In his most bitter moments, Job seeks God. “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!” (23:2-3). But what was Job’s motive? He wanted to argue his case; he wanted God to acknowledge the fact that Job, an innocent man, had been wronged (23:4-7). As we have seen, God responded to Job’s demand for an audience. But instead of Job questioning God, God questions him (38:3).
Twice during their encounter, God pauses and allows Job a response. The first time, Job states he has no words; he is speechless (40:4-5). The second time, Job issues a retraction of his challenge. I didn’t understand, says Job (42:3). I know now, it was not my place to question you, Lord (42:4).
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:5-6)
In the past, Job knew something about God. He knew enough to worship God, and to turn from evil. In fact, God acknowledged Job as his “servant” (Job 1:1, 5, 8). But then Job was plunged into suffering. In his anguish, Job accused God of being arbitrary, of acting as his enemy (9:22-24, 16:6-17). Job’s sense of estrangement from God intensified his pain. His understanding of God was inadequate in the face of his afflictions.
Instead of the confrontation that Job desired, God offers communion. He gives Job a more complete picture of himself: his joyful work as the creator and caretaker of the universe (chs. 38-39), his power over the forces of darkness in the world (chs. 40-41). If we saw the fullness of God’s glory, our puny human brains would explode (Exodus 33:20). Nonetheless, God opens Job’s eyes and reveals himself in a supernatural way.
And Job changes. Note that his knowledge of his own situation has not changed. He has no idea that Satan directly instigated his suffering. He has no idea that God called him “blameless” from the very beginning – thus drawing Satan’s attention. Instead, Job relinquishes his demand to know these things.
Before, Job hated his life (7:16, 10:1). Now, after seeing God, Job despises his sin. By accusing God of wrongdoing, Job was setting himself above God. He was at risk of becoming a “son of pride,” estranged from wisdom and aligned with the forces of evil (28:7-8, 41:34). As Elihu noted, one of the functions of suffering is repentance and growth: God “delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.” (36:15). After his long road of suffering, Job not only sees God, he sees himself clearly as well. And Job responds in humble repentance, in dust and ashes.
God does not leave Job in the dust. Instead, God rebukes the three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar: “My anger burns against you [Eliphaz] and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (41:7). While Job had much to learn, his heart continually desired a right relationship with God (29:1-5). In contrast, Job’s friends treated God as a business partner; they were interested only in God’s blessings, and not God himself. Their pat answers and rigid theology contributed to Job’s suffering, under the guise of comfort (21:34).
As God praises Job and expresses displeasure with Job’s friends, Job receives his long-awaited vindication.