Connections 10.28.2018: Risky Business

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

I have long wished that the book of Job ended at 42:6. I recognize that would be somewhat unsatisfying, as it would leave Job in his situation of great loss. But it would also leave him having experienced God personally without being materially rewarded for his faithfulness, which seems to align better with the question posed by his suffering, which is whether or not he will remain faithful to God without being obviously blessed for it.

I think it is important to acknowledge that during times when God is all we have, God is enough.

Another reason I have wished that the book of Job ended at 42:6 is that the section that follows (42:7-17) sounds a little like “and they lived happily ever after.” Job gets it all back, and then some. He becomes twice as wealthy as he was before, and he has the same number of children—seven sons and three daughters—as he lost. It’s as if he gets rewarded for his faithfulness, which seems to run counter to a main theme of the book, which is that Job maintains his integrity despite having lost everything.

Our experience teaches us that we often don’t get it back after we lose it.

But Job didn’t really get everything back either. Oh, he got twice as many possessions as he had before, but despite what our culture seems to promote, being fabulously rich isn’t a great improvement over being just plain rich (disclaimer: this seems true to me; I have no personal experience in this area). He didn’t get the same animals back, but they were livestock and not pets, so we can safely assume he had no personal attachment to them.

But the seven sons and three daughters Job had at the end weren’t the same ones he had at the beginning. Evidently he and his wife produced another family.

They started over. This takes courage.

In J.B., Archibald MacLeish’s 1958 dramatic retelling of the Job story, characters named Nickles and Mr. Zuss debate whether J.B. (the Job character) will indeed start again after all he’s been through. Mr. Zuss says he will. Nickles says he won’t.

Nickles insists, “Live his life again?—Not even the most ignorant, obstinate, stupid or degraded man this filthy planet ever farrowed, offered the opportunity to live his bodily life twice over, would accept it—least of all Job…!”

He continues, “It can’t be borne twice over! Can’t be!”

Mr. Zuss replies, “It is though. Time and again it is—every blessed generation…”

Maybe we should take both possible endings of the book of Job seriously. Sometimes we don’t get things back. More significantly, we often don’t get people back. When that happens, God is enough. It’s risky business to accept this reality. But sometimes we must.

On the other hand, we often have and should take advantage of the opportunity to start over and to try again. When that happens, we exercise the courage to do so. It’s risky business to do so. But sometimes we should.

Whether we find ourselves alone with God or alongside others with God, to keep living is risky business. Under God, we do what we need to do. We take the risk.

Either way, we take it by the grace of God.


1. In verses 2-3a and 4, Job quotes what God has said to him. Job then responds in verses 3b and 5. Why do you think Job does this?
2. Job says, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (v. 3b). Why do we sometimes claim to know more than we can possibly know?
3. Why is “seeing” God superior to hearing of God “by the hearing of the ear” (v. 5)? Why is it important that we move beyond knowing about God to knowing God? How do we do so?
4. What do you make of God’s restoring Job’s fortunes?
5. Why might the writer name Job’s daughters but not his sons?

Reference Shelf

(1) The verb NRSV translates as “despise myself”…means “reject” or “recant.” It is ordinarily active, not reflexive, and is almost always followed by a direct object. In 42:6 there is no clearly identified object, although we may reasonably assume that an object is implied. Of the possible objects that have been proposed, the immediate context suggests that the best option is “my words.” The specific content of what may be included in Job’s “words” is open to debate, but his previous concession that he has spoken about “things too wonderful for me” (42:3) makes it plausible that Job refers to God’s wondrous “design” (cf. 38:2) for creation. Before God addressed him directly, Job had cursed God’s design for the world as being inimical and meaningless for innocent sufferers like him (Job 3). God has now countered with a vision of creation teeming with a variety of intricately balanced life forces, including wild creatures Job had presumed were beyond the realm of God’s care and concern. In response to this revelation, Job may be understood to recant his limited understanding of creation’s design and to acknowledge that he now sees a world that requires him to reassess his place within it.

(2) An initial clue that Job is now ready to reassess his previous understanding occurs in the first half of the phrase, which NRSV translates “repent in dust and ashes.” The collocation…is more properly translated “repent concerning dust and ashes.” Whereas NRSV suggests that Job engages in the traditional ritual of gesturing forth sorrow for wrongdoing by sitting in dust (and ashes), the words Job speaks indicate instead that he “repents” or “changes his mind” about what “dust and ashes” now means for him. Job’s change of mind invites us to understand that God’s revelation has persuaded him to give up lamentation for some other (as yet unclear) response that is more congruent with what God desires.

(3) A second and still more important clue to Job’s change of mind is the phrase “dust and ashes.” The phrase…occurs only three times in the Old Testament: Genesis 18:27; Job 30:19; and Job 42:6. In each case it signifies something about the human condition in relation to God. In Job 30:19, Job laments that God has thrown him into the “mire”…of human mortality, where human existence is defined as “dust and ashes.” In the context of his suffering, Job understands this to mean that he exemplifies the way afflicted human beings are banished from society (30:1-8), then scorned and terrorized by their peers (30:9-15) and by God (30:16-23). His experience leads him to conclude that as “dust and ashes” he has been consigned to live in a world where he cries out to a cruel God who does not answer (30:20-21). In Genesis 18:27, the phrase “dust and ashes” applies to Abraham. In the context of arguing with God about matters of justice, Abraham acknowledges that he is a mere creature of “dust and ashes” who has entered into dangerous territory. Abraham’s recognition of his status before God is similar to Job’s in 30:19, with one important exception: Abraham persists with his questions, and God answers. Indeed, the Hebrew text of Genesis 18:22, without the scribal correction, invites a still more revealing understanding of God’s regard for this creaturely interrogator. It says, “YHWH remained standing before Abraham.” The image suggests that God, the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), stands waiting to hear what “dust and ashes” will say on the subject of divine justice. As E. Ben Zvi has discerned, this picture of Creator and creature locked in dialogue over matters of mutual concern provides a glimpse of how the creaturely pursuit of justice enacts what it means to be made in the image of God: “The text underscores the notion that when the ideal teacher defends the universal order and confronts God with the standards by which God ought to judge the world, he is in fact fulfilling the role God has chosen for him to fulfill.

Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 694-97.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.


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