Who Said Life Would Be Fair?

This is the second cycle of speeches by Job’s friends and corresponding responses of Job. It includes a more intensified version of the same theological ideas of the accusers, an excursion into bitterness on the part of Job, the brushing aside of the shallow impertinence of his interlocutors’ arguments, and a deepening of his own determination to discover the divine rationale behind his experience.

I. In his original speech, Eliphaz concentrated on the oppressed condition of Job as an indication of divine displeasure over the secret sin of Job. In this speech, Eliphaz first condemns Job for his impertinent and meaningless talk, for his lack of submission to the moral concepts of the friends’ advice, and then returns to the idea that Job is suffering because he is evil.

A. verses 1-6 – Job’s words arise from his unruly, irrational, and evil posture toward God. Not only are his words mere wind, and unprofitable, but they show he has no fear of God and arise not from an interest in righteousness but from a heart of iniquity. “For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty.”

B. verses 7-13 – , According to Eliphaz, Job considers his observations as more profound and relevant than that of his friends and even the wisdom of the ages. “Do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know?” “Both the gray haired and the aged are among us.”

C. verses 14-16 – If Job had any respect for the infinite purity of God, he could not possibly persist in his call to present his case before God. What case could he possibly present to one whose holiness transcends even the purest of created things. “What is man that he can be pure?” (14)  “Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight.” (15)

D. verses 17-35 – Now to return to the original truth, which Job apparently defies by his words and actions, one must recognize that evil comes on people because they are evil in their heart toward God. “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days.” (20) “He will not be rich and his wealth will not endure” (29) “For the company of the godless is barren, and fire consumes the tents of bribery” (34). Each of the speeches in this round, reconstitute this main idea.

II. Job’s fourth answer shows that he expects no comfort or substantial reasoning from his friends. He observes the desperateness of his condition, the way in which he is viewed by his contemporaries, and the present condition in which God has placed him; but, he does not utterly despair of advancing toward an answer to his troubles or of finding an effective spokesman. His situation presents a disturbing ambivalence to observers but he can not bring himself utterly to despair of hope. Harrison summarizes Job’s words in 16:18 – 17:16 with the observation, “Overwhelmed by this thought, he relapsed into a hostile attitude towards God.” I think Harrison misses the mark on this as Job has a highly nuanced surge of confidence in this section. Paul House is much more true to the text as he observes, “Job responds with a second bedrock confession of faith.” [433]

A. verses 16:1-5 – Job returns the observation to Eliphaz that his own words are mere wind. If the tables were turned, Job could offer such hostile speech, but he contemplates a more empathetic and redeeming posture on his part. (5)

B. Verses 6-17 – Job gives graphic observations as to how this situation is in itself a display of God’s own aggressive destruction of Job’s security and pleasant conditions.

1. God has set himself against Job. God “has worn me out, . . . has shriveled me up,”  and “has torn me in his wrath and hated me.” 6-9a

2. God has set ruffians against him. Verses 10 and 11 could easily be transferred into the New Testament as an account of the treatment of Christ before Pilate and Herod.

3. God is relentless in his removal of all comfort from Job and has, as it were, so removed every comfort from him that he could just as well have disemboweled him (12, 13)

4. Even with all this, however, Job knows that his only hope is in God. His great lamentation of his condition, prompted by no immediate reason that he can conceive, does not diminish his continuing contention that God will grant him a hearing. Though crushed by this almighty relentless power that has apparently become his adversary, he nevertheless maintains an outgoing of his soul in prayer (16, 17)

C. verses 18-22 – Job expresses a fundamental faith that his condition calls for more profound understanding of the ways of God with men than he had been presented by his friends. If he himself cannot come before God, if he himself finds that rejection is the only response to his pleas to be heard, then this means that another will be an advocate for him. God surely will not show such a radical moral judgment on one of his creatures without providing some mediator to communicate the truth. Surely such desires as he has for knowledge of God will not fall to the ground with universal silence being the only response.

1. Verse 18 – Job does not want any of his life struggle to become a mere nullity, to perish simply with the brutally sterile quietness of a universe with no heart, no ears. Surely we do not live in a world in which merely natural forces are the final reality. One’s blood is covered only by the dust of the ground and one’s cries finally die as their echo against the rocks are absorbed with the competition of a thousand upon a thousand of air waves produced by lifeless forces. The search of the human heart cannot be more profound than the source of that search. “Thou hast made us for thyself O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” – Augustine in Confessions

2. verses 19-21 – All of this leads him to affirm that man has a witness in heaven, one to testify on high, one that will argue the case with God, one that somehow has a knowledge of and sympathy with the human condition. “My witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high” (19) “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:2 Also compare Hebrews 2:14-18. This mediator is a very perplexing person, for Job believes that he is “on high,” the place reserved for God; in addition, Job, from bitter experience, knows that no mere man may come before God to “testify” and to “argue the case of a man.” Somehow he must have such exaltation that God will listen to him But at the same time, his interest would be to argue the case “of a man” in the way that “a son of man does with his neighbor.” (21). Both the honor of God and the interest of man must be present in this one person.

D. 16:22 and Chapter 17 –  In spite of all that is against him, Job refused to concede that the kind of hope for which he looks, and that he indeed has, is a mere chimera. Such a longing of the soul, such a desire for an audience with God does not arise from nothing, but must be drawn from the soul by the soul-maker.

1.  16:22-17:2 – Job is convinced that the near future holds death and the present will be characterized by mockers constantly perfecting their art of provocation. Biological life will soon terminate and the social relations until then hold no joy but only the presence of bitter self-righteous accusers.

2. 17:3, 4 – Here Job seems to ask God to provide a surety for him. None of his friends will do this. They only blame him; who will intercede? Matthew Henry noted, “Some make Job here to glance at the mediation of Christ, for he speaks of a surety with God, without whom he durst not appear before God, nor try his cause at his bar.” Job also seems to think that since all earthly friends indicate that they have no understanding (God has not opened the minds of any of them to help Job sort out these issues), their analysis cannot be the final word. Their viewpoint will not triumph, so God himself will provide an answer.

3. Verses 6-10 – Most observers continue to mock him and find him despicable. He cares nothing for them and their words do not phase him at all. “I shall not find a wise man among you.” The righteous have no answer, but nevertheless, continue to serve God and resist the way that the self-righteous stab at Job with their words. “The upright are appalled at this, and the innocent stirs himself up against the godless.”

4. Verses 17:11-16 – Job now looks to the rapid approach of death, and considers whether death and the silence of the grave, and the corruption of the body in the soil is actually to be the final word. Is he, a man, no more than the pit in which he thrown or the worms that will live along side his decaying body? The loftier aspirations of his soul, his unquenchable thirst for God, to see his face, to stand in his presence, to learn the purpose of such an exquisite display of destruction,–are all of these things nothing? Is the grave, the silent abode of death, that seemingly inescapable prison of breathless stillness the final identity of soaring desires that rise above the despicable appearance of his physical state? If one concludes that such is the true final state of man, then it is just as rational to call the worm, “My mother” or “my sister.” Job cannot bring himself to believe that that is the truth. His own state and the false and implacable rigidity of his increasingly strident accusers render it unthinkable to Job that hope shall die with his body. He does not speak of hope in the abstract as a thing in humanity in a general sense, but his peculiar hope, the hope that irrepressibly surges in his own breast. “Where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?” (15, 16)

III. Chapters 18, 19 – A bitter speech from Bildad; while Job knows that God alone is his hope.

A. verses 18:1-4 – Bildad upbraids Job for refusing to listen to him and the others as if they were stupid and the settled philosophy of good and evil were somehow wrong. He has utter confidence both in himself and in his evaluation of the moral philosophy of the ages. “Why are we counted as cattle? . . . Shall the earth be forsaken for you.”

B. Bildad gives a narrative of the unremitting woes of the wicked, clearly implying that bad things happen to bad people. (5-21) concluding “such is the place of him who knows not God.”

C. Chapter 19: Job reasons his way to an affirmation that since God is his adversary, and none can oppose him or explain accurately his ways, then God alone can be his redeemer

1. 1-7 – Job wonders why these friends see it as intelligent or merciful on their part to torment him with accusations. Why do they seek to magnify themselves by using his disgrace as an argument against him? Job finds it impossible simply to concede to their argument and manufacture some false repentance for a crime he does not know he has committed. They believe he is recalcitrant and is hiding and caressing some secret evil, for none of these things would have happened if that were not the case. Job is looking for justice. He knows that this is God’s doing, but he does not know what is the root of it.

2. verses 8-12 – God has so completely walled Job in and stripped him of every common grace that his condition is utterly helpless and hopeless, unless God himself relents. Whereas Paul exclaims concerning the immutable purpose of God to save, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Job sees the other side of this, saying in essence, “If God be against us, who can be for us?”

3. verses 13-22 – God has turned every person in his social and familial circle against him. Brothers, relatives, close friends servants, guests, wife, siblings, children of the community, and intimate friends make him and his condition the topic of their conversation and a reason to avoid him. He pleads with these friends for compassion. Why should they add pain to pain by removing their friendship when he has done nothing but show kindness to them. God may have some legitimate reason for his affliction of Job, a reason that he has not cared yet to reveal, but what could these people have against Job? Why do they act as if they were as justified as God in their removal of favor from him?

4. 23-29 – Job has reached a clear conclusion about this matter. It is as if a theophany has occurred and he wants his utterance to be recorded for all succeeding generations to see. He has gradually been moving to this viewpoint but now gives a clear statement that, in light of the justice of God and the silence in this life concerning his suffering, that he will appear before God in the flesh even after his death. And, as none but God can inflict such humanly inexplicable trouble on a man, none but God can bring redemption from such trouble. God will stand upon the earth, and even after the destruction of this present sore-ridden body, in his flesh Job shall see God. The conclusion is overwhelming. “I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

5.  Verses 28, 29 –  Job then warns those that continue to pursue him with and ridicule him for some secret extravagance of sin, that they make themselves liable to judgment.

IV. Chapters 20 and 21 – The second speech of Zophar and a deepening and more confident response from Job

A. chapter 20 –  In what is now a tiresome theme, reworked with a variety of images and some new flourishes of rhetoric, Zophar reiterates the received wisdom of the day that the wicked always receive quick judgment. They may have some brief time of prosperity, and some quick moments of delight, but everything soon turns to poison. Every pleasure flees and brief security gives way to terror and darkness and wrath and bitterness. “In the fullness of his sufficiency he will be in distress. . . . This is the wicked man’s portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God.” None need wait until the final day to sort out God’s ways with the righteous and the wicked, it is already occurring and is clearly revealed in this life. So Zophar.

B. Job declares that the entire scenario presented by Zophar, and the others, is demonstrably false. “The wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power.” (7) Suppose God reserves his wrath for their children; does that matter to them? In reality, the wicked do not receive their judgment in this life but often prosper and are “spared in the day of calamity . . .[and] rescued in the day of wrath.” (30)

C.  Job is done with giving any attention to what they say. He wants them to know that his understanding, though he still wrestles with pain and loss, has gone far beyond their platitudes and their mere birdsong of the commonly received worldview. “There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”

V.  Comment: What a marvel of consistency and beauty is divine revelation! How this book, so ancient, explores questions that are indeed timeless; so enmeshed in one culture, sustains an extensive dialogue intrinsic to all cultures; so particularized in the experience of one man, intrigues and bears our hearts to the experience of all; so hard in the tragedy of pervasive loss, sustains a solicitation for a revelation of the wise purpose and benevolence of God; so dismally silent at each advancing mental and spiritual crisis, blares in our ears the message of divine prerogative and sovereignty; so hopeless from a human standpoint, yet nurtures a deeper hope that a witness, even a neighbor, will open up floodgates of mercy; so intent on obliterating hope, yet refuses to admit that the hope of a man before God can perish. Beyond that, the periodic flash of insight into the way in which a downtrodden man under the severity of divine testing may look for redemption prepares the soul for the matchless wisdom and redemptive beauty of the incarnation. At the same time, we must recognize that this particular struggle and this manner of questioning God and reasoning about one’s personal afflictions were brought to pass and recorded for posterity before the time of the prophets, the incarnation, the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Job’s struggles are not recorded as a model as to how we re to question God, but that we might know the transcendent profundity of the redemption we have in Christ and the great clarity that the gospel has given to these questions. Matters both redemption and the existential struggle with pain have been given a great clarity and an extensive foundation of purpose since Job struggled toward his answers. We have the word of the prophets made more clear and to this advance in clarity through the Scriptures we do well to take heed as to a light that shines in a dark place.

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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