In this, final instalment of Job – Our Most Consequential Lie, I’ll be covering the remainder of the text, presenting a complete, end-to-end interpretation of the book (based on the text itself and its relationship to the Gospel narrative), and explaining why I consider our understand of Job to be so important, and so potentially destructive when we get it wrong.
In chapter 32, Job accusations against God cease. The three friends have given up too, leaving room for another to speak. Cue Elihu, who speaks as a prophet, and is the only person in the book who speaks the truth about God, at this stage in the narrative. He is the first to show any understanding of the merciful nature of God, talking of how the intercession of a single angel can save a person from punishment, and that righteousness comes by faith (chapter 33, 19-28).
‘Or someone may be chastened on a bed of pain
with constant distress in their bones…
Yet if there is an angel at their side,
a messenger, one out of a thousand,
sent to tell them how to be upright,
and he is gracious to that person and says to God,
“Spare them from going down to the pit;
I have found a ransom for them –
let their flesh be renewed like a child’s;
let them be restored as in the days of their youth”–
then that person can pray to God and find favour with him,
they will see God’s face and shout for joy;
he will restore them to full well-being.
And they will go to others and say,
“I have sinned, and I have perverted what is right,
but I did not get what I deserved.
God has delivered me from going down to the pit,
and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.”
Elihu understands that the key to a right relationship with God is to receive mercy – that we do not get what we deserve. How central to the Christian Gospel is Elihu’s message? He is the first person in the book to speak well of the Lord. In Chapter 34, Elihu challenges Job’s accusations towards God and rebukes Job for his sin (v. 35-37):
‘Job speaks without knowledge;
his words lack insight.”
… To his sin he adds rebellion;
scornfully he claps his hands among us
and multiplies his words against God.’
Elihu’s wise words usher in the presence of the Lord, who reveals himself at last. In chapter 38, God rebukes Job as harshly as a person can be rebuked. I have heard it said that God is rebuking the three friends, but that is clearly not the case, as seen in verse 1:
‘Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm…’
Teachers in the church of my childhood would not even consider that God was speaking to Job, even though the Bible plainly says so. They claimed that the Lord couldn’t possibly be speaking to Job, because Job was righteous, and therefore he must be speaking to the three friends. Even as a small child I remember the discomfort of that. It introduced immediate cognitive dissonance, because it’s plainly and simply speaking, not true. We cannot be so locked into our narratives that we fail to see what is before our eyes. God rebuked Job for his many arrogant, self-righteous blasphemies and attacks against him. I know it can be difficult, even destabilising to abandon old narratives, but that’s no excuse to bury our heads in the sand. The rewards for searching the scriptures with open eyes and ears, humble before God and willing to see things differently, are immense and eternal.
This is what God says to Job from the storm (Verse 2):
‘Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
The Lord does not affirm Job, because Job is neck-deep in self-righteousness, and his speech has been blasphemous since chapter 7. Job does not know God. He is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and this encounter was a first, for him. He must have felt like a leaf in a hurricane.
In Chapters 38-39, God speaks of his wisdom and power, and in chapter 40, he challenges Job directly (v. 1-2). Again, God is speaking directly to Job, and not to his three friends:
The Lord said to Job:
‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!’
…‘Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
This is exactly what Job has been doing – accusing God, correcting God, discrediting his justice and justifying himself. The old narrative, that Job is righteous and approved of by God, doesn’t stand up to this kind of scrutiny.
After encountering God, Job finally repents (v. 4-5).
‘I am unworthy – how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer –
twice, but I will say no more.’
Why the change of heart? Because he has encountered God, as Moses did, as Abraham did, as Saul did on the Damascus Road, as Doubting Thomas did, as every believer who’s ever lived has done. Which of us does not know the transforming power of a genuine encounter with the Lord? Job’s heart is utterly changed, and he has nothing left but repentance. This is his final response (chapter 42, 3-6):
‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know…
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.’
Job had never encountered God prior to this exchange – his ears had heard of him, but only now have his eyes have seen him. The works-righteousness Job had clung to so stubbornly has been blown out the water and he throws himself into the arms of the God of Mercy. Job is saved at last, embracing righteousness that comes by faith – the same righteousness you and I know, through Christ.
The lord isn’t quite done. First, he rebukes Job’s three friends, saying
‘I am angry with you…because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.’
God is not referring to Job’s long, erroneous speeches, his self-righteousness or his accusations, which he has already been rebuked for; he is referring to Job’s simple statement of repentance. God rebukes them and asks Job to intercede on their behalf to obtain mercy. Isn’t that wonderful? God’s response to sin is to provide a way to receive mercy. This is the God that Job has come to know – a God of might, yes, a God to reverence and serve, yes, but also a God who responds to intercession. Job has only just received mercy himself, and his first act of faith is to intercede for his friends, that they too might receive it. We serve the God of Mercy.
The book closes with a description of the rest of Job’s life, which was even more blessed than before his troubles began. This was always God’s intention towards Job. In James 5 – the only verse to reference Job in the New Testament – Job’s final blessing is spoken of as ‘God’s intended end’. God always willed that Job be blessed, but Job’s self-righteousness and fear exposed him to devastation. Job had lived in constant dread of destruction, and fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our Lord is a God of blessing, not of cursing. (verse 12-17):
‘The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part…And so Job died, an old man and full of years’
The story of Job is about coming to faith – of works-righteousness versus faith-righteousness, of ritual versus encounter, of fear versus love. When Job’s heart turned to the Lord, righteousness was imputed by faith, and he was saved. He was able to receive the blessing of the Lord without fear, and knew love, peace and abundance for the rest of his days.
Why does all this matter? I’m sure some are wondering why I’m dwelling so long on an old, obscure book, buried in the depths of the Old Testament. The reason I’m dwelling on the Book of Job is that the evangelical church relies on it as if were a fifth New Testament Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Job. For an obscure book from the Wisdom Literature tradition, we sure quote it a lot, applying it where it has no business being applied.
For example, as a child, I experienced a destructive pattern, based on this idea that God gives and takes away (Job’s conceit, not Biblical doctrine) – parents losing a young child in a tragic accident announcing only days later that God had taken their son, a friend telling me a three-year-old had become caught up in a towel dispenser in the church toilets and had died of strangulation. According to my friend, God had ‘taken’ this little girl.
We are so confused, because we believe God gives and takes away. The subconscious part of the human mind is much smarter than the conscious part. It knows when to run and hide. I firmly believe that every person who sees God as the author of their suffering cannot truly draw close to him. The trust can never be there, as the most honest and vulnerable part of them will always be hiding in the closet, hoping to escape the attention of the monster. But God is not a monster. He is not the permissive force behind tragedy. It is the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus wants us to have life to the full.
The day I accepted that God is good all the time was the day I truly learned to adore him. My worship of God is as free as it is because I trust him completely and love to be in his presence. He would never do me harm, and will always seek to make my life better. When we embrace the truth of God’s goodness, we can start to look at him with childlike eyes and to trust him. This is where our spiritual lives can really take off.