Saturday, July 28, 2007

On Prepositions, Prayers and Enemies...

I was researching something I wanted to share with my Monday morning group the other day and took a side road into the book of Job. I found myself suddenly off topic, but riveted by one word in this verse:

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. Job 42:10 (NIV)

We were taught in Bible Study Methods, among other things, to isolate key words in a verse then seek to better understand the meaning of those words as they were originally written and in the context of the time and occasion. As you seek to identify key words, you're usually looking most closely at nouns and verbs... sometimes adjectives. Then there are times words that might seem otherwise utilitarian, even bland, take on significance.

I was glued the other day, actually, to a little, vanilla-flavored preposition: after. I put on my grammarian hat and began to look at the place it holds structurally (subordinating conjunction if anyone cares) within the NIV translation. It struck me as a critical word transitioning from something (prayer) to something (prosperity).

But when I consulted an English translation of the original Hebrew text, the word "after" was nowhere to found.

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. (KJV + Strong's Hebrew from Online Parallel Bible)

I could spend the balance of my middle age, I believe, going back and forth between these two versions wondering if a subtle shift of emphasis--if that's what you'd call it--is meaningful. Is there something in the nuance of the KJV/Hebrew version that is important to our understanding? Or this a how-many-angels-can-fit-on-the-head-of-a-pin-sitch -- i.e., practically speaking, we catch the drift so who cares?

No matter how you read it, though, it seems we have "cause" and "effect" going on. After or when Job prayed, the Lord blessed him. (Interesting to note that Job wasn't praying for the blessings... he was praying for his enemies!)

But before we close the text and try to imagine what's happening in isolation, we'd be remiss if we didn't try to glean a better sense of the situation. What's going on around this verse? Going all the way back to the beginning of the chapter, we gain a richer understanding of the "plotline." We learn that Job's presumptuous, fickle friends are in a pickle with God and He has told Job to pray for them so that they might be spared the consequences of His wrath.

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. Job 42:10 (NIV)

So we learn that Job's prayer not only renewed and super-sized his prosperity, it also spared his friends some dire punishment from God. This happened, as told in the NIV version, after he prayed.

So is there a lesson to be extracted here for those of us living today? Are we challenged, perhaps, to think rather deeply about a desired end state with respect to our enemies. What is the after we hope for in regard to relationships that challenge us?

Job obviously proved in the most actuely painful, unthinkable ways that he was a righteous man whose prayers carried gravitus. He serves as the epitome of one who has suffered and endured. In the last chapter of the book, he also serves to show us how God, perhaps, might want us to prayerfully consider those who challenge, frustrate and anger us.

What might happen in the aftermath of our prayers? Could mean people be rehabilitated? Could our own sufferings be mitigated? Could we see a better picture of their "side?" Is there a "win-win" scenario possibly in the wings for those who can subordinate pride and bitterness and appeal to God to help their enemies?

Prepositions aside... it's a hard gig, isn't it? But certainly worth our prayerful thought.

Question: Matthew 5:44 tells us explicitly to pray for our enemies. As we think about Job's "friends," are they enemies of Job? Enemies of God? Enemies of both? How about your enemies? Are they also enemies of God? Or not? And should this have bearing on your response to them?

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