When I was a new Christian, I used to spend the night over at a good friend’s house on Saturday night, to catch a ride to church in the morning.
We spent many nights going through Bible trivia cards, somewhat facetiously, saying that my memorizing this trivia we would grow as Christians and in our understanding of the Bible. Little did I know that years later, that it would actually pay out.
The trivia question in mind was phrased something like this:
Which book of the Bible begins with the phrase there once was a man from the land of Uz?
Do you know? I do!
The book in question is the book of Job. What seemed like simply historical information, or for many a sort of Once Upon a Time kind of introduction, has recently taken a vivid turn for the Redemptive Historical.
That brings us to the book of Genesis. Last year I read through the entire Bible… well, mostly. At the beginning of the year, my Bible plan started me in Genesis, and 1 Chronicles. Genesis, as you probably know has several genealogies in the first act of the book… and 1 Chronicles has a long genealogy that dominates the opening chapters as well. I skipped them. I shouldn’t have, but I did.
However, this year, I’m in the book of Genesis again as the year opens. Instead of skipping the genealogies, I embraced them and read carefully.
What did I find? I found Uz!
Right there in chapter 10!
To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash.
Genesis 10 is sometimes also called the Table of Nations. The reason for this is because there are several children coming out of Noah’s family that are named after prominent nations. Following Japheth, we see the infamous Magog (a nation that has eschatological import) and Tarshish (of Jonah fame). Following Ham we see Cush (Ethiopia), Egypt, and Canaan.
This matches a well-known phenomenon in the ancient world. A single family head will eventually develop a clan or tribe that descends from him, that tribe will take on his name. Once that tribe has made a permanent settlement, that land takes on the name of the tribe. This is exactly what we see when we look at Israel. Originally Israel was a single man. Then the people who descended from him were called Israel. And finally, once they had a permanent settlement, the land was called Israel. We even see that the land which was called Israel was originally called Canaan, named after Ham’s son.
There is another well-documented theme in the opening chapters of Genesis. God had promised Eve (as part of her punishment!) that her seed would have enmity with the seed of the Serpent. The account of this enmity is highlighted by the dual genealogies of Seth and Cain found in chapters 4 and 5.
Although not strictly genetic, broadly speaking the seed of Seth is the seed of the woman, and the seed of Cain is the seed of the serpent. More broadly, those who serve God and trust in the promise of the coming Serpent Crusher are the seed of the woman, and those who oppose this promise are the seed of the serpent.
That brings us back to Uz, and Job. Although Job has many questions that are attached to it… one that commonly comes up is who Job is, and how he knew to offer sacrifices to atone for his children’s sin? We don’t know where this mysterious land of Uz was, but we do know it was outside of what would become Israel. How is it then that Job worshiped Yahweh?
You see, while Job has many themes, one of the themes is whether or not Job will prove God right by trusting in the Lord despite his circumstances, or whether he will prove Satan right by cursing God when his material blessings are removed. Another way to think about it is whether Job will be counted among the seed of the woman, or among the seed of the serpent.
That is where the opening line becomes important, and connects with Genesis. Uz was the son of Aram, who was the son of Shem. Aram has a brother named Arpachshad, who would be the ancestor of Abraham, and thus the ancestor of Jacob, and thus the ancestor of all the Israelites (this is why prejudice actions against Jewish persons is called anti-Semitism… not sure why the H disappeared…)
You see, Job lived in the land of Uz, meaning he was probably descended from the man Uz. He existed in a parallel lineage as the people of Israel. He was a Shemite as well. For a people obsessed with genealogies, they would have instantly recognized the name of their ancestral cousin Uz, knowing he was the brother of their ancestral Arpachshad. Because of this, they would have seen themselves represented in Job, as a fellow Shemite. They would have understood him as part of the Sethite (seed of the woman) line. They would have recognized that as the faithful seed of the woman, his victory was not just a victory over material destruction, but was itself a shadow of the ultimate victory of the promised Serpent Crusher.
Likewise, when we look at the book of Job, we must recognize that the book of Job is not just the story of a man who became the unfortunate object of a cosmic bet. Rather, it is a shadow of the only story that matters. That of the Heel-Bruised Serpent Crusher who saved us all.
So remember, there are no idle words in Scripture. Everything is there for a reason. Whether it is the introduction of a book telling us about a man from a land we have never heard of and have no idea where it was… to an entry in a genealogy of a person who seems like nothing more than a historical footnote. Every word is there for a reason.