Foundations: No.82 Spring 2022

Book Reviews

The Book of Job and the Mission of God: A Missional Reading

Tim J. Davy, Foreword by J. Gordon McConville, Pickwick Publications, 2020, 239pp, £25.00 pb (Amazon)

Tim Davy (PhD, University of Gloucestershire) is the Vice Principal and Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Mission at Redcliffe College in Gloucester, England, where he serves as co-director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission. Davy’s first published book is a revised version of his PhD thesis completed under the supervision of Dr J. Gordon McConville, who penned a foreword to this significant study on the intersection between missional theology and biblical theology in the book of Job.

Wisdom literature generally – and Job specifically – presents unique challenges to biblical theologians. Davy appropriately asks, “How can a book like Job be said to ‘fit into’ the grand narrative of the Bible?” (5) Directly addressing the challenge, Davy presents “a reading of Job in the light of the missional nature of the Bible” (1) that he hopes will help to situate this narrative of human suffering and divine justice in relation to the overarching message of Scripture. In so doing, he provides a helpful review of the limited extant scholarship on mission and Job; explores missional concerns in connection to Job’s prominent themes of unattributed suffering, social justice, and divine truth; and applies a missional hermeneutic to passages of Job as something of an exegetical case study. In this review, I will evaluate Davy’s proposal for how Job relates to Scripture’s mainline narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Davy’s central argument for understanding Job’s relation to the rest of Scripture is “that the importance of Job in this regard is not primarily in how Job fits into the storyline but in how the book stands apart from, and speaks into it” (17; see also 55, 60, 66, 85, 93, 222f). Indeed, Davy contends from Job’s spatial-temporal setting apart from the national history and territory of Israel “that the author of Job is not concerned with connecting his story to Israel’s storyline” (71). Rather than drawing an explicit connection to God’s redemptive dealings with Israel as a chosen people, “the author of Job employs the particularities of the book’s setting to universalise themes, thereby allowing the book of Job to speak ‘to and for all humanity,’ which I would argue is an essential element of our participation in the mission of God” (94f). How Davy conceives of the book of Job as both addressing and expressing universal humanity ties into his characterisation of Job himself as the book’s protagonist.

Davy develops the universal characterisation of Job in chapter four, “The Universalizing Impulse in the Book of Job” (94-129) to support his missional reading of the book. He does so first by presenting “The Extent and Significance of the Non-Israelite Theme in the Book of Job” (96-117), and second by considering “Other Universalizing Elements of the Prologue” (118-129), including the book’s archaic setting, its literary artistry, and the function of the accuser’s taunt in Job 1:9b. His examination of the textual material under these headings is careful, well-reasoned and compelling at many points. For example, Davy amasses and organises relevant biblical data to argue convincingly for a tight association between the land of Uz and the land of Edom (97-101). In discussing the provenance of Job himself, Davy approvingly presents an argument in favour of an Edomite Job while nonetheless concluding that “the ambiguity of Job’s provenance” (106) is a much more significant feature of the book. Davy’s nuanced evaluation of the material guides his readers to the true (universalising) significance of the ambiguous setting and identities of Job and his friends.

In service to his missional exploration of Job’s universalising theme, Davy characterises Job himself as “an ‘everyman’ figure” in that “although he suffers in a unique and specific manner, he is portrayed as doing so in a way that represents humanity and the vexing and universal problem of unattributed suffering” (106). Elsewhere, Davy rephrases this thought and applies a quotation from the Romantic period French poet Alphonse de Lamartine; “despite the very particularities of his situation, Job becomes a personification of the human dilemma when faced with suffering: ‘Job is no longer man; he is humanity!’” (106) However, this missionally motivated characterisation of Job is problematic for two reasons.

First, casting Job in an everyman role is an inaccurate and anachronistic characterisation from a literary standpoint. The character Everyman originated in medieval morality plays in which Everyman himself was a paragon of wretched humanity in need of spiritual redemption and moral reformation. In modern literature and storytelling, the everyman character recurs less as a paradigmatic scoundrel and more as “an ordinary bloke” with whom you and I could easily relate. God’s spoken characterisation of Job is exactly opposite that of the medieval Everyman, and neither does it match up with the modern variant. Davy recognises this to be the case by observing that God Himself describes Job in 1:8 and 2:3 as “an idealized wisdom figure… There really is no-one on earth like Job” (124). Furthermore, only three other individual men in Old Testament Scripture are referred to by God as “My servant” (Abram/Abraham in Gen. 18:17 and 26:24; Moses in Num. 12:7 and Josh. 1:2; and David in Ps. 89:20 and Ezek. 37:24), and Job is listed in Ezek. 14:14 alongside Noah and Daniel as especially righteous intercessors before God. In the New Testament, James makes special mention of Job for his remarkable perseverance and blessedness (Jas. 5:11). Job simply does not fit into the everyman role, conceived either as a medieval archetype or as a modern trope.

Second, Davy argues against himself when he puts forward the supposed universalising function of characterising Job as an everyman type. Tying the book’s universalising impulse to Job’s supposed everyman characterisation undercuts the force of Davy’s connection between “the motif of hyperbole in the Prologue in relation to Job’s characterisation and circumstances” (123) and Job’s place as a representative man. As Davy rightly points out:

“Job’s initial character and circumstances are expressed most of all by hyperbole, which is then matched by descriptions of the breadth and depth of losses and grief he endures. Job is a man of extremes, and so, functions as a paradigm for everyone in between, providing the most effective ‘control’ experiment for probing the nature of true piety.” (124)

Davy continues in a similar vein, “the depth and breadth of [Job’s] pain is so all-encompassing that, to some degree, he embodies a totality of human suffering and, so, makes him a paradigm in this way as well” (124). In these ways – and not as a supposed everyman character – Job functions as a universal and sympathetic representative for suffering mankind before a just and all-powerful God. These are profound insights for consideration of God’s servant Job, his righteousness, his perseverance, and his humanity. It is not Job’s common character, but rather his extraordinary suffering in light of uncommon and exemplary righteousness, that makes him relatable.

Notwithstanding the faults associated with reading Job as an everyman character, Davy succeeds in arguing for Job as a representative or paradigmatic sufferer. When the righteousness of Job is juxtaposed to the suffering of Job, what man could seek refuge in his own righteousness to cope with the suffering that is the common lot of mankind? Refuge is to be found elsewhere. Indeed, Job points the way to the living Redeemer whom he confesses as his own in 19:25ff. Insofar as Davy is correct to conclude that Job stands without but speaks into (and thus, echoes within) the Bible’s redemptive-historical narrative, it is Job’s testimony regarding his Redeemer that engages with the mainline storyline of Scripture. Through a sustained interrogation of God’s relationship to his image-bearers (idealised in and represented by Job himself), the book of Job vindicates God and the way of wisdom that he demands, endorses, and blesses through the course of redemptive history.

Zachary Groff
Pastor, Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA), Woodruff, South Carolina

 

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