Job was a unique, blameless man facing extraordinary trials. But does the book of Job reveal a lesson about repentance that can apply to everyone?
The concluding chapter of the book of Job can leave readers scratching their heads. That’s because this book begins with God Himself twice describing Job as “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8; 2:3), yet concludes with Job declaring to God, “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Why would a blameless and upright man need to repent?
Sin, righteousness and repentance
To answer this question, we must first understand something about the main thrust of the book. Much of it is devoted to dialogue (chapters 3 through 31) between Job and his three friends, in which they continually insist that Job’s sufferings are the result of some hidden sin. Job vigorously denies their allegations.
The friends’ logic is really an assertion of the cultural understanding of the nature of sin and punishment. In their view, sin always brings on punishment, and righteousness always results in blessings. There was no room in their thinking for exceptions.
The same attitude has existed throughout history. Jesus addressed this misconception when He spoke of the horrible deaths of some Galileans at the hands of Pilate, and the tragic deaths of 18 people crushed by a tower in Siloam. Jesus said that the deaths of these people did not indicate that they were worse sinners than anyone else (Luke 13:1-5).
Then why did Job repent?
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.”Immediately preceding his declaration of repentance (Job 42:6), Job tells God what brought him to this point: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (verse 5). God had appeared to Job in a whirlwind (38:1), challenging Job to answer His questions.
This appearance was both an answer to prayer and a rebuke. Job did not deny that he had sinned at times, but he also knew he had no secret sins that would make him stand out in comparison to his friends. For that reason, he expressed a desire to meet with God face-to-face in a courtroom setting: “I would present my case before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments” (23:4).
As Job’s friends wore him down with their increasingly abusive accusations of sin, Job lashed out. In the process, he questioned God’s actions.
“As God lives, who has taken away my justice, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter . . . my lips will not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit. Far be it from me that I should say you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me” (27:2, 4-5).
This righteous man—beset with grief and unending physical pain, tormented by well-meaning but misguided friends—strayed and questioned God’s justice.
Turning the tables
From the whirlwind, God turned the tables on Job. Rather than allowing Job to question Him in a court of law, God demanded that Job answer Him: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (38:2-3).
Through the remainder of His speech, God didn’t directly answer Job’s questions about justice. Instead, He asked Job unanswerable questions about the workings of all that is in the world. Not only did Job see the power of God displayed within the whirlwind in front of him, but he came to appreciate the creative power of God in relation to the physical universe. Job was left speechless!
What Job beheld was a God even bigger than the God he had once held in his mind. Job saw the majesty and power of God, and in the light of this understanding, Job saw himself differently.
And this brings us to the main idea in Job’s confession. He had to see himself as God saw him, but he could not do so until he first saw God for who He is.
Who can know God?
If we cannot truly repent until we see God, then how can we see Him? Jesus gave us the answer. No one can “know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27).
We don’t have to see God in a whirlwind, as Job did, or in a burning bush, as Moses did. We see God when we immerse ourselves in the pages of His Bible, seeing His love, His character, His law and His expectations for us. And when we read about Jesus, we see God living in the flesh, setting an example for us to follow.
As we think about our lives, we should never compare ourselves with other people. Neither should we compare ourselves to a distorted and limited view of God.
Only when comparing himself to an enlarged understanding of the Almighty God could Job see how small he really was. We, too, should compare ourselves to the God revealed in Scripture. The more we come to understand who God is, and His purpose for us, the more we begin to see our own faults and sins.
Motivation for the future
Repentance begins with recognition of sin, based on understanding who we are in relation to who God is, but repentance requires more. It requires change. Seeing God through Christ’s words and example gives us direction for that change, and it should motivate us as well.
The apostle John, writing in a time of trial for the early Church, reminded his readers of this truth:
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).