Job 42:1-6, 10-17
The context for any passage in the book of Job has to begin with chapter 1, which establishes Job’s excellent character (1:1-5), acknowledged even by God (1:8). But God permitted “the satan”, one of the heavenly minions, to test Job by taking away his wealth, his family (1:13-21), and finally his health (2:1-10).
NOTE: The satan of the book of Job is not the same as the diabolical Satan of the New Testament. The satan of the book of Job is one of the heavenly minions.
Chapters 2:11 – 37:24 are composed largely of conversations between Job and his friends. The pattern throughout those chapters is that Job’s friends tried to convince Job that he must be guilty of some terrible sin and should repent—but Job refused to acknowledge his sin, because he believed himself to be innocent—a fact that we, as the readers of the first chapter, know to be true—and a fact that God will reinforce in his words to Job’s friends near the end of the book (42:7).
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT is a lengthy speech in which God “answered Job out of the whirlwind” (38:1 – 40:1). In that monologue, God asked a series of questions calculated to show Job the scope of God’s responsibilities—and to promote a sense of humility and awe in Job. Job responded briefly to that monologue (40:3-5) by acknowledging that he was “of small account” and that he would no longer challenge God. Then, in a second speech, God asked, “Will you even annul my judgment?
Will you condemn me, that you may be justified?” (40:8)—and proceeded to expand Job’s vision of the Godly enterprise through a series of statements and questions (40:9 – 41:34).
In a sense, then, Job’s desire to find God—to lay out his case before God—and to “understand what he (God)would tell me (Job)” (23:3-5) has been fulfilled. However, that fulfillment falls short of the full vindication that Job envisioned. Instead, God has shown Job the greatness of God and the relative smallness of Job. Job has also learned that he should not have put God in the wrong so that Job might be justified (40:8).
JOB 42:1-6. THEN JOB ANSWERED YAHWEH
1Then Job answered Yahweh,
2“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be restrained.
3You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
therefore I have uttered that which I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I didn’t know.
4You said, ‘Listen, now, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you will answer me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you.
6Therefore I abhor (Hebrew: ma∙as) myself,
and repent (Hebrew: naham) in dust and ashes.”
When Job responds to God, he restates some of the things that God said in chapters 38-41 (42:3a = 38:2; 42:4b = 38:3b and 40:7b).
“Then Job answered Yahweh“ (v. 1). This is the same as 40:3, where Job made a brief response to God’s first lengthy speech.
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be restrained” (v. 2). Job has acknowledged all along that God was capable of doing all things. His bone of contention was not that God was weak, but that God had failed to render justice.
But now, as a consequence of God’s two lengthy speeches (38:1 – 40:1 and 40:6 – 41:34), Job has a broader vision of God’s work. He still believes that God is all-powerful, but (as we will see in the next verse), he is no longer willing to challenge God with regard to the issue of justice.
“Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?“ (v. 3a). This is the question (slightly reworded) that God asked Job in 38:2. On that occasion, God continued with a series of questions and didn’t give Job a chance to answer. Now Job restates the question so that he might answer at last. His answer, however, will proceed from the understanding that he gained through the two Godly speeches (38:1 – 40:1 and 40:6 – 41:34), and will be much different than the answer he would have given earlier.
“therefore I have uttered that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I didn’t know” (v. 3b). Job acknowledges his error in talking about things that were beyond his understanding. However, Job “has not sinned in his lamenting. That is why Job does not confess any sin here” (Hartley, 536). This is a significant point, because God never, in this account, accuses Job of sin. Instead God earlier pronounced Job “a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil” (1:8)—and he will soon say that Job has spoken of God “that is right” (42:7).
“Listen, now, and I will speak“ (v. 4a). Earlier, when Job said, “I will speak,” it was in the spirit of complaint or bitterness (7:11; 10:1). However, now his vision of God and of justice has been expanded, and his speaking will take on an entirely new tone.
“I will question you, and you will answer me” (v. 4b). Near the beginning of each of his lengthy speeches, God had said, “I will question you, and you will answer me” (38:3b; 40:7b). In each of those instances, God had proceeded with a series of questions calculated to put Job in his place. In neither of those instances did God give Job a chance to respond.
But now it is time for Job’s response, so Job quotes God’s earlier statements as an introduction to his response.
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear“ (v. 5a). Earlier, Job spoke of the binding of water into clouds and other natural phenomena that revealed something of God, and said, “How small a whisper do we hear of him” (26:14). In other words, the heavens revealed the glory of God, but in a veiled way.
Job was “a man in the land of Uz” (1:1), so unless he was a Jewish proselyte, he would not have known God through the Hebrew Scriptures and temple worship. He understands that his knowledge of God has been quite incomplete.
“but now my eye sees you” (v. 5b). Hearing about someone and seeing them face to face are very different experiences. Seeing is the superior experience.
When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God responded, “You cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). How is it that Job could see him and live? That is one of the many issues about which the author of this book is unconcerned. Perhaps it is poetic license that Job can say, “my eye sees you.” Perhaps he is spared because God has spoken to him from a whirlwind that obscured Job’s vision (38:1; 40:6).
But whatever the explanation, Job earlier wanted to speak personally with God (23:3-5), and now God has granted his wish.
“Therefore I abhor (ma∙as) myself” (v. 6a). Verse 6 can be translated variously. In The New Interpreter’s Bible, Carol Newsom lists six possibilities (Newsom, 629).
The verb ma∙as means “to reject, to despise, to abhor, to refuse” (Baker and Carpenter, 562). In this context, Job acknowledges his lowliness as compared with God’s grandeur. He also acknowledges rejecting the pride that motivated him prior to seeing God.
“and repent (naham) in dust and ashes” (v. 6b). The verb naham means “to be sorry, to pity, to comfort, to avenge… (or) to regret” (Baker and Carpenter 723).
Many scholars (Anderson, 292; Hartley, 537; Murphy, 273; Newsome, 558; Tucker, 449) believe that, in this context, naham does not mean that Job is repenting of his sins, because the thesis behind this book is that Job is “blameless and upright” (1:1) and that he speaks what is right about God (42:7). Otherwise, Job would be capitulating to the earlier request of his friends that he repent of his sins—a request that Job rejected because he saw himself as righteous—an opinion in which God concurred (1:8). Thus, if Job is now repenting—doing what his friends earlier advised him to do—he is undermining the idea that he is “blameless and righteous”—an idea that is foundational to the book.
However, dust and ashes are appropriate symbols for repentance and remorse. In particular, the word “ashes” connotes humility (Genesis 18:27; Daniel 9:3) or worthlessness (Job 13:12) or repentance (Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21).
The meaning of this verse, therefore, cannot be that Job is repenting of his sins, as his friends suggested that he do. Instead, he is repenting of having spoken in ignorance—of suggesting that God has rendered an injustice to him. Now that he has seen God, he wishes to retract the challenges to God that he once spoke.
JOB 42:7-9. A REBUKE OF ELIPHAZ AND AN AFFIRMATION OF JOB
7 It was so, that after Yahweh had spoken these words to Job, Yahweh said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore, take to yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept him, that I not deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.”
9So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did what Yahweh commanded them, and Yahweh accepted Job.
In the interest of a compact reading, the lectionary reading does not include these verses. However, the choice to eliminate them is unfortunate, because they are critical to the understanding of this book (Murphy, 271). Verse 7 is particularly important, because in that verse God rebukes Job’s friends for not speaking rightly of God, “as my servant Job has.” Thus, in that verse, God confirms the original estimate of Job as “blameless and upright” (1:1).
These verses present the delicious irony of God ordering Job’s friends to sacrifice “seven bulls and seven rams” (v. 8)—a very large and expensive offering. Not only are they to make the sacrifice, but they are also required to present the sacrifice to Job. While God does not require the friends to ask Job for his prayers, God announces that, once the friends have made this offering, Job will pray for them and God will answer Job’s prayers. That is, in fact, what happens. These friends, who earlier accused Job of guilt, find themselves guilty and requiring Job’s prayers as a way of gaining forgiveness.
JOB 42:10-17. YAHWEH GAVE JOB TWICE AS MUCH AS HE HAD BEFORE
10Yahweh turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends. Yahweh gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all those who had been of his acquaintance before, and ate bread with him in his house. They comforted him, and consoled him concerning all the evil that Yahweh had brought on him. Everyone also gave him a piece of money, and everyone a ring of gold. 12So Yahweh blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand female donkeys. 13He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14He called the name of the first, Jemimah; and the name of the second, Keziah; and the name of the third, Keren Happuch. 15 In all the land were no women found so beautiful as the daughters of Job. Their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. 16After this Job lived one hundred forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, to four generations. 17So Job died, being old and full of days.
“Yahweh turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends“ (v. 10a). This doesn’t say that the Lord restored the fortunes of Job’s foolish friends when Job prayed for them. It says that the Lord restored Job’s fortunes when he prayed for his friends. He was praying for them, but ended up being the beneficiary himself.
The issue here is cause and effect. First, Job prayed for his friends. Second, the Lord restored Job’s fortunes. Did First cause Second? Or did Second just happen to occur after First? The text isn’t absolutely clear on that matter. It doesn’t say, “BECAUSE Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored Job’s fortunes.”
• However, some scholars believe that Job’s prayer for his friends resulted in the restoration of his good fortune (Andersen, 293; Alden, 412), and it sounds as if the Lord were waiting for Job to do the right thing (praying for his not-very-wonderful friends) before restoring Job’s fortunes.
• But other scholars deny any cause and effect relationship between Job’s prayers and the restoration of his fortunes (Newsome, 559; Hartley, 540). Their concern is that the book of Job is intended to counter the popular notion that good fortune is always linked to good behavior. Much of the Old Testament and some of the New Testament promise rewards for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior. This book says, “It Ain’t Necessarily So!”
“Yahweh gave Job twice as much as he had before“ (v. 10b). Whether the Lord gives Job this abundant blessing as a reward for righteous behavior or not, he does give it.
Exodus 22:4 requires a thief to repay double if he is found guilty of stealing an ox or donkey or sheep. Does the Lord reimburse Job doubly because the Lord is found to be a thief, having taken away Job’s possessions without cause? Hardly! But the rule in Exodus acknowledged that simply reimbursing a victim what he or she lost in the theft would fall short of fully restoring that person’s situation. As anyone who has been the victim of a theft knows, the victim experiences emotional trauma at being violated. There is also a time during which the victim doesn’t have access to his or her property, which can lead to real suffering. The double-reimbursement rule in Exodus attempts to compensate all the victim’s losses—not just the original loss.
So it could be that the double restoration of Job is intended to compensate Job for his pain and suffering as well as the loss of his family and material goods.
“Then came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all those who had been of his acquaintance before, and ate bread with him in his house. They comforted him, and consoled him concerning all the evil that Yahweh had brought on him. Everyone also gave him a piece of money, and everyone a ring of gold“ (v. 11). Where were these brothers and sisters and friends when Job really needed them? When Job was suffering, why didn’t they say, “Job, come and stay at our house” or “Job, here is some money and a gold ring”? Why did they wait until Job’s fortunes were fully restored before offering their solace?
The answer is that, when Job was down and out, his family was far from him and his acquaintances were estranged from him. They failed him and forgot him. He had become “an alien in their sight” (19:13-15).
Their lack of compassion was almost certainly rooted in the popular belief that human suffering is the result of God’s displeasure. If they believed that God had taken away Job’s family and wealth as punishment for some terrible sin, it would make sense for them to distance themselves from him. For one thing, if they made him more comfortable, they might be found guilty of taking away the sting that the Lord had inflicted to teach Job a lesson. For another, if they got too close to sinful Job, the Lord might inflict suffering on them too.
But now Job’s fortunes have returned and so have his family and friends. Now that he is “up” they give him the sympathy and comfort that he needed when he was “down.” It happens all the time. This book encourages us to be different. It encourages us not to assume that a suffering person has brought it upon him/herself.
Whatever the motives of Job’s family and friends, they are back in full voice now. Can’t you hear them? “Job, we’re so happy for you!” “Job, we felt so bad when you were suffering.” “Job, we love you!”
In addition to their words of sympathy and comfort, they also give Job money and gold rings. Did these gifts become the seed corn for investments that eventually led to Job’s full restoration, as some scholars suggest? (Hartley, 541). Possibly! But the story says that the Lord restored Job’s fortunes doubly (v. 10), and the family and friends then got on board (v. 11). In other words, it sounds as if God fully restored Job before Job’s family and friends became friendly again.
“So Yahweh blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand female donkeys“ (v. 12). The number of livestock mentioned here is exactly double the number that Job had prior to his troubles (1:3).
“He had also seven sons and three daughters“ (v. 13). Job had seven sons and three daughters in his pre-catastrophe life, but a great wind collapsed the house in which they were eating, and they were all killed (1:18-19).
Seven and three both connote completeness in Hebrew literature, so these seven sons and three daughters represent an ideal family. Job’s material possessions were doubled, but not his sons and daughters. The original numbers were simply restored.
Did Job have these children by his original wife? Probably so, given that she was mentioned in 2:9; 19:17; 31:10 (but nowhere by name). But we don’t know. If God had given Job a new, beautiful wife, the author would surely have mentioned that.
“He called the name of the first, Jemimah; and the name of the second, Keziah; and the name of the third, Keren Happuch“ (v. 14). The usual practice, if any names were to be given, would be to name the sons. It is somewhat unusual that we aren’t given those names. It if very unusual that we are given the names of the daughters. Jemimah means little dove. Keziah comes from the word cassia—a flower known for its lovely fragrance. Keren-happuch means “horn of antimony.” Antimony was used by women to highlight their eyes (From Bromily, ISBE, the articles on these three names).
“In all the land were no women found so beautiful as the daughters of Job“ (v. 15a). This is another evidence of the Lord’s gift to Job. His daughters are beautiful.
There is no mention of the sons being strong or handsome or smart. It is unusual that the writer would mention the beauty of the daughters without saying something positive about the sons.
“Their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers“ (v. 15b). This is also unusual. Jewish law gave the firstborn son a double share of the inheritance and the other sons a single share (Deuteronomy 21:15). Thus, if a man had five sons, the firstborn would receive two of six shares, and the four remaining sons would receive one share apiece. Daughters would usually receive a dowry (a gift from their father) at the time of their marriage, but would not receive a share of the inheritance.
But Job is a man of Uz and not of Israel. He might not be subject to Jewish law regarding inheritance—and might not even be familiar with it.
“After this Job lived one hundred forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, to four generations“ (v. 16). Psalm 90:10 mentions seventy years as “the days of our years,” so Job’s one hundred and forty years represents a double portion of years.
“So Job died, being old and full of days“ (v. 17). “Old and full of days” (or full of years) is a formula used for the patriarchs: Abraham (Genesis 25:8), Isaac (Genesis 35:29), and David (1 Chronicles 29:28). It is a way of saying that Job lived a long and full life, so that his death represents a natural passage rather than a tragedy. It is also a way of numbering him among the great men of Israel’s history.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Alden, Robert L., New American Commentary: Job, Vol. 11 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Andersen, Francis I., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Job, Vol. 13 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, no date)
Balentine, Samuel E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Job (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2006
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament(Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Two: E-J –Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Three: K-P– Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)
Hartley, John E., New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988)
Janzen, J. Gerald, Interpretation Commentary: Job (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985)
McKenna, David L., The Preacher’s Commentary: Job (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)
Murphy, Roland E., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Newsom, Carol A., The New Interpreters Bible: Job, Psalms, and 1 & 2 Maccabees, Vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Newsome, James D., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Wilson, Gerald H., New International Biblical Commentary: Job (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan