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Wrong Samuel Balentine?

Samuel E. Balentine

Professor of Old Testament

Union Presbyterian Seminary


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Union Presbyterian Seminary

Background Information

Employment History

Professor of Old Testament Studies

Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond


The Christian Century

Professor of Old Testament


Member, Faculty


Professor of Old Testament


General Editor

Smyth Companies Inc


The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible

Member of the Editorial Board

Web References(46 Total References)

Reading Job [cached]

- Samuel E. Balentine,
Professor of Old Testament, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, VA.

Reading Job: A Literary and Theological Commentary [cached]

— Samuel E. Balentine,
Professor of Old Testament, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, VA. | RELIGION NOTES [cached]

Samuel E. Balentine, professor of Old Testament at Union-Presbyterian School of Christian Education, on "Job and the Life of Faith: Wisdom for Today's World -- The Voice from the Whirlwind," 9:45 a.m. tomorrow, Forum Class, Three Chopt Presbyterian Church, 9315 Three Chopt Road.Details: 270-5452.

Charleston Daily Mail [cached]

Feb. 21: Samuel Balentine, professor at Union-Presbyterian, "Evil for No Reason."

Dust and Ashes [cached]

By Samuel E. Balentine.
Smyth & Helwys, 714 pp. Samuel Balentine, professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, crafts powerful and imaginative understandings of some of the most central--and controversial--matters of the book's theology. Among the most salient points is Balentine's forthright analysis of the stunning revelation by God (Job 2:3) that he entered the capricious wager with Satan "for no reason. God's often overlooked (or intentionally ignored) revelation is compounded by his remark to Satan in the same verse that he put Job, who is "blameless and without sin," through hell because "you incited me against him. Balentine is clearly deeply distressed at this passage, and his thorough analysis of it (he refers to it 74 times) contrasts markedly with most commentators' failure even to mention the passage. Balentine concedes the inescapable conclusion: even though Job's three friends argue passionately throughout on God's behalf for the traditional doctrine of retributive justice, the entire book is a repudiation of that doctrine. It describes God's seemingly unjust and capricious treatment of the sinless Job, of whom God says early on, "There is no one like him on earth" (1:8). Given that Job, unlike Adam, is free of sin, Balentine concludes, "The presumptive causal connection between sin and misfortune does not apply in his case. Balentine describes this as the problem of the book. The answer to the entire theodicy issue is simply that the connection between righteousness and suffering cannot be established. Balentine is sensitive to the fact that even though the ways of God are incomprehensible to humans, the doctrinal thunderbolt "for no reason" raises enormous obstacles for Christians. God's horrific, undeserved treatment of Job--who of course knows nothing of the wager--raises fundamental questions about the nature of God. God's affliction of Job leaves humankind "to wonder if God can be trusted. Humankind--and that is who Job represents--is "left more vexed than satisfied. And then the ultimate question: "Even if Job has passed God's test for fidelity, we must wonder if God has not failed Job's test for what is required for God. Balentine offers no rationale for God's action. The book of Job, he writes, "asks us to think about possibilities that conventional expectations may long since have discarded." Balentine's candid analysis of the character of God continues in his extensive treatment of fear as a factor in the human relationship to God. Balentine cites multiple entries on Job's love of God, but just as many on fear. "'Fearing God' and 'turning from evil' are the virtues that define Job's prologue piety (1:1, 8; 2:3). Phrases not unlike those used by the angel in describing Abraham in Genesis (22:12) occur repeatedly throughout the book, especially in the focus on God's awesome power (9:5-7), which Job perceives to be "destructive and brutal.… He senses that God's power is motivated by Anger. Job divulges that even before his affliction, during the golden years of his prosperity, he feared disaster. His affliction: "Every terror that haunted me has caught up with me, and all that I feared has come upon me" (3:25). Balentine writes, "It looks like one who lives in persistent 'fear' and 'dread' (v. 25) as S. Michell has put it, like one 'whose nightmares have come to life.' In the end, it looks like one whose life is defined completely by negatives and absences: there is unease, no 'quiet,' no 'rest.' There is only turmoil (v. 26). The only place where this terror will cease, as Job has already discerned, is in Sheol--and even the hope for Sheol is vain." Balentine also examines Satan's charge that Job loves God only because God has provided well for him. Overlooking the bombast, Balentine, while acknowledging that Elihu's discourse "increases, rather than diminishes," the tensions of the book, still finds merit in Elihu's explanation of Job's suffering: the real answer to suffering is human pride. Balentine emphasizes that Job doesn't listen to Elihu. Still, Balentine senses in Elihu more than mere anger at Job. He bases this on a conviction of the universality of suffering--that "with so much suffering in this world, it is little wonder that most, if not all persons, feel themselves to be only spectators. Balentine again goes his singular way by finding in God's two "whirlwind" speeches a much more upbeat interpretation than do most scholars, who generally deprecate the speeches as a denial of humankind's right to question God. Surely God's "gird thy loins" is hardly an invitation for a friendly conversation. Balentine sees in God's theophany speeches an effort to reach out and embrace Job. Job is not challenging God, but only asking for justice and an understanding of suffering. Balentine argues that the speeches show that God "takes extraordinary measures" to discuss with Job "the intricate details of creation's day-to-day rhythms. Balentine finds in God's insistence that Job speak up evidence that God's design of the world "requires more than one voice. What God has to say is not complete until Job adds his words. God is encouraging Job to speak up. "If we have sympathy for Job, we will be looking for signs that his quest for comfort and consolation is important to God. Balentine takes every opportunity to search out textual nuances which suggest that God is actually patting Job on the back. "Textual ambiguities also make it clear … that whatever Job's last words may mean, they convey anything but a simple confession of sin," Balentine writes. He agrees, however, that Job's experience leads him to conclude that he has been consigned to live in a world where he cries out to a cruel God who doesn't answer. After the whirlwind, Balentine argues, "God's disclosure invites a transformation in Job's understanding about what it means to be 'dust and ashes.'" Balentine concludes with a defense of Job--and God: "The lesson for Job seems to be that those who dare to stand before their maker with exceptional strength, proud prerogatives, and fierce trust come as near to realizing God's primordial design for life in this world as it is humanly possible to do." Balentine gives special attention to creation imagery--the cosmic setting against which Job's entire ordeal with suffering takes place. Creation images are common throughout the Hebrew Bible, and Balentine underscores the "role of creation imagery in Job's situation. "Presumably God's objective is to say something that connects with Job's own covenantal instincts, something that enlarges, modifies, and/or corrects his understanding of how to respond rightly to misfortune. Here, however, Job faces a contradiction between the friends' argument that a covenantal relationship is "defined by humility and passive acceptance of the misfortunes God may use to discipline him," and God's approbation of Job for his other covenantal virtues, "including strong words and fierce resistance." When God assaults the innocent without reason, it is divine justice, not human fidelity, which must be put on trial," writes Balentine. Job demands justice from God. Humankind's problem is how to bring charges "against an adversary who will not be bound by reason or logic. Even though he realizes that he risks death, Job is prepared to take an oath--a profound step in the Hebraic context. "Between Job and his friends it is easy to side with Job," writes Balentine, but "between God and Job where should we take our stand?" "Whenever someone proposes to explain suffering by saying it is simple as one, two, three," says Balentine, "the only thing the numbers will likely add up to is a zero.

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