Lecture 36: Job Repents (Job 42:1–6)
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Job Repents (Job 42:1–6)
We have now worked through the speeches of God and we are finally at the end of the book, chapter 42.
I. Job Changes His Mind
We begin with Job’s response to God. I will give it to you in my own translation. This is chapter 42:1-6: And Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you are capable of everything; and no purpose of yours is impossible for you. You said, ‘Who is this that obscures counsel speaking without knowledge?’ As to that, I have spoken of things I did not understand and of things too wonderful for me, and of things I did not grasp. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak. I will question you, so that you may instruct me.’ I have heard an account of you with my ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore I will reject and rethink my former opinions concerning dust and ashes.”
II. Job Begins by asserting that God is omnipotent
There is a little difference there in my translation from what many translations have in verse 6 and we will come to that. But let’s begin with what Job says up front. He begins by asserting that he knows that God is all powerful, God is omnipotent. This is not new knowledge for him, he has known it all along. In fact, he gives a full discourse on the power of God in chapter 9, verses 2-13. So the fact that God is all powerful is not new to him. He now has learned however, something new. What Job did not know is some kind of addition or supplement to what he already knew. He knew God was powerful, but now he knows something more about the power of God. He has a better understanding of what God is about and how God uses his power.
III. Job Assumed that God Would Eliminate Evil
He had assumed that since God was all powerful, then surely dealing with danger, chaos and death and evil would be a trivial matter for God. God could just step in and fix everything. He could just single out everything that is bad, strike it down, destroy it and then leave the righteous to live their lives in peace. But Job of course has neglected to consider many issues and questions.
IV. Not Everything that is Dangerous is Evil
God has shown Job that not everything that is dangerous is evil and that the eradication of evil is a very complex matter. We have seen already that when God speaks of the wilderness and the animals of the wild, they are dangerous, but that doesn’t make them evil. But as for the eradication of evil, as we have discussed already the immediate and total eradication of evil would mean nothing less than the end of creation, the end of humanity. Of course, that is not what God desires.
Should God allow evil people space for repentance? Is it important to give those who are evil a chance to turn and come back to God? Should he not sometimes be merciful, as in the case of the city of Nineveh in the book of Jonah where God was merciful to a nation that had done much evil and yet would do more evil in the future? Still, when they called on him simply to be merciful and not to destroy them, cannot God sometimes simply show mercy? Could the eradication of evil be accomplished without the destruction of the world? In a sense we could say “Yes and no.” The total and final eradication of all evil does indeed require the end of this world, this heaven and this earth, making way for a new heaven and a new earth. However, before that there is a way to defeat evil, to truly conquer it without destroying the world; in fact, to get to the whole root of the matter, and that of course is what Jesus did on the cross when Jesus confronted our sin and also confronted all the power of Satan, that is, Leviathan.
God is showing patience and compassion. He is allowing space for people to repent and he is allowing for future generations to come when he doesn’t just
destroy the earth. But he is also destroying evil more directly even without destroying the earth, by confronting sin and evil, which is all kind of encapsulated in the one being, Leviathan.
V. Evil Cannot Be Destroyed Within the Historical Process
Evil cannot be destroyed within the historical process. I need to give you a couple of definitions as I understand it. Many of you would know the word
“eschatological.” We have used this word a number of times in this course. But when people hear the word eschatology, they typically think it just means the end of the world. Eschatology in its literal meaning is of course, doctrine of the end, doctrine of last things. In fact, eschatology as I understand it is not primarily focused on simply the end of the world, although that is the final culmination of it. To speak of something that is eschatological is to speak of something that is only accomplished by a pure act of God. It is an act of judgment or redemption that can only be purely and entirely a work of God. It is a breaking of heaven into earth. It is a sudden emergence of divine power within the historical process.
For example, the incarnation I would call an eschatological act. Why? Because it was totally outside the realm of human work. It was purely a work of God that Mary became pregnant with the infant Jesus and that God came into the world in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. So the incarnation is not a historical work, even though it occurred in history. I am not saying it is not historical in the sense that it is not factual. It is factual, it is a historical event in the sense that it is true and it really happened, but it is something that is entirely a work of God. The crucifixion and resurrection I would say are the same thing. The crucifixion as an act of putting nails in Jesus’ arms and hanging him on a cross, of course that is a historical event, it really happened. But for all the sin of the world to be put upon Christ and for him to take it away, that is purely an act of God. That is something that no historical process could accomplish; and so also the resurrection is the breaking of the power of God into this world to bring about salvation and to conquer death.
By contrast, when I speak of historical, I don’t strictly mean things that are historically true, I mean things that are part of the historical process. In other
words, the ordinary, day-to-day events that take place are historical. Even certain miracles could be described as historical. They are works of God, but they are simply part of historical process. When Jesus healed the blind man, that man was a normal mortal man. By the power of God he was able to see again and in the course of time that man would die. His eyes were now able to see, but they were normal eyes. Of course, everything that humans accomplish is purely a human work.
Let me try to summarize it and hopefully simplify it. Everything that we see in our normal day-to-day existence is part of the historical process. Things happen. People do things. Things occur. Of course people also pray to God and from time to time they can experience God’s help for them where there is a problem and God delivers them. But these acts of deliverance typically take place within the normal historical course of events. There are certain actions that are purely and entirely a work of God. Again, the great works of God that have already taken place are the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection. The final eschatological work will be the return of Christ and the last judgment. Again, these are all purely works of God; they are not part of a human process, not part of historical sequence of events purely in a human sense.
Let me get back to my main point. Evil cannot be destroyed in a purely historical process. God could destroy evil, as we have already said. If he just killed
everybody, that would in a sense do it. But that wouldn’t be an eschatological work of God to bring about salvation. Human beings try to take care of evil by establishing governments that they think are just, by trying to rearrange the world powers, by trying to rearrange how people live, by trying to write new laws, etc. But nowhere in the historical process is human evil going to be defeated. It will only be defeated when God Himself breaks in and does a work to deal with it.
This is, again, to go back to the book of Job, early on what God told Job. “Job, you cannot begin to understand what is involved in conquering evil. You don’t have the means to do it and you don’t have the understanding. Only God can do it.” So when I speak of an eschatological work of God to do away with evil, what I mean is, it is entirely and purely a work of heaven. It is not something that is part of the earthly human processes.
VI. Job Considers Himself A Person That Spoke Without Knowledge
Job hears God’s question in chapter 38, verse 2: “Who is this who obscures counsel speaking without knowledge?” He applies it to himself. I suggested to you earlier that perhaps God actually originally spoke it about Elihu and Elihu’s longwinded speech. Whether that is the case or not, Job heard those words and he realizes that he himself has been speaking without knowledge, without understanding. So he confesses to God, “That would be me.” Job now knows that he did not understand what was involved in conquering evil. He did not realize the complexity of it and he did not realize the radical nature that God Himself would have to, so to speak, personally confront Leviathan and destroy him. Now at last, Job does understand.
VII. Job 42:6 is Difficult to Translate
A. Problems with the common translation
We then come to chapter 42, verse 6 which is a very, very difficult verse. It is usually translated, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
That of itself sounds very straightforward, that Job is just stricken and he hates himself for everything that he said. He despises himself and so now he repents of everything he said and he falls down on his knees in the dust and ashes. That seems to be what the verse is saying. Scholars who have looked at the Hebrew, however, know that the Hebrew is actually much more difficult to translate; and that that translation has some real problems in it. Furthermore, even as a matter of interpretation, it is questionable. If Job is repenting, what precisely is he repenting of? All the way through the book we have seen Job maintain his innocence; and of course we saw at the beginning God said Job is innocent, Job didn’t do anything wrong. And so if he is repenting, he has to repent of something. Also, it is a little strange that he would despise himself. He might feel embarrassed. He might feel ashamed. He might realize he has said some foolish things, but to despise himself is a little surprising.
What do we make of this? First, the word “myself” is not in the Hebrew text at all. It does not appear anywhere in the passage. The word translated “despise” actually means “reject.” It is not a word that really ever means to despise, it means to reject something. It will have to have a direct object. For example, the Old Testament will speak of how the wicked people “reject God’s law.” That would be the thing that they reject. But the text does not have any clear direct object for the word, “reject.” Instead of “I despise myself,” the Hebrew just says, “I reject.”
Then we have the word that is usually translated “repent.” Hebrew has a word that is very commonly and correctly translated as “repent” meaning you are
doing something evil and you stop doing it. That word is, “shuv.” The basic meaning of shuv is to turn; but in a context of dealing with one’s sin, it means to
repent. Again, people did not serve God, they rejected God, they committed sins, they repent, shuv, and they stopped committing those sins. That is the word that means to repent and that is not the word that is used in this passage. The word that is used in this passage is “necham” which means either to change one’s mind, like to change your opinion, to change your decision about something, or it can mean to be comforted. Either of those translations is common and valid. Either you change your mind about something or you are comforted. It turns out that the Hebrew text of Job uses a very common idiom that means to “change your mind about something” or “to be comforted about something.” The Hebrew is again the verb “necham,” to change your mind or be comforted; and then the preposition “al” which literally means “over or upon.” It thus tends to mean “concerning.”
Let me give you a couple of examples of passages that use this idiom. In Jeremiah chapter 18, verse 8: “And if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” The Hebrew of verse 8 says, “If that nation I had warned repents of its evil,” that is the verb “shuv,” to repent.
Then it says, “I will relent,” that is the verb “necham” which means to change my mind, “and I will not punish the nation.”
So in this context we have a good contrast between shuv, to repent of a sin, and necham, to change your mind about what you are doing. We have also, for
example, Jeremiah 31, verse 15: “This is what the Lord says, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted over her children because they are no more.” This is the verb “nachem” again, which can also mean to be comforted; and she is refusing to be comforted over her children. The point here is that the idiom is a common idiom. It has a standard meaning, to change your mind about something or to be comforted over something, to be comforted about something.
We could look at one more example very quickly, from the book of Joel, Joel chapter 2, verse 13: “Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate.” There is the word “return,” shuv, which means “repent.” “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and he relents…” There is the verb “nachem,” changes his mind from sending calamity.
The point I’m making to you with these examples – and there are many others – is that idiom means to change your mind about doing something, or about your opinion of something. It is not used to mean simply, “I repent of a sin.” That is a different word.
B. The phrase translated “dust and ashes”
The phrase “dust and ashes” is a very difficult phrase and it is difficult to know what Job is referring to. Of course, one would naturally think, especially with the traditional translation, “therefore I despise myself and I repent in the dust and ashes,” that the dust and ashes are the place where he repents. Again, the expression used is “I change my mind over dust and ashes,” or we could say, “concerning dust and ashes.” This indicates the dust and ashes are not the place where he changes his mind, but the thing about which he changes his mind. He is changing his opinion concerning dust and ashes.
What would that mean? It is no wonder translators do what they do and why they find such difficulty with a text, because it’s hard to know what to make of, “I change my mind about dust and ashes.” How do you understand that?
First of all, we need to consider a little more what dust and ashes can refer to. I think it refers primarily to the frailty of humanity. Humans are creatures made from the dust according to Genesis, and they are very frail like ashes. We have examples of this. Genesis 18:27 says, “Then Abraham spoke up again, ‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes.’” Here Abraham is contrasting himself, dust and ashes, with God. Dust and ashes can refer to a person who has lost everything and fallen into ruin. So we have Job chapter 30 and verse 19: “He throws me into the mud and I am reduced to dust and ashes.” Again, I think the point is pretty clear. Dust and ashes are not where Job relents or changes his mind. Dust and ashes are the thing he changes his mind about. The thing he changes his mind about is humanity and all its frailty and all its weakness.
What was his change of mind? What was his old opinion and now, what is his new opinion? Let’s try to figure that out. First of all, let’s go back to the full translation. I think it should be translated, “Therefore I will reject and rethink my former opinions concerning dust and ashes.” So he rejects his old opinion, he rethinks his old opinion. He is coming to a new position. Now he will decide what this entails.
C. Job does not reject humanity
First of all, he does not reject humanity as though he now wants to have nothing to do with humanity. The main thing he learned in the course of his sufferings is to emphasize and sympathize with all the suffering that is part of being human. He is much more compassionate to humans, one might think, than he was even before. He also certainly does not reject the fact that humans are frail and mortal. He knows we are frail, that we are mortal, that we are weak, that we are dust and ashes.
What is his former opinion of dust and ashes? I would suggest that it is similar to his three friends. Again, remember he begins with the same theology as the three friends; and it is a theology that comes very close to the theology of the night spirit. Remember how the night spirit regarded all of humanity as vile, as disgusting before God. Let’s actually look at the night spirit’s words again very quickly. Job 4:18: The night spirit comes and here is what he says: “If God places no trust in his servant, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth. Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces, unnoticed they perish forever. Are not the cords of their tents pulled up, so that they die without wisdom?”
This is the idea of the night spirit regarding humanity, that in their dust and ashes they are despicable. He calls them “creatures of clay,” creatures who could be easily crushed and whose deaths would not matter. Job, like his three friends, has focused so much on the majesty of God in comparison to the weakness of humanity, that it is almost as if humans don’t matter, humans are insignificant. When you start thinking about God, you just regard God as this simply Almighty Being who just does as he pleases and doesn’t really care about these frail humans of clay or of dust and ashes.
In other words, he has learned that God cares a lot about his creation and especially humanity; that when God is managing the world, when he is handling
the physical world, when he is handling nature and certainly when he is handling the human race, God does so out of compassion for humans. They may be dust and ashes; yes, in fact they are dust and ashes. But they are precious to God. They are creatures whom God made, whom God loves, whom God desires to redeem from evil. Job, who again was not that far from the three friends in his thinking and his theology, thinking of humans as nothing but dust and ashes, has a new opinion.
We should also remember that the verb “nachem” can mean to change your mind or to take comfort. The passage could be legitimately translated, “I take comfort over dust and ashes,” meaning he has been so distressed about the plight of the human race and God’s seeming indifference, that now he knows and is comforted by the fact that God cares, that God loves them and that God is doing what must be done to redeem them.
Thus ends the dialogue between first Job and the three friends and then the three speeches and Job’s response to God.
VIII. Job the Intercessor
We then come to the very end of the book where first of all, Job serves as an intercessor. This is chapter 42, verses 7-9: “And it came about after the Lord
spoke these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘I am furious at you and your two companions because you have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has. Now, get seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering in behalf of yourselves. Actually I show favor to him in not doing something outrageous to you, for you have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has.’ And Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them and the Lord showed favor to Job.”
A. The Lord shows deep rage toward Job’s three friends
In this passage the Lord expresses deep rage toward the three. The word that is used where I have translated, “lest I do something outrageous to you” in verse 8 i is actually the same word that is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe acts of great anger or violence. So for example, it is used in Genesis 39:19 where it describes the fury of Potiphar, who believed his wife had been raped. It also describes the fury of the Lord when he speaks of his intent to annihilate Israel over the sin of the golden calf in Exodus 32:10. This is very powerful word. It expresses deep anger. The Lord is very, very angry at Eliphaz and his friends, Bildad and Zophar. We should understand from this, if from nothing else, what the three friends say is wrong; and when we interpret the book, we need to interpret it in light of that.
B. God demands an extravagant sacrifice from the three friends
God demands a pretty extravagant sacrifice from the three friends, seven bulls and seven rams. We recall that at the beginning of the book Job had ten children and he would offer a sacrifice for each one on a feast day, lest they had somehow cursed God in their minds. The sacrifice demanded of the three is kind of similar to the sacrifice Job himself made and it helps bring closure to the book.
More importantly for our purposes, it is a very big sacrifice, fourteen animals. Fourteen livestock is a very, very expensive sacrifice; and it is a measure of God’s anger at the three. Even so, God says the real reason they will be forgiven is not their animal sacrifice, but that Job intercedes for them. Time and again the friends had told Job that if only he would repent, God would restore him and Job would make intercession for sinners.
As I said, I don’t think Job had a sin to repent of, but he certainly had some confusion and some wrong opinions. He did repent of those. He changed his mind about those and he is restored by God and here he is, making intercession for sinners, for Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.
IX. Job Restored
Then finally, at the end of the book we have Job’s restoration in 42:10-17 which reads as follows: “After Job prayed for the friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted him and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, a thousand of oxen and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second one Keziah and the third one Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived 140 years. He saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man full of years.”
A. Job’s vindication is complete
The reason this is important is not just, “Good for Job, his life is happy again.” That’s fine and I’m sure for Job that is a big deal. But for us, the important point is, this is the vindication of Job. By God restoring him in this way, God is publicly demonstrating his approval of Job, that Job has been a righteous man and that God approves of his life.
B. Job was right to not confess to sins he didn’t commit
Job’s intercession for the friends and the restoration of his former glory show not only that his suffering was not punishment, but that he was right to refuse to make a meaningless confession of sin he did not commit.
C. Two troubling matters
Despite all of this, there are two troubling matters. First, Job has ten new children to replace the ten he lost -- seven sons, three daughters. Still, Job had lost ten children. He had had ten children who died sudden, violent deaths. Job evidently loved them a great deal. Remember, he would make these expensive sacrifices in case they had cursed God in their minds. Can anything really take the place of a child you have lost? No. He is comforted in that he has more children, but that doesn’t mean that anything will ever remove the pain of having lost those children.
The other thing that is interesting is, the text never explicitly says he was healed of his skin disease. We assume he was, we suppose he was. After all, the text says that Job was fully restored and that would seem to imply the restoration of his physical health. But it is interesting that the text explicitly speaks of how he has all these children again, how he has all these sheep and cattle and he is a very rich man again; but it never says that his body was healed. I don’t mean to say that I think his body was not healed, but I do think there is an implication in this.
Both of these things speak of lasting pain. He obviously had the pain of ten children he knew and loved and who were now dead. Whatever was the
condition of his health, he had certainly gone through a great deal of physical pain and we might just guess perhaps carried scars from those afflictions, physical scars.
D. Job’s suffering was redemptive
No one goes through a trial like this and comes out without some pain and some scarring. Yet the pain itself is redemptive. Let’s put it this way: We Christians often go through real trials in life. Things happen to us that hurt badly. In many cases we will never reach the point that the pain is totally gone away, that there is no pain whatsoever in our hearts from what we have experienced. Yet the abiding pain is itself a minister that enables us to grow in grace and to be strong in God. Paul certainly experienced this. Paul had all kinds of pain and suffering in his life, both physical pain and the pain of rejection and persecution from his own people. But more than that, Paul had what was called a thorn in the flesh. I don’t know specifically what that was, but it was something he didn’t like, it was something that gave him pain. He called for God three times to remove it and God would not do it. Finally, Paul was given a message, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
So the abiding pain of Job I would suggest is itself a mark of the grace in his life. His suffering is redemptive. His suffering brings glory to God and keeps Job close to God and is kind of a pattern for all of us.
The book ends with Job restored, Job vindicated and it has given us a solution, or the solution to the problem of evil. When we come back we are going to begin to summarize the theology of Job to finish up our study.