Have you ever heard someone say God isn’t real? Well one thing many people overlook when debating the existence of God is what it means to be God. There have been many different ways to define what and who God is, and many of these cause misconceptions that lead to disbelief. One interesting view is that to claim that God does not exist would mean that what you are referring to as God really isn’t God because it is in God’s nature to exist. This may seem like a fancy way of just claiming that God exists, but it points toward a clearer conception of God. Personifying God and even using words like “him”, and “he” to refer to God can lead to misconceptions about God because it adds a subtle portion of human-like identity to God, since we use those pronouns to refer to people every day. When we do this, it allows for argument against God being omnipotent, because we can say John is more powerful that he is. But it wouldn’t make sense to say that John is more powerful than God because then God wouldn’t really be God, but John would, (assuming that who or whatever is most powerful is God). So the point here is that, even though we know what it means to be God, we can easily be misguided by false suppositions.
In the book of Exodus, God commands Moses to free the Israelite people and when giving him authority to do this, he tells him the name “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh”. This interesting because this phrase is not a name in the sense that we generally understand. It can be translated into a few different phrases but perhaps the simplest translation is “I am that I am”. Many people read the book of Exodus, hear this, and believe that is actually God’s name. In Exodus chapter three, when Moses asks God who to say sent him to the Israelite people, he simply says to Moses “I am that I am” and tells him to say that to the Israelite people when they ask who sent him. I found this interesting because it seems that God is keeping his distance from Moses here yet we clearly see he plays an important role in the rest of Moses’ life.
The book of Job chronicles the suffering Job goes through and how he reacts. The obvious disadvantage here for Job and those around him is that God is allowing the Adversary to inflict suffering onto him. The adversary is an interesting character in this story, and Marc Brettler believes that “the author may have modeled the role of ‘the adversary’ after the royal spy who traveled throughout the Persian empire” (Brettler 247). I found this interesting since one common view on this story is that Satan is the one who inflicts the suffering on Job. The conversation Job has with his friends has an important influence on how he reacts to the suffering he is experiencing, and their differing perspectives are the cause of the disagreement on why it was happening.
But what would make them turn against him and assume he must have sinned to deserve what has happened to him? In the beginning of Job, we are told that he is “wealthier than anyone in the east”, and that he “feared God and shunned evil” (Genesis 1:1-3). These are not typically both used to describe one person, but it is important to consider this in how Bildad and Zophar respond to Job’s anguish. The most important aspect about their argument is that they convinced Job that he must have done something wrong. Even though he stood his ground and held that he did not deserve it, they all agreed that he must have. Amongst the already crushing reality of losing everything he owned and loved, Job now has to face his friends who will not even support his point of view. The book of Job, while telling the story of his test of faith, may also be a narrative for the struggle that Job himself faces with keeping his faith. The characters in this story that represent the most troubling side of Job’s experience, such as the Adversary and Job’s friends, can be seen as representing the conflicting feelings that Job has about what is happening. His strong faith and success is marked by the presence of God, while the Adversary is the part of Job that he is struggling against the most. Bildad and Zophar symbolize how Job is reacting to all of this, as he struggles between knowing he doesn’t deserve this and accepting that he may have been wrong all along.
As the semester comes to a close and we wrap up the themes and messages seen throughout the books of the Old Testament, I’ve found the question “What does it mean to read the Old Testament as literature?” as important as it was at the beginning. But what is just as important as this is the perspective we have about God’s true nature. What we believe God to be like influences how we read texts like the ones we see in the Old Testament, and it determines our overall opinion of his character. Many philosophers across the world, including the catholic Thomas Aquinas have given a unique perspective on God’s nature. “Self thinking thought” is the best way to understand this concept, and while this may not seem relevant to reading the Old Testament as literature, it helps us understand the messages in the bible better. This concept of “Self thinking thought” being the nature of God may not seem to connect with how we are interpreting the Old Testament, but the name “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh”, (“I am that I am”) that God gave to Moses seems to have a similar sound.
Michael Fishbane, “The Jewish Study Bible”. Oxford University press, 1999.
Marc Brettler, “How to read the Jewish Bible”. New York. Oxford Press, 2007