‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “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. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” 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.’
Job breaks his silence and turns to God again; but his tone is different and there’s a change in his attitude towards God. Job says nothing about his own situation or demands for justice. Instead he expresses contentment because he has come to a radically new understanding about God and God’s purposes.In this short speech Job reiterates what he had always believed about God’s power (v.2); but then he replays two things that God had spoken to him. Verse 3 is virtually identical to 38:2 and verse 4 repeats 38:3b and 40:7b. Job has had time to reflect on these words and now admits that he had been speaking in ignorance most of the time. The things of God are ‘too wonderful’ for Job, or any human being, to comprehend; and Job is even more aware of this since God has revealed so much more about the scale, complexity and mystery of creation. In his first response Job conceded his impotence but now he effectively retracts his charges against God as mistaken.
His final words explain what has prompted this change in him; it is his personal encounter with God. Previously he had ‘heard’ about God. In other words had learned the traditional doctrines, the deposit of faith that had been handed down and imagined that was all he needed to (or could) know about God. Now, though, he has ‘seen’ God: God has opened his eyes to realise that humans are not central to God’s design and that God’s concerns are far wider than our self-centred ones.
This leads him to respond in complete humility before God. The words ‘despise myself’ and ‘repent’ in verse 6 don’t quite convey what the Hebrew expresses. The first of these verbs most frequently means ‘reject’ and the second basically means ‘change one’s mind’. So we might read, ‘Therefore I reject (my misunderstandings?), and change my mind in humble submission’.
It is always valuable to increase our knowledge about God by study and debate; but it is when we engage with God that we begin to comprehend who is the source, the guide and the goal of all that has existence. In worship, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit we have access to the eternal God who, I believe, is waiting to engage with each of us at an ever deeper level; and to open our eyes. Who knows? What we see may cause us to change our minds!
Holy God, you have revealed your human face to us in Jesus and are present with us through the Spirit. Thank you for coming into our lives in ways that enable us to see something of your holiness. Help us to worship you with reverence, with eyes wide open, so that we might glimpse more of your grandeur and your loving concern for all creation, through our praises, our heartfelt prayers and our rigorous engagement with your word. And may we live by what we see,* in the name of Christ. Amen*Taken from verse 4 of George Caird’s hymn ‘Not far beyond the sea, nor high’, Rejoice & Sing 318.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Emmanuel URC in Cambridge.