The study of the book of Job is a philosophical exploration of the nature of God. Job is righteous, though not perfect, and grieves the hardships he has endured. His friends have accused him of causing his own suffering through sin. Job and we the readers know that this is not the case, so Job must explore, as he calls out to God, what is hardships if they are not punishments for wrong behavior?
1) Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said,
2) Should not the multitude of words be answered? and should a man full of talk be justified?
3) Should thy lies make men hold their peace? and when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed?
4) For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes.
5) But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee;
Unlike Job’s other friends, there is no pretence of kindness or any softening of Zophar’s language. Zophar plainly calls Job a liar. He starts he speech with full conviction that Job has secret sins.
6) And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.
Zophar starts his speech like Job’s other two friends in criticizing Job’s long dialogues, but Zophar increases the intensity of his criticism in saying that Job desirves worse than what he has endured. He calls on God to tell Job the truth. This is ironic since we know as readers from the narrative at the beginning of the book that Job is in the right.
7) Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?
8) It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?
9) The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.
Zophar tells Job that God is unknowable, so why is Job trying to figure God out? Zophar is correct in saying that we can never know everything there is to know about God, but that should not stop us from trying to know him. We know that God does want us to try to know him in the many ways he reveals himself to us. First, God reveals himself in nature and even someone without Hebrew Scriptures can know something about God. Aristotle, with just observations and reason, was able to conclude that there is a single unmoved mover in the universe who everything comes from. Secondly, God reveals himself in the Scriptures in the stories of how he has interacted with people. Finally, God has revealed himself by showing up in person as Jesus. God does want to be known and is worth trying to know.
10) If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him?
11) For he knoweth vain men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it?
12) For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt.
13) If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him;
14) If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles.
15) For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear:
16) Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away:
17) And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning.
18) And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety.
19) Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; yea, many shall make suit unto thee.
20) But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.
Zophar’s conclusion is the same as Job’s previous two friends. He tell Job to repent and Hod will forgive and restore you back to your good life. The pig-head stubbornness about the cause of hardship is still echoed in our society today. You often hear people blame poverty on the poor spending foolishly. You hear the sock blamed for neglecting their health. You hear the abused blamed for not standing up for themselves. Victims of crime are blamed for not taking the correct precautions. Even if these statements might be true in some circumstances, they are not always true. Many people, though, struggle to see hardships as being caused by anything other than our own actions, yet we know innocent children suffer and that there are injustice in the world. We cannot just like in denial of that. Hardships must have purposes other than randomness or correction if God is a just God.
1) And Job answered and said,
2) No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.
3) But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?
Job is a little sarcastic in his response. He both praises their self-Image of wisdom and declares that he knows all of this. He knows that the wicked endures hardships and the righteous tend to live in peace. This observation is a basic rule of the natural order of things. We all observe how we cause our own problems in life, but life is complex.
4) I am as one mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and he answereth him: the just upright man is laughed to scorn.
Proverbs confirms Job’s observation that the righteous is scorn. Many culture’s wisdom literatures has noticed that the loud fools are often listened to more often than the wise and righteous.
5) He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.
6) The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly.
Job is contradicting his friends simplistic cause and effect notion about hardships. He is pointing out that injustice happens in the world. If hardships are only caused by our own sins than why do the sinful prosper? The problem many people including Job’s friends have with this observation is that it seems to accuse God of injustice. What we learn, though, in the book of Job is that we must stop seeing hardships as exclusively punishments. Hardship serves other purposes, such as testing and refining in Job’s case, but as long as we see hardships as punishments, injustice becomes a theological problem.
7) But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:
8) Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
9) Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this?
10) In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.
11) Doth not the ear try words? and the mouth taste his meat?
12) With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.
13) With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding.
14) Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again: he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening.
15) Behold, he withholdeth the waters, and they dry up: also he sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth.
16) With him is strength and wisdom: the deceived and the deceiver are his.
17) He leadeth counsellors away spoiled, and maketh the judges fools.
18) He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle.
19) He leadeth princes away spoiled, and overthroweth the mighty.
20) He removeth away the speech of the trusty, and taketh away the understanding of the aged.
21) He poureth contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty.
22) He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.
23) He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.
24) He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people of the earth, and causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way.
25) They grope in the dark without light, and he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man.
This long passage is Job’s detailed description of the sovereignty of God. The animals and nature know that God controls every part of their existence. If God is really God, then all of creation is under his control. Christians often make the mistake of dualism but implying that Satan’s work on earth somehow surprises or even inhibit God’s plan. This is not true. ALL things are under God’s control, plan, and responsibility. This is not the same thing as saying that God is evil, unjust, or pety. What it is saying is that hardships are not random as some say to defend God. Yes, Ecclesiastes says that it rains on the just and unjust. We also belief there is a level of goodness and grace God gives to all whether or not they deserve it, but it is not random. Hardships have a function and purpose.
1) Lo, mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and understood it.
2) What ye know, the same do I know also: I am not inferior unto you.
3) Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God.
Job is telling his friends to stop treating him like he is ignorant. He brings his case to God not to them, which is really the best thing for anyone to do. I am amazed at how often even the most well-meaning friends and family can misunderstand our response to loss, illness, and other difficulties. Even though we are all humans and experience similar things, we are also all unique with our own journey. This means we may experience the same thing as someone else, but the place that experience has in our lives is different producing different emotional responses. The best place to take our emotional distress is God, who knows everything, with our community as being a secondary support.
4) But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value.
5) O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom.
6) Hear now my reasoning, and hearken to the pleadings of my lips.
7) Will ye speak wickedly for God? and talk deceitfully for him?
8) Will ye accept his person? will ye contend for God?
9) Is it good that he should search you out? or as one man mocketh another, do ye so mock him?
10) He will surely reprove you, if ye do secretly accept persons.
11) Shall not his excellency make you afraid? and his dread fall upon you?
12) Your remembrances are like unto ashes, your bodies to bodies of clay.
13) Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will.
Job’s reprimand of his friends is something I have never heard outside of scripture. In the Bible, there is a lot of caution given to those who would speak for God. Prophecy was not primarily about telling the future, but the act of speaking the words of God to people about a specific situation. Jobs’ friends, in telling Job their visions or believe of God’s judgment, are trying to act like prophets. It is a dangerous thing to prophecy about God falsely and many false prophets were killed for doing so. Job’s advice to them is just to be quiet and listen. Listening is a very hard thing when you feel like the other person is wrong, but we do need to be careful about jumping to the conclusion that others are wrong or less knowledgable than ourselves. For some, if they are not contradicted feel like they are being validated in their error. Yet, I believe Job’s advice is still good. You can’t change the mind of a fool by arguing with them and a wise person will work out the truth by exploring the topic. By staying quiet and saying only what we are certain is true, we have wisdom and help both the wise and the foolish. There is a time and place for teaching, but consolition of one who is hurting is not the time for it.
14) Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in mine hand?
15) Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
16) He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.
17) Hear diligently my speech, and my declaration with your ears.
18) Behold now, I have ordered my cause; I know that I shall be justified.
19) Who is he that will plead with me? for now, if I hold my tongue, I shall give up the ghost.
The main difference between Job and his friends is that Job is not afraid to talk directly to God about his honest feelings. He trusts God completely even after all he has gone through. He trusts God’s sovereignty and justice enough to feel like it is worth wrestling with God for answers.
Even though Job curses the day he was born multiple times in previous chapters, Job’s confident declaration here does not sound like that of a hopeless or suicidal man. Just like David in the Bible, Job expresses the full range of human emotions to God with a feeling of safety in God’s response. When Job says, “even if he slays me,” he is not worried that God will strike him dead for speaking to him honestly. Job instead is conveying the same faith as Shadrack, Meshack, and Abendigo when then they faced the fiery furnace. They, just like Job, are uncertain if God’s final will for them is to die at the end of their trial. Death is not a sign of God’s unfaithfulness since we are must die at some point. Instead, God’s ignoring us and leaving us alone in hardship would be unfaithfulness. In all of scripture, this is something God never does. God is always with us, even when we feel alone.
Job, just like his previous speeches, is now going to talk directly to God.
20) Only do not two things unto me: then will I not hide myself from thee.
21) Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not thy dread make me afraid.
22) Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak, and answer thou me.
23) How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.
Job pleads with God to give him answers just like he told his friends he would. For those who live a life following God and in constant prayer, the idea of God ignoring us or leaving is a dreadful thing. It would be like a child without their parents or a spouse without their lifelong partner. For those who have not had this kind of relationship with God, such imagery is baffling. How can you have such a close relationship with a invisible transcendent being?
For me, life is much too big, too complex, too overwhelming to think I could make any sense of it without a relationship with a sovereign, all-powerful being who must be Aristotle’s unmoved mover. Job observes that all of creation has an order than acknowledges God’s existence. Job takes it farther, though, in speaking to God with the assumption that God is personal and will respond.
24) Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?
25) Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?
26) For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.
27) Thou puttest my feet also in the stocks, and lookest narrowly unto all my paths; thou settest a print upon the heels of my feet.
28) And he, as a rotten thing, consumeth, as a garment that is moth eaten.
I relate to Job’s emotions in dealing with his hardships here. Have you ever wondered, “why does God hate me so much to let this happen?” The love of God has to be assumed is the standard if we are to ask why his emotions has then changed to hate. If God hated us always, he could easily destroy us all like in the story of Noah’s flood. In many religonss of the past and present, the gods are selfish and pety. They often neither love not hate us, but just toy with us like a game. Job assumes a just God who creates and loves his creation. His question is about a specific deviance in God’s typical nature towards him.
1) Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.
2) He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
3) And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?
4) Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.
5) Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;
6) Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day.
7) For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
8) Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;
9) Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
10) But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
11) As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:
12) So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
13) O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
14) If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
15) Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.
16) For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin?
17) My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity.
18) And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place.
19) The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man.
20) Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he passeth: thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away.
21) His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them.
22) But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.
In contrast to God’s sovereignty and power, Job describes just how fragile and temporary mankind’s lives are. He refutes explicitly the idea of reincarnation. He acknowledges that our lives are often full of hardships and trials. He is asking God for peace and rest in our short existence. This passage differs so much from the way our culture assumes we ought to have long lives of ease. We live in a very different way when we have this assumption than those who know that life is fleeting no matter how long we live. Today, we believe that we are little gods who can control and manipulate our own destinies. We store up treasure and selfishly withhold our generosity for the sake of our retirement years. We see work as something against our nature without acknowledging how quickly we become ill with constant leisure. Job, though, sees the same things as the book of Ecclesiastes and many wisdom literature around the world. He sees that humanity is destined to work, eat, and enjoy the simple things in life and then die. All we do will fade away just like the life of a flower. This should not be a depressing thought as our culture today would think. How can any of us live with the expectations and pressure of changing the world, building monuments that last all time, or even being a history changer.
As a teenager in the 1990s, there was a lot of rhetoric about our generation could be world changers. Our parents believed that this would be inspiring and launch us on into excellence. Maybe for some, it did. For those who struggled, these ideas were laughable. For the gifted, life didn’t deliver the promised results for their efforts. I know some from my generation who continue to spread the message of “changing the world,” but I have come to realize that this is just a hyperbolic speech for individuals to take initiative to change their “world” or circle of influence in their part of society. The emotionally healthiest people I have observed ignore this message completely. Instead of having a cosmic impactful life, they just try to be the best person they can and work hard at any task that comes to them. These people, if you read biographies as I do, sometimes change the world or history without even realizing it.
To me, the stress of trying to change the world is a weight that I am in capable of carrying. I find Job’s thoughts about the limits of our human existence both a stress relief and true to my observations. God’s sovereignty is absolutely essential in making sense of the world and of all the hardships in it. If we alone are the dictator of our fate, how sad and limited our perspective is to make choices that affect not just our lives, but those around us. In this debate that Job is having with his friends and in his conversations with God, Job keeps our natural limitations in mind. These limitations then depend on God being all-knowing, all-powerful, and compassionate. Though it may not be obvious to us in our times of trouble, God is all three.