This post wraps up a nearly year long trek through the book of Job. Along the way we have followed two recent commentaries – Job (The NIV Application Commentary) by John Walton and Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms) by Tremper Longman III (and enjoyed the illustrations by William Blake).
The prose ending to the book introduces a number of questions and conundrums for the reader. Longman and Walton deal with these a little differently – not really a surprise given their differences in the interpretations of the speeches by God in Ch. 38-41.
Of what did Job repent? and How did he speak what was right?
The first major puzzle comes when Yahweh spoke to the three friends.
And it came about after the LORD spoke these words to Job that the LORD spoke to Eliphaz the Teminite. “My anger burns against you and your two friends because you did not speak correctly about me as did my servant Job. (42:7, Longman)
But Job had just repented in dust and ashes hadn’t he? What does the LORD mean – that Job had spoken correctly? Longman has concluded that Ch.38-41 are best read as a diatribe against Job (diatribe is Longman’s word). Job has seen the justness of this rebuke and has repented in dust and ashes. This makes the statement here particularly hard to understand. Longman concludes: “In the final analysis, it appears that God is including Job’s repentance in his declaration that Job did what was right. He repented, and now the three friends need to repent.” (Longman, p. 459) There are difficulties with this interpretation however. Most significantly the matter of the sacrifice required of the friends
And now take for yourself seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job. You will offer burnt offerings, and Job my servant will pray for you, and I will accept what he says and not treat you according to your folly, for you did not speak what is correct about me as my servant Job did. (42:8 Longman)
No sacrifice was demanded of Job, and none was offered on his behalf. It simply doesn’t seem consistent with the text to try to side-step God’s declaration that Job spoke right about God. Walton sees something of a rebuke for some of Job’s ideas in God’s speeches in 38-41 – but he doesn’t read Ch. 42 in quite the same way. Discussing v. 6, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (NIV)
The second verb should be distinguished from others that can be translated “repent.” … In 42:5, Job does not suggest behavior change, but rather he wishes to retract his previous statements. He employs the same verb and form used when God “changes his mind” (e.g., Ex. 32:14; Jer. 4:28; 18:10; Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:10). While it is a difficult word to translate into English, many of its occurrences take place in situations involving regret. It would not be misguided to see in Job’s statements that he regrets his previous statements, his characterization of God, his presumptuous belief in his own understanding, and his arrogant challenges.
Nevertheless, his statement here focuses elsewhere. … The preposition cannot be read as Job repenting with dust and ashes; rather he “reconsiders dust and ashes,” or “puts dust and ashes out of his mind.” He has thereby announced the end to his mourning as he has accepted his reality. (Walton p. 432)
This turns the whole passage around. Job is not repenting the error of his ways, rather he, on the word of God whom he has now seen with his eyes, is changing his outlook, changing his mind, with some regret for his past error. He is embracing God’s wisdom in the structure of the world. He now abandons the dust and ashes among which he settled in v. 8 Ch. 2.
The conundrum of 42:7,8 may possibly be resolved (Walton also notes that this is a hard passage to interpret). While Job was not universally right in all he said, he was fundamentally right concerning his suffering. He believed that God was afflicting him without cause – not as punishment or correction. In this God affirms that Job was right – in 2:3, and perhaps again in 42:7,8. “In contrast, Job’s friends claim that God is afflicting Job with cause and press Job to confess his supposed crimes.” (Walton, p. 433). This is an interesting point, and one we should perhaps take to heart. Job’s friends spoke what was wrong about God by impugning Job’s righteousness in the absence of evidence (beyond his suffering).
Walton then turns to phrase “not treat you according to your folly.” Here he notes: “The Hebrew thus appears to require the translation “lest I commit folly in my treatment of you.” (Walton p. 434)” The unthinkable idea that God could commit “folly” has led to the translation that assigns the folly to the three friends. But Walton suggests that perhaps the idea conveyed here is lest God treat the friends with the same way Job has been treated. “They too are vulnerable to loss and misery, contrary to their confidence in the RP [retribution principle]. (p. 434)” This is an interesting suggestion, and one that is consistent with the overall focus of the book of Job on the retribution principle and God’s justice. A trust in God’s wisdom (and I’d add love), not God’s justice, provides the lens through which we should view the operation of the world.
But is Job’s restoration an anti-climax?
This is the second major puzzle introduced by the prose epilogue to Job. Back in High School (oh so many years ago) I took an elective class in Bible as Literature. It was an interesting class, not faith based, but respectful. One of the books considered in this class was the book of Job. It is a fantastic piece of ancient literature. I still remember the teacher’s comments on the restoration of Job – that it was out of place in the book, probably a late addition to make sense of the senseless. But is this true?
Both Walton and Longman then consider the restoration of Job in vv. 10-17. Job is restored to community in 10-11 and given wealth, family, and long life in 12-17. Longman says that “such a restoration is a narrative way of showing that Job has done the right thing.” (Longman p.460). And both Walton and Longman point out that a second family does not eliminate the grief accompanied by the loss of the first. We are wrong, however, to focus on this fact. New children may bring joy, but they do not and cannot replace those who are gone. But this is a story with a point, not a narrative of an actual historical event.
In real life, new children would not erase the pain of losing the first set of beloved children, but the book of Job does not deal with such matters. The point is that Job has returned to his previous prosperity plus some. (Longman p. 461)
But the epilogue does not suggest such an unrealistic way of thinking, Again, restoration is not primarily for Job’s benefit; rather it demonstrates that God’s policies are intact and unaltered in the aftermath of the challenges made to them. (Walton p. 436-437)
In light of the preceding points, the epilogue is the perfect conclusion to the book. The challenges to God’s policies have been addressed, and various misconceptions about God and the cosmos have been dispelled. In the process we have gained wisdom. This wisdom does not erase our suffering, but it does help us avoid the foolish thinking that might lead us to reject God when we need him the most. (p. 437)
I would add that this also helps us avoid foolishly casting aspersions on others in the absence of evidence. Yes, people do at times reap what they sow (although as they reap the consequences it seldom does good to “rub it in”). Yes, God does at times bring suffering as punishment and warning. But most of the calamities we see in this world do not fall into this category. It is never wise to suggest that any individual incident does.
A final note. I have enjoyed reading both of these commentaries. Both offer great insights with one excelling in places where the other falls a little flat – and this goes both ways. The disagreements are as enlightening as the agreements.
Walton’s commentary includes a section on Contemporary Significance that I have largely ignored in this series. He includes a conversation with one of his students, Kelly Lemon Vizcaino, who had been involved in a car accident that left her with serious physical difficulties. These conversations add a reality to the study of the book that isn’t found in most biblical commentaries. This is the best use of the “Contemporary Significance” section I’ve seen in any of the NIV Application Commentaries I’ve read thus far (admittedly a small sample of 5 out of 44). Comment on these sections didn’t fit with the focus of my series of posts, but I think many will find them useful.
I started this series with a post – Wow, Job. Having now read the book a number of times and both Walton’s and Longman’s commentaries I would add some punctuation. Wow! Job! This book deserves far more exposure and deep consideration than it generally gets. It overturns many of our comfortable ideas and requires us to trust God’s wisdom.
What do you think?
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