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422. Job 42:10-17, Restoring Job’s Fortunes
10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.
These eight verses wrap up the Book of Job, bringing to a close perhaps the most intellectually, linguistically, and theologically challenging book in the Bible. In the traditional reading of Job, these verses mean that once Job has submitted to God, repented in dust and ashes, and prayed for the friends, then God restored Job’s fortunes by doubling his possessions and giving him a set of ten replacement children. Experiment successful! The Satan not only didn’t get Job to curse God when the Satan deprived him of possessions, children and health but, on the contrary, Job clung to God despite all odds, was faithful to the end, and was rewarded with a double blessing. That is the traditional way of reading the ending of this tale.
I have given an alternative reading of Job 42 in these essays and in my book. Instead of seeing 42:6 as Job’s confession of faith in God, I see it as Job’s “fading away” from God to find his comfort on the ash heap, i.e., a place apart from God. I then read the eleven verse conclusion as God’s rather desperate attempt to try to win Job back to faith in three ways. The first attempt was declaring to the friends that Job was right (nekonah), a statement that is breathtaking in its potential scope (42:7, 8). Though some try to point to Job’s “rightness” as only related to statements he utters at the end of the book, I argued it was most natural to see it referring to all of Job’s words. Just as the friends didn’t speak what was right (from the beginning, presumably), so Job spoke what was right. God’s overstatement here is a species of a divine tendency to overreach or over-speak, the latter of which we saw especially in Job 38-41. Rather than dealing with Job’s complaint in those chapters, God tried to “wow” Job into submission through showing Job his ignorance and smallness.
The second attempt to win Job back was telling him to pray for the friends (42:8). Job complies with this, in my reading, because it is better to go along and demonstrate one last act of piety than pick a fight with a deity you have already bested in argument. As I have said elsewhere, better to sit through one more painful family Thanksgiving dinner, giving the impression that all is going well, and then departing from the family than to make an ugly scene at the dinner.
Verses 10-17 present God’s third attempt to win back Job’s allegiance. Verse 10 tells us that while Job was praying for his friends, his goods were restored double. Many translations give the impression that it is “after he had prayed” or “when he had prayed” (NASB). But the verbal phrase may best be translated, “In his praying on behalf of. . .” This is a significant point in that it shows how God is trying to draw a connection in Job’s mind between his renewed praying and God’s immediate blessing.
But what is Job to think? He might say, ’Is this connection only manufactured for the sake of winning me back or is this God’s genuine method of operation?’ Isaiah might have said that even “before they call I will answer them” (Isaiah 65:24); Jesus might have said later that if you ask anything in his name, he would do it (John 14:14 and elsewhere in John). Is God saying the same thing? But even if Job might have briefly mulled the question in his mind of the connection between his prayer for others and his restoration, he might also have said to himself, ‘Well, I did a lot of praying, and complaining, to God in the middle of my distress and there was no answer.’ I think Job would have said to himself, ‘Dozens of unanswered prayers when I was in my deepest need; one answered prayer when I was compelled to pray. I think I will continue on the ash heap. . .’
The language of verse 10 is also significant because the author draws upon the concept of “restoring the fortunes,” which receives multiple mentions especially in the Psalms, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel. The phrase is euphonious: God shab shebuth or, literally, “returns the returning.” Shabah (48x) is a verb meaning “to take captive,” shub is the common verb for “return” and shebuth (30x), derived from shabah, points to the captivity of the people. The word shebuth almost always appears with the verb shub to emphasize a restoration of fortunes. Its earliest combination is in Deuteronomy 30:3, but then the combination appears nine times in Jeremiah 29-31, in addition to several other times in the major prophets. Its most memorable appearances, however, might be in the Psalms, where God’s restoring the people’s fortunes is mentioned (Psalm 85:1; 126:4).
Not too much needs to be said about the restoration scene itself. Each of the four categories of animals is doubled, though the number of children remains at ten. Twenty children might be a little too much of a good thing. . . The three friends are nowhere in sight, but mention is made of Job’s brothers and sisters and “those who knew him” (i.e., his acquaintances). They came to his housewarming party, bringing a coin (qesitah, 3x) as well as a gold ring (nezem, 17x). Noteworthy is the appearance of two verbs (nud and nacham) as verbs of consolation. “They consoled (nud) and comforted (nacham) him.” We see that nacham is used here identically to my proposed translation of it in 42:6.
Commentators often mention the special attention lavished on Job’s three daughters. Their names are given, and they also receive an inheritance alongside of their brothers. Job’s new life, after leaving God, apparently opens him up to a more progressive approach to distribution of his property. Numbers 27 had spoken of the case of inheritance for daughters when there were no sons, but this is the first instance in which inheritance of daughters alongside of sons is mentioned.
Little attention is given to the sons, though the daughters’ names are given. Some try to infer things from the names, as if the name Kezia, which means “cassia,” points especially to here “sweetness” because of the aromatic nature of that bark. The beauty of the daughters is also mentioned (yapheh, 43x), though this is the first and last time that anyone is called “beautiful” in the Book of Job.
What is striking at the end of the story is not that Job is restored and that he lives a restored life of prosperity and longevity, but there is no mention of Job’s piety. That piety was stressed through four words or phrases in 1:1, where Job was blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. These characteristics were mentioned even before Job’s wealth—i.e., they were the central features of his identity. But now, at the end of the book, all that is mentioned is his longevity, fruitful family, and prosperity. Not a word is breathed of a restored faith. Of course, it is sometimes perilous to make arguments from silence, but this time the silence is rather deafening, especially in the context of the argument that Job has actually left God rather than submitted to God. Once Job has left God there is no more reason to mention acts of piety—because there were none. God has tried to woo Job back to allegiance but it is too late.
Though it is nowhere mentioned, the thought that no doubt ran through Job’s mind is that if God could be convinced by the Satan to unleash such terrible traumas on Job once, might God also be susceptible to that same approach again? What if the Satan had returned ten years after the restoration of Job's fortunes and said, 'Hey, God, wanna try another experiment with Job?' By leaving God, Job is not preventing that from happening, but he is saying that he will have nothing more to do with that kind of God. God seems to drop out of Job’s life every way after the divine restoration of fortunes in 42:12. In Job’s case, that probably is a good thing. He has his Redeemer and a satisfactory explanation of his distress to take care of him, with the extra bonus of a new family and possessions. That God may have given them with another motive in mind (i.e., winning Job back) doesn’t preclude Job from enjoying their fruit as long as he lives. And so he lives, figuratively on the ash heap but now in his own home, and dies in satisfaction.
We marvel that the Scriptures have enough confidence to present the case of a person who ultimately said “No” to God. In the case of Job, I have argued that Job not only did this but that it was a good choice for him. He had, no doubt, learned many things through his pain and suffering, but the most valuable thing might have been that his sources of meaning and pleasure in the future come from a new life apart from God. Now that is something worth thinking about. . .