JobWritten by Tremper Longman III Reviewed By Christopher B. Ansberry
The book of Job is a sharp, double-edged sword. On the one hand, the piece resonates with human experience and provides fertile soil for the interpretive imagination, inspiring countless works of art, music, literature, and poetry (on which see C. L. Seow, Job 1–21: Interpretation and Commentary [Eerdmans, 2013]). On the other hand, the document is a Pandora’s box. Here the reader unleashes vexing questions concerning innocent suffering, God’s justice, and the enigmatic nature of the cosmos. And here the interpreter encounters an untameable literary masterpiece, characterized by semantic uncertainties, generic riddles, polyphonic voices, philosophical conundrums, and theological misgivings. Despite the complex and unruly nature of the document, however, readers find a sure guide, an able handler in both Tremper Longman III’s and John Walton’s commentaries on Job. Together, these works combine interpretive insight with theological acumen to provide the church with invaluable insight into the message(s) of Job and its enduring significance. While each volume deserves independent treatment, this review will offer a comparative analysis of these commentaries. It will begin with a summary of the methodological orientation and substance of each work, and then move to an evaluation of their value and contributions to the life and witness of the church.
In accordance with the agenda and intended audience of the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Longman focuses on the final form of Job and attends to the interpretive and theological dimensions of the piece. This hermeneutical posture is a hallmark of Longman’s work; it pervades his treatment of conventional matters within the introduction and drives the constituent sections within the commentary proper. In the former, Longman addresses the interpretive and theological (in)significance of the document’s date, language, genre, structure, and message as well as the history of interpretation, ancient Near Eastern backdrop, and contribution of Job to an understanding of Jesus. Throughout the latter, Longman moves from a fresh, insightful translation of the text under investigation to a clear summary of the unit’s content, literary texture, meaning, and theological implications. In so doing, he offers a rich, holistic reading of Job that combines grammatical, historical, literary, and rhetorical concerns with inter-textual, intra-textual, and theological reflections.
The same is true of Walton’s commentary. Similar to the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Walton’s NIV Application Commentary addresses the grammatical, historical, cultural, literary, and rhetorical dimensions of the text as well as its theological and contemporary significance to provide readers with a means by which to cross Gotthold Lessing’s “ugly, broad ditch” and contextualize the message of the biblical witness. While the substance and methodological orientation of Walton’s commentary are comparable to Longman’s, it is distinct in at least three respects. The first concerns the conventional issues discussed in the introduction. Whereas Longman classifies the book of Job as a wisdom debate, that is, as an exploration of who is wise, Walton categorizes the piece as a “thought experiment” (p. 26), that is, as a realistic literary construction that is employed to explore God’s policies with regard to innocent suffering within the world. Whereas Longman gives particular attention to the content of many ancient Near Eastern texts that illuminate the world out of which Job speaks, Walton devotes considerable attention to the conceptual world painted by these texts as well as the similarities and differences between Job and its ancient Near Eastern counterparts. Whereas Longman includes a brief discussion of the retribution principle in Job, Walton provides a thorough, nuanced discussion of the motif within the OT canon and captures the friends’ heterodox use of its corollary, viz., those who prosper are righteous; those who suffer are wicked. And whereas Longman reflects on the book of Job through the Christ event, Walton reflects on the document’s relation to open theism. In some respects, the differences between the introductory issues treated in the volumes are due to certain nuances or matters of emphasis. Nonetheless, these nuances and emphases highlight the unique character of each work.
This is also the case in the second distinction between Longman’s and Walton’s commentaries: their conception of the message of Job. As intimated above, Longman contends that the fundamental question raised by the book of Job is, who is wise? In response to this question, Longman asserts that the piece illuminates the limitations, even the failure, of human wisdom. Against this backdrop, the message of the book comes to the fore: true wisdom is with God, and a correct understanding of God’s wisdom and power will cultivate a proper perspective on life as well as a disposition of trust in suffering.
Similar to Longman, wisdom plays a formative role in Walton’s conception of the message of Job. According to Walton, however, the fundamental question raised by the book is not, who is wise; rather the principal questions are, “Is there such a thing as disinterested righteousness?” (Job 1:9; p. 23). And, why should righteous people prosper? In response to the former, Walton contends that Job 1–27 answers the question in the affirmative: the protagonist proves that his righteousness is not rooted in the expectation of reward. As a result, the “Challenger’s” accusation against God’s policies is resolved. And in response to the latter, Walton concludes that the remainder of the book (chs. 28–42) seeks to provide Job as well as the reader with a coherent worldview, a vision of life that can account for the suffering of the innocent in God’s economy. For Walton, this worldview stands in sharp contrast to the vision of life articulated by Job and the friends. Within their respective speeches, Job and the friends betray a vision of life founded upon God’s justice (i.e., the retribution principle). In Yahweh’s speech from the whirlwind, however, Job receives a vision of life founded upon God’s wisdom. In this respect, the book demonstrates that God’s wisdom serves as the lens through which to understand his justice, his policies, and his governance of the world. Again, like Longman, wisdom remains a prominent motif within Walton’s conception of the message of Job. Nonetheless, for Walton, the questions raised by the book are different. God’s policies are the center of attention within the piece, rather than the issue, who is wise?
The third distinction between Longman and Walton’s works is their treatment of certain texts that are integral to an understanding of the message of the book. Among these texts, the wisdom hymn (Job 28), Elihu’s speech (Job 32–27), and Yahweh’s speeches (Job 38–41) may be the most significant. Longman and Walton’s discussions of each deserve a brief comment.
While both Longman and Walton recognize the literary, rhetorical, and theological significance of the wisdom hymn within the plot of the Joban drama, they reach different conclusions concerning the speaker as well as the function of the hymn within the literary architecture of the book. Longman follows Alison Lo’s “psychological explanation” of the hymn and attributes the words of the piece to Job (Job 28 as Rhetoric: An Analysis of Job 28 in the Context of Job 22–31 [Brill, 2003]). From this interpretive perspective, the poem functions not only to reveal a moment of calm and theological insight in the midst of the protagonist’s emotional turmoil, but also to illuminate the chasm that separates Job’s “stated theology” from his “functional theology” (cf. J. Todd Billings, The Word of God for the People of God: An Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture [Eerdmans, 2010], 13–15). In this respect, Longman concludes that the poem plays an important rhetorical role within the book: it confirms Job’s intellectual affirmation of the necessity of fearing the Lord (i.e., his stated theology), but indicates that, “he does not really believe it in his heart” (i.e., his functional theology; p. 334). In contrast, Walton attributes the words of the hymn to the Joban poet. From this interpretive perspective, the poem functions in a distinctive way: it marks the conclusion of the dialogue proper, serves as a critique of the wisdom promoted by Job and the friends, signals the transition from the book’s concern with disinterested righteousness to its concern with constructing a worldview that can account for innocent suffering, and sets the stage for Yahweh’s contention that the world is founded upon wisdom rather than a notion of justice propounded by the retribution principle. Both Longman and Walton affirm the literary and theological significance of the hymn within the context of the Joban drama, but their readings yield quite different results.
The same is true with regard to Longman and Walton’s treatment of Elihu’s speech. While both maintain that Elihu’s discourse contributes to the theological message of the book, they formulate this contribution in distinctive ways. On the one hand, Longman contends that Elihu represents a brand of “spiritual wisdom” (p. 368); he not only parrots the best arguments of the friends, but he seeks to legitimize these arguments by parading them under the banner of divine inspiration. In this respect, he represents a different form of wisdom: he moves beyond the friends’ epistemological dependence upon tradition and observation by grounding his argument in “a false kind of spirituality” (pp. 367–68). On the other hand, Walton contends that Elihu represents a mature brand of Israelite wisdom. In contrast to the friends’ dependence upon conventional answers from ancient Near Eastern tradition, Walton argues that Elihu offers a cogent, “educative theodicy” (p. 350), as well as a nuanced defense of God’s justice—a defense founded upon God’s character rather than a mechanical system of retribution peddled by the friends. In this case, Elihu serves as a “federal mediator” (p. 356), who describes God’s character and Job’s offense accurately (i.e., self-righteousness), but misrepresents God’s policies. The differences between these readings are stark. But, in light of Longman and Walton’s distinct conceptions of the message of the book, they are understandable.
The final representative text is Longman’s and Walton’s treatment of the climactic discourse within the book: Yahweh’s speeches. Though both offer comparable readings of the initial divine speech, their treatments of Behemoth and Leviathan in the second speech are distinct. Whereas Longman understands Behemoth and Leviathan as mythical embodiments of cosmic chaos, Walton concludes that these creatures serve as illustrations of Job and Yahweh, respectively. The former represents a more conventional reading of the text; the latter offers a more innovative reading of the discourse. And each reading makes a unique contribution to Longman’s and Walton’s respective interpretations of the speech’s rhetorical function and contribution to the message of the book.
More could be said concerning the differences between Longman’s and Walton’s treatment of the discrete materials within Job. Nonetheless, this attention to the differences between the works should not overshadow their striking similarities. Both Longman and Walton offer an interested, theological reading of Job that is rooted in the final form of the text. Both allow the OT text to retain its distinctive voice, warning readers against transposing a NT conception of Satan, the afterlife, and resurrection back into the meaning of Job. Both contend that Job’s suffering is not the issue; rather it serves as a foil for teaching a more fundamental lesson. And both evaluate the rhetorical function of the constituent sections within the book in comparable ways.
resource. While David J. A. Clines may offer the best philological commentary, Norman Habel and Carol Newsom may offer the best literary commentaries, and Samuel Balentine as well as C. L. Seow may offer the best blend of interpretive reflection and reception history, Longman and Walton’s works offer a useful theological commentary on Job.
Christopher B. Ansberry
Christopher B. Ansberry
Oak Hill College
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