos
This Day, the Tenth Day of May
. . . In the land of Hus, the holy prophet Job, a man of wonderful patience.
The story of St. Job (Hebrew Iyyob) is found in the Old Testament book named for him, a remarkable work of Hebrew literature so ancient that it has been suggested that it could be older than the five Books of Moses and thus be the oldest book in the Bible (though Jewish tradition ascribes the book to Moses himself). Be that as it may, St. Job's story and his reputation as a holy, steadfast, upright man were well known to the prophet St. Ezekiel in the early 500s B.C. (Ezek. 14:14,20) and to the righteous exile St. Tobias in the 700s and 600s B.C. (Tob. 2:12, 15). No matter when the Book of Job was written, however, Catholics have always accepted it as a substantially factual account of historical events of the distant past. The names of the persons and places in the book, as well as the general circumstances, indicate that the geographical setting was the territory of Aram (Syria as well as parts of Northern Mesopotamia) and a strip of the Fertile Crescent perhaps reaching as far south as Edom (today in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). "Hus" or Uz was a tribal territory of Aram, so named from Hus, son of Aram, son of Sem, son of Noe (Gen. 10:23). The names and tribal designations of two of St. Job's friends, Eliphas the Themanite (cf. Gen. 36:11) and Baldad the Suhite (cf. Gen. 25:2, 6), show them to be descendants of Abraham, and St. Job himself knows and adores the Lord God of Abraham, while the remarkable longevity of St. Job and the description of his sacrificial rites points to a period of time well before the days of Moses. Consequently St. Job most probably lived around the 1700s or 1600s B.C. Whether the Book of Job was written then or at a later time is impossible to say, and in any case of no real importance. It also should be clarified that St. Job -- Iyyob -- is not to be identified as the Jobab (Yobab) son of Zara, second king of Edom mentioned in Gen. 36:33 (a tradition found in Greek Septuagint manuscripts), nor with the Jasub (Yashub) son of Issachar son of Jacob whose name by an ancient scribal error is misspelled Job (Yob) in Gen. 46:13 (cf. Num. 26:24 and I Par. 7:1), the middle consonant of Jasub's name having been accidentally omitted by a copyist.
It is the New Testament Epistle of the Apostle St. James the Less, of course, from which the Roman Martyrology derives its description of Job as "a man of wonderful patience" --
"Behold, we account them blessed who have endured. You have heard of the patience of Job, and you have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is merciful and compassionate." (James 5:11)
As a holy man who endured severe trials and temptations at the hands of Satan, who resented his faith and righteousness, St. Job sets for all the Catholic faithful an example of patient trust in God in the face of bewildering and apparently senseless pain and suffering -- an experience that foreshadowed the Passion of Our Lord. Suddenly losing his great wealth, his health, and his children -- disasters and personal grief so great that even his wife could not understand why Job would not give up and "curse God and die" -- the saint gave himself over to holy resignation: "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." And yet, while he would not curse God, his sorrow and loss were so great that he came to wish that he had never been born, confounded that God would have created him and then purposed to cause him to experience such intense pain. Even Job's friends, who had come to commiserate and compassionate him, soon commenced a philosophical and theological debate with him, arguing against Job's insistent protests of innocence that Job must in some way be to blame for his suffering. In the course of the debate, St. Job clings to supernatural hope as the solace for his anguish, uttering a remarkable Messianic prophecy and affirming the resurrection of the flesh (Job 19:23-29). Round and round Job and his friends went, until at last God Himself joined their debate -- and put an end to it, speaking from the midst of a whirlwind and reminding them all that He is the Almighty and the Most High, and simply does not owe any man an explanation for what He does (not that the frail and fallible human intellect could attain to the comprehension of His thoughts even if He were to explain Himself). It is rather more than enough that we patiently trust in His goodness, His wisdom, and His love, and rest in the assurance that "to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints" (Rom. 8:28).
All ye holy patriarchs and prophets,
Pray for us!