Job Finally Gets It…But Do We? Reflections on Job 42:1-6, 10-17

"Clearly, I have proclaimed what I did not perceive, things more wondrous that I did not understand" (Job 42:3b). Job has here announced that he has understood something of the long speeches of YHWH, speeches that have revealed a universe far beyond his scope and comprehension, a world stranger and richer than one that concerns itself only with some reward/punishment calculus for its human inhabitants.

"You said, 'Listen now; I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me'" (Job 42:4). YHWH asked Job in 38:3 to "gird up your loins like a warrior," a phrase that Job translates into "listen now." Perhaps Job is not the poet that YHWH is, but he has discerned what YHWH wants from him, namely a careful listening to YHWH's wonderful revelation of the way things really are in Job's world.

"I heard of you merely by the ear's hearing, but now my eye sees you" (Job 42:5). Samuel Terrien in his reading of these words in the older Interpreter's Bible suggested that it was Job's mystical and spiritual meeting with YHWH that changed everything for him, implying that you and I all need such a supernatural confrontation with YHWH to understand what YHWH is truly doing with us and with the world in which we live. I find this only a partial reading, because I think Job is not merely recounting a mystical experience with God here, but an intellectual one as well. His entire understanding of the world has been wrong; YHWH does not reward the righteous and punish the wicked. To believe that is to limit God's actions in ways that lead to dangerous theological errors. It makes God far too small. Seeing and hearing God, for Job, reveals to him a God he never knew, a God vast and grand and mysterious, no God to be reduced to the level of a bumper sticker, a campaign slogan, an advertising jingle.

"As a result (of hearing and seeing YHWH), I reject (what I said before), and I change my mind on dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). Rather than a simple "repentance" here, as so many commentators have assumed, making Job out to be little more than a model of abject piety in the face of the appearance of God, what Job says is in fact a complex answer to YHWH.

He first "rejects" what he said before, since all of that was based on a faulty understanding of YHWH. Perhaps "recant" may be a good translation of the word, though the Hebrew verb elsewhere always takes a direct object; there is no direct object here. Job further "changes his mind." To translate "repent," usually a different word in Hebrew, is to miss again the idea that Job is shifting gears in his understanding of his God. Just as YHWH "changed the divine mind" in response to Moses's pleading for Israel on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32:14), so Job changes his mind in the face of his new understanding of God. And finally, Job recognizes that he is still "on dust and ashes." He is but human, not some sort of titan, demanding of God his rights as he perceives them. He is but dust and ashes, as we all are.

Job's reply to the great speeches of YHWH is to discover and admit that he knows less than he thought, that he needs genuine conversion to a larger God than he imagined, and that he is but a human being after all. This is not to say that Job knuckles under or gives in. It means that he can find his rightful place in the world of God once he sees that it is not all about him and his needs and demands. Perhaps that is finally a good definition of genuine repentance, a repentance we all need to perform.

10/23/2015 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.