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420. Job 42:7-9, God’s Big Holy Sh. . . Moment
“7 It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. 8 Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will [a]accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job."
The text above is only three verses long, but it contains more Hebrew words (80) than almost any other ten verses in the Book of Job. It is God’s response to the latest development in 42:1-6 though, surprisingly, the opening words of verse 7 give the impression that 42:1-6 are being ignored. That is, the first words of verse 7 are:
“And it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, then the Lord said to Eliphaz. . ."
Shouldn’t it rather have started with, “After Job had spoken these words to God”? Some readers might be quick to say that this seeming inconsistency reflects an imperfect editing job—that the final editor of Job simply didn’t notice that the implication of the first words of verse 7 was that the immediately preceding verse must have been Job 41:34.
But from a theological and canonical perspective (i.e., trying to make sense of the text as we have it), two other things may be at work. First, we may have here the latest in a series of destabilizations that the text presents. Most recently it was Job upsetting the traditional understanding of faith by making a decision to leave God and find his freedom on the ash heap. Previously, it was Elihu upsetting the traditional understanding of wisdom by saying it was the spirit of a person, and not long experience, that gave authority to speak. Now, we are given the impression that God is just ignoring or doesn’t know about 42:1-6. That destabilizes us. Why would God do so? Read on. . .
Second, and more interesting, rather than seeing this as a clumsy editing job, why not see this as a deliberate attempt for God to try to convince the reader that 42:1-6 didn’t happen? Just like God will ignore Elihu’s crucial words when God speaks in 42:7-8, so He also ignores the “inconvenient” words of Job in 42:1-6. Perhaps we might even see this as a divine strategy: when the going gets tough, ignore the strong and convincing words spoken by your opponents and just plow on as if nothing has happened.
But God knows better. Or, if God is the God whom Job and the friends say that God is, then He has heard Job in 42:1-6 and He knows the way that Elihu has painted Him into a tough corner especially by his words in Job 36:15-17. He knows that by leaving Him, Job has exercised a kind of independence that God really can’t control. But God won’t just accede to this or meekly yield to this act of creaturely independence without His own response. That, in my mind, is the purpose of 42:7-17 in general, and 42:7-9 in specific.
To be more precise, I see God’s strategy in the remaining eleven verses of the Book of Job as a valiant, and perhaps panic-motivated, attempt to win Job back. It finally dawns on God that Job has the upper hand in argument (i.e., Job can just take his “faith” and go elsewhere), that He may have overreached in the beautiful, but somewhat irrelevant, poetic section of Job 38-41, and that He may be on the verge of losing the affection and allegiance of Job.
One might say that God doesn’t need the affection or allegiance of anyone, but if we admit that in this instance it is as if God would be saying that the Satan has won the bet that they placed on Job in Job 1-2. That simply won’t do. So, I see the last eleven verses of Job 42 as God’s way of trying to woo Job back to Himself.
The word suth (“woo/allure/entice”), which Elihu used so effectively in 36:16 doesn’t appear here. We are in prose and not in poetry, and so God’s efforts to win Job’s affection back will be not simply in pleasant words but also in specific actions. The three things I see God doing in these 11 verses to win back Job’s allegiance are:
a) saying that Job was right all along;
b) making Job perform an act of piety—a prayer; and
c) giving Job double portions of his possessions, as well as ten replacement children.
I will deal with a) and b) in the next essay, reserving a brief consideration of c) to my final essay.