REFLECTIONS ON THE BOOK OF JOB
By John Telgren
The book of Job is typically oversimplified. I, like many others was familiar with the prose sections of Job (the beginning and end), but very unfamiliar with the lengthy dialogues throughout the center of the book. Job is an interesting book, which offers more questions than it does solutions. Job is also a daring book. It dares to ask the hard questions, even if the questions themselves seem to implicate God. I believe that this characteristic is there by design.
How should we understand the book of Job? What is its purpose? How does it develop that purpose? I want to spend a few moments of reflection on some of these types of questions.
In order to understand any book of the Bible, we must first step back and get the big picture. Instead of doing a "verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Job, I want to look at some overall themes that run throughout the book of Job.
Justice/The Character of God in the book of Job
The justice and character of God is at the forefront of the discussions between Job and his friends.
In Job 3, Job begins by speaking to himself, cursing the day of his birth. Instead of light, joy and peace, he views his birth as darkness, gloom and chaos as is evidenced by his reference to Leviathan in chapter 3. For more on Leviathan, continue to read to the end of this essay. Job wishes he was never born. Job believes he is innocent, and that he is being treated unjustly. (Job 6:24-30) He believes God multiplies his wounds without cause (Job 9:17). He believes that God has wronged him (Job 19:6). Job also believes there is no such things as real justice (Job 19:7).
In response, Eliphaz asks a rhetorical question, "Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?" (Job 4:17). Eliphaz believes God is reproving Job (Job 5:17). He exhorts Job to seek God so that God might restore him. Bildad says that God does not pervert justice (Job 8:3). Zophar says that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous (Job 11; Job 20).
Job affirms Eliphaz's words, "How can a man be right before God?" (Job 9:2). However, Job takes these words and completely twists them around. Job says no one can be right before God, not because man is sinful, but because God is stronger. No one has been able to defy him without harm (Job 9:4). God is stronger than Job, so how could he resist him? (Job 9:19). Job claims that God punishes both the just and the wicked alike and hinders justice (Job 9:22-24). Job also claims that even if he purified himself, God will still plunge him into filth (Job 9:30-31). Job portrays God as one who overreacts and overpowers poor tiny humans (Job12:15). Job portrays God as a predator and himself as the prey (Job 10:16). Job calls God his "adversary" (Job 16:9). He portrays God as a divine warrior who has easily overpowered him and will not let up (Job 16:11-14; 19:11-12). Indeed, "how can a man be right before God?" Because of this, Job also says that there is no such thing as justice in the world (21:1-16). The wicked prosper at the expense of the righteous! (Job 24).
In chapter 9, Job expresses his desire, which becomes amplified throughout the rest of the book. Job wants an "umpire" or "mediator" so he can take God to court (Job 9:33-35). Indeed, the book of Job abounds with ancient legal terminology, such as "contend", "witness", "answer", and the idea of a "written record". Job expresses this desire with increasing intensity until he finally demands that God shows himself and answer. (Job 6:2; 9:33; 13:15-19; 16:18-22; 19:25-27; 23:3-4-7; 31:35-37). The thought of standing before God to contend with him terrifies Job (Job 23:15-16), but his anguish and suffering is stronger than his terror, so he continues to speak. However, Job does not believe he will be given the opportunity to contend with God. To Job, God is hidden and will not answer (Job 9:11; 23:8). Job believes that he will die without being vindicated (Job 14:12; 17:13-16). It is ironic that the one thing Job fears and does not expect to happen is the one thing that God grants to Job. In the end, God does appear to Job.
Is it any wonder that Job's friends react the way they did? Job sounds as if he is blaspheming God! He accuses God of injustice. He portrays God as a predator. He paints God as an all-powerful but amoral God.
On the other hand, Job's friends claim God is just. God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Since Job is suffering, Job must have done something evil. Did Job believe that suffering comes as a result of guilt? At one time he did. Eliphaz reminded Job that he used to comfort people much the same way his friends were now comforting him (Job 4:1-6). Job also tells he friends that he knows what they know (Job 13:2). He also says that he could speak as they did if he were in their place (Job 16:4) Job used to sit in the same seat that his three friends are now sitting in. Job had the same black-and-white theology of God as his friends did. To Job and his friends, God was sort of a "justice machine". To them, God is a God of "cause-and-effect". Doing good causes blessing. Doing evil causes calamity. Even after his calamity, there is little difference between the "nature" of the theology of Job and that of his friends. Trying to figure out what is going on using a black-and-white theology leads Job's friends to assume Job's guilt. His friends do not know of Job's innocence. Only God and Job know that Job is not guilty. Job also uses the same rigid, black-and-white theology as his friends. However, Job knows he is not guilty, so Job assumes God's guilt.
What Job does not understand is that his innocence does not depend on God's guilt. Likewise, what his friends do not understand is that God's innocence does not depend on Job's guilt. A rigid, black-and-white theology of God does not do "justice" to a God, who himself is not a rigid, black-and-white God in a world that is not a rigid, black-and-white world.
Knowledge and Wisdom in the book of Job
Another theme that runs throughout the book of Job is that of knowledge and wisdom. The two are closely related and interchangeable throughout scripture. The words "know", "knowledge", "wisdom", and "understanding" all appear throughout the text of Job. So, not only are they discussing God, they are discussing how you know what you know.
One interesting feature of the dialogue sections of Job is their form. They are written in poetic form, which is the same form of other wisdom books of the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern wisdom texts. The book of Proverbs is a good example of this type of form. In short, this is the language of the sages and the wise men. So Job and his friends are being portrayed as sages/wise-men arguing about the subject of God, knowledge and wisdom.
In his first speech, Eliphaz encourages Job to act wisely by not playing the fool in his vexation (Job 5:2). Bildad appeals to the past generations for their knowledge (Job 8:8-10), and proceeds to quote their proverbs to Job. Indeed, the combined knowledge of the ancestors is a mountain compared to the molehill knowledge of one man. Zophar says that wisdom is many sided, that Job himself cannot comprehend the deep things of God (Job 11:6). Eliphaz repeats the sentiments of Bildad. He rebukes Job, stating that he himself and his two friends have the knowledge of the gray-haired and the aged on their side (Job 15:7-10).
On the other hand, Job's claims empirical knowledge. The traditional wisdom of the ancients just do not fit his personal observations and experience. Job mocks traditional wisdom and knowledge in Job 12, appealing not to the ancestors, nor his own experience, but to the beasts of the field (Job 12:7). "But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you…. " He also says that God "deprives the trusted ones of speech, and takes away the discernment of the elders". So Job implies that senility rather than wisdom is what comes with age. Traditional wisdom contributes nothing new to Job's understanding (Job 13:1-2). Job himself was brought up on traditional wisdom, so he tells his friends that the wisest thing they could say is…. . nothing (Job 13:5). If they would just shut their mouths, this would be their wisdom.
Theological discussions can be dangerous. They are not dangerous because they ask hard questions, they can be dangerous because they can turn God into an artifact. This was one of the problems when sin first entered the world. The serpent draws Eve into a theological conversation. One of the ways the serpent tempted Eve was by causing her to doubt God. "Did God REALLY say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?" "You shall surely not die, for in the day you eat of it you will become like God, knowing both good and evil." My, my, my. So God is withholding something from me that is good? And he is doing it for a selfish motivation? Does this mean God is not completely good? Does this mean God is keeping something from me that would make me live a happy and fulfilled life? And it goes on and on, leading to disobedience. This was the first conversation ABOUT God. In this way, God is no longer the great provider. God becomes an object to be discussed, and that kind of theology can be dangerous especially when you consider the fact that we are dealing with an infinite God. This was part of the problem of Job and his friends. Job's friends had God all figured out. The result was a rigid, black-and-white theology of a cause-and-effect God. This is the God of Job's friends. Job's friends are the ones who "bring God into their power" (Job 12:6). They made finite an infinite God. In short, they have made God into the image of man.
Job, on the other hand, finally claims that there can be no wisdom on the earth (Job 28:12-28). Wisdom cannot even be found in death. Death and Hades had only heard a rumor that there was such a thing as wisdom. Only God has wisdom, and he has hidden it somewhere.
This is interesting, especially when you consider the concept of wisdom in other biblical wisdom literature. Job says that man cannot attain wisdom because only God understands it. Proverbs 8:22 only partially echoes the same sentiment. In Proverbs 8, wisdom (personified as a female) says that God possessed her first, and created the world in perfect working order by her. The creation of the universe is the greatest display of divine wisdom. So wisdom is with God just as Job says. However, wisdom in the book of Proverbs is NOT hidden. She (wisdom) calls out to the young men (Prov. 1:20; 8:1-4). Wisdom can be sought out, found, and possessed (Prov 3:13-26). The one who seeks after and possesses wisdom will be successful in life. But that is not how wisdom is portrayed in the book of Job. It would be interesting to reflect further on the contrast of wisdom in Job and Proverbs.
Friendship and Loyalty in the book of Job
At the very first, we see the theme of friendship developed in the relationship between Job and his wife. I used to think that Job's wife was very wicked, foolish, or cruel. Why would she tell her own husband to curse God and die? You have to keep in mind that everyone in this story has the same black-and-white theology of God, including Job's wife. According to this theology, all of Job's misfortunes were because of some great sin he must have committed. Therefore, the blame for the death of her children lay at Job's feet. Job was responsible for the death of their children! Is it any wonder that Job's wife turns her back on her husband?
In the dialogues, Eliphaz, one of Job's "friends" was the first to respond to Job's lament (Job 4-5). However, Job did not ask for a response. Chapter three is a "soliloquy". Job is merely speaking to himself in his anguish. When his friends respond, their friendship begins to degenerate. Then Job bemoans the fact that his friends were like a dried up oasis in a desert (Job 6:14-20). Job was hoping to be refreshed by his friends, but he received a mouth full of sand instead. According to Job, friends should give kindness to a friend in despair. Instead, his friends were "miserable comforters" (Job 16:2). Job accuses his friends of siding with God and deceitfully showing partiality to God, whom Job believes to be the wrong doer in this case (Job 13:7-8). Job believes that friends should be loyal and honest, even if that means siding with a friend against God. This has led some to characterize Job as so brutally honest, that he would not blindly and dishonestly justify God.
Job's brothers, relatives, servants, and even his wife have abandoned and turned against him (Job 19:13-17). Even children despise him (Job 19:18). Job's friends, like God, are his persecutors (Job 19:22). Job criticizes his friends because they offered him no comfort or strength (Job 26:1-4). Indeed, Job says that his friends are his scoffers (Job 16:20).
Things were not always this way for Job. The Job before the calamity was highly respected (Job 29). The elders of the city rose from their seat when he approached. The princes stopped talking when Job spoke up. They did not question his words. He sat as chief among the troops. However, the worthless ones of the city now spit on and taunt him and no one cares (Job 30). Not only did Job lose his health, he lost all his friends, family, respect, and reputation. Everyone turned against him. Instead of receiving encouraging words, flowers, and get-well cards, he received contempt and abandonment from everyone he knew.
Why would everyone treat Job in this way? Once again, it goes back to the same rigid, black-and-white theology that everyone believed in. When Job challenges their theology, his friends feel threatened. They feel so threatened, that they cannot leave Job alone until they get some sort of admission of guilt from him. If Job is right, then they are in danger. If this could happen to Job even though he is innocent, the same could happen to them. Their safe, predictable, black-and-white world-view would be shattered. Their world would become a plethora of uncertain shades of gray, and they are not willing to accept this. This fear becomes so pronounced that when they cannot get an admission of guilt from Job, they begin to make some baseless, specific accusations of what Job must have done (Job 22). Eliphaz accuses Job of great wickedness, exploitation, turning away the needy, and taking bribes. He then asserts that Job must yield to God's punishment and repent. Yet it is not concern for Job that motivates them, but a concern for themselves. Job perceives this selfish fear and asks them "Will you speak what is unjust for God, and speak what is deceitful for Him? Will you show partiality for Him? Will you contend for God? Will it be well when He examines you?" (Job 13:7-9). I'm sure this sent a cold chill up their spine. Then Job accuses his friends of wronging him, tormenting him, and crushing him with words. (Job 19:1-3).
So the book of Job could also be seen as a commentary on friendship. Friends are fickle and will fail you. Ones you think are close and loyal will turn on you. They may even do so in the name of God. They might say, "I serve God!" I have experienced this more than once in my own life. It is nothing new. According to the book of Job, there is no human on whom you can depend. Not even your own wife. Job feels that everyone, including God, has abandoned him. Job has nowhere to turn. At several points in the dialogues, Job expresses a glimmer of hope. Job believes that he would be vindicated if he could contend with God (Job 13:18). He believes his "witness" is in Heaven and his "advocate" is on high (Job 16:19). Job knows that his "redeemer" will eventually stand up for him (Job 19:25-26). Job never identifies who this redeemer is. It couldn't be a kinsman-redeemer because all of his kinsmen have abandoned him. Could it be God? Job believes God to be his enemy. So to whom will Job make his appeal? Who has the ability to stand up to God on Job's behalf? There is no one that can contend with God except God. There is no one who knows that Job is innocent except for God. Therefore, only God can deliver Job from God (Job 24:7). But Job spends more time in despair than he does in hope. He really does not believe God will vindicate him. He does not believe that God will actually stand up for him. He does not believe that God cares. Is there any hope at all for Job?
The "Wisdom" of the Young
After Job makes his longest speech, the arguments wind down. Neither Job nor his friends have changed their mind. All the wise men hang on to their precious knowledge and wisdom. Then out of nowhere, a young man Elihu speaks out in frustration and anger. He is angry with Job for justifying himself and being righteous in his own eyes. He is angry with the old men for not sticking to their guns in their arguments. They have made poor "lawyers" on God's behalf. So Elihu is going to set everyone straight! He gives quite a long monologue, but really adds nothing new to the whole discussion. He does place more emphasis on the discipline of God. He says that God disciplines in order to correct and bring about repentance. Elihu accuses Job of rebelling against God's discipline. Elihu also says a lot about the character of God. He is powerful, righteous, wise, and infinite. Elihu goes on and on. When it seems like he is winding down, he says something like, "Wait for me a little, and I will show you that there is yet more to be said in God's behalf. (Job 26:2)." Then Elihu goes to great length in describing God, his nature, and his power. However, Elihu did not give any new insights. He did not even say anything that had not already been said. But Elihu's speech seems to be a lot smugger than that of the older men who argued with Job. Elihu must have thought his insight was cutting edge.
God's first "Reply"
It was at Elihu's speech that God finally decided to speak. After Elihu's "insightful" speech, which amounted to little more than a repeat of what everyone had already said, the greatest sage of all shows up, God himself. God is the one who first possessed wisdom and created the world by it, according to Proverbs 8. Now the great sage enters into the argument.
However, God does not appear as another sage. He does not expound on wisdom. He does not offer answers. He does not enter the debate. Instead, he appears as the defendant in Job's suit, ready to cross-examine the plaintiff. He grants Job his day in court. Job had prepared his case (Job 13:18). He was ready to fill his mouth with arguments (Job 23:4). However, Job was no match for God. God begins by cross-examining Job concerning knowledge and wisdom (Job 38). The words "know" and "understanding" pops up again. Job and his friends had just been arguing about where knowledge and wisdom come from. Job's friends claimed knowledge and insight from their ancestors. Job initially claimed knowledge and insight empirically, only to acknowledge later that true wisdom and insight is hidden with God.
At the beginning of his first speech, God begins with "who is this…. ?". These three words highlight the vast difference between an infinite God and finite man. They had "darkened counsel without knowledge". God then begins his cross-examination with creation. What are the blueprints of creation? Surely Job must "know". Who provides a home and food for the animals? Job must surely "understand" these things. God asks questions like "Is it by your "wisdom" that the Hawk soars?" (Job 29:26).
God's cross-examination illustrates the severe limitations of man's knowledge and wisdom. Once God vividly portrays the meagerness of man's knowledge and wisdom, the futility of challenging God in court becomes glaringly apparent. How can Job dare to think he could contend with God when he clearly does not have all the facts? No good lawyer would dare to proceed if he does not have all the facts. Job's case comes to a screeching halt. All Job can do now is place his hand over his mouth. In the end, Job makes a poor lawyer on his own behalf. His arguments fail even before he has a chance to present them. Job had already said that if he were to contend with God, he could not answer him a thousand times (Job 9:3). God could have thrown out the suit at that point, but he was not finished.
In God's second speech, which begins in Job 40:6, he begins to switch his tone. He no longer "questions" Job concerning knowledge and wisdom. Instead, he "challenges" Job to execute justice everywhere on the earth with divine majesty. What is the purpose of this challenge? Is God merely trying to put Job in his place, or is God trying creatively to show Job that there is justice in the world and this justice comes from a majestic God? If Job can rise to God's challenge, God says, "Then I will also confess to you, that your own right hand can save you" (Job 40:14). The "right" hand was a metaphor for power. But this speech was not about God's power because that was never an issue for Job (Job 9:6ff; 12:13). It is about God's justice. God began this section saying, "Will you really annul My judgement? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:8)." Job had claimed that God was amoral, punishing the wicked and the just alike (Job 9:22). Job claimed that there is really no justice in the world (Job 24). God's challenge illustrates that man does not have the ability to execute true justice in the world, especially in light of his severe limitations. Only God can truly execute justice. Job in his righteousness can do no better. Indeed, Job cannot even do as good as God when it comes to justice. Furthermore, how can man even begin to conclude justice does not exist when his own knowledge and wisdom are severely limited? Can he make any conclusion at all?
At this point, God has still not answered Job's questions, at least not directly. Is there justice in the world? Is God just, or is he an amoral, indifferent God that lashes out without cause? Can man even know the answer to this question?
God's Second Reply
In the last part of his speech, God is still talking about justice, adding divine care for creation as part of the topic (Job 40:15ff). God references two great creatures, the Behemoth and the Leviathan. Through the ages, many have speculated what the creatures actually were. Many believe these to be references to the hippopotamus and the crocodile. The problem with this conclusion is that either the descriptions do not fit, or God is grossly exaggerating their power. He describes these creatures as having so much power, that the strongest warriors cannot overcome them. They are invincible, almost. So what is God trying to do in describing these creatures? He can't be trying merely to emphasize his great power. That was never an issue in this book.
Some ancient linguistic and near eastern background can help to shed some light on these mysterious creatures and their function in the book of Job. The word "behemah" is a singular noun, which simply means "beast" or "cow". The word in Job is "behemoth" which is a plural noun. There are several types of plurals in ancient Semitic languages. One is the "plurality of majesty". One might call a great king, "kings", signifying his majesty. One of the names for God takes a plurality of majesty. The word normally rendered "God" in the Hebrew Bible is the Hebrew, "Elohim". Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning, Elohim created the Heavens and the Earth. " Elohim is a masculine, plural noun. There are many names for God in the Old Testament, each emphasizing some part of God's nature. Elohim uses the plurality of majesty, thereby emphasizing the awesome power and majesty of God. Behemoth (plural) is not any ordinary creature. This fearless creature cannot be captured or subdued (Job 40:24). He is the first of the great acts of God (Job 40:19). God created him first.
Likewise, Leviathan is a mighty, fearless creature that cannot be overcome with any weapons of war. But what is Leviathan? We see from this passage that he is some sort of mighty sea creature. He causes the deep to boil and leaves a wake behind him in the waters (Job 41:31-32). God begins this section with a question, "can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?" (Job 41:1). Judging from the description of Leviathan in this chapter, the imagery of a man with a rod and reel fishing for Leviathan is indeed a ridiculous one. But what exactly is this "Leviathan?" Leviathan is mentioned in several other passages of scripture. Before trying to identify Leviathan, an examination of these passages is in order:
Psalm 104. This Psalm praises the Lord's creation. However, creation is portrayed in a much different manner than in Genesis 1-2. In Genesis, the Lord speaks, and things are either created or fashioned. However, in this Psalm, the Lord "rebukes" the waters, separating the waters above from the waters below. The Lord "thunders" in order to create the mountains and valleys. Then in verse 26, the Psalmist mentions Leviathan, whom God makes to "sport" in the sea.
Psalm 74. This Psalm also contains a section that praises God for creation. In verses 12-17, the Psalmist praises God because he did "divide the sea" by his strength and he did "break the heads of the sea monsters in the waters" and he did "crush the heads of Leviathan. " So Leviathan is mentioned once again in connection with creation.
Since Leviathan is mentioned in connection with creation, it might be helpful to review creation. In Genesis 1:2, after God created the Heavens and the Earth, the text says that the earth was "formless and void". The Hebrew word here could be translated as a "waste and emptiness", or "chaotic". God initially created the Heavens and the Earth as nothing more than a chaotic mass. The Lord speaks (or rather "rebukes", as the Psalmist writes) and begins to set boundaries for his creation. He begins to bring order to chaos. He sets boundaries for the light and dark. He sets boundaries for the ocean and the clouds by "rebuking" them. He sets boundaries for the ocean and the land by "thundering". In the end, God sees that his creation is "very good (Gen 1:31)."
In other ancient Near Eastern literature, Leviathan appears as a creature that existed before the created order. The gods destroyed Leviathan and brought orderliness and goodness to creation. So Leviathan was a symbol for evil and chaos personified. Psalm 74 reflects this metaphor when it says that God "crushed the heads of Leviathan" when he created the sea and sky. So when God makes reference to Leviathan in Job, he may not be referencing an actual mortal creature, but instead may be using Leviathan as a metaphor for evil and chaos. Job seems to reflect this understanding of Leviathan in Job 3 when he curses the day of his birth. Both Behemoth and Leviathan may be synonyms for evil and chaos. Behemoth is the "first of God's great acts. " The first of God's great acts according to Genesis 1 was the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, which were formless and chaotic.
(For those that have a problem with the Bible using a pagan or mythical source to make a point, one should keep in mind that this happens in the New Testament as well. In Acts 17:28-29, Paul quotes pagan poets to teach the people of Athens that we are God's offspring. In Jude 9, Jude quotes from the non-canonical book of I Enoch to teach people not to be arrogant. )
So what is the purpose of these creatures in the book of Job? Why does God spend so much time describing them? Concerning the Behemoth, God says, "Let his maker bring near his sword" (Job 40:19). No human can overcome this majestic creature. Concerning Leviathan, God asks if Job is able to do battle with this mighty creature and prevail. God also asks if Job can make Leviathan into a mere plaything, a pet (Job 41:5). In asking these questions, God implies that he himself is able not only to kill Leviathan, but also to tame him as a leashed pet -- "Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine" (Job 41:11).
So what God has creatively shown in the second part of his speech that began in Job 40:6 is that there is order and justice in the world. After challenging Job to execute justice, God points out two mythical creatures, which are symbolic of evil and chaos. Only God has the power to bring his sword against Behemoth. God has turned Leviathan into a "pet" who "sports" in the sea. Only God has the ability to do this.
So God is not a "watcher of men". God brought justice and order into the world. The earth was "chaotic" in the beginning, but God "destroyed" chaos and brought order. God is not a God of confusion, but a God of order and justice. The world is not perfect, but neither is it out of control.
Reflection on Job's Response and Restoration
Job responds to God with humility. Job admits that there is much he does not understand. Before he faced God in the whirlwind, Job had "heard" of God by the hearing of his ear (Job 42:5). But now his eyes have "seen" him, and his whole perspective changes. He went from hearing to seeing.
Job now "knows" that his own wisdom and knowledge are severely limited. He also knows that God's wisdom is boundless, and it was by wisdom that God created the universe. Job also "knows" that God is not an amoral spectator because he has subdued chaos (Leviathan).
God does not answer Job's other question. Why is Job suffering? Perhaps it was enough for Job to know that God is not an aloof, amoral God. Job does not have the wisdom to understand all the intricacies of God's creation. He does not have the expertise to understand, much less read the blue prints of God's creation. However, Job now "sees" the big picture. God is righteous. He does not have an overpowering need to understand how everything "works under the hood", it is enough to know that he will get where he is going, even if he does not understand how. He just needs to continue to trust and obey.
One of the puzzling statements that God makes to Job's friends is that his wrath was kindled against them because they did not speak rightly of God as Job has. How could that be? All along they have claimed that God is just. You would think that God might have said Job's friends did not speak rightly of Job. And how could Job have spoke rightly of God? He accused God of being a tyrant! Actually, no one spoke rightly of God. They presumed to know more than they actually did. No one had all the facts. So not only does Job prove to be a poor lawyer on his own behalf, God's self-proclaimed lawyers make even worse lawyers on God's behalf. Job's friends, who "contended for God" can not effectively defend God because they are just as limited in their knowledge and wisdom and Job is.
Job's "rightness" in what he says of God has more to do with what he says in the end than what he says in his laments. He confesses his lack of understanding. There was no such confession on the part of Job's friends. Perhaps another theme to reflect on in the book of Job would be pride and its effects.
Job 42:6 could be translated, "Job changed his mind away from dust and ashes". Job has been sitting in ashes to mourn his physical torment (Job 2:8). He lamented not only his misfortunes, but also the apparent lack of justice and order in the universe. He lamented the apparent lack of a just, caring God. So there he sat on the ash heap. However, he has a new perspective. He has "seen" God. So he repents of dust and ashes. He ceases to mourn. Some have offered the translation, "Job was comforted away from dust and ashes", which could be possible. This would fit with the statement in Job 42:9 where the text says that "the Lord accepted/lifted up the face of Job. "
But what an ironic twist! Job the persecuted now becomes Job the intercessor! Job, the one everyone assumed was guilty is the righteous one who offers intercessory prayers on behalf of his friends! My how the tables have turned! God never accuses Job of sinning with his mouth. The only comment that the "narrator" of this story has concerning Job's speech is in Job 1:22 and Job 2:10 - "Through all this, Job did not sin with his lips".
The story could have ended there, but it does not. The end of the story is puzzling. If one of the messages of Job is that times of prosperity and health are not always directly linked to living righteously, then wouldn't Job's restoration destroy that message? Job receives back double everything he had before. Doesn't the ending make this just another health and wealth gospel? Why not just end the story when Job makes his confession?
A closer look at the ending reveals some interesting features.
First of all, the Lord literally pays back double everything Job lost (Job 42:12). If there is a forensic motif in Job, what does this say of God? According to the laws of restitution in Exodus 22:4, if a man steals, he must pay back double. In Exodus 22:7, if a man loses another man's livestock that was entrusted to him, he must pay back double. Is there something to the fact that the Lord gives double restitution to Job? Does this vindicate Job?
Second, it seems that everyone has learned a lesson. His fickle friends and relatives return to him and comfort him because of all the trouble that the Lord brought on him. They even gave him money. What implication is there for us in dealing with those who are suffering?
Third, and perhaps the most significant, are Job's children. Job's children that were killed are still dead. The pain of their loss still remains. Yes, Job had more children, but as anyone who has lost children can testify, having more children does not replace children you lose. So everything is not better than it was before. This should remind us that God did not "annihilate" Leviathan. He "destroyed" or "ruined" Leviathan, so Leviathan/Chaos is not the ruling order in the universe. Because of this, there is a tension in the universe. But God is the strong one, he is the one who has put a "leash" on the powers of evil and chaos.
Things will not always be this way though. Isaiah gives us an encouraging prophecy: "In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan, the fleeing serpent, With His fierce and great and mighty sword, Even Leviathan, the twisted serpent; And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea" (Isaiah 27:1). Isn't this interesting? We are first introduced to a "serpent" in Genesis 3. Look at what that serpent did to our world. But the Lord limits the serpent. He has Leviathan on a leash. He tames chaos and makes it his pet. And in the end, it will be destroyed.
Practical Lessons from Job
What is the book of Job trying to teach us? What is its purpose. After reflecting on the book, we learn the following:
We should never presume to know the reason why a good or bad event happens to a neighbor. Only an inspired writer or a prophet can "interpret" an event. Our uninspired knowledge is simply too limited.
Our God is not a black and white God. He is not a cause and effect. Never, never simplify him to a mere set of rules. Doing this is "folly" (Job 42:8).
It is okay to lament. It is okay to question God. God can handle it. However, it is not okay to presume to have all the answers. Notice God didn't appear until a young angry know-it-all felt like he had to speak up and defend God.
God does not need a defender. God does quite well on his own.
One who is suffering needs comfort not a philosophical discussion on the justice of God.
There is such a thing as "disinterested goodness", being good for the sake of good.
There are many more practical lessons, but I will stop with this. I would appreciate your response to this essay.