Tag Archives: How to interpret Job

The Vindication of Job


The final chapter in our series on “How to Interpret the Book of Job” brings us to what might best be summarized as The Vindication of Job.  However, rather than occurring in a single instance, instead it has been an unfolding process throughout the book that culminates during and at the conclusion of Yahweh’s speeches.

In order to rightly interpret the final chapter and feel the weight of the emotion felt here and in the chapters leading up to this one, we must remind ourselves that the overwhelming chorus of Job’s speeches has been the insistence on his integrity and the desire for vindication by a mediator.  We may call to mind  Job 9:15-30; 10:7; 13:15-23; 16:17; 23:7-12; 27:3-6; 31:36-37  as instances where vindication is central in the thought and speech of Job.  With this reminder before us, we turn to the vindication applied to Job in chapter 42, which generally unfolds in three sections that we will summarize as The Response (42:1-6), The Rebuke (42:7-9), and The Restoration (42:10-17).

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

First, in interpreting The Response as indicated in Job 42:1-6 cited above, we must also look at Job’s initial response to God found in Job 40:3-5.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
    I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
    twice, but I will proceed no further.”

A comparison and contrast of the two is necessary in order to ask and answer one principal question, “What was lacking in the first response that caused God to continue His verbal barrage?”  The answer should be clear.  Despite Job’s recognition of his own smallness in comparison with the supremacy of God and his pledge of silence in his first response, he had not yet expressed repentance.  This becomes central in his second response, found in this last chapter, where Job’s contrition is on display through not only his words, but his actions.  This response has 5 principle parts

  1. Recognition
  2. Recitation #1, with confession
  3. Recitation #2, with confession
  4. Retraction
  5. Repentance

It’s significant that Job begins with a recognition of the supremacy of God, which he qualifies by statements on God’s omnipotence and God’s sovereignty.  This is the fountain from which the remainder of Job’s words flow and a direct result of the Word of God in chapters 38-41 which served to till and plow the proud heart of Job.  From this soil of recognition, Job recites two questions from God and answers them with subsequent confessions of his own inadequacy.  He then retracts his misspoken words in the form of a statement of self-loathing before finally repenting in dust and ashes.

In the next section of the chapter, we find The Rebuke of Job’s friends serving as a critical component to the overall statement of vindication.  After the Lord spoke to Job, He directs His attention to Eliphaz, the unofficial spokesman of Job’s three counseling friends.  This address begins with the assertion of God’s character by describing how His wrath has been kindled through the ignorant tongues of the three friends. In the midst of this rebuke, we are given the first layer of Job’s vindication, namely that he will intercede for his friends.

This initial point of vindication is structured around a crucial statement which God repeats three times.  The first occurs after God issues His instructions to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar commanding them to bring seven bulls and seven rams to, “My servant Job”.  Literally meaning “slave”, the word translated as servant, is preceded by a statement of possessive ownership of God and occurs three times in verse 8.  The first, as just mentioned, is followed by a reference to Job’s intercession for his friends in prayer, which is followed by a a statement simultaneously rebuking the words of the three friends while commending the words of Job.

Recall that the title used in reference to God in introducing His speeches is Yahweh, a reminder of the unwavering covenant love and relation of God to Job.  Here we see a second indication of the relationship, that of servant (or slave) to Master.  If the former indicated goodness and love, the latter indicates freedom and hierarchy, which we will see more clearly later.

In the next verse, we have an indication of the spiritual condition of the three friends, namely their unquestioned obedience of the command of God to bring their sacrifices to Job, despite their errant applications of affliction, .  Immediately after this, we read of further vindication for Job, the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.”  The NASB footnote for verse 9 provides a more striking translation of this phrase as, “The Lord lifted up the face of Job.”   This seems to recall Job 9:24; 11:15; and 22:26.  Again, it should be pointed out that this is Job’s intercession of his friends, whom to this point have been a continual thorn in the side of Job, serving much more as his enemies than his friends.  It is therefore not difficult to find parallel with our Lord Jesus Christ who not only prayed for His murderers on the cross, but provides continual prayer and intercession as High Priest for those who were once His enemies.  

With this statement, we are ushered into the final section of Job’s vindication, The Restoration, introduced for us in 42:10.  In Job 42:11-13 we are given the particulars of Job’s restoration from God in doubling all that he had before, including his children (It should be noted that he had 10 children before and has 10 children again, for a total of 20, giving an implicit reference to expectation of resurrection and rejoining his lost children).  Following this, we read of an interesting interlude where the daughters of Job are mentioned by name, commended for their beauty, and rewarded with an unprecedented share of Job’s inheritance, a seat usually reserved for the first born and almost exclusively for sons.

The summary and conclusion comes in the final two verses as we read, And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”

The restoration of the fortunes and family of Job, brings up a pivotal interpretive impasse for the entire argument of the book, namely this:  “Does God’s restoration of Job, after his repentance, validate the prosperity gospel of Job’s friends?”  This is not a trivial question, in fact it goes to the heart of the interpretation for the book, for each step of the way the interpretive keys have steered in the direction of the misinterpretation of Job’s affliction by the three friends and their misapplication of the retributive justice of God to the case of Job.  If those keys are wrong, then one must read this vindication of Job as validation of the friends and thereby cause us to reinterpret the entire book, by necessity, this time reading the words of the friends as correct and Job’s as wrong.  If this were the case, then it contradicts the statement made by Yahweh in 42:9.  So what are we to conclude?

Recall that their were two (at least) attributes of God that neither Job nor his friends could reconcile with the events of affliction that were taking place, namely the goodness and freedom of God, which we alluded to earlier.  It wasn’t until the speeches of Elihu (chapters 33-37) that Job was instructed on God’s good purposes for affliction and likewise the speeches of God where Job was instructed on the freedom of God.  In this final part of vindication, The Restoration, God combines both His goodness and freedom and puts it on display in the form of physical blessings.  What a marvelous display of God’s grace and condescension in restoring His servant Job, while revealing more of His infinite character to Him.  However, with this, let us be reminded that God is under no obligation to act in this way for every one of His saints who are brought through the refining fires of affliction.

The vindication of Job is an interpretive key for the entire book because 1. God vindicates the integrity of Job, even though all that he has said has not been accurate. 2 God rebukes Job’s friends even though all that they have said has not been wrong. 3. The restoration of Job invalidates the prosperity gospel while simultaneously asserting the freedom of God.  This should teach us to read God’s Word, particularly the individual books, completely and in their context before rushing to interpretive decisions allowing them to unfold before us.


Yahweh Speaks


There is a sense in which all that has come before chapter 38 in the book of Job has been preparatory for the arrival of Yahweh.  Job has essentially begged for an audience with God, his friends have at times assumed to speak for God, and Elihu has announced the arrival of God at the conclusion of his final speech.  It is here, at the beginning of chapter 37, that Elihu prepares the way for Yahweh to speak by using metaphorical language of a storm to refer to the voice of God, as highlighted below

Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
    and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
Under the whole heaven he lets it go,
    and his lightning to the corners of the earth.
After it his voice roars;
    he thunders with his majestic voice,
    and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.
God thunders wondrously with his voice

At the end of this chapter, Elihu again uses storm imagery to describe the imminent arrival of Yahweh

“And now no one looks on the light
    when it is bright in the skies,
    when the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 Out of the north comes golden splendor;
    God is clothed with awesome majesty.
23 The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power;
    justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
    he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”

All of this, and as noted the entirety of the book, prepares us for chapter 38, the long-awaited arrival as God calls Job to account through two (possibly three) speeches, which span chapters 38 to 41.  Puritan James Durham notes that these speeches occur in three distinct sections, each with a key verse that functions as a challenge issued to Job.  The first is found in chapters 38-39 with challenge #1 at Job 38:2.  The second occurs in chapter 40 with challenge #2 being Job 40:2 and the final section occurs in chapter 40:6-41:34 with challenge #3 being issued in Job 40:8.  These speeches may be organized for our interpretation by examining the introductory arrival of God, as well as the content, purpose, and accomplishment of these speeches.

As God arrives on the scene, several observations may be made from the narrator’s introduction, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said”.  First, we may observe that the covenant name, Yahweh (LORD), is now being used for the first time (Job 12:9 is the lone exception) since the opening chapters.  This is significant because it serves to highlight the loving relationship that God has maintained with his servant Job, despite Job’s complaint that the opposite was true.  Second, we may observe that God answers Job from His own divine prerogative.  God is under no obligation to respond to anyone, let alone Job, despite his integrity.  Through the speech that follows, God will accomplish all that He has intended, yet it is by His condescension that He replies to Job at all, a product of His grace.  Third, Yahweh speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.  While not the exact word used in chapter 1 to describe the storm that killed Job’s children, nevertheless a parallel must be drawn between the scenes.  Additionally, it is remarkable that God chooses here to speak to Job “out of the whirlwind” yet chose in 1 Kings 19 to speak to Elijah by a still small voice.  God knows by what means to respond to His children in order to get their attention.  Elijah was broken, Job had need to be broken.  This relationship is noteworthy (cf. James 5).

The content of these speeches are not altogether unique, as it pertains to the Book of Job, though certainly the Orator is the origin of all truths regarding Him.  Many of the sustaining acts of creation, as well as some of the creatures, have been previously mentioned in Job.  In fact, the general tenor of Yahweh’s speeches, namely the highlight of His sovereignty and providence, have been a subject broached throughout the book.  Some noteworthy occurrences come from the mouth of Eliphaz (Job 4:7-11; 5:8-16) and Zophar (Job 11:7-9), but most prominently from Job (Job 9:3-12; 12:7-10; 26:5-14) and Elihu (Job 35:10-11; 36: 24-33; 37:2-24).

The speeches of Yahweh consist of 77 questions, 61 if you count the question marks in the English Standard Version.  The difference is due primarily to the fact that many of the questions are multifaceted serving to build upon each other and add weight to the interrogation of Job.  Additionally, the questions, while rhetorical in nature, all carry an implied “no” as their expected response from Job.   In the first speech, the focus is primarily on the creative and sustaining acts of God, while the second (third?) speech is focused primarily on the creatures that God has created.  In all, at least 8 animals are described, plus the mysterious creatures Behemoth and Leviathan.

The deliverance of these questions are sometimes paused briefly for a moment of personal application.  This occurs in Job 38:21; 38:36; 40:15; 41:8-11.  Among these, Job 40:15 stands out because it sharpens the point of the sword of this discourse on the Behemoth by associating its creatureliness directly with Job’s.   The attention drawn out in this relationship helps focus the true purpose behind God’s discourses on His creation.

The purposes of God’s speeches directed toward Job are numerous but begin with the exaltation of His character, namely His majesty in sovereignly creating and ordering the universe, His goodness in caring for the least of His creatures (by implication His greater care for mankind as just mentioned), and His freedom in doing whatever His hand desires.  A second purpose of God’s speeches are to abase the creature, namely Job, and by extension all mankind.  By exalting His own character and asking Job if he is capable of exhibiting the same providential care it serves to humble him before the Almighty through this contrast with divinity.  Additionally, God does this, i.e. exalting His name, by drawing the mind to observe the creation.

Through His response to Job, God does not answer the “Why is God” nor the “Where is God” but the “Who is God.”  In the midst of affliction, or more broadly in the midst of tragedy in general, too often the demand is to answer the former two questions, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” or “Where was God?”  meanwhile the latter is largely ignored altogether.  This is precisely how God answers Job and it is completely unexpected.

Finally, we must address the accomplishment of God’s speeches.  Narrowly, the effect of God’s speeches are seen in humbling Job to the point of repentance for his errant words against Him.  Broadly, God’s speeches accomplish the purpose of bringing the eyes of mankind toward the observation of His creation for the purpose of exalting the Creator.  Durham summarizes this well

“God would by all this learn folks to drink in the thoughts of his greatness from his work of day and night, rain, snow, etc., out of everything, to be getting some lesson. And the great lesson of all is to exalt God and abase the creature; a suitable frame for us to be in, [which] would keep us from many debordings [deviations] that we are ready to fall out.” (pg 225)

Reading the words of Yahweh should stir our souls, particularly if we begin a few chapters prior and allow the anticipation for His arrival to carry us as it is meant to.  Applying a simple interpretive grid will help us better understand the reason that God answers the way He does and open our eyes to the significance of this in the case of Job, and our own cases of affliction as well.

“It is a fault in us that we do not dwell more in meditation on the creatures, to find out God in them.” – James Durham (pg. 240)