Saturday of week 26 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Job 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-16

Today we have Job’s final response to Yahweh and the restoration of his fortunes. The reading is in two parts. In the first we have Job’s last words and they are his reply to the second speech of Yahweh (which we have not read in the liturgy).

They are a final statement of total acceptance of everything that God decides and of what happens to Job. “I know that you, Yahweh, are all-powerful: what you conceive, you can perform.” Job now finally sees that God and his purposes are supreme and are not to be questioned by him. He says an unconditional ‘Yes’ to his Lord.

Job regrets that, because of his limitations, he had “obscured [God’s] designs with [his] empty-headed words”. He has been talking about things he did not really understand. But now he has seen with his own eyes. This is not strictly speaking an actual vision of God but rather a graced insight into the nature of God. Previously, Job had very conventional ideas about God, mainly derived from others. But now he has had a direct experience of God’s mystery and submits totally to the Almighty. His questions have not really been answered but he now understands that he cannot question what happens under God and that there are deeper meanings to the realities of suffering and death. He can now accept that his suffering, pain and loss are not incompatible with the wisdom and power of God.

So, in his very last words, he expresses deep regret for all the things he has said, especially his complaints against God for what he has experienced. “I retract all I have said” by way of complaints against God, he says, “and in dust and ashes I repent”.

The second part is the final paragraph in the book and (unlike the dialogues) is in prose form. The contest between God and Satan is over. Job has not cursed God and has come triumphantly through the most painful trials. Comments the NIV Bible:

The cosmic contest with the accuser is now over, and Job is restored. No longer is there a reason for Job to experience suffering – unless he was sinful and deserved it, which is not the case. God does not allow us to suffer for no reason, and even though the reason may be hidden in the mystery of his divine purpose – never for us to know in this life – we must trust in him as the God who does only what is right.

Job’s fortunes are now restored; he gains back even more than he lost. The number of animals is twice as many as he had before. His seven (perfect number) sons and three daughters replace the children he lost in the hurricane.

We do not know anything about the boys but we are told the names of the three daughters – Jemimah, which means “dove”; Keziah (Cassia) which means “cinnamon”; and Keren-Happuch (“Mascara” in the Jerusalem Bible) which means “container of antimony”. Antimony was a much-desired form of eyeshadow. The girls were all outstanding in beauty and, contrary to normal custom, would receive the same inheritance rights as their brothers – an indication of Job’s great wealth. Normally daughters would only inherit if there were no sons.

Finally, Job, in the tradition of the true biblical patriarch, lived to be 140 years old and saw his descendants to the fourth generation.

The Greek text of the book has two additions to the end of the text (which do not appear in our reading). The first indicates that, from very early on, Job was thought to contain the idea of resurrection after death. “It is written that he will rise again with those whom the Lord will raise up.” The second tells us that Job lived “in the land of Ausitis on the borders of Idumaea and Arabia” and identifies Ausitis with Jobab, a king mentioned in Genesis (36:33).

The epilogue, in a way, seems to contradict the teaching of the dialogues which challenge the conventional idea that the good are rewarded and the evil punished in this life. Rather the lesson is that there is no relationship between God’s wisdom and the experiences that we have in life.

Material blessings are not a guarantee of personal virtue any more than material deprivation or sickness are punishments for sin. As St Paul will say later, “Everything works together for the good of those who love God.” Paul never saw his own sufferings and hardships as a punishment from God but rather as an opportunity and a grace to share somehow in the sufferings of the Jesus his Lord.

These ideas, of course, would not come until later. The sufferings of Job are seen primarily by the biblical author as a test of Job’s virtue. Once he has passed the test, there is now every reason for his wealth to be returned to him. The idea of wealth as a concrete sign of God’s blessing has not been altogether abandoned. This notion will be radically changed when, to the astonishment of his disciples, Jesus says that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom where the “poor in spirit” will be among the blessed.

For us, God’s blessings are seen not in our material possessions but in internal blessings like inner consolation, joy, peace and shared fellowship.

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