Unlocking the book of Job

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (Job 42:7)

This verse for many years was like a key that locked the meaning of this book to me, rather than unlocked it.  As a young man reading through the Bible, I remember thinking, “OK, if Job’s friends didn’t speak what is right, then I can just skip over 30 some chapters of this long book.  Why does God record all their babble if it isn’t right?”

After having read through this book many, many times throught the years, I’ve come to see it quite differently.  Everything that the friends say about God and about his dealings with men is true and can be defended from other scriptures.  Rather than dismissing their words as untrue, in this verse God is rebuking them for the same reason as he rebuked Job.  To understand God’s rebuke of the friends, it is necessary to look closely at Job’s words in Job 42:1-6 because God himself says, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”   The “right” that Job has spoken of God is what he has just said in verses 1-6, it is not a contrast of what the three friends spoke throughout the book and what Job spoke throughout the book.

Although throughout the book both Job and his friends say much that is wise and true about God and his dealings with the righteous and the unrighteous, what they say is still incomplete.  At the end of all the truth that they have stated, they still have no answers.  This is why God at the end of the book challenges Job.  He brings Job to a place of  “laying his hand on his mouth” (Job 40:3-5).  Job’s words, therefore in Job 42:1-6 are a humble repentance for thinking that he could explain the actions of God.

God’s anger burns against the three friends because they do not with Job speak this same word of humiliation and acknowledgement that God’s wisdom and purposes and actions are beyond their explanations.  Job acknowledges that he has “uttered what he did not understand”.  There is no mention that what he has said throughout the book is incorrect.  To the contrary, he says that he has spoken things “too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”  So the fault seems to be not in saying incorrect things, but in saying them in the wrong way, without a humbling experience of the presence of God whose wisdom and greatness and dealings with men go beyond comprehension and explanation.

What Job says at the beginning of verse 3 and in verse 4 is a quote of what God had said to him in Job 38:2-3, and Job 40:7  He is responding to God’s words to him by recognizing that his understanding of God previously had been without the deeper experience and manifestation of God’s majesty and glory that his suffering and God’s response to it had brought him.

Notice also in Job 42:7 that God does not say that what the three friends have said is wrong, but that they have NOT spoken what is right, and what that is, is clearly defined as that which “Job has” spoken in verses 1-6, “as my servant Job has”

Application:  Wisdom recognizes that in understanding our own suffering and helping others deal with their suffering, there is a place (a comforting place) in recognizing that we are not going to be able to explain everything that God does in our lives.  Certain experiences are opportunities for us to bow before God, recognize his greatness and trust him, as the one who orders everything for our good.

This is the purpose of the end of Job’s story.  To understand Job’s restoration as a “health and wealth” promise is to miss the point.  It is showing that God’s ultimate purpose for his children is one of blessing.  It is an “under the sun” Old Testament way of saying what Romans 8:28 makes explicit, God works everything for our good and we can trust him, even when we don’t understand what he is doing.