Light unto my path
Light unto my path. I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out. Light unto my path, an exploration of the books of the Old Testament. One of these books, through the ages, has come our concept of man born in the image of God and made to have dominion over all things.
The Bible is the record of man's understanding of the role of the divine in human life. We now examine that record when it was written, how it was preserved, and why it ranks first in our literature. Light unto my path, produced by radio station WHOA of the University of Wisconsin under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center, in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. These programs are planned and prepared by Dr. Minaheim Mansour, chairman of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Professor Mansour. Everyone speaks of patience as synonymous with Job, and it's a common work of day expression to use to describe someone as having the patience of Job.
Job stands for something far greater, far more dazzling in human experience than mere patience. And modern Americans are perhaps beginning to realize this today thanks to a modern American poet and to the great success of a current Broadway play. As you know, Archibald McLeish, distinguished poet and playwright, has recently chosen the story of Job to present in a modern context to modern theater goers, and his drama entitled J.B. has been hailed as the outstanding hit of the Broadway season. It has sent audience back to read their Bibles to rediscover the original story of Job and to puzzle out for themselves its meaning. Why did Martin Luther call the ancient book of Job more lofty and more sublime than any other book of the Bible?
Why did Tennyson praise it as the greatest poem of ancient and modern times? And why did Archibald McLeish choose it as the basis for a modern American play? We will search for answers to these questions here today. McLeish tells us something in his own words of his purpose in writing a modern drama about Job. To me, the God of Job seems closer to this generation than he has to any other encensaries. There are those I know who will object that the God of Job is God the creator of the universe. And science, they say, now knows that there is no such creator. But Einstein has told us that he had sometimes the sense that he was following the track of an intelligence far beyond the reaches of his own. There has been nothing in human history that has brought mankind closer to the imminence of an infinite creativity than the revelation that the minutest particles of inert matter contain an almost immeasurable power.
McLeish senses the parallel between Job and the ancient land of us and John Doe in America in the mid-20th century. As one critic, Dr. Louis Finkelstein, has said, Ours is a Job-minded and Job-Hotter generation. We are a troubled, fearful people, searching for meanings in life and for hope. The story of Job reflects the private agony of the American in our times, who seems to have everything, but really finds himself having nothing. The story is simple, a perfect and upright patriarch living amidst his sons and daughters, his servants in sheep and cattle, is suddenly afflicted by great tragedies, by one shattering blow after another. Three of his friends come to comfort him, but their words have no comfort. A fourth, a bystander, named Elihu, steps in, but though he attacks the other's arguments,
he can contribute little more. And when there seems to be no human answer, through human reasoning, Job cries out in protest to the Almighty and is confronted by a visible manifestation of God. In a mighty climax, God causes all creation to pass before Job's eyes. Here lies the riddle and the inscrutable answer to innocent suffering. There is a meaning to life beyond mere human comprehension. In Job's recognition of the mystery and his acceptance of life on these terms, there is answer enough. He enjoys the blessings of the Lord in greater abundance than ever before. It is a strange story in a difficult one, for it poses that age-old universal problem called the Odyssey. Why does evil go unpunished in virtue and rewarded? If God is good and just, why is the world full of suffering?
The word the Odyssey is made up of two Greek words, God and justice. How reconcile them when the innocent are punished? Before we look to the book of Job itself for its answer, I should like to say a word about the book's structure. We find two elements in it. One, the short folk story in prose, telling about the incredible suffering of a just man, and two, a large poetic section containing a number of monologues and dialogues. This latter section involves Job and the three friends who come to comfort Job, and he's replies to their monologues, and also a major speech by Elihu, the bystander. The dialogue section is generally thought to be the central portion. Elihu's speech, the hymn on divine wisdom, the nature poems and the poem on the foolish ostrich, are thought to be interpolations.
Scholars do not agree on when the book was written or what was its original form. We cannot analyze this complicated issue today, suffice it that the book has come down through the ages to us as a unit, and now let us look at it as it stands. The story opens with a description of a happy man, rich in his wife and children, and in worldly goods, whole-hearted and upright in spirit, fearing God. Job himself describes his happy state before troubles came upon him. When I went forth to the gate onto the city, the young men saw me and hid themselves, and the aged rose up and stood. The princes refrained talking and laid their hand on their mouth. The voice of the nobles was hushed, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth. Unto me men gave ear and waited, and kept silence for my counsel. I chose out their way, and sat as chief, and dwelt as a king in the army, as one that
comforted the mourners. Now begins the plot, and Satan himself is the prime mover. Not Satan the source of evil, as he is conceived in later literature, but in the language of the ancient Hebrews, he is the Satan, or the adversary. One of the heavenly hosts, obedient to God's command. He is the angel of prosecution, as it were a prosecuting attorney. As such, he appears before the heavenly court, and claims Job is blameless and upright only because he is happy in all things. Job fears his God and loses nothing by it. Sheltered his life by thy protection, sheltered his home, his property, thy blessing on all he undertakes, worldly goods that still go unincreasing, he loses nothing. One little touch of thy hand, assailing all that wealth of his, then see how he will turn
and blasphemy. With this stones to God, striking at the very foundations of human character and religion, the plot begins to move. Armed with God's authority, the adversary begins his work. The good and upright man, serene in his wealth and well-being, is suddenly overwhelmed by news of disaster, brought by four messengers, one on the heels of the other, each crying out his litany of horror. The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them, and the sebiens fell upon them and took them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you. The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep in the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.
The caldians formed three companies and made a raid upon the camels and picked them and slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you. Their sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house, and behold a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you. All this horror breaks upon Job with crushing force, but he only falls upon the ground and worships God. He speaks no word of reproach, nor cries allowed at injustice. Instead, we have two brief verses that have become fundamental in our religion and our society today. Naked came I, out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. This should be the name of the Lord. Again Satan, the adversary, appears before God, and will not acknowledge that Job has whisked the test, and is truly steadfast. Satan charges, name, skin must suffer before skin grieves. Nothing a man owns, but he will part with it to keep his skin whole, that hand of thyme. Let it fall on bone of his, flesh of his, see if he does not turn and blaspheme me. God consents to trial of flesh, from the souls of his feet, to the crown of his head, Job is afflicted with loathsome boils. In one agonizing verse the Bible records his suffering with these words, and he took him a potchard to scrape himself therewith, and he sat among the ashes.
Still, Job does not blaspheme. His wife is shattered. Do you still hold fast, she cries, curse God and die, but Job will not. In silent agony without protest, he sits and endures until three friends who have heard of his suffering come to offer their comfort. And when they saw him from afar, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and went, and they rent their roles, and they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Still and the opening chapters of the book of Job, the story is drenched in a swift flood of suffering. Now it stands still in grief and mourning. Out of the seven days and seven nights of silence comes the great poetry of the dialogues
and monologues, and the first of these is Job's wish for death. He cries out, not against God, but against life. He curses the very day in the calendar when he was born. Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night wherein it was said the man-child is brought forth. Let that day be darkness, let not God inquire after it from above. Neither let the light shine upon it. Now that Job has broken the silence of his grief, his friends feel that they can speak. Cautiously, one of them begins, his gentle, as a good old friend should be. If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended, yet who can keep from speaking? Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands, but now it has come to you, and you are impatient.
It touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God, your confidence, and the integrity of your ways, your hope? Think now, who that was innocent ever perished, or where were the upright cut off? Behold, happy is the man whom God reproves, therefore despise not the chasening of the Almighty, for he wounds, but he binds up, he smights, but his hands heal. You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, as a shock of grain comes up to the freshing floors in its season, low, this we have searched out. It is true, here, and know it for your good. Job cannot, his grief and pain are too great, death would be his only consolation, but even death is denied him.
Where can he look for help? He must appeal directly to God who torments him. I will not restrain my mouth, I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Let me alone, for my days of vanity, what is man that thou shouldst magnify him and try him at every moment. If I have sinned, what do I unto thee, O thou watcher of man? Why has thou set me as a mark for thee? Why have I become a burden to thee? Job's second friend speaks. He takes offense at Job's complaint about the misery and injustice of the human lot. How long will you say these things? Does God pervert justice? If you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and reward you with a rightful habitation.
Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water? Such are the paths of all who forget God. Behold, God will not reject a blameless man. This friend defends God's justice and clearly implies that Job must have sinned, else there would be no punishment. But Job cannot confess sin, he does not know. I am innocent, my regard not myself, I despise my life, it is all one. Therefore I say, he destroyeth thee innocent and the wicked. He will mock at the calamity of the guiltless. I will say unto God, do not condemn me, make me know wherefore thou contendest with me. Is it good unto thee that thou shalt suppress, that thou shalt despise the work of thy hands and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?
Thy hands have framed me and fashioned me together round about yet thou dost destroy me. Two friends have spoken and Job has rejected the consolations of both. The first offered the view that no body on earth is innocent. The second has insisted that only the wicked are destroyed by divine justice. Now the third friend makes no attempt at kindness. He attacks Job directly with a deliberate charge that his sufferings must be a just punishment. Should your pebbles silence men and when you mock shall no one shame you? For you say, my doctrine is pure and I am clean in God's eyes. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. Canst thou find out the deep things of God? Canst thou attain unto the purpose of the Almighty?
If iniquity be in thy hand, put it far away and let not unrighteousness dwell in thy tense. Job is angered, the blindness of his friends, their inability to feel his suffering and their insistences of his guilt, because of these things he lashes out at the thrief of them. They try again to debate with him, but the words only drive Job farther from comfort beyond human consolation, closer to the deity himself. He pleads to try his case before Almighty God in despair and bitterness and flickering hope in righteous wrath, he moves ever closer to God to find his vindication, and the poetry of his hopes and fears is the outcry of all mankind. Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and withers.
He flees like a shadow and continues not. For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, but man dies and is laden low. Man breathes his lust and where is he? If a man dies, shall he live again? Why do the wicked live, reach old age and grow mighty in power from out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help? Yet God pays no attention to their prayer. At this point comes an interruption, not from heaven but from a bystander, Elihu, the new comer who has listened to the debate and who now angrily breaks in. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God.
He was angry also at Job's three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak because they were older than he, and Elihu answered, I must speak that I may find relief. I must open my lips and answer, God is greater than man. Why do you contend against him, saying, he will answer none of my words? For God speaks in one way and in two, though man does not perceive it. Behold, God is exalted in His power. Who is a teacher like Him? Job does not answer. He has passed beyond the words of friends, beyond human answer through human reasoning. In the exaltation of His lonely suffering, in faith and hope born of His bitter integrity, Job is granted His desire to find God Himself and His own justification.
Out of a whirlwind, the extremity of violent force comes at theophany or visual manifestation of God. He confronts Job with a challenge and hurls question after question before Him until human capacity sinks speechless before the magnitude of divine wisdom and power. This is the final climactic monologue of the poem. Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you and you shall declare to me, where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding who determined its measurements, if thou noest, or who stretched the line upon it, on what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Can you lift up your voice to the clouds that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings that they may go and say to you, here we are? Who has put wisdom in the clouds, or given understanding to the mists, who provides for the raven its prey when its young ones cry to God and wander about for lack of food, is the wild ox willing to serve you, will he spend the night at your crib and will you leave to him your labor? Do you give the horse his might, do you clothe his neck with strength? Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high? The panorama of nature and majesty of divine power breaks upon him.
And Job finds his answer in trust and humility before the unanswerable. And the appearance of God in the certainty of his power, Job is content. I know that thou canst do all things, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the hear, but now my eye sees thee. Therefore I despise myself and repent, indust and ashes. The story ends with Job restored, all his wealth, his wife and his home, new children are born to give him joy, and the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. Here we have the story. It is not a simple story, it staggers the mind and why not. It asks the gigantic soul-staring question, which is at the very roots of man's being.
What's the meaning of life? Not merely why do men suffer, but what does all of life mean? It's good and evil, justice and injustice, frailty and strength. What's the purpose? And here no doubt lies the reason why Archbold McLeish shows the story of Job for the subject of his play. For what theme can offer more to the poet searching for an understanding of our life in our day? The critic Joseph Wood Crouch makes this comment. Job best represents us at every stage of his career, in his prosperity and confidence. So sure that God was on his side. The calamities that fall upon him are those that have already fallen upon half the world, and of which we here feel the threatening shadow. Seated among the ashes he asks, as we do, why, why?
Am I being punished for some sin, or am I the victim of a cruel joke? Even in his self-pity, Job is modern man. Another commentator, Reinhold Nieber, the Theologian writes, This is the puzzle of human existence raised by the sharp contrast between man's greatness and his insignificance. As Job puts it, what is man that thou dost visit him every morning and test him every moment? This is not only an even deeper problem than that of meaningless suffering, but one more poignantly relevant to an atomic age, which has the greatness to discover nuclear energy, but lacks the wisdom to avoid the risk of nuclear war. What kind of answer is given to Job's question? Here is the crux of the matter, and here are many diverse opinions. There are those who feel that God's appearance in the whirlwind and the display of divine
power is not an answer. It's merely an overwhelming means of silencing Job's protests. These are the critics who insist that there must be a rational answer, and rationality is, after all, defined in terms of human understanding. Job himself seems to feel otherwise, if we look beneath his words, I have uttered that I did not understand things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard thee by hearing, and now my an eye sees thee. Job seems to have glimpsed the mystery, to have seen the magnitude of God's purpose without having the capacity to absorb wholly what that purpose is. To do so, he would have had to be more than mortal, for surely all meanings and purposes of the divine will transcend mere mortal capacities.
It is a misty, blurred vision, Job cannot describe it or recite for us the answers, but he accepts the life which is given him and is grateful for his blessings. Wipes unto my path, radio programs exploring the Old Testaments. The series is planned, prepared and narrated by Dr. Menahem Mansour, chairman of the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Script writing by J. Helen Stanley, music by Don Vagley, production by Carl Schmidt. Light unto my path is produced by radio station WHA of the University of Wisconsin. Under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center, in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
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- Light unto my path
- Producing Organization
- University of Wisconsin
- WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Series Description
- This series explores the books of the Old Testament, how they were written, how they were preserved, and why they continue to have influence.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Composer: Voegeli, Don
Host: Grauer, Ben
Narrator: Manning, Dean
Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
Production Manager: Schmidt, Karl
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 60-50-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Light unto my path,” 1960-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 9, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5d8nh992.
- MLA: “Light unto my path.” 1960-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 9, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5d8nh992>.
- APA: Light unto my path. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5d8nh992