“He Mourns Only for Himself”

Setting the Context: This lesson treats a portion of Job’s response to Eliphaz after the first cycle of speeches (Job 3-14). The cycle begins with Job’s lamentation of his condition, wishing he had never been born (3:1-10), or that he had been stillborn (3:11-19), or that he could even now find the death he wants but that eludes him (3:20-28). Each of his three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—then contribute their analyses of what has brought on Job’s suffering. Job responds to each of them, moving from incredulity and bitterness toward them and perplexity toward God, to a deeper contemplation of the purpose of God in giving suffering.


I. The first speech of Eliphaz in Job 4 and 5 sets a pattern for the others to follow.

A. After common courtesies and acknowledgment that Job has been a man of compassion and instruction, Eliphaz tells Job that the tables are now turned, and he needs counsel and an honest appraisal of his situation – 4:1-5. As the speeches develop, they become more harsh in light of Job’s honest contention against their assumptions.

B. Verse 6 – Eliphaz sets Job up for a candid hearing of his instruction by reminding him that Job’s confidence and hope depend on embracing a right view of the ways of men before God. Eliphaz claimed to speak in light of a spiritual revelation (4:12-16)

C. The principle of Eliphaz’s argument, which is stock in all the arguments that follow, is true in itself (“Who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?), and he indicates that he will pursue an application of the principle with honest rigor even though Job might not like what he says. Job’s three friends never give up on this principle and they argue throughout, therefore, that Job has committed some sin that he is refusing to acknowledge; this sin is the reason that God has given him over to these personal disasters. If Job will confess this sin and repent, God will restore his life of earthly blessing (“at destruction and famine you shall laugh, . . . You shall know also that your offspring shall be many” 5: 22, 25).

D. That God is exact in his justice is an unassailable biblical truth. It was revealed to Adam. Also, that obedience brings life and disobedience brings sure death was revealed at the beginning and stands as incontrovertible truth. We live, however, in a fallen world in which, in accord with his eternal purpose of grace, God preserves the world through common grace until he calls to salvation all his elect. The nature of the fallen world as well as special providence demonstrates that God consistently gives us tokens of wrath against sin before the full execution of it at the day of judgment. Christ has been judged, (or from Job’s perspective was to be judged) to the full execution of God’s wrath against the sin of his elect, and thus, during this life we do not see sin and judgment in a quid pro quo arrangement. Job’s experience, and the inspired narrative of it, constitutes a large portion of the special revelation as to how we are to regard suffering among the people of God.

E. Zophar the Naamathite gave the last speech of this first cycle. He had grown frustrated with Job’s resistance to their arguments and now presented an indignant response; “Shall a multitude of words go unanswered, and a talkative man be acquitted? Shall your boasts silence men? And shall you scoff and none rebuke?” (11: 2, 3). At this insult to his honesty and integrity, Job says that the friends “smear with lies” and are “worthless physicians.” He does not want their advice, but their silence. Silence would be better wisdom than their flurry of ill-applied words (13: 3-5).


II. Job asked God to stop oppressing him by his mere power and be willing to listen to him argue his case. He professes his absolute trust in God as a just God whose purposes are right and who may do as he sees fit. He also expresses confidence that God would listen to a well-reasoned argument (13: 3, 15-19). He wants to know what is going on. Why does God hide from him? If his problem is sin, then make it known (13: 21-23).

A. Verses 14: 1-12 – When God sets his sights on a man to demonstrate his power and authority through his situation, what recourse does a man have? Job already has seen himself as so ordered and determined by God that he lives with his “feet in the stocks,” having his path watched, and having a “limit for the soles of my feet.” He is “decaying like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten” (13: 27, 28).

  1. Man is born out of weakness unto weakness and destruction (1, 2). His being born of woman could be a statement of common observation, or it could be a reference to an effect of the fall that he had received in the framework of Adam’s recounting the events of the fall and the curses placed on creation and man and woman (Genesis 3: 16-19). Job’s observations seem to assume much of the revelation that Adam received both before and after the fall into sin and the consequent curses.
  2. God sets his eyes on such an insignificant being and brings him into judgment with himself (3). This is a continuation of the judgment brought about at the fall. God “drove out the man” and placed cherubim at the east of the garden guarding it with a “flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24). God continually shows in his providences that judgment is in the very fabric of this world.
  3. This judgment, however, is not so nicely divided and distinctly administered in this life that those who live in peace may conclude that their susceptibility is nil. And those to whom it is manifest really have no way to avoid its display, for man is born, not only from weakness unto destruction, but in a state of guilt and corruption (4). Eve would give birth in pain and multiplied sorrow would plague her role in conception. Her firstborn child was a murderer who becomes the paradigm for hate of his brother (Genesis 4: 8; 1 John 3: 12). How can he hide his sin from the all-seeing One? How can he ever find respite; where is the place or time when God might not deal thus with any person?
  4. Man’s life is set in its time and place according to divine determination. Is it possible for one to find a moment’s rest from divine scrutiny and consequent displeasure? (5, 6)
  • Job recognized that all the days of a mortal are subject to the determination of the eternal and immortal One. Job speaks in terms of days and then of months. No matter how time is expanded, the minutest elements of life have been set by God.
  • Not only is his time determined, but his location on the earth is determined. No man can go beyond the limits that God has made for him and travel to a place that God himself has not made. God has determined its contours and all the aspects of its being and has set beforehand who will go there and who will not.
  • Job, therefore, asks for some respite from such an all-consuming gaze. Can there be a moment in this life of labor in which we are judged in every action by the Master when we are not accumulating more material for judgment? Is there some moment of rest before he reaches the end of his time of labor? “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground” (Genesis 3: 19). Job also seems to imply the question, “At the end, will there be a sense of having fulfilled the required labor with approval?” (6).
  1. Man’s plight is worse than the soulless parts of living things. He has greater likeness to mere rocks and dust. (7-12)
  • A tree can give every indication of having ceased to live, and yet its resilience is such that even after the most severe treatment, it can spring back (7-9).
  • But a man, made in God’s image, goes according to the curse: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3: 19). “Where is he?” Job asks. If a tree continues to give signs of life, then much more should God’s image-bearer have some indication that life before his Maker shall continue. At the demise of his body, does his soul, his consciousness, his desire to come before God and see the mysteries of life unraveled all cease to be? Can the one who contemplates eternity be absolutely foiled in his desire for it?
  • Water evaporates from the sea into invisibility and a river may become utterly dry creating a bed of dust where water once flowed, so a man dies and cannot be seen.
  • The finality of this event may be in appearance only. Job uses the word “sleep.” People do awake from sleep, but if so, Job looks toward the conclusion of this age and this earth as the time when the sleep will be over—“Until the heavens are no longer.” Job’s mystified contemplations, by God’s Spirit, are driving him to think that an annihilation of the human spirit as well as the irreversible destruction of his body is not at all satisfying to the desires and the rational contemplations of man.

B. Verses 13-17 – But if God will deal with a man’s sin in such a way as to provide for the forgiveness of iniquity, fellowship could be restored.

  1. Perhaps death is not the final word; Perhaps dust is not the final state of being (13, 14).
  • “O that you could hide me in Sheol” indicates that a future with God after death is the yearning of his heart. He contemplates that some provision for the satisfaction of God’s wrath might be found—“That you would conceal me until your wrath returns to you.” Job looks for a way for God’s anger against him to reach its limit (“set a limit for me”) and give way to a restoration of joy in his presence. Job says, “Remember me,” even as the believing thief did beside the crucified Savior (Luke 23: 42).
  • The burning question toward which Job is driven, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (14). Is this a question of hope or of despair? Has he been driven to say, “Yes, I will die as one made miserable in this life by God’s secret judgment ‘until my change comes,’ but I will live again when the time of wrath is past.” Or does he say, “This time of trial will end in this life, for the dead cannot come alive again, and will be restored to favor.” Given the status of Job’s argument at this stage of his experience, it seems that he is urged in spirit to believe the former but finds the latter the most plausible.
  1. Even from Sheol, should God hide him there, at Gods’ call Job would answer. Seeing himself as hidden in Sheol (13), Job contemplates God’s call for restored life and fellowship. This not only is the desire of Job, but he looks at it as God’s own desire and purpose. “You will long for the work of your hands” (15).
  2. Though my affairs are under your close scrutiny, you have not shown me my sin (16, 17). He renews the appeal implied in 9: 20, 21 and in 10: 6, 7). He is treated as if guilty, but God does not disclose the sins for which he is suffering. “I am guiltless . . . He destroys the guiltless and the wicked” with no seeming distinction between them. “According to your knowledge I am indeed not guilty, yet there is no deliverance from your hand.” Though Job has asserted his innocence or yearned for some clear knowledge of sin that has brought on this calamitous loss and hurtful existence, he finds any such revelation “sealed up in a bag.” God has plastered over it so that Job cannot discern the origin of his guilt. Eventually, it will indeed be true that God covers over our sins with the death of Christ, removes them as far as the east is from the west. He will remember them against us no longer. Presently, however, Job wants to know why he cannot see the sin for which he is being held accountable, if any at all.

C. Verses 18-22 – As it stands, however, death will come, so Job surmises, before any satisfactory answers are given. God is powerful, has all the prerogatives, and seems content to let man pass with no hope.

  1. Just like non-living corruptible things like mountains and rocks that are altered or destroyed by the natural elements, so God seems to wear down a man and leave him hopeless (18, 19). The fragile creature is crushed to fragments under the might of the Creator.
  2. God expresses his power on a man, who can do nothing to resist it, and then sends him to death in his corrupted state (20). Job is inexpressibly forlorn. His friends say this has come because of Job’s hypocrisy, dishonesty, oppressive actions and he will not recover until these sins are corrected. They are full of hot air, so Job responds (16: 1-3). But God holds the reason for his judgment to himself and only manifests the irresistible force of his power.
  3. So intense is the judgement of God on an individual that he cannot even notice the triumphs or devastation of his children (21, 22). The natural affections of life that give pleasure or cause sadness cannot be observed or taken to heart when one’s personal suffering dominates his entire being. God’s infliction is so great that Job has no emotional room left or sympathetic instincts operative even for the dearest of his relations.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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