Some time ago I mentioned the commentary on Job by Sam Balentine. (And the other day I promised Robert a few extracts as a sampler). For a long time now I've read slowly through a commentary as a kind of background music to other study. There is no pressure to read fast, the aim being a long slow conversation between biblical text, commentator and me listening in. Not all commentaries read easily because they're meant to be consulted, a resource available on demand. Still, I've persevered over a long while and found it for me a very satisfying form of lectio divina. It's taken me the best part of two months to read around half of Sam Balentine's commentary on Job, and I feel no compulsion to speed up the process - that would be like being part of a conversation where you rudely interrupt by saying to the other person, "Come on! Get on with it! Get to the point! We haven't all day!" You don't interrupt someone in a conversation who is speaking more sense than you are likely to.
So Balentine is being savoured sip by sip (think Sean the Baptist and an expensive but worth it Italian or Australian red wine!). Here are some of my pencil-marks-in- -the-margin extracts from Balentine.
Such a verdict may of course be entirely justified, for as the witness of the scriptures makes clear, God will certainly punish the wicked. However, as the dialogues [of Job] unfold, Eliphaz and the friends exemplify how this truth may be overstated or misapplied. Theirs is the approach of those who maintain a safe distance from the suffering of others in order to defend doctrine at the expense of compassion. (page 109).
If our vantage point is the ash heap, then we look with the eyes of the sufferer and ponder the gap between the world and the world we have been shown. The world Eliphaz envisions summons Job to praise, but the broken world in which Job lives invites only lament. If doxology alone is acceptable in God's world, where then is the place for those who cannot as yet (if ever) speak this language?...Before we take up the ministry of comforting others, it is wise to ask ourselves if our intent is to help them find their place in God's world, or in ours. (page 120 and 121).
"Words of despair" speak a truth that must not only be heard but also seen and felt. If Job's friends would only pay attention to him as a person, if they would only look at him 'face to face,' then his face would make a moral claim on them that would change both their words and their attitudes. (page 129)
There aren't many commentaries on Job that are so pastorally oriented. I find that a surprising thought. Balentine's impatience with theodicies that seek to protect God from our deepest human questions and complaints gives his exegesis and comment a spiritual depth and theological reach that I have found deeply satisfying. This is a great commentary. Very different from Clines, (3 volumes in the Word Series) who can also write with pastoral and theological sensitivity, but with such informational detail that his work needs a different kind of study. But when complete it will be the benchmark in encyclopaedic coverage The commentary that comes closest to Balentine is that by Carol Newsom in the New Interpreter's Bible. At times I've checked Balentine against her work, because she is a remarkably lucid and searching contributor to the conversation about Job. Newsom has an independent mind, whose exposition is rich with pastoral intent, and who also writes beautifully. The next post on Job will be on the great Redeemer text in Job 19.25-27.