23 “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! 24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
It’s not a book, of course; we won’t see books for a long time, books with binding along the side. It could be that the prophet imagines writing on a scroll and then escalates to the idea of an inscription in rock, but it’s better to see the parallelism of the lines so that “inscribed in a book” matches “written down” so that the point is that Job cries out for a record of his complaint – and then in the next verse goes on to declare that he wants a permanent record, a stele, an inscribed stone pillar, to bear eternal witness to his innocence, to the grave injustice God has done him. He has not deserved what has befallen him.
We know from the first two chapters of the work that this is exactly what has happened. Job was righteous and faithful, but “the satan”, the accuser, heaven’s prosecuting attorney, has accused him of loving God only because God has been so good to him. So permission was given for the satan to test his hypothesis by taking away all Job’s family and possessions – and, when he would not break, then even his health.
Job’s friends crowd around him and try to persuade him that God is just and Job must have committed some sin. He should repent. But Job refuses. He is so certain of his innocence he wants to write it in stone for all time.
The doctrine of original sin makes it hard for us to take seriously Job’s complaint. “No one is perfect,” we think. “We are only human,” as if it were not possible to follow God’s commands.
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” writes Paul in Romans 3. We have learned so well this idea of our innate corruption that we no longer try for righteousness. We just look for a passing grade. “Good enough” is good enough. No major sins. “At least I’ve never murdered anybody.”
But the story has postulated that Job is righteous, faithful, observant of God’s commands. He even offered sacrifices for his children just in case they might have sinned unintentionally. He has done all that God requires and more; there is no reason for God to punish him. And he will not yield to the theory that the good are rewarded and the bad punished – from which we all work backwards: the rewarded are good; the punished bad. Rich people deserve what they have; poor people deserve what they don’t have.
Against this idea Job would erect an eternal monument.
And he is right.
At that very time there were some present who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you… Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you…” (Luke 13:1-5)
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)