How God Shamed Job

What did Job really suffer? 

Is the book of job Job about the loss of wealth and health, livestock and children, or something more? I suggest Job suffered primarily shame and social humiliation. And through that shame, God wanted to demonstrate his undeniable sovereignty over human reputation and honor. Job is not all about shame and honor, but our Western tendencies to read scripture individualistically overlook these social/group dynamics that are so prominent, in scripture and Majority World cultures, as we shall see.

The physical suffering and financial poverty were certainly discouraging, but the issue at stake for Job was the public disgrace he encountered – his fall from honor to shame. Because he was crazy wealthy and “the greatest of all the people of the east,” Job surely functioned as a great patron. He magnanimously helped people. Then in exchange, they respected and honored him.

Job 29 recounts how people granted Job deference and respect because his benefaction rescued the destitute.  Job was a big man, a king of sorts – meeting needs and receiving honor. So to lose his possessions meant a loss of social standing and prestige. Without wealth, Job was no longer the grand benefactor admirably meeting others’ needs. The Lord gave and took away Job’s honorable public status.

(c) http://sweetpublishing.com/

JOB’S SHAME (c) http://sweetpublishing.com/

But even worse than loss of wealth (and patronage opportunities), Job became a functional leper with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” He bore a physical defilement, so was stigmatized and rejected like the lepers in Jesus’ day. Since his sudden calamity, the jury of public opinion stripped Job of his honor. Job was “filled with disgrace” (10:18). Even children of debased families spit upon and detest Job; his honor is driven away as by the wind (ch. 30). Everybody rejected job as an outsider (19:13ff).

  • …my close friends have forgotten me
  • …my guests and maidservants count me as a foreigner
  • …I am a stench to the children of my own mother
  • …even young children despise me
  • …all my intimate friends abhor me. 

With no living children to provide for him and an absent wife, Job was truly abandoned without friends nor family – life’s greatest fear for people in collectivistic societies.  Here is how Job describes his situation in 19:9:  

He (God) has stripped from me my glory and taken the crown from my head.”

What do you think of this reading of Job (i.e., new, wrong, insightful)?  Then, what is ‘the point’ of Job’s shame?  NEXT POST ON JOB’S HONOR.

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Posted in OT, Shame, Theology
8 comments on “How God Shamed Job
  1. Margaret Hull says:

    An insightful conclusion, and right on. There are many turns and curves and conclusions to be drawn from this magnificent story. But Job came out the same in God’s estimation – to Satan in the beginning of the book, and in chapter 42 to Job’s “friends” – “My Servant Job”.
    Possibly as Job suffered longer and deeper he took on an attitude of entitlement- I deserve better! I’ve fallen into the same sinful attitude in times of sorrow and suffering.

  2. Nathan says:

    Could it be that in the place of shame is where we identify best with Jesus? Job was picturing Jesus, the High Priest, in 42:7-9, as he made a sacrifice for his friends; and the Lord accepted his prayer. In the end, despite their own pride of place and wrong thinking about God’s (and Job’s) character, the friends joined Job in his shame and sacrifice. This, then, led to a greater honor than before – “and the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.”

    • HonorShame says:

      Wow, your lead question – about shame being the place where we identify best with Jesus – is really great. In some ways, that is at the core of following Jesus to the cross and leading a cruciform life. I also think of God’s preference for the humble/humbled. Those are cognitive thoughts for me, as I’ve experienced loss and suffering, but not that profound sense of shame as an affluent Westerner. That question makes it hard to know what we should long for – for God to grant us honor, or shame so that we could better ‘know’ Jesus. We’ll, I’ll leave it at that.

  3. Debbie Barnett says:

    Interesting thoughts. While I do agree the lesson of shame/honor can be identified in this, I do not support the conclusion Job struggled with them. In the first chapter starting with verse 13 we read how the news of the disasters came to Job – however, it was the news of the loss of his children when Job reacted – verse 20 “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charing God with wrongdoing.” Based on these verse, Job was a peace with the loss of his wealth – and only grieved when he loss his children. In fact, Job was such a righteous man, he would offer sacrifice for his children just in case they had sin – Job 1:5. This does not sound like the behavior of someone who is concerned for societies view of him.

    The center theme in Job is his struggle (not with the loss of wealth or even his family although he does show this was important to him) but the age old question of why things happen to people who honor God. There is a mistaken idea that if we serve God the ‘right’ way, then everything in our life will be without problems or issues . In the US, the idea is so prevalent – people will walk away from God because their life is not the way they think it should be. They start out in fellowship with God and then something happens, illness, job-loss, financial loss, divorce, death and so on, they decide God does not care for them or love them. Job shows us this is NOT true. Our relationship with God is not based on what we have or don’t have – it is based on God’s love for us and our response to Him. Yes, Job questions God. Yes, Job was bitter – Job in chapter 10 believes God is angry at him, an innocent man and that he is being punished. Because he feels he is unjustly being punished, that God is delighting in punishing Job, he does start to act entitled not deserving to suffer. Yes, Job feels unjustly treated, but these issues are not because of what others think, it is because he has experienced the blessing and joy of God, being obedient because he chose to honor God. There is no indication in Job where he felt shame and loss of honor by others – only with God and the age old question of why God, why – what have I done? This struggle is so hard – what did I do to deserve this? Haven’t I served you well? Entitlement. Yet, despite the physical suffering and the mental Job stand strong when his ‘friends’ come. He never admits he has done anything to be forgiven, either in his behavior, or his attitude and stands for God to his friends. If Job had been so concerned with honor, wealth and social standing, the struggles Job faced would not have the depth of meaning it does. Job only cared for God’s opinion of him and understanding why he is suffering. Isn’t this what we struggle with everyday? Yet, it is in this struggle we feel the love and grace of God so much more, because truth be told, we deserve worse than the struggle we face today. The truth is everything around us is proof of God’s love for us, for the absence of God is literally nothing.

    One of my favorite parts of this story is God’s response in Chapter 38 – 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!…8 Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb,…11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no further; here is where your proud waves halt?'” We are welcome to question God, but we can not stand in judgment of Him. =) Just my thoughts.

    • HonorShame says:

      Yes, I agree most of what you are saying about the heart of Job’s message. However, I would simply insert that shame was an aspect of Job’s suffering. In chs 19, 29, and 30, Job discusses the shame he faces quite explicitly. I quoted parts of those chapters, but it may worth reading them in their entirety. You are correct that Job was not defined or paralyzed by that social disgrace, but text seems to indicate he was affected and confounded by it. Job is trying to figure out why he is suffering shame.

  4. aj says:

    I share the bible through storying. I am now preparing for my next trip, which will be to a Muslim country, so I have been truly pondering on the honor/shame aspect of Biblical culture. This article was great and thought provoking. Thank you.

  5. Sandra says:

    Great post – I just found your website/blog via the Jackson Wu link and am thrilled that you have started it. As missionaries, My husband and I (along with a couple of African Theological students) are researching/writing within the Sub-saharan honor/shame contexts that are mostly not identified within the definition of honor cultures, but while having slight variations, most definitely are honor/shame emphasis.

    Just a couple of weeks back we were discussing the topic of Job and the very same comments you made, we were also making…..and the fact that when they are taken into account, the story has sooooo much more impact for those in honor/shame emphasis cultures. The West may see the loss of ‘stuff’ as the focus of the story, but the loss of ‘stuff’ was also really loss of ‘status’ for Job and to bring that reality to light is vital. He didn’t just HAVE nothing, he now WAS nothing – in the eyes of his community and even the eyes of his wife who just wanted him to curse God and die. The fact that Job could still worship God in this context is incredibly impacting for an honor/shame culture person. This was the kind of shame that the Psalms is full of requesting of God not to bring – yet Job is the testimony that even if one is shamed in the eyes of others and a society’s ideals, it doesn’t count as ‘shame’ but rather the means of God purifying his faith and bringing him to a place of high value in God’s eyes – of refined Gold!

    So, thanks for highlighting it for your readers and I hope your blog has a wide readership.

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