Job Vs. God: A Covenantal Lawsuit: Part Two

In part one of this post [1], which came about as a result of a challenge [2], we examined the fact that the idea of Job having filed a metaphorical lawsuit against God for covenantal nonperformance, and seeing God somewhat painfully grill him with questions as if he was on the witness stand himself is a matter that has been discussed to some extent within the Church of God. This post does not wish to repeat that discussion, rather, it wishes to present a reasonably concise reason why the language of covenantal lawsuit is appropriate to describe Job’s complaint against God, and what it means for those who may not be familiar with such language in the Church of God because they have not paid close attention to its references both inside and outside the Church of God. Let us state at the outset that the covenantal lawsuit is only one aspect of the Book of Job, and is neither the most obvious nor the only nor the most important way to view the book. It is, however, a legitimate way to view Job that offers some insight to the structure and place of Job within the larger body of Scripture, and that is worth at least some investigation.

First, we need to explain what a covenantal lawsuit is. The definition that will be used here, and throughout my writings on the subject, is as follows: “A covenantal lawsuit describes the efforts by one party in a covenant to sue the other for nonperformance of the terms of their covenant, or to inform the other party of their nonperformance in the hope of repentance and a change of behavior.” Most of the time in the Bible, we see God making this kind of lawsuit, especially when the prophets are sent to Judah and Israel to inform them of impending judgment unless they repent. It may be a little bit unsettling to see God having to defend his own side of the bargain. Yet at least once in the Bible, God Himself invites such a test from believers. We find this in Malachi 3:8-10, which reads: ““Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” Here we see God inviting the people of Israel to try His covenantal promises by obeying Him, promising to reward that obedience with blessings.

Having seen the covenantal lawsuit in action, we next need to ask ourselves if covenantal language and concepts are to be found in Job. There are at least three ways that this is indicated in the book of Job. First, we see in Job 1:8-12 that Job is protected by His relationship with God, and that in order to do any harm to Job at all, Satan had to receive permission by God, within the limits that God set: “Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.””

Second, at the end of the book of Job, when Job has ceased to sue God and has admitted that He is not in the place to question the authority of God over creation or God’s reasons for allowing what He allows, a bitterly painful lesson for some of us to accept, Job serves as a priest for his friends, offering up a sacrifice on their behalf before God, serving as a mediator to appeal to God for mercy on their behalf for having misrepresented God’s character, in Job 42:7-10: “And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord commanded them; for the Lord had accepted Job. And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Here we see that not only was Job in a covenantal relationship with God, but that he also was in a place of some importance as a priest in like manner to Melchizedek or the patriarchs in being able to make offerings before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood.

Third, throughout the book of Job we see that Job is in the habit of speaking and thinking and behaving in covenantal fashion. Most conspicuously, we see Job explicitly refer to covenants in Job 31:1-6, which reads: ““I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman? For what is the allotment of God from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from on high? Is it not destruction for the wicked, and disaster for the workers of iniquity? Does He not see my ways, and count all my steps? If I have walked with falsehood, or if my foot has hastened to deceit, let me be weighed on honest scales, that God may know my integrity.” Not only was Job in a covenant with God, a matter recognized by both God and Satan, and belatedly by Job’s friends, but Job was in the habit of making covenants with others as well, as a way of demonstrating his sincerity in seeking to obey God through avoiding the lure of lust and deception, which so easily ensnare all of us.

Having dealt with that matter, let us turn to the question of whether Job itself exhibits any language that is obvious to lawsuits. Indeed, such language can be found. For example, let us look at Job 9:14-20, which reads as follows: ““How then can I answer Him, and choose my words to reason with Him? For though I were righteous, I could not answer Him; I would beg mercy of my Judge. If I called and He answered me, I would not believe that He was listening to my voice. For He crushes me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not allow me to catch my breath, but fills me with bitterness. If it is a matter of strength, indeed He is strong; and if of justice, who will appoint my day in court? Though I were righteous, my own mouth would condemn me; though I were blameless, it would prove me perverse.” Here we see Job speaking of his day in court, and God as His judge, and his own reasonable doubts about being able to defend himself in God’s court. That is pretty straightforward language to express the fact that Job felt like he was involved in a covenantal lawsuit.

Nor is this the only example of such language that can be found. Job 40:1-8, for example, reads as follows: “Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said: “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.” Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: “Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?” Here again we see the language of a cosmic courtroom drama, where God, as the judge, challenges Job to defend Himself without accusing Him, and Job realizes that He is not fit to accuse God in His own courtroom. Again, the legal language is pretty straightforward, with people called on the witness stand to answer difficult questions.

Nor is this all. One of the most touching aspects of Job is the way that Job seeks an advocate to defend Him, because he (rightly) considers himself unfit to defend himself from the implicit condemnation of God being demonstrated through his trial. Job knows he is involved in a legal case, as he says in Job 13:17-19: “Listen carefully to my speech, and to my declaration with your ears. See now, I have prepared my case, I know that I shall be vindicated. Who is he who will contend with me? If now I hold my tongue, I perish.” Yet even in his despair, Job knows there is someone who will bear witness for him in the heavenly court, as it is written in Job 16:19-22: “Surely even now my witness is in heaven, and my evidence is on high. My friends scorn me; my eyes pour out tears to God. Oh, that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleads for his neighbor! For when a few years are finished, I shall go the way of no return.” If Job was so certain that he was involved in a lawsuit in heaven, why should we, who are removed by thousands of years, be so quick to reject Job’s own words in courtroom language?

Of what benefit is it to view Job as a covenantal lawsuit? For one, we have seen in the foregoing that Job viewed himself as being involved in a lawsuit with God, and that the matter of Job’s covenant relationship with God was a key part of the question for Satan as well as Job’s accusing friends, who were quick to impute sin and evil motive to him in his troubles. For another, the language of lawsuits, witnesses, judges, questioning, contention, and the like are found very easily in Job, as even a cursory search will demonstrate, and the question of whether God owed Job anything for his obedience, the classic formulation of a covenantal lawsuit, was explicitly discussed between Job and his friends, and then Job and God. Seeing Job on at least one layer as a covenantal lawsuit helps us to understand the book of Job better, especially the extremely serious and heated nature of the rhetoric between Job and his friends. Once we view this as the behavior of witnesses before a heavenly court where Job is facing judgment and accusation, Job’s extremely heated self-defense makes more sense, and the his ferocity and even desperation become far more reasonable than the way he is viewed when this context is not taken into consideration. Who would not be terrified at facing what appears to be the heavy hand of God’s judgment for living a godly and obedient life?

Additionally, understanding the nature of Job as a covenantal lawsuit helps to explain the formal structure of Job, with Satan seeking (and receiving) permission to harm Job as part of a test, Job’s response, and the debate-like structure of the dialogue between Job and his friends, followed by the discourse of Elihu and then God, and then a closing that demonstrates Job’s vindication. Since we know that courtrooms are particularly formal places with balance, seeing Job as a lawsuit helps us to recognize this formal structure in its own pages. Likewise, the covenant lawsuit of Job places it in context with the prophets of God, who similarly suffered despite being righteous and were given the unpleasant and often physically unrewarding task of speaking on God’s behalf before a rebellious people facing judgment. This larger context helps makes Job’s own behavior as a watchman for his neighbors and friends easier to understand, and certainly a great deal less self-righteous than he is sometimes accused of being [3]. These reasons are sufficient to demonstrate that viewing Job as a covenantal lawsuit is helpful and beneficial in understanding Job on its own terms, from its own language, and in light of the larger biblical context. Obviously, such a matter requires some explanation, but that is what godly teaching is all about, particularly when it comes to matters like this which are interesting and noteworthy but are hardly obvious.

For although legal language is not hard to find in Job if one is looking for it, it is not so obvious that it can be seen and understood by those who are not looking for it. As for myself, being the sort of person who is used to seeing myself on trial, facing hostile accusers who ought to be friends and brethren, living a life that invites unpleasant questions of “Why me, Lord?” and “How long, O Lord?” makes it easy to identify with Job’s own difficult position, and the seriousness of one’s need to defend oneself against all kinds of wicked and malicious false accusations as to evil character and behavior. Likewise, on top of such a focus on Job and its worth, there is added a strong personal interest in matters of law and debate as well as voracious reading of material both from the Church of God (including the UCG commentary for the Bible reading program [4]) and outside, particularly among Calvinists who believe in Theonomy, among whom the term covenant lawsuit is commonly used.

So, where does this leave us in the original debate? It is not difficult to believe that a longtime minister would have never heard of Job discussed as a covenant lawsuit, because in order to see it that way requires extensive outside reading (or a serious examination of the UCG bible commentaries for Job), which is far from automatic. Likewise, if someone lacked such knowledge it would be jarring and uncomfortable for a comparatively young person like myself to be like Elihu in speaking boldly in the presence of one’s elders. The most obvious and fair-minded solution would have been to investigate such matters before escalating such matters, but the insecure are not often wise. Neither does biblical knowledge, especially unusual biblical knowledge, make for the best opportunity of displaying humility in the perspective of others where humility is expected, and where confident and lawyerlike argumentation is uncomfortable to listen to where knowledge and goodwill are lacking. That being said, it is the sort of material that is far better dealt with in reading at leisure where no one feels that self-defense or defense of one’s congregation is necessary, or over sweet tea and some excellent food where one is at leisure to demonstrate friendliness and an absence of evil motive. Such a friendly venue for discussion is always to be welcomed and appreciated. Not everything that one has never seen nor heard of is to be taken as a threat, after all.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/job-vs-god-a-covenental-lawsuit-part-one/

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

[3] See, for example:

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

[4] See, for example:

http://bible.ucg.org/bible-commentary/Job/Job%E2%80%99s-response:-How-can-a-man-contend-with-God/

http://bible.ucg.org/bible-commentary/Job/God%E2%80%99s-first-discourse-continued:-He-rules-and-tends-the-animal-world-First-discourse-concludes:-Will-Job-correct-God,-Job%E2%80%99s-first-response-to-God:-He-has-no-answer/

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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