Job 1–20 (Word Biblical Commentary 17)

Written by David J.A. Clines Reviewed By Elmer B. Smick

The author of this exhaustive commentary thinks his work on Job may be the longest since that of Gregory the Great (p. xiii). When finished, it will be one of the few multi-volume commentaries on the book of Job in this century. He is too wordy but probably successful in his attempt to balance theology and linguistics. Dhorme’s massive volume makes greater use of the Septuagint and other versions, but Clines begs off from this arduous task, ‘using them only when they promise to shed light on the Hebrew text’ (p. xxxii). This appears wise since the Lxx leaves out a third of the book and gives lavish glosses on some passages.

His Introduction consists of a series of orientation essays, half of which is a large bibliography of books about Job, beginning with patristic and Jewish commentaries and including more than scholarly works. He presents other bibliographies by modern scholars at the beginning of each section. Despite all this, he has chosen to ignore works that are part of larger commentaries and occasionally important material is overlooked in his discussions of certain passages.

Clines claims to speak with different voices (points of view), sometimes that of Job and sometimes of his counsellors or of the author of the book, but the Explanations are obviously his own voice. He tries to be sympathetic to the counsellors. The translations tend to reflect his voice more than is desirable because he doesn’t hesitate to add words that enhance his unique interpretations. I seriously question, for example, his translation (and therefore interpretation) of 16:20, as well as his interpretation of 19:25.

Clines, at points, seems to lack discernment about what belongs in a commentary and what might be fine for a group discussion about the book of Job. This fits with his assessment that there are numerous valid meanings to be wrung from every passage. This attitude is displayed on p. 52 where he quotes a lengthy section from the novel, The Only Problem, by Muriel Spark, who reads modern romance into the brief words about Job’s wife. Clines thinks this is ‘not a reading forbidden by the text’. There may be a hundred readings not forbidden because a particular text is so short, but is that what exegesis of a text is all about? This commentary would not be so wordy and therefore more valuable if this kind of material were omitted.

It is refreshing that Clines does not follow the weak and worn-out view that the book of Job is a paste-and-scissors job put together by unthinking redactors. He rejects the two-Job theory and sees the book as a literary unit. Along this line he is correct in understanding that Job nowhere curses God and that chapter 3 is not a curse but ‘a wish or malediction directed against … his conception and birth’ (p. 81).

It is too bad that Clines fails to mention even in a footnote F.I. Andersen’s (TOTC) brilliant studied pattern of Eliphaz’s first speech (chapters 4, 5), especially since Clines’ treatment of this speech is so thorough in both his notes and comments. But I am pleased by his translation of 4:17: ‘Can a man be righteous before God?’ The preposition min is used for proximity (cf. RSV, JB) rather than the usual min of comparison (‘Can a man be more righteous than God?’), a totally alien concept. He wisely refers to the same thought expressed in 9:2 and 25:4, where ‘im is used. There is certainly no evidence that ‘im is ever used for comparison. Clines refers the reader to a note on this at 9:2 but fails to give the note.

I am not totally satisfied with the way Clines deals with the crux at the end of chapter 16, although I admit this is not an easy decision to make. The issue is: who is ‘the witness in heaven, the advocate on high’, about whom Job comforts himself? I think our author opts for a weak solution. He admits that in the end God himself is shown to be that witness. But by rendering 16:20 ‘It is my cry that is my spokesman’, Clines goes along with Dhorme in choosing the Hebrew root rûa’ (‘raise a shout’). So the witness in heaven for Job is his ‘clamant word’ on earth.

It appears to me that Clines wants to avoid the possibility that the man Job has any movement in thought. Indeed, it seems that the modern consensus about Job’s lack of hope, especially in any future life, may have influenced Clines. He appeals to Eliphaz’s taunt that no other heavenly being would plead for Job. Clines says Job probably believed this, but did he? Clines appeals to Job’s statement in 9:33, where his translation makes Job say there is no mediator between him and God, but in his footnote he admits the better translation leaves Job yearning for a mediator (‘Would that there were …’). On p. xliv Clines himself stated that Job’s views were fluid. By far the easiest way to handle 16:20 is the third-party way—that Job believes he has a witness on high who pleads for him ‘as a man pleads for his friend’ (16:21). Certainly Eliphaz’s word in 5:1 merely proves that in Job’s day such heavenly witnesses were thought of as a possibility. Moreover, this and the gō‘ēl (Redeemer) passage in 19:21–26 go together. There is no way of proving that these passages refer to a personal god (versus the high god) except by assuming that the sons of God in chapter 1 refer to deities and not angels (cf. Elihu’s statements in 33:23–24).

Even in 19:25–27 Clines rejects ‘a leap of faith’ on the part of Job. Numerous modern interpreters, beginning with S. Mowinckel, follow the third-party view of the gō‘ēl, and others have held that it is God. Clines rejects both views. I partially agree with Clines that Job has viewed God as his adversary, not his advocate, and that that view goes right to the end of his speeches (31:35). The reader knows Job is fantasizing because the Prologue tells us why Job is suffering, but Job doesn’t know what went on between God and the Accuser. God is really Job’s defender, but here we are dealing with a man in the depths of despair. Why is it so impossible that he grasp for some comfort? Clines is right to see 16:19–20 and 19:25–26 in the same light. But his idea that both these passages are a personification of his own protestation of innocence strains the interpretation of both passages. ‘The leap of faith’ which Clines rejects overlooks the pertinency of Job’s words, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’. He forces the Hebrew text to speak only of what Job desires, namely, only a hope for an encounter with God in this life. Adding the words ‘that is my desire’ at the end of v. 26 supports his view but seems wholly gratuitous because they do not appear in the Hebrew text.

Despite these criticisms, Clines’ commentary is a valuable addition to the study of this important OT book. Serious students cannot help but benefit from the thoroughness of Clines’ scholarship.

Elmer B. Smick

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, S. Hamilton, MA., and Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida