Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE strange and wonderful Book of Job treats of the same subject as we are discussing; its basis is a fiction, conceived for the purpose of explaining the different opinions which people hold on Divine Providence. You know that some of our Sages clearly stated Job has never existed, and has never been created, and that he is a poetic fiction. Those who assume that he has existed, and that the book is historical, are unable to determine when and where Job lived. Some of our Sages say that he lived in the days of the Patriarchs; others hold that he was a contemporary of Moses; others place him in the days of David, and again others believe that he was one of those who returned from the Babylonian exile. This difference of opinion supports the assumption that he has never existed in reality. But whether he has existed or not, that which is related of him is an experience of frequent occurrence, is a source of perplexity to all thinkers, and has suggested the above-mentioned opinions on God's Omniscience and Providence. This perplexity is caused by the account that a simple and perfect person, who is upright in his actions, and very anxious to abstain from sin, is afflicted by successive misfortunes, namely, by loss of property, by the death of his children, and by bodily disease, though he has not committed any sin. According to both theories, viz., the theory that Job did exist, and the theory that he did not exist, the introduction to the book is certainly a fiction; I mean the portion which relates to the words of the adversary, the words of God to the former, and the handing over of Job to him. This fiction, however, is in so far different from other fictions that it includes profound ideas and great mysteries, removes great doubts, and reveals the most important truths. I will discuss it as fully as possible; and I will also ten you the words of our Sages that suggested to me the explanation of this great poem.
First, consider the words: "There was a man in the land Uz." The term Uz. has different meanings; it is used as a proper noun. Comp. "Uz, his first-born" (Gen. xxii. 21); it is also imperative of the verb Uẓ, "to take advice." Comp. uẓu, "take counsel" (Isa. viii. 10). The name Uz therefore expresses the exhortation to consider well this lesson, study it, grasp its ideas, and comprehend them, in order to see which is the right view. "The sons of God then came to present themselves before the Lord, and the adversary came also among them and in their number" (chap. i. 6, ii. 1). It is not said: "And the sons of God and the adversary came to present themselves before the Lord"; this sentence would have implied that the
existence of all that came was of the same kind and rank. The words used are these: "And the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and the adversary came also among them." Such a phrase is only used in reference to one that comes without being expected or invited; he only comes among others whose coming has been sought. The adversary is then described as going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down thereon. He is in no relation to the beings above, and has no place among them. For this reason it is said, "from going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down on it," for his "going" and "walking" can only take place on the earth. [Job], the simple and righteous man, is given and handed over to the adversary; whatever evils and misfortunes befell Job as regards his property, children, and health, were all caused by this adversary. When this idea is sufficiently indicated, the author begins to reflect on it: one opinion Job is represented to hold, whilst other opinions are defended by his friends. I will further on expound these opinions which formed the substance of the discussion on the misfortunes of Job, caused by the adversary alone. Job, as well as his friends, were of opinion that God Himself was the direct agent of what happened, and that the adversary was not the intermediate cause. It is remarkable in this account that wisdom is not ascribed to Job. The text does not say he was an intelligent, wise, or clever man; but virtues and uprightness, especially in actions, are ascribed to him. If he were wise he would not have any doubt about the cause of his suffering, as will be shown later on. Besides, his misfortunes are enumerated in the same order as they rank in man's estimation. There are some who are not perplexed or discouraged by loss of property, thinking little of it: but are terrified when they are threatened with the death of their children and are killed by their anxiety. There are others who bear without shock or fainting even the loss of their children, but no one endowed with sensation is able to bear bodily pain. We generally extol God in words, and praise Him as righteous and benevolent, when we prosper and are happy, or when the grief we have to bear is moderate. But [it is otherwise] when such troubles as are described in Job come over us. Some of us deny God, and believe that there is no rule in the Universe, even if only their property is lost. Others retain their faith in the existence of justice and order, even when suffering from loss of property, whereas loss of children is too much affliction for them. Others remain firm in their faith, even with the loss of their children; but there is no one who can patiently bear the pain that reaches his own person: he then murmurs and complains of injustice either in his heart or with his tongue.
Now consider that the phrase, "to present themselves before the Lord," is used in reference to the sons of God, both the first and the second times, but in reference to the adversary, who appeared on either occasion among them and in their number, this phrase is not used the first time, whilst in his second appearance "the adversary also came among them to present himself before the Lord." Consider this, and see how very extraordinary it is!--These ideas presented themselves like an inspiration to me.--The phrase, "to present themselves before the Lord," implies that they are beings who are forced by God's command to do what He desires. This may be inferred from the words of the prophet Zechariah concerning the four chariots that came forth. He says: "And the angel answered and said to me, These four
winds of the heavens come forth from presenting themselves before the Lord of the whole earth" (Zech. vi. 5). It is clear that the relation of the sons of God to the Universe is not the same as that of the adversary. The relation of the sons of God is more constant and more permanent. The adversary has also some relation to the Universe, but it is inferior to that of the sons of God. It is also remarkable in this account that in the description of the adversary's wandering about on the earth, and his performing certain actions, it is distinctly stated that he has no power over the soul: whilst power has been given to him over all earthly affairs, there is a partition between him and the soul; he has not received power over the soul. This is expressed in the words, "But keep away from his soul" (Job. ii. 6). I have already shown you the homonymous use of the term "soul" (nefesh) in Hebrew (Part I., chap. xli.). It designates that element in man that survives him; it is this Portion over which the adversary has no power.--After these remarks of mine listen to the following useful instruction given by our Sages, who in truth deserve the title of "wise men"; it makes clear that which appears doubtful, and reveals that which has been hidden, and discloses most of the mysteries of the Law. They said in the Talmud as follows: R. Simeon, son of Lakish, says: "The adversary (satan), evil inclination (yeẓer ha-ra’), and the angel of death, are one and the same being." Here we find all that has been mentioned by us in such a clear manner that no intelligent person will be in doubt about it. It has thus been shown to you that one and the same thing is designated by these three different terms, and that actions ascribed to these three are in reality the actions of one and the same agent. Again, the ancient doctors of the Talmud said: "The adversary goes about and misleads, then he goes up and accuses, obtains permission, and takes the soul." You have already been told that when David at the time of the plague was shown the angel "with the sword drawn in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem" (2 Sam. xxiv. 17), it was done for the purpose of conveying a certain idea to him. The same idea was also expressed in the vision concerning the sins of the sons of Joshua, the high priest, by the words, "And the adversary stood on his right hand to accuse him" (Zech. iii. 1). The vision then reveals that [the adversary] is far from God, and continues thus: "The Lord will rebuke thee, O adversary, the Lord who hath chosen Jerusalem win rebuke thee" (ibid. ver. 2). Balaam saw prophetically the same vision in his journey, addressing him with the words, "Behold I have come forth to be a hindrance to thee" (Num. xxii. 32). The Hebrew, satan, is derived from the same root as séteh, "turn away" (Prov. iv. 15); it implies the notion of turning and moving away from a thing; he undoubtedly turns us away from the way of truth, and leads us astray in the way of error. The same idea is contained in the passage, "And the imagination of the heart of man is evil from his youth" (Gen. Viii. 21). The theory of the good and the evil inclinations (yeẓer ha-tob, ve-yeẓer ha-ra’) is frequently referred to in our religion. Our Sages also say, "Serve God with your good and your evil inclinations." (B. T. Ber. 57a.) They also say that the evil inclination we receive at our birth: for "at the door sin croucheth" (Gen. iv. 7), as is distinctly said in the Law, "And the imagination of the heart of man is evil from his youth" (ibid. Viii. 21). The good inclination, however, comes when the mini is developed. In explaining the allegory representing the body
of man and his different faculties, our Sages (B. T. Ned. 32b) said: "The evil inclination is called a great king, whilst the good inclination is a child, poor, though wise" (Eccles. ix. 14). All these sayings of our Sages are contained in their writings, and are well known. According to our Sages the evil inclination, the adversary (satan), and the angel [of death], are undoubtedly identical; and the adversary being called "angel, "because he is among the sons of God, and the good inclination being in reality an angel, it is to the good and the evil inclinations that they refer in their well-known words, "Every person is accompanied by two angels, one being on his right side, one on his left." In the Babylonian Gemara (Shabbath 119b), they say distinctly of the two angels that one is good and one bad. See what extraordinary ideas this passage discloses, and how many false ideas it removes.
I believe that I have fully explained the idea contained in the account of Job; but I will now show the character of the opinion attributed to Job, and of the opinions attributed to his friends, and support my statement by proofs gathered from the words of each of them. We need not take notice of the remaining passages which are only required for the context, as has been explained to you in the beginning of this treatise.