Job Sees, But Do We? Reflections on Job 42:1-6, 10-17

And the epilogue offers that fresh and new way to him. Though the epilogue has often been seen as a weak and pathetic bit that undercuts the central theme of the story, I think it need not be heard that way. Again a translation problem may be key.

But first YHWH speaks to the friends for the first and only time in the tale. Eliphaz is singled out for divine rebuke. "My anger is stoked against you and your two (Elihu is forgotten) friends, because you have not spoken to me what is correct as my servant Job has" (42:7). This statement is designed to shock the friends to the core, and so it does. Those oozingly pious mountebanks, so sure of their truths about the divine one, so certain that Job was being punished by God, are told in one scathing sentence that not only have they not told the truth, it is their target, Job, who has been the truth teller in the story. And to cap off their humiliation, God says that they are to sacrifice burnt offerings to God to attempt to mollify God's anger, while Job (Job!) will pray for them (42:8)! Here the world of Job and friends has been turned upside down. Those imagined to be pious and pure are now in need of the prayers of one who they thought was earth's foulest sinner. It is a new world indeed.

In verse 10 comes the important translation problem. The NRSV reads: "And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends." The implication of the translation is that Job's goods were returned to him as a result of his prayer for the friends. If one reads that way, the epilogue could be seen as undercutting the basic claim of the story that YHWH precisely does not reward and punish human behaviors. I grant that the line could be read that way; the preposition does regularly have a temporal meaning. But to avoid the possible confusion I have just indicated, I read the line: "YHWH returned Job's goods. Job then prayed for his friends." YHWH thus gives Job his full life back not because of something Job did; YHWH returned Job's goods merely because God chose to do so. God is free to act as God will act, as Job recognized and admitted in his final speech (42:2).

And as a result of God's free gift, the harmony of the world of Job returns. All join a picnic, even the friends, and all offer Job some money to help him restore his fortunes. "And Job lived for one hundred forty years (a Hebrew patriarch for sure!), and saw his children, and his children's children, four generations. And Job died old, full of days" (42:16-17).

The book of Job does not solve all of our questions about God and about God's world. But we can know for certain that God is more than our limited imaginings can fathom, greater than our bumper stickers can contain, more mysterious than any theologian or would-be theologian can describe. And we humans are a part of God's cosmos, but not the only part that has meaning and purpose.

Finally, we can all learn from Job that hearing about God is never enough. We must seek, even demand, to see and experience God for ourselves, must recognize our human limitations, and must strive to live in God's world as God's creatures, ignorant but blessed, yet questing for the truth, trusting that God is listening.

10/18/2012 4:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.
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