The First Cycles of Speeches - Job 4:1-14:22 (cont.)
Job 4:1-14:22 contains the first cycle of speech in which Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar each speak and Job responds to each one of them. In Job 8 Bildad made his first speech. He was convinced that God punishes evil. As a result Job’s suffering must be the result of sin. Chapter 9 begins Job’s response.
Job’s First Response to Bildad – Job 9-10
Job’s reply to Bildad is not easy to understand. He appears to start a train of thought and then switches tracks to another train of thought when the concepts get too heavy. He frequently uses rare words for the Hebrew Bible, but does not provide enough context for us to be sure of the meaning of those words. One of the results of this has been many changes in the copying process of the book of Job. Scholars who try to determine the exact words of the original text have great difficulties in Job 9. What is clear is that Job was in search of a deeper understanding of God than that with which he had been raised– a deeper understanding than that of his friends. Andersen (pp. 143-144) notes that there is a basic agreement between Job and his friends about the character of God. The issue at stake concerns the "whys and wherefores of God’s dealings with Job." Andersen continues,
The pain of his life had caused Job to desire deeply a sense of vindication from God. He wanted God to confirm his (Job’s) integrity, that these tragedies were not punishment for some unknown sin. This quest for vindication causes Job to take the language of Bildad and Eliphaz and turn it in a new direction, a direction that does not prove profitable for Job.
In the opening line of his response Job agrees with Bildad, "I know that this is so." His agreement is with Bildad’s affirmation from Job 8:3 that God does not pervert justice. Eliphaz had raised the question of how a person could be just before God in Job 4:17. The language of justice suggested the courtroom to Job and his thoughts turned in that direction. The rhetorical question in verse 2b, "How can a man be declared innocent [or just or righteous] before God?" implies that Job did not think a person could be acquitted if God was the accuser. Yet his own conscience knew no sin and so his confidence that God would not pervert justice led him "to contemplate the impossible…pursuing litigation against God" (Hartley, p. 166).
Yet this train of thought is not the solution to Job’s problem. He immediately realizes that no human being could be successful in a law-suit against God. In the cross examination the human could not even answer once in a thousand questions God might put to him or her. (It is also possible to understand the one out of a thousand with God as subject. To use our expression, God would not answer one out of a thousand subpoenas with which a human might serve him.)
As Job notes in verse 4, God is wise in heart [or thought] and mighty in strength. No one can resist him with success. The Hebrew text of verse 4 yields several interesting insights. The first phrase literally describes God as wise in heart. It is not God’s superior intellectual firepower that interests Job; it is God’s wisdom in relationships. In Hebrew thought the heart was the seat of the will and thus of commitments. One of the unfortunate results of the Enlightenment and the Age of Science on all of us is that we tend to think of God’s wisdom in terms of facts, propositions that can be argued, and impenetrable logic. The Bible sees God’s wisdom operating in commitments and relationships, which should be instructive for us.
A second facet of understanding that arises from the Hebrew text is in the final line of verse 4 that asks about the possibility of resisting God. The KJV correctly translates the Hebrew verb as "harden" ([He is] wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened [himself] against him, and hath prospered?). The question is, who can harden himself against God? This is an abbreviated way of saying, who can harden his heart against God, or who can stiffen his neck against God? Job recognizes that the very act of pursuing a law-suit against God reflects a sinful attitude on the part of a human being. He knows he can not take such against God, but his pain has made that idea attractive to him.
Verses 5-13 continue to reflect on God’s greatness that would make litigation against him folly. Andersen (p. 145) compares verses 5-10 with the great hymns of the Psalms, Amos 4:13, Isaiah 40:21-31, and Genesis 1. These verses declare God’s power over nature in typical Old Testament ways. The Canaanites considered Ba‘al to be lord of the mountains, sky, and weather. The Egyptians considered Ra, the sun, to be the supreme God. And the Old Testament never tires of describing Yahweh as the God who moves mountains, commands the sun, and controls the weather. It was their way of affirming God’s power over all rival deities. It was also a way of placing trust in God in the face of the fearful, the unknown, and the mysterious.
But despite God’s great power verses 11-12 point out that God has cloaked himself with mystery. Human eyes cannot see him. Human sense cannot perceive him. Human power can not resist him. When God unleashes his anger no power can resist him. In verse 13 Job speaks of the helpers of Rahab bowing before God’s anger. This word Rahab does not refer to the prostitute of Jericho. This word Rahab describes one of the sea monsters – Leviathan and Tannin being the other major ones. The nations around Israel saw in these sea monsters the chaos of the world without God’s restraining order (see Ba‘al Worship in the Old Testament and links there). God’s work of creating and sustaining the universe was the work of defeating the forces of chaos to impose and maintain the order of the universe. God has defeated the very powers of chaos. How could Job or any other human hope to successfully defeat him in a court battle?
Though verses 5-13 have made the hopelessness of the lawsuit against God clear, Job pursues the idea in verses 14-24. He knows that even though he knows that he is in the right, he also knows that he cannot win a case against God. In God’s presence his words of defense would be turned into an appeal for mercy – hardly a way to win the case. Here Job anticipates the climax of the book in which God finally appears and speaks and Job can do nothing but worship. Already the readers are being prepared for one of the main points of the book – that there is no satisfactory philosophical explanation for why a righteous God allows good people to suffer. There is no explanation but the presence of God in the face of suffering, which is finally all that righteous people need.
Verse 17 shows the skillful use of words by the author. Job complains that God has multiplied his wounds "without cause." This is the same Hebrew word used by the satan in Job 1:9 when he asked if Job served Yahweh "without reason." Then in Job 2:3 Yahweh describes the satan’s actions against Job as being his (Yahweh’s) action against Job for no reason – again the same Hebrew word (see Lesson 2). The book of Job began with the satan questioning Job’s motives in being righteous. Now Job questions the justice of a God who permits him to suffer as he suffers.
The heart of Job’s problem appears in verses 20-22. He knows that he is right (or innocent; the Hebrew word is sadaq) and he cries out that he is blameless (the Hebrew is tam – the word for integrity). Yet there is no way within the theology of retribution to account for his sufferings. Beyond the theology of retribution Job is aware of the fact that the very act of trying to defend himself against God treads the edge of sin.
Verses 22-24 raise the question another way. The blameless (tam) and the wicked are both destroyed. Disaster mocks the innocent as well as punishing the guilty. The powers of wickedness overrun the earth. Those are the circumstances Job observes and they are unjust circumstances. Israel’s monotheism demanded that there be only one God capable of controlling human history and natural events. Job’s logic is pushing him toward the conclusion that God is the cause of these injustices. And so he asks the poignant question in verse 24, "if it is not he (God), who then is it?"
Verses 25-26 present four quick metaphors for the shortness of life. Like a swift runner, like a fleeing robber, like a fast light boat, like an eagle life passes quickly away. Then after lamenting how fast life goes by Job then complains in verses 27-28 that life is dangerously too long. He is afraid to try to put "a stiff upper lip;" he is afraid to "gut it out." Verse 28 is especially powerful. Job admits that his suffering has brought terror into his life. If he has suffered so much while blameless just think what could happen to him should he sin? It is easy for us to claim that Job is inconsistent in these verses. However, logical consistency is not Job’s purpose. His emotions are ragged and he is lashing out against the pain of his life and he is lashing out at God because the rules of life (retribution) are not working.
Verses 28-31 are addressed toward God. In verse 32 Job begins to talk about God rather than to him. Verses 32-35 then return to the theme of verses 14-21. Verse 33 is interesting in that Job laments the fact that there is no "umpire" between him and God. This is another example of his feelings that he is suffering injustice. The final line of verse 35 is unclear. Perhaps Job is confessing that for all his brave talk about wanting to take God to court, he really does not have the heart for such a confrontation with the Lord.
Job 9 contains Job’s bold quest for understanding the "whys and wherefores" of God’s treatment of him. Chapter 10 can be described as another lament. Verses 1-7 begin the lament with a complaint against God. He openly declares that he is giving vent to the bitterness of his life. In verse 2 Job demands that God declare him "not guilty." The second line of the verse demands that God give a reason for what is happening to him. Job continues the language of the courtroom but now pictures God as the one who initiated the lawsuit. God must declare the charges against Job.
Hartley (p. 183) wisely points out that had Job known of the "contest" between God and the satan described in chapters 1 and 2 all his suffering would have been easier to bear. But for the "test" to be a genuine test Job cannot know. Thus Job must be left in the dark. God cannot answer his pleas. He must feel abandoned by God for God to discover whether Job really trusts him. This paragraph is full of irony. In verse 3 Job asks if it seems good to God to despise the work of your hands. This seems to be a deliberate twist on Genesis 1 where after each day of creation God declared the work of his hands "good." In verse 6 Job asks if God is using all this suffering as a way to find out if Job has sinned. The language is ironic because Job asks if God is seeking out his iniquity and searching for his sin. If it were true God would be doing the work of the satan as described in chapters 1 and 2. But in verse 7 Job repeats his confident assertion that God really knows his innocence.
Verses 8-12 reflect on God as Job’s creator. Verses 8-9 are built on the metaphor of human beings as clay. In a world in which pottery was the standard cookware and dinnerware the description of humans as clay speaks of their fragile and weak nature. But despite human weakness God has granted the dignity and power of relationships as verse 12 shows. The most powerful relationship is relationship with God. God has granted life and "steadfast love." The word for "steadfast love" is hesed – the covenant love that God shows to his people. Verses 13-17 describe God’s vigilant watch against Job. Job’s lament is that God is constantly on his case watching to see is he will fall.
Verses 18-22 bring Job’s reply to Bildad to a close. Andersen (p. 155) summarizes the matter well:
The baffled sufferer retires to his first position, the lament of chapter 3, which is resumed in the closing lines of this speech.
Zophar’s First Speech – Job 11
Zophar is the third friend to respond to Job. As in the case of Eliphaz and Bildad we have no historical information about Zophar. There is little evidence that he is the youngest of Job’s comforters but he does have the least status in that he only makes two short speeches. He is the least attractive of the friends. He does not appeal to a revelation from God like Eliphaz did nor to the traditions of the fathers like Bildad. Rather, he offers only the cold logic of his theology. In his opinion people are "either contrite worshipers of God or arrogant sinners" (Hartley, p. 193). Thus he has no delusions that Job might be right. His goal is to convince Job to stop his foolish protestations of innocence. His speech is built in three sections, an accusation against Job in verses 1-4, a section on God’s wisdom in verses 5-12, and an appeal to Job to repent in verses 13-20. The accusing nature of his speech can be seen from the fact that he accuses Job of talking too much in verses 2-3, of being self-righteous in verses 4-6, of being opinionated in verses 7-12, and of being stubborn in verses 13-20.
Zophar beings by accusing Job of talking too much. He is afraid that some will be persuaded by the avalanche of Job’s words and rhetoric. He tries to deflate Job’s responses by scornfully calling them a "multitude of words" in verse 2 and "babble" in verse 3. He questions whether anyone who talks as much as Job did can possibly be justified. Zophar seems completely untouched by Job’s pain and he caricatures Job’s words. In verse 4 he accuses Job of claiming that his "doctrine" (as the KJV translates the word) is pure. The NIV gives a more powerful paraphrase of Zophar’s summary of Job’s response when it translates, "You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless’."
In fact Job had made no such claim. His speech in chapters 9-10 show that his thoughts about God are in turmoil and confusion. Zophar also states that Job claimed to be pure in the sight of God. Zophar’s word for "pure" speaks of spotless moral purity. In fact Job had claimed to be blameless (tam) – a person of integrity, not a person with no flaws. The weakness of Zophar’s speech is already clear. He has no sympathy for Job and he has not listened well enough to summarize accurately Job’s own statements. Neither Zophar nor anyone else should expect to be heard with respect when he shows such rude disregard for the other person’s position.
Job had wished that God would speak to him. Zophar also wants God to speak, but he has no interest in having God argue Job’s case. Rather he simply wants God to set Job straight. Verse 6 declares the content of what Zophar wants God to tell Job. The hidden secrets of wisdom and the full scope of sound wisdom would surely convince Job that he had sinned and that his sufferings were punishment for those sins. Zophar would also like God to tell Job that he is only being punished for part of his sins. Job may think that his suffering is terrible, but Zophar is convinced that God has moderated what Job deserved by a great deal.
In verses 7-11 Zophar points out that God is beyond human understanding. The obvious conclusion is that Job is wrong and arrogant to claim that God has mistreated him. Since the ways of God are past finding out, Job has no business complaining according to Zophar. He (Job) should be praising God rather than complaining. These verses are almost hymnic in their exalted description of God’s surpassing wisdom. But Zophar’s praises to God ring hollow because of their superficiality. Worship arises from a person’s experiences with God. Zophar’s experience of God has not taken him into the deep waters being experienced by Job. Zophar was quick with the simplistic answer, but it was not an answer tried and tested by the real experience of a person God described as perfect (tam).
Zophar’s conclusion is to call Job to repentance in verses 13-20. The invitation to repent is built around two conditional sentences. The first, proposing a positive condition appears in verse 13, "If you direct your heart rightly." This means to make his heart firm or steadfast for believing. The Biblical writers strike an interesting balance between calling for a firm heart and rejecting a hard heart. We might say that too "soft" a heart would be vacillating and wishy-washy. One’s heart – the seat of commitment and decision making – must be resolute enough to maintain one’s commitments. The second part of verse 13 calls on Job to stretch out your hands in supplication to God.
The negative condition is stated in verse 14. Should Job stretch out his hands to God those hands would be subject to the search light of God’s scrutiny. Should Job discover wrong he must remove it. The word that Zophar uses for "wrong" (or iniquity) was used for a variety of sins, but it especially referred to hidden acts of extortion and oppression. It is possible that Zophar suspects Job of gaining wealth through extortion of the poor. This would fit with the second line of verse 14 with its exhortation to not let injustice "dwell in your tents." This expression reflects the ancient Bedouin culture in which the tribal head or father was responsible for the behavior of all members of the family and all servants (all the people in his tents). This is a call to investigate and remedy any injustice that might have been committed by a family member or servant. This is a reminder that we always have both personal and social responsibilities for sin.
If Job will remove evil from his life Zophar lays out the benefits in verses 15-19. God will lift up Job’s face, Job will be secure, he will be free from fear, and he will forget his troubles. These reassuring promises, however, depend on Job’s confession of and repentance from sin. That Job would not be conscious of sin is incredible to Zophar. Thus verse 20 describes the doom coming to the unrepentant wicked. Their eyes will fail, their hope will turn to despair, and there will be no hiding place for them.
Job’s First Response to Zophar – Job 12-14
All three of Job’s friends have now spoken. Job’s response to Zophar is his final speech in the first cycles of speeches and it functions as the transition between the first cycle and second cycle of the friends’ speeches. Andersen (p. 159) notes a change in Job’s mood at this point. Job’s emotions have fluctuated wildly and his words have bordered on outrageous. This speech reflects a greater sense of self-control and a calmer tone. The three chapters reflect the three main divisions of the speech. Chapters 12 and 13 each form a complaint that Job registers against his friends.
Chapter 12 begins in verse 2 with sarcasm on Job’s part. "I suppose you are the only people with understanding. Wisdom will perish from the earth when you are gone!" But verse 3 shows that Job does not at all believe his biting comment of verse 2. He is convinced that he knows as much as they do. In fact, anybody could make the observations they have made. Part of Job’s complaint is that his friends have done nothing but parrot back the standard clichés of the Biblical culture about sin and punishment to him. What he needed and what many hurting people today need, is someone to think past the superficial answers to find the depths of God that will match the depths of human pain.
While Job had defended himself in verse 3 he still feels deeply disgraced and describes that feeling in verses 4-6. The key word of this paragraph is laughingstock. While no one likes to be made fun of, the ancient (and modern) Near East was a culture especially built on status and respect. Loss of face was a devastating loss and Job is not only being mocked by those who had hated him before for his great wealth, he is now also being ridiculed by his friends. Job describes himself in verse 4 as one who continually called upon God, a person who was righteous (or just) and blameless. Something terrible has gone wrong when such a person has become a laughingstock.
In verses 7-11 Job turns to traditional Wisdom patterns of thought. He appeals to the example of the animals, the birds, the fish, and the plants. The point is not made until verse 11. All nature tests food with taste to determine whether it is good or bad. Likewise the ear is created to test words whether they are correct or not. Thus Job is not only justified in his questioning of God, God’s own creation demands it.
Verses 12-25 form an interlude in Job’s complaint, turning to praise for God’s sovereign rule over the world. These verses proclaim God as the source of all things. He is superior in wisdom to any rival. All earthly rulers, no matter how powerful, are subject to him. Their power depends on his favor. "Nothing lies outside his power or beyond his wisdom" (Hartley, p. 212). The implication of this emphasis on God’s power over creation and earthly rulers is that God is also in control of Job’s circumstances. Zophar had implied that anyone suffering God’s judgment is stupid or worthless. Job’s description of God’s establishing and destroying of earthly leaders makes it clear that not everyone who experiences God’s destructive power is stupid or worthless. Devastation falls on people regardless of their social status or spiritual standing. These verses paint a picture of God more awesome, more mysterious than the God of Job’s comforters.
Job 13 returns to Job’s complaint. In verses 1-12 he charges them with not listening to his words and with defending God falsely. Verse 4 described his friends as whitewashers of lies and verse 5 declares that the wisest thing they could do is to be quiet. Verse 7 criticizes the comforters for defending God with perversity. Their answers are as worthless as ashes and their defense of God as reliable as pottery according to verse 12. Verses 13-17 call on his friends to be silent while Job argues his case with God personally.
Verses 18-22 describe Job’s readiness to place his case before God. He requests two considerations in the process. He asks that God "withdraw your hand far from me" in verse 21. This is a plea for God to stop the physical suffering Job is enduring so he will have the strength to present his case. The second line of verse 21 asks the terror of God’s presence not overwhelm him. Atkinson (p. 85) notes, "Job is concerned not to find himself driven from a place of trust in God to a place of terror before God. What troubles him most is that God will turn out to be a monster, and his faith will have been misplaced." This fear is one of the deepest difficulties a person of faith faces in the midst of overwhelming trouble.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through his word. Ask the Holy Spirit to make the word come alive to you for that day.
First Day: Read the notes on Job 9:1-13:28. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Describe one or two new insights that you found helpful in these notes.
2. What spiritual insights from Job have you received from the Holy Spirit about trusting God in times of great difficulty?
3. Write a brief prayer of encouragement for someone you know who is finding faith difficult because of suffering or seemingly unfair reversals in their life.
Second Day: Read Job 12:1-14:22. Focus in on Job 14:1-22.
1. What is Job’s point in verses 7-12? Do you find it depressing that we are mortal and will someday die? Why or why not? Is "depressing" the right word to describe Job’s feelings? If not what is a better word?
2. Based only on Job 14 do you think Job has any hope for life hereafter? How would you explain his pessimistic views in this chapter?
3. What plea does Job make in verse 6? Have you ever felt like making a similar request? How is Job’s request different than the philosophy, "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die?"
Third Day: Read Job 14:1-15:35. Now focus your attention on Job 5:15-35.
1. In verse 4 Eliphaz accuses Job of "doing away with the fear of God." Do you think Eliphaz’s accusation is correct? Why or why not? What do Job’s words mean is he is not "doing away with the fear of God?"
2. To what does Eliphaz appeal in verses 17-18 to give credibility to his words? How useful are those sources of authority? To what other sources of authority would you also appeal? Why?
3. Verse 31 powerfully describes emptiness as the reward for those who trust in emptiness. From you own life, or from our society describe some of the emptiness that comes from trusting in emptiness.
Fourth Day: Read Job 16:1-17:16. Focus your attention on Job 16:1-16:22.
1. Summarize verses 6-8 in your own words. In just one phrase how would you describe Job’s feelings at this point?
2. Job describes himself as "broken in two" in verse 12. What is the difference between a broken and contrite heart and being broken because of our sins? Which most accurately describes Job?
3. What view of God is reflected in Job’s word in verses 18-21? Do you share Job’s view of God found in these verses? Why or why not?
Fifth Day: Read Job 16:1-17:16. Now focus on Job 17:1-16.
1. Do you think Job is speaking to God or to his friends in verses 1-5? What difference does your answer make for understanding these verses?
2. Verse 6 indicates that Job feels deeply humiliated by all that has happened to him. How important is the respect of others to you? What happens to you when you feel humiliated? How do your feelings help you understand Job better?
3. Verse 15 shows Job asking, "Where then is my hope?" Where so you believe Job’s hope was? Where is your hope? How does that hope make a practical difference in your life?
Sixth Day: Read Job 18:1-19:29. Now focus your attention on Job 18:1-21.
1. Summarize Bildad’s whole argument in one sentence. Do you agree with him or not? Why or why not?
2. What is the point of Bildad’s two fold question in verse 4? Does our life or death make any difference in the whole history of the world? Why should we think that our life or death makes any difference to God?
3. Write a prayer asking the Lord to protect you from all the consequences of wickedness described in chapter 18. Include a prayer for some positive blessings that you think are the counter-part to these punishments mentioned in chapter 18.