One of the great surprises of a difficult and surprising book comes in its final chapter, when YHWH states that Job spoke rightly about him, unlike Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (42:7). This is, of course, the exact opposite of how one might expect the Lord to evaluate the debate between Job and three friends. Job’s friends have repeatedly defended God’s perfect justice and given Job counsel which, at least some of the time, appears to be supported elsewhere in Scripture (compare Job 5:17 with Prov. 3:11–12). Much in contrast, Job accuses God of attacking him with terrifying violence (16:9–14) for no reason (9:17). Extrapolating outward from his tragedy as narrated in chs. 1–2, Job names God an amoral tyrant who destroys everyone regardless of moral character (9:22), who laughs at good people when they suffer disaster (v. 23), and deliberately frustrates the execution of justice in the world (v. 24; see further 12:13–25). In Job’s horrifying new vision of the universe, God is a moral monster, and his creation a kind of inner city ghetto, filled with the unanswered screams of the innocent (21:7–34).
In what possible sense could Job have spoken rightly about God? In considering this question, it should be admitted from the outset that the Lord’s vindication of Job’s speech over against that of the friends cannot imply total approval of everything Job has said—after all, although God never accuses Job of any sin, he does begin both of his speeches by issuing a clear challenge to Job (38:2–3, 40:7–8). Job responds in kind by admitting he spoke about wonders too great for him (42:3) and repenting in dust and ashes (42:6). Surely it is no accident that God vindicates Job before his three accusers only after Job makes this confession: as Rick Moore says, “Job says, ‘I have been wrong,’ whereupon God says, ‘You have been right.’” But since Job speaks more about himself than God in 42:1–6, God’s approval of Job’s speech cannot be referring only to Job’s final response in 42:1–6. The comparison with the friends implies that the Lord is referring to the debate in chapters 3–31—which only exacerbates the problem of his seeming approval of Job’s speech.