Wednesday 10 February 2010

Gregory W. Parsons on the Structure and Purpose of Job

Gregory W. Parsons, ‘The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job’, Bibliotheca Sacra 138, 550 (1981), 139-57.

‘Structure’ and ‘purpose’ go together here, as Parsons seeks to determine the major purpose of the book of Job through its structure.

Assuming the unity of the book of Job, Parsons notes that it consists of a ‘prose framework’ (chapters 1-2 and 42:7-17) ‘which encloses an intricate poetic body’ (139). That the poetic dialogue fizzles out is ‘indicative of the bankruptcy and futility of dialogue when both Job and the three friends assume the retribution dogma’ (140). The Elihu speeches (Job 32-37), according to Parsons, ‘set the stage for the Yahweh speeches’ which are themselves ‘the culmination of the skillfully designed poetic body of the book’ (141) requiring no challenge at the end.

For Parsons, the purpose of the book is ‘to show that the proper relationship between God and man is based solely on the sovereign grace of God and man’s response of faith and submissive trust’ (142).

Certain key themes are used by the author of the book to serve this purpose:

• Divine retribution – it’s evident to the friends that Job is suffering judgment for some sin; Job too operates with a concept of retribution, thinking God is punishing him for sin – though unjustly. God’s speeches, however, contain ‘a subtle refutation of the dogma of divine retribution’. The restoration of Job at the end of the book is not a reward or payment, ‘but a free gift based solely on God’s sovereign grace’ (145).

• Creation motif – creation language is used through the poetic dialogue, but ‘the Lord’s speeches (which are saturated with the creation motif) demonstrate that God’s sovereign cosmic power was not the retributive justice (as the friends had argued) nor the “uncontrolled caprice” (as Job had perceived it) of an impersonal cosmos, but rather the majestic omnipotence and mysterious creative genius of a personal and gracious God’ (147).

• Legal metaphors – which are regularly used concerning Job’s disputed innocence, along with Job’s desire for an impartial arbitrator to mediate between him and God. In the end, the Lord functions as Job’s judge and legal advisory, and ignores his plea for vindication, revealing the bankruptcy of conceiving the God-human relationship along the lines of legal justice.

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