Job and Spiritual Formation XII
Bill Long 6/10/05
And What Kind of Restoration Was It?
20. There are enough ambiguities in Job's restoration to make us uncertain about the full scope of this restoration. I am sure that the author of the Book of Job did not mean to create ambiguities in the last section of it (42:10-17), but they are there. We don't know the compositional history of the Book of Job, but a reasonable guess is that the prose story and the poetry are from different hands. We do not know if the final part of the prose story (42:10-17) was "added" to the narrative because of the potential ambiguity of 42:6 and, especially, 42:7-9, but if it was so added, the author put it in to try to remove or diminish the harsh criticism of the wisdom tradition that one might read in 42:7-9. The friends (proponents of the wisdom tradition) didn't speak "right" of God. Hence, the wisdom tradition itself might be found wanting. This is heady and controversial stuff. Thus, we could understand if an editor wanted to try to tone down that potential criticism by adding the restoration section that seemingly would reaffirm the values of the tradition.
My reading of the last section of the Book of Job, then, is that it was put in to try to minimize the theological "damage" to the wisdom tradition of 42:1-9. Job seemingly gets it all back. He gets double the amount of cattle and possessions (though servants are not mentioned), and he gets 10 replacement children. The Israelite tradition at that time had not developed the concept of resurrection or any other idea that would have permitted a "restoration" of the dead children. He dies old and full of days (42:17), having lived twice the biblical span of seventy years. Double your pleasure.
Even though we can hypothesize that the author/final editor of the book wanted to smooth out theological difficulties, this does not require us in the 21st century to read every difficulty as erased. We can read between the lines and ask impertinent questions. We can bring our theories about how to read a text to the text that is before us. When we do so, we find a number of potentially unresolved issues in these verses. Like the Virgin Mary, who wondered what kind of greeting the angel Gabriel gave her, so we wonder what kind of ending the author of Job gives us.
Remaining Questions or Observations
Several points call for question in these last verses.
1. What's going on with Job's brothers and sisters comforting him? Where had they been all along?
2. Why does the text say that they comforted Job for all "the evil that the Lord had brought upon him" (v.11)? The opening story takes pains to show that the evil that came upon Job was brought by The Satan. Certainly God permitted it, but The Satan wrought it. Is the author of the final prose section subtly incorporating the divine confession of 42:7,8 into these words of 42:11? That is, once God has "fessed up" to his role in Job's disasters, can the author be more blunt in ascribing the cause of the distress to God?
3. Why is it never mentioned how Job lives his life in these remaining years? We get the impression that he lived and died a satisfied man, but we don't know if Job resumed any of his former activities. Did he reassume his position at the gate of the city, dispensing justice to all comers? Did he make the widow's heart sing for joy again? Were his steps not only washed with milk again but did he express his gratitude daily to God for the blessings that had come his way again?
4. What was the nature of Job's religious life after restoration? We know that he prayed for the friends in 42:9, but that was before restoration and was done at the behest of God. Maybe he prayed reluctantly, for all we know. Though Job 1:1 has four nice words or phrases to describe Job's admirable piety (he was blameless and upright, and he feared God and turned away from evil), there are no words describing his piety after restoration. What was Job's life like? Did he sacrifice for his new children or did he decide that nothing that he could do would assure their safety? Did he live his life by the patterns of religious fidelity or did he decide that faithful living just brought too many potential pitfalls in its wake? After all, if Job was righteous in his earlier life, and God agreed that he was, and his righteousness did not protect him from devastating loss, would he be eager to take on the life of righteousness again? I think that once you have been burned big time, you are hesitant to enter into the same course of conduct that led to your being burned. Those who have, for example, been torched by an unsuccessful relationship are best advised to try to review why they were susceptible to this kind of disaster before engaging in another such relationship. Indeed, many people swear off intimate relationships altogether after a relational nightmare, deciding that the "excitement" of the relationship just doesn't compensate for the relative calm and peace of mind that singleness affords. Job would have had good reason to refrain from eager service of God. The fact that his religious life is never mentioned in 42:10-17 leaves ambiguous what his "restored" life actually was.
5. What ever happened to Job's wife? I have argued in other contexts that she is given exactly one verse in the book because that is all she really needs to say. Her words in 2:9, "Bless God and you will die," are the words that enabled Job to abandon his seeming placid response to the devastating pain and "curse the day of his birth." Thus, she gives the "breakthrough" verse and need say no more. But why is she ignored in the rest of the book? Is she faithfully with Job as he debates with his friends? William Blake's incomparable illustrations of the Book of Job depict her always faithfully at his side. Is she? I kind of think so.*
[*An interesting footnote for those who can read Hebrew. When Bildad addresses Job in his second speech (ch. 18), he uses the 2nd person (masc.) plural of the verb in addressing Job (18:2-3). Some scholars who note this, such as Good, think that Bildad is also including the friends in his criticism here, but it makes more sense to see Job's wife as the other party justifying a plural verb. As in many languages, a 2nd person plural masculine in Hebrew can imply masculine as well as feminine persons.]
But why doesn't he ever talk to her or seem to take comfort from her presence and her loss? She has lost almost as much as he; isn't there the chance that she might have been able to say some mollifying words during the book?
6. Finally, why are the names of Job's daughters, but not the sons, mentioned, and why does he give them an equal inheritance with the sons?
These questions give the Book of Job and "open-ended" quality for me. They add to its excitement and allure. They lead me to conclude (as the next essay will do) that restoration is something different from the repetition of the previous situation.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long