HALFWAY THROUGH HIS LONG SPEECH to Job, God gives him an opportunity to respond. Following a rhetorical question (“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?”), God says, “Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job 40:2).
It is vital for the understanding of this book that we do not misunderstand this challenge. God is not withdrawing his initial estimate of Job (Job 1:1, 8). Even under the most horrible barrage from Satan and from the three “miserable comforters,” Job has not weakened his fundamental integrity nor lost his basic loyalty to the Almighty. He has not followed the advice of his suffering wife to curse God and die; he has not followed the advice of his friends and simply assumed he was suffering for sins hitherto unrecognized and therefore turned to repentance. But he has come within a whisker of blaming God for his sufferings; or, better put, he has certainly insisted that he wants his day in court, that he wants to justify himself to God. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, Job has accused God of being unjust, or of being so removed that the just and the unjust seem to face the same ends. In his better moments Job steps back from the least restrained parts of his rhetoric, but he certainly feels, to say the least, that God owes him an explanation.
But now God is saying, in effect, that the person who wants to “contend” with God—to argue out some matter—must not begin by assuming that God is wrong or by accusing the Almighty of not getting things right. That has been the thrust of the rhetorical questions (chaps. 38-39): Job has neither the knowledge nor the power to be able to stand in judgment of God.
By this point Job has apparently absorbed the lesson: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more” (Job 40:4-5). But the question arises, Is Job really convinced that he was out of line? Does Job now really believe that, however righteous he may have been, he really does not have the right to talk to God that way? Or, devout man that he is, has he simply been cowed into quiescence?
God takes no chances: he presents Job with two more chapters (Job 40-41) of unanswerable rhetorical questions. Once more Job is told to “brace [himself] like a man”—and then God begins: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:8). It is as if God wants something more from Job, something that Job recognizes only in the last chapter of the drama.