This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2009 vol. 166 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
JobSmyth & Helwys Publishing, Macon, GA December 1, 2006
Each chapter in this book explores a textual “unit [and] the discussion centers around two basic sections: Commentary and Connections” (p. xv). The Commentary section is devoted to analysis of the passage, details of language, historical information, and literary forms (ibid.). This section also explores theological issues in the passage. The Connections section presents “potential applications of insights” (ibid.) and “themes for sermon planning and . . . approaches for preaching” (p. xvi). Sidebars provide additional insights on historical information (charts, lists, maps, etc.), graphic outlines of literary structure in the Book of Job, definitions of terms and issues, quotations relevant to the passage, notes on the history of interpretation, and illustrations (pictures of landscape, archaeological objects, and pieces of art). The book is profuse in artwork. Three other “helps” are provided at intervals: the “alpha and omega” language that “offers further exploration of the Scriptural selection” (p. xvii), a culture and context icon that points to “comments on contextual or cultural details” (ibid.), and an interpretation icon that points to selections from classic and contemporary literature (ibid.). Here one finds postmodern readings and suggested insights from differing hermeneutical approaches.
In the forty-page introduction Balentine sets the mood of the commentary by discussing “Job before the Bible” (relating to ancient Near Eastern “Jobs”), “Job in the Bible” (the relationship between the various cycles of speeches), and “Job beyond the Bible” (Jewish and Christian readings), followed by a section on “abiding theological issues and lingering Joban perspectives.”
The Commentary section presents current views on Job as well as Balentine’s particular interpretations. Apparently he has included his own translations of the text. Regarding “the satan,” or the accuser, Balentine writes that “the majority of English translations unfortunately render this word as ‘Satan,’ a designation that misleadingly associates this one with ‘the devil’ of later Christian theology” (p. 51). Balentine comments that Job’s “wife’s speech [in 2:7–40] is ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. Her words curiously echo the objectives of both God and the satan” (p. 76, italics his). Balantine says little about Job’s statement in 2:10 about accepting both good and trouble from God.
The section on Job’s cursing of his birth (chap. 3) is helpful and includes sidebars on “The Language of Cursing” (p. 81), “Leviathan” (p. 87), and a comparison of Job 3 and 1:21 (p. 88). The third section, on the three cycles of Job’s debate with the friends, though cumbersome, contains useful information on both scholarly and practical levels. Balentine’s discussion of 19:25–27 offers several interpretations. He states, “A full appropriation of Job’s hope for a redeemer depends on recognizing with him the abiding tension of living between what is and what might be. The temptation is to weigh what might be so heavily that what is no longer factors into the balance of faith’s equations” (p. 293, italics his). Balentine does not see this passage as necessarily referring to a New Testament understanding of “redeemer” nor to a bodily resurrection. The discussion on the wisdom speech of Job (chap. 28) is worthy in both the commentary and connections sections (pp. 415–36).
In Balentine’s discussion of Elihu’s speeches (Job 32–37) he mentions that Elihu placed himself in Job’s position and wanted to offer reasons for suffering other than some previous sin. However, Balentine fails to note the contribution Elihu made in chapters 36–37 in preparing for God’s speeches in chapters 38–41. Balentine follows the traditional view of minimizing Elihu’s importance in the narrative.
Do God’s speeches constitute a real response to Job’s desperate call for justice, and if so, how? Balentine argues from the rhetorical development of the book that the answer to this question necessarily lies with the readers. He wrongly suggests that the answer is left to the reader’s interpretation. Job’s key statement in 42:5 (“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You”) is discussed all too briefly.
Though helpful in some ways, this book offers little that is new in Joban scholarship. The book’s uniqueness is that it offers both commentary and application as well as numerous sidebars and other helps, along with interesting artwork. However, the length of the book and its price limit the number of potential readers. A compact disc accompanies the book. Balentine is professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia.
—Larry J. Waters