Now My Eyes See
In 1653 A.D., the First Folio of Shakespeare's works published a play entitled All’s Well That Ends Well. The play tells the tragic story of the protagonist, Helena, who falls in love with Bertram, who is a deceitful, unfaithful, scurrilous knave. In the end, though, Bertram recognizes Helena’s remarkable faithfulness and pledges his undying love for her, and the two live happily ever after.
The title of Shakespeare’s play has become a proverb synonymous with happy endings. The proverb would serve well as a heading for the final chapter of the Book of Job or perhaps even as the title for the entire book.
However, the Book of Job is much more than a well-told tale of tragedy with a happy ending. It is a profound theological treatise on the precarious nature of human life in God’s beautiful, unpredictable, risky, free, wild, dangerous, and non-human centered world.
Job endures the loss of everything except his own life. Although he was an upright and blameless man who feared God and turned away from evil, that which he greatly feared befell him anyway. The Book of Job strikes the death knell to a crude theology of punishments and rewards. As it turns out, people do not always reap what they sow. Life is not that clear cut; it is not that neat and tidy. The final chapter of Job is filled with important and exceedingly helpful truths for living in this messy world.
Let us consider Job’s response to God first. “Then Job answered the Lord: 'I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted'"(vs. 1-2). Job begins with an expression of unrestrained admiration. “You, O God can do everything! None of your plans can be frustrated.”
God is the mysterious sovereign of the universe. As God says of himself in the prophet Isaiah, “I form light and create darkness. I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things" (Isa. 45:7). Truly, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31). This is the reason the Bible entreats us repeatedly saying, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Job stands before the all-knowing, everywhere present, and all-powerful God as a frail and finite creature. He knows his place. This is the proper posture of a creature who was formed from the dust and is destined to return to it.
But Job also grasps the awesome and normally benevolent providence of God. The world is not a chaotic and disordered place as Job had claimed in Chapter 9. God is not vindictive and obsessed with human sin as he argued in Chapter 7.
As one commentator observes, “God’s concern for the world (including humanity) is far more expansive than Job had ever imagined. Humanity has a place in that world, but humanity is not the center of creation or the sole recipient of God’s attention. God’s concern is for all of life, all of creation.” Through God’s questions and speeches, Job’s vision of God’s world and God’s providence is greatly expanded.
Job not only understands his place and God’s expansive providence, but he also acknowledges his limitations. "Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know" (vs. 3). The first part of verse 3 is a verbatim repetition of the question God posed to Job in Chapter 38:2. Francis Anderson makes this astute observation, “Job admits that he spoke out of limited knowledge, speaking too confidently about things too wonderful for him to understand.” But Anderson goes on to affirm, “This is the cry of a liberated man, not one who has been broken and humiliated.”
Job has gained knowledge of himself and God through his ordeal. He has gotten better and not bitter as a result. Job had heard about God before, but now he has experienced God more directly. “Now my eye sees you,” Job exults.
In verse six, Job expresses his deep regret for his foolish words, uttered hastily and in ignorance. The translation of this verse is notoriously difficult. “Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (vs. 6). This verse is particularly important to understanding the entire book. Job is not confessing to sinning against God. If this is what Job is admitting, the whole story would collapse. As Anderson notes, “Job would have capitulated at last to the friends’ insistent demand that he confess his sin.”
But unlike his three friends, God’s wrath is not kindled against Job. He is not required, as they are, to offer up burnt offerings for sin so he can be forgiven. He does not have to ask his friends to pray for him to be forgiven and restored.
A much better rendering of verse six is offered by the Jewish Publication Society’s (JPS) translation of the Old Testament. They render verse six this way, “Therefore, I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.” Job is simply acknowledging his place as a finite creature with all its attendant limitations.
Job’s friends, in contrast, did have something important to repent of. God charges them twice in verses seven and eight. “For you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has.” Or as the JPS translates it, “You have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has.”
For chapter after chapter, Job’s three friends have spoken about God ad nauseum, but they never spoke to God. In particular, they never spoke to God about their friend, pleading and imploring God with prayer and supplication to have mercy on Job. All they cared about was fixing Job’s theology when it was their own that was deficient. In contrast, Job never stopped speaking directly to God. In contrast, Job spoke the truth about God.
Despite their being miserable comforters, Job prayed for his friends, something they never did for him, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer on their behalf. Job’s prayer for them is forgiveness in action. Job is reminiscent of Abraham in Genesis 18, where the effective prayer of a righteous man turned away God’s anger.
And finally, we come to the restoration of Job’s fortunes. God restored Job’s possessions twofold. God also gave him another seven sons and three daughters. It is startling that after all his losses, Job is willing to start all over again.
He was horribly wounded by his ordeal. Even after God restored his fortunes twofold, and gave him ten more children, Job still needed the milk of human kindness. Verse eleven is particularly touching. “Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring" (vs. 11). Job needed continued sympathy and comfort, but he was a transformed man.
One tangible evidence of Job’s transformation is seen in how Job treated his three daughters. Job’s sons remain nameless, but Job gives his daughters names befitting their beauty. “He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-Happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters" (vs. 14a). "Jemimah" means “dove.” The dove was and is a symbol of gentleness, beauty, and peace. "Keziah" is an alternate spelling of "cassia," which was an expensive, rare, and fragrant oil. "Keren-Happuch" means “the horn of adornment,” the pinnacle of beauty.
Not only does Job give his daughters beautiful names, but Job gives them each an inheritance, something that was unheard of in the ancient world. “And their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers" (vs. 14b).
I like what one commentator says about this verse. “Job learns to govern his world the way God governs God’s world: with great delight in his children’s beauty and freedom. Like God, Job gives his children the freedom to be who they were created to be.”
Before Job’s ordeal, his children were a source of constant anxiety to him. Job feared that they might sin against God inadvertently, and so he offered burnt offerings continually to avert God’s wrath. Now his anxiety is gone, and his children are a source of pleasure and delight to him. In the end, Job dares to live again, and his whole world is transformed.
The Book of Job does not give a satisfactory answer to the problem of innocent suffering. I do not think it was intended to do so, quite the opposite. But the book does model several faithful responses to suffering.
The first response is to bow before the mysterious sovereign of the universe acknowledging our place and limitations and trusting in God’s normal benevolence toward all creation.
Second, we must speak honestly, directly, persistently, and even daringly to God in our sufferings. We must lament and cry out for mercy and help. And when our friends or family are suffering, we must come alongside them offering sympathy and comfort with tokens of our good will, praying fervently for God to be merciful to them and trusting that God is watching and will answer our entreaties in his time.
Third, we must be willing to risk living and loving again, even after experiencing great pain. We must dare to delight in the world, a wild, beautiful, and risky world.
And finally, we must walk by faith and not by sight. Job held on to his faith, and we can too.
All is not well, far from it. This wretched pandemic is raging. Economic hardship is everywhere. Social unrest is seething all around us. Fear and anxiety are pervasive. A terrible and dangerous polarization has gripped the nation. Add to all this, the personal woes of being a finite, fallible, and frail creature of dust.
All is not well, but by God’s power, all will end well. This is the promise we have from God himself. The Apostle Paul expresses our hope with unsurpassed beauty in Romans 8. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:28, 31b-35, 37-39). Only with God’s promise and God’s final action can we say, “All’s well that ends well.”
Thanks be to God for the Book of Job and its wisdom. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ who will yet cause us to triumph. Alleluia! Amen.