Job--Right All Along (42:7-9)
Bill Long 3/29/05
These three verses are among my most favorite ones in the Bible. And, they really are unlikely verses for "favorites." They are not the "punch line" of the book--42:6 is. They are not the most beloved verses to many Christian people--19:25-27 are. They only serve as a transition between Job's dramatically ambiguous words in 42:1-6 and his final "restoration" in 42:10-17. Yet, I think their power rests in their possible understatedness. Indeed, as I state in one of my Billphorisms, the most important words in life come after the comma. This will, in my judgment, happen here.
Make no mistake about it, however. We have just come from among the most dramatically rich six verses of the Bible. We have Job quoting God, Job apparently submitting to God, Job admitting that he now "sees" God, Job despising something, Job repenting "upon" dust and ashes. I see the major movement in these verses (42:1-6) as Job coming to a profound and basic realization: that he had misconstrued the most important point in the religious life. Spiritual life is really about a relationship with God, a friendship, an intimacy, a vision, but because of his circumstances Job had transformed a relational view of God into a legalistic one. God was his enemy, an adversary in law, an object against whom to project his energy. What happens to Job in 42:1-6 is that he realizes that he has misconstrued everything. He has put together a legal argument while forgetting the major point. He haS marshalled all the evidence while not calling the central witness, made an air-tight argument without injecting air into the tight container. Elihu's and God's speeches to him showed him this overwhelming deficiency in his presentation. All he can do is sit on the dust heap and try to figure out what it all means. Then comes 42:7-9.
7 "After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done." 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them; and the LORD accepted Job's prayer."
A. The passage opens with the statement that God speaks to Eliphaz after God spoke to Job. Does that mean that God had not really "heard" Job in 42:1-6? I have argued elsewhere that God's extended description of Leviathan in ch.41 quickly departs from a moral lesson to Job and ends up being sort of a divine reverie or absent-minded reflection on this terrible and proud sea creature. Thus, is God still in a sort of day-dream when Job says his words in 42:1-6, a day-dream that is reflected in the first words of v.7?
B. Why does God speak only to Eliphaz and the two friends? Why isn't Elihu included in the scope of the divine anger?
C. God's anger is kindled here. Previous to this we have seen Job's anger (throughout) and Elihu's anger (32:1-5). Job often spoke of God's anger (cf. 9:13). Is everyone of importance in the Book of Job angry? What makes God so angry in this instance?
D. God says that the friends had not spoken of God what is right. What might that mean? And, when is God referring to? That is, have the friends not spoken the right things about God from the beginning of their speech or from more recently? If we argue that God means that the friends are wrong from the beginning, this would mean that the entire perspective of the friends is misguided. Does that sound like what God is saying here?
E. If this is indeed what God is saying, is this an express criticism of the wisdom theological tradition? By criticizing the words of the friends, is God also saying that this powerful theology, the theology of wisdom, also is bankrupt? How might such a message have been "heard" in ancient Israel? How do you hear it?
F. I think the most interesting and liberating words of the entire Book of Job are at the end of v.7--"as my servant Job has." The assumption here is that Job, in contrast to the friends, has spoken "right" of God. How has that happened? Has Job spoken right of God from the beginning of the book or only in 42, in his confession? If the friends were condemned because of their words from the beginning, would it be logical to see Job's words as right from the beginning too?
G. We need to dwell a minute longer on the implications of Job's being right, perhaps from the beginning. He has said some pretty wild things about God--which Job himself knows to be rash or wild. Are these things "right?" When Job says that God has hated him, is this right? When Job accuses God of perverting justice, is Job right? Is God admitting a mistake here? Is he apologizing to Job for making his life so miserable? What is the full effect, in your mind, of the five little words, "as my servant Job has"?
H. The rest of the passage (vv.8-9) speaks of the act of reconciliation between the friends and Job. How would you describe what each has to do? Why would God have each do what he is asked to do? We saw the role of religious ritual in the beginning of the book, when Job first received the word of his children's death (1:20) and when the friends came to visit Job (2:11). Now we have more religious ritual at the end. How does it function?
I. When it says that the Lord accepted Job's prayer (v.9), does this mean that Job's prayer was a sincere one? If so, this lays to rest the theory of some expositors of Job 42 who maintain that Job was only submitting to God here because he was forced to do so and did not do it out of heartfelt yielding of the self. Which approach do you favor?
Job has returned to the ash heap to consider what the meaning of his vision of God is. He is utterly undone, almost as if he is starting "Round Two" of a great inner battle (Round One began in 2:8). Then God speaks in 42:7 and says what must have been one of the most comforting, encouraging lines to Job imaginable. "You are right, Job," is what God seems to be saying. Job, who wanted to be right all along, now no longer needs to be right. That is the great irony of the Book of Job--that he who fought for vindication, and finally received it, was no longer interested in it because something else had taken over his life--the vision of God. How wonderfully suggestive.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long