Our best response to God is repentance and dependence.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Job 42:1-11
In our final lesson in Job, Job humbles himself before God, and God both vindicates and restores him. We do not find the clean answers we wanted, and that is to remind us of our need to be continuously dependent on God and trust Him with all outcomes. This is about maintaining our relationship with God when we face adversity in our lives.
I had heard reports about you, but now my eyes have seen you. Job 42:5
How About a Storytelling Contest?
We come to the end of the book of Job this week, and readers are generally surprised to see that Job has a "happy ending". It's so happy that you wonder if modern fairy tales have been based on it (excluding the long existential debates). [Job loses everything. Job doubts God. God confronts Job. Job gets everything he hoped for.]
So, why not challenge your group to a storytelling contest? Creative writing classes for all ages have "prompts" (for example, here are some flashcards for sale on twinkl):
I forgot how much fun prompts were. Pick a story beginning and a story ending, and have a couple of volunteers tell the story. A fun twist to this is to have each person in your group contribute one sentence, and you go around the circle making up a story as you go. And somehow, the last person has to be able to get to your chosen story ending.
Variation: What Story Do You Want to Tell?
Another way to do this is to come up with a list of "story beginnings" (like those in the top picture) and "story endings" (like those in the bottom picture), and then let everybody pick a set (and it's fine if multiple people pick the same ones). Here's where things get introspective -- have them pick for two scenarios:
How you feel like your day/year/life is going, and
How you want your day/year/life to go.
This will make you think!
I'll be honest -- I want "and they lived happily ever after". It just sounds great. It also sounds completely make-believe. If anyone in your group is like me in that way, have them hang on to that thought. The Bible has something to say to us.
Your Favorite Fairy Tale Ending
"And They Lived Happily Ever After"
Let's say that you're not the creative type. No problem. You can set the same tone by talking about your favorite stories that other people have written. Above, I mentioned how much I love the idea of a "happily ever after" storybook ending. And apparently I'm not alone. That is the foundation of the Disney hegemony -- all of their greatest fairytale movies end this way. Why? Because that's what people wanted to see in the 40s and 50s and 60s. And 70s and 80s and 90s. (I think we still want that today. Disney calls their evening fireworks show "Happily Ever After". And there's a Happily Ever After Princess Parties service in Augusta. I just think we're more jaded today than ever before.) So, what's your favorite "happily ever after" story?
For me, just as far as a masterpiece of storytelling, it has to be Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. Like, seriously, the one literally has a wicked stepmother and a prince. And a fairy godmother. And talking mice (including a mouse named Gus). Can anyone top that? And the other has a curse, a countdown, a library, and Angela Lansbury as a teapot. And "Be Our Guest". That's pretty great.
To be true to my roots, I also have to throw The Princess Bride into the mix. After all, I've already mentioned it as we've gone through Job. I think that was the first movie I saw in which I thought that "happily ever after" endings were cool. That's one of my favorite childhood movies. And Fred Savage is basically my age.
Modern fairy tales all share a basic structure. First, we meet a good character who is in a bad way, and a bad character who is antagonizing/afflicting the good character. Then, the good character is given some sort of impossible task that can only be overcome with creativity, persistence, and magical help. Finally, the good character is rewarded and lives happily ever after. (The modern YA version of fairy tales is mostly similar -- "young person lives in difficult times, young person discovers she has special powers, young person trains in those powers, young person gets involves in a love triangle, young person saves the world".)
The stories we resonate with the most are the ones in which the hero really has suffered, and the situation really does look bleak. They give us hope for our worst moments.
And I'm sure you know where I'm going with this -- we don't need a fairy tale to give us hope! Yes, Job has a happy ending. But what we have in Jesus is so much more. (But more on this below.)
If You're Too Cynical for Fairytales
Let's say that you just don't like fairy tales because they're too unbelievable and nothing ever works out that way. No problem. Pick what you think might be everyone's favorite fairy tale, and then research how the original story ended. For example, this webpage lists not only 10 Disney classics but also how those endings were changed from their source material. (Let's just say that the original Snow White is not a children's story. Or Cinderella. Or The Little Mermaid.)
What would be the point of this? Just to rain on everyone's parade. #fairytalesaregrimm
Bonus Idea: A COVID Retrospective
One of the lesson contributors mentioned this, and it really made me think. He said that he was working on this lesson in March 2020, as the shutdowns were beginning. Knowing that no one would be reading the lesson until summer 2021, he asked himself these questions: "Will the pandemic still be raging out of control in a year's time, or will it basically be a thing of the past? Will safe and effective vaccines be discovered and utilized? Will businesses reopen and the national economy rebound?" Those were questions that all of us asked in March 2020 (and the fact that those answers are still kind of up in the air floors me). Knowing what you know today, what would you tell your 2020 self who was worried about the future?
That's not dissimilar to Job's situation (although the circumstances are quite different!). Would Job's experience have been significantly altered if his future self could tell him what was going to happen in the end? I'm not sure. It certainly wouldn't take away the pain and sorrow.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that knowing the future wouldn't change my need for God in the least. I actually think that I would need to rely more on God! If I knew in March 2020 that in July 2021 we would still be struggling with COVID, I think that that would be very discouraging.
God tells us what we need to know each day. He doesn't burden us with details about the future that we can't understand or handle. He asks us to trust that He is guiding the future to its proper end, and we simply need to walk with Him.
So -- there were several ideas for you. Maybe one of them will work!
This Week's Big Idea: Happy Endings in the Bible
Here's a challenge for you: think of every "happy ending" in the Bible (and it's got to be in this life -- we're not talking about eternity yet).
I can think of a few -- very few. Jacob (and his immediate family), Joshua, Esther and Ruth. That's all I can think of. There are plenty of people in the Bible that we aren't told about the end of their story -- like Caleb, and Deborah, and Shadrach, and Daniel, and Jonah. They might have had "happy endings", but we don't know. (Btw, please let me know if you thought of more examples!)
Most of the people in the Bible have endings like Gideon, and Eli, and David, and Nehemiah, and Jeremiah, and John the Baptist, and Stephen, and James.
Why is that?
First, because this life is not a fairy tale. What does "happily ever after" even mean? Did they just wake up every day on the set of "That's How You Know" from Enchanted? (Confession: I love that scene.) Did they never get old or sick? Did they never face a speck of adversity or get any kind of bad news? Probably not.
And because life is not a fairy tale, the Bible does not present life like a fairy tale.
But more importantly, this life isn't our whole story! This life is just the beginning. And when we're able to step back and take an eternal perspective, we realize that our life -- our full life -- has the ultimate happy ending (better than any fairy tale). Revelation 21:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Really -- think about that. Is that not the ultimate happy ending? That's not "and they lived happily ever after" but "and they lived joyfully with God for all eternity". Take that, fairy tale!
And what does it take to experience that ending? Trusting in Jesus. That's it. Consider how the standard fairy tale structure is improved by real life. You are the protagonist of your story. Maybe you can call the antagonist Satan, or maybe just sin in general. You are given the impossible task of making yourself right with God. But there's no amount of creativity or magic that will overcome your task. Rather, it takes God the Son Himself doing for you what you could not. Trusting in Him for salvation doesn't make all of your problems go away, but it makes your biggest problem go away. And then the struggles we face in this life have meaning because we're trying to help more people understand what Jesus has done for them. And then one day, when our mortal body runs its course, we experience a joy that overpowers any sorrow we could have ever experienced.
And that's a promise made to every Christian. We don't need a "fairy tale ending" in this life because what God has prepared for us in eternity will make our wildest dreams seem a disappointment.
Where We Are in Job
Well, we're at the end. Hurrah!
So, after God confronts Job with Job's baseless accusations (chs. 40-41), Job simply concedes and confesses, and that's what we're covering in our passage this week. The epilogue continues with some more details about Job's restoration --
God has defended Job to Job's friends by twice calling him "My servant Job";
God restores Job's property twofold (exactly);
God gives Job 10 more children (7 boys and 3 girls), same as before.
There is plenty of symbolism in the numbers. (See the bottom of the page for more.)
Part 1: Admit (Job 42:1-6)
Then Job replied to the Lord: 2 I know that you can do anything and no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, “Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?” Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wondrous for me to know. 4 You said, “Listen now, and I will speak. When I question you, you will inform me.” 5 I had heard reports about you, but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore, I reject my words and am sorry for them; I am dust and ashes.
Like last week, I don't have a whole lot to add about the text. These words mean what you think they mean, and the Leader Guide gives plenty of commentary.
This is the covenant name of God ("Lord" in small caps = "Yahweh"). Job understood that he was having a conversation with God Almighty.
Search for the word "know" in Job. It occurs 60+ times, depending on the translation you use! It's the key to the "problem". People think they know a whole lot, but only God knows for certain. Specifically, look at what Job says he "knows". (For example, "I know you will not acquit me." (9:28) "I know that I am right." (13:18) etc.) The NIV translates Job 38:2/42:3 as "Who is it that obscures my plans without knowledge?" God says "know" 7 times in His speech ("Do you know where darkness lives" (38:19), "Do you know the laws of heaven?" (38:33), "Do you know when mountain goats give birth?" (39:1), etc.) What Job thought he knew, he didn't really know.
You might have had the same reaction to these verses that I did: "Didn't Job know the Lord already? Wasn't he a priest for the Lord in his family?" That's viewing these things through a New Testament lens. Today, when people trust in Jesus for salvation, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us in a powerful way. We have a personal experience and relationship with God. Job didn't have that in his day.
But let's push that just a little further. Don't you think that when you actually meet Jesus face-to-face that it will take your breath away? That it will exceed your every expectation? "Jesus, I thought I had you lifted high enough in my mind, but I was so wrong." No matter what Job thought he knew about God could not have prepared him for meeting God -- he may as well have not known anything about Him at all.
There's a second way we can look at this, one that we talk about a lot in our churches. How far away is salvation? It's the 15 inches between your head and your heart. A lot of people know about God, but not all of them really know God.
Take some time for some honest introspection. When you do finally meet God (and everybody will meet God one day), how do you think you will look back on your life? Will you wish you had taken God more seriously? Taken worship more seriously? Trusted God more?
That's where Job is here. "I thought I knew you, but now I realize that my beliefs were a cheap fraud compared with Your majesty. I repent of every way I sold You short." (Again, make sure to catch that -- Job is not repenting for some sin his friends accused him of; he is repenting of misunderstanding God.) His words are a beautiful callback to God's creation --
Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being. Gen 2:7
Compared with God, we are dust. Less than dust.
And yet, Job's words are profound -- yes, we are dust, but we are dust that the God of the universe Personally crafted into a human being that He loves. (Even cooler? Job probably didn't know that bit because Genesis hadn't been written yet.)
Part 2: Repent (Job 42:7-9)
7 After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. Now take seven bulls and seven rams, go to my servant Job, and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. Then my servant Job will pray for you. I will surely accept his prayer and not deal with you as your folly deserves. For you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” Then Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
This section is brilliant. First, poor Elihu. No one takes him seriously.
Second, even though God confronted Job in these chapters, Job's friends are not let off the hook. If you go back through that list of the uses of "know" in Job, this time look for all of the things that Job's friends "knew" ("Know then that God has chosen to overlook some of your iniquity." (11:6), etc.). Any time we speak wrongly about God, we can know (ha!) that God will confront us about it. If we misrepresent God to the world, that can impact a person's eternal destiny.
36 "I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt 12
Hearing God say "I am angry with you" has to cause your heart to just stop beating, right? I'm not sure I can think of a more terrifying thing to hear from God. (Memory lane: were you more scared of your parents when they spoke with a raised voice, or when they spoke very calmly?)
But, thank goodness, God gave them a way out. It points us forward to the sacrificial system God would give the Jews. The idea is that our sin should cost us something. We cannot "get away" with our sin in God's economy. Next week, when we start reading Ecclesiastes, we will talk about those situations when it looks like people are getting away with sin, but the truth is that God always knows.
And 7 bulls and 7 rams is a costly sacrifice! We don't see numbers like that anywhere else in the Old Testament (except Num 23, when Balak was trying to placate God).
Take a little bit of time to go back through what Job's three friends said. When you first read it, did you think it was "all that bad"? Now that you know how strongly God reacted against it, what do you think? What did you miss before? With the book's ending in mind, what was so "bad" about what they said?
Now -- about them having to ask Job to pray for them -- would God not listen to their prayer? Would God only listen to Job's prayer? That's not the point. Yes, it points us ahead to the role of the priest in the sacrificial system, but I think this is more about restoring their relationship with Job. By making Job the mediator, God was making it clear that Job was in fact right about himself. He was not being punished for sin. This would have completely vindicated Job in the eyes of his friends.
So, this section accomplishes two things: it vindicates Job, and it paints a picture of the sacrificial system (which itself paints a picture of Jesus).
There's one really neat Hebraism that we would miss in English. The phrase "accept his prayer" (used twice) literally means "lift up his face". It has a throne room context. When a citizen would petition a king, he would come in with his face down, maybe even on his knees. If the king regarded him favorably, he would "lift his face up" so they could talk face-to-face. That's what God has done with Job.
Aside: Intercessory Prayer
Let me extrapolate a bit. In Jesus, we are now the kingdom of priests, and so we can apply these verses of Job to ourselves. This passage reminds us of the value of intercessory prayer.
We are commanded to pray for one another.
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 1 Tim 2:1
Even those who have wronged us, like Job's friends.
But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, Matt 5:44
Think about Job's contemporary, Abraham. He interceded on Sodom's behalf (Gen 18) and also on Abimelech's behalf (Gen 20).
The point is that intercession -- a prayer of intervention on behalf of another person -- is something commanded by God and heard by God.
We have talked about how we feel when our friends have betrayed us (like Job's). This is a good reminder that we're supposed to pray for those friends.
When we pray for somebody -- when we truly pray for them in the way God would have us pray for them -- our attitudes about them change. Don't forget that!
Part 3: Restored (Job 42:10-11)
10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and doubled his previous possessions. 11 All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to him and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the Lord had brought on him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold earring.
[The lesson doesn't go in depth into the restoration, and I'm fine with that. If we dwell too much on those details, we might start to regard the book as a fairy tale and forget that there was true pain and sorrow and doubt and anger.]
The first thing I notice is that Job's three friends are still called his friends. After everything that happened, Job still considered them his friends (as I've said, I believe that Job was directly responsible for the content of this book). There's a lesson there for all of us.
Then God restored his fortunes (the Hebrew literally means "God returned the captivity of Job", which has created a lot of debate -- general consensus is that God returned what Job had lost). By this, we should think of Job's health and family and houses. And God doubled his possessions, and by that, we should think of his flocks and herds.
I think that, outside of God's vindication, verse 11 was the most important outcome to Job. His family and friends came to him and comforted him.
So, first, WHERE WERE THESE PEOPLE BEFORE WHEN JOB NEEDED THEM? And, second, pay attention to the wording. They comforted him relative to the adversity/trouble the Lord brought on him. Yes, God spoke to Job. Yes, God vindicated Job against the charges of sin. But that didn't change the fact that God allowed these things to happen to Job.
[Aside: reckless speculation. Remember that at this point, Job probably didn't know anything about the conversation in heaven between God and Satan at the beginning of the book. And technically, even though Satan directly caused the calamity in Job's life, God still directly allowed those things to happen. So, God did indeed bring this adversity on Job.
Usually, we don't have clear answers like this. We don't know why certain things happened to us or to people we care about. And that begs the question -- how/when did Job learn about the conversation in heaven? (Indeed, that's one of the reasons why some skeptics consider this book a parable.) We just don't know. My reckless speculation is that after time, as Job's relationship with God grew, God eventually told him about those events. After all, they've already spoken, right? And at that point, God inspired Job to compile the events so that they could one day be included in the Old Testament.]
Job's relatives gave him gifts. Remember that coinage wouldn't have been a thing in Job's day. Silver and gold were highly valued. Gold was workable, and so it was common as jewelry for those who could afford it. I find it interesting that they expressed their consolation through tangible gifts. I guess we kind of do that today -- send meals, cards, memorial gifts. What do you think of these gifts of silver and gold to Job?
So, there you go! The book of Job! What do you think? What lessons did you take away? Did this help you understand the book better?
This final passage is all about relationships -- God's relationship with Job, Job's relationship with his friends, their relationship with God, and then we meet more family and friends. The book of Job is not about answering our questions why God allows bad things to happen in this world. It's about restoring and maintaining our relationship with God when those things happen. To me, that's so much more helpful.
Aside: God Restoring Our Fortunes
Those who teach the prosperity gospel believe that Job's experience is what God wants for all of us. Believe in Jesus and get rich.
But the Bible just doesn't teach that! Anywhere! Here's the passage that is most applicable to this topic (Matt 19):
27 Then Peter responded to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you. So what will there be for us?”
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, in the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields because of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Jesus is not talking about earthly riches here. He's talking about giving us a new family of faith -- the church. And then, in eternal life, we will receive glory beyond our imagination.
This has nothing to do with "doubling our possessions" when we follow Jesus. We rejoice that God comforted Job in this life. And God can do that with any person He wants! But we shouldn't walk into Christianity expecting that for ourselves.
Closing Thoughts: Numbers in the Bible
Let me throw a quick paragraph on this. Numbers often mean something beyond a simple count (especially when God was involved) in the Bible.
Three was the number of God -- Trinity
Four was the number of the earth -- the four directions, the "four elements"
Six was the number of man's work -- six days of working, incompleteness
Seven (3+4) was the number of completion
Ten was another number of completion -- ten fingers :)
Multiples of those were equally meaningful. Twelve (3*4), Forty (4*10), and so on.
I'm out of space, and that's not really the point of the lesson, but there's something else for you to think about as you read the Bible.