Was It My Fault?

This lesson treats 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.  Eliphaz speaks – Job 4 and 5; concentrate on verses 6, 7 of chapter 4.

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

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 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 and 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”)

D. That God is exact in his justice is an unassailable biblical 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 Jobs’ 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.

II. Job responds with incredulity to Eliphaz – 6:2,3, 24 – Overall, Job responds that Eliphaz is disappointing both as a friend and as a counselor. He also lifts a bitter cry to God wondering why such severity has come to him as if he were something more than a mere breath.


A.  Job, after hearing Eliphaz, realizes that his would-be counselor/reprover has no mental instrument or empathetic experience by which he might weigh the true import and depth of Job’s words. “O that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances!” His words have seemed rash to Eliphaz for he does not grasp that Job’s calamity is “heavier than the sands of the sea.”

B. Job reiterates his desire for God simply to remove him from the earth and expresses confidence that he has “not denied the words of the Holy One.” (6:10)

C. He invites Eliphaz to be his counselor, but does not wish for mere platitudes or mere insensitive condemnation built on a peremptory judgmentalism. Job does not believe that he is hiding any secret injustice for which immediate retribution from God is due. He does not, therefore think that the position of Eliphaz thus far has any merit in the argument or comfort to the soul. Job himself would know it if this were the case: “Cannot my palate discern the cause of calamity?” (24-30)

D. His disappointment and frustration with Eliphaz gave way to perplexity in his address to God. The life of mere human creatures is hard enough but for such intense attention to be given to one man (7:19, 20) seems unbearable. In addition, the issue of sin seems a bit confusing to Job. How can a man’s sin be of any import to God? How can a mere man’s failure be of any concern to God. If it is of concern, Why does he not simply pardon transgression and take away iniquity? (21) This issue will be revisited later in the book

III.  Bildad’s call to repentance – 8:4-8


A. He accuses Job of meaningless talk and of avoiding the obvious truth that he has sinned in order to brings down God’s judgment on him. (1, 2)

B.  He points to the loss of his children and essentially said, “They deserved it” (4) giving what Harrison called “the popular punitive interpretation of such events.”

C. Bildad gives the quick answer to this entire problem. If Job will just admit his sin and seek God earnestly, all indications of divine favor will be restored, and, in fact, will be enlarged. This is the lesson of history. This is the rule that governs all things. “The hope of the godless shall perish. . . . God will not reject a blameless man.” (8:13, 20) Paul House points out that Bildad “rejects any notion that bearing injustice in faith provides glory for Yahweh. Apparently only those enjoying ease embody a lifestyle that honors God.” (Paul House, Old Testament Theology, 432)

D. Again, Bildad responds on the basis of a general truth, but misappropriates it in a fallen world. Fundamental to the biblical understanding of Law and the corresponding doctrine of justification is the clearly established reality that God will “by no means clear the guilty.” (Exodus 34:7) Job’s friends grasped the certainty of this idea and applied it immediately to the case of Job. In this same passage, however, we learn that God also is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6, 7) Infused into the dynamic of this book, is the dilemma as to how God can be both of these. We are led through the anguish of Job to consider how divine sovereignty, divine justice, and divine mercy are all expressions of the singular goodness and wisdom of God.

IV.  [The lesson does not suggest any verses of response from Job, but it will be profitable to follow the flow of response] Job 9

A. Job admits, for the present, that the principle of the prosperity of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked is true. But this is the question: “How can a man be in the right before God?”

B. Job considers God from the standpoint of unfettered sovereignty and a transcendent righteousness that can always find fault even in the most righteous among men.

1. Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser” (15, cf with verse 20). God is “wise in heart and mighty in strength” (4) and somehow will find a way to accuse those that are not cognizant of unrighteousness in themselves; the only appeal, therefore, with such a mighty and exalted being is for mercy, not justice.

2. “If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?” Neither by power nor by our perception of justice can any creature summon God, Job observed. What is the hope of a mere creature in the face of such an unequal contest?

3. Given this oppressive reality, Job concludes that the clear lines of distinction drawn by his friend/accusers hold no validity in the face of God: “It is all one; therefore I say, He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.”

4. Job offers that tantalizing scenario in which one that could represent with clarity both the interests of God and the interests of man would take up the case and be able to plead it with effect. “For he is not a man as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both” (9:32, 33)

5. Though it is useless to present one’s case before a Being of such transcendence, Job maintains his innocence and sees himself as a victim of God’s desire to manifest his unopposable power. “You know that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of your hand.”  “If I am guilty, woe to me! If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look upon my affliction.” (10:15)

6. Since it appears that God is intent on destroying Job, why did he ever bring him into existence in the first place? (10:16-19) But since he does have existence, why does God not leave him alone for just a while so that this life can have some cheer before he slips into the land of “darkness an deep shadow.” He revisits this request in 14:5, 6.

V. Zophar now joins the parade of accusation against Job. His is the most shallow, repetitive of other ideas already mentioned both by Job and Eliphaz and Bildad, and the most aggressive yet. 11:6b,13-15

A.  Job is arrogant (“Shall your babble silence me, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?”) Job holds to his righteousness in defiance of God’s obvious righteous judgment on him, and has not been punished with the intensity that he deserves. (11:4-6)

B. If Job will repent, then all will be well. “You will be secure and will not fear.”

VI. Job decides that he should take his case directly to God; this shows that he is reaffirming his trust in God’s integrity. As for his friends, their reasoning is utterly worthless.13:4,22-25

A.  Job affirms that his understanding is not inferior to theirs, Theirs does not probe the immensity of this problem but only repeats commonly affirmed platitudes. “Who does not know such things as these.” (12:3)

B. Job began to lay out the complexity of the problem. He who had formerly been seen as blessed because righteous, now, though he has done nothing other than the good he had done before is now a laughingstock. Even though he is still, in the same way as formerly, just and blameless, he is now a joke. At the same time, the tents of robbers are at peace and idolaters are secure. Something doesn’t add up.

C.  None can boast of virtue and wisdom simply because they presently are secure. Those now at peace or in positions of authority and power might be thrust into deep darkness at any moment., “He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste” (12:24) Job has observed all this, so he probes a new explanation for these events.

D. He warns his accusing friends to beware for they are worthless physicians and might be arguing a case for God that God himself does not embrace. “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay” (13:12).

E. Job reaffirms his trust in God but also asks that God be willing to let him argue his case before him “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” ( 13:15) A godless man would not be willing to lay himself open to such a confrontation.

F.  He asked God to stop oppressing him by his mere power and be willing to listen to him argue his case. (21, 22) He wants to know what is going on. Why does God hide from him? If his problem is sin, then make it known. Unless God is pleased to show himself to man, he perishes as a mere nothing (14:1-12). 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 (14:13-17). As it stands, however, death will come before any satisfactory answers are given. God is powerful, has all the prerogatives, and seems content to let man pass with no hope. (14:18-22)

VII. Concluding remark: Job’s friends, in Job’s opinion, provide nothing that can help him in his struggle to find the purpose of God and see the face of God in this situation. They are worthless. He, however, has moved from abject despair and bitter hopelessness, to a renewed confidence in the final goodness of God. He needs to find some way to come before him and set forth his case. If sin is the cause of these calamities, then he asks God to show them for what they are, and open up the way for forgiveness and restoration. But what a meaningless and hopeless tragedy it would be for God to have a creature that yearned to see his face, to know, him, to be reconciled to him, and for silence to be the only response.

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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