Crowns of Honour and Books of Wisdom in Job

In Job, certain themes emerge in particular images related to the head which connect the prose frame (Job 1–2; 42) and the poetic centre, and two parts of the poetic centre.

In Job 2.7, Job is stricken with boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (עד קָדְקֳדֹֽו, LXX ἕως κεφαλῆς). As we see later in Job, what has happened to Job has ruined his reputation and dishonoured the crown of his head, even though he retains his integrity (2.9; 27.5; 31.6). He says in 19.7–9,

Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard:
I cry aloud, but there is no judgment.
He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass,
and he hath set darkness in my paths.
He hath stripped me of my glory,
and taken the crown (עֲטֶרֶת, LXX στέφανον) from my head.

In fact, Job has literally shaved his head (1.20), so he has indeed been stripped of his glory, and had his crown taken from his head (cf. 2 Samuel 14.25–26; 1 Corinthians 11.1–16). Socially, too, he has been made an alien to everyone who was close to him, because of the dishonour God has allowed to befall him, and he supposes that his friends wish to ‘magnify’ themselves against him (19.5); ‘yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me’ (19.18). If there was a crown for wisdom, or if wisdom were itself a crown, it seems that God has stripped Job of this crown; for Job cries aloud like Lady Wisdom in Proverbs (19.7; cf. Proverbs 8.1–4), but ‘there is no judgement’ (19.7; cf. Proverbs 8.16, 20). Yet Job wishes that his words were written, inscribed in a book (בַּסֵּפֶר, LXX ἐν βιβλίῳ, 19.23), that he might meet God. For his wisdom is this: ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me’ (19.25–27).

In his final speech before the entrance of Elihu (31.35–37), Job picks up the images of a book and a crown once more, and here in his thought and his words they have become one:

Oh that one would hear me!
behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me,
and that mine adversary had written a book (סֵפֶר; LXX συγγραφὴν).
Surely I would take it upon my shoulder,
and bind it as a crown (עֲטָרֹות, LXX στέφανον) to me.
I would declare unto him the number of my steps;
as a prince would I go near unto him.

Here, the book of the Almighty, whom Job here imagines as an adversary in argument, is something that Job would bind to himself as a crown. Though God has stripped him of his head’s glory, Job would take God’s answer as his glory, indeed as his crown, so certain is he that God will answer and justify him.

So Job belongs very much in the ministry of the Church, especially as a type of Christ and the faith that he exercised in suffering blamelessly and coming out the other end justified by God. In Byzantine lectionaries, indeed, Job is read during Holy Week. Even for those who do not have Job in their Holy Week lectionaries, I think it useful to reflect on Christ’s suffering for us through the figure of righteous Job, who suffered not for a sin of his own but for the higher reasons of God, and by maintaining his integrity clung to God’s wisdom. Only through this understanding of Christ’s suffering in love can we apply the truths of Job to the deaths of other people, whether for those who are dying or for the survivors who mourn them when they have died. Preaching Job to those who are suffering is not a matter of comparison, of belittling anyone’s suffering, but of encouraging others to cling to the justice and wisdom of God in the face of suffering we cannot understand, in the hope that his book will be our crown.

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