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Updated: Sep 29, 2022

This is not the prayer of someone gushing that they are #blessed!

A watercolor painting of a person in prayer with their hands clasped near their face
[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean

Job 42:1-6

August 21, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright We come to the end of our series on the “great” prayers of the Old Testament and find, as we have before, that each prayer only makes sense if you know the context. This is not the prayer of someone gushing that they are #blessed! Or someone representing a group of people. Or a piece from an early prayer book for use in worship liturgy. Instead, it reflects Job’s real, individual, not-suitable-for-children experience. Only Job could have prayed it. Only Job or someone else who has suffered, and wrestled with God, and tried to cling to faith, when most would have thrown in the towel. Sound familiar?


How did we get here? Job is introduced as a man who is “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” He was “the greatest man of the people of the east” with seven sons and three daughters and hundreds of livestock and servants which signified he was very wealthy! Most would have expected him to spend his whole life on easy street, not “in sorrow’s kitchen, [licking] out all the pots,” as Zora Neale Houston once memorably put it. But there is some doubt his faith would hold up in the face of adversity, and as the tale is told, that leads to a bet between ha-satan (the accuser) and God. Ha-satan, who is presented more like a prosecuting attorney than a devil, asks, “What would happen if Job lost everything? Would he still be a spunky, sparkly, praiser of God? Or is his faith merely due to sunny days and significant wealth?” Just like that the listener is hooked! When Job loses everything, his friends come to sit with him. The amiable silence is comforting for a while. After all, what is there to say? But eventually they begin to spout conventional wisdom: just as his blessings had been a sign of God’s favor, this current situation must be a sign of God’s punishment for sin. Fortunately, the solution is simple: confess and be forgiven! But Job bristles. He maintains that he is innocent … and demands a face to face with God, an opportunity to defend himself, an opening to sort things out, a chance to be vindicated! The tension builds! The listener wants to know whether this showdown will occur … and to be a fly on the wall if it does! Will God come clean about the bet? Will Job make his case? Will the Almighty Judge take offense? Will Job survive this confrontation? When God finally answers Job, the narrator refers to it as a whirlwind! God’s breath is like a tornado tearing and bending, devastating and destroying, impressive in its force and power! God asks Job what right he has to question God’s actions, since Job wasn’t around when all the heavy lifting of creation was done or the tough decisions were made. Even now, he isn’t up to the necessary work of sustaining the world. Ironically, God dismisses him as a blowhard! Job, who has been yapping at God from his ash-heap suddenly goes silent. How do you respond when everything you thought you knew has been blown off its foundation and scattered over three counties? How do you respond when the God who earned a reputation for raw, violent, deadly power during the Exodus stands toe to toe with you, kicks dirt on your shoes, and screams at you while spittle splashes your face? What do you say back?


I think Job heard something in God’s tour de force that straightened his spine! “Look at Behemoth,” God says, “which I made just as I made you.”[2] I think God is doing more here than reminding Job that he owes his existence to God, just like any crow or cow or cornfield. I think God is comparing Job to the powerful and untamed Behemoth. Job is like a bull in a theological china shop and I think God admires Job’s feistiness! Elie Wiesel once cited a Jewish legend in which God points out that the difference between a group of pure and impure people is that the pure ones had protested. God says that the others should have protested: “against Me, against Man, against everything wrong. Because protest in itself contains a spark of truth, a spark of holiness, a spark of God.”[3] I think God loves that Job protested!


Having heard what God said about Behemoth … and him, Job dares to pray: He says what he has known all along – that God can do all things and God’s will cannot be thwarted. He admits that God was right – he had talked about God without knowing the whole truth or really dipping his toe in awe. But now he has seen with his own eyes what had only been whispered rumor – the God who creates and sustains all life wishes to be in active relationship with it! Therefore … What Job says in conclusion is best translated by the Jewish Publication Society “Therefore, I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.” Job is but dust and ashes, and he has much to learn, but he’s a willing conversation partner. He will keep praising God, keep protesting when he sees wrong, keep pushing the envelope. If Wiesel is right, we are all called to pray prayers that are sparked by truth and holiness; that are ultimately sparked by God! May we never be silenced! Amen

[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean [2] See Job 40:15 [3] From his book, Legends of Our Time, page 130
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