“Wherefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6 KJV)
Do these words of Job indicate that Job was in error and guilty of sin? And, such sin as to warrant his superlative sufferings? Those commentators and interpreters who are intent on indicting the righteousness, faith, and patience of Job, insist that they do indicate such. It is argued that his "abhorrence" and his "repentance" are proofs of his theological errors and his unrighteous character. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
If the above words indicate Job's theological and moral errors, then the testimony of God himself must be set aside, who both, at the beginning and at the end, testify to Job's righteous character and conduct and of his theological correctness.
Wrote one interpreter:
"Verse six is actually very difficult to translate into English. The Hebrew can be translated in two distinct ways, and there is no clue from the text itself how the author intended it to be understood. It can be understood as a confession of one’s sin and one’s inferiority to God: “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (the traditional translation). But the Hebrew verb translated “I despise myself” can also be translated “I hate” or “I reject” (cf. Jer. 31:37; 33:26). And the Hebrew verb, nikhamti, can just as well be translated “rue” or “regret” as it can be translated “repent” (cf. Gen. 6:7; I Sam. 15:11; Jer. 4:28; 18:3). Therefore, the passage can be as legitimately translated “I reject and regret dust and ashes” as it can be translated “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes”.
Another writer sees the verse like this:
Upon this I reject/despise [something] and am sorry/comforted
For/Concerning/Upon the dust and ashes.
"The verb "reject" normally requires an object. Ancient manuscripts smudged easily, so accidental erasure is one possibility. A daydreaming copyist is another. At 34:33 and 36:5, "reject" is used without an object but the usage in those verses is pretty clearly not applicable here, though the coincidence of three abnormal usages in a row like that does give pause.
Also, the Hebrew for "am sorry for / am comforted concerning" is a standard verb-preposition compound. The King James reading is still possible, but Job would have to put a definite break between the verb and the preposition to get his non-standard meaning across, and he would end up sounding awkward and a little pompous: "I reject [something] and I repent --pause-- upon the dust and ashes."
Another writer said:
"I despise" must have an object, and the nearest one is "dust and ashes." The preposition "al (upon), following upon the verb nhm, "I repent" or "I am comforted," introduces the object of the repentance or the subject of the comfort. "Dust and ashes," then, does double duty as the accusative of both "I despise" ('em' as) and "I repent" (nhmty)." (pg. 376, "In turns of tempest: a reading of Job, with a translation," By Edwin Marshall Good)
Again, another writer, Robert Sutherland, says:
"Naham" can be translated "repent" but only in the loosest possible sense and a potentially misleading sense in this context. The New Oxford Annotated Edition of the NRSV adds an important editorial note to its translation of the word "naham" as "repent":
"Repent, a verb that is often used to indicate a change of mind on the Lord's part (Exodus 32: 14; Jeremiah 18: 8, 10). Here it does not mean repeantance for sin (see vv. 7-8, where Job is said to have spoken what is right)."
"Shub" is the normal Hebrew word for a repentance that involves confession of wrongdoing or sin. "Shub" means "turning away from sin and returning to God through repentance." The author of the Book of Job has carefully chosen his words. He has deliberately chosen "naham" as opposed to "shub." The author is tempting the inattentive reader to premature judgment. He is tempting the reader to find that Job is confessing sin, either for his so-called excessive words, his Oath of Innocence or both. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Job never confesses sin. He never confesses to having wrongfully used excessive language. He never confesses to having wrongfully instituted his Oath of Innocence. And he never retracts or withdraws his Oath of Innocence. God would later say Job was right in everything he said. (Job 42: 7,8) In the face of such a judgment, there is no room to attribute sin or wrongdoing to Job for either his so-called excessive words or his Oath of Innocence. If Job were actually confessing sin of any sort, then Job would be damned on the terms of his Oath of Innocence. The Oath of Innocence once sworn cannot be withdrawn as having been wrongfully instituted. If Job were actually confessing sin of any sort, the Satan would be proven right in his challenge of God. And the consequences would be enormous. God would be proven wrong in his three judgments on Job. (Job 1: 8,9; 3: 2; 42: 7) God should step down from his throne. And all humankind should be destroyed as a failed project." (pg. 131, 132, "Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job," By Robert Sutherland)
Another writer says:
"The next verse has built-in problems. The verb ma'as requires an object but has none, as has occurred earlier in the book; likewise, wenihamti'al may carry opposite meanings. The range of interpretation includes, among others, the following possibilities: (1) "Therefore I despise myself and repent upon dust and ashes"; (2) "Therefore I retract my words and repent of dust and ashes"; (3) "Therefore I reject and forswear dust and ashes"; (4) "Therefore I retract my words and have changed my mind concerning dust and ashes"; and (5) "Therefore I retract my words and I am comforted concerning dust and ashes". The first translation implies humiliation; the second and third refer to symbols of mourning; and the fourth and fifth signify the human condition (Newsom 1996: 629). Some interpreters think the remark carries heavy irony; Job conceals his rebellion to the end. Others believe that he abandons his lawsuit, acknowledges his finitude, and finds comfort in the simple fact of having come before God and survived, his own stated condition for full vindication (cf. 13: 16)." (pg. 354 - "The Oxford Bible commentary" By John Barton, John Muddiman)
Mainomides, Dale Patrick, and Job 42: 6
Dale Patrick, "A translation of Job 42: 6, VT26 (1976), pp. 369-71, proposes what he states are a new translation and interpretation of Job 42: 6: 'al-ken >em>as wenihamti
He rejects the standard translation of the verse:
Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
In its stead he proposes translating the verse:
Therefore I repudiate and repent of dust and ashes.
Patrick intereprets the phrase "repent of dust and ashes" to mean cease wallowing in dust and ashes. "Dust and ashes", he contends, "can be taken as a concrete image standing for an action, lamenting and mourning." Thus,
When Job says that he forswears dust and ashes, he means that he will remove himself from the physical setting associated with mourning and lamentation and cease what he has been doing from 2: 8.
Patrick's translation and interpretation may be correct but they are certainly not new. The great medieval Jewish jurist and philosopher, Maimonides, almost eight hundred years ago, in his classic work The Guide of the Perplexed, proposed precisely the same translation and interpretation. Mainmonides devotes two chapters of the Guide (III 22-3; pp. 486-97) to an interpretation of the book of Job. In III, 23 he cites the verse in question in the original Hebrew and proceeds to explain it thus:
This dictum may be supposed to mean "wherefore I abhor all that I used to desire and repent of my being in dust and ashes"--this being the position that he was supposed to be in: And he sat among ashes (2:8). (III, 23; p. 493).