While the dramatic climax of Job is the Lord’s appearance, the narrator concludes the book with an epilogue (just as he began the book with the prologue of the first two chapters). This final section of the book raises several interesting points.
Job Spoke Rightly?
First, the Lord tells the friends that “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). In what sense did Job speak rightly about God? After all, throughout his speeches, Job levels some very serious charges against the Lord’s governance of the world (as in 9:22-24).
Some commentators assume that the Lord is only referring to Job’s statement of repentance in 42:1-6. However, as I argued in my previous post, I don’t think the best way to understand that text is in terms of Job repenting of sin. And when the Lord tells the friends that Job has spoken rightly of him, he specifically contrasts what Job said with what they had said – “you have not spoken of me what is right.” So whatever the Lord means, it must have something to do with the contrast between what Job said about God versus what the friends said about God.
Perhaps the key to understanding this is Job’s criticism of the friends in 13:4 – “As for you, you whitewash with lies.” Job is convinced that the friends are nothing more than propagandists, willing to justify anything God does. They are “yes men.” Their view is, “If God does it, that makes it right.” But Job disagrees. He believes that God should only act in a manner fitting of what is right, and his challenge is understanding how God could be righteous and allow the evils in the world.
From this point of view, Job was more accurate in his view of God than were the friends. God can’t just do anything – it is impossible for him to sin (James 1:14) or to lie (Hebrews 6:18), for instance. This isn’t because God has to abide by someone else’s rules – he wouldn’t be God if that was the case! It is because God is perfect goodness, and always acts in keeping with his own nature. While Job spouted off many inaccurate accusations against God as he struggled to understand why he suffered, Job ultimately believed that God was just, and that God would acquit him once they conferred (see 23:3-7).
But the friends assumed that the principle of retribution was the only mechanism of God’s providence, to such an extreme that if a righteous man was suffering, they would invent charges to condemn him (as in 22:5-11). In their single-minded effort to justify God, truth was the greatest casualty. Not so with Job.
Far be it from me to say that you are right;
till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. (27:5)
In 42:8, the Lord says that the friends have acted with “folly” – the same word Job used of his wife’s appeal to curse God and die in the prologue (2:10). Neither Job’s wife nor Job’s friends understood the true nature of God. For all of his errant comments, Job was committed to a pursuit of God in integrity. The friends wanted Job to admit wrong – to be dishonest – thinking that God rewards this sort of craven dishonesty (cf. 22:21-27).
Job has been genuinely groping for the truth, but the friends have spoken falsely in their attempt to defend God. More than failing to comfort Job, they have tempted him to take the wrong course out of his affliction. Since their counsel would lead Job away from the true worship of Yahweh, they are accused of folly (nəḇālâ), the denial of God’s goodness and redemptive activity in the affairs of Mankind. (John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, p. 539).
The Evil the Lord Brought?
A second curious question is the statement in 42:11 that Job’s family “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” Why does this text blame God? After all, wasn’t it The Accuser who brought harm to Job?
This statement also parallels a statement from the prologue. The second time that the Lord addresses The Accuser, he says:
“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (2:3)
Whatever we are to make of this language, the Lord does not flinch from taking ultimate responsibility for what happened to Job.
So who was it that caused harm to Job, the Lord or The Accuser? This is a false choice – the answer is both, but in different respects. This is clarified by what the Lord says a few verses later:
And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (2:6).
The Accuser, like all other creatures, is subject to the sovereignty of God. God gave The Accuser permission to do harm – within limits. Had God not given such permission, no harm would have occurred. It is in this sense – God’s permissive will – that God takes ultimate responsibility for what happened to Job. The proximate responsibility belongs to The Accuser.
As a reminder, this ties in to the Lord’s second speech to Job in which he challenged Job to control and contain wickedness. Job cannot – but God can, just as he can control and contain Behemoth and Leviathan. Since God is in control, and since he is at work in all things (whether by what he permits to happen or purposes to happen), we can have confidence that God limits the evil that takes place, and that he can work through it to bring good out of it.
Job’s Fortunes Restored?
A third point raised by the conclusion of the book is the restoration of God’s fortunes. Yes, Job was twice as wealthy as before (42:10). Yes, Job receives more livestock than before (42:12). Yes, Job has more children (42:13). But was this worth all that he suffered?
Bear in mind that the way the book is framed, we are not to assume that these tangible blessings were Job’s reward for faithfulness. As I argued in the previous post, Job’s reward was God himself. Job was comforted while he was still in dust and ashes, not when he got all his stuff back.
The purpose of this restoration, then, is not to show us that if you serve God he will give you stuff – that’s the outlook of The Accuser (1:9)! A better way to look at this closing section of blessings is in keeping with the idea of a period of testing. Toward the end of the dialogues, Job says that what he is going through is a refining trial-
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. (23:10)
What Job is going through is precisely what Abraham endured in the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). It is what many psalms ask for (like Psalm 139:23). It is how the New Testament authors describe our suffering (as in 1 Peter 1:6-8). Job is going through a period of testing. And one thing all of these refining tests have in common is that they are temporary.
What the narrator of the book is telling us in his descriptions of Job’s restoration is that his test is complete. He has passed! He held fast to his integrity in the midst of great loss, and now his refining experience is finished. This is why any effort to frame the story of Job as some sort of cynical contest between the Lord and The Accuser utterly fails. The Lord was not gambling with Job’s life, family, or wealth. Instead, the Lord was testing Job – not to destroy him, but to refine him.
As Gerald Wilson says in his excellent commentary:
It is important to note that the restoration of Job’s circumstances relates closely to the nature of Job’s loss and suffering as a test. When God tests Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, God restores that son to Abraham once he passes the test (Gen. 22:1–18). So here the restoration of Job’s family and possessions are part of the test story formula. (Job, p. 270)
Many of us have sung these words:
Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.
Have we truly understood what such a test would mean? What it would look like? I suggest that it looks pretty much like the story of Job. Such a test is painful and challenging, but the blessing of refined faith is worth it – so long as we remember that our heart’s greatest joy is God.