by Paul Vallee


The book of Job is very interesting in that we often look to Job as a book primarily dealing with suffering, but the conclusion to the book of Job can broaden our understanding. One of the keys to understanding the entire book is developing a correct hermeneutic regarding interpreting God’s charge against Job’s three friends. In what sense are the lengthy discourses by Job’s friends inaccurate regarding their understanding of God? In the repentance of Job found in chapter 42, is Job succumbing to ‘retribution theology’ and its prescription to his condition? Finally, in the restoration of Job, is God being forced to restore to Job all that he has lost? In other words, is God supporting a predetermined response to Job’s repentance?

How are we to interpret the discourses of Job’s three friends, in light of God’s evaluation of what they had spoken regarding the ways of God to Job? “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”1 What was it that they had spoken about God that wasn’t right? They had falsely charged Job of sin based on an incorrect understanding of the nature and ways of God.

God designates the friends’ misleading speech as folly. This is not simply thoughtless, uninformed, or frivolous speech. ‘Folly’ in the OT always has a wilful edge to it, rejecting the purposes of God-thus the fool is culpable for failure to fear God rightly and follow his path. It seems here, therefore, that the friends fall under the judgment of sin because they promulgate a distorted worldview and use that view to condemn innocent sufferers as sinful persons.2

This suggests that a danger does exist for people who profess a faith in God, but hold to a distorted notion of God and His ways. Like Job’s friends such people do need to be corrected, repent and experience a genuine restoration. Keil and Delitzsch, contend that in their haste to justify God, Job’s friends deviate from speaking the truth about Job.

In order that they may only maintain the justice of God, they have condemned Job against their better knowledge and conscience; therefore they have abandoned truth in favour of the justice of God, -a defence which, as Job has told the friends, God abhors. …The ‘correct’ in Job’s speeches consists of his having denied that affliction is always a punishment for sin, and in his holding fast the consciousness of his innocence, without suffering himself to be persuaded of the opposite. That denial was correct; and this truthfulness was more precious to God than the untruthfulness of the friends, who were zealous for the honour of God.3

An understanding of Retribution Theology

The three friends of Job reflected a theological understanding of the time, regarding the way God related to humanity. The essence of the theological position of Job and his three friends was more of a cause and effect relationship of human behaviour. To them obedience to God’s word implied a certain guaranteed response by God. If a person obeyed God’s word and did His will then they could expect certain blessings to flow into their lives: namely reputation, health, wealth, long life and the promise of children. Does this sound familiar?

What distressed Job is that God did not act according to expectation. The three friends made the assumption that if one is walking with God in integrity then the effects of covenant promise; namely blessings, would be forthcoming. However, since Job is experiencing the loss of blessings and is now experiencing the effects of covenant disobedience; namely, the loss of wealth, children, reputation, and health; then the logical conclusion is that Job had sinned. Based on their evaluation of the situation, the three friends are calling Job to repent of his sin in order to once again experience God’s blessings. The implication is that this will bring about restoration in his life. The intensification of their position is seen throughout their discourses as they are calling Job to repentance. Meanwhile, Job maintains his innocence from knowingly sinning against God. It’s this accusation against Job, formulated out of a wrong understanding as to the nature and dealings of God with humanity and applying it to every situation, that God is stating that Job’s three friends are not speaking what is right. Job realizes from his experience that his suffering is not a result of sin. Job deeply feels that God is being unjust in the treatment he is receiving. This is reflected in God’s speech to Job. “Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”4 This experience of suffering moves Job away from retribution theology. Retribution theology simply teaches that suffering is a result of sin. What we are learning from the book of Job is something of the mystery of God and His ways. God does desire for His creation to submit in humble obedience to His words and ways, which can lead to blessing. However, this does not guarantee a life without struggle, difficulty, sorrow or pain. So, what Job is saying about God is correct.

The term ‘right’ is the Hebrew nekonah,’ “established as correct” and not tsaddiq, ‘righteous.’ This rebuke of the friends over against my servant Job does not amount to a subtle reverse declaration of Job’s righteousness. It is not the public vindication of his innocent suffering Job sought, but a confirmation that the view of God Job articulated during the dialogue is an accurate portrayal of divine reality, while ‘the friends’ words lead astray. Thus we must always be careful how we use the friends’ words to inform our worldview, since they have been declared inaccurate representations of God.”5

Therefore, the theme of the book of Job is not about suffering as promoted by many, but deals with who the wise person really is. It is the person who trusts God, even though they cannot understand what is occurring in their lives. The prologue opens with a dialogue in the throne room of God regarding the nature of Job’s piety. The accuser is trying to cause God to destroy Job through the various tests of faith designed to reveal the nature of Job’s piety. Is Job serving God for gain?

The book of Job is a corrective to an overly optimistic view of life.  As canonical books, Job and Ecclesiastes, help to curb the overly optimistic view of life that one can develop from the book of Proverbs. Each book of the Canon helps the readers develop a proper understanding as to both the nature of God and the nature of human experience. In the book of Job we discover an innocent sufferer trying to come to grips with the reasons for the suffering that he is experiencing. Why is God allowing this to occur? Job’s response is one of great faith, as Job continues to look to God for hope and answers to his pain. Even though Job laments, he does not curse God (does not forsake the Lord). If the book of Job has a later date of composition it’s possible that the teaching of Proverbs, which generally presents an optimistic view of life, are then tempered through the experience of Job and the preacher in Ecclesiastes. The following proverb is typical of the kind of expressions that the writers communicate in the book of Proverbs. “No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.”6 However, that this may be a general truism, there are exceptions.

This typical proverbial statement emphatically affirms that, in general, things go better for the righteous than for the wicked. The balance to this truth is found in Ecclesiastes, where the author (perhaps also Solomon) observed that in a fallen world righteous people sometimes suffer difficulty because of injustice. Job also suffered because of his righteousness. Job’s friends failed to understand the intention and limits of proverbial statements like this and inflicted great pain on their friend.”7

Jesus had to apply this corrective in John 9. The strong covenantal blessings and curses that are communicated through Moses do lend themselves to retributive theology. This is seen even into New Testament times, when Jesus is asked by his own disciples about the cause of blindness that originates from birth. “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’8 Jesus is explaining that there are other reasons for God to allow suffering to come into a person’s life. In John 9, we discover that the purpose is for God’s work to be displayed in that person’s life via a miracle that will testify both to the man and the people of that time, the nature of Jesus Christ. This was a prophetic act that was a declaration of his true nature as the Messiah. This miracle later recorded by John is one of the signs to point out the true nature of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, and therefore has impacted the lives of people for all ages.

It is critical that a correct understanding of God’s assessment of Job’s friends and Job is made. How we interpret Job 42:7-8 will either give us a false and simplistic view of God, which is retributive and mechanistic, or a willingness to live with a confident trust in the Sovereignty of God over life, which will include the sense of mystery. Therefore, a correct understanding or interpretation is critical in correcting a false and simplistic view of suffering as a result of sin. Like Job, we need to understand that God’s thoughts and ways are beyond our ability to fully understand (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9) and that in the midst of it all we can trust HIM because He is good, no matter what our circumstances or the people around us may tell us.

Dr. Paul Vallee is the Senior Pastor of Living Stones Church and he and his church are hosting this year’s International Convention.  This was summarized from a research paper by Dr. Paul Vallee. Click Here  for the complete paper exploring the conclusion of the book of Job. 

1 Job 42:7 New International Version of the Bible.

2 Gerald Wilson, Job, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, Ma: Hendrickson Publishers, 207), 473.

3 Keil & Delitzsch, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Vol. 4, Commentary on the Old Testament, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 702.

4 Job 40:6-8 New International Version of the Bible.

5 Gerald Wilson, Job, 472.

6 Proverbs 12:21 New International Version of the Bible.

7 Edward M. Curtis, “Introduction and Notes on Proverbs”, The Apologetics Study Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 936.

8 John 9:1-3 New International Version of the Bible.

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