JOB: Perspective

One of the most famous stories of the Bible is the story of Job, the man who loses everything. The stage for the story is set when God essentially creates a wager around how impressed He is with Job’s character. After bragging about Job to Satan, Satan asserts that Job’s character is a result of his prosperity. In an attempt to prove Satan incorrect, God allows Satan to destroy Job’s life and Job loses everything — his possessions, his health, and even his children. Job’s wife is the only one left and she doesn’t end up being much of a blessing to him through the ordeal. After Job’s friends come to comfort him, and remaining silent for one week, they begin a long bantering discourse which will last for 36 chapters.

After Job seems to become increasingly haughty and hostile, God finally enters the story with comments that are far from comforting and puts Job in his place, reminding him of just who he is dealing with. The story ends with Job’s chastening and the restoration of a life of prosperity again.

So, with that being said, there are a few points to discuss.

First, Job is a drama. Now, this is not to say that the drama is not based on an absolutely true tale about a man named Job, but it is very clearly, in its original language, an ancient drama meant to be reenacted with actors that have long monologues and used as a dramatic teaching tool. Read Job like you would a play.

Second, it is interesting to note Job’s friends partaking in the Jewish observance of shiva. In Jewish culture, when a person is in a period of grieving and loss, the friends show up and “sit shiva” with the griever. You are not allowed to speak unless spoken to; you are just there to be present for the suffering. There is a great discussion about this practice in the NOOMA video “Matthew” by Rob Bell.

Third, I have placed Job as a Exilic Prophet. Many conservative Bible teachers would teach that Job is one of the oldest stories of the Bible. There are elements of the story that seem to resonate with a much older Hebrew prose somewhere around the date of Abraham. However, there are many elements to the story that seem to be problematic to this view. Some of the other content of the book does not match the time period at all (e.g., Zodiac references, language surrounding the beasts, etc.); additionally, the blatant reference to Satan would be almost a millennium ahead of its time. The reference to Satan as a personified character doesn’t begin until the Hellenistic period. Such a reference would be unheard of that early in history. There is another prevalent theory (especially amongst Jewish thought) that the book of Job belongs to the books of wisdom in the Ketuvim, perhaps even written by Solomon. There is much to support this claim, as well, which we will pull apart here shortly. However, this doesn’t solve some of the same issues mentioned above. My teacher preferred to place Job in the Babylonian exile, which is where I place it, as he thought it was an incredible dramatic/poetic/prophetic message to a people who had lost everything, just like Job.

My personal opinion is that it is likely all three of those options. I imagine the story of Job would very likely be a very ancient tale; humans have been wrestling with questions about suffering since the dawn of time. I can also see a character like Solomon taking this same story and giving it new life (similar to how we like to resurrect old classics and remake them into new movies today). Of course, I can easily see this popular story being reclaimed yet again during a period of intense national suffering in captivity. This would explain all the elements, the old and the new, that are present in the book.

Fourth, Job is chiastic. There is no way for me to explain this chiasm in one blog post, but for those eager students of the Text, I would invite you to explore this amazing site here that outlines the chiastic structure of Job (your head will explode, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!) and for those REALLY in the mood for punishment, you could listen to my teaching on the book of Job here. These tools will explain the chiastic nature and literary debate surrounding Job in much more detail.

Long story short, the center of the book of Job ends up becoming chapter 28. I don’t want to post the entire chapter here, so please take the time to read it.

The whole point of the chapter is that true wisdom belongs to God. Only He knows where to find it and only He can unearth the amazing treasures of wisdom that come from His divine perspective. This is an incredible treasure to be buried in the center of a play about a guy who loses everything.

Which leads to my final thought: Job does not end with an explanation. After God shows up to throttle Job, you want God to end His discourse with an explanation of Job’s suffering. Doesn’t Job deserve at least that much? But He doesn’t.

Because that’s how life is.
That’s how suffering goes.
We don’t always get the answers.

But you as the reader, of course, are let into all of the backstory that the Job character knows nothing about! Can you imagine how things would have changed if Job knew that his suffering was coming as a result of a heavenly wager that rested on God’s beaming confidence in him? (Again, I would recommend watching another NOOMA video entitled “Whirlwind” by Rob Bell.)

Perspective. The author of Job is inviting us to consider the infinite and eternal possibilities that could lie behind our suffering, to know that God sees things that we could never begin to see and understand. God can mine wisdom from the hills of suffering as easily as man mines minerals from the mountains.

Even in the midst of suffering, we are being invited to trust the story.
Where then does wisdom come from?
    Where does understanding dwell?
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
    concealed even from the birds in the sky.
Destruction and Death say,
    “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”
God understands the way to it
    and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
    and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
    and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
    he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
    “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
    and to shun evil is understanding.”


DANIEL: the Son of Man

The other voice of hope that finds its way into the period of exile is the voice of Daniel. I should state up front that I will be changing the entire placement and conversation surrounding Daniel later in the series, but for now, I will place Daniel as an Exilic prophet with Ezekiel. Most scholars will place Daniel in a completely different conversation than this and such a placement will change everything, but we’ll cover that more later.

Many of us will be somewhat familiar with many of the stories that are found in the book of Daniel. Stories like Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (you would know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; but please, stop calling them by their Babylonian names given to humiliate them and call them by their Hebrew names that give them an identity within God’s people) in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den, the Daniel fast, and the vision of the statue are all prominent stories that we have heard from the book of Daniel.

But Daniel has so much more taking place under the surface. Daniel is one of the only books to be written in two languages. Daniel 2–7 is written in Aramaic, while the rest of the book is written in Hebrew. Aramaic was a language that was the “language of the land”; it’s what everyone spoke in that Semitic portion of the world and could be looked at as the secular language. Hebrew, however, was the language of God’s people — the language of the homeland.

After giving us a brief introduction in Hebrew, the writer switches to Aramaic for the first half to the book. The gesture is an amazing literary tool in and of itself. With the first half of the book in the secular language, the simple language change alone gives the reader the subtle impression that we have lost our identity. But the book comes down the hillside of hope in the language of Hebrew. You almost sense the message of restoration and hope without any of the content, just the language choice alone.

But wait, the first half of the book is in Aramaic and the last half is in Hebrew? The first half and the last half?

Could we have another chiasm on our hands?

Indeed, we do. Not just any chiasm, mind you, but an incredible double chiasm. First of all, the Aramaic portion of the book of Daniel is chiastic. You might be able to see the chiasm like this:

Chapter 2: Image of the Kingdom / Four-part statue
  Chapter 3: Will not worship / Thrown into furnace
    Chapter 4: Fall of Nebuchanezzar
    Chapter 5: Fall of Belshazzar
  Chapter 6: Will not worship / Thrown into den
Chapter 7: Image of the Kingdom / Four beasts

The center of chiasm A becomes 4:37:
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Excellent. The first chiasm speaks to the justice and goodness of God, something that all the prisoners in exile are questioning at the moment. It also speaks about the abuse of power and the hope of justice. This chiasm has it all. But there is also a second chiasm that is formed by the Hebrew portion that symbolizes the return of God’s people.

Chapter 8: Prophecies about beasts
  Chapter 9: Trials and forgiveness
  Chapter 10: Trials and mourning
Chapter 11: Prophecies about kings

The center of chiasm B is 9:25–27:
“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

Now, there is a passage that has gotten some mileage from the End Times conversation about eschatology. And for Jesus followers, there is certainly some imagery that we would blatantly see in Jesus — granted. I don’t want to take away from that for a moment. But we have to remember that Daniel isn’t written to 21st-century American Christians. It was written to ancient Jews struggling in the grip of an empire. What did the original writer mean when he wrote it?

Frankly, the passage just doesn’t make much sense if Daniel is an Exilic prophet. How is the message of restoration of the Temple, the corruption of a King, and the destruction of the Temple (again!) supposed to bring hope to the people in exile?

We’ll deal more with that amazing question in the future, but for now, let’s keep moving.

If we have this staggering double-chiasm, then it stands to rest that this double chiasm would form a third and greater chiasm which I will call chiasm C. Is your head spinning yet? It should be, the writing of the book of Daniel is phenomenal in its depth and artistry. Let me lay out the BIG POINT chiasm of the book of Daniel for you. The center of this chiasm is held throughout Jewish thought, almost without exception.

Chapter 1: Prologue
  Chapter 2: Prophecies about Kingdoms
    Chapter 3: God’s people in suffering
      Chapters 4–5: Prophecies about the fall of the king
        Chapter 6: God’s people in suffering
          Chapter 7: Prophecies about beasts
          Chapter 8: Prophecies about beasts
        Chapter 9a: God’s people in suffering
      Chapter 9b: Prophecy about the fall of the king
    Chapter 10: God’s people in suffering
  Chapter 11: Prophecies about Kingdom
Chapter 12: Epilogue

The center of the book of Daniel was one of the most rabbinically discussed passages of the Second Temple period. The moment you see it, you will immediately recognize it from the prominence it has in Jesus’s teachings. Here it is (7:13–14):
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Daniel gave a prophecy of hope that at some point, a leader would come and would establish a new Kingdom, one that would never pass away. In the meantime, God’s people are left to stand strong in the face of suffering. To resist the pull and tug of Empire. To stand and subvert a kingdom that attempts to make you bow to gods that are not your own. Daniel promises God’s protection and rescue. Daniel promises God’s presence. And Daniel promises a future and a hope.

As strong as these kingdoms and empires appear to be today, they will fall. One by one, these kingdoms will give way to the next. Pride is ultimately the thing that brings them down and every king exalts and glorifies the kingdom that lasts forever. And so, with faces set resolutely toward tomorrow, God’s people set out to plod forward until the day they might see one “like a son of man” coming in the clouds of heaven…


EZEKIEL: Strength

We now move out of the Babylonian voices and enter the period of history where we listen to the prophets of the exile. While the people of God sit “by the rivers of Babylon,” they are forced to deal with the stark reality that is their current situation. Their home has been gutted and destroyed. The Temple no longer stands. Their way of life has been done away with. Now they sit in their despair and settle into a world that is not what they or God intended when this story began.

Sitting in exile forces one to ask a different kind of question:

Why are we here?
What did we do to deserve this?
Has God forsaken and abandoned us?

This kind of brutal reality check ushers in the need for a different kind of prophetic voice. The voices of the prophets in the exile begin to take on a different tone than the prophets of the past. It’s too late for warnings; the time for preventative repentance is long gone. There’s no need for the pronouncement of woes; that would be like rubbing salt in an open wound. What God’s people need now is the ability to hang on.

If the Jewish people are ever going to come back to the path that God has called them to in the story, they are going to need to be able to overcome their current circumstances. They are going to need to push through and be empowered to choose the right in the midst of the wrong. They are going to need strength. Strength is the perfect job for a guy named Ezekiel; his very name means “God strengthens.” God is going to use this new voice to strengthen His people and their resolve.

Ezekiel is also going to introduce us to a new form of prophecy called apocalyptic literature. This form of prophetic writing uses images and symbols to convey hope to their present day. We have done so much damage to our understanding of prophecy (and eschatology [the study of the “end times”]) because of a rampant misunderstanding of how apocalyptic literature functions in the ancient Eastern world; the description is so central to the study that we do in our classes that I am going to repeat it again: Apocalyptic literature utilizes symbols and images to convey hope to their present day. We will deal with this more and more as we continue to move forward through our series.

Ezekiel is not trying to prophecy about future events and how they will go down. He is most certainly not laying forth a blueprint for the socio-political directions of future empires. Ezekiel is trying to talk to the Jewish people about their CURRENT world and their CURRENT situation. And he’s going to use symbols and images to communicate his message.

Ezekiel 4 is an excellent example of this. Ezekiel is no author, by the way; Ezekiel is a thespian. He takes his apocalyptic imagery and uses it to perform what I heard one teacher call “guerrilla theatre.” Ezekiel is going to run into a busy part of town, enact a prophetic message from the LORD, then jet out of there on a dead sprint and leave the “audience” to discuss the prophetic word with their mouths gaping. In Ezekiel 4, we hear the story of Ezekiel being told by God to build a model of Jerusalem and show the siege that will be laid against it. Ezekiel will be invited to lie on one side and then another, symbolizing the time that will be spent in exile. He will be commanded to cook his food over human excrement and then — after bargaining with the LORD — will be allowed to cook it over animal feces instead.

Fun calling.

But Ezekiel is trying to communicate hope to God’s people. Now, one might immediately begin questioning how this horrible job could possibly communicate hope, but Ezekiel’s ministry spans a great time of Israelite history. Ezekiel starts his ministry as Jerusalem is being overthrown; he is there for the exile and then there to offer words from God after the dust settles.

One of the things that Ezekiel offers is at least some semblance of explanation. Just as I might take time to explain to my children WHY they are in time out, Ezekiel takes time to explain to God’s kids why they are being punished. I believe that is one way punishment differs from discipline: Punishment is just about retribution, but discipline is about learning. Discipline makes us stronger; Ezekiel offers strength.

Ezekiel also offers assurance — all throughout his prophecy, starting in chapter 1 — that God has not abandoned His people. He has, according to Ezekiel, went with them into Babylon. He has not left them, but the presence of God that departed from the Temple is now dwelling with them in exile. He also promises the people that the same Presence will return with them and dwell in the Temple again. That isn’t a prediction of future events nearly as much as it is a message of hope to their current situation.

Ezekiel gives strength through encouragement and tells people to continue to press forward and carry on. There are lessons to learn from our mistakes. There are promises to hold onto and things that we have to believe are bigger and better than our current circumstances. There are reasons to press on into tomorrow and believe that we can be a part of putting the world back together. Ezekiel uses the mind of an innovator, the creativity of the artist, the imagination of a story-teller to communicate hope to the people of God. We must be creative. We must be industrious. We must be determined and stubborn for God’s ways. The very thing that made us a stiff-necked people in the desert is the very thing that’s going to get us through this tough time.

But we must endure. We must overcome. We must be strong.


JOEL: the Locust Plague

The final voice from what I am calling the Babylonian Period is the voice of Joel. For me, the prophet Joel has always been the quintessential prophet who shows very clearly and concisely how a prophet often functions. Joel’s prophecy is short, but very poignant, and it is easy to see the components at work in the writings of Joel. I thought I would use this as an opportunity to walk through those parts. (NOTE: Please do use this as a formula or a comprehensive template for any and every prophet. I simply like to bring a sense of working familiarity to this portion of the Text that so many people feel like they don’t understand.)

THE IMAGE: Joel starts right off the bat by introducing us to the image that will serve as the plot for his prophecy. As we’ve pointed out time and time again, many of these prophetic voices will have a picture or an image that they like to use to communicate their message. Joel introduces us to the plot of God’s people by using the metaphor of a locust plague. In their day, locusts could migrate in these incredibly destructive waves that would blow in with the changes of the seasons. Unfortunately, these massive migrations of locusts have the potential of blowing through prior to the land’s harvest. If this took place, these armies of locusts could leave your entire nation barren and picked clean, destroying the produce of the land for that year’s harvest. Joel uses this image of destruction (maybe a literal image from current events — there’s no way to know for sure) to talk about what the Babylonians have done to the land of Israel.

Hear this, you elders;
    listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
    or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell it to your children,
    and let your children tell it to their children,
    and their children to the next generation.
What the locust swarm has left
    the great locusts have eaten;
what the great locusts have left
    the young locusts have eaten;
what the young locusts have left
    other locusts have eaten.

THE INVITATION TO REPENT: After setting the stage and introducing the plot of Judah's demise, Joel then invites the people to respond with an appropriate amount of introspection and repentance. Pretty straightforward, not a whole lot to add.
Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn;
    wail, you who minister before the altar.
Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
    you who minister before my God;
for the grain offerings and drink offerings
    are withheld from the house of your God.
Declare a holy fast;
    call a sacred assembly.
Summon the elders
    and all who live in the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord.

A METAPHOR CONTINUED: Whether the return to the metaphor is simply a literary tool of poetry or whether the author is trying to imply that the people are not as responsive as he thinks they should be, Joel returns to the image of the locust plague to continue to make his point about God’s discipline among His people. Only this time, it’s becoming a little fuzzy — are we talking about armies of locusts or Babylonian armies?
At the sight of them, nations are in anguish;
    every face turns pale.
They charge like warriors;
    they scale walls like soldiers.
They all march in line,
    not swerving from their course.
They do not jostle each other;
    each marches straight ahead.
They plunge through defenses
    without breaking ranks.
They rush upon the city;
    they run along the wall.
They climb into the houses;
    like thieves they enter through the windows.

Before them the earth shakes,
    the heavens tremble,
the sun and moon are darkened,
    and the stars no longer shine.
The Lord thunders
    at the head of his army;
his forces are beyond number,
    and mighty is the army that obeys his command.
The day of the Lord is great;
    it is dreadful.
    Who can endure it?

THE PLEA: Again, the prophet pleads with the people to take what they can from this horrible situation. If they would consider their ways and consider their past actions, what would they find? If they would humble themselves, would it change their perspective?
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

THE HOPE: The situation with God’s people is bad — horrible — but it is far from hopeless. God has not left their side and is not planning on deserting them in their future. In fact, God is at work in the midst of this locust plague. There’s something redemptive to be found in the destruction that the Babylonians have left behind. Joel insists on this throughout the rest of the book.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed. 

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

This is how the message of the prophet generally functions. The problem and the plea to repent all couched in a metaphor to powerfully and poetically communicate the plot of God’s people. The crescendo into a glorious future if they will weather the storm of God’s discipline well. If they will walk forward humbly and overcome, resisting the urge to give up, on the other side they will find the LORD’s redemptive plan still at work among them and in the world.

The prophecy of Joel is bookended with the symbol of new wine. At the beginning of the work, Joel speaks of a people who were about to enjoy the fresh taste of new wine, only to have it snatched from their lips at the last moment. The prophecy will end with the vision of new wine dripping from the mountains and a river flowing from the temple and watering even the desert acacias. And we find ourselves confronted yet again with images that began our journey out of Egypt so long ago.

And that is what the woes of the prophets and the discipline of God are asking us.

Will we remember?



Another Babylonian prophet is the voice of Obadiah. The one thing that stands out about this prophet being different is the intended audience. Obadiah is directed at the people of Edom. For those who might remember the stories of the Torah, they would recognize the people of Edom as the descendants of Esau. This means that the audience of the book of Obadiah are — in a sense — the half-brothers of the people of Judah. And this will make a difference as we read the book today.

The Edomites eventually became known as the Idumeans of later history. This nomadic people did things in history that, to this day, astound us. It would be far from the scope of this blog post to expound on the Idumeans, but it’s important to note that many of the things they accomplished confound historians to this day. One of those things, relevant to the book of Obadiah, is the fact that one day, this nomadic people decided that they didn’t want to be nomads anymore. They began to settle down and almost immediately started building rock fortresses that are so stunning in their construction that it’s impossible to imagine a group of ancient spice traders built them.

One example of this is the famous city of Petra, seen in the picture below.

 Amazing. It helps us hear some of the context of Obadiah when we read:
“See, I will make you small among the nations;
    you will be utterly despised.
The pride of your heart has deceived you,
    you who live in the clefts of the rocks
    and make your home on the heights,
you who say to yourself,
    ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ ”
Long story short (not that it has to be; Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew scriptures), God’s main concern has been — brace yourself, this may come as a surprise — the way they have treated their neighbors. In this case, the neighbors have been the people of Judah, being slaughtered by the Babylonians.
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
    “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom,
    those of understanding in the mountains of Esau?
Your warriors, Teman, will be terrified,
    and everyone in Esau’s mountains
    will be cut down in the slaughter.
Because of the violence against your brother Jacob,
    you will be covered with shame;
    you will be destroyed forever.
On the day you stood aloof
    while strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them.
You should not gloat over your brother
    in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
    in the day of their destruction,
nor boast so much
    in the day of their trouble.
You should not march through the gates of my people
    in the day of their disaster,
nor gloat over them in their calamity
    in the day of their disaster,
nor seize their wealth
    in the day of their disaster.
You should not wait at the crossroads
    to cut down their fugitives,
nor hand over their survivors
    in the day of their trouble."

At this point, I would make a couple observations. Even though we have stopped talking directly about the tension between the two stories of Samuel/Kings and the Chronicler, it would be worth our time to notice that justice continues to be the concern that consistently pops up throughout the prophets. While idolatry has certainly not left the building as a topic of discussion, the story of God continues to center around how we treat those around us. Do we SEE those in trouble? How do we respond to those in need? How do we treat our neighbors? Can we forgive the past?

Not only this, but it would also be healthy to notice that these expectations are only held for God’s people. There is a universal expectation that God has for all of humanity. There is an expectation that we would treat everyone with a certain level of respect, hospitality, and generosity. And God holds this to be true for His partners, as well as the people of Edom, as well as all nations.

Injustice is not how God has created the world to work.

Injustice belongs to the order of Death and Death does not belong in God’s good creation. So it stands to reason that the prophet Obadiah continues to be a voice that reminds us of the things that are “the most real” in our world. If God would expect the Edomites to treat their half-brothers with a certain level of respect, then it must be true that the squabbles between brothers (or half-brothers) can still be solved with forgiveness and grace. Apparently, the invitation continues to be that we trust the story and lay down our lives on behalf of those around us. Apparently, God continues to look for partners, even outside the parameters of labels of “God’s people.”

I’m betting that the same would be true today.