Job Vs. God: A Covenental Lawsuit: Part One

As I discussed previously [1], I was challenged to show that the contention between God and Job over the course of the book of Job could be viewed as a covenental lawsuit, since someone took offense to the term and claimed to be unfamiliar with it in the course of his long amount of time in the ministry. The first part of this challenge, therefore, is a literature review. Can we find official literature both in the sense of written material as well as sermons, that would describe the difficulties between Job and God, using the language of lawsuits. Demonstrating a large enough quantity of this material, especially if it used the precise language of a covenant or covenantal lawsuit, would show that it is legitimate to speak of such matters within the Church of God without being accused of doing original research that has never been discussed or spoken of or written of before, and that the concepts and language are “in the air,” even if they are not necessarily widely recognized or understood. It is with that clear intent that I begin this challenge.

Appropriately, I will begin with the literature and sermons of the Church of God that I attend, the United Church of God. As it happens, there are two references within the Bible Reading Program commentary for the Book of Job that speak at some length and detail about the lawsuit between Job and God. Both references are worth quoting at some length. In the commentary for Job, chapters 9-10, we read the following:

“Job’s despairing point here and in what follows is to say: How can I be found innocent before God when God, who is omnipotent and the ultimate Judge, has set Himself against me? In its note on verse 3, The Nelson Study Bible states: “The verb to contend indicates that Job was considering the idea of entering a legal case against God. The prophets often used this word when speaking of God bringing a legal case against Israel (Is. 1:2; Mic. 6:1). The Hebrew for contend is almost always used metaphorically in Job, referring to a ‘lawsuit’ between Job and God. Job’s legal dilemma before the Lord, who served simultaneously as Job’s judge and legal adversary (see [Job] 13:20-28), underscores the urgency and hopelessness of Job’s call for a mediator to hear his case ([Job 9] v. 33). Job calculates that the chances of answering God’s interrogation are very slim, one in a thousand—something God later verifies (see 38:1-42:6). The legal term answer means to respond to an accusation in court, particularly under cross-examination [2].””

Later on, we see this language of formal charges continue:

“In his anguish and confusion, Job begins to consider some disturbing notions about God. As The Expositor’s Bible Commentary summarizes: “Would God ever treat him justly? He doubted it (vv. 14-31). Does God mock the innocent? Job thought probably so (vv. 21-24). ‘If it is not he, then who is it?’ (v. 24). These are hard words, but his question instead of a statement implies doubt. These words are followed in vv. 32-35 with a yearning for someone strong enough to take up his cause with God. But in chapter 10 Job decided to plead his own cause and direct all his words to God. How could God who created him [with such obvious care] want to destroy him and that without any formal charges?” (note on Job 9-10). Job wanted to know what he did that was wrong. No doubt, he had been examining himself for months and remembering that he had tried so hard to please God in every detail—to the point God said he was blameless. Considering what he endured, the wonder of all of Job’s rhetoric is that he managed to stay so sane.

Regarding Job 10:17, The Nelson Study Bible notes: “The phrase you renew your witnesses against me is a legal metaphor that may refer to each new aspect of Job’s illness. In the equivalent war metaphor, the Lord was sending changes or troop reinforcements against him.” This could even refer to Job’s friends. Perhaps Job viewed them as sent by God to condemn him further.”

Later on, towards the end of the book of Job, the Bible Reading Program commentary returns to the issue of lawsuits and court with regards to the contention between Job and God, where God’s language makes it clear that Job has been making a lawsuit against God [3]:

“Then, after God’s first long volley of evidence proving His vast wisdom and care for His creation, He calls on Job to respond (40:1-2). “God reverses Job’s accusation that God has brought a lawsuit against him (see 10:2 for the same Hebrew word). It really has been Job accusing God, not the other way around” (Nelson Study Bible, note on 40:1-2). God gives an implicit reprimand to Job. Yet notice that it is not harsh, stern or even direct. God does not say, “Shame on you, wicked man. You are cursed for daring to rebuke Me.” All He says is, “Okay, after all you’ve heard, are you still going to press your case against Me and try to correct Me? You who would presume to rebuke God, let’s hear what you have to say now.”

Job is stunned and overwhelmed—probably at both the experience and at what God has said to him ending with this calling to account. What can he possibly say in response? All he can answer in verses 3-5 is that He is vile—worthless—and He covers his mouth, probably as a symbol of his unworthiness to say anymore. Job is humbled but, as we will see next, God still has more to say.”

From these references alone, we can see that there is official literature that discusses the legal nature of Job’s contention with God, and we can therefore say that the case is settled. Even so, it is still worthwhile to examine the extent to which this is a more widespread phenomenon. There have not been any sermons directly on the subject, although there are at least a few that engage in extensive exegesis of the Book Of Job, most notably a seven-part sermon from Mr. David Dobson [4], which would likely include some discussion of the formal legal rhetoric within the Book of Job in a similar fashion to the Bible commentary cited earlier. When I have the time to check out the relevant chapters, I will provide further updates to this post on such references as they occur.

Although I found several references to the metaphor of God’s courtroom, I could not find any references in Living Church of God to the existence of a lawsuit between Job and God within their literature through a web search. A search of Cogwa’s website showed no references to either Job or lawsuits, suggesting it was not an area of focus for this relatively young organization. Philadelphia Church of God had a particularly unpleasant and lengthy discussion of Job’s case with God that paints Job in a very terrible light, making all kinds of untoward accusations about Job’s character and integrity that was unpleasant to read, but that demonstrates the essentially courtroom legal trial aspect of Job [5]. From this we can see that while the use of courtroom language and lawsuits and cases to describe Job’s dealings with God is not particularly common, it is not entirely unheard of either, and that it is most commonly, and most kindly, done within the United church of God. We can therefore say that although the specific term “covenental lawsuit” or “covenant lawsuit” is not used, that the concept is nevertheless discussed in sufficient length that it ought to be at least somewhat familiar to those who are closely familiar with the Bible Reading Commentary, or with the lengthy and more accusatory sermon on Job’s self-righteousness written by Mr. Stephen Flurry. Either way, the concept itself is not unknown within the Church of God, even if there are other aspects and facets of Job that are far more familiar.

[1] See footnote [2] from the post cited below:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/no-direction-home/

[2] http://bible.ucg.org/bible-commentary/Job/Job’s-response:-How-can-a-man-contend-with-God/

[3] http://bible.ucg.org/bible-commentary/Job/God’s-first-discourse-continued:-He-rules-and-tends-the-animal-world-First-discourse-concludes:-Will-Job-correct-God,-Job’s-first-response-to-God:-He-has-no-answer/

[4] See, for example:

http://www.ucg.org/sermons/book-of-job-introduction-and-chapter-1

http://www.ucg.org/sermons/book-of-job-chapters-2-7

http://www.ucg.org/sermons/book-of-job-chapters-8-14

http://www.ucg.org/sermons/book-of-job-chapters-15-21

http://www.ucg.org/sermons/book-of-job-chapters-22-29

http://www.ucg.org/sermons/book-of-job-chapters-30-37

http://www.ucg.org/sermons/book-of-job-chapters-38-42

[5] https://www.pcog.org/articles/1476/the-self-righteousness-of-job

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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