The words of Job reach their denouement in the 31st chapter of the book with the concluding statement, “The words of Job are ended.” To this point, we have heard Job speak at liberty in a variety of ways which began with his first brief response at the onset of affliction in the opening chapter, “And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
This was followed by his second response a chapter later, “But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And then silence; for at least seven days in the presence of his friends, but probably longer due to the time it took them to travel.
By chapter 3, we have no clear reference for how much time has elapsed since the loss of Job’s wealth, the death of his children, and the onset of his excruciating disease. The seven-day silence is then broken by Job in his lament for death. We next read Job’s words as he takes his turn in the cyclical interactions with his counseling friends in chapters 6-7; 9-10; 12-13; 16-17; 19; 21; 23-24; and 26-27.
Job’s extended discourse in chapters 26 and 27 is interrupted by the presence of a poetic outburst proclaiming the wisdom of God in chapter 28. While the location of this chapter in the flow of Job, as well as the orator of this poem, has been the source of debate, it’s best to avoid the speculation by embracing the poem as an interlude in preparation for Elihu’s upcoming speeches and more importantly for the arrival of Yahweh.
In the final three chapters of the words of Job, we see three distinct movements of thought. The first of these is Job’s longing for the good old days when he walked closely with the Lord and was thought highly of in his community. In a sense, this overview of the past by Job gives us some insight into his life prior to the events of chapter 1 and adds to our understanding of his overall character. This pining for the days of old shifts to the present in chapter 30 and Job once again enters into a lament by detailing how the days of old have been reversed and flipped on their head. Job leaves the present lamentation and begins to conclude with his final defense wherein he lists a series of acquittals from sin.
Looking back over the previous chapters, we may observe that Job has often spoken by way of lament or prayer expressing his desire to die. He’s offered complaints against God, commendations of God, complaints against his friends, and perhaps most frequently has expressed his desire for vindication, or to be cleared from all accusations of wrong doing. Through the words of Job, which have meandered and progressed along these various paths from the opening chapters to their conclusion in chapter 31, we can make several observations that will help us with the overall interpretation of the book. These will focus on: 1.) The general spiritual condition of Job 2.) The style or delivery method of Job’s words 3.) The good and the bad.
Regarding Job’s spiritual condition, it’s important to discern that Job vacillates between hope and despair. With this, it’s critical to note when the occurrence of each takes place and then subsequently to take the context of the words he speaks into account. In other words, when he is in a moment of despair from the weight of his tragic circumstances and utters words which would make us cringe, we need to understand the context of the wounds out of which these words are spoken. Likewise, when we read of words of hope and restoration we must realize that this is the faith of Job on display, shining brightly in the midst of the most grievous of circumstances.
Similarly, we may observe in the words of Job that he often wavers between the flesh and the spirit, an internal struggle that every believer of Christ has. In the New Testament, this is most evident in Romans 7:7-25. Historically, Martin Luther seems to have placed his finger on the pulse of this malady with the Latin phrase simul justus et peccator, or simultaneously justified and sinner. In Job, we can sometimes see momentum building in the strengthening of the spirit, while at other times he sinks into the flesh bemoaning his condition, cursing the day he was born, and generally questioning the justice and goodness of God.
Finally, central to the argument of Job in the face of his critics, particularly as it pertains to rightly interpreting his words, is his desire for vindication and the defense of his integrity. If Job concedes to the argument of his friends that only those embroiled in great wickedness are afflicted and that since he is afflicted he must be numbered among the wicked, then he proves himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite, superficially serving God while being materially blessed, all the while living a wickedly sinful life. This concession on Job’s part would in turn prove Satan truthful and God a liar. While Job is not aware of chapters 1 and 2, the reader must feel this tension as the progression of the drama unfolds.
As to the style, typically, the words of Job are spoken in the form of a soliloquy, essentially talking to himself out loud for others to hear, as well as prayer towards God, dialogue with his friends, the aforementioned poem, and later, by way of response directly to God, albeit much briefer than his earlier spoken words.
Job’s words are generally strong displays of theological precision, particularly when hope abounds and the spirit is winning the war over the flesh. However, the potential for the reader to derail into a hermeneutical ditch exists when we simply assume that all Job has to say is correct or that the tone with which he speaks is generally positive. This isn’t always the case. Job often comes within a hair of outright blasphemy of God by questioning His wisdom, justice, and goodness. Likewise, he repeatedly sees God as his enemy who has done little more than set him up as a target of His wrath. Additionally, too often Job’s tongue borders on self-righteousness and pride as the debris of indwelling sin is stirred to the surface through his ongoing affliction and interaction with his friends. As with the interpretation of the their speeches, so too with Job, we must hold on to the good and leave the bad.
As one reads through the book of Job, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the emotion of Job’s words and to find ourselves siding with him verbatim while dismissing the words of his friends. Instead, we would do well to interpret the book consistently by maintaining the tension between both good and bad that come from all those who speak up until the arrival of Yahweh. The Epistle of James hits hard upon this theme of the forked tongue when he says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.“ James 3:10-12 Unfortunately, perhaps nowhere in Scripture is this more clearly on display than with the words of Job and even more so with his friends.
Thus, the words of Job are ended.