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17. Job 2:4-6, Agreeing on a Plan
4 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
The new plan they agree on is described in 2:4-6.The entire passage is little more than the application of the meaning of a three-word proverb that begins 2:4 to the situation at hand. That proverb will lead to the Satan’s again asking for and being granted permission to tighten the screws on Job with a new trial to see if he will “bless/curse” God.
The proverb is the simple but initially obscure “skin for skin” in 2:4, which is then simply explained as, “all that a person has s/he will give for his/her life.” One might explain the proverb by reference to statements we make today. We might say, ‘I would give anythingto have that car/home/person; I would do anything to have what someone else has. . .’ What is included in that word “anything”? Well, literally “anything” means everything up to an including one’s life. But it really doesn’t make sense to say I will give my life to have XXX, because if you have given your life, you no longer can have the object of your craving. Yet still we say “anything” to capture the intensity of our longing. ‘I will give anything for XXX.’
That background helps explain the little proverb, “skin for skin.” The Satan explains it immediately by saying that a person will give anything for his/her life. They would give their “skin” in order to get the desired thing, the other “skin.” That is the way humans are. But then the proverb is applied somewhat imperfectly to Job’s situation. The Satan will say, “Ok, move against his ‘skin.’That is, make him give up everything (the first part of the proverb). But instead of Job's willingly giving up everything for some benefit, he will unwillinglybe deprived of everything in the service of a divine experiment. Yet, God says that Job may have to give up everything except his life. So, “skin for skin” or “skin for life” or “life for life” is the meaning of the proverb. The Satan will propose that Job give up his “skin” but God will say that Job’s “skin” or “life” must be preserved. Thus, the proverb is generally applicable here, but its original meaning has been transformed.
As mentioned, 2:4 just gives the three words of the proverb, with its explanation: “a person will give anything for his/her life.” Then, the Satan delivers the challenge in verse 5, “But send out/stretch out your hand, and touch his bone and his flesh.”Job 2:5 is identical to 1:11 except that the words “bone and flesh” are substituted in 2:5 for the “all that he has” in 1:11. Perhaps the proverb in 2:4 triggered the change. That is, the mention of “skin” in 2:4 stimulates further thought on skin-like characteristics of a body. Hence, the mention of “bone and flesh.” The final words of 2:5 are also identical to those of 1:11, “And he will bless/curse you to your face.” This is the fifth time that barak appears. Come to think of it, three of its five appearances to date are in the Satan’s mouth (1:10, 11; here) while Job has used it twice (1:5, 21).
God, complaisant as ever, goes along with the Satan’s plan in 2:6. God is also very terse. Six words. Literally, “Behold he (is) in your hand. Only keep his soul.” The last phrase is reasonably translated, “Only spare his life.” In 1:12 God gave the Satan authorization to do anything to Job except touch Job’s body (literally “upon him don’t stretch out your hand”); here that limitation is removed. Now Job will, unwittingly, give almost everything for his life.
Oh—from a legal perspective, God is on the hook. One who authorizes a violent act, though not performing it himself, is himself liable for the consequences of the act as if performing it directly.