Retribution Principle in the Book of Job

The retribution principle is a principle that is common throughout the world. It is a principle that states that the good person will receive blessings and the evil person will receive evil. Its origins cannot be traced to any one single event or practice but it can be placed in the realm of ancient religion. [1] Since the beginning of recorded history man has been trying to answer the question of ‘Why is there suffering in the world?’ It just does not seem that in our nature, a just person should be allowed to suffer but it seems right that an evil person should and deserves evil in retribution.[2] However, if one observes the animals this principle is somewhat none existent. The lion that hunts and kills an innocent deer is considered just a part of nature. The deer did not do anything evil nor did the lion but if the lion were to maim the deer merely for its enjoyment then what of it? Neither the lion nor the deer did evil and yet the deer suffers. The book of Job offers three views of the retribution principle and why is there suffering in the world. First, the satan’s view in which he tries to disprove by a technicality. Second, Job and his four companions offer the traditional view of the retribution principle however, they vary. Lastly, God offers insight to His view with a series of questions. Other religions have this idea of receiving grace for good deeds and evil for evil. For instance, in the Hindu religion the retribution principle is illustrated by what is known as karma. If one did some kind of evil whether it was observed or not one would receive evil in the same context as you gave it.[3] If one were to perform good, then good would come back to the same. This seems as though it is an easy equation to someone who wants good to happen to them. However, there are exceptions and the retribution principle is unexplained. For instance, when a person who is known for their good deeds and message receive a grief stricken blow to their lives and lose everything, it appears to be unjust. The biblical account of Job describes the debated retribution principle in a poetic narrative. The satan challenges God in a contest to see how valid this retribution principle really is. His claims are that of blessing because of the worship or that Job is only worshiping Him because God has blessed him with wealth and good health.[4] Job who is an ‘upright man in all the land’ receives bad news in three series on the same day. He has lost everything he has even his health. Job knows his own heart and searches for the reason God is punishing him and finds that he is innocent. He acknowledges that God is the “just” God and that he deserves His judgments. Job knows and believes the retribution principle but finds himself questioning the validity of it. Job’s wife and his three friends try to put his suffering in perspective by providing their take on the retribution principle. Thus, there are three contrasting yet intertwining views of the retribution principle through the eyes of the satan, Job, his wife and his three friends, and finally the implication of the retribution principle from God. The idea of the retribution principle may very well have started long before Moses but it was with Moses that the idea made sense with the Jews.[5] God promised the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28 that if they were to obey His commandments then He would bless them and place them above every nation and lists privileges that would be bestowed upon them. However, if they disobeyed His commandments then He would curse them and Deuteronomy lists a number of curses.[6] It seemed as a simple equation and yet they would not listen and still disobeyed. This principle illustrated in Deuteronomy was put in place for the people as a nation to follow. If they as a people obeyed God’s commands then they would prosper, but what about the individuals themselves? If a person, apart from the nation were to obey God, would this retribution principle still apply? Satan is mentioned in the book of Job and is consistent to the characteristics and teachings of the adversary of God. He is only mentioned as correctly translated “the satan” and is not given the title of having a proper name.[7] Therefore, shall this be in this paper referred to as the satan. The satan challenged this individual retribution principle in the court of God. He claims that Job only loves God because of the material blessings God has given him. Therefore his charge is that Job’s godliness is self-centered and therefore evil. In other words, Job only loves God because he receives material things from God as a result. He is only righteous because it pays. The satan knew the retribution principle and tries to distort and devalue it at the expense of Job. He is only allowed a few words here and is shown the true meaning of the retribution principle in the following events in the book of Job. This serves as the first criticism against the common belief that God only reacts to goodness with blessings and evil with curses.[8] On the satan’s first challenge to God was to show that Job only loves God because He has blessed him with material possessions, but the second challenge was toward Job’s person or his health. He figured that if God would take away the protection He has on Job’s health, then surely he would curse him. Since the satan was not satisfied enough with the answer of the first challenge this would be how he would prove his point. The retribution principle here was that the satan knew that since Job didn’t worship God because he was blessed then it must be because his integrity has not yet been tested. Blackwood states that the satan believes that “Job is still serving God for the reward of physical health.”[9] God allowed the satan to take away his health and yet Job did not curse God. The satan’s view of the retribution principle is that even the upright and righteous only serve God because they are blessed. He falsely thought that if God were to remove or discontinue the blessings then His very own creation would turn against Him and not worship Him. In a series of debates, Job’s three friends plus one tag along that later interjects present their treatise and offer advice to him. Each taking their turn comforting Job with advice. Eliphaz and Bildad are the first to speak. Their view on the retribution principle coincides with what they have been taught and they agree on the cause but not the method of rectifying the cause of the retribution.[10] After they sit with Job for a time, they take their turn giving their perspective on the possibilities of their friend’s suffering. Only Zophar does not add to the discussion and perhaps this is because either he is interrupted by the youngest of the friends, Elihu, or he feels that the discussion needs no more dialogue.[11] He is there to comfort his friend and may even feel the need to remain silent and this is his way of offering comfort. Zophar’s silence lends nothing to the determination of his view of the retribution principle. It does offer an allusion as to that he does not disagree to what is already stated.[12] Eliphaz and Bildad agree on the cause of Job’s suffering but differ in sympathy. Eliphaz is the older one and offers more sympathy and “milder rebukes.” [13] He is the first to speak probably because he is the oldest and has earned that right. His interpretation of the retribution principle is evident when he explained his theory that Job’s suffering was the result of some type of wickedness. During his second speech, Eliphaz lists all of Job’s possible sins as if he knew or observed Job committing them. The speech progressively gets harsher and even accuses Job’s devotion to God as impaired due to his stubbornness to adhere to his innocence. Kitto describes Eliphaz as “…one of class of men not infrequently met with: naturally mild, gentle, considerate, and right-minded, but dragged almost against their will into harness and injustice by an unwarranted theory or system of belief. The most vehement moral persecutors in all ages have been men of this class and character.”[14] Bildad was not only harsher to Job than Eliphaz but he was also sharper with his words.[15] His insight to the situation regarding Job’s children was a clue as to what his view was concerning the retribution principle. He says that his children were the one who sinned and that they received their just punishment in accordance with the retribution principle. Both Bildad and Eliphaz were pointing out that if a person is undergoing suffering then that person must have offended God or disobeyed Him in some form. Likewise, that anyone who is enduring adversity is being punished for disobeying God’s law. They do not hesitate away from their belief that God just and will not let sin go unpunished. In an effort to resolve Job’s suffering they criticize him for refusing to confess his sins and plea with him to repent. His three friends assert that repentance calls for Job to identify and renounce his sins that seems to be the root of his suffering. Elihu, who is the fourth character in this scene, contrasts his retribution principle view sharply with Eliphaz and Bildad by stressing that repentance involves renouncing any moral authority or cosmological perspective, which is God’s alone.[16] He contrasts them by also taking the peacekeeper’s path by maintaining the sovereignty and mercy of God. He criticizes the approach taken by the three friends and “argues that Job is misrepresenting God’s righteousness and discrediting His loving character.”[17] Elihu is telling Job that what ever the reason these events are happening God is justified in doing so and that God continues to be the loving God that he has always known. “He argues for God’s power, redemptive salvation, and absolute righteousness in all his conduct.” [18] This is why Elihu underscores the inherent arrogance in Job’s desire to ‘make his case’ before God and he takes on the prophetic role preparing the next scene in the book as to which God appears. The retribution principle through the eyes of Job is represented when he stated, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Praise the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) He still holds true the same principle ideas that his friends have but after he debates them, he is unsure of what position to take. Job maintains his innocence intensely and claims that he has done no wrong. He curses the day that he was born and yet he still does not turn from God. He knows that his God is just and good and would not have done this to him without purpose. Nevertheless, Job like any other human wants to know the reason why. He cries out to God for an answer but only receives rebuke from his friends. It is interesting to note that Job, when he is pleading his case, cries out for a ‘Redeemer.’ After the speech from Elihu, Job is confronted by a voice from the whirlwind. God has come to speak. He asks Job a series of questions that dumbfounds him and leaves him helpless and utterly dependant of Him. God never answers Job’s question of why do bad things happen to good people. In the book of Job, God’s view and use of the retribution principle has other purposes than punishment. It is used to bring glory to himself by using the example of Jobs suffering as a picture of our need of a Redeemer, Jesus. The picture of the retribution principle by Job’s suffering is a complex view of the salvation of God. Man does not get what he deserves. Man is considered sinful and deserving of curses. Only God can make a person righteous. Man can obtain mercy, which means man will not receive the punishment that he deserves. In addition, man can obtain grace from which is the positive benefit man does not deserve. [19] God’s view of the retribution principle can also be seen by the use of Job’s example to illustrate to others how just God really is. Job was blessed with many sons and daughters and a wealth that was significant. He then was the brunt of a demonstration of the justice of God. God did not take anything away from Job, but He did allow the satan to interfere. When Job was proven that he was not going to curse God but instead still love Him all the same, God restored Job. God’s view of the retribution principle is not necessarily written as clearly as Job and his friends but the implication is that He ultimately blesses those whom He chooses and curses those whom he chooses. In conclusion, the book of Job is a poetic narrative that illustrates the problem of the retribution principle. The book never specifically answers the question ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ but it alludes to the fact the endgame is as promised. The finiteness of human intellect can only fathom as far as God will allow. Only He is sovereign and knows the outcome. The knowledge of the retribution principle is only limited by our knowledge of God. The book of Job presents various views of the retribution principle. First, the satan views suffering as a tool with which he can force anyone to renounce God. (Job 1:11, 2:4-5). Second, Job’s three friends view suffering as always a punishment for sin. Elihu views suffering as a tool used by God to correct or discipline. Third, Job views suffering as for the wicked at first then realizes suffering is also a refining process. Lastly, God views suffering as a privilege. He gives His people to help Him fulfill His great purpose, such as refuting the satan. God also views suffering as a test to see if we will remain loyal to God for who he is, not for what He does. He also views sufferings as a call to trust Him when we do not understand, because we have confidence that God’s purpose is always best for us. (Job 13:15) During the course of the narrative, it seemed everyone was against Job. This includes the God whom he had served faithfully. Job’s wife suggested that he curse God and die. She reasons, “something is wrong and your faith is a failure. Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9) His friends condemn him rather than console him. They reason, ‘God is just, He never makes a mistake. What have you done to bring this on yourself? Confess your sin.'[20] God seemed to be ignoring Job, refusing for a long time to answer him. Job cries out from the ashes, ‘I cannot understand. What God is doing doesn’t seem right.’ God finally declares, ‘I am God. You cannot understand my ways because I am infinitely greater than you.'[21] In His two lengthy speeches to Job, God makes no mention of Job’s suffering. God never gives Job an answer about why he suffered so much. Job catches a glimpse of God’s perspective, however and acknowledges God’s sovereignty over his life. At the end of the book of Job, the satan is silenced. Job’s friends are silenced. However, God is not silenced. BIBLIOGRAPHY Alexander, Pat. Handbook to the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 1983. Blackwood, Andrew W. Jr. Devotional Introduction to the Book of Job. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970. Breakstone, Raymond. Job A Case Study. Edited by Raymond Breakstone. New York: Bookman Associates, 1964. Buis, H. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Edited by Merrill C. Tenney. Q-Z. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976. Dell, Katherine J. “The Book of Job as Skeptical Literature.” PhD diss., Oxford University, Oxford, 1988. Dillard, Raymond B, Tremper Longman. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. Gerber, Israel J. The Psychology of the Suffering Mind. New York: The Johnathan David Company, 1951. Guillaume, A. Studies in the Book of Job. Translated by John Macdonald. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968. Hill, Andrew, John H Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. Ivanski, Dariusz. “The Dynamics of Job’s Intercession.” PhD diss., Pope Gregory University, Roma, 2006. Kitto, J. Bible Illustrations. New York: Carter and Bros, 1870. Macleod, W. B. The Afflictions of the Righteous. New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1958. Mueller, J.T. “The Paramount Lesson of Job, God’s Glory Magnified by Faith Triumphant over Tribulation.” Theological Monthly 1, no. no.6 (June 1921). Schokel, Alonso. “Toward a Dramatic Reading of the Book of Job.” The Pontifical Bible Institute. Villiers, Henry Montagu. Perfect Through Suffering. Oxford: Oxford University, 2007. ———————– [1] Buis, H, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney, Q-Z (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 84. [2] Katherine J. Dell, “The Book of Job as Skeptical Literature” (PhD diss., Oxford University, Oxford, 1988), 35. [3] Buis, H, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill [4] Pat Alexander, Handbook to the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 1983), 319. [5] Raymond B. Dillard, Tremper Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 202. [6] Andrew Hill, John H Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 324. [7] Alonso Schokel, “Toward a Dramatic Reading of the Book of Job,” The Pontifical Bible Institute, 50. [8] W. B. Macleod, The Afflictions of the Righteous (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1958), 20. [9] Andrew W. Jr Blackwood, Devotional Introduction to the Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 40. [10] Raymond Dillard, Tremper Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 203. [11] Breakstone, Raymond, Job A Case Study, ed. Raymond Breakstone (New York: Bookman Associates, 1964), 10. [12] Israel J. Gerber, The Psychology of the Suffering Mind (New York: The Johnathan David Company, 1951), 79. [13] Macleod, The Afflictions of the Righteous (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1958), 110. [14] J. Kitto, Bible Illustrations (New York: Carter and Bros, 1870), 104. [15] Andrew Blackwood, Devotional Introduction to Job (Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1970), 69. [16] J. T. Mueller, “The Paramount Lesson of Job, God’s Glory Magnified by Faith,” Theological Monthly 1, no. 6 (June 1921): 171. [17] J.T Mueller, “The Paramount Lesson of Job, God’s Glory Magnified by Faith Triumphant over Tribulation,” Theological Monthly 1, no. no.6 (June 1921): 171. [18] Henry Montagu Villiers, Perfect Through Suffering (Oxford: Oxford University, 2007), 155. [19] Andrew w. Jr Blackwood, Devotional Introduction to the Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 152. [20] W.B Macleod, The Afflictions of the Righteous (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1958), 80. [21] Ibid. pg. 246.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s