Tremper Longman on the Identity of “Satan” in Job and the “Patience of Job”

In a couple of my previous posts (see here and here) I’ve highlighted portions of John Walton’s new commentary on Job. In today’s post I want to feature another new commentary on Job from the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series by Tremper Longman. As I read Longman’s treatment on the identity of the accuser I found him remarkably close to Walton’s understanding. Here’s what he says:

“Specific attention quickly turns to one member of the heavenly court known as the accuser.”

“This figure has been the source of much discussion. Confusion arises over the identity of this figure because in Hebrew he is called haśśāṭān. The verb śṭn means ‘to accuse’ or ‘to be an adversary,’ but as may clearly be seen from the transliteration of the Hebrew, it also eventually is used as a proper name for the devil. Thus many English versions give the impression that this figure is the devil (NIV, NLT, NRSV). However, there are significant reasons to doubt that this refers to the devil. First, the word has the definite article prefixed to it (lit. ‘the satan’), thus precluding the idea it is a proper name. It would be equivalent to saying ‘the George.’ There is also a theological issue in that it would be strange in the extreme to imagine the devil as a member of the heavenly court and God as having a conversation with his enemy in heaven, not to speak for the problem of the devil’s convincing God to harm Job. It is much more likely that this figure is one of God’s angelic associates, who takes the position of a devil’s advocate, so to speak, but not Satan himself. True, Satan gets his name from the fact that he is the ultimate accuser, the ultimate adversary, but that does not make all accusers Satan. Nor is all accusation evil. This accuser is about to challenge Job’s authenticity as a God-fearer, and at this point it is not yet clear whether he is making an accurate accusation.”

“Thus the accuser is a member of the heavenly court, an agent of Yahweh, who is reporting on his patrolling through the earth. The human analogy would be a spy’s reporting to his commander what he has discovered during his latest mission.” (82-83)

Longman notes in a footnote that “the Old Greek likely initiates the common identification of ‘the accuser’ with the devil by translating the Hebrew as diabolos.” (82n24)

On the “Patience of Job”

Equally intriguing to me was Longman’s discussion of James 5:11 and its reference to the “patience of Job” (KJV, Douay-Rheims, Tyndale’s translation). Most modern translations prefer some form of “endurance.” But clearly, Job is anything but patient. Where did James get the idea that Job was patient? Longman notes the preference in modern translations for “endurance” but is not satisfied that this is the right direction to go. He writes,

“That said, something more may be going on in James. Granted that hypomonē can mean ‘endurance,’ the broader context is speaking of patience, as indicated by frequent use of Greek makrothymein, ‘to be patient’ (see James 5:7, 8, 10). It appears that James is calling on Christians to endure, but to do so with patience. The impatient Job of the dialogues does not seem to be the model that James is holding up to Christians.”

“A better solution might be found in the interpretive tradition of Job that was current during the time of James. It appears that at this time, Job was interpreted as a patient man. Early Christians used the LXX rather than the Hebrew text, and this influential translation of Job downplays Job’s angry response to God. According to Allen, ‘In the opinion of the majority of scholars the Greek translator of Job rendered the text into a Greek version that transforms Job of the poetic sections from bombastic doubter into pious and persevering sufferer. This is done by toning down the angry questions that Job poses to God into more palatable affirmations of faith.’ The Testament of Job . . . may also be cited as a contemporary witness to the transformation of Job into a patient figure who does not complain. Job’s wife complains but not Job himself. . . . If James is citing the book of Job as read at the time rather than the canonical book itself, then it would be wrong to go back and see the bombastic Job of the book as a paradigm of that attitude. James is using Job as an example, but it is the Job of the LXX, the Testament of Job, perhaps also of Sirach (49:9). In other words, James gives us an interpreted Job, not one who is the product of grammatical-historical exegesis.”

“Indeed, it would be wrong to hold up the Job of the canonical book as an example of proper attitude toward God, considering that God himself speaks to him out of the whirlwind and spends four chapters putting him in his place and leading him to ‘repentance.’” (281-82)

Walton makes a similar point without reference to James:

“We are used to reading the book of Job to find encouragement from Job’s exemplary response to suffering. We consider his patience, longsuffering, faithfulness, righteousness, and integrity all to make him an admirable character. In our desire to preserve this pristine role model, we are perhaps sometimes too eager to eliminate or neglect anything that might compromise his stellar performance. This approach reads against the grain of the book’s rhetorical strategy. The book is not trying to prove that Job’s response to the situation is irreproachable; he is not held up as a paragon of virtue showing us how we ought to respond in suffering (though some of his responses are certainly admirable). The book is teaching us about God and his policies, not offering Job as a biblical paradigm for how to approach suffering. We will uncover the authoritative teaching of Scripture by unfolding its rhetorical strategy, not by imitating its characters. To say this another way, we will learn more about surviving crises by understanding God than by imitating Job.” (188)

I’m enjoying both of these commentaries. Pastors and students can’t go wrong by adding one or both of these to their libraries. Both of them display a healthy respect for the text and are sensitive to the ancient Near Eastern context.

Job by Tremper Longman III is from Baker Academic. It is a hardcover with 496 pages and sells for $44.99.

Tremper Longman III (PhD, Yale University) is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Before coming to Westmont, he taught at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia for eighteen years. He has authored or coauthored numerous books, including An Introduction to the Old Testament, How to Read Proverbs, and commentaries on Daniel, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Jeremiah and Lamentations, and Song of Songs.
 
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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to Tremper Longman on the Identity of “Satan” in Job and the “Patience of Job”

  1. Pingback: Was Job Afflicted by Satan? « ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (in Christ Jesus)

  2. Pingback: this went thru my mind |

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