In the journey of Job to new understanding, William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job concentrate on two climactic moments. In one, Blake imagines Job and his wife seeing God face to face (as the biblical quotations beneath indicate, this is God in Christ). In the other, Job prays for his friends. One climax is epistemological; the other is ethical. This is the first of them.
What we see in this image is a divine figure surrounded by a bright halo of light, stretching out both hands to bless Job’s wife and Job. The three comforters have their backs to this event, all with heads in hands, but with the central figure taking a surreptitious glimpse at the event taking place behind him. The backdrop, vaguely visible, is of mountains, with the glimmer of light coming on the right (east). In the margins there is little but a cumulus cloud outline, and at the bottom an angel presiding with eyes closed over open books and a scroll.
This is the crucial plate of his Illustrations of the Book of Job. It has as its main text Job 42:5, and encapsulates the way in which Blake reads the whole book. Here is exemplified Blake’s frequent contrast between ‘Memory’ (‘I have heard [of] thee by the hearing of the Ear’) and ‘Inspiration’ (‘but now mine Eye seeth thee’). It depicts the moment when, to quote the words of the Preface to Blake’s Milton, a Poem, ‘the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration’ (Erdman 2008: 95).
Blake’s understanding was profoundly influenced by the idea of the mutual indwelling of God and humanity, one of the central themes of the Gospel of John. This is evidenced in the profusion of Johannine quotations from the farewell discourses at the foot of the engraving. True insight comes from participation in God, as Job and his wife are bathed in Christ’s light.
Spiritual and mental transformation is incomplete, however, without ethical transformation. It is Job’s action in praying for his friends that will fully demonstrate his release from captivity.
http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3643616 [accessed 22 October 2018]
Erdman, David V. (ed.). 2008. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (Garden City: Bantam Doubleday Dell)
42 Then Job answered the Lord:
2“I know that thou canst do all things,
and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.
3‘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.
4‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
5I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees thee;
6therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliʹphaz the Teʹmanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9So Eliʹphaz the Teʹmanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naʹamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house; and they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold. 12And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she-asses. 13He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14And he called the name of the first Jemiʹmah; and the name of the second Keziʹah; and the name of the third Kerʹen-hapʹpuch. 15And in all the land there were no women so fair as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them inheritance among their brothers. 16And after this Job lived a hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17And Job died, an old man, and full of days.