Job 42:7-17

Text Comment

We began our studies of Job observing how many questions the book leaves unanswered. And it is particularly here, in the conclusion of the book that we might have expected such answers to be given. Why is Elihu not mentioned or his words evaluated? What was Satan’s response to all that had happened? We assume that Job’s wife, introduced in the first two chapters of the book was also the mother of the children that were born to Job after his suffering, but why is she not mentioned? Obviously none of these questions was particularly important to the author. He was interested in Job, not his wife, not Satan, and certainly not Elihu. [Alden, 411]

v.7       This indictment of the three friends is remarkable in one way: those men had said many things about God that were entirely true. They had confessed their faith in God in appropriate ways. But God was angry because they presumed to know what God was doing and why in the life of their friend; they presumed to know what only God knew.  they could not know. This is an important caution for us. Christians often — quite innocently, as these three friends — claim to speak for God, put words in his mouth, and interpret his providence. “God did this, and God did that, for this reason or that,” they say. The fact that God was angry with these good men should make us very wary of speaking for God as if we really knew what God was doing or why.

v.8       It is not entirely easy to say precisely in what way Job spoke “what is right.” Presumably it is a reference to the fact that Job said God was not punishing him, which proved to be true. Again, as we said last time, it is also not clear that the fact that Job knew he was not being punished means that we can know the same thing. The fact that Job to some extent is a contrived account — hence its poetic form — however much it may be based in actual events and refer to actual people (after all, human beings would not apart from divine revelation know of a conversation that occurred in heaven between Yahweh and Satan!), serves to make clear the theological lesson it was designed to teach, but makes less clear how much we might imitate Job in our self-confidence and clear conscience.

            In any case it is interesting that these men, who lived either chronologically or geographically outside of the Mosaic administration, still were required to offer sacrifices of atonement reminds us that forgiveness through sacrifice was the practice of righteous men from the very beginning. It was also true then as now that believers have a duty to pray for those who have sinned and that sinners need believers to pray for them.

v.9       Job was not the only man in the book who repented of his sin and learned better through all that had happened. The tables were turned: in the debate the three men had never considered that they might be the objects of God’s wrath — after all, they weren’t the ones who were suffering — but now they needed Job to pray for them to escape God’s displeasure! [Anderson, 293]

v.10     Job did not pray for the restoration of his family or his wealth, he prayed for his friends.  In this he was like Solomon, who prayed for wisdom and got great wealth as well, not because he had asked for it, but because the Lord was pleased to reward him for asking  for something better. It is not only here that we are taught that God’s blessings come to us not when we seek them but when we serve the needs of others. [Anderson, 293] Take this lesson from the book of Job to heart. When you wish for some blessing from the Lord, apply yourself all the more to praying and working for others. See what he will then do for you!

v.11     First Job was restored to his extended family. They had deserted him in his time of need, as Job himself told us in 19:13-15:

            “He has put my brothers far from me, and those who knew me are wholly estranged from me. My relatives have failed me, my close friends have forgotten me.”

Apparently these people realized they had betrayed their relative or their friend and it was to make amends that they brought him gifts.

v.12     If you compare the numbers in v. 12 with those in 1:3 you learn that Job was twice as wealthy after he suffered than he had been before.

v.13     It has been asked why he did not have fourteen sons and six daughters, twice the original number. I like the suggestion that in fact he did. “The first set, to be reunited with him when he died, and the second set, born after his tragedies and trials.” [Alden, 413] Only of human beings is there no end. The sheep and camels he lost were gone for good; his children lost to him only temporarily! He never ceased to have the seven sons and the three daughters that he had in the beginning.

v.15     There are lots of very technical discussions about the meanings of the daughters’ names. I had thought to give it to you, but then decided I didn’t have the time. It intrigues us and Christian scholarship that the names of Job’s daughters are given but not the names of his sons. In the Old Testament there are 1,426 names of individuals mentioned of which 111 are women (less than 8%). So it is striking that these women are mentioned by name and all the more that the sons are not, some indication perhaps of how remarkable they were and how much loved by their father. That is further indicated by the fact that they shared in Job’s inheritance which ordinarily daughters did not do because typically they married into another family and another family’s inheritance, all the more if their father had sons.

v.16     If the principle of doubling still applies, it would seem that Job was 70 when his troubles began.

v.17     As so often in the Old Testament and indeed in our own day, a long life, so long as a man or woman remains in possession of his or her powers, is the crown of life. Job lived to see his great, great grandchildren.

For most readers of Job the last paragraph or epilogue of the book remains something of an afterthought. We pay it little attention. But before his suffering Job was a man who enjoyed great prosperity, a happy family, and troops of friends. All of that, or most of it, was lost and lost catastrophically. His children were killed, his friends lost their faith in him, his wealth was stolen from him and his health collapsed. Job went from a man any man would envy to a man no one wanted to be around. But at the end of the story, after his suffering, after the Lord had revealed himself to him, and after his repentance, Job recovered everything that he had lost. His wealth was greater than it had been before. He had children again, the same number he had before: seven sons and three daughters; and his daughters were the delight of their father’s eye: beautiful in every way, and Jemima, of course, was famous the world over for her pancake syrup.  

Satan is not mentioned, but we are left to ponder the fact that he who wished to destroy Job had at the end to watch the Lord lavish his gifts upon the man who was supposed to be his victim. Job was a greater, happier man after Satan had done his worst than he had been before! That had to sting!

There are scholars of the book who think the book is ruined by its final paragraph. They think the author has slipped back into a crude theology of punishments and rewards which had been so thoroughly discredited in the argument of the book up to this point. But it is a modern conceit that Job’s vindication would be better had it remained the secret of his soul, his personal and hidden reconciliation with God, rather than visible and material and physical prosperity. [Anderson, 294]

Of course, it wasn’t just material and physical prosperity that was his reward. There was personal reconciliation with God in his soul. And there was more than that. By the end Job had a a greater understanding of his redeemer (19:25), a far more glorious sight of God, and a truer view of himself of which he gave utterance in the opening verses of this same chapter (42:5-6). These are blessings of which the world is not worthy! Through his suffering he received more in every dimension of his life than he ever could have enjoyed without those months of sorrow, confusion, and misery.

The ending is, in fact, hugely important to the lesson of the book and to the teaching of the Bible. Imagine Job without it. Imagine him spending the rest of his life sicksome people do, after all — bereft of the comfort of his loved ones, living apart, enduring seemingly endless days, months,  and years scratching at his itching skin with broken shards of pottery. It is the reward at the end that completes the story and the lesson of it! God had never deserted Job. He was Job’s God and Savior throughout. But we need to know that trusting the Lord in the dark night of human suffering will have its reward! And so for this man, who was to become an example for untold generations of believers, his great suffering was followed by a correspondingly great reward.

The Bible never scruples to win us to faith, obedience, and perseverance by the promise of reward. In the covenant Yahweh made with Israel all manner of blessings of the earthly, physical, material type were promised to Israel if she proved faithful to the Lord, promises that reappear in one form or another throughout the Old Testament and again the New Testament. We find them in the Ten Commandments: honoring our father and mother will lead to a long life. We find the same promises in the Psalms.  In Psalm 103 we are reminded of what the Lord gives to those who trust in him: he forgives our sins, to be sure; but he also heals our diseases, renews our youth like the eagle’s, and extends his grace and love to our children. Sounds a lot like Job doesn’t it?

And lest you think things change when we enter the New Testament, think again. The Lord begins his Sermon on the Mount with the promise of reward, in some cases simply repeating the promises of the covenant with which we are familiar from the Old Testament such as the meek  inheriting the earth. In more cases the Lord throws our attention forward to the world to come: rejoice and be glad if you remain faithful in persecution “for your reward in heaven is great” or you will “lay up treasures in heaven.” But not always. If you fast in secret “your Father will reward you” and if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness the Lord will provide us with food, shelter, and clothing. In such passages the blessings promised are more immediate and have to do with our life here on earth and the things of this earth.

In a famous statement in Mark 10:29-30 we read:

“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

In fact we read of the faithful Christians’ reward throughout the New Testament. John can exhort his readers to

“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” [2 John 8]

And summing up a great many texts, we read right at the very end of the Bible, in Rev. 22:12:

“Behold I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.”

And of course we read of the same thing very often in texts that do not use the word “reward.” These are not, of course, rewards that we have earned, as if we had put God in our debt, as if we did some work and God owes us our wages. But although the Lord in giving us such blessings is crowning his own grace in our lives — for without him we can do nothing — he does not scruple to call them rewards and to promise them to his people as motivation for faith and obedience.

Our objection to those who preach a prosperity gospel, who lure the unsuspecting by their promise that the Lord will give them wealth and comfort if only they do this or that is not that the Bible doesn’t promise reward to the faithful and the obedient. It does. Our objection to such preaching is rather that the Bible does not promise any particular reward to any particular Christian at any particular time. What is more, the earthly terms the Bible uses to describe the believer’s reward are clearly not meant to be taken in a universally literal way.

The Lord Jesus promised his faithful disciples a hundred fold return on the homes and fields they sacrificed for the gospel’s sake, but none of the apostles ended his life as a wealthy man for all the real-estate he owned. Paul may well have given up his family for Jesus’ sake, but the family the Lord gave him in return was obviously a family of a different kind, brothers and sisters in Christ and spiritual children, not such a family as Job received as his reward.

It is striking to me that as explicitly as the Bible speaks of such earthly rewards real Christians throughout the ages have always intuitively understood that the Lord was not promising to make them rich. They knew that loyalty to Jesus could just as well mean an early death as a long life. They knew that they might suffer all manner of deprivation because of their identification with Jesus rather than the accumulation of houses and lands. But none ever thought that he or she had out-given the Lord or that he had not lavished rewards upon them in return for their faithfulness to him.

You may remember the supremely beautiful words that Archibald Campbell, the earl of Argyle and a Covenanter, wrote to his daughter on the morning of his execution in Edinburgh in the 1680’s.

“What shall I say in this great day of the Lord, wherein in the midst of a cloud, I have found a fair sunshine. I can wish no more for you, but that the Lord may comfort you, and shine upon you as He does upon me, and give you that same sense of his love in staying in the world, as I have in going out of it.”

Archibald Campbell didn’t live a long life like Job; he didn’t live to see his great, great grandchildren as Job did. But with heaven opening before him and the love of the Almighty filling his heart, the last thing he ever would have thought was that he had not received a very great reward for his faith in Jesus. Quite the contrary. He would have pitied Job for having to stay another seventy years out of heaven!

Or think of old Alan Cameron, the father of another Covenanter martyr, Richard Cameron, often called the “Lion of the Covenant.” When shown the hands that had been cut off his dead son and cruelly asked if he could identify them, old Cameron answered,

“I know them; I know them. They are my son’s, my own dear son’s. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.”

A loving father who can say that about the cruel murder of his son knew of rewards that the world knows nothing of! He didn’t have the rewards Job received, but he would have said that he shared all of Job’s greatest rewards: the love of God, the knowledge of eternal life, and the immense satisfaction of having shared in the sufferings of the King of Kings and the prospect of the world to come. If you think Job’s sheep and camels by the thousands count for more than that, then you do not know God or salvation, and you don’t know Job!

It is a perverse misuse of the Bible to suppose that anyone can tell someone else that if only he or she will give money to a church or a ministry the Lord will put a lot more money in his bank account, buy him a new car, or give him a new house. No faithful Christian, no honest reader of the Bible has ever thought such a thing. But that there is an entire world of wonderful things that come to us from God as reward for our faith and obedience no faithful Christian can deny. Whether it is blessing here — the presence of God in our hearts, a happy Christian marriage, a loving family with children who grow up to serve the Lord, the richness of Christian fellowship, or, like Job, many comforts and pleasures of a physical kind — or the prospect of blessing to come, it is blessing indeed! Why didn’t Job get 14 sons and six daughters instead of seven and three as before? Because with the addition of this second set of children, he now had 20! He would see those first children again! And what a reunion that would be! What a story their father would have to tell to his children from days gone by.

Think of the saintly Thomas Boston of the early 18th century Scottish church, a Job if there ever were one. In his later life his wife lost her mind. It was a time when there was much less help for people who had to support and care for folk in that condition. He had himself lost most of his teeth. Just eating a meal became high tragedy. Like so many of his contemporaries, his own health was not strong and often poor. Six of his children died in infancy or early childhood. He wrote to another parent bereaved of a little baby, “I traveled that gloomy road six times…” Job lost his children when they were adults and all at once. Boston lost his as babies one after another. Is there anything worse for a parent than to see his or her children die? And to fear through every pregnancy and after every birth that this child too would not survive. Time after time that was Thomas Boston’s lot. That sounds like Job, does it not? But, then, in another place, Boston says of his dead babies: “I shall see them all at the resurrection.” There is all the camels and oxen and houses and fields that the world contains, and much, much more!

The picture of Job after his time of suffering — full of years, of happy family life, and great prosperity — completes the lesson and the lesson would not be complete without it. We may have to suffer in this world for various reasons, but not for long. And, as Paul would later put it, the sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared to the joys that will follow. We must never forget this. Our life is already loaded down with good things because of the love of God and the blessing of the Lord Jesus. But, even more than that, we are shortly to enter a world so wonderful the Bible can describe it to us only in metaphors and other figures of speech. It is for its goodness and happiness, its beauty and perfection literally beyond our comprehension. That is why Job was given these wonderful gifts and why Jesus spoke of a hundred-fold of houses and fields and everything else. We can understand that! But the fact is those magnificent things are peanuts compared to what will soon be ours. How happy will we be in heaven? How delightful will be our life? Well, take a moment: think of what you would love to be and to have right now. What would make your life perfect right now? We actually use that word, don’t we? Perfect day; just perfect. No; I mean it. Take the exercise seriously. What would make your life perfect right now and make you happy beyond the power of words to describe? You probably will have a little bit of difficulty even figuring that out, but then, when you have an answer, double it and triple it. You can’t really imagine something that perfect! How can something be twice or three times perfect? But that is the life that awaits you if you remain faithful to the Lord Jesus through the trials and tribulations that must come. And it must be very important for us to know that, because the Bible is always making a point of reminding us of the fact!

James reminds us of the patience of Job, but patience is only a virtue if there is something to be gained by it! The day will come, sooner than you think, when you will open your eyes on a world washed clean. Imagine that moment, soon to come, when you awake on the other side, and feel yourself utterly free of sin, your heart completely pure, perfectly good from the inside out; you have become sinless and find yourself gazing upon a world beautiful beyond description. Then on top of all that you grasp in whatever way for the first time the glory of God and feel his love filling your heart and experience joy and ecstasy beyond your power to conceive. It will transcend your wildest dreams — that is why we read in the Bible about thousands of camels and oxen and a hundred-fold of houses and fields. It is a way for us to visualize the invisible and to describe the indescribable. And if you stop to think about it, the life of heaven is invariably described in that way in the Bible, that is by reference to things that are wonderfully beautiful, happy, and satisfying in this world. Why? Because we can understand such things. The marriage supper of the Lamb; heaven with its gates of pearl, the beautiful river flowing freely between the gorgeous trees bearing wonderful fruit. All of those images are taken from the best of our experience of human life. What you see and feel and experience then will utterly surpass everything you thought it might be, everything you hoped would be true of heaven. And when that day comes, if you think about your suffering at all, you will say to yourself as generations of saints before you have said:

“It were a well spent journey though seven deaths lay between!”

And that, you see, is the Bible’s final and irrefutable answer to the problem of suffering. For whatever reasons one may suffer in this, but however long and bitterly, such suffering, for those who love God and trust in Jesus Christ, is very soon to be forgotten, the memory of it overwhelmed by life in that world where everlasting joy rests on everyone’s head!