On this page you will find reflections from Pastor Mike that are meant to help you as you continue to read through the Book of Job through the season of Lent.
But don’t let that deter you. If you know anything about life, it’s that the best parts of life are never easy. Good things come to those who persevere through trials and don’t give up when others do.
“Lord, why me? Why now? Why this?!” I don’t know what you have experienced in this life, but I’m guessing that all of us in some form or another have asked these very questions. When life seems unfair or inexplicable, it is our natural reaction as Christians to call out to God. And we do so in our tears, in anger, in doubt, and in pain. But if it’s not you who is hurting, and you hear another person call out such woeful words, let’s face it, it’s uncomfortable. You don’t like being around other people in pain when you have nothing you can do about it. We might offer words of consolation and if those help, good, but when our words fail us, and the pain continues, we try to find our way to the door. We may start to wonder if the person in pain has lost their faith, after all if they really believed God was good, they would just trust Him. Instead they make it sound as though they’re not even sure He’s there. Or worse, that He is there, but that He just doesn’t care anymore. And we know that’s not true, so their words to us sound more like blasphemy than anything and we try to get them back on track. “Oh, no we mustn’t say things like that! That’s not good.” But in those moments, I wonder if we’re more concerned about our salvation than theirs.
The Book of Psalms is full of bitter complaints of the faithful. Jesus even spoke some of those words from the Cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psa. 22, Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34)). Lament, grief, and pain are all uncomfortable topics. And yet the Bible doesn’t shy away from them. Neither should we. And that’s what the Book of Job is going to take up again and again. It is painful to hear Job lament the day he was conceived, to say that he wishes he would be dead rather than alive. His words can trigger experiences and conversations that you’ve had that you’ve tried to forget. If you’ve ever experienced or been near severe depression and anxiety, this is not going to be an enjoyable journey for you. If you’ve ever sat near someone who is advanced in age and wasting away or who has been diagnosed with an incurable disease and says “I wish I would just be dead,” Job will seem like déjà vu. And that’s not a good thing. Because in the end, aren’t those people right? What is the point in continuing in life when you’ve lost everything and you can’t see a future where it could ever be right again?
And why is it that it’s always that those who suffer are the ones who least deserve it. Why is it that school shootings dominate the headlines when the actual number of those who die in them is statistically quite small compared to drug overdoses or gang related violence? Isn’t part of the reason because we think to ourselves that people who die in those latter instances probably were not without fault because they were involved in bad things, but kids who go to school did nothing wrong. It’s not just the suffering that gets us, it’s the senselessness and incongruity of it.
And this too is the sole focus of the Book of Job. We know that Job is innocent, that the only thing he’s done to deserve the suffering he experiences is that he is a devoted believer in God. But surely that’s not a fault? Don’t we all want to be devoted believers in God? Well, we thought we did. But look where that got Job! If this is how God treats His friends, maybe we don’t want to be near Him after all! That’s an uncomfortable thought, isn’t it? And yet it’s not foreign to the Book of Job, it’s the very question the Book of Job is raising. Do we just love God because He blesses us (Job 1:10-11; 2:4-6)? What if instead of blessings, pain and suffering flowed from His hand (or, to put it more mildly, God permitted pain and suffering to happen), would that cause you to curse God? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Helpful Hint – If you read the Book of Job to find the elusive answer to that question, you may, like Job, end up somewhat disappointed. While the Book of Job brings to mind the question, it actually doesn’t provide an easy answer. And that too is uncomfortable. Why raise such a dangerous, faith-destroying question, without giving an adequate answer? That’s disconcerting to say the least. But then again, the Bible never presented itself as an answer book. It is a Book that clearly presents the Truth of our situation and it surely does point us to a God-provided solution, but let us never think that this is a nice and neat solution. Instead, it presents life in all of its messiness, but it doesn’t waver or back down from showing us a God who embraces us in the midst of it. No, He doesn’t embrace us merely in the easy parts of life, but He comes to us in the difficult and challenging parts, yes especially in those, and promises us a life and a future that we see only by faith. This is a difficult path. But it’s the only one. It’s the only Way that leads us home. And where would we be if we only allowed God into the easy parts of life? When the difficult part came, we’d be on our, alone. But we’re not alone and as far as God is concerned, we never will be. He’s there in the midst of it, giving a meaning, a purpose, and a future to it all that we may not understand from this point of view, but perhaps some day we will, if we only press on through the difficult.
I'm well aware that you are starting to have many questions about what you've been reading. Some of you have even asked me some of your questions. But I want to be slow to give answers. Why? Because that's what reading the Book of Job should do to you. We want to quickly solve troublesome questions. But Job has to wait some 30 chapters of conversation to get some answers, and even then the answers he gets are not what he was expecting. But I don't mean to be dismissive. In my reflection for today, I want you to know that in the first 2 chapters of Job more questions will arise than perhaps any other section of the book. If you have questions, you're not alone. But this is another part of why Job is a difficult book. Today's reflection is based on this. If reading Job causes you to ask a lot of questions, don't fret. It's meant to do that. It is NOT however meant to give you quick and easy answers. It is in the tradition of wisdom literature and wisdom literature is not meant to be reduced to a sound-byte. Truth can never fit on a bumper sticker or even a tweet. So let's talk about it....
While this goes hand-in-hand with talking about prose versus poetry, the Book of Job is also difficult because it is considered wisdom literature (as are the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, but Song of Songs and Psalms often get lumped in this grouping too). Wisdom literature is ultimately concerned with living a good life, but what that good life looks like will be a major part of the conversation. Perhaps when you think of wisdom literature, you might think of a self-help book or a how-to guide, something that is rather self-explanatory and brief with no extraneous material. In the ancient world, wisdom literature is not supposed to be easily accessible to the regular person. It will not easily yield its answers to the untrained mind. Rather than a cursory scan, what wisdom literature demands is a captive audience, one that will actually wrestle with the words, one that will let the thoughts brew, percolate, or simmer. Wisdom literature is the opposite of fast food. It is much more like a fine wine or a well-aged cheese. It is not merely consumed for its outward appearance, it must be enjoyed by all of the senses, not with a quick gulp, but with a slow, deliberate taste.
One might argue that the newspaper was written to be read while one is eating breakfast, but a piece of literature, cannot be read the same way. The Book of Job wants to be meditated upon. Don’t take all the words at face value. Instead stop and ponder, ask yourself, “Does this really hold up? Is this true to my experience?” but don’t let that be your final question. Ask yourself, “How does this fit into the big picture of the world and how God interacts with it?” Sometimes a thought that at first seems true, will prove to be false, and vice versa. But you won’t get there if you just let the words blow through your mind. When you do let the words echo in your head and you converse with them, the words will talk back to you. You will find that you’re not in a one-way conversation, but you are interacting with another set of voices, another view of the world, perhaps different than your own. In other ancient cultural examples of wisdom literature, the words are often conveyed orally and in poetic form. While these forms helped to craft the wisdom in memorable ways, it is ultimately only the mind that has the patience to be taught, that is, to listen, that can learn from the wisdom of others.
Helpful Hint – When reading the Bible, also keep in mind that ultimately it is not the worldly wisdom that guides us, but God’s wisdom and God’s wisdom to the worldly mind often looks like foolishness. But in all of this, it is the Holy Spirit who guides us in Truth and opens God’s Word and His wisdom to our hearts.
Helpful Hint – Bible journaling or conversation with another person can often help you as you wrestle with Bible texts such as Job (see Acts 8:30-39). While it sometimes happens that this can cause you to lose focus and drift away from what the text is actually saying, through disciplined focus and paying attention to the text that you read, this extra time of pondering can help you see or understand things that you may not have upon your first reading. In your Bible you can also mark keywords, underline things you want to come back to, put question marks where things don’t make sense or exclamation points at things that are really important (yes I am giving you permission to write in your Bible!).
Helpful Hint – Since I already had two Helpful Hints, I thought I might as well go on full-on Trinitarian here and state what is always implied. As we read the Word of God, we believe that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit that leads, guides, reveals, and informs. The Holy Spirit inspired these words to be written and the Holy Spirit uses them both to create and strengthen our faith. Enter into reading God’s Word and prayer and in prayer meditate upon them. Thus reading the Bible is not ultimately an intellectual exercise, but one of faith.
While I know that on day 3 of our reading you’re entering into the worst of the bad news for Job and his piteous response to it, lamenting his birth and cursing the day he was born. He wishes death would come upon him because living is only prolonging his pain. And Job’s pain will continue to be the focus for almost the entire book. It’s what you will remember. The image of Job scratching opening his sores with broken pottery is hard to shake.
But haven’t you noticed how bad news gets all of the attention? How it sucks the oxygen out of the room and takes away any kind of positive thoughts? As a pastor, I’m always keenly aware that at any given time, someone in worship is in the midst of some great trial or grief. In that moment, how can they put on a happy face and feel good, praising God for what’s going on in their lives?
So I want to acknowledge that I know you’re thinking about all the bad news. But let me remind you of an important detail that quickly gets forgotten: blessing.
Let’s just think about all the ways the theme of blessing is emphasized in these opening chapters.
First, God’s blessing is virtually autographed into Job’s life so that you can see the fingerprints of God.
Now I’m not saying that the numbers here are purely symbolic and Job didn’t really have this many animals or children. But I am saying that in the number that he did have, people in those times would see by the number of them that God’s blessing was upon him, in the same way that today some people would shudder if they looked in their checking account and saw that the balance was $666.66. The numbers convey a special meaning.
Secondly, in God’s conversation with the Satan (much more on him later), the Satan too cannot but confess the obvious. He sees Job and what does he see? He sees God hand all over him. God has blessed him, blessed his hands, blessed his labor, blessed his family. God has blessed him in positive ways, but He’s also blessed him with a hedge of protection, keeping evil and devastation from him (Job 1:10).
In fact, it is the very fact of blessing that is the source of the suffering that follows. The Satan’s accusation against Job is simply this: Job doesn’t love you, God. He loves your blessings. If you would stop the blessings, his love for you would cease.
Finally, Job too understands that his life has been full of God’s blessings. Even his faith speaks through the pain as he worships God (Job 1:20-21), “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” You can’t take it with you, Job says, so what good is it after all? “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” Do you hear Job’s confession? He puts it all on God. God not only blessed him by giving him such wonderful blessings, but it was also the LORD who took it away – not someone else, not another power, no one else but God. And yet, Job continues, “Blessed be the name of the LORD!” He’s praising God! Thanking God? For what? For giving him good things and then taking them away! That’s not an occasion we usually associate with thanksgiving, but it tells us something both about God and about Job.
Job really did think the blessings that he had in this life were just that, blessings. These were not things he owned nor earned. These were not things God owed to him. They were gifts. Grace. Freely given, freely bestowed. And therefore, Job had no personal claim on them. That didn’t mean that he didn’t love his children or that he wasn’t happy to have the riches he had, but he knew that in the end, they weren’t really his. They always and ultimately were God’s. For a while Job had them on loan, but for reasons Job didn’t understand, God called them back. He took them away. And though we would like to argue that that’s unfair or not right, Job didn’t. He couldn’t. Because he knew that none of this was his. It was all God’s. It was His blessing.
Reflection Time – There’s more that needs to be said on this topic of blessing, but let this suffice for now. Now it’s time for you to reflect with me. How do you think about the things that comprise your life - whose are they and where did they come from? Where do you see the blessings of God? Do you see them as a sign of God’s favor? How do you explain the fact that “bad” people too experience God’s blessings (Matt. 5:44)? Are temporal blessings a barometer of your relationship with God (Matt. 5:1-12)? What other blessings does God give besides the ones we can see and touch with our eyes and hands (Matt. 6:19-21; Luke 12:15-34)? How does Job’s story, (and then also our story), end in blessing (Job 19:25, 42:10-17; Rev. 21)?
I’m going to keep coming back to Job chapters 1-2 for some overarching reflection. But today, as we end the first week of reading, I want to kind of recap what’s happened.
Job 1:1-5 – Job is blessed!
First we’re introduced to Job and we see that God has blessed him abundantly. We know that he is blameless and upright (that is, as far as people saw him from the outside, all would say this is one great guy) and he also feared God and turned away from evil (that is, he wasn’t just good on the outside, he also had faith in God and actively guarded his heart from wicked ways, turning from them). None of this means Job was without sin, in fact we heard about how he consecrates (make holy) his family before feasts and make sacrifices afterwards just in case they had sinned. Job seems to operate outside the Mosaic Law, but much more like the patriarchs in Genesis, which is one of the reasons many scholars believe the Book of Job takes place quite early (perhaps a couple of hundred years before Moses).
Job 1:6-12 – Job is blessed and now comes the test
This is the part where we still have a lot of questions. The “sons of God” would seem to refer to spiritual beings we call angels. It is not clear where this meeting takes place. Some think heaven (but then comes the inevitable question, “Why is the Satan in heaven?”), but it could very well take place on earth, say on a high mountain, which is very often where God is found revealing Himself (e.g. Deut. 33:2; Judges 5:4f.; Isa. 14:13; Isa 2:2-4). Regardless, the assembly is in the spiritual realm, humans are not normally privy to it and so we are aware that we are learning something that we couldn’t possibly know. All of this would have to have been explained to Job (or the author) after the fact.
The Satan is not necessarily a welcome guest at this assembly. While it troubles us that the Satan can be here in the presence of God, remember that he also shows up right beside Jesus during His temptations. Here, he appears among the others, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he was invited or welcomed. And so God calls him out, “Hey, what are you doing here?” The Satan has been surveying his earthly kingdom and trying to undermine God’s. He wants to destroy faith in God in those who have it. God therefore challenges the Satan and says, “Did you see Job down there? Now that’s a man who is like none other. He serves me well!”
The Satan isn’t here for a friendly conversation. He’s here to make trouble and the trouble comes with this accusation: Job only loves you because you bless him. Stop blessing him and he’ll curse you to your face! God disagrees though and permits the Satan to attack, but not to touch Job himself.
Job 1:13-22 – Job undressed
In unfortunate scene after scene, all that Job has, except for himself and his wife, is taken away. Job tears his robe and shaves his head (signs of grief and woe), and then worships (?!) God (1:20-22), but did not sin.
Job 2:1-10 – The Satan continues to press
Because the Satan hates to be wrong, and because God remains confident in His servant Job. A new attack is proposed. The Satan argues that Job hasn’t cursed God because God’s blessing still remains on him. If God lets the Satan attack Job’s own body, then Job will curse God. Once again, God permits this, but puts a limit on the attack – Job’s life must be spared.
Job’s lovely wife sees Job now afflicted in his own body and kindly tells him to “Curse God, and die!” What a prize she is! But still Job’s faith holds steady.
Job 2:11-13 – Job’s friends come to him in his distress
Three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come and seeing Job’s sickening condition, they have no words. Instead, they sit in silence with him for 7 days. If only they would have kept their silence!
Job 3:1-26 – Job is beyond depressed
The opening verse summarizes Job’s bitter lament. He wishes he would have never been conceived. He wishes that upon his birth his mother would have let him die. He longs to be among the dead, because at least they don’t suffer. He longs for an end to his life because as long as he is alive, more trouble comes and there is no rest for him. He feels God is against him (3:23).
Job 4-5 – Eliphaz speaks – Some sin is being repressed! You must confess!
Now we begin the long section of speeches and you have to be careful. We know exactly what’s happened to Job but neither he nor his friends do. So they are philosophizing and theologizing. They are groping in the dark to make sense of this world and in their words they reveal what they believe is true. The problem is that their beliefs are incorrect.
The basic thesis of Eliphaz is this: Job you’re not innocent! We know that a man reaps what he sows and we all see that you’re in great suffering, therefore, we all know you must have done something really bad! No innocent man would be in this condition (Job 4:7-8). What you are experiencing right now is definitely God’s discipline or reproof of your sin (Job 5:17-18).
In this section Eliphaz says some good things, some misleading things, and some things that are just plain wrong. The reader must sift through the words to find the wisdom amidst the folly.
Tomorrow I’ll cover Job’s first response to Eliphaz’s speech, but today I want to reflect on another challenging part of the Book of Job:
Dramatic irony is a literary device whereby you the reader know more than the people in the story you’re reading. A classic example of this is in a suspenseful moment in a movie, when you know exactly what scary thing is behind the door, but the actor does not. We feel in our bones the impending doom that’s about to play out before us and we may even shout at the people, “Don’t open that!” But they won’t listen. They don’t see what we do.
You cannot approach the Book of Job without constantly reminding yourself that you’re seeing the plight of Job and the conversations of his friends from above. You are more like an omniscient narrator than you are another character in the conversation. In the first two chapters of the Book of Job, you learn a lot about Job, about God, and about Satan. Unlike Job, his wife, and his friends, you know why Job is suffering the way he is. No one else knows what’s going on, but they think they do. In their attempts to either rebuke or comfort Job, his friends say much that is wrong, foolish, and just plain unhelpful. When reading their words, you need to hear what they say in light of what you know. This is not an area of Scripture where you can take a verse out of its context and claim “Thus saith the LORD!” You must ask yourself, “Who is saying this and why? Does this match with what we know from the opening chapters?” Job’s innocence is impugned repeatedly (Job 4:7-8; 8:3-7; 11:6; 18:5, etc.). We start to eventually find ourselves agreeing with Job’s friends. But we must push back against their many words. God Himself has declared Job righteous for all the right reasons (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). Does this mean Job is without sin? No way! Job himself offers sacrifices for his family (Job 1:5) because he knows that sin is always crouching at their door. And yet the problem is not simply that we know more than Job’s friends, the problem is that their whole way of thinking is out of line with the reality of God’s rule. And when we find ourselves agreeing with Job’s friends we adopt something that to us seems like wisdom, but in the end is very far from the truth of God’s Word. So we must always be on guard.
In our church right now, several people are part of a Bible study reading C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. In a way that often happens, this seems like brilliant planning on our part, but in reality is more God’s doing than ours. But reading Screwtape alongside Job is actually a wonderful exercise. As you read Screwtape you are living out a different kind of dramatic irony. You are “overhearing” a conversation behind enemy lines. You hear the battle plans of demons who would attempt to keep people away from Christ. When they speak of their master, they refer to Satan, when they speak of the Great Enemy, they mean our Heavenly Father. When they say something is bad, it is good, and vice versa. It can take a bit to get used to it, but once you do, you can gain insight into how the Evil One works and it can strengthen your own resolve against his tactics. And so it will be in Job. The only infallible character is God. Even Job, while often wiser than his friends, is at a loss to counter their arguments. He knows, deep down inside, that they’re wrong, but he doesn’t necessarily know why. But you, the reader, know more. And it is this exercise, of reading amidst the tension of knowing more than others know that ultimately is the real training of faith. We know more about ourselves and this world than the people around us who do not know God’s Word. We live in a state of dramatic irony, not because we know everything, but because we know that in everything God is ultimately in control and that His ways are not oppressive or vindictive, but instead gracious and loving. He deals with us in ways far better than we deserve. But every day we are tempted to think otherwise. When we, either directly or through our loved ones, experience wickedness, evil, and suffering in this world, we will be challenged to our core. Voices of comfort and rebuke will come calling, and the things they say may sound plausible, they may even sound right, but if they’re not in line with God’s Word, we must resist. We can listen only to Jesus and His Word to us cuts through the pain. We are His, bought by His blood. We are given abundant life, life everlasting (John 10:10, 14). We are not immune to suffering, but promised that future glory awaits (Rom 8:18).
Helpful Hint – When reading the Bible, there are always places where we run into things we don’t really understand or we’re not exactly sure what the Bible says on a specific topic. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the Bible is very clear on the most important things that we need to know. Even a child can read and understand in Scripture the basic situation of humankind and God’s salvation accomplished through Jesus, His Son. But there are other topics where very little is said, and we must be content to know only a little. Sure, we could try to know more, but it would largely be conjecture, our opinion. We could be right, but we could also be very wrong. So we try to approach God’s Word in humility. If He doesn’t tell us everything, we must be content with that. We may not always like it or understand it, but to try to grasp wisdom where God is not yet teaching us is recalling the same error of our first parents, Adam and Eve who thought grasping a knowledge that God had not yet given them was the way that they too could be gods themselves. So never forget the clear picture of Scripture. Don’t let little details rob you of the clarity with which God speaks. Don’t major in the minors. Instead let the most important thing always be the most important thing: God’s love for us and a salvation offered to us freely through faith in Jesus, our Savior.
There is no getting around the fact that Job’s friends were shocked and scandalized by Job’s words in Job 3. Indeed his words were scandalous. In his grief and pain, he cursed the day of his birth, speaking against God’s creation of him and wishing for death to come upon him.
According to these friends, these words came from a man that they were used to speaking words of wisdom, one who taught others to bear their burdens, one who strengthened others (Job 4:2-6). Eliphaz’s opening words are meant to comfort, but they feel more like an attack against Job. He has given good medicine to others, why won’t he now accept it himself?
One of the great problems of Eliphaz is a problem common to many of us. When we are in the presence of very loud feelings (in ourselves, but especially in others), we want those loud feelings to go away. Eliphaz might have been scandalized by Job’s words, but do you notice how he doesn’t once try to validate or understand Job’s feelings? I know that in general guys are not good at this, but it is a skill that can be learned and practiced. How different would these dialogues go if Eliphaz would have replied to Job’s curse and reflected and repeated his pain, “Oh wow Job, I hear that you wish you would never have been born and that you feel like you can’t keep living in this pain.” Job is in a place of self-pity and loathing. He feels all alone, having lost his children and his possessions. Even his wife isn’t there for him. And for a while it seemed like his friends had the perfect game plan. They were just present with Job for seven days. They didn’t say anything. It doesn’t look like that does anything, but it expresses solidarity. Without any words spoken, it conveys to Job that he’s not alone in this.
But when he expresses his pain in words, suddenly the friends drop the ball completely. How badly? Well, from a grief website (https://www.grievewell.com/for-young-adults/how-to-be-an-active-listener-for-someone-in-grief/), I pulled the following strategies for how one can be an open, active listener to another who is grieving:
How many of those principles do you see in Eliphaz’s words? I see very little. Instead Eliphaz rebukes and corrects. He shames Job for his words. He uses “I” statements, but not “I hear you” or “I think what you’re saying is”. His “I” statements are all based on his own experienced and his observations (4:12ff. 5:3, 8, 27 – watch for “me,” “my” and “I” and notice the “we” at the end thrown in for good measure, Eliphaz declares that he speaks on behalf of all who are wise).
Eliphaz isn’t trying to listen to what Job has said as much as he is trying to convince Job to listen to what he has to say. Eliphaz has forgotten who the important person is in the room. It’s not those who are well, but rather the one who is sick. In the end, rather than seeing Job as a person (notice how Job comments that his friends can’t even LOOK at Job because he’s so repulsive, but if they did they would know in his eyes that he’s not lying (Job 6:28)), his friends have reduced him to a theological axiom (Job 4:7-8, 17).
And it’s this attitude that largely makes Eliphaz’s words fall short. It’s not that Eliphaz is speaking falsely. He does say things that are true, but they are the wrong medicine. If he knew the patient, if he would take the time to understand Job’s predicament and give Job the space to be upset and know that his feelings are real, valid and strong, Job might have reacted differently.
Reflection point – How do you handle strong feelings (anger, sadness, fear, etc.) in others? Do you try to “teach” people out of it or do you actively listen and support them, validating their feelings? Which is easier? How have others helped you when you’ve had strong feelings? Which approach has helped you make your way through them? In the Garden of Gethsemane, how did Jesus handle his great anguish (Matt. 23:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46)?
Job replies to Eliphaz in chapters 6 and 7. Remember that Eliphaz’s main point was that a man reaps what he sows and the innocent do not suffer (Job 4:7-8). Eliphaz was declaring Job’s suffering was connected to some act of sin or guilt. Job rejects this premise categorically.
In this first exchange, Job may not realize it, but he’s been in dialogue with the Satan. It was Satan’s premise that Job would curse God once the blessings were taken away (Job 1:9-12; 2:4-6). The Satan believed Job only wanted the blessings and not God. Eliphaz’s whole argument fits neatly into the Satan’s reasoning. Eliphaz was attempting to convince Job to humble himself before God in order that God’s blessings would return upon him. Would Job have followed Eliphaz’s advice, the Satan would have won his argument against God, proving effectively that Job couldn’t trust God absent the blessings he had previously enjoyed.
Eliphaz doesn’t see the danger in what he’s advising his friend, but today we would call Eliphaz a “prosperity gospel” or “health and wealth” preacher. It’s not that God doesn’t promise blessings or give them. He most certainly does, but they are a gift of God’s grace, not a wage owed. But Eliphaz’s thesis is a mechanical one: If you are suffering, you must be sinning. On the other hand, if you are faithful, you will be blessed! As tempting as that thesis is, we know from Job 1-2 and Job’s suffering is not a result of his sin, rather he’s suffering because he’s righteous. Eliphaz has no room in his theology for such a possibility.
Therefore, once Job speaks, he will speak forcefully against Eliphaz, rejecting his advice at its very core. Although Eliphaz’s words haven’t soothed Job, they did provide one small benefit. It moved Job from self-pity and loathing (Job 3) to attacks against his friends (Job 6) and also against God (Job 7). While this may not sound like progress, it is. Job’s pain is finding an outlet and a focus. He’s processing his pain externally like a wounded animal, now cornered would lash out to preserve its own life.
A Closer Look at Job 6
Job says that if his vexation (his internal anguish) and his misfortune (the external losses) that he’s faced were to be put on one side of a balance, it would far outweigh all the sand of the seas (Job 6:2-3). Job is trying to explain why his words of chapter 3 were so severe. Clearly his friends don’t get the immensity of his loss. He speaks as though it were God Himself who has been attacking him (Job 6:4). He’s being challenged in his faith because he knows God is Almighty, but doesn’t understand why He’s bringing these attacks against him. He goes on to wish that God would just finish him off with one final blow and be done with it. Again, don’t miss how the irony hits us as readers: Job thinks God is attacking him and wishes that he would finish him off, but we know that the only reason Job is still alive is because God would not allow the Satan to kill him.
In his defense against Eliphaz, Job maintains his innocence, saying that he has not concealed the words of the Holy One (that is, God) (Job 6:10). The basic meaning of this line is that Job has not hidden God’s Word in his life, but he has followed it and shared it with others. Job is not merely throwing words out there. He is speaking truthfully and God’s assessment of him in chapters 1 and 2 support this.
Imagine if Job followed Eliphaz’s advice and repented before God of his sin. In essence his repentance in this case would be a denial of God’s assessment of him. God has already declared him righteous and just. For Job to say that he is not would be to doubt God and listen instead to the voices of the world. How often we too fall victim to this. By faith we believe that we are perfectly righteous and holy in the sight of God. How can such a thing be possible? Surely we’re not saying we are 100% innocent in this life? By no means, we have confessed our sin before God, but He has forgiven us and given us free pardon. He has bestowed on us the righteousness of His Son, Jesus. We may not feel righteous, we may not look righteous, but by faith that is what we are, just like Job. So don’t miss the fact that Job’s words here are a sure sign of his faith in God and a rejection of the words of man.
Finally in the last half of Job 6 (:14-30), Job flat out says that his friends have not been his friends and have not been loyal to their covenant bond to him. They have shown themselves to be unreliable. Their wisdom does not come from God and that in telling Job that he should not despise the reproval of God Almighty (5:17), Job counters and says that his friends should not forsake the fear of God Almighty (6:14). Their faith in God is showing itself to be different from Job’s faith. Job’s disappointment in and anger toward his friends gets to the heart of their bond of friendship.
Friendship in those days could be formalized in a way not unlike a marriage is today. When we take vows to be with our spouse in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for one partner to abandon the other simply because of a severe burden because of the loss of health or wealth would be a shameful thing. Job is saying the same is true of his so-called friends. They’re obligated to help him in his trouble. It would cost them nothing to help him nor is their own life being put in jeopardy, but still they are treating him more like an enemy than a friend.
In his closing words about his friends, Job softens his approach. He explains that he’s willing to be taught and he’s open to hear how he’s made a mistake, but rather than speaking to him as Eliphaz has, they must soften their approach. They must listen to him rather than judge him with no real understanding. They must look him in the eye and examine him for he will speak truthfully. They, not Job, must relent (or repent) in their speaking if they really want to be his friends.
In the second half of Job’s response to Eliphaz, he moves on from addressing his friends – he concluded chapter 6 by saying that despite feeling like his friends were treating him poorly, he was open to their help, as long as it was actually helpful.
But now he addresses the other adversary that he feels he has: God Himself. In this chapter Job’s words toward God move back and forth from complaint to plea, from lament to petition. Job begins to put his case against God before God. He argues a bit like a lawyer, showing how he feels he has been wronged or how God Himself is wronged by Job’s current status, and then asking for God to accept his reasoning and make it right once more. In that way, his prayers are probably not that different from some of our prayers. We often pray to God asking for help when we are in trouble, and this is exactly what we should do (e.g. Psalm 50:15, 1 Peter 5:7). So despite what else I might say, let’s commend Job for his words and prayers. Even if we might disagree with some of the content, this is more proof of his faith. Rather than simply arguing with his friends about their short-sighted wisdom, Job addresses His God. Though Job does feel that God is his adversary in the moment and that God is against him, nevertheless Job returns to God because he knows he has no other hope.
Where Job may fall short, and where we sometimes fall short as well, is that in our prayers we ultimately put ourselves under the mercy of God. Jesus gives us the Lord’s prayer to use to help shape our prayers to God and there are two features of that prayer that are especially notable in the present context.
First the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that we pray to God as our dear Heavenly Father. No matter how you feel toward God, those words speak of God’s mercy and grace toward you. You are His child and you can be absolutely confident that no matter what your circumstances may be driving you to believe, that He is your Heavenly Father. If you have problems understanding why that’s Good News, just remember the story of the lost (or prodigal) son in the parable from Luke 15. We have a Father who welcomes us home even when it’s our sin that drove us to leave Him.
Second, Jesus also teaches us to pray “Thy will be done.” Those words remind us that although it’s not wrong to come to God with our list of petitions, we need to be open to His solutions and His answers to our prayers. The Holy Spirit comes to our aid and teaches us to trust God. He is our Heavenly Father: we do know He loves us and gives us good gifts (Luke 11:11-12). And even when we seem to be receiving bad things from Him (things that we don’t like or make us uncomfortable), we can trust that He is still at work and that ultimately He will bring good (Rom. 8:28). He does this not because He owes us though or because we deserve it, but because He is a God of grace and mercy. He loves us so much He gave His Son to die for us (John 3:16).
So let me (quickly?) summarize the actual words of Job 7
Job 7:1-6 (complaint) – Job tells God how hard human life is. He feels like a slave working hard for his master but has no hope of relief. Again Job talks about his lack of rest. Even at night he cannot rest because he’s tormented by worms and his skin disease.
Job 7:7-10 (request) – With one word, Job calls on God to remember. What a powerful word this is. It’s a Gospel word. It’s calling upon God to remember His grace and His promise. It is this word that brings an end to the Flood (Gen. 8:1, 9:15-16), it is this word that calls God back to His unchanging promise to bless and to save as given later to Abraham, and it is this word that brings about the Exodus, God’s delivery of His people from slavery in Egypt (Exo. 2:24). Again we realize that Job’s faith may have its short-comings because he doesn’t understand clearly his own situation, but he’s so much closer to being right than his friends. Where he goes wrong here is that he thinks his death will ultimately be a loss to God. He doesn’t yet fully understand (or articulate) the promise of the resurrection. Yes, even Job’s death will prove to be the glory of God because He will raise him up on the last day (Job 19:25ff.)
Job 7:11-16 (complaint) – Job proclaims that he will not hold anything back from God. He will be loud and he will be honest about how he feels about his situation. He longs for death to come and because he knows that he will not live forever, he wants his death to come quickly. Job feels that God is prolonging his life and he can’t understand why. Is it because he’s a threat to God? No, he’s helpless before God, like a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow.
Job 7:17-21 (request) – Job again calls out to God and wonders why any man, but especially Job himself, is so important that he should receive so much attention. Again, Job believes his current suffering is due to the hand of God being against him. This is a topsy turvy view of life. The Psalmist reflects on how puny we as humans really are in light of all of creation, and yet praises God because of the way He has so elevated us (Psalm 8:5-6; 144:3-4). But here, Job does the opposite. “Why is man (namely, me, Job) so important that you would put me under a microscope and torment me so?!” Job misunderstands his importance in God’s eyes once more.
Finally comes his request. Job isn’t aware of any particular sin that he has committed, but if he has, he apparently believes he has already asked forgiveness for it. And so he wonders why God wouldn’t pardon his rebellion or pass over his iniquity (Job 7:21). Those are two words to highlight and circle in your Bible as well. They’re more Gospel words. And while I’ve run out of time to say more about them, I want you to notice them so that you realize more and more that Job’s understanding of God is so very different from his friends’ understanding of God. Job knows the Gospel. He knows God’s grace, His promises, His forgiveness. His friends seem not to – or at least their understanding is severely misguided. Job’s problem is not that he doesn’t know the Gospel, it’s that his present circumstances have somewhat clouded the Good News. And that’s something we probably have in common with Job, too. After all, we know the Gospel, but sometimes we wonder, and especially during times of trial and suffering, how it can possibly be true. But it is!
Bildad speaks, but what he says is really not that different from Eliphaz’s speech. Let’s hit some of the highlights!
Job 8:2 – Ouch! Bildad’s words are harshly ironic. He says, “How long will the words of your mouth be a mighty wind?” By this he means that Job needs to stop running his mouth. Job spoke too long and his words are empty and pointless. But in saying this, he directly uses Job’s own words against him. Job himself said that Eliphaz was impressed by his own arguments but thought Job’s desperate words merely as wind (Job 6:26). Bildad here agrees with Job in a condescending way. But the harsher play on words is this. While both men talked about words like empty wind, let us not forget that it was reported that the thing that killed his kids was a mighty wind (Job 1:19). The contrasting sense of the word shows its powerful and destructive nature (in killing Job’s children), but coming from Job, his wind (that is, his speech) is powerless and inane.
Job 8:3 – God doesn’t pervert justice. All of God’s ways are just. If something bad is happening to you, it would be unjust of God to treat you right. So you will suffer. It’s not necessarily the case that Job has said that God is unjust, but Bildad builds on Eliphaz’s statement that the innocent don’t perish. For Job to question God is to impugn God’s own justice.
Job 8:4 – These words are another low blow. This isn’t merely a hypothetical statement. Job’s sons actually did die. Bildad is basically saying they were all wicked, that is, they got what they deserved! This though does create a conundrum. If his children died it was because they sinned. Job is not yet dead, but he is suffering greatly. Does that mean that he sinned, but not as severely as his children? If so, then how does one ever know how great one’s sin is? Where is there a guide for such things?
Job 8:5 – The way for Job to fix what is wrong is to eagerly seek God. This seems to be a reply to Job’s words in 7:21 where Job says that God will seek him, but it will be too late for Job will be dead. Bildad reverses the picture though and insists it’s Job’s duty to seek God. The purpose for Job’s seeking God is for His mercy. Again the implication is that Job deserves what he’s getting and if he wants things to improve he must beg for God’s mercy. This drives to a key and important point that almost gets lost in the whole dialogue though. How do Bildad and the other two friends make room for mercy? So far their words have betrayed a horrible truth. God blesses the good, He punishes the bad. But how does one who is bad become good? Now we know the answer to that is God’s mercy and grace. But these friends have put all their stock in justice and it’s all black and white. If God shows mercy to the wicked, they would say He’s being unjust.
Job 8:6 – In Bildad’s view of mercy, it’s still ultimately something that one deserves (in other words, it’s not mercy!). If Job is pure and upright (and we know he is, Job 1:1!), then God will take his side. That is, if Job becomes righteous, then God will have to listen to him. It would be unjust for God to ignore him, and that’s not possible because God’s just. The flip side of this though is that his friends are trying to convince Job that currently (or in the not so distant past), he’s somehow sinned against God and so God is justly punishing him. Once again, their arguments have created a no-win scenario. If God is justly punishing Job, it means that Job is wicked. God cannot justly listen to the pleas of the wicked. If, however, Job pleas to God and receives God’s mercy, that would only prove that Job is just, because God cannot listen to the pleas of the wicked. But if Job is just, then God is unjustly punishing him.
This is so different from our theological viewpoint. We believe in God’s grace and favor shown to sinners. Yes God is just and sin is punished. However, the ultimate punishment of sin is not poured out on sinners, but on God’s Son. In a strictly legal sense, it is unjust that God should punish His innocent Son for our sin, but Jesus, God’s Son, willingly takes our sin upon Himself out of His great love, not for good, righteous people, but for sinners like you and me.
Job 8:7 – There is future-oriented irony here, though we don’t know it until we get to the end of the Book of Job, God will restore Job’s fortunes and bless him twice as much as he was blessed before. This is exactly the ending that Bildad is tempting Job with, but the irony is that this blessing happens not because Job follows his friends’ advice, but because he didn’t! God’s blessing to Job at the end isn’t “just reward” for Job’s faithfulness, but the abundant riches of God’s freely given blessing.
Job 8:8-19 – I’m not going to spend much time on reflecting on these words. Basically this is the supporting evidence Bildad gives for his main thesis that God is just. He uses as his evidence the tradition and wisdom of their forefathers (vv. 8-10) and then uses various examples from nature (vv. 11-19) as proof that the forefathers’ wisdom is widely seen and proven to be true.
Job 8:20-22 – In conclusion, Bildad reiterates his main point. God is just: He will not reject the blameless, nor will he strengthen the hand of evildoers. To do either of those things would be unjust. While Bildad’s overall argumentation is not as hostile and direct as Eliphaz’s the overall logic of his thesis is just as unhelpful. God’s justice is sacrosanct. Bildad does seem to be on Job’s side. He knows that Job once was righteous, his abundant wealth proved it. Bildad encourages Job to become that righteous person once again. But missing in Bildad’s logic are two key pieces. First, what did Job do to become unrighteous, and thus deserve punishment or the withdrawal of God’s blessings? And second, and perhaps more important, how could Job, no longer blameless, become blameless once again, because God will not attend to his pleas until he first becomes right with God?
Bildad’s religion, his faith, presents us with a terrible and frightening truth. God is just. We are wicked. The wicked will never be able to stand before God. Yes Bildad does mention mercy, a potential ray of hope. But his understanding of mercy is not mercy at all. Once again, he defaults to a mechanical view of God and justice where mercy is only first merited by the one who receives it.
I’ve dug myself in a hole again and have to cover two chapters today so I can catch up again next week, so I’ll try to be succinct, but that’s always a tough task!
Bildad has just concluded, and his main thesis is that God is just, all the time. Job’s suffering is just punishment for Job’s sin. While we know that’s not true, Bildad doesn’t. The God that Bildad believes in is a God of retribution. There is no other alternative.
Job agrees with Bildad in part. He knows that God is just, there really can’t be any alternative. But if that’s so, then Job wishes that he could have his day in court with God (9:3, in Hebrew the verb for “contending” against God is a legal term, with the sense of “taking him to court”) so that he could show his innocence and receive the justice, which is the relief from his suffering, that he believes is fitting.
Job 9 then is Job working through this idea about bringing God to justice. The problem that Job keeps coming up against is that if he were actually to do that, Job knows he would lose. God would overpower him either by His words or His might. Job would end up being reduced to silence, and his plea would ultimately fail (9:3-4, 15).
At the beginning of Job, the Satan questioned the real heart of Job’s faith. The Satan and God are in a real court-room like battle, but Job, not realizing it, wishes himself to enter into a court-room battle before he realizes how futile that would be. If only the Satan himself would admit the same! But the Satan knows he cannot really win against God. His purpose is much lower. He merely wishes to defeat Job, by causing him to curse God. And yet in the Satan’s court-room battle against God, God allows the Satan to throw out all kinds of allegations against God to get Job to despise him. If you would listen to the words of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and really think about who the God is that they describe, you’d be repulsed by this God. He’s cruel, vindictive, merciless. Oh sure, this God is just and punishes the wicked, but he also plays favorites. He only treats well those who have done good things for him. Job himself ends up saying that this God is his adversary (Job 16:9), an enemy who has hedged him and caused him great harm (Job 3:23).
And now Job is lost in this war of words. He believes that there is something right in what his friends say, but he also knows it can’t be completely right. Job is being asked to consider deep down in his soul whether he believes that God is just and good, and God so far, being completely silent, is allowing His own character to be maligned and impugned. If it were not God we were talking about here, but someone who is, say, your best friend or close family member, and you heard someone say all of these false things about him or her, you’d likely be stewing with anger. If that person being spoken against knew these things were being said, he or she would likely want to seek justice for this slander. But again, notice God’s silence, His patience. Job is being tested to show what kind of God He believes in. And God here seems to be showing His own confidence and trust in Job, that despite these words, despite every appearance that God is not good, Job will still trust Him. This, and not the promise of rewards, is the heart of Job’s relationship with God, and should be the heart of our relationship as well. We trust, believe even in the absence of positive evidence or the presence of evidence to the contrary, that God is good and we rest in His hands.
And this is what Job is doing, or trying to do. If God really were as his friends describe him, who would want to seek out such a God. But Job hasn’t rejected God, he continues to earnestly seek Him, but at the same time he wants to understand Him too. What is it that Job wants in the end? It’s not his stuff. What he truly wants is that his relationship with God would be restored to what he once knew (9:35). Job once knew God as just, but also merciful. His current circumstances and his friends are causing him to question that, but deep down Job knows they must be wrong.
In Job 10, Job moves away from the desire to enter into a trial against God, and instead laments again, releasing his emotions before God. He declares before God that Job and God Himself both know that Job is innocent, but his innocence has yet to free him from God’s power (10:7). If he is guilty, there’s nothing he can do, but then again his experience is showing him that even if he’s innocent, and wrongly persecuted, there also is nothing he can do (10:15).
These two chapters have slowly introduced a really important theological idea: the deliverer. Job’s situation is so hopeless that he has now shifted from the idea that he could go to court against God (9:3), to the idea that an arbiter could settle his dispute with God (9:32-34), to a deliverer, one who could rescue him from his God. At this point in the story, that idea goes nowhere. Job dismisses it at once, for he knows there is no one more powerful than God. But unknowingly Job is touching upon the very heartbeat of the Gospel, although he cannot see it himself.
Just as Job served as an arbiter on behalf of his children (in the Old Testament, this role is more commonly called the priest), by offering sacrifices on their behalf (Job 1:5), we know that Jesus ultimately fulfilled this role for us (Heb. 2:17, 3:1, 4:14-15) and it is because of Jesus that unlike Job who trembles before God, we can approach God’s throne with confidence (Heb. 4:16). Scripture goes on to confirm that Jesus is our advocate (that is, the one in court who speaks on our behalf) (1 John 2:1), when the Law has condemned us all and silenced us (Rom. 3:19-20). Therefore, there is no one who can condemn us who are in faith in Jesus (Rom 8:34). Job is right, there is no one on earth to be found who can deliver us from God, but God Himself brings for a mighty deliverer in His Son Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Paul felt this same kind of tension in his life. He knew he was righteous before God, but he also knew his sin. Despite every effort, he knew that the Law would always condemn him because he always fell short of God’s demands. If that is the end of your faith, then it ends in woe (Rom. 7:24). But for Paul, for Job, and for us, it is not the end of our faith. Jesus is. And so with Paul we don’t end our cries in lament, but rather in praise to God for Jesus is the one who delivers us from this body of death (Rom 7:24-25)!
Such is Job’s faith that although he does not yet know God’s answer for His justice, nevertheless, in thinking through the possibilities, Job comes to the right place. It is God’s place to provide the answer that Job on his own could not understand.
Finally Job’s third “friend” speaks and let’s face it, we all know there’s not going be much helpful that he says. We’ve already summarized Eliphaz’s speech (the innocent don’t perish, a man reaps what he sows (4:7-8)) and Bildad’s speech (God is always just (8:3). Zophar’s counsel to Job is to encourage him to be grateful for God’s forgiveness, his suffering should be worse than it is! Zophar firmly believes Job has done wrong and urges him to repent so that he will once again be blessed.
Because we know that Job’s suffering is not punishment from God and that he is upright and blameless because of his faith in God, we will continue to read against Zophar’s words and try to pull out the wrong things that he says.
In his opening (Job 11:1-4), Zophar picks up on Job’s previous speech where he considers taking God to court, but then drops that line of thought because he knows that God would overtake him in a war of words. In ancient court-rooms, legal trials were often won by winning over the crowd through oratory and rhetoric, not necessarily through truth, facts, and evidence. Thus quite often if you could out argue your opponent, exasperating him into silence, you would have effectively won your case (regardless of the actual details). In his situation, Job was worried that God would be the one who could outspeak him.
But now Zophar plays a different card. Job thus far has outlasted all of his friends in his speaking. He's already been called a windbag for his many words (Job 6:26, 8:2). Zophar runs with that thought and combines it with the court-room scene and uses it against him. Everyone knows the ways courts work, that the one who talks the most often wins the day. And so it is the very fact that Job won’t shut up that proves not his innocence, but his guilt. Zophar uses Job’s lengthy defense as the proof of his guilt. Ironically, Job is once again put in a no-win scenario by his friends. If he defends himself, he shows his guilt, but if he agrees with them, he admits the same. If Job was so pure and innocent, his life would prove it, but since he sits here in utter desolation, Job should just admit the obvious.
In the lengthy middle part of Zophar’s speech (11:5-12), Zophar once again plays off of Job’s own words. Job wants to take God to court so that God would have to answer for what is happening in Job’s life. But then Job pulls back because he realizes God’s word would be too much. Zophar brings God’s speech back into the conversation and says that he wishes God would speak so that God could finally convey to Job His secret wisdom (which incidentally is going to be a lot like the wisdom that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are speaking). Amazingly though Zophar seems to know all of God’s secrets. In a trojan horse of speech, Zophar sneaks in a mighty accusation against Job. Just as Bildad spoke of mercy, which is no mercy at all, Zophar does touch on the idea of God already forgiving Job, but rather than speaking of a truly forgiving God, Zophar says to Job, “You should know that God has already forgiven some of your iniquity, some of your wrongdoing” (11:6).
How wonderful, right? Wrong. If you take a moment to think about what Zophar is saying, he’s not only denying Job’s innocence, he’s saying Job, you should be thankful and grateful to God that your suffering isn’t worse than it is! If you really got what you deserved, you’d be in trouble! Don’t you see how this God Zophar is describing is so very different from our God and more like a vengeful tyrant. The more he beats his worthless subjects, the more he demands their affection because he could have done worse to them.
Now you know that it is possible to talk about forgiveness in such a way that it’s not actually a comforting feeling. This reminds me a lot of the beginning of the Reformation. These thoughts are really not far off from the thoughts Martin Luther had about who God was when he was growing up. He believed God was always out to get him and unless he did enough to appease him, he would never escape his wrath. What’s worse though is that Martin Luther knew in his heart of hearts that he never could do enough, thus he was trapped. He knew God to be God, but he could not escape His wrath, nor could he find any of His love and mercy. It was only through struggling with God’s written Word in Scripture that the Holy Spirit broke through this false understanding of God and he understood from Paul that “the righteous live by faith” (Rom. 1:17) does not mean only the perfectly righteous can actually trust God, but rather that all those who trust God are made righteous by God not based on their works but simply on the belief and trust that God has met the righteous requirements of the Law in His Son Jesus and given us His innocence as He took our sin upon Himself.
Zophar’s notion of forgiveness is not based on God’s love, grace, or mercy, but instead remains a function of God’s retribution and justice. While Zophar tries to be consistent in his reasoning, he’s missing some key concepts. Beware his words!
The final portion of Zophar’s speech (11:13-20) is the same old call for Job to repent, but it is firmly couched in the promise of prosperity to follow. If Job would simply remove the wrong and injustice, God would lift him up again (11:15), his life would shine (11:17), and Job would live in confidence and security (11:18).
Now hopefully you’re smart enough to know that if you simply open your eyes, that is a load of garbage. For whom is it true that they are faithful to God and so as a consequence live their life in absolute and abundant blessing and look down on others in their suffering and laugh at how the wicked fare so poorly in this world? No one. None of us. It’s a sloppy caricature of life. The righteous suffer and at times the wicked prosper. We know that, in the end, God is not mocked and there will be justice, but it’s not always in our frame of reference or in the way we think it should be. God is the judge, not us.
In their speeches, these three friends all speak in such a way that they know the mind of God and speak for him, when again and again they’ve shown not only do they not know the mind of God, the God about whom they speak would be a terror, not just to Job, but also to them and the whole world. “Just do this, and you will have peace and prosperity,” is not the promise of God. Oh to be sure, we are blessed, but don’t forget the challenge of the Beatitudes, where Jesus in the same breath can speak of being blessed in emptiness, mourning, hunger, and even persecution (Matt. 5:3-12). Zophar’s words are easy, and false. Jesus’ words are difficult, but true.
Job’s response to Zophar is his longest one yet, but Job doesn’t apologize for the length of his words, so maybe I shouldn’t either!
Job’s response covers chapters 12-14. Today I’ll cover chapters 12-13.
In this section Job’s not merely replying to Zophar. As we’ve seen, all three of Job’s friends are essentially spouting the same kind of wrong-headed wisdom, and so the rebuttal that Job makes kind of touches upon everything that has been said before. By the time we get to the end of this section, it will mark one full cycle of each of Job’s friends speaking and then his response to them. They will, of course, have more to say after this, but there is gradually a shift in the whole conversation. They all have tried to instruct Job in their way of wisdom, which Job has very strongly rejected. Job’s replies to his friends have increasingly shown his frustration with them and he has decided that the only resolution that he will receive is not from seeking the advice of his friends, but from challenging God Himself to answer him. Job talks not just to his friends, but more and more to God Himself.
But Job doesn’t make this shift lightly. He does so with much trepidation, for as much as he knows that he must put his life in God’s hands, he also knows that to stand before God is tantamount to death. While it feels like a lose-lose scenario, Job persists because he knows that there is no hope anywhere else.
In this section (Job 12-14), Job twice complains about his friends (first in Job 12:1-11 and then in 13:1-12). His words are often dripping with sarcasm, he says that he is not inferior to them (12:3). They quote pithy wisdom that is meant to prove that God punishes the wicked, but Job offers a counterexample that show that their wisdom is not bulletproof: marauders (wandering, thieving bandits, such as took his flocks (1:15, 17) get away scot-free and are at ease in their tents (12:6). Where is God’s retribution against them?
You might say, “Oh don’t worry, their day is coming,” but Job’s point is that at this moment they are at peace despite their wicked deeds, but Job is just and blameless and his friends mock him in his suffering (12:4). When it comes to the prosperity of the wicked, his friends will undoubtedly have to make an exception to their cut-and-dried wisdom, but for their suffering friend, there is no compassion, no understanding. Rather than showing kindness to him, they have only shown contempt (12:5). They speak from the moral high ground and look down upon Job. They unflinchingly continue to speak of his own personal sin and his need to repent. Job is frustrated that they deny his questions.
It is because of this that Job says to them that he doesn’t want to talk to them anymore. Once again, he says he’s not his friends inferior (13:2), but he wants to talk directly to God, and not for the purpose of repenting as they urge, but rather for the purpose of seeking redress for his current circumstances. His friends have shown themselves to be so pious that in their alarm for Job’s strong words directed at God, they have sought to defend God’s honor, to whitewash him (13:4), but they do so with lies. Instead of speaking the truth, they speak on God’s behalf only in falsehoods (13:4). In coming to God’s defense, they have not even considered Job’s words. They have not treated Job as innocent, but have shown partiality toward God (13:8). Job wants his friends to be silent for once and let God answer for Himself (13:8).
And that’s when Job turns his words into a warning and rebuke for his friends. All this time they thought they were doing the right thing by cutting Job down with their words because God was clearly right and Job was clearly wrong. What do they think will happen when God shows up and they will be exposed for all of the wrong they have done by speaking their false medicine? Job is rightly terrified of being in the presence of God, but he urges his friends to adopt a similar attitude. They think they have all the answers, but they don’t. Can they not understand how bad it will be for them to stand before God and to have to answer for their many lies (13:8-12)? They have offered no real wisdom, but instead they have been motivated not by the truth, but by playing favorites. But Job says, God doesn’t need any help, they’re the ones who are going to need it.
In between these two sections rebuking his friends, Job reflects on the nature of God and he says that with God there is both wisdom and might (13:13-25). God doesn’t act merely as a powerful tyrant, nor is he an impotent genius.
So often when the ancients thought about deities, power and wisdom were divided among the gods. So you’d have a super powerful god who was severe and cruel. But wisdom would be found in another who often had to work subversively, as a trickster, to have the upper hand. And so the battles between these two powers would often go back and forth as at one point craftiness and cunning would win the day, but at the next moment might would finally make right again.
Job’s friends can speak of God’s wisdom and his power, but they really only understand power. They say they know God’s wisdom, but they have repeatedly shown that they don’t know it at all. Job truly believes God is a God of both of these qualities, but unlike his friends, he says that ultimately this should lead us not to think of ourselves so haughtily as his friends do, but instead to be humble before God. While his friends urge Job to submit to God’s power, Job says it’s both God’s power and His wisdom that should humble us. Job doesn’t understand God’s wisdom in his present situation. That’s his conundrum. Job’s friends proclaim that they do understand God’s wisdom. Job alleges that his friends are really drunken fools, whose wisdom God has taken away (12:25).
In the final section of Job 13 (vv. 13-28), Job pleads to God, asking him to hear his case. His confidence in his cause seems stunning on the surface (see 13:18), but remember that ultimately his confidence is not a sign of his own pride, his confidence is nothing less than faith itself. He is confident in faith that God would not do harm to him unjustly. He believes he does have the right to stand before God in his innocence, even though he knows that ultimately any mortal standing is given by God Himself. He looks to God’s mercy by asking him to withdraw His hand of affliction and to keep Job’s terror from silencing him (13:21). He wants God to show him the sins for which he is suffering (13:23).
While I haven’t gone into super great detail over Job’s words here, please follow the broad movement of Job’s speeches: He has given up on his friends. They have been poor counselors and arbiters of his situation. Not having anyone else to turn to, but also knowing that God is the only place he can find resolution for his suffering, he starts to address God more and more, and his friends less and less.
While doing this, Job is pulled in two opposite directions, he knows that to challenge God is a foolhardy endeavor, but he knows that his salvation ((13:16), that beautiful Hebrew word for salvation is “yeshua” – the name given to our Savior, “Jesus”) can be found in God alone. And Job is right on both accounts. His faith is amazing. In spite of what he doesn’t know about God and His ways, he will not be dissuaded from what he does knows about Him. I think this is the epitome of what Jesus called “faith like a child” (Mark 10:16, Luke 18:17). It’s a faith that clings to God, knowing that He alone loves, He alone is mighty, He alone saves, even when one cannot always see Him doing those things at the moment. The trust is still there that somehow, in the end, He will. And it is this faith that drives Job to continue beating on God’s door.
Today’s reflection is going to be a little bit briefer than the previous. It is a continuation of Job’s response to Zophar. Job has addressed his friends, but he has also addressed God and now he reflects on his own situation in a far more general way.
Rather than specifically complaining about his own lot in life, Job sees that all of our lives in this world are brief and full of sorrows (14:1). If you just came home from the funeral of a child, you no doubt could say the exact same words. But if you just left the hospital where you saw your first grandchild being born, your sentiments might be very different. The important thing to know that Job is speaking in generalizations, and there are times in our lives when these are more fitting than others. Obviously in Job’s situation, these are very appropriate words. He has seen others suffer like him and realizes he’s not alone.
Emotionally, this feeling is positive in that Job is reaching out beyond himself and beginning to understand that his situation is not unique, others have suffered in similar ways or at least all people live under the shadow of troubles and know that their mortal life is finite.
Theologically we understand that this is life in this sinful, we are born to toil among the thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17-18), because of Adam’s sin, all die (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22). Job knows that God has placed limits on our lives. But again, I wonder if this is all bad news? Adam and Eve were banned from the Garden of Eden so that they would not continue to eat from the tree of life. Yes, they would die, and that was justifiably deserved. It was the consequence of their disobedience. But don’t you also see the grace in their banishment? God didn’t want Adam and Eve to live forever in this broken, cursed world. He didn’t want pain and suffering, toil and tears, sickness and disease to be all that they knew. He wanted them to have life, and this was no longer it. He wanted them to have fellowship with Him, but this was no longer possible in the way that it once was. And so God by putting an end to human life, he also put a limit to evil, to sickness, to suffering. There was only so much that people would suffer, but then it would be over.
In the beginning of the Book of Job, God put a hedge of protection around Job so much that his life abounded in blessings (Job 1:10), but even when the Satan was allowed to harm Job, God put a limit to what he could do: you may touch him, but you cannot take his life (Job 2:6). Job’s words here remind us that while his words could very easily lead one to the deeper recesses of depression, it should instead point us to light at the end of the tunnel. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psa. 30:5). Job may not currently understand what the end of his suffering will bring, but he still trusts that God can bring it to an end.
In the rest of chapter 14, Job goes back and forth wondering whether that end will be good or bad, permanent or temporary. That’s all I’ll say for now because next Wednesday Job 14 will be the main text I’m preaching on and I don’t want to give away my whole message! 😉
A new round of speeches begins and our dear friend Eliphaz, who spoke first in the first round and set the tone, speaks once more. Recall that his words, that the innocent don’t perish and one reaps what he sows (Job 4:7-8), set the tone for the other two speakers. Job firmly rejected their wisdom as folly. So you can expect his friends are either ready to say, “Sorry, Job, we messed up,” or else they will double-down in their efforts to silence Job. Any guesses which option they’re going to choose?
If you guessed the latter, you’re right! Eliphaz must have thought he had a Ph.D. In theology, because his words fall upon Job, now Piled Higher and Deeper. Eliphaz begins by mockingly referring to Job’s wisdom, but once more calling his knowledge windy. You’re all bluster, Job, but no muster! Like Bildad and Zophar, Eliphaz says that Job’s many words are of no value (Job 8:2; 11:2). If Job is right, that means his friends are wrong, and they’re not willing to admit to such a thing. So once again, Eliphaz confronts Job with baseless accusations that he has broken faith with God (lit., the fear of the God), that he has broken from meditation before God (that is prayer – though it is unclear if it’s Job’s prayers or the friends prayers that have been affected), and that Job’s iniquity is what is causing him to speak all these lies (Job 15:4-5).
Eliphaz claims that he has the traditions of the elders on his side and Job is acting presumptuously to reject them, as if he was the first-born of creation (15:7) and knows better (later on in Proverbs, wisdom is called the first-born of creation (Prov 8:22)). Eliphaz thinks it’s foolish and even sinful of Job to so fiercely hold on to his innocence. After all, Eliphaz finally says, no man born of a woman is righteous or pure (Job 15:14) (compare this with Job’s similar statement that man born of woman is short-lived and full of suffering (Job 14:1). Eliphaz says something that sounds very much like what we would call original sin: that we all are conceived and born into sin.
But Eliphaz’s point is poorly made for several reasons.
In the history of religions there have been those who posited a god like Eliphaz describes in Job 15:15. This god is so holy and wholly other than all of creation that he almost has his own existence apart from creation and can never be bothered or, more correctly put, polluted by creation. Usually these theological systems are dualistic in nature. The god is good, creation is evil. The physical realm is bad, the spiritual realm is good. And so forth.
The God of the Bible has nothing in common with this way of thinking. God is different than His creation, but He calls His creation good. Yes, there is a broken relationship between creation and God because of sin (Rom 8:22-23), but this God enters into His creation and redeems humankind, but through this act of redemption there is a promise that all creation will be restored (Rev. 21:5). In the end, the story reaches its conclusion when creation is restored once more and the afterlife consists not merely of spiritual beings, but is filled with those who have been resurrected, body and soul restored in perfect union, the way God intended. Eliphaz seriously misunderstands who God is yet again.
In the latter half of his speech (15:17-35), Eliphaz gives up trying to rationalize with Job and win him over by arguments of why Job’s beliefs are false. Instead he basically tries to scare the hell out of Job. He piles on every little tidbit of wise counsel that he has learned over his years about why Job needs to give up his case because after all Job is wicked and nothing good ever happens to the wicked. Eliphaz’s words more or less speak for themselves as he talks about the fate of the wicked so I don’t think I need to go over them in great detail. “You can run, but you can’t hide. There’s no rest for the wicked. God will get you in the end.” Rather than being fruitful and multiplying, enjoying peace and prosperity, the ways of the wicked will ultimately end in barrenness, sterility, and death.
Eliphaz’s words are powerful and frightening if they are true. But as has happened before, we know that it is Eliphaz who is all bluster. His words will fall flat. Even though his words are scary, and in a sense true, God’s justice finally will be done not against the wicked, but against God Himself, because God has given His Son Jesus to pay the penalty in our stead.
What is more, Eliphaz must know his words are wrong. After all, where would his hope in this life be? If all people born of women are unrighteous (another way to describe the wicked), wouldn’t Eliphaz’s vivid descriptions of the fate of the wicked also be his own personal fate? But Eliphaz certainly doesn’t believe this will be his end, only Job’s, if, that is, Job won’t change his ways.
And what is the tone of voice that by which Eliphaz has carried these words? Does it give him delight to speak of the fate of these wicked people? Does he speak these words with fear and trepidation? Pity and compassion? While the text doesn’t tell us exactly how these words are spoken, the overall impression of Eliphaz has only become increasingly negative. His second speech goes even further than his first did to show that he is not a friend of Job, and perhaps not even a friend of God Himself, at least not the same God Job is talking about.
In Job’s current response, he counters Eliphaz’s words that the friends are offering God’s comfort and gentle words to help him (15:11) by saying that the whole lot of them are “miserable comforters” (16:2). Instead of bringing comfort, their words bring misery. Job, however, says if he were in their place he would speak too, but he would actually encourage his friends, unlike what they have done Job 16:5). [The Hebrew in 16:4 is rather difficult here. The ESV translates these phrases as negative, that Job would speak against them and shake his head against them. But there seems to be no doubt that 16:5 is positive (“encourage”) and so it’s more likely than not that 16:4 should be understood positively too.]
Maybe you’ve been in a discussion (or perhaps an “argument”) with another person where you know you’re right and they are wrong and the point of disagreement is so important that you can’t simply “agree to disagree.” One side is right, the other is wrong and the discussion won’t be over until all can agree. That feels like where we’re at in the Book of Job right now.
Ever since Eliphaz and company began speaking to Job, they began a battle of words. Their purpose has been not so much to comfort Job, as it has been to teach him in the ways of their wisdom. For them, their version of the truth is at stake and it is vital to their reputation and their honor that they must get the last word. If they let Job’s words stand without a reply, it would be a sign that his answer, his wisdom, is correct. At least this is the only explanation I can give as to why the conversations have continued. The two sides are at an impasse, both accusing the other of spouting false wisdom. But Job has grown tired of them and even asks why they bother to keep this conversation going (16:3).
Job, on the other hand, most certainly will not let his friends have the last word. You could say this is about honor for him also, but Job’s words have shown that this is about much more than that, it’s about his relationship with God. He trusts in God and has walked according to His ways, and for his friends to convince him that he has sinned greatly would be to lie before God. Job wants to know why it feels like God is his adversary. If God really is his adversary, Job has some serious problems, and so he really needs to get to the truth. He’s wise enough to know his friends are wrong, but not so wise that he can definitively give them (and himself) an explanation to his complaint. In the end, Job says speaking hasn’t helped his pain go away, but it also doesn’t go away if he’s silent (16:6), so he will continue to speak in the hope that God will answer him.
Job 16:7-17 is another very painful complaint addressed to God. As I read through this section it reminded me a lot of some of the Psalms of lament in the Bible. You can check a few of them out if you want. Examples of Psalms of lament include Psalm 6, 23, 38, 42, 43, 130 (and there are many more). These cries of lament are important parts of our faith, even if we like to skip over them. The cries themselves are cries of faith. We know that God loves us and we know that we are in pain. We cry out because we know that God hears our cries and we ultimately want Him to rescue us from them, but at the very least we are acknowledging (sometimes even without knowing it) that He is with us in our pain.
For some reason, in reading through this section, I was particularly drawn to picture Jesus speaking these same words. Though they are not exactly biographical to what Jesus would later experience, many of the words caused me to think of the physical, emotional and spiritual pain that Jesus experienced through being betrayed, mocked, beaten, and crucified. God handed His Son over to wicked men and they did their worst to Him. But in His suffering is our healing (1 Pet. 2:24).
But then Job’s lament changes course in Job 16:18-22.As he declares that his prayer before God is pure (16:17), he resorts to the image of the court-room once more. This time, his words stumble upon new signs of hope. Previously he had talked about taking God on in court, but he knew that would end in failure because God could overpower him both in words and in might (Job 9:3-4, 15). This time though, Job calls upon others to come to his aid as he takes up his case.
We already know his friends have failed in this respect, but Job calls upon his own innocence and his own death (were it to come to that) to speak on his behalf (16:18). He demands the earth not cover his blood so that his cries would not be silenced. The image that is being called to mind is the scene of the first murder, when Cain kills his brother Abel. Reminiscent of the time Adam and Eve sinned and hid from God, God pursues Cain in an effort to bring him to repentance, but Cain lies to God, saying he has no idea where Abel is. But God knows that Cain killed him, saying, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Blood has always stood for the life of the person and now that innocent Abel has been murdered, his life through his blood continues to cry out to God.
Job now uses that same image and declares that this will happen with him. Even in his death, there will be vindication because the innocent should not die as the guilty. God’s justice could not allow it.
Later on, in the Gospels (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:51), Jesus, speaking of the scribes and the Pharisees, says that all the righteous blood of the martyrs would come against all those who now were going to kill innocent Jesus. Jesus thus takes up the cause of the faithful, innocent sufferer so closely that He aligns His own life with theirs. Their suffering, persecution, and death are now being drawn into Jesus’ own person. They didn’t just die. They were persecuted for His sake and now they will be vindicated (Matt. 5:11-12). Though none of their blood was truly innocent (in the sense that they were completely without sin), Jesus’ blood was (Matt. 27:24-25!), and by aligning their death with His death, He brings the injustice of their death (through His own) straight to God’s throne. God will not let the death of the innocent pass without doing something about it. In Hebrews 12:24, it is the innocent blood of Jesus that doesn’t just cry out to God and get no response. It is His innocent blood shed that grants us forgiveness. His innocent blood shed guarantees for us all that, just as God declares His Son innocent and vindicates His death by raising Him from the dead, so also will God vindicate all who die in the faith, even Job, even you.
But here’s the thing, as far as we know, Job doesn’t know any of what I just wrote about in that last paragraph. He lives way before the time of Jesus. It’s unclear exactly which promises of God in the Old Testament he does know. But even if is just the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel that he knows, he now calls upon a heavenly witness who will speak on his behalf (Job 16:19-22)!
Who is that heavenly witness? Job doesn’t give Him a name exactly, but by putting the pieces together we know that the only possibilities are either an angel or some kind of heavenly creature (that is, one of the spiritual beings who is “in heaven”) or God Himself. The only answer that makes sense, even though it is a difficult conclusion, is that Job, who at first considered God to be his adversary in a court-room battle, is now the one he envisions as coming to his defense.
In these words, Job’s faith has taken him to his only possible vindication. But that answer, as much as he wants to believe it sounds too good to be true. In a moment, hope has broken through as a brief ray of light. But in the next breath Job returns to his lament and Job 17 concludes in words that return to the lamentation of Job 16:7-17.
Once again, these words reminded me so much of Jesus, and now I see that these thoughts of Jesus are not just a coincidence.
Don’t you see what’s happening?
Between two large sections of lament (16:7-17 and 17:1-16), is a cry out to our Heavenly Defender, Jesus. But Jesus isn’t just in that hopeful defense. He’s also in the two sections surrounding it. Jesus is Job’s, and our, Heavenly Witness, Defender, and Advocate, precisely because He has not just aligned Himself with our own sin, sufferings and death, He actually has taken all of it upon Himself so that He could properly stand before God as all of us and yet win for us a vindication that we could never have won for ourselves!
Don’t ever think Job is a book merely full of pain.
Here I am overwhelmed by how much it is a book full of Jesus.
Eliphaz has had his opportunity to speak again and now it’s Bildad’s speech. Bildad previously argued that God is just and if Job is suffering, then God’s justice is in action. Job has done something very wrong and must repent (Job 8:3-7)! This time around there’s less talk about God’s justice and much more about God’s just punishment on the wicked. Bildad turns from argument and simply speaks condemnation.
In the past, Bildad spoke about God’s mercy being offered to Job (though I said I don’t think it was truly mercy Bildad spoke about). There is no call to repent now. It’s all condemnation, all Law, all the time. Bildad’s misdiagnosis of Job leads to a speech that most of us would probably be better off skipping over.
But it does highlight an important issue. When offering advice or support to others, we surely better make sure we understand that person’s situation, and I mean truly understand it, not just think we understand it, before speaking. Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar never really attempt to understand Job’s situation. They’re so busy offering their own prescriptions, that when Job questions their assumptions, they double-down and get more angry at him for his recalcitrant attitude.
The great blessing for us is that no matter how others misunderstand us, God never does. In fact He knows us better than we know ourselves. He created us, He sustains us, He knows all of our days and the hairs on our head (see Psalm 139).
While all of that sounds great, there is something bothersome about the fact that God knows us better than we know ourselves. In Job’s case specifically. God has shown that he knows Job. He knows what Job can handle and how he can handle it.
It’s not so much that the old saying “God never gives you more than you can handle,” is true. It's that God knows that Job will come to God and look for help. God knows that Job’s faith in God will sustain him, even if he comes to great anguish because of these sufferings. How does God know that? Because God knows that Job’s faith rests on the ultimate solid rock of God’s own promises. Yes Job is being tested, but God is purifying his faith like gold and it will shine even brighter in the end. This is not merely a statement about the quality of Job’s faith, so that we look at Job and look back at ourselves and say, “Boy, I could never have faith like Job did!” Please understand that what makes Job’s faith so powerful and strong is not Job, it is the One whom Job trusts that makes it powerful. It’s the fact that God’s promises are so certain and so unchanging that Job, when he falls on them, falls on solid ground that will never give way. Though all else fall apart, Job knows that God’s Word is true. So hold on to these words.
But now to summarize Bildad’s speech. In the first few verses (18:1-4), Bildad complains that Job just won’t stop talking. He’s ready for Job to done because he can see this is getting nowhere. Bildad ironically thinks that Job considers his friends stupid, but he won’t see that they’re the ones who aren’t open to the truth.
In the rest of his speech (18:5-21) he piles on the hate. He very vividly and passionately describes all the various ways that the wicked (that is, his friend Job!) will suffer. Don’t mistake this very unfortunate shift for mere teaching. No lifelines, u-turns, or hope is being offered in these words. Bildad appears to be turning his back on Job and throwing away the key. These are his parting words, so to speak, to a condemned man. They are not so much to cure Job, as they are to make Bildad and his friends feel better about their own fortunes.
Bildad describes the wicked person as one who gets trapped by his own deceit or wickedness. You can try to be smarter than everyone else for a time, but eventually you will get caught (see especially 18:7-10). This is going to be a point that will be stressed even more in subsequent speeches. Job is going to be diagnosed as a wicked man, who has always been one. But previously he outsmarted everyone else and so appeared as righteous. Now his streak of luck has finally run dry.
Bildad’s speech concludes in another super uncomfortable streak of words. On the surface, he’s merely pontificating about the fate of the “wicked,” but more and more you can see him looking directly at Job and pointing out that the wicked’s suffering and final misfortune looks so much like Job’s current state, that one can’t help but see Job for who he really is (according to them): a wicked man.
Bildad is the one who brought up God’s justice (Job 8). It was in response to that Job decided that he wanted to bring his case against God directly (Job 9:2-4). In essence, Job agrees with the idea that God is just, but flips that argument against Bildad. Since God is just and would hear Job’s case fairly (unlike his friends) and since His decision would actually bring about resolution, Job is ready to go to court against God. But as Job considered this option, he recognized he could never out-argue God, he needed an arbiter or a mediator to stand between them (Job 9:33). In his next response after Zophar spoke, Job again brought up this point, recognizing that his “friends” would not be his arbiters to speak on his behalf (Job 13:19, 22). In another speech Job declared that his witness (the one who would speak on his behalf) was a heavenly witness (which I would understand to be God Himself) (Job 16:19). The development of that theme is an important one to keep in mind as we turn to Job’s response to Bildad.
Bildad was the one who threw away the key to Job’s condemnation. He spent his energy reciting to Job the just fate of the wicked. Though we know that all of those words were wasted because Job is not actually among the wicked, Job once again tries in vain to convince them that while they crush and grieve him with their heavy words, they’ve missed the point and have failed to find any real error in him (19:1-6). Later on in his speech, Job goes through every possible connection you can think of and concludes again that not a single person has come to his defense: not his brothers, relatives, friends, guests, servants, wife, no one (19:13-20). He is utterly alone in his battle against God.
In this light, Job returns to Bildad’s thesis. If God truly is a just God, then where is Job’s justice (19:7)? Why has God so turned against him on every side. Why is he walled in so that he cannot escape God’s anger (19:8)? It is especially with these words, that again, we, the readers, who have been given privileged information in the first two chapters, see the irony of Job’s situation. He thinks God has put a hedge around him, keeping Job on the inside with all forms of evil and suffering, when just the opposite is true (Job 1:10; 2:5). God has put a hedge of protection around Job repeatedly. And while the waves of Satan’s assaults against Job sometimes crash against those walls and spill over, falling upon him, afflicting him in various ways, what Job has failed to realize is that if God would remove that wall from around him, he would be completely undone. While Job feels dethroned, uprooted, and besieged by God, it is actually God who is keeping him alive. And while that feels like a punishment to Job in his current state, what Job doesn’t know is that God has much more life to give to Job than he could ever imagine.
Given his state of helplessness, Job issues a call of mercy to his friends (19:21). Though they have condemned him, Job still hopes that they will be moved by compassion for their old friend. And it’s in his plea to his friends that Job speaks probably the most famous words of the entire book, “I know that my Redeemer** lives; and at the last He will stand upon the earth!” (19:25). In the context of this speech, these words stand in stark contrast to what otherwise looks like complete hopelessness.
While Job has cursed the day of his birth and argued before his friends and God that he doesn’t have any way out of his situation, once again he gives an exception: God alone is his Redeemer. God alone is the one who will rescue him. He doesn’t exactly know how that will happen, but he knows that it will happen. Job’s words are not merely that he “hopes” or believes” that his Redeemer will stand up for him. Job speaks with absolute confidence, “I know!”
While we, like Job’s friends, are overwhelmed by the negative things that Job says in his pain as he grieves and complains about his situation, don’t let those words drown out this one sentence. For even Job knows that while he wishes he would have the support of others around him, in the end, it is the support that God Himself will give him that continues to move him onward in his attempt to redeem his good name.
**Redeemer – In the Old Testament, the term redeemer, or kinsman-redeemer, was the one who in Israelite custom was the nearest relative of someone in need of help who would step in to guarantee the rights and security of his fellow kin. Lacking social services or a government that would take care of people who slip through the cracks, it was given to family to make sure that they take care of their family (remember that whole “am I my brother’s keeper?” bit?).
If a family member was innocently killed, they could be avenged lawfully by a kinsman-redeemer; if someone got in over their head in debt and was about to be sold into slavery, a kinsman-redeemer could settle the balance; if a man dies, leaving a widow, it was a kinsman-redeemer who could take care of the widow and any children on behalf of the deceased to preserve his family life. The Book of Ruth is probably the clearest and most famous example of a kinsman-redeemer in action as Boaz acts on behalf of Ruth.
More to the point in Job’s situation, if one is legally wronged, a kinsman-redeemer can initiate and take up a lawsuit to restore the rights of his family member who has been treated unjustly (e.g. Psalm 119:154; Jer. 50:34; Lam 3:58-59). This is exactly the scenario being envisioned by Job. He has been wronged and has taken up a lawsuit against God. But even if he dies before he himself sees justice, he declares his utter confidence that his Redeemer will vindicate him.
That shouldn’t be so surprising given that he has already spoken of God as the one who will plead his case on his behalf (that was in Job 16:19). Rather the more shocking element here is that Job’s words can be understood as hinting at the possibility of resurrection. That even after his death, he will be alive, somehow “in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26) and in this whole event is not his defeat, but rather his victory and vindication. More on this in my Easter sermon!
Now there’s still a lot more to sit and contemplate about these verses, it’s my small hope in explaining it in this way that you will see that those words do not come out of thin air, but rather are a continual build up of Job’s thought development as his friends continue to misdiagnose his ills. More and more as all the other options of help are taken away from Job, he directly looks to God. And though that frightens him, he also finds great hope. Not just the possibility of hope, not just wishful thinking. Rather he finds certainty: I KNOW that my Redeemer lives!
And now it’s Zophar’s turn to speak for a second time. In his first speech, he told Job that he should be thankful for what he’s suffering, because actually he deserves a lot worse (Job 11:6). He lacks some of the eloquence of the other speakers and really doesn’t contribute any strong points for Job to address. He doesn’t find any real way to argue contrary to Job’s confident assertion about his own fate, namely that his Redeemer lives and will deliver him (Job 19:25). So instead, he picks up where Eliphaz left off and speaks more strongly about the fate of all the wicked (again, lumping Job into that pool). One important thing to notice is how Zophar speaks less about “wicked people” (plural) and more about “the wicked man” (singular). And in so doing, it’s clearer now more than ever that the wicked man that Zophar is describing is none other than Job himself. There’s honestly not a lot of redemption for Zophar’s words, but I’ll make note of a few highlights.
In the introduction to his speech (20:1-3), Zophar has the gall to say that Job’s words grieve him and force his spirit to reply. Job is being treated as a blasphemer of God, and it’s Zophar’s duty to correct him. But rather than correcting Job by telling him why he’s wrong, the next twenty-six verses are a long-winded summary of the final destiny of the wicked man. The overall conclusion that we’re to draw from the lack of progress of the dialogue (yes the speakers continue to speak, but their speeches in general are getting shorter and shorter) is that there needs to be some other kind of resolution. Job and his friends could go around like this all day (and apparently did). There’s foreshadowing in this bland repetition that something new must happen.
While Job confidently spoke in Job 19:25, “I know that my Redeemer lives,” Zophar mockingly says the really important thing that Job needs to know is the wisdom from of old that his friends have been trying to teach him (Job 20:4, notice the repetition of “know” in Zophar’s response).
In Job 20:5, Zophar admits (contrary to what has been spoken before, see for instance Job 4:11ff., notice “a quick end” in verse 13) that sometimes the wicked man does enjoy this life, but that enjoyment is momentary and brief. While this is a deep concession to Job’s arguments (Job is the one who brought up the fact that sometimes the wicked man does get off scot-free (Job 12:6) and a reversal from the previously stated position, do you notice how Zophar doesn’t give Job any credit for this and still insists that all of the friends have already accounted for this in their arguments?
In 20:6, Zophar’s argument could basically be summarized as, “the higher they climb, the harder they fall.” Sure the wicked man can fight God’s justice, but it’s like gravity, it will always win in the end. In 20:7-9, the wicked man, who may have been famous for a moment, will drop out of sight and out of mind altogether. No one will remember him.
Job would not disagree with the overall point, but rather the application of it. The problem still remains though that if all are born sinful, how can one find any hope of salvation at all? The friends cannot articulate any true grounds for hope, for Job or for anyone, other than “you get good by doing good.” But where does any goodness come from??
Zophar does not concede any ground to Job in all of this, but rather he’s going to use this point to strike Job with a hammer. In Job 20:10, Zophar says basically that the sins of the father fall upon the children. Instead of enjoying wealth, they’re left to seek the favor of the poor. While not as blunt as other comments have been, this is a low blow. The veiled allegation is that Job’s own children have tasted their father’s fate and have died as consequence of Job’s own sin. In the following verse (20:11), the wicked man is talked about as having lost his youthful vigor and lying in the dust, which is exactly where Job is at the moment. It would have been more honest for Zophar and Eliphaz to talk less generically of “the wicked man,” and just use Job’s own name, but here we are.
An interesting point that Zophar does make here is that the wicked man’s enjoyment in this life comes largely because he enjoys evil (or at least some of what it brings). The problem is that no matter how sweet it tastes in one’s mouth, it always ends up as poison in the stomach that must be disgorged. Zophar’s point here is a different way of stating what Eliphaz said in his first speech, that a man reaps what he sows (Job 4:8). In this case, the wicked man ingests the very poison that causes him to lose all that he devoured.
Job 20:17 alludes to promises of a blessed end, not enjoying the promised land that God said He would give Abraham’s offspring. In fact, there is no rest at all for the wicked man, Zophar says, because his appetite, his greed, never offers an escape. It always wants more and is never filled. Those words are true enough, just misapplied in Job’s case.
In Job 20:23, God’s trap is finally sprung. Once the wicked man has fattened himself up, he is ripe for the slaughter. Zophar’s depiction of God is like the mighty hunter that has set his trap and now waits. While there is some truth to this (“vengeance is mine, says the LORD” (Deut. 32:25, quoted in Rom. 12:19 and Heb 10:30)), these words are out of place. Job already feels like God is his enemy. Zophar’s point is not that God is Job’s enemy, but more so that Job is God’s enemy and now he’s finally caught him.
In his final words, Zophar digs into Job again. Whereas Job talked about his Redeemer standing on the earth (19:25), Zophar counts that the earth will instead rise up (or take its stand) against the wicked man (that is, Job). And it is this misfortune, this doom, that is ultimately the fate of all wicked because this is the inheritance God has appointed to them all.
The more Zophar and the others speak, the more we see that their picture of who Job is has become a twisted and distorted caricature of the real man. Were Job really the kind of person they are portraying him to be (this wicked man), it really calls into question why these men were friends with Job in the first place. If Job were this corrupt and evil, he should have been the kind of person that they would run from, unless they were never really friends of Job in the first place, but only friends of his prosperity or perhaps people who wished to be his friends rather than his enemies.
No matter the reason, the real person Job, who has become disfigured because of the illness that has struck him, is now being disfigured through his own good name and reputation by the very ones who are supposed to be his friends.
Job 21 feels like Job too understands that something needs to change in this dialogue that has been happening thus far. Job had been tending to address his friends less and less, and God more and more, and as he has been doing that Job has somehow been finding his way to hope (e.g. Job 14:7; 16:19; 19:25) despite his circumstances and the condemnation of his friends. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar haven’t been able to refute Job’s arguments, but instead turned the heat up on Job with each new speech. This time, Job speaks in a remarkably clear and lucid tone. His words defy his emotions and his suffering and read more like a well-reasoned and cogent defense of his position and an attack against the theological assumptions his friends rely on. Let’s see what he has to say!
Job is going to address his friends now in the way that he wishes they would have addressed him, while Eliphaz claimed that they were offering God’s consolations (15:11). Job says that if they listen to him, they would finally understand the comfort that he needed. He tells them his problem wasn’t with them in the first place. He can’t understand why they have reacted so angrily against him. It’s like they forced themselves into a conversation in which they were neither the speaker nor the listener. All they needed to do was to look at him and that alone should have shocked and appalled them into silence (21:5). [Note – this is helpful for us to remember in these situations too!]
The main thesis that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all show complete agreement on is that the righteous are blessed by God, but the wicked suffer and both of these happen in an almost mechanical, automatic way. The two disparate outcomes were initially compared to sowing seed (Job 4:8). When you sow a seed, it will become that particular plant whose seed it is. It cannot become something else. And so it is with people. Good people will receive good from God. Bad people won’t.
This assumption has been applied on Job in an almost sadistic fashion. They see Job’s suffering and their belief about God leads them to a singular conclusion. Because Job suffers, Job is wicked and has done wicked things.
Job has challenged this assumption in a few different ways. He has repeatedly tried to claim his own innocence (e.g. Job 9:23, 28; 10:7), thus destroying the chain of connection that his friends are trying to make between Job’s status before God and his current welfare. But he’s also used other examples to try to show that the beliefs these friends have are incorrect (the example of the wicked marauders who live at peace despite their evil deeds in Job 12:6). But lately his friends have only spoken more vehemently against the wicked and their fate, specifically implicating Job to be among them. “If the shoe fits, Job, wear it!”
Job sees now that this might be his only chance to offer a corrective word to his friends (isn’t amazing that he still is trying to teach them despite his own misery, supporting Eliphaz’s own description of him in Job 4:3-4). Perhaps Job isn’t the patient after all, but the true physician who can speak wisdom and sense into his friends?
Job’s argument hits upon two main points: first, that the wicked are very often blessed in this life and second, that the wicked are infrequently punished in this life. If either of these positions is true, in one fell blow it would knock down the house of cards-like belief upon which his friends have based all their accusations.
First in Job 21:7-16 Job speaks broadly about how the wicked live a long life and become extremely powerful. They are fruitful and multiply. They have many children, their homes are safe and sound, their livestock are numerous, their lives are filled with song and dance, and death comes to them quickly (not slowly or painfully) with not a whit of regret about how they have lived their life. In sum, they have lived a happy life as far as they are concerned.
Now certainly Job’s description here verges on exaggeration and oversimplification, but no more so than the oversimplifications his friends have also made. Often in debate, you speak in this manner. But Job’s point holds more water than his friends’ arguments. For if Job or his friends can think of even one example where Job’s description of a prosperous wicked man has been true, Job wins the argument. He doesn’t say that every single wicked person is prosperous, whereas his friends have tried to say that no single righteous person could ever suffer.
In the second part of Job’s argument (Job 21:17-21), Job touches upon the infrequency of the demise of the wicked. “How often does it really happen in this world that the evildoers fall into ruin?” Job’s friends conceded that there may be a time when God will let the wicked succeed, but it will be momentary and only to bring about an even bigger catastrophe in their downfall.
But Job says, “Come on guys, be real. How often have you actually seen that happen? Isn’t it true that more often than not, the bad guys don’t appear to get their come-uppance. Or when someone does, we especially note it because it is such a rare occurrence? If God really wants the world to know that He stands against the evildoers, wouldn’t He want to repeatedly and quickly humble all of those who are proud?”
“And what about his children too? Even if they are punished, as you have said (Job 5:4; 20:10), how is punishing the children, while the father gets off scot-free any form of justice at all? If justice is not meted out on the actual one who has done wrong, it’s no justice at all.”
Having given these two arguments, hitting his friends’ beliefs head-on, Job now turns to them (Job 21:22-26) and asks, “Can you actually teach the exalted God something, the very one who judges all things? Then explain this, one dies at the height of his life and power, another dies in wretchedness, but both of them lie dead together and are buried in the earth? You say the innocent never die and the wicked never prosper. Tell me the difference in the fate of these two individuals who now look identical.”
And then in his final words (Job 21:27-34), Job anticipates the answers his friends may try to make. He knows they will try to ask for names of these wicked men whom Job claims are prospering. He knows his friends will attempt to say that there are no such men living in such prosperous houses. But Job in essence says, “How do you know there aren’t such men? Have you traveled to all of the lands of the world and seen all the people? How can you speak so universally, so certainly of how God works in this world when your perspective is so small and limited?” [Ooooh, there’s juicy foreshadowing and dramatic irony to these words! Just wait for Yahweh’s conversation with Job.]
But then he pushes his argument further: “When the wicked do become prosperous and powerful, who is there on earth who will say to his face that he is bad (21:31)? Who will repay him for his evil ways. In fact, the opposite is very often true. That powerful man, even after his death, when in a sense he has no more power over anyone, will still be treated with utmost respect, given a funeral, being placed in a cemetery, and given a sentinel to watch over his tomb. In the future, others will remember him and honor him far beyond his own lifetime. His name will live as large in death as it did in life.”
And although Job here names no names, you can’t help but think he doesn’t need to. Even in our own day, we still have that custom that you shouldn’t speak any ill of the dead. If for no other reason than not wanting to make him into a martyr of an evil cause. But Job I think is also referring to a different kind of phenomenon. In these ancient days, how many tombs and monuments to the dead would people come upon in their travels from one civilization to another.
I have no idea if Job would have known of the pyramids in Egypt, but one can hardly think that he didn’t. These man-made structures still astound us hundreds of years later. In Job’s world, they would always stand as a reminder that powerful tyrants don’t just disappear nor does their power cease upon their death. The fact that these magnificent structures exist and that these kings are still honored is a mic-drop moment for Job that his arguments speak to true wisdom in this world, while his friends have tried in vain to help Job and left him with nothing other than falsehood.
Hold on to your hats, Eliphaz is going to be speaking for the third time now and he’s blowing some terribly hot wind from his lips. Like some of his previous speeches, he begins by asking some rhetorical questions (22:2-5, cf. w 15:2-3 and 4:2, 6). Eliphaz hasn’t moved an inch in his assessment of Job nor did Job’s latest speech, that great disputation on the fault of his friends’ logic, cause Eliphaz to reconsider his approach with Job. If anything, it only got Eliphaz hotter. For now Eliphaz will make it crystal clear that the formula “a sinner must suffer for his sin,” is true for Job too. Before the friends alleged that Job must have some secret sin to repent of, but now Eliphaz lists Job’s sins one after another because Job’s evil is abundant and there is no end to his iniquities (Job 22:5)!
Eliphaz’s allegations against Job are of different kinds, but ultimately are aimed at how Job took advantage of other people during his time of prosperity. Though Eliphaz’s words are a blanket condemnation without specific examples listed, he says that Job showed no compassion when others had given pledges they couldn’t keep. Job would instead demand that they kept their word even if it meant taking everything they had and stripping them naked (22:6). Job failed to show kindness and hospitality to those who came to him who were hungry or thirsty (22:7). It wasn’t that Job couldn’t have tended to such people’s needs. Eliphaz declares that Job actually withheld the goodness of his hand from them. As a greedy landowner, Job devoured other people’s properties to enrich himself and leave them without a means to exist (22:8). And in the ultimate sign of Job’s egocentric and unloving attitude, Eliphaz even says that Job dismissed the widows and fatherless without any sign of pity or any help at all from him (22:9).
Taken together, all of these charges show Job to be a cruel, heartless tyrant. They would populate a list of things that characterizes “bad” people in the world. In the eyes of all people, if there was a person who did the things that Eliphaz says Job did, he would unanimously be declared a wicked, wicked man.
Of course, the problem with Eliphaz’s characterization is that it’s not true. First and foremost, we know that it’s not true because the setting of the Book of Job told us very clearly that Job lived at peace among people, he was blameless and upright (Job 1:1; 2:3). But even if we didn’t have that detail about Job’s life, if all of the things that Eliphaz said about Job were true, it would really call into question his relationship with his friends. Birds of a feather flock together, after all. So if Job really was this cruel man, what were Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar like? One would have to assume that they lived their lives the same kind of way. And if that’s true, how could they possibly take the righteous attitude toward Job that so far they have taken? They would be guilty of the same kind of sins as Job.
But even if that’s not the case, and these friends really were exceptionally good people, why did it take them 20 chapters of beating around the bush to get to Job’s sins? If his sins were that obvious and out in the open, then they too have sinned by failing to rebuke Job from the get go. You could say, maybe they just didn’t want to say this because they didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but, come on, you’ve been reading the same dialogue that I have. Nowhere in what they’ve spoken so far have they shown any apprehension for hurting Job’s feelings.
What seems to be happening is this: Eliphaz feels like he’s being pushed into a corner in this dialogue with Job. He lacks the answers to Job’s poignant wisdom in his last speech. So now he returns wholeheartedly to his point about the wicked receiving their due reward by exposing Job’s alleged guilt.
It’s because of these countless, unrepented sins that Job now has found himself ensnared by the God who sees all and rightly condemns the wicked, that is, Job (22:10-11).
In the next few lines (22:12-20), Eliphaz teaches Job about God’s plans against wicked men. You may think you can run and hide, but you can’t. God can see everything from the heights of heaven and there is no darkness or thick clouds that He cannot see through. The wicked think they’ll get away with their evil deeds and that they’re untouchable, even when their houses may be filled with good things (22:18). But Eliphaz breaks off and doesn’t explain why God would let that happen. He claims not to know the counsel of the wicked because it is far from him, but nevertheless, he does know that their end will come and when it does the righteous gloat and rejoice and the innocent mock the evildoers. They are completely cut off and their riches burned in the fiery flames of God’s judgment. Indeed, Eliphaz says, it’s the fact that the righteous are around to mock the wicked that is proof of the righteousness of the righteous and the wickedness of those who were destroyed, but ultimately the proof of this whole system of punishment and reward.
Now if you follow back Job’s speech from the previous chapter and compare it with Eliphaz’s statement and try to see how Eliphaz has answered Job’s objections, you will find that mostly Job’s objections remain intact. Job said that the wicked often rise to success and are infrequently punished. He also declared that the wicked live on even after their death in the memory of others and in the monuments of their own lives.
Eliphaz simply replies, “No, that’s not true.” But he doesn’t say why not. And the concession that the wicked do fill their houses with riches still remains a hole in Eliphaz’s faith that he cannot solve. He only insists that though it happens, the righteous will stand in mockery over the wicked eventually. But that’s different from what Eliphaz has been saying before.
If it’s true that the wicked sometimes do prosper, if only for a short time, then Eliphaz should also be able to grant that there are occasions when the righteous suffer, but only for a short time. And yet, Eliphaz has not once given an inch on this topic, even though his friend Job is the very one who is suffering.
Eliphaz’s final words in this speech (22:21-20) are perhaps the oddest and most out of place words of all. The friends at first encouraged Job to repent of his sin, but lately the tone had shifted. They began to speak condemnation rather than repentance. And yet now, in the very speech when Eliphaz attempts to expose Job for all of his alleged wickedness, Eliphaz concludes his speech by encouraging Job to repent, promising him that if he would only repent, God would reestablish his position, blessing him in abundance. If Job would just return all his ill-gotten gains, all of his gold and silver, Eliphaz assures him that God would he his gold and his silver (22:23-25).
And so maybe this is the time to explain to you that the name Eliphaz in Hebrew means “My God is pure gold.” What a name right? It could be understood to mean something like “God is my treasure” (reminding us of Jesus’ words about storing up treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21), but it good also have other more hedonistic connotations, meaning that in the end, the gold he has on earth is ultimately his god. I’d like to be generous and hope that Eliphaz is living up to the former meaning, his words leave me wondering.
The promises Eliphaz gives that will follow his repentance will be that Job will pray to God and God will hear him and answer him. Whatever it is that Job asks God, so will it be for him! When Job requests on behalf of others for their guilt to be absolved, Job will have the power to grant it!
Wow. So rather than simply promising Job material blessings, now Eliphaz is promising Job spiritual blessings on a whole new level. And while I’d love to unwind this latest unexpected claim, I’m going to try to let you figure this out (just sit for a minute on what Eliphaz says and compare that against “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”).
Let’s for a moment assume that Eliphaz and company have the very same privileges that they are now promising that Job will have when he repents. After all, these privileges belong to all who are close to God and the friends from the beginning have taught Job as if they know God’s mind very well. Now if it’s true that their words directed to God mean that they will be granted the things they seek, why in the world have none of them prayed to God AT ALL during these past 20 chapter?! Why have they not prayed to God on behalf of Job so that though he may be guilty (as they assume), he would be delivered and so forgiven?! How many prayers on Job’s behalf have they offered so far? I’ll give you a second to count them. Spoiler alert: the answer is ZERO!
Recall how I’ve said that one of the major problems in their theology is that they have no real way for one who is unrighteous to become righteous? Well now Eliphaz drops this promise that the intercession of the righteous on behalf of the wicked will bring forgiveness and deliverance. Frankly at this point, I’m not sure Eliphaz believes any of what he’s saying because if he really does—if he really believes that he’s righteous and that his prayers to God must be answered as he prays them—Eliphaz, not Job turns out to be the true wicked man in this conversation. Eliphaz has never sounded more like the Satan, the Accuser, than he does in this speech.
In Job 23-24 the two chapters divide the general content of Job’s speech: Job 23 expresses his confidence and Job 24 his complaint, both directed toward God, not his friends.
In the first part (Job 23), Job speaks in a balanced way, on the one hand showing a growing confidence in the whole merit of his plan to argue his case before God, while on the other hand, still recognizing that standing before God alone is a terrifying idea. Interestingly, he doesn’t mention an arbiter, heavenly witness or redeemer speaking on his behalf. While that may cause one to think that he has abandoned those ideas, I don’t think that’s exactly the case.
If you look back to the places where he talked about his hope in arguing his case before God, the overall direction that his words were taking him was to believe that his only hope would be if God Himself intervened for him and spoke on his behalf to God. While to him that notion probably seemed strange, and, in the story of the revealing of God to His people, Job certainly knew less than we do, but from our position, Job was speaking by faith about a true reality: that Jesus (God’s Son) is our advocate and mediator before our Heavenly Father.
Even though Job here doesn’t mention his mediator, his confidence and hope in speaking before God is very different from his utter fear of doing so before and I think the reason for that change is because he knows when he goes before God he won’t be going alone. He speaks here of God’s almighty power (a topic that has been used by his friends to try to force him into silence), but in this section, God’s power is balanced by a different view of God than his friends have heretofore described. Job says that if he came before God, he would pay attention to him (23:6, actually listen to his complaints, unlike his friends). Job says that before the throne of God an upright man (Job 1:1) could argue with Him and Job himself is confident that he would be acquitted by his Judge (23:7).
So Job has rejected Eliphaz’s call for Job to repent and thus also rejected Eliphaz’s accusations that Job is a wicked man. The only solution that Job sees is going before God’s throne and pleading his case. And in doing that, Job knows that he will be declared innocent.
And it is this clear declaration that Job truly wants. His friends haven’t been listening to a word that Job said. They have assumed, based on their own view of God, that all Job wants from God is to get his stuff back, to be blessed and prosperous again. Absolutely none of that is mentioned in Job’s speech. What is it that Job wants most of all? He wants his relationship with God to be restored. He has feared that he has somehow become God’s enemy. What he wants most of all his to be his friend, to restore his communion with God.
And that’s what’s been distressing him in his current situation. In Job 23:8-9, Job says he’s walking through this life blind and he cannot perceive God. He has been hidden from him. Job has committed himself to following God’s way, but now he feels lost because God seems like He’s nowhere to be found.
Job’s words here touch upon a rich theological doctrine called “the hidden God.” There have been tomes and libraries of books written on this topic and so I cannot do it justice here. But this is very relevant to the whole situation. Job is suffering and God is silent. Job has received no message from God explaining to him why all of this is happening. And so, in the absence of a “Thus saith the LORD,” Job and his friends are trying to explain the situation themselves. We, the readers, know what’s going on, but Job does not. So far the explanations that all of the people who have been speaking have been wrong. The wisdom here is to teach us that without a clear word from God, we very often get ourselves into bigger problems by trying to explain our personal problems. I would warn you to stay away from people who claim to speak for God through their own personal revelation apart from the written Word of God. Their words must always be judged by God’s revealed Word, Scripture. When we say God is silent, we very often are ignoring the fact that God has spoken to us by His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). I do not know how Job knew God’s words in his day, but no matter how those words came to Job, they would have been from a revelation from God rather than a human examination of Him.
One way I’ve seen God’s silence explained is that just like a teacher is silent during a test, so God is often silent to us in those times when He’s testing us, giving us opportunities to show our trust in Him and the wisdom He has taught us. And this is exactly the direction Job’s thoughts are taking him. He says that this time of affliction is a time of testing, but in the end the testing will prove to be more like a refiner’s fire, and he will come out like pure gold (23:10).
The biggest (and briefest) take-away for me is that unlike his friends and their simplistic view of God, Job’s view is much more complex. It’s true that complexity bothers him (“why is it that the wicked seem to prosper?” somehow must balance against God being a just God), but within that complexity, he also is beginning to find his solace.
But even while finding his solace, he dares not to be presumptuous or reckless. He is confident in his innocence before God, but humble (or even terrified, as he says) to be in the presence of God. God’s awesome power does not mean that Job is just a pawn in a game and that he has no real value. Job is comfortable putting his life in God’s hands because there really is no other option available (23:14).
All of that said, Job’s faith in God still brings him to wonder why. His faith in God is complex, but he longs for it to be a bit simpler. It would be easier to trust in God if the wicked were punished quickly and clearly. Job 24 is full of Job’s very specific complaints about how the wicked never seem to meet their judgment day, almost like God has forgotten to visit on them their punishment (24:1). The wicked take advantage of their delayed judgments to increase in their wickedness and the righteous falter under the hardships they experience in their lives without ever receiving the rewards for their faithfulness.
I’ll refrain from commenting on all the scenarios that Job lists (24:1-17), even though there’s some good imagery in his words. The main point is that the wicked are emboldened to commit more and greater crimes against others by God’s apparent lack of judgment against them. As an exercise in history, it’s noteworthy that many of the crimes that Job describes are widely recognized in cultures of this day (Google “Code of Hammurabi” to get some idea of ancient law-codes). It’s also fascinating to think that even before the Ten Commandments were given, people had a pretty good notion of right and wrong, good and bad, and that this was ordained by God.
The final portion (24:18-25) of Job’s words contain Job’s own curse against the wicked. This is quite a big move from where we began in Job 3 when Job uttered curses against the day he was born. This also perhaps ties into Eliphaz’s final words when he said that if Job were right with God he could ask God anything it would be granted (Job 22:27-28). Here Job expresses a firm desire that the wicked would be judged, that their death of death would come quickly, that they would be remembered no more, that all who exalted themselves may be humbled by God. Yes, Job realizes that the wicked don’t always get punished as quickly as they should, but Job still yearns for justice to be done.
While some feel uncomfortable with Job’s words here at the end, I think it’s merely the other side of the coin of his own confidence in his position. Job is looking for justice to be done. He does not think it’s any more just that he continues to suffer, than that the wicked go unpunished. So as he speaks confidently on God acquitting him, he must also speak to the opposite issue of justice, that the wicked would also get their due.
And here we have it, the grand conclusion of Job’s friends’ doses of healing words. And boy is it short! Bildad doesn’t necessarily have a lot to say, but his words have a poetic punch. He reflects on God’s absolute holiness and sovereignty. Compared to God, His heavenly host (25:3) and the celestial bodies (25:5) are nothing. And if those things are on a higher plane and more powerful than humankind, then why would humans ever think they can be pure or upright before Him (25:4)? It makes no sense. We are but worms and maggots (25:6). Dust we are and to dust we shall return (Gen. 3:19)!
While Bildad is technically correct, God is great and compared to Him man is but nothing, his conclusions are completely wrong. Job, for instance, can see the same set of basic facts and flip them on their head. Earlier Job wonders what man is to God that God would see the need to be so active in Job’s life to visit him with suffering (7:17). But there’s much more at work. Job continues to plead to God precisely because God is so great and because of His own ability to make peace through all the heavens. Job believes that God must care about Job and would devote His own personal attention to him and his case. And as readers, we have the full knowledge of what’s going on (see Job 1-2). We know that Job’s thoughts are much closer to bring correct than Bildad’s.
Outside of Job, David in Psalm 8 knows well God’s majesty and His glory, but He praises Him because of His care for people, because we are not just food for worms and maggots, but God has given humans dominion over creation (Gen 1:26-28). They are God’s partners in ruling His creation. They have His breath of life and were created in His image.
It is a complete misreading of God’s majesty to infer from it that humans are of no value. The problem is always our sin and how we can have fellowship with God once more. But even if we contemplate this, it leads us even further away from Bildad’s words. Humanity has never had more worth than it was given through the Incarnation, that God sent His Son Jesus to become a human, like us in every way except without sin. That God became a human in order to die for humans to save humans and give them eternal life with Him is the Gospel itself and yet Bildad’s words make this central teaching of Scripture unthinkable in God’s mind. Yet this is much closer to the heart of what Job is wondering than what his friends have spoken.
Bildad’s motive in speaking is his strong desire to talk Job out of his current plan of bringing his case before God and pleading innocence. All of the friends think Job’s plan is foolish because they think Job is not innocent. They’ve made this point repeatedly. So here Bildad especially appeals to Job’s own terror (which he has also expressed repeatedly) in going alone before God. Bildad agrees with him that this would be a terrible idea, not even the heavenly beings can stand before God and Job is far less than that!
Bildad’s words are the final words of the friends in the Book of Job and they have reached a feeble conclusion. This whole enterprise began with the arrival of Job’s friends to soothe him in his distress, but after Job’s dramatic outburst in Job 3 where he cursed the day he was born, his friends ceased to comfort him and instead began to rebuke, correct, lecture, accuse, and condemn him.
While Job, in his responses to his friends, gradually moved from self-pity to instead express his own faith and wisdom, his friends’ positions deteriorated. What’s so puzzling is that nowhere during Job’s attempts to find a ray of hope in his situation did his friends ever offer him a life-life or really try to console him. Nowhere did they reach out to God and pray to Him on behalf of Job. Instead they continued to argue that Job’s wisdom was no wisdom at all and he was only looking more guilty by refusing to listen to theirs.
But their wisdom is the real folly. As we have seen, it doesn’t account for the realities of this world or the true wisdom from God. Job doesn’t have all the answers either, but his desire for an answer is a much better position than the faulty confidence of his friends. After Bildad’s speech the friends end as they began by keeping their silence (Job 2:13).
Is their silence a sign that they have nothing more to say? That they believe Job is no longer worthy of their words? That they’re confident that God will now ruin him, as their own wisdom has strongly asserted?
Below is a very brief synopsis of what great wisdom we have heard from Job’s friends.
With the ending of Bildad’s speech in Job 25 and the beginning of Job’s reply, we enter into a somewhat challenging section of the Book of Job. As I’ve been following various commentaries, the opinions on this section are all over the map, which usually tells you that you’re in a difficult part of Scripture. I’ll try to explain some of the difficulties that scholars have seen.
The first thing is that there seems to be an incompleteness to the cycle of speeches. If you look at the summary of speeches that I wrote about yesterday, you see that all three friends speak 3 times, except Zophar. Some feel that Zophar really needs to have a third speech to keep the symmetry of the dialogue, that way each friends speaks three times.
But there is no reason that each friend had to speak three times, especially as you read the dialogues, they’ve kind of run out of material. Especially if you believe the Book of Job is a real dialogue of a suffering man and his three friends, you have no reason to expect that each one had to speak. If you have nothing more to say, that’s just it. Also, it’s possible Zophar had planned to speak, but never got the opportunity. The fact that the opportunity never came is the disruption in the whole Book of Job that actually leads to its conclusion. It’s like that classic knock, knock joke – “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Banana (repeat 3x). Knock, knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” While we may have expected Zophar to speak, his silence is the space where new voices speak.
Another issue, related to the expectations we have on the text is the complaint that Bildad’s concluding speech is far too short (though perhaps some of you were grateful for such a short chapter, finally!). Something must have gone missing from his words. But again, this has more to do with our expectations than anything else. His speech has a natural opening and a very clear ending. It may not say what we expect, but the speech as it stands makes perfect sense in its context. In fact, the brevity of Bildad’s words dramatically serve the purpose of showing us that the friends as a whole have run out of arguments. In the beginning of the dialogue, they tended to speak longer, and gradually their speeches were shorter. Indeed, often Job and the friends were talking past one another anyway.
Another reason given why the text is challenging in this area is because although Job’s responses sometimes have been a little longer than the speeches of his friends, in this case, Job appears to speak for the next 6 chapters (Job 26-31). That seems a bit disproportionate, especially considering how short Bildad’s speech was. But again, it’s precisely at this section of the Book of Job that there is a shift in conversation. It is quite fitting that Job finishes his reply to his friends, and once again turn to his case that he wants to bring to God (the very thing that he has been focusing on more and more as he’s been speaking). And unlike before when his friends would step into the conversation, his friends have given up speaking, leaving space for Job to say more than he has had before. Furthermore, in this section, Job’s summarizes many of the points that he’s been making which is what opens him up to a new friend Elihu.
Overall, understanding the text of the Book of Job is not without its problems. Because it is poetry, and contains words and constructions that are not often used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, it can be a challenge to know exactly what is being said. You’ll notice some of these places in your English Bibles where there are notes that indicate translation difficulties with the Hebrew text. Nevertheless, while a word or two may be difficult to translate, there never are any real problems with the overarching message of the speeches or of the Book of Job as a whole.
In general, it’s a good practice, when faced with a difficult section of the Bible to say, “Oh, this is challenging and I might not understand it all,” rather than to say, “This is too hard, there must be some problem in the text, let me change some of the words to make it easier to understand!” The Bible is God’s Word, not merely a human word. So if it doesn’t always meet our expectations, maybe that’s a reminder that God’s ways are not always our ways.
With that interlude, let’s move on to the actual speech as it begins in Job 26!
Job’s opening words (26:2-4) are either read as rhetorical questions or sarcastic exclamations (there is no punctuation mark in Hebrew and the word “how” even in English can begin a question, “how are you?” or an exclamation, “how sad is Job’s life!”). Thus his words mean the opposite. They have not actually helped Job, they have not saved him, and they have offered no sound knowledge to one they thought had no power, strength, or wisdom.
Then Job embarks upon another description of God that differs from the one that Bildad just gave, where God’s awesome majesty crushes mankind. In Job’s version (26:5-6), God certainly rules over all the dead (e.g. those who are under the chaotic waters, in Sheol (a Hebrew term for the place of the dead), or in Abaddon (another Hebrew term for the place of the dead)) and they tremble before Him because everything has is clear to Him. In other words, there is no hiding from God. Job especially notes that the dead tremble before Him as part of his belief that the wicked really will be found out by God in the end. If they escape punishment for the wickedness in this life, death will not prove a real escape for them. Bildad, on the other hand, portrayed all mankind as living impure before God all the time and recognizing for themselves how dreadful this is. Whereas Bildad’s characterization of our situation is almost perverse, Job’s version points us again back to his desire for justice to be served.
God’s power over creation is vast. Job describes God the Creator’s rule in a way that makes it sound like He’s simply pitching a tent for the night, getting His bed ready, or marking out boundaries of His territory like one would do of his acreage. Job’s description isn’t exactly a recitation of Genesis 1-2, but it still is a firm belief in God’s ordering of all of creation. Again, the world makes sense and God has created life out of chaos. If God were not involved in creation and His rule over creation, chaos (the formless and void of Genesis) would reign once more. When the plans of the evil and wicked threaten to break up the order of creation, it is God who steps in to prevent chaos from breaking out. In the same way, Job’s position of suffering feels like an infraction against this ordered world that God rules over, so by reciting God’s rule over creation, he’s invoking that Creator God to rule over his chaos too.
Later on I’m going to have to bring back the images from 26:12-13 about Rahab and the flying serpent, but I’m not going to do that now. Just know that they are to understood as figures of chaos against creation that God is victorious over.
The conclusion Job reaches here comes in 26:14. As he reflects on this mighty God, he doesn’t reach the same conclusion as Bildad, that man is a mere maggot. Instead, Job speaks agnostically of God’s ways. There are limits to what humans can understand about Him because He is so great. When we consider our big universe as we know it, we don’t realize that that while that is the limit of our understanding, it is just the outskirts of God’s domain. Job doesn’t infer from this that our knowledge is garbage, rather he reaches a healthy level of humility: we catch just a glimmer, just a whisper of God’s whole work and character. But still the part that we can understand should cause us to marvel and stand in awe of Him. So while there are limits to our knowledge, if we only focus on what we do not know, we miss the majestic truth of what we do.
Job 27 begins with an unusual beginning, noting that Job continued his discourse. Normally when Job speaks through multiple chapters, there isn’t any kind of break between his words. Keep in mind that chapter and verse divisions are not part of the inspired text of the Bible. They are later additions, and usually helpful and follow the regular flow of the text, but sometimes not. Anyway as part of the challenges of understanding the text, it’s interesting to note that Job 27 begins almost as though Job 26 hadn’t been Job speaking, or that there was some kind of break in speaking and then he began again.
The same words are going to be used in Job 29, which is what makes some people believe that Job 28 may not be understood as words Job speaks, but perhaps words of the narrator or someone else. I don’t intend for you to get too lost with all of this, but I do want to point out that it is a little bit different and so it sets off Job 27 from what has come before it. Perhaps some time passed between Job 26 and 27.
Other than the initial arrival of the friends who waited silently with Job, there aren’t a lot of chronological indicators of how long Job and his friends have been talking. Was each speech spoken on a given day and then Job would give his rebuttal the next? Did all of the speeches happen on one day? We don’t really know and it isn’t really important to understanding the speeches themselves. But it could be possible that Job 27 marks a new day and on this day, Job took up his speaking once more and these were his words…
Job’s speech begins and brings us immediately back to the courtroom scene. In his opening words (28:2-6) Job swears an oath on the living God “as surely as God lives….my lips will not speak falsehood.” Job is calling on the fact that God lives to confirm his statement, that he is not lying in what he’s said, specifically referring to the fact that he is innocent and he is not suffering on account of any personal sins that he has committed. If Job has lied, his oath requires the living God to curse Job.
Though this language is rather foreign to us, the people of his day would have recognized it. There really isn’t much more that could be said after it. If Job really is lying, he has now invoked God and it’s God who will punish him. But if he’s telling the truth, well that’s more complicated. After all, his friends already believed that God was punishing him for his sins, how would they know where any of the old punishments and curses end and the new ones begin? So while Job’s oath may not have much of an effect on his friends, we, who know what’s really going on, should see it as Job continuing to advance his case to God and reaching a point of no-return. He’s now taken an oath and God must act one way or the other. Repentance will not and cannot happen. This is Job’s “Here I stand, I can do no other” moment.
From here, Job goes on (Job 27:7-12) and calls curses upon his enemy. These words only make sense if you continue to understand that Job believes God is a God of justice and it is right to pray to God and ask for justice to be done. God’s enemies should be our enemies too, but it is still His battle to win, not ours. Job speaks here of his enemy in a singular context. It’s a little bit vague who that enemy might be. While Job has described God as his enemy, it doesn’t really fit Job’s words to think that he’s speaking of God here. If it’s his friends, why didn’t he speak of “enemies” instead? Perhaps Job is thinking of them as one and the same. Whoever would choose to continue to speak against him is testifying falsely (contrary to Job who has sworn that he will not speak falsehoods). Job speaks of this enemy as wicked, unrighteous, and godless. Unlike Job, there is no hope for this person. Job instead takes on the role of the teacher and promises to teach them God’s ways. Though he is taken aback that they don’t understand all of this because they have had access to the same truth that Job has.
The final part of this speech (Job 27:13-23) is a description of the fate of the wicked. While we’ve seen this before in the Book of Job, we’re a bit more used to it coming from Job’s friends and when they describe the fate of the wicked, they meant Job’s fate. Now the tables have turned, and Job has lumped them into the same class.
In one sense, you could argue this is kind of like the old childhood taunts, “I know you are, but what am I?” But there is more to it. Job has taken great umbrage with his current sufferings giving the appearance that he is among the wicked. He longs for clarity of circumstances, that the wicked would suffer and the righteous would be blessed. These curses upon the wicked are a confirmation of their lot in life. If life is found with God, then you would wish for the distinction to be made clear that all of these who have sworn off God would have death, the absence of life. If with God there is abundance and prosperity, then you long for the wicked to have a lack and shortage of possessions.
There are in the Book of Psalms a few psalms that share this same kind of language. They are often called imprecatory psalms. Examples of them include Psalms 5, 69, 79, 137 (just to give a couple of examples, but there are more). This kind of language is also behind the great “woes” Jesus pronounces upon the Pharisees and scribes (Matt. 23:13ff.). This kind of language makes us uncomfortable (much like Job 3 does!), but there is ultimately a place for it because of God’s justice. It would be unjust and wrong for God to give Paradise to wicked and evil, to those who reject Him and denounce His ways. If God’s kingdom were filled with God’s enemies, why would God’s friends want to be there?
Of course, we cannot misunderstand all of this. God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of Him (Isa. 45:22, 1 Tim. 2:4), but God ultimately will honor our choices. If we confess Him, He will confess that we are His forgiven children. But if we deny Him, He will deny us and we would receive eternal condemnation (Matt. 10:32-33). Judgment is real. But so is salvation. To deny one is to deny the other. To affirm one is to affirm the other.
Job 28 is usually considered a golden chapter in the Book of Job. It is one of the high points of the whole book. It is sometimes even described as a hymn of praise of wisdom, which is fitting. Much of the dialogue between Job and his friends thus far has shown wisdom being put into practice, but what we’ve also found out is that the friends’ wisdom and Job’s wisdom are in conflict. Both parties claim God as their source of wisdom, and yet their wisdom is not the same. So are the friends right? Is Job right? Or are they all wrong? That’s the impasse we’ve reached and there will be two more voices who will speak, a previously unheard from friend Elihu and then God Himself. Both will be key in bringing new perspectives on understanding Job’s suffering. And in doing so, both will be helpful for teaching us, giving us wisdom to not only understand Job’s situation, but also our own.
Job 28:1-11 begins with a poetic description of mankind’s search for precious metals through mining. We have all decided that silver, gold, iron, copper, and so forth are precious metals. They are worth having. They are worth looking for and searching after, even if it means that the process will be difficult and challenging, taking us places we wouldn’t normally choose to go. Think about all the other resources we put in service of this mission to uncover these precious metals, think of the human ingenuity involved, think of the ways we conquer our fears (facing darkness, personal risk, etc.). And why do we do it? Because the perceived reward is greater than the cost. Some of these precious metals are valuable in and of themselves, but they can also be used to create other tools, cooking wares, and other things that are useful in life. They help us live in this world better.
Job 28 quickly turns a corner, but you have to follow the pivot: if you consider the things we do to seek after these precious metals, now use that same logic in thinking about our quest for wisdom, a rare jewel even more valuable than these metals.
In Job 28:12-19 we are asked to consider wisdom. Where is its source? Where can it be found? We know where to find these precious metals. They’re in caves, under the earth, in mountains and under rocks. If we want wisdom, we also must know where to go to find it. And what is its worth? How much should we invest in this search before we realize we’re spending more searching for something than it is even worth?
Here the answer is quite clearly that, yes the search after wisdom is worth it. It is worth more than the rarest of gemstones. But there’s also an illusiveness to the search for wisdom. Unlike precious metals which bend to our power and might to be used in the ways we desire, wisdom is different. Wisdom exists in a realm apart from us. It is nowhere here on earth that we can find, and it cannot be purchased or traded for like any other earthly commodity. Its origin is unknown. Its cost is inestimable.
But where then does one find wisdom? The search for wisdom seemed to lead to a dead-end, and yet it is still greatly desired and perhaps even more so now that we’ve realized how precious and valuable it truly is. And so the questions are repeated in Job 28:20-27 as a new avenue is opened.
No one knows where to find wisdom, not the living, nor the dead. Tantalizingly, it is declared that God knows. He knows the way to wisdom; He knows where it resides. While the limits of our knowledge and our reach can only take us so far, God can see further, traverse greater distance, and know things that are so far beyond our ken (this should remind you of Job 26:14, the outermost area of our understanding are merely the outskirts of God’s ways!).
And yet, although no one in creation really knows where to find wisdom, we all know that it exists. We have seen glimpses of its effects in creation (28:24-27). While wisdom doesn’t bend to human uses, there is One who knows its source and uses it with skill. God has used it in creation. Wisdom was God’s tool which He used to create and use the wind, the waters, the rain, and the thunderstorm. Wisdom isn’t found in creation because wisdom is beyond creation and it is the tool God used to create all things.
And if this topic intrigues you, you’ll love Proverbs 8. There Proverbs is described in ways that make it sound almost like it is an uncreated thing, that it existed before God created the heavens and the earth (Prov. 8:22). There are some that connect this figure of wisdom to be the Second Person of the Trinity, the preincarnate Christ. This follows well into the New Testament, for instance, when John describes Jesus as the Word who was with God and was God from the beginning, the One through whom all things were created (John 1:1ff.). In Greek, the Word is the Logos (well using Greek letters, but that’s how the word is transliterated into English). That term Logos though doesn’t just mean word, as in a specific utterance that one might say. It was also used in Greek philosophy to refer to divine reason, the eternal and unchanging ordering or principle, the mind, behind all creation. While I don’t think that’s the same understanding John has, the point I’m trying to make here is that Jesus does show, portray, demonstrate, and actually accomplish the thought and intent of God by His incarnation, by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus reveals to all of us who God is and what He wants for His creation, something that would not be completely clear to us without Jesus.
I probably am not saying this very clearly—and may even be confusing you by introducing so much theology to this one point—but the purpose for dangling this carrot here is to help you see that throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments both, wisdom is not just another thing to pursue, wisdom takes on the very characteristics of God Himself. That wisdom as a concept is so tightly connected to Jesus, should tell us something here as we read Job 28. It may not have at first appeared to be a Christological part of Job (one that points us to Christ), I want you to know that it absolutely should. It is just as important as Job’s cry in Job 19: I know that my Redeemer Lives!
This section of Job 28 reminds me of the parable Jesus told about the hidden treasure or the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44-45). The kingdom of God is worth our utmost pursuit, even though it is actually not ours to find, but rather comes to us through the revelation of God, through the incarnation of Jesus, through His gift of grace.
And here too, Job 28 ends with the revelation of God. Wisdom, that precious end that we seek after, cannot be found by us because it doesn’t reside with us, but God gives it to us through Himself. “If you want wisdom, seek Me,” God says. It is the fear of the LORD, that is true wisdom. To turn away from the evil one and his ways, that is true understanding (28:28).
We cannot find wisdom or its way on our own, but through our listening to God and following Him, through trusting Him and doing what He says, wisdom is revealed to us and used by us in our lives. When we know God and His ways, we will be able to live wisely, in true harmony with the Creator and all of His creation.
“Fear of the LORD” here is not mere cowering before God. It is short-hand for our whole life before God. It is recognizing that He is God and we are not: it is His place to command, and our place to obey; it is His place to speak, and our place to listen; it is His place to promise, and our place to trust.
Wisdom, we find out, is not just a thing to pursue in itself, but in pursuing God and His ways, wisdom is among those things that will be added unto us (Matt. 6:33).
Job 29-31 begin a distinct unit of the Book of Job.
All of this is given in the context of Job’s legal oath, invoking God Himself to curse him if he is lying (Job 27). This is the sum of Job’s case before God.
Again, some see Job 28 as a break from what came before it. I don’t think it’s necessary to see it as a complete break though because it leads into Job 29. Job 28:28 said that the fear of the Lord is wisdom and understanding is turning away from evil. Job 29-31 are going to be Job’s own resume of integrity and innocence, his proof that he had been living this life of wisdom before God and before all people. This is Job’s way of repudiating all of Eliphaz’s unfounded accusations (Job 22:4-11).
Here’s how Job describes how richly he was blessed:
First in Job 29:1-6, he attributes all of his blessing to God’s active presence in his life (“when God watched over me…” – note how this contrasts with other places during his earlier speeches where he wished God would not so closely look at him because he felt that God’s continued presence only meant more suffering (e.g. Job 10:14; 13:27; 14:16), it fits much more closely with Psalm 121).
The closeness of his relationship with God is even described as friendship. Like a close friend, Job says that God dwelt in his tent. When Job says all of this, he doesn’t look back at his life and claim any real success or wealth was his own doing, but first and foremost it was God’s work in his life.
Second, in response to the great blessing of God, Job lived a life for others, not merely for himself and other people saw it: he had the respect of everyone in his community. Thus in Job 29:7-11, Job remarks that when he went to the city-gates (the place where the real business of a city was conducted in those days), he had his own seat, the youth respected him, but even the old men and princes gave the place of honor and prominence to him. Though Job was not necessarily one of the oldest men, nor a political official, he was so regarded by these other respected parties that they, in turn, honored him. They were quiet in his sight, waiting for Job to give the first word on any matter, before they spoke (more will follow on this in Job 29:21-25).
Job’s point here is that others saw in him great wisdom and honor and showed respect to him accordingly. Because we read this in light of what he first said, we can rightly attribute Job’s way of life flowing first from his relationship with God.
Third, in Job 29:12-17, Job shows how he has earned such respect from others by how he lived his life. Against all of the allegations that Eliphaz spoke in Job 22:4-11, here Job shows himself as an atypical rich man. People were actually his friends and respected him because he reached out, not just to his fellow rich chums, but to those who were victims of injustice and lacked resources to live a full life themselves. If there was a poor person, an orphan, one destitute, or a widow, he would hear their cries for help and come to their aid. In this regard, Job truly is embodying the wisdom of God Himself. These are the very people that God has said that he cares for and warns all people, but especially the powerful not to forget (Exo. 22:22; Deu. 10:18, 24:19ff., 26:12-13, 27;19). The disabled, the blind and lame, who hardly would have been able to function in the demanding world of his day, he protected. He became the eyes to the blind and the feet to the lame. Job’s charity shown towards these people who had no power of their own is not merely passive. He pursued them and followed their calls for help and worked to bring about justice for them on their behalf (Job 29:16).
But Job’s righteous life was more than simply protecting those who needed it, he also actively worked against the “bad guys,” whom Job describes like ravenous wolves or maybe even jackals. He broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made them drop their prey from their teeth. Obviously, these foes were dangerous (with fangs and all), but that did not intimidate Job. It was so important to him to protect the weak and vulnerable that he stood up to the powerful and corrupt even though they could have brought great harm and injury to his own person. Job describes himself as self-sacrificial in his attempts to make sure that others can live free from all enemies.
This leads to the fourth aspect of Job’s blessed life (Job 29:18-20): he expected to live a long time. He believed that God would not just fill his days full of blessings, but would make his days many and that he would at last die in his own home (his nest), which was seen as an ideal conclusion to one’s life (the idea is that it would both be peaceful and that one would be surrounded by loved ones).
He describes himself using the metaphor of a tree, which to me speaks strongly to Job 14:7ff. Psalm 1 also uses the image of a tree to describe the life of the wise. In this image we see not only strength and longevity, but the blessing a tree can be to others (think of the benefit of a tree’s branches and the shade it brings (Matt. 13:32)).
The final verse in this section is a little more difficult for us to understand, but the idea seems to be that his strength would never fade. Perhaps Job is thinking that his life will end like Enoch, who walked with God and then one day was not, because God took him (Gen 5:24), or like Moses, who died not in weakness, but simply because the LORD had appointed for him to die (Deut. 34:7).
Finally in Job 29:21-25, Job circles back to the overall impression his life had on others. People listened to him. He spoke wisdom and they wanted to hear what he said. They wanted to be near him and they were blessed by his counsel. A smile from Job meant more than a smile from anyone else because they knew of Job’s own standards and integrity. As a result of his own conduct, he became as a chief or a king among them. And this was a privilege that he had earned, that they gave to him freely, as a sign of their own esteem for him, not a powerful position that he sought or took for himself. He became a servant of all, and yet they elevated him to be the chief (Matt. 23:10-13; Mark 9:34-37; 1 Cor. 9:19). When others were mourning, he came to them as a comforter, the one thing his friends could not do (Job 16:2).
All of this is Job’s truthful testimony of his own life. He has put himself under oath and if he is lying God has been called upon to condemn him. But there’s really no need for Job to have called upon God. As he has spoken, his whole life was lived under the careful scrutiny of his whole community. They all could easily testify to his own righteousness. Job isn’t falsely prideful or self-righteous. He is declaring what he has always been in his life. He has shown himself to be humble, approachable, and caring to all, except for those who would seek to do harm.
But Job isn’t merely trying to win the court of public opinion and so their testimony ultimately isn’t enough. Job’s point in all of this is to get God to reply, to demand an answer to his questions. And so Job must state for the record that he has lived righteously, following God’s ways as best he could (Job 23:11).
But his testimony isn’t over. He will move next to his disastrous fall from this blessed state.
Job 30 begins with the keyword that drives the whole chapter, “But.” You’ve heard how good life was for Job, but now everything has changed. There has been a steep and precipitous reversal of his fortunes. And it is this enormous swing in fortunes that has caused his distress. If life went from great to just ok, that would have been manageable. If it really wasn’t good to begin with and then it fell into the gutter, that too would be understandable. But his life went from being among the best of lives to worse than garbage. And not only has this caused Job physical, social, and emotional pain. It has caused him spiritual pain unending because Job can’t make sense of it. God was once his friend, but now Job feels God has turned his enemy and he doesn’t even answer his cries (Job 30:19-21).
The whole of chapter 30 then is Job’s lament, his cry of pain and his description of what has happened to him. In Job 3 (and frequently elsewhere), we’ve heard Job’s laments, his cries of pain. They are not comfortable to listen to and we often want to avoid them, but they are necessary.
If you want another version of a personal lament without all of the baggage we’ve been carrying from Job’s story, flip your Bible open to Psalm 38. Note that while the lament focuses first on the pain and suffering the psalmist is experiencing, it remains an act of worship, a cry and prayer to God. If Job’s words make you squeamish, remember that. They’re not written as a problem for you to solve, but a prayer to God, for His ears. Job is entrusting his suffering to the one he thinks may even be behind it because he knows that only God can heal. The LORD gave (Job 29) and the LORD has taken away (Job 30), blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21).
Poetically, Job speaks quite well of his own misfortune, so I won’t be doing it much justice to summarize it. The main thing is to read this specifically against Job 29 and see how severe the reversals have been. The first part of Job 30 speaks mostly of the dramatic social reversal (Job 30:1-15), and the latter parts describe his anger against God (Job 30:16-23) and his own woeful affliction (Job 30:24-31).
In the opening section (30:1-15), we see that rather than listening to Job and waiting for his smile of approval, others are laughing at Job. Worse, the ones laughing at him are the youth. If no one else would respect Job, the youth should simply by virtue of his age, being older than they, but now they are among the first to laugh at him. But it’s not just that youth laugh at him, it’s the fact that they are children whose fathers Job would have disdained. Job is trying to say that these aren’t the youth of nobles that are scoffing at him, but the youth of the lowest members of society. Not even they show any respect to Job anymore!
In Job 30:2-8 he goes on to describe these folks even more and although it gets a little tough to follow all of his descriptions of them, he’s basically saying the lowest of the low, the misfits and the outcasts even among the wandering outsiders, the ones that even the poor citizens of a village would look down upon, these are the ones who now look down upon Job. He has lost all of his honor. The nameless have reduced Job to one who even falls below them in social standing.
Having described the very lowlifes who consider Job to be worse than they, Job 30:9-15 recalls the ways they would mock Job. They mock him in song, detest him, ignore him, make rude gestures, and spit upon him. Job describes their assaults against him using words of besieging a city. The ravenous band has completely devastated Job and left him with nothing. And all of this, Job notes, was done with God’s own permission (Job 30:11). God has made it possible for these deplorable rats of men to do this to Job with impunity. Whereas Job would have attacked such men in his former state and protected one from being harmed in this way, there is no one who has stood up for Job. He is defenseless and so has come into ruin.
And while all of this has been bad, Job returns to his belief that God is behind all of this and speaks directly to Him in Job 30:16-23. The social pain that Job has had to endure seems rather significant, but Job returns to the physical pain here with very vivid descriptions of what really has brought him to the end of his rope. These words have been echoed throughout Job’s complaints, starting with Job 3, but here it takes on a more sinister tone. Job really feels that God is the one who is tightening the rack, He is actively persecuting Job. In Job 30:18, Job describes God as tightening him in a metaphorical straightjacket that is his own skin.
Once again, a couple of the details foreshadow a Christological allusion. When Job says that his soul is poured out, the Psalmist (22:14), uses a very similar image and the same Psalm 22 begins with the words Jesus utters from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). Being pierced also reminds one, not just of the crucifixion, but of the prophesies from Isaiah 53:5, about the suffering Servant, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
While Job’s suffering is not the same as Jesus’, it does seem that Jesus takes Job’s own suffering into Himself and transforms it in a powerful way. It is not merely Job suffering as an individual, but Jesus will take all individual suffering and corporately take it upon Himself so that He might bring good out of evil, making peace for all. Just like Abraham’s story is his own, when God called him to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac (Gen. 22:2), God tested Abraham’s obedience, but did not allow him to make such a sacrifice. Yet God Himself did not spare His Son, but gave Him up willingly for sinners, the very dregs of society (Rom. 8:32).
Similarly, Job is in anguish because God doesn’t reply to his pleas for help. Though Jesus called out for help both in Gethsemane before His crucifixion (Luke 22:42ff.), He felt His Father turn away from Him while He was on the cross (the “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” line noted earlier). God didn’t answer Jesus. This time there was no voice from heaven like there was at His Baptism (Matt. 3:17) and at His transfiguration (Matt. 17:5).
God didn’t answer Jesus, but Jesus still called upon God and committed His Spirit to Him (Luke 23:46). In Job’s case, God was silent for a long time, but He will eventually answer. For Jesus, God did not answer Jesus’s cries in His life, but vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead on the third day. Jesus knows what it is like when God is silent to our prayers, but He still trusted His Father and was glorified in victory.
Now back to Job’s dire situation. While we really liked Job 19:25, “For I know that my Redeemer lives,” we also have to wrestle with Job’s words in Job 30:23, “For I know that you will bring me to death…” While the former expresses his faith in words of utmost confidence. These words here express his knowledge in light of his fear, not his faith. We can be people of faith and have great confidence in God’s promises, but we still wrestle with the darkness, doubts and fears that threaten us. Job’s faith is still intact, but don’t think for a second that Job didn’t struggle.
Job concludes this chapter (Job 30:24-31) with even greater detail of his grief and misfortune. He cannot understand how there is no reciprocation for all of his kindness. He wept for others and he grieved for them, but now no one, not even God has treated him with the same mercy. Instead of experiencing good, he has only received evil upon evil. He calls out for help and no one answers. His cries join the calls of the ostriches and the jackals (which evidently were animals known to have moaning calls (see Micah 1:8). Both the lyre and the pipe (or flute) are also mentioned for their connection with songs of lament and grief (see Jer. 48:36; Matt. 9:23).
And yet, in all of this, Job is not completely crushed (2 Cor. 4:8ff.). He will now go on to express his defiance against his friends and even against his current perception of God. He has not deserved this, because he is innocent of great sin. That is what Job 31 will finally make clear.
I would like to propose that there are few people who have walked the earth like Job. I do not think I have ever known anyone who could say the things that Job is about to say. That does not mean they are not true. Far from it, I have not a doubt in my mind that Job is speaking with absolute honesty (if he were not being honest, God would have smote him right then and there). While to us this chapter will sound like bragging, you must realize that 1) it’s not bragging if it’s true and 2) Job has put himself under oath to swear that his life’s conduct has been exemplary. This is not how Job wants to present himself, but he feels like this is final option to force God’s hand to justice.
The overall rationale of Job’s position has changed slightly from his initial expression that he wanted to take his case to God. In the earliest form, he had the idea of taking God to court (Job 9:3). He would speak and then God would speak until justice was accomplished. In Job’s case, he expected to be exonerated of all charges and would no longer be so humiliated. While he knew that was a bad idea, he found comfort in a heavenly Witness (16:19) who would defend him and would lead him to a final day of redemption (19:25ff.). But that was all we heard. God did not actually speak.
Since God has not yet spoken, Job is taking a different approach that required God’s response. In this legal framework, Job would take an oath swearing his innocence that either demands God’s response to enact the curses Job has bound himself to or the silence of God to assure Job and others that what he’s spoken has been true. In this new challenge, Job is daring God to speak. His claims to innocence seem almost unfathomable to most of us and if he’s lying, God is on the clock to smite Job. But if God’s silence continues, this time all will know for certain that God’s silence is not a curse, but an acknowledgement that what Job says is 100% truth.
Another important thing to note is that Job’s sole focus in all of this is directed at his relationship with God. Remember how his friends initially came to his aid and said, “Job, just repent so you can get all your stuff back.” To Job, the blessings that he enjoyed were a confirmation of his close relationship with God. The absence of them suggested to Job and others that God had soured on Job. But now Job isn’t asking for the stuff back, if God will simply speak to confirm Job’s status before Him, that will be enough to prove that his relationship with God is good.
However, Job is also concerned about his relationship with other people. Remembering that the Law of God is summed up in “Love God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it’s not good enough for Job just to be good with God. He’s never lived his life that way and he won’t start now. All of the ways that Job has behaved have been a result of his relationship with God and he asks God to punish him severely if he has mischaracterized any part of his life. Instead of showing proof of his innocence by the blessings in his life, all Job asks for at the end of this speech will be a written confirmation of his innocence that all might see and so know Job as one who is innocent before God (Job 31:35-37).
Oath formula – In what follows, Job is not slavishly formulaic, but there is a basic outline to his words. He will go on to list his specific sins, denying them all by saying, “If I have done [insert sin here], then let [some severe, but fitting act of punishment] happen to me!” Not every single section lists the penalty, but this gives you something to look for as you read along.
Although Job doesn’t exactly list the number of sins he declares himself innocent of and so scholars vary in how they group them, I won’t try to argue for an exact classification, but generally these are the sins Job says he is innocent of: lust (31:1-4), falsehood (5-6), covetousness (7-8), adultery (9-12), mistreatment of his servants (13-15), lack of concern for the poor (16-18), failure to clothe the poor (19-20), perversion of justice against the weak (21-23), trust in wealth (24-25), worship of the heavenly bodies (26-28), delight at the misfortune of his foes (29-30), failure to extend hospitality to a sojourner (31-32), concealment of a sin without confession (33-34), abuse of the land (38-40).
Lust (31:1-4)– Notice how Job realizes that although lust may begin in the heart, the eyes play a key role in feeding the desires. Eve’s sin to eat from the forbidden tree was sparked by the fact that tree was delightful to her eyes (Gen. 3:6). Or consider how David’s wandering eyes brought him to commit adultery (2 Sam. 11:2). Jesus’ words pin the sin of adultery not on the actual sexual act, but on the lustful looks (Matt. 5:28). Job correctly diagnoses the source of this sin and has vowed to curtail it.
Job 31:3-5 is an interesting play on the theme of looking. Job has trained his eyes to not look lustfully at a young woman, a sin which no one else may notice, because he knows that God, even from far off can see all of Job’s ways. Even though Eliphaz alleged the Job sinned because he believed that he could escape God’s notice, Job says he lived his life with the full knowledge that nothing was hidden before God (cf. Job 22:12-18). It is this very fact that buttresses Job’s case of injustice: God sees his current suffering and yet has done nothing about it.
Falsehood and covetousness (31:5-8) – Job appeals to notions of justice strongly in this section. False balances were a common way of cheating others, but he trusts that God would weigh him with just scales that would prove Job’s integrity and righteousness. He hearkens back to Eliphaz’s image of one reaping what he sows (Job 31:8 compare with Job 4:8). And so here it’s probably important to note that while Job and his friends ultimately have different views of Job’s plight, they do share much in common.
Throughout this speech, Job’s argument requires the same basic teaching of retributive justice that his friends have used against him. Granted, Job’s has a slightly less mechanical view of retribution than his friends do. His friends say that it is required that the unjust must be punished and the righteous must prosper. Job, by and large, agrees with them, but he also has noted that we don’t always see it working out so neatly as they argue. Sometimes the guilty seem to prosper and the innocent, like Job, suffer. Job can allow for those exceptions, but not for very long.
Job handled his first losses ok. But once the suffering became more than he could bear, then he cursed the day of his birth and adopted his present stance of requiring God’s response to his situation. Our viewpoint on this issue of justice would be that Job’s friends are very wrong, but Job isn’t right either. Job is closer to getting to the right answers on this topic, but what rubs us the wrong way about this speech (Job 29-31) is that it does sound a little too close to works righteousness for us. It sounds as though he has put God in his debt and now it’s God’s turn to pay up. I don’t think that’s ultimately the right reading of Job’s situation, but I will admit that he does verge to this tendency and it’s because of his view of God’s justice. The next speaker, Elihu, will offer a corrective to both Job’s and his friends’ view.
Job 31:7 has another interesting connection in regard to lust. Job says that he hasn’t let his heart go after his eyes. He means that even when his eyes might tend toward something wrong, he wouldn’t let his heart (we would say mind) be carried off by his desires.
Adultery (31:9-12) – His description of adultery is in a sense even stronger than his denial of lust. Even if his heart has been enticed by another woman, he has strongly recognized that this was a sin, a heinous crime. Joseph, seduced by Potiphar’s wife, recognized the same truth (Gen. 39:9). To commit adultery wasn’t just a sin against God, but against another human too. And so Job says that the punishment, if he would have committed adultery was for another to enslave his wife (31:10, could perhaps be a double entendre referring to sexual acts, but even if it doesn’t it does refer to an act of humiliation done to Job’s wife to bring shame upon him too).
Mistreatment of “Lesser” People (31:13-23; 31-32) – Job’s sense of human rights in the middle section far exceeds even modern notions of equality. In his day these views would have been almost unheard of. It was normal to consider different groups of people having different rights or different levels of honor. For instance, men had more rights than women, and free citizens had more rights than foreigners and slaves. In some civilizations a man could kill his slave with impunity because the slave was considered property and not a person. Job, however, says that he showed compassion to ALL people, no matter their social standing, because all people, regardless of their social standing, were fashioned by God in the womb (Job 31:15, cf. Prov. 22:2 and Mal. 2:10). Human rights to Job begin with God and His act of creation.
False Worship (31:24-28) – Job recognized that many who were rich ended up worshipping their wealth, but Job says that this has not been his way of life, as shown by his previous acts of generosity to the poor. Interestingly, this contradicts Eliphaz’s plea to Job to make God his treasure (Job 22:24ff.) in a very specific way. With the same breath that Job talks about worshipping gold he also mentions idolatry of the stars and the moon. In other words, these things are all lumped in the same class. Whatever it is that we trust for our security that is not God is a false god and to be rejected. Creation is different than the Creator, just as the gifts are different than the Giver.
Joy in the Downfall of His Foes (31:29-30) – When thinking of our own personal sins that we would want to distance ourselves from, it makes sense that we would not want to be guilty of lust, adultery, idolatry, and so forth, but Job once again shows he’s a better man than most of us with this one. He recognizes that there’s something common to all of us that we tend to take delight in the misfortune of those who hate us. But Job, by God’s wisdom, has recognized that this too is a sin. While he doesn’t say it here, he would readily agree with Jesus’ words that we should pray for those who persecute us and that we should get no pleasure in their downfall (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14), rather we too should pray that all people would come to repentance and trust in Him (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Concealing His Sin without Confessing It (31:33-34) – In another interesting confession, Job says that he didn’t hide a sin in order to avoid embarrassment and public shame. How often do hide our sins, taking great comfort in the fact that we can confess them silently (and privately!) before God and be forgiven because we are afraid that if others would know our sins they would be appalled and shun us. Job knows this same thought, but says that he didn’t act in fear of public opinion nor did he fall prey to the sin of hypocrisy. He tried to live his life as openly and transparently as possible. That Job operates with such a high degree of personal integrity is why is present state is so difficult for him to bear. Everyone, including his wife and his friends, have already made the assumption that he is a hypocrite and that he is hiding some secret sin against God, all the while he is innocent. He is assumed to be a hypocrite when that is the one thing he has never had to worry about being called.
Abuse of the Land (31:38-40) – While compared to the other allegations, this hardly seems like a sin, but in the Bible we forget that God teaches us a different view of the world. He created the heavens and the earth and all things in them. But he specifically created humankind to have dominion over the earth and all therein (Gen. 1:26). Adam and Eve’s sin not only ruined their relationship to God and one another, it forever ruined their relationship with creation itself. Think of the ways that creation ached with the story of our sins (the flood story, famines, earthquakes, fires, etc.). Paul reminds us that we are not the only ones who await our day of redemption, all creation awaits for the day of restoration and renewal, the day of the new heavens and earth (Rom. 8:19-22; Isa. 65:17, 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). Job, unlike so many others, was a good steward of his land and calls upon it as a further witness to his conduct.
The next part of the Book of Job seems to come out of nowhere, but it really is an important addition. After Job’s final speech and his complete avowal of any wrongdoing, there is silence. Job has nothing more to say and neither do his friends. They’re all waiting for God’s response to Job’s serious words. After all, Job called upon God to hold him accountable. If he were lying, God needed to enact the curses upon Job. If Job were telling the truth, well then silence would be a sign from God that he really was innocent of all the sins he enumerated. Everyone is waiting.
And then we hear that there is another man, Elihu.
So who is this Elihu? The name Elihu is Hebrew for “He is my God” (a much better name than Eliphaz “My G(g)od is pure gold”). Elihu is said to be a descendant of Buz, who is the son of Abram’s brother Nahor (Gen. 22:21). Thus Elihu, though not part of the tribe of Israel (that is, not from the family of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson), shares a faith in the one true God. This is another reminder that there were believers outside of Israel. The Bible doesn’t always mention them because it is so focused on the Israel’s story because through Israel would come the Messiah. We don’t know much more about Elihu than that, but this introduction is much longer than the introduction than any of Job’s other friends. We’re left with the impression that this Elihu is on to something good.
Unfortunately, Job 32 doesn’t really give us much to go on (yet). The whole of the chapter is a rather lengthy apology for potentially speaking out of turn, in which Elihu very poetically and long-windedly (perhaps nervously?) says, “You guys are old, and I am young. I should not speak, but I feel I must. You couldn’t correct Job properly. I see you have no more reply to Job’s words, but I’m about to burst and I must speak. I will tell it straight, like it is and may God judge me if I don’t!”
Elihu decided that he couldn’t stand it any longer. He needed to speak to correct both the other men and also Job. Elihu is angry. Angry that Job had justified himself rather than God. But also angry at the friends for not being able to come up with the right words to correct Job. Elihu stands in the midst of both parties and is equally upset with both of them. The reason why Elihu hasn’t said anything thus far is that he was younger than everyone else, and showing himself to be deferential to his elders, he did not feel it was right for him to speak. But Job’s last speech evidently was more than he could bear. And so now he speaks.
Elihu’s going to continue to talk from Job 32:6-37:24 and so we will have several days to sit with his words. Overall though Elihu’s argument will make it clear that God is just (that is not negotiable), but that God can discipline people to turn them from the error of their ways. Job’s friends’ view of God has been extremely simplistic (the righteous are blessed, the wicked punished). Job has pushed back at them and challenged that their view is too simplistic and does not actually fit his situation, if only they would listen. But as I pointed out, toward the end of Job’s avowal of innocence, you get the feeling that his view of God is really not that different from his friends. While they clearly err on their focus on external prosperity, Job’s whole argument is based on the fact that he, a just man, doesn’t justly deserve his current suffering. For Job’s argument to be valid, one must assume that God must operate according to the rules Job and his friends believe God follows.
Against all of this, Elihu is going to be like a monkey wrench thrown into the machine. He questions their assumptions and tries to make the case that suffering may be a “bad” thing that God uses for an ultimate good. That instead of seeing suffering as merely an instrument of punishment and God’s wrath, it could actually be a sign of God’s mercy. So far, neither Job nor his friends have created a space in their minds where this could possibly be true. We’ll hit more of the details as we come to them.
And so with that I will cut short my reflections for today (a miracle!). There will be much more to say once Elihu formally begins his speaking, but his long-winded introduction is merely the precursor to his rebuke.
Elihu now begins his formal disputation on a better understanding of Job’s suffering. As we read it, keep in mind that we still need to read critically, as with Job and all of his friends, there may be good and true things in what he says, but there is also the potential for getting it not exactly right too.
Job’s friends got most everything wrong. Job has gotten much more right and has shone brightly in a few key moments of his speeches, but he still falls short on several areas of his thinking. Both Job and his friends rely too much on the notion that God prospers the righteous and punishes the wicked. In that worldview, suffering can only be connected with sin and punishment. This is where Elihu is going to take us a completely different direction. But has he successfully and accurately diagnosed Job’s problem? No. He offers what I think is a much better way for Job to think about his understanding, but like Job and his friends, he’s still fishing around in the dark. He too doesn’t realize that all of this has come on Job because the Satan has attacked him to prove to God that Job doesn’t love Him, he only loves God’s blessings.
You would have missed it no doubt if I wouldn’t have pointed it out, but Elihu calls upon Job by name (Job 33:1). That’s really a key point. None of Job’s friends have once mentioned his name in all of their speeches. Elihu uses Job’s name. Elihu is angry at Job, but he shows a different kind of relationship to Job from the get-go. He’s more of a friend to Job than any of his other friends. They wouldn’t even look Job in the eye to confirm that he was telling the truth (Job 6:28). But here Elihu speaks Job’s name. Clearly Elihu is doing his best to win Job over to his side and speak in ways that will listen tor He’s already been profusely apologetic for stepping into the conversation. Using Job’s name is yet another way he shows he is different from Job’s friends.
Furthermore, Elihu, knowing the way that Job’s friends talked to him and also knowing that Job has spoken about God terrifying him by His presence (e.g. Job 23:15-16), Elihu says to Job that he need not fear him. His words are not so powerful and his words are not so condemning as the other speakers. Yes, he will speak to rebuke Job, but he does so in such a way to help Job understand his situation in a more hopeful manner. It will not end in pure and utter condemnation.
Elihu quotes Job back to him. This too is a great speaking strategy. It offers the chance for Elihu to make sure that he understands Job and that Job knows that he has been listening. Elihu is a much better listener than Job’s friends. But he’s still not a perfect listener. When he quotes Job in 33:9-11, I feel there’s a slight misstatement of Job’s position. Elihu makes it sounds as though Job has presented himself as 100% pure and blameless, without sin completely. And Job would clearly not agree with that (see for instance Job 9:20). If were perfectly righteous in his whole life, he would have no fear to be in the company of God. Everyone in the dialogues has recognized that all humans are born impure (Job 14:1, 15:14, 25:4). Even Job’s righteousness flows not from his works, but from his faith in God. That’s where the wisdom of his whole life came from in the first place (Job 28:28). What Job does argue, however, is that it is for no particular sin, and especially none of the sins his friends accuse him of, that he is now suffering. He says this repeatedly in order to deny the accusations of his friends that his own sin is responsible for his woe.
In what he says, Elihu will also accuse Job of sin (Job 33:12-13; 34:35-37; 35:16; ), but Elihu’s allegation is that Job’s sin did not precede this dialogue. Job’s real big sin is that in his speeches, Job has spoken too boldly and has ended up accusing God of injustice at the most or impropriety at the least. This is the sin that Elihu thinks Job must repent of, not the made up sins that the friends have alleged.
Elihu claims that, contrary to Job’s refrain that God has remained silent, God has indeed spoken to Job, but Job has not been listening very well. Elihu’s claim is that God speaks to people in dreams or visions that come during sleep (33:14-18; cf. 7:14), but also in suffering (33:19-22). And both of those modes of communication are alarming to people. They are modes of communication that Elihu says are used, to put it crassly, to scare the hell out of people (or would it be better to say “to scare people out of hell”?).
Elihu believes God can do something troubling or outright hurtful to people who trust in Him for the greater purpose of saving them from future, eternal destruction (“saving his soul from the pit” (meaning death or even hell) or “his life from the sword” in Job 33:18 and 22).
We should ponder and consider this point critically, and to do so would take more time than I have in this space, but understand that this is a dramatically new way to think about God compared to what Job and his friends have been saying. In their minds, God could never do something harmful to a person who is innocent. That would be unjust, and God is just. Elihu brings up two key points worth thinking about.
First, Elihu says that God would bring harm to a person not as punishment, but as mercy, not as a sentence passed on a past sin (or even prospective punishment for future sin). Job and his friends have been so consumed about God’s justice and his power that they’ve lost sight of the fact that these are not the only characteristics of our God. He isn’t just an impersonal judge or wholly bent on punishment. He’s a God of mercy and grace too. But where was that in their speeches? Elihu should be credited for seeing God’s mercy, even if he misapplies it to Job.
Second, Elihu says that God would cause short-term harm in order to promote future blessing and life. This is another welcome reminder and pushes the conversation to a new level where we are reminded that God’s perspective is so much bigger than our own. Job and his friends seemed to fundamentally disagree on this point. Job’s friends talked about punishment as being almost immediate. Job, somewhat bought into that argument too, but he pointed out the weaknesses in that belief by showing that sometimes we don’t see the wicked get their due and they live on with a great reputation even after their death (Job 21:31ff.). Elihu offers a corrective to this by noting that God sees a lot more than we do and even can see into the future. He can see decisions we make and does things to help promote a course correction so that we would not do those things.
A worldly example of both of these points might look like this. A doctor might inflict severe pain to a patient by setting a bone. She’s not doing this to be cruel and mean though, she’s doing it as a real blessing because if the bone is not properly set, it will not heal properly. Thus, the pain she inflicts is not a punishment, but an act of mercy, and it’s done even though in the short-term it will cause great pain, because in the long-term this is the only way healing can occur.
Elihu also focuses on God’s mercy when he says that God will “speak” in this way to people not just one time, but two or even three times (33:29). Elihu again tells Job more about God’s character in these words than all of his friends have in the past 30 chapters. God so cares for His own that if they don’t listen to Him, He doesn’t just write them off and start planning their demise due to their wickedness. Instead, He’ll plan another way to try to get their attention, to open their ears and their heart to following Him.
On these points, I think Elihu is right in general. I believe God can do all of the things Elihu said for the purpose that Elihu has argued. This seems to coincide with Romans 8:28, that God can work all things (and this doesn’t mean that all things in and of themselves are good) for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. It also is refreshing to hear that in an imperfect world, God is never going to have perfectly good things to work with. We’re all broken and sin touches everything in this world. But to know that God can take bad and bend it to good ends reminds us not just of his almighty power, but more especially of His love, mercy and grace.
However, while I do think Elihu is saying some really good things, I have to give my final “but” statements to this.
P.S. – For this reflection I have chosen to ignore Job 33:23-28. I will resolve to fix that in the next reflection, but I had to cut this one off due to its length.
This particular section is extremely interesting and important because it brings up some very key ideas that only Job thus far has talked about. In these verses Elihu mentions an angel who is a mediator who speaks on behalf of the afflicted to say that there is a ransom for that one, which then brings about a restoration of life, a true redemption, saving him from the pit.
When I read these words, there is not a doubt in my mind that, whether he knows it or not, Elihu is speaking about Jesus. I know we think Elihu can’t possibly know the fulness of what he’s saying. I do not know if Elihu is speaking using Job’s own words and images or if Elihu has another source for this wisdom, but it’s really good.
Let’s look at a few of the key terms in greater detail.
An angel that is called a mediator — In the Old Testament, the word angel means messenger. Most of the time when we toss that word around we understand it to refer to a special class of spiritual beings. In the Old Testament there are different words that are used for spiritual beings (e.g. cherubim, seraphim, heavenly host, holy one, and sons of God are all words that refer to these spiritual beings and they’re not all the same thing), and it’s a much richer picture than we understand.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that there is a figure in the Old Testament referred to as “the angel of the LORD” who pops up in some very key places. And the more closely you read some of those encounters, you come away with the conclusion that the “angel of the LORD” is no mere angel. He speaks as God, identifies Himself with God, and exercises the responsibilities of God (see Gen 16:7-12; 21:17-18; 22:11-18; Exo. 3:2; Judges 2:1-4; 5:23; 6:11-24; 13:3-22; 2 Samuel 24:16; Zech. 1:12; 3:1; 12:8). The conclusion that so many people have reached is that the “angel of the LORD” is the pre-incarnate Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. And I think they’re absolutely right. The question then is whether Elihu refers to a regular ordinary angel or whether it is this “angel of the LORD” (that is, our Jesus) who does what Elihu says.
On this point, I think the evidence fits Jesus. Job and his friends have already remarked about the spiritual beings, that they’re really not going to help people in the way that Elihu describes. Eliphaz pointed out that it was useless in calling a heavenly being (a holy one) to deliver him from his punishment (Job 5:1). The reason? Angels do not act of their own accord, they can only do what God has commanded them to do. This angel that Elihu describes is a mediator, one who stands in the middle and sticks up for the afflicted. This is not the role of angels, to put themselves between man and God and protect humans.
But it is the role that Jesus plays. He is the one true mediator because He is both God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus’ role far surpasses the role of any of the angels because He does what no angel can. This angel that Elihu describes found a ransom (33:24) that provided deliverance and redemption (33:28). But an angel could not provide a ransom by itself. It could not go against God’s just decree. In Psalm 49:7-9 the psalmist states that no man can redeem the life of another and the ransom for a life is costly, no payment ever enough. In the New Testament we learn the true price of our ransom, it is nothing less than the blood of Jesus shed for us (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
Ransom and redemption – In Job’s day, they believed that there was redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation on a divine plane, through animal sacrifices. In offering the life of an animal, God accepted the death of that animal in place of the human who had sinned (this was first demonstrated by God Himself when he sacrificed animals to provide leather coverings to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21)). The act of offering an animal’s life in faith and repentance was for them a special and sacred means to receive God’s grace and mercy. Job knew this. That’s why we heard at the beginning of all of this that Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his family in case they had unknowingly sinned (Job 1:5). A sacrifice was the remedy for sin.
An angel cannot offer or receive any kind of sacrifice to ransom the life of a human. Humans can make ransom in a sense through animal sacrifices (Exo. 30:12), but that’s not what Elihu says. He says this deliverance is coming from an angel. If this isn’t any old angel, but “the angel of the LORD,” then it fits once more. Only Jesus could do make ransom for us and He did it by offering His own life on the cross for all of us (Matt. 20:28). All of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were a shadow of the real sacrifice, the once for all sacrifice, who is none other than Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29; Rom. 6:10; Heb. 10:10).
The redemption and restoration that Jesus offers is even greater than Elihu can imagine. It’s much more akin to what Job said in Job 19:25-27. In Jesus we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal 6:15), born again in the Spirit and water (John 3:3ff.), and promised that though we die we will live forever (John 11:25). Without Jesus there is only the darkness of sin, but Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5) and He is our Light and our Life, our only salvation (Psalm 27:1). Jesus’ redemption will not just provide a renewed earthly life, but rather gives us the promise of resurrected life (1 Cor. 15)
Maybe I’m wrong in all of this, but I don’t think I am. In the context of this speech by Elihu, we can’t miss the role this mediator plays in his argument. One of the key problems Job’s friends had was that they had no real explanation for how one who was a sinner was forgiven and became reconciled with God once more. They mentioned that Job should repent, but even that was confusing. Eliphaz said that Job should “seek God” and “commit his cause to God” (Job 4:8). Bildad urged Job also to “seek God” and “plead with the Almighty for mercy” (Job 8:5-6). But they also talk about how God won’t listen to sinners and it would be unjust for Him to overlook Job’s wickedness. The huge problem that they have to answer is how can one be forgiven? The closest explanation I found in them is that it depends on one becoming good again, that is, by their own good works. The problem though is that never will work. We can never make God in our debt. We can’t do anything good without Him and the problem is a sinner is by definition without God (John 15:5).
But Elihu speaks differently. Because he talks about a God who doesn’t merely punish, but who is full of grace and mercy, one who saves sinners, not merely condemns them, Elihu, like Job, has hope for sinners. While they don’t speak with the kind of clarity and insight that we can speak of, both Job and Elihu end up talking about redemption (Job 19:25; 33:28). And for both, that redemption is ultimately found and caused not by man, but by God. If Elihu had said nothing else, just this small portion is enough to change the whole direction of Job’s plight and point him to his hope in God alone.
Job 34 is usually described as Elihu’s second speech because of the introduction in Job 34:1. At the end of his last speech (Job 33:32-33), Elihu offered Job an opportunity to answer Elihu to rebut some of his claims, but Job apparently chose not to. So emboldened by Job’s silence (which is a new feature since Job also replied to the other three friends’ speeches), Elihu advances his argument. Unfortunately I think this speech has a lot less to offer than his previous speech.
The theme of this speech is God’s justice. Overall, whenever this theme has been brought up, it has always led to a dead end. Job’s friends love the theme of God’s justice and use it as a hammer with which to bludgeon Job into submission. Job, however, uses it as his attack against God. He claims that God is treating him unjustly. Neither side then deny God’s justice, although they may claim that their opponent is (because that’s how you debate), the conversation is all about who gets to use God’s justice as their weapon.
What made the previous speech by Elihu (Job 33) so refreshing was that Elihu brought God’s mercy into the equation. That allowed for the possibility of suffering to be used in some other way by God other than punishment. It also provided hope and reconciliation for Job. That Elihu now takes up the theme of justice again is a step backward in the discussion. Instead of helping Job, Elihu’s anger seems to be taking over and in his attack against Job, he sounds more like the other three friends.
Job 34:2-4 – Elihu appeals to all who would listen, as wise men, to give careful attention to his words. Elihu now counts himself among the wise (“let us”). He believes they all can decipher what is good and right (quoting Job 12:11). These words are potentially dangerous. One of our problems as sinful people as that we often cannot discern what is good and right, which is why we must learn true wisdom from God alone. For Elihu, they’re also dangerous words because he uses them rhetorically to elevate himself above Job and turns his speaking back into direct confrontation (the “wise” us vs. the impious Job). In doing so, Elihu falls victim to his own pride. He began humbly, begging forgiveness for speaking as a youth among his elders, but now he stands shoulder to shoulder with the haughty.
Job 34:4-5 – Elihu summarizes Job’s contention that he is right and God has taken away his right (Job 27:2). Elihu again seems to exaggerate or misunderstand Job. Elihu makes it sound as though God Himself has decreed Job a liar, but that’s not true. Yes, Job fears that others will think he’s a liar, but his problem with God is not what God has said, but rather that God has not spoken, when just a word from God would prove Job right before everyone.
Job 34:7-9 – Elihu depicts Job as one who is taking delight in the scorn and scoffing of others (cf. Eliphaz’s words in Job 15:16). Elihu’s point is that public shame should have caused Job to re-evaluate his position and humbly repent, but Elihu says Job’s unrepentant attitude has placed him among wicked men. Remember the source of Elihu’s anger toward Job is the fact that Elihu understood Job’s words to show greater concern for Job being in the right, rather than God (Job 32:2).
Job 34:10-15 – Now Elihu gives his response to this situation as a whole by saying that God is just and He repays a person according to what He does (Job 34:11-12 specifically, cf. 4:7-8) and that this status is God’s by virtue of Him being God. No one gave Him this authority, it is simply His by definition (Job 34:13). Therefore, no one can challenge it either (as Elihu charges that Job is doing). If God withdrew His breath/spirit from creation, we’d all return to dust (Job 34:15; Gen. 3:19).
In his thesis Elihu says that God cannot do evil (34:10). This seems to contradict Job 33 where God does cause terror to a person (through visions/dreams or suffering). It leads Elihu open to the problem that anything that God does by definition is good and that God can do no wrong. I suppose Elihu would argue that though to us these things are bad, that even a bad thing can ultimately be seen as a good thing because it was done for a good reason. Thus these things which seem bad to us are not actual evil done by God if we understood them properly in their full context. But when Elihu also says that God pays back everyone according to their deeds, Elihu hasn’t explained how God’s acts of mercy described in the previous chapter fit into this. I’m not sure how to resolve all of these points, but again it shows that when we only operate with God’s justice in view and ignore other characteristics of God, the picture of who God truly is starts to fall apart.
Job 34:16-30 – In this lengthy section of his speech, Elihu tries to defend his belief in God’s ultimate justice, but it doesn’t hold together very well. He asserts (by rhetorical question) that it makes no sense for one to rule (here he means God) if that ruler hated justice (34:17).
He connects God’s justice (righteousness) with God’s power. Elihu believes that Job is questioning God’s justice, but he knows that Job doesn’t question Job’s sovereign power. By connecting the two here, Elihu is showing that it makes no sense for God to be sovereign if He’s not also just. And since Job believes God is all-powerful, he needs to reject his accusation against God’s justice. You can’t have just one of those characteristics, according to Elihu.
Through His justice, God does not show partiality or favor to a person according to his position, power, or possessions (34:18-19). The sudden and unforeseen death of even the powerful is a sign of God’s hand (34:20), for He is constantly watching all people and there is no way to hide from His gaze (34:21-22).
But the converse is not true. God is not accountable to people and there is no one who can oversee His conduct and call him to court (34:23). Obviously this a not-so-subtle swipe against Job and casts his “taking his case to God” an act of rebellion (Job 34:37). Furthermore, Elihu says that God doesn’t even need to launch a trial or an investigation in order to enact His just punishment because the whole case already lies open to His view (34:23-28). God acts in response to the cries of the innocent and those who are victims because the evil doers chose the path of disobedience, departing from God’s ways. Elihu’s emphasis on the inevitability and even public nature of God’s judgment against the wicked is a return to the talking-points of Job’s friends and once again fails to account for the exceptions that Job raised.
Job 34:31-33 – Now Elihu proposes his own version of Job’s statement of confession. He obviously was not a fan of Job’s declaration of his innocence for Elihu says that Job should declare his guilt before God a complete reversal of Job’s stated position (Job 34:31 cf. Job 31)! Job must declare that he has committed some sins that he has not acknowledged and ask God to help him see his sin so that he would not continue in it any longer. While this is an admirable confession, showing true repentance, we know that in Job’s case it would be a false confession for Job has not committed the sin that Elihu (or his friends) have alleged (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3).
Job 34:34-37 - Once again, Elihu appears to give a break, a pause for Job to respond (34:33), but Job continues to be silent. Elihu’s final words of this speech (35:1 has another introduction to Elihu speaking, which would likely indicate that it is a new speaking event), seem to burn even more strongly against Job. Elihu’s impatience and anger turn against Job as he says that other wise men who have heard Elihu speak will declare Job as one who speaks without knowledge and his failure to correct his thinking have only added new sin to his sin of old and the more he talks, the more his rebellion against God and against wise men increases!
As good as Elihu’s speech in Job 33 was, that’s how bad this speech is in comparison. Elihu promised fresh insight, but he sounds like he’s just another one of Job’s friends, rehashing the same talking point about God’s justice, but losing sight of the reality of Job’s situation and the totality of God’s character.
In Job 35, Elihu becomes even more emboldened in his speaking by Job’s silence. While Job doesn’t accept Elihu’s offers to speak for himself, Elihu interprets Job’s silence as defiance. Once again, Elihu appears to quote Job, but this time he does so in two rhetorical questions that are related to, but not exactly what Job has meant. The two questions Elihu has Job ask aren’t easy to understand, but the general gist is that Elihu believes Job has said that he is more just/righteous than God (“It is my right before God” (Job 35:2 ESV) makes this hard to see, but it means that Job’s being right must take precedence over, that is come before, God’s being right).
The second question is equally hard to understand, but “How am I better off than if I had sinned?” essentially means that Job feels like he is righteous and mistreated, then there is no difference between being righteous and being sinful because both end in suffering (I think Job 35:3 is essentially saying the same thing as Job 34:9). Taken together, neither of these statements completely represents Job’s viewpoint honestly. Job is lost in God’s justice and His silence, but he has shown that he has more than a mechanical view of God, that God merely operates according to justice.
Elihu moves on to give his own answers to these rhetorical questions (35:4) and honestly I am a bit lost in Elihu’s words. He rephrases the questions in 35:6-7, “If I sin, how does it hurt God? If I’m righteous, what does it add to God?” Elihu’s answer to these questions is the same. It doesn’t hurt God one bit. By your righteous behavior, you certainly don’t get God in your debt, as though you’ve done Him some great favor. But Elihu supposes that if you sin, do you really think a little peon like you is going to somehow cause God to have a bad day? No way, God is higher than the heavens, don’t think you’re going to bother Him one bit!
Rhetorically, Elihu’s trying to show Job the futility of his own unjust suffering being a motivating factor to get God’s response, but by making his point in this way, I think his whole argument falls apart.
In his last speech, Elihu made a great deal about how God in His justice responds to injustice in the world. God sees everything and all of our ways are open to Him (Job 34:21ff). Elihu speaks in such a way so as to emphasize God’s involvement in creation (even if it is solely to punish law-breakers). But now Elihu pushes hard in the direction of God’s transcendence, that God is so wholly removed from His creation, that troubles in the realm of creation hardly cause Him to stir. This seems to me to be a contradiction of Elihu’s own creation and I’m not sure how he would resolve it. It could be that we’re now seeing Elihu’s youthfulness showing and he hasn’t yet had time to work out all the problems in his thoughts the topic.
The problem here is not that Elihu is completely wrong. He’s not. God is transcendent. He is wholly other. He is the Creator and we are His creation. And Elihu’s right, we never can get God in our debt through our own deeds. But that sin and unrighteousness are only a problem insofar as they affect other people (35:8), but not God Himself, would cause us to embrace a view of an impersonal God that wants nothing to do with His creation, and this is fundamentally at odds with the entire story of Scripture.
Theologically, we usually speak of this as a tension that exists in theology between God’s immanence (God’s desire to dwell with humanity and for them to dwell with Him) and His transcendence (that’s the wholly other part that we usually associate with His holiness). Elihu’s problem is that he completely breaks the tension, loses the reality of who God is, and ends up undermining the next point of his speech.
Job had argued that God’s silence toward the innocent who suffer and cry out is inaction that only encourages the wicked to continue in their wickedness (Job 24:1-17). Elihu contends that God isn’t ignoring their cries, but rather those people cry out as a reaction to their pain and suffering. A cry is not actually a true prayer or plea to God! Instead, these cries are just a natural response to their pain and nothing more than self-pity. “A cry does not a prayer make!” That’s Elihu’s position. Can you believe it? With each movement of his argument, Elihu becomes harder and harder to tolerate.
Elihu could simply have continued his line of argument and said because God is so remote from us, He doesn’t listen to prayers or respond to them. That would have been logically consistent. But Elihu isn’t so foolish to make that point. So instead, in order to prove Job wrong, he says unless a cry of pain is addressed in the form of a prayer, God is under no obligation to answer it. He’s basically turned God into a red-tape-loving bureaucrat who pushes humanity into following the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it. If this picture of God were true, it would be utterly repulsive.
Thankfully we know this isn’t the case though. In Genesis 3, God didn’t come to Adam and Eve in reply to their prayers to Him. They were hiding from Him; it was God who pursued them. Then God didn’t come to Cain in response to Abel’s prayers either. Abel was already dead, but it was his blood spilled on the ground that cried out to God (Gen. 4:10). Fast-forward in the New Testament to Paul’s words of comfort about prayer. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul assures us that the Spirit of God helps us in our prayers and prays for us even when the words don’t proceed from our lips. In short, Elihu’s point here is totally wrong. If God waited for our prayers to respond to us, we would all be lost. But God’s grace is seen in His loving pursuit of the lost and the rebellious.
Elihu concludes by saying to Job that God doesn’t hear the cries of the oppressed because of the pride of evildoers (35:12). Elihu is trying to hold together the fact that God can only be good to good people and bad to bad people (because that is what is just) and God’s denial of Job’s case, but I think it clashes with his claim that God shows no partiality to anyone. But Elihu’s words show that God plays favorites: He listens to those who love Him and doesn’t listen to the others.
While most of us would not have a problem with Elihu’s general point about God not listening to the wicked, but only attending to the righteous on its face, it once again puts us in a danger zone. After all, who among us is good? Who among us is good enough that we have a claim on God that He owes us to attend to us and listen to us? When put this way, I hope you start to hear some of Elihu’s own words now used against him. Elihu has already said our righteousness doesn’t do anything to get God in our favor and God owes us nothing because of it (35:7). But now he says that God only listens to a certain kind of people, but He ignores the others. This either transgresses Elihu’s point that he made about God’s impartiality or it transgresses his point about human righteousness not bringing God into our debt.
But the other elephant in the room is the same basic point that his friends failed to account for: how does one become righteous before God in the first place? According to our view of Scripture we receive righteousness as a gift of God by faith in Jesus (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). We are given Jesus’ righteousness as a gift. It is not something we have based on what we have done, so it is not a human work. It’s all God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10). By reverting to Job’s friends’ way of thinking, Elihu has lost his point rather than made it.
Again, Scripturally, our view of prayer and favor comes not from God’s justice, but from His grace and mercy. He, as our Heavenly Father, attends to our needs, our cries and hurts, even before we speak them, even before we ourselves know of them (Matt. 6:8-15; Luke 12:30). Yet He invites us to pray to Him to increase our own faith and trust in Him, to thank and acknowledge Him, and to know that He loves and cares for us in these ways.
In seeking to completely discredit Job’s attempt to take his case to God, Elihu has argued Job’s position as being one where Job is right and God is wrong. Elihu has decided to press the opposition completely and directly in two movements. First, Job can’t have a case against God if God is always right (Job 34). By definition Job would already have lost because no case against God can be made period. But in this speech (Job 35), it seems to me that Elihu has taken the opposite approach by saying that Job can’t have a case against God if Job is wrong. And Elihu has made it clear that Job is not innocent as he supposes and so has no standing before God because of his own sin.
The great problem in Elihu’s approach though is that we know Elihu is not right on either of his positions. I fear that Elihu, who began so well, has spoken more about himself than Job when he said that “Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiplies words without knowledge” (35:16).
Job 36-37 are written as if they were one speech with no breaks between them. Overall, Elihu’s final words are bit more like his opening words (Job 32-33), than the middle section (Job 34-35) of his speaking. The main reason for this shift is because Elihu pulls away from the justice theme again and once more describes how God uses suffering to discipline and teach the righteous. While there are some good things to draw from Elihu’s words, he falls short when he continues to insist that his understanding of God’s ways shed light on Job’s situation. Elihu shares with Job a God is merciful, but Elihu still refuses to show mercy toward Job.
In his opening words, Elihu asks for a bit more patience from his listeners. He proclaims that he speaks on God’s behalf, both a response to the fact that Elihu believes that Job’s friends failed to defend God properly (Job 32:3), but also a response to Job’s claim that God has been silent. While Elihu makes this claim in order to maintain the ears of his hearers, I fear that he is speaking out of place. He claims to have perfect knowledge (36:4), but we know for a fact that he does not.
Job 36:5-15 – Elihu speaks once more from the perspective of God’s just ways, but adds a bit more nuance. Once again the basic claim remains the same: God punishes the wicked and protects the righteous. But Elihu allows God greater space for how this may happen. He says that God does not keep the wicked alive (35:6). This seems like a response to Job’s point that the wicked continue to live unpunished (21:7). Elihu apparently agrees with Job’s point, that God’s punishment may not be enacted immediately, but the punishment will come in due time: God will not let the wicked live forever. If this is the case, Job could perhaps find agreement with Elihu on this point. On the other hand, Elihu says that God has his eye always on the righteous. This is not meant in a threatening way, but as a sign of his grace and blessing. Just like with the wicked, Elihu doesn’t promise an immediate and indefinite amount of blessing for the righteous, but he does promise an ultimate or final blessing for them: that they will be exalted and God will set them on the throne with kings (36:7).
What makes all of this more palatable than what has been said before is that Elihu believes that God is ultimately just: in the end, both the wicked and the righteous will get what is their due. However, Elihu doesn’t set a timetable by which God must act, trusting rather that it will eventually get worked out. While Job probably doesn’t like to hear this explanation, it ultimately could provide more comfort than anything his friends have said before this.
Then comes the wrinkle. If God, who watches the righteous, sees that they are caught in some sin or stray from the path of obedience, God would not hesitate to use chains or cords to keep them from continuing down a path that would only lead to destruction (36:8). In doing this, God is trying to get their attention, to open their ears, as He orders them to turn from their iniquity. And if they obey God, then the story ends in prosperity. But if they refuse to obey God, they will die due to their lack of knowledge, showing themselves to be godless, and they will incur God’s righteous wrath.
This section expands and complements what Elihu said earlier on the same topic (Job 33:14ff.). God is not immediately angry at the righteous when they sin (noting here that God’s response to sin is not mechanical or automatic), but He is concerned about where it will lead a person and so He is willing to take some drastic steps to bring about a better ending for that person. But God’s anger is aroused, when people continue to test God’s patience by refusing to listen to His calls for repentance. God is portrayed as being long-suffering, and not short-tempered. If only people would understand that God uses affliction and adversity to deliver the afflicted, they would see that God as a patient, compassionate, and persistent teacher (36:22).
Job 36:16-25 – Then Elihu turns directly to Job and exhorts him to learn his lesson. God wants to bless him too (putting him in a broad place with a table full of fatness). But Job is rejecting the lesson the Great Teacher is trying to teach him. Elihu agrees with Job and believes that God is behind Job’s suffering, but for him the focus is mostly on how Job responds to it, whereas Job is more obsessed with why it’s happening in the first place. Elihu worries that Job’s wrath over his situation will lead him into a situation where he turns aside from God’s rebuke and chooses iniquity as a way to escape his affliction. God is patient and can overlook sin, but when people refuse God’s discipline, then they incur His wrath. Elihu fears that Job is falling into this very trap. By trying to understand why everything is happening to him, Job has questioned God’s right to act, as though God were accountable to Job. The correction to this problem, according to Elihu, would be to instead praise God for His works, rather than to challenge Him. If Job would only praise God, his complaining will stop and he will finally see the end of all his troubles (36:24).
In reflecting on Elihu’s words, there is some wisdom in what Elihu says, but don’t miss that Elihu is not all that different from Job. Job is having problems understanding his situation because he doesn’t know why it is all happening. What gives Elihu such confidence in his answer is because he proclaims to know the “why” to Job’s question: Job is suffering because God is rebuking him in order to save him. Both Job and Elihu are concerned with the “why;” the only difference between them is that Elihu believes he knows the “why,” while Job does not. Our perspective of the story as readers though teaches us that neither Job nor Elihu really know the “why” behind Job’s suffering. Elihu’s answer feels more satisfactory than Job’s non-answer, but we do well to remember it’s not the perfect answer either.
Job 36:26-37:13 – In this section, Elihu does what he encourages Job to do, namely to praise God for His majestic greatness (36:24). In doing this, the predominant image that Elihu focuses on is that of a storm. All of the meteorological phenomenon of the storm is considered, from the rain (36:27-28, 31), to the clouds (36:29), to the thunder and lightning (36:29b-30, 31-33; 37:1-5, 11), to the snow and ice (37:6-10), and in this, Elihu says, we are at God’s mercy. We tremble before the thunder and lightning, rain blesses the land with fertility, the cold keeps us shut into our homes.
And yet God is bigger than all of these phenomena because He is the one who controls them (37:12). And God’s purpose is to use the storm both for good and for bad. He can use it to bring about correction (e.g. the Flood that destroyed all the world except for Noah and his family and all those in the ark), but He can also use it for love, for the care of His creation.Behind all of this, Elihu contends, is proof that God governs His creation with both love and wisdom.
This section is a rather beautiful part of Elihu’s speech and it would ruin it to add much more to what he said other than repeating the usual caution: Elihu is correct in the general praise of God here, but where he loses his point because this doesn’t tell us why God is acting in any given situation. A drought, for instance, isn’t just going to cause hardship for one specific family, it will wreak havoc on a great many people. Is the state of all of those people’s spiritual life exactly the same? Were they all in need of God’s loving correction? Surely among them there were some really bad people, some mediocre good people, and also some super righteous ones. Yet all experience the drought and all will face famine. Even Jesus said that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:45). Elihu’s eagerness to prove Job wrong and stand up for God drive him to say more than he should have.
Job 37:14-20 – Now Elihu turns back to Job to see if he’s learned the lesson. He asks Job if he knows how God does all of this, controls all the clouds, the lightning, the thunder. Elihu’s conclusion is obvious. Of course Job doesn’t know all of these things. And because he doesn’t know this, Elihu argues that Job shouldn’t even consider bringing a case to God nor should he have any confidence he would win (cf. 13:18) if he would be foolish enough to do it (37:19-20). Elihu wants Job to give up this foolish notion of arguing before God.
Job 37:21-24 – Elihu’s final words are not terrible ones. His conclusion rests on the awesome majesty of God, that God is too far beyond human reach to comprehend, and yet we can grasp the fact that God is great in power and righteous in governance and He will not violate either of those principles. Thus the part that is left to us is to fear Him, to trust Him rather than our own false wisdom. To Elihu those who would truly be wise prove their wisdom by backing down before God. Job has shown himself to be foolish with his crazy idea that he must confront God over God’s unjust treatment of Job.
My response to this would be that Elihu is right that God in Himself is unknowable to us, but God has revealed Himself to us through His activity in this world (which gives us some general idea about who God is (Psalm 19:1; Rom. 1:20)), but the best way that we know God is through the revelation of His Son Jesus. And in Jesus we know that God is just, but He is also full of mercy, grace, and love. Through Jesus we know that God doesn’t want to condemn the world, but to save us all from our sins (John 3:16-17). If we focus on how God is unknowable at the expense of focusing on how He has revealed Himself to us, we can potentially fall from the hope of the Gospel to the pit of despair.
At the conclusion of Elihu’s speech, the Book of Job quickly transitions to its climax: God’s response. After 35 chapters of silence, God speaks and He will continue to speak with just one small break (Job 40:3-5 when Job issues a timid reply) until the beginning of Job 42 when Job speaks his final words and then God will address Eliphaz and the other two of Job’s friends (though God does not specifically address Elihu).
Before getting into the content of God’s answer to Job there a few noteworthy items about God replying to Job period.
The first point seems rather nitpicky, but is actually significant. In the narration: it is the LORD who replies to Job. In English, this barely raises an eyebrow, but it deserves some attention. There are a few different ways to refer to God in general, but specifically in the Book of Job. The common ways to refer to God are by the word “God” (which in Hebrew can be expressed by the words El, Eloah and Elohim), but also quite frequently by the word “Almighty” (which in Hebrew is Shaddai). Now these terms are quite generic. Anyone, anywhere who believes in some higher power would use these same words to refer to the deity. Calling God “God” is like calling a person a person, calling God “Almighty” is like calling a person “mortal.” They’re true words, but that’s about as far as they go. But if you want to be crystal clear that you’re referring to a particular person, you can do better than saying “Hey, person!” you can use their name, “Hey, Mike!” (and while I know there is potential confusion if multiple people have that name, you have significantly narrowed down the focus). In the same way, our God has identified Himself by more than titles “God” or “Almighty,” (although none of those are wrong ways to refer to Him). In the Old Testament He specifically revealed His name to Moses in the burning bush on Mount Sinai (Exo. 3:13ff.) as “I AM WHO I AM,” which is shortened and turned into third person in Hebrew as Yahweh (“HE IS/SHALL BE”). English translations largely follow a history of translation tradition that do not spell out God’s name in the Bible, but use a circumvention by translating Yahweh when it occurs in Hebrew as LORD (with the small capital letters) in your Bibles. That’s how you can know that the Hebrew word Yahweh is what is being translated, as opposed to the actual Hebrew word for “Lord” or “Master,” which is Adonai.
Ok, why all the language history? The reason is because there is something for us to see in all of this. The Name Yahweh was used in the opening 2 chapters of Job, and used by Job after the first round of suffering (when he lost his children and his livestock) when he worshiped God saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). But after that, Job didn’t address God by His name, nor did anyone else aside from the narrator in chapter 2. But with the entrance of God on the scene, He enters and speaks as Yahweh, the LORD.
So what should we make of it?
For one, we should see this as a very personal encounter with God. For too long, his friends have described God in a mechanical, impersonal, judicial enforcer way. But God is not an impersonal form, He is a personal being. He has a name, an identity, a personality. He has revealed Himself and wants to be known and called upon, and, in turn, He does speak for Himself to His creation.
When we merely think about God as an impersonal being, it’s hard to think of having a relationship with Him. After all, does one have a relationship with gravity? No, you acknowledge its existence and act accordingly, but that’s about as far as it goes. God is not like this. And if God is a Person, why in the world should we think that He wouldn’t act like one.
Be careful not to misunderstand me. I don’t mean that God is a person in the way that we are, nor am I trying to attribute mistakes to Him. I mean that He has a personality, that He is not impersonal. Rather I’m thinking of how as a parent, I’ve had to learn how to parent my children differently because they’re not the same. They have different personalities, natures, strengths, weaknesses, etc. I am the same person to both of them: I, one and the same, am father to each of them. But to be exactly the same to them would be to show a lack of understanding of who they were as unique people.
I think we must be careful in how we apply this to God, but there is some level on which this is true. God loves us all with the same love, but the way in which that love is shown is not going to be identical. God didn’t create us all the same. We are all different, unique, and He has blessed us with different gifts (1 Cor. 12). In the Book of Job we see an acknowledgement of this too. For instance, it wasn’t just anyone that God chose to put to the Satan as an example of faith, it was Job, because God knew Job and knew his faith in Him was sufficient. I think we seldom consider how complex God’s relationship with us is because it is not mechanical and impersonal, like Job’s friends argue, but personal and individual, as we see here. And I believe this is a sign of God’s mercy and love toward us.
Another connection with God’s name is related to God showing up, the revelation of Himself to Job. When God shows up, He has to show up in some way that is discernible to mortals, not fully present (for we cannot handle that), but hidden in some way. When He appeared to Moses for instance, God was present in the burning bush, something that Moses could actually see and notice with his eyes and God spoke to Moses in a way that He could hear with his ears. God is always present, but we are not always aware of His presence.
But when God makes His presence known it could be good or bad. Moses was warned that he was treading on holy ground (Exo. 3:5), but Isaiah didn’t get much of a warning before realizing he was in great danger of being consumed by God’s holiness (Isa. 6). Similarly, God coming in a storm, is a way that can be perceived by Job, but it is also vaguely threatening, not enough to destroy him, but enough to know that God is not to be taken lightly.
And here where God chooses to reveal Himself in a way that Job can see and hear, His glory is still concealed in cloud and darkness. The image is powerful. Job can see and understand a small part of who God is, but there is much that will remain hidden from him. God is a God who reveals Himself, and when He does so as Yahweh, the overall message is not one of judgment, but one of grace.
The I AM is with Job. Job, who was worried that God was against Him, that He had become His enemy, is assured at once now that God has shown up that He is with Job, not against Him. He is here to speak to Job, not against him. Job may not have seen God’s presence before or heard His voice, but just as He does with Moses, when God shows Himself to be Yahweh to His people, when He personally comes to speak with them, His name is redemption, for He is the Redeemer of His people, now and always (Exo. 6:2-9). Indeed, even if Job is unaware of it, we the readers understand that Job’s Redeemer is now here and He is Yahweh (Job 19:25-27).
If you want to fast-forward all of this past the pages of the Old Testament, you can also start to understand how the naming of Jesus is a significant event in salvation history, for Jesus is given the name “The LORD Saves” (for that’s what Jesus means, see Matt. 1:21). And it is at the Name of Jesus that all will bow and confess him as Lord (or Yahweh) (Phil. 2:10-11). Jesus declares that He is the pre-existing one: before Abraham was, I AM! (John 8:58). In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase “I am…” to reveal to us the fullness of His nature: I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51); the Light of the World (John 8:12); the Door of the sheep (John 10:7, 9); the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25); the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14); the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6); and the True Vine (John 15:1, 5). Since no one has ever seen God (John 1:18), I would argue that it is the pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus, who speaks to Job now. When God speaks to His people in words, it’s hard to imagine that event as something other than a revelation of the very one who is called the Word of God (John 1:1ff.).
Dramatically, before Elihu spoke, the stage was set because of Job’s vow of innocence for either God to respond with curses (if Job had lied about his innocence) or for nothing to happen (a non-answer would be proof that Job’s claim of innocence was true). There is a slight tension in this moment. God hasn’t immediately crushed Job, but is He going to do so now that He’s speaking? It won’t take long to realize that is not why God is speaking to Job now. Job wanted an answer, and God is giving him an answer. And that in itself makes this a winning moment for Job.
Granted, I don’t think he’s about to take any great victory lap, but what Job yearned for was that his relationship with God would be restored. He was deeply distressed over God’s silence. But now that God speaks, Job knows that the relationship is working once again. Yes, God’s words are going to humble Job, but perhaps Job really did need that. It’s not that he had committed all the sins that Elihu and the others accused him of, but perhaps Elihu was right and Job did need God to nudge him back in the right direction. If so, that’s what God’s words to Job will do.
It would be easy for us to be dissatisfied with God’s answer to Job. After all, Job was asking the question “Why? Why? Why?” But God has not given an answer to that question. Yahweh instead reveals WHO HE (that is, God) IS and in so doing also reminds Job who Job is. God treats Job with no less dignity that is due him as a man (Job 38:3; Job 7:17, 15:14; Psa. 8:4), but in doing so God doesn’t just elevate Job’s position above the ash heap that he sits on, He also humbles him to show him his place in God’s creation is below that of the Creator Himself.
In what follows, Yahweh’s interactions with Job could considered be a cross-examination, if we want to keep the legal image in mind, but Job has no answers to God’s questions. In legal terms, God has proven His case by reducing Job to silence (Job 9:3). While I don’t think this image is foreign to understanding the situation, I think it leads us to understand God’s interaction with Job too negatively. In the end, God has not come to speak against Job, whom God Himself commends, as much as He has come to speak against Job’s friends. God is never described as angry toward Job, but He is very angry at Job’s friends (Job 42:7).
Therefore, I think the more fitting image for this interaction God’s interaction with Job is that of a teacher and a student (disciple). In Elihu’s speeches with Job, he attempted to teach Job wisdom (Job 33:33). This is exactly what Job had asked of his friends (Job 6:24), but they were not able to do it. Repeatedly, they looked to creation to understand wisdom (e.g. Job 12:7-8), but as we’ve seen the conclusions which the friends drew from nature were not the kind that brought any real light on the situation. They focused on how separate God was from His creation, reducing God to an equation and nothing more. But now, the Teacher, the source of all wisdom (Job 28:28), has come to teach Job, and all of us, a thing or two. God doesn’t despise Job or look at him as dung or a worm (Job 25:6), but rather takes Job as a companion on a tour of creation. In this mode of interaction, silence does not indicate utter defeat, but rather indicates the proper posture of the student (Job 6:24; 33:31, 33). So, he (or she) who has ears to hear, let him (or her) hear (Matt. 11:15; 13:9; 13:43)! Wisdom is calling (Prov. 8:1).
In Yahweh’s opening words, He certainly is challenging Job, but it is not his moral character which is being challenged (contrary to the emphasis of his friends), it is rather his perspective of the world. Remember there have been themes of wisdom and justice popping up throughout the dialogue. When justice was emphasized, that was usually when the discussion grew darkest. The theme of wisdom, however, really blossomed especially in Job 28, where wisdom was linked to the fear of the Lord (Job 28:28). This is the same starting point of God’s reply. Yahweh has declared that Job has a lack of knowledge. But the correction to that is more than simple rebuke; it is instruction. In a super long series of rhetorical questions, God will ask Job whether he can do the things that God does. The end result of this is that Job would grow in his wisdom and learn how to understand himself and his God in a much better way.
In the interest of time and my own wisdom, I’m going to paint with some very broad brushes over most of what God says. I think God’s words are worth pondering in greater detail, but rather than focusing on any particular passage, it is the sheer scope of what God asks, rather than a particular detail, that really leaves one speechless. It’s like God is taking Job, and us, on a special backstage tour. So what are we to notice?
In the opening section (38:4-24), God is seen as the Creator of the whole world. The emphasis is particularly on the structure and ordering of creation. It is reminiscent of the opening days of creation in Genesis where there the whole creation was formless and void until God brought order to it, separating darkness from light, the waters above and the waters below, and the dry land from the waters (Gen. 1:1-10). Much of the language in this section probably offends the modern scientific mind, but all of this fit with the ancient cosmological understanding of the world. So don’t strain at the gnats too much.
The question is do you see how in all of this God is showing and telling Job, and us, about His unique relationship to His creation? Can you hear the delight in God’s voice as He describes the secrets of His creation?
Do you sense in this that God is far-off and disconnected from His creation? No way! He is as proud of the way He has ordered His creation as He was delighted in Job in the opening sentences of the Book of Job. This is part of the cure to Job’s distress. Job has begun to feel that God has abandoned him, that He doesn’t care about him any more. But God is inviting Job to see how much He cares for the whole of His creation. If He cares that much for the wind and the rain, the rivers and the seas, how much more does God care for humanity, created in His image (Gen. 1:27), to rule over this creation (Gen. 1:26) that God has so wisely ordered (Matt. 6:25ff.; Luke 12:22ff.)!
In the next part of Yahweh’s speech (38:25-39:30), He still is talking about His creation, but there is also an emphasis on the way God maintains His creation. God doesn’t just put great insight and wisdom into the act of creation and then let his creation be. God in His great wisdom shows His great care and compassion for all of His creation by His ongoing involvement. It doesn’t matter whether we’re looking at the inanimate world (38:25-38) or the animate world (38:39-39:30), He takes care of them with the same level of compassion, showing His justice and impartiality.
Throughout all of this we’re asked to consider how we might rule the world. Would we do it as justly and wisely as God has shown Himself to govern it? Especially in this section we can see how God manages the world for the benefit of all parts of the world. We might think a desert is a barren wasteland, incapable of life and therefore not worth any attention. But God devotes attention even to the barren areas of this earth. Though there is no one in the land, He still takes care of it and waters it because it is His (38:25-27).
If you can see the wisdom and justice of God in these small pictures of how He maintains His creation, how much more is His wisdom and justice going to be shown toward humanity, the crown of His creation?
In talking about all of the animals, God shows his lordship over the whole earth. Many of the animals mentioned are either hostile toward humans or at least undomesticated. Although these animals seem hostile to us and perhaps even inspire some fear, there are no hostile forces that are more powerful than God. He takes care of them all. While humans may have no room for these animals in their world, God’s compassion is much bigger than our own.
So in all of these ways is there any way that God’s wisdom, His compassion, His care, and His justice fall short of human expectation? Not at all. In fact, God shows how He exceeds them in every single way! And it’s because of this constant emphasis on these qualities of God that God’s “non-answer” to Job begins to look very much like an answer. God is teaching Job, and us, to see the world in a whole new way, through His eyes and through His care, we learn more not just about the world, but about our place in it and about our God who governs it all.
What a wonderful world? Yes, but more than that: What a wonderful God!
The first part of Yahweh’s speaking to Job ends with a time for Job to respond (Job 40:1-2). Job was angry with the way God was handling his affairs, so now based on God’s tour of creation, what does Job have to say. How is the way God governs His creation shown Him to be unjust, impartial, or unwise? If Job thinks that there is a way God is wrong, now is the time to show where He has gone wrong.
For once, Job has nothing to say in response (Job 40:3-5)! Job has begun to realize his place. Yes, Job has spoken and he does not repent of his words, but just as in Job’s earlier life, all saw Job’s wisdom and remained silent (Job 29:9), so also Job realizes that it is his role now to keep his silence and be taught by God.
Yahweh’s second speech to Job (40:6-41:34) is similar to, but different than his first. Whereas the previous speech was on overarching look at God’s relationship with all of creation and showed how God ordered, maintained and cared for His creation in ways that exemplify His justice, His care, His compassion and His wisdom and showed how God cared for parts of the earth that humans ignore, consider lifeless and unimportant, or even think beyond their power of understanding, this second speech seems especially to emphasize God’s power and ability to subdue the most uncontrollable parts of creation.
In His opening words to Job, God asks Job if he an arm like God’s (40:9). God challenges Job to an arm-wrestling combat, so to speak. If Job’s right hand can deliver him from the things that God easily overcomes, then God will praise Job (40:14). The focus is on strength and power.
Once again, God is reminding Job of his place. When Job has been adopting the posture of challenging God’s administration of Job’s life, Job was fighting against his own helplessness and lack of control. His circumstances were as dire as they were unchangeable. But in looking at his own situation, Job comes close to saying that God is unjust (something both his friends and Elihu took great umbrage at). God calls Job out on this too. If Job thinks that God is wrong or if Job is so intent on being right, he must be right the right way. Yes, Job loudly proclaimed his innocence, but his belief that his innocence gave him the right to a better life was leading Job astray in his thinking about God. So now, to prove that Job’s thoughts are incorrect, God is basically saying, Job if you think you know more than I do, why don’t you tell me how you would rule over the Behemoth and Leviathan. Are you more powerful than they?
The implication, of course, is that Job cannot subdue these creatures. And if Job can’t do this (although God can), this should start to humble Job. Maybe God is not his enemy. But there are real enemies out there who will terrorize and ruin God’s creation, even Job. And if Job is powerless against them, doesn’t Job realize that if he took Job’s spot as the great ruler of all things, that rule would be as illusory as it is temporary.Once God is out of the picture, these otherworldly forces would quickly overpower Job and take over all creation.
God doesn’t come out and explain everything directly, but He is dropping hints that explain to Job what we already know: God isn’t responsible for Job’s current suffering. He didn’t destroy Job. Instead this was done by another, one more powerful than Job, more powerful than all of Job’s friends, but not more powerful than God.
Perhaps you thought it curious that just about all of Job’s speeches, as well as those of His friends, were about how God governed people. Everyone was so focused on themselves. But God hasn’t mentioned people once. He talked about the vastness of creation, but not people.
When we suffer, when we grieve, our world suddenly shrinks, or maybe it’s the pain becomes so big. It fills all of our mental space and energy. It overwhelms, it crushes, it cages us in. Job felt that. He felt constricted by his suffering so that there was barely any room for him to exist, to breathe, any more (e.g. Job 3:23; 6:9; 9:17-18).
What does God do though? He opens the window, He opens the door, He shows Job how vast, how enormous, the world is. In light of this, his own problems start to seem small. And it’s not that God is trying to make Job seem small merely to humiliate him (Job 40:3). God is trying to give Job a bigger perspective so that he can appreciate God’s true grandeur. When we are able to look to the heavens, because of our faith we do not see our own insignificance, we should see God’s greatness. The answer to our woe-is-me feelings are to see that not only is God Immanuel, God-with-us, but He is thankfully the God-much-bigger-than-us. And if He’s bigger than us, He’s bigger than our problems, bigger than our pain. That may not immediately answer the immediacy of our pain, but it provides comfort to know that there is still Someone that pain must answer to. And if we know God to be kind and compassionate, we can trust (though not always understand) that He will respond with that kindness.
Ok now, let’s consider the two creatures of these speeches, Behemoth and Leviathan. There are basically three schools of thought on what to do with these creatures.
The Behemoth and Leviathan as the Satan
The word “Behemoth” in Hebrew is in plural form, but it is talked about as a singular creature. In Hebrew grammar sometimes a plural is used in either an abstract or intensive sense. That seems to be what is happening here. The Behemoth is the abstract and intensified epitome of beastliness and ungodly strength. He’s the beast of all beasts or the beast par excellence. When we think of Satan, the Devil, he too is inhuman and beastly. When humans fall into sin, often imagery is used of them dehumanizing themselves and becoming like beasts (2 Pet. 2:12). This beastliness is a perversion of who we are created to be as people, the bearers of the image of God. In Revelation the beast is strongly connected to Satan (Rev. 20:10). Those who have the mark of the beast are those who worship him rather than having the Name of the one true God upon them (Rev. 13:17; 19:20).
The Behemoth rules over the land. Scripture also speaks of Satan as the ruler of this world (Matt. 4:8-9). Fortunately, for us though the kingdom of God has broken into and invaded Satan’s domain. Moreover, we know that his rule is limited and will ultimately become nothing when he and all whom he has deceived are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
The Behemoth is God’s creation (Job 40:15, 19) and so too is Satan and all angels. Although the creation story in Genesis doesn’t tell much about the creation of angels, the heavenly host (i.e. angels) are firmly part of God’s creation (Gen. 2:1).
The Leviathan is described as one who rules over the sea (Job 41:23-24). In the Bible very often the sea is considered a realm of evil and chaos (no doubt reflecting the inherent dangers people felt on, being completely at its mercy, cf. Job 9:8; 26:12-13; 38:8-11). So for instance the famous passage in Revelation 21:1 describing the new heavens and earth specifically says that in that renewed creation “the seas was no more.” It doesn’t mean that there are no more waters in the new creation (see Rev. 22:1). Rather the point is the chaotic waters that cause danger and kill, will no longer be a part of that renewed creation. The one who stills the wind and the waves has brought His peace so that even as Jesus walks on the water (a sign of His power over them), so also we will have nothing to fear from the water. And this promise means a great deal to me one who sinks, much better than he swims!
The Leviathan is also called the one who sees everything that is high and the king over all the sons of pride (Job 41:34). Neither being high nor a son of pride are Godly concepts. God is the one who, though over all things, has emptied Himself and taken on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:5ff.). Satan’s background story is often believed to be the source of all pride. He, a heavenly being, could not stand that God set dirt-creatures, humans, to be the rulers over the earth and that even the heavenly beings were below them, though they were clearly above them. He clearly appeals to Adam and Eve’s pride in the garden by tempting them to become something better than they think they are.
The Leviathan is described as fire-breathing dragon (Job 41:19-21). In Isa. 27:1 the Leviathan is described as a serpent (ultimately slain by Yahweh). In Psalm 74:14, he is described as a multi-headed sea monster (again crushed by Yahweh). The picture of the Leviathan in the Old Testament maps very neatly on the picture of the devil and Satan as described in Rev. 12:9 as “the great dragon” and “that ancient serpent.” Wherever he goes there is death and destruction, but God is the one who slays him.
In all things though, we are assured that these powerful, supernatural creatures can overpower humanity. In Job 41:33 God says, “on earth there is not his like,” or as Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” captured it (as translated in English) “On earth is not his (that is, the devil’s) equal.” Martin Luther too understood this to be a reference to our ultimate enemy, the one against whom we are powerless, but the very one whom Christ has defeated for us.
Yes, though these creatures are more powerful than us, though they would seek to harm and destroy us, God is so much stronger than they are that they are described like his little pets, perhaps a puppy whom He has on a leash (Job 40:26) or a harmless fish in a bowl. The point is that these overpowering creatures have been overpowered. Just like the wind and rain, they have limits that they must obey. The Satan couldn’t touch Job without God’s permission and even then God drew a clear line of how far The Satan could go (Job 1:10-12; 2:6).
Though we are helpless before the Satan, Jesus faced him and was victorious. The Satan’s temptations did not fool Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). He remained faithful to His Heavenly Father. Jesus in His ministry described how Jesus’ kingdom had undone the Satan’s kingdom and how he was thrown from heaven, banished for good (Luke 10:18). Jesus has come to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8) and He has done just that. By His life, suffering, death, and resurrection He defeated sin, death, and the devil now and forevermore.
Does Job know all of this the way we do? No, of course not. But the point of Yahweh’s words are to persuade Job to abandon his current way of looking at himself and his situation and to embrace a wider view of everything, a view that sees God firmly in place as the ruler of it all, but also to see him as the one rules graciously, wisely, compassionately on behalf of His creation.
Job is not offered a complete explanation for his suffering, but he is shown a scary truth that he may not want to hear: the world is dangerous, chaotic, and destructive. Though we are called to rule over creation, we certainly do not control it. Sin has broken and destroyed not just us but creation itself and therefore our relationship to it. Therefore, we would do well to seek the proper shelter and protection. But where can that be found? Nowhere else but in God, who is our refuge, our mighty fortress amidst the tumults of life. He will keep us safe, both now and forevermore.
Huzzah! We’ve made it through the Book of Job and if you’re actually still reading this, you’ve potentially made it through some 50,000 words of mine, reflecting on the Book of Job as I’ve been reading it and studying it. Reading one chapter per day gives more time to think about what you’ve read and to go back and pick it apart a bit more. Perhaps I’ve gone overboard in that. Believe it or not, there’s always been more I’ve wanted to say, but I’ve tried to restrain myself. Yes, you could easily summarize much of what Job’s friends said as simply, “Job, you’re bad, repent!” But if you did that you’d fail to see that some of their erroneous ways of seeing God and their world are also sometimes ours too.
Job’s Confession (Job 42:1-6)
At the end of Yahweh’s speech about the Behemoth and Leviathan, Job responds in a fuller manner than previously. Again, he is not beaten into submission, rather he confesses his faith in a God who can do all things and whose purposes cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). Job sees rightly that there is no enemy who can stand against God. Job then quotes back God’s question to Job (Job 38:2) and answers it. Job is the one who has spoken without knowledge, but now he sees clearly. He didn’t understand what he was saying earlier, for now he knows that there are things beyond his knowledge that are too wonderful for him to have known. These hardly sound like the words of one who has been crushed by God’s condemnation. He understands better God’s purposes are not to curse, but to bless and God has told Job how he so carefully, wisely, justly and compassionately rules over His creation. He talked about things that Job couldn’t possibly have known or have experienced. And now having seen this wonderful world, Job better understands his wonderful God and sees that God’s purposes are more wonderful that he previously imagined. Job is humbled, but not broken. His words here are not of sorrow, but of praise.
At the end, something has happened which has not happened for nearly 40 chapters of speaking: Job has been changed. His friends certainly couldn’t change his mind and neither did Elihu. They backed Job into a corner and eliminated all of Job’s options until there was nothing left for Job to do, but appeal to God. Job quotes God (Job 42:4; 38:3; 40:7) to make the point. Now that God has spoken, Job has heard and seen God and that has changed everything.
Job’s encounter with God was not wishful thinking, but much like Moses encountering the presence of God, it changed him. This was what he longed for, but he thought it would not be something he would experience until after his death (Job 19:25-27). Like Moses with Moses though, his experience of God was not the fullness of God in all of His holiness, but in a way that Job could experience (cf. Exo. 19). Nevertheless, even this is enough to fill Job with a sense of wonder and awe, so that at the end of this he speaks words of repentance. It’s not that Job has sinned, but he realizes now that he was going the wrong direction in his thoughts about God and he’s changed his mind. He doesn’t need to force his case before God, he can trust that God will hear him, not because of who Job is (he doesn’t need to insist on his catalogue of innocence), but because of who God is. The dust and ashes, which are associated with grief and mortality (Gen 3:19), but they also were used by Abraham as he adopted a position of a humble suppliant, a beggar (not a demander) before God (Gen. 18:27). And it is this position that leads us into the final scenes of Job’s story.
Yahweh Speaks to Job’s Friends (Job 42:7-9)
Just in case you didn’t believe me, Yahweh now speaks to Eliphaz (as the chief of Job’s three friends) and tells them that it is they, and not Job, who have been wrong. Whereas we had just been hearing about Elihu’s anger against Job and the friends, Yahweh declares that His anger has burned against the friends, but not Job. Job has spoken correctly about God, but these friends have not. They have spoken not as the wise, but as fools. They have misunderstood God for who He truly is. Yet God in His grace though doesn’t write them off completely (because that’s who God is contrary to their own thinking!). God would rather have their repentance than their condemnation and so He tells them to bring animals to Job and, just as Job did for his children (Job 1:5), he will offer those sacrifices and pray on their behalf and God will accept the sacrifices and Job’s prayer. They will be restored, forgiven, in their relationship both with God and with Job.
This is a powerful section of Scripture and there’s so much to say!
First, notice that in all of this our relationship before God is shown to flow from His grace and our faith and trust in Him. Job’s friends were completely wrong-headed in how they thought about God and here God clears this up. Just as Abraham was righteous, not because of who he was but because of His faith in God’s promise (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3ff.; Gal. 3:6). It is God’s grace, not mere justice, that is the proper lens through which to see Him and us.
Second, because Abraham stood righteous before God on account of faith, Abraham knew he had no power or control over God. But knowing God’s heart to save, Abraham was bold, and yet humble to intercede on behalf of others. When Abraham interceded for his nephew Lot and his family when God threatened to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham knew that God would spare the city if there were only a few righteous people in it, but Abraham stopped the number at ten (Gen. 18:20-33). As Abraham interceded for that unrighteous city, he declared before God that he was nothing more than “dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27), a beggar before God. But God did not turn down this beggar; He welcomed his pleas. Why? Because Abraham understood God’s heart, knowing that God was a God of grace and would save the many on account of the few. What Abraham didn’t realize though is that God was even more gracious than Abraham dared to believe. God ultimately would save the many (all of us sinners) on account of the One (Jesus, His Son who died in our place).
Third, notice in this section, Yahweh calls Job His servant 4 times, just as twice previously God called Job His servant before the Satan. Job’s relationship is as close to God at the end as it is in the beginning. But what does it mean to be God’s servant? This is the key to everything. Again, there are theological tomes written on “the servant of Yahweh.” Isaiah writes great poetry on this topic in the end of the Book of Isaiah on this theme. It points us directly to Jesus who fulfills this role in a way that only He could (in Acts 8:27ff., the Ethiopian eunuch is reading about the servant of Yahweh in Isaiah and doesn’t understand who it’s about until Philip tells him about Jesus).
The servant of Yahweh is (among other things) the one who intercedes for his enemies, blesses those who curse him, and will not repay evil for evil. Jesus does this par excellence, but here Job is seen to do the very same thing. Despite all of the anger Job should have against his friends, upon the revelation of God, Job lets it all go. God doesn’t command Job to forgive his friends, but simply says Job will do this, he will make sacrifices for you and pray for you. Why? Because that’s who Job is. He’s my servant. He knows Me and He knows my heart is set on mercy. What Job does for his friends is remarkable, but what Jesus does is divine. Job could not do what he did that day were it not for his trust in God, leading him to the wisdom of forgiveness that is unknown apart from God. Reconciliation is about more than just our relationship with God, it works itself out in our relationship with others too. Job shows that. There is still more, but I must go on.
Job is Blessed Again (Job 42:10-17)
In a sheer act of grace, God fills Job’s life with prosperity and material blessing. God gave Job two times more than he had before (and he had A LOT before). Job lived for 140 more years after this time of affliction. This again focuses us on God’s grace, that He is bent on blessing His people. He didn’t have to do this for Job, but He chose to. Job didn’t deserve or ask for these things, but received them anyway.
Our lives may not map directly onto Job’s own experiences (and we’re probably glad for that!). There are things we can learn from him, but there are ways our lives are different too. Wisdom comes from discerning those differences. But Job’s experience has shown us that while God’s visible blessings may be withdrawn from us throughout our life, God has not changed. His love and mercy shown to us last forever (Heb. 13:8).
We don’t know how long Job suffered physically. Can you imagine though if this happened in a very brief span of time? If his suffering lasted only for a week or a month? But God blessed him with 140 YEARS of life beyond that. Yes, he did lose things he wouldn’t get back (his children who were lost), but in the end those were not his to have forever. They were all gifts from God’s hand and Job has already shown us he believes that there is more still to come (Job 1:21). Yes, God’s blessings are not contained in the 140 years of mortal life God gave to Job. His blessings abound into eternity.
What Job wanted most of all, to see His Savior face to face, God has promised and will give in the final resurrection, but even before that day comes, Job is, like all believers, given the promise of Paradise (Luke 23:43). That even death will not separate us from God (Rom. 8:35-39), but we will be with our Lord forever more (1 Thess. 4:17; 2 Cor. 5:8). The Book of Job doesn’t describe that joy with very great detail. How could it though since they still had not experienced the full joy of Easter morning?
It has been emotionally exhausting to go through the hard-times with Job, but not get equal treatment of what is to come. But I think this is for good reason. Just as Job couldn’t comprehend God’s wisdom, compassion, and care, so also we cannot comprehend the glories yet to come (Rom. 8:18). We think we know, but we don’t. We can’t. All we can do is trust God and know that His goodness will make it better than we could ever believe. And no matter what part of that picture gives you the greatest joy, Scripture teaches us that the ultimate joy will come from being not just with other believers, but with all of us believers also being with our God, walking with Him, sharing that close relationship with Him forever: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Rev. 21:3)!