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Job 14:1-18:21

Roger Hahn

The first cycle of speeches in which Job responds to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in order is found in Job 4:1-14:22. In this first cycle Job’s friends have tried to teach him God’s ways and they have urged him to turn to God. However, Job is not convinced that his friends have correctly understood God and his ways. He is sure that they have not understood him (Job), his suffering, or his righteousness. Job accuses them of giving easy answers to hard questions. He is so convinced that his friends are wrong that he warns them that God will expose their falsehood and they will not be able to stand before God. Job also concludes that his friends will provide no help. As a result he decides that he must pursue his case before God. Yet the pain of his suffering is so great that Job vacillates between confidence that he will be proven innocent before God and depression that he cannot survive the rigors of such a trial. Yet he perseveres.

The Second Cycle of Speeches: Job 15:1-21:34

The second cycle of speeches contains a full round of speeches by each friend and a response by Job. Each speech of the second cycle is shorter than the corresponding speech in the first cycle except for that of Zophar. As was true of the first cycle, Eliphaz has a significantly longer than the speeches of the other friends. Also similar to the first cycle, Job’s speeches are longer than those of the friends in the second cycle. If one compares each friend’s second speech with that friend’s first speech it is clear that they are becoming increasingly impatient with Job. They are more suspicious that his affliction is the result of some serious sin on his part. Job continues to resist their claims and holds to his innocence. However, their increasing pressure calls forth significant expressions of faith from Job.

Eliphaz’ Second Speech – Job 15:1-35

Eliphaz had begun his first speech in Job 4:2 with a question expecting a negative answer. He does the same in this second cycle in Job 15:2-3. However, the change in the question reveals the change in mood. In the first speech Eliphaz had politely asked if Job would listen; this speech begins with questions about the difference between a genuinely wise person and one who throws words around. The questions are pointedly designed to imply that Job had spoken empty words. The Hebrew text in verse 2 is especially pointed. Job is accused of having filled his belly with the east wind. The east wind refers to the dreaded days when the wind blows off the dry desert to the east day after day. People become irritable and listless. Eliphaz was rebuking Job sounding like the angry, uptight people made snappy by the desert wind. But not had only the wind made Job angry, it filled his belly. In Hebrew thought the heart was the seat of reason, decision, and will. The belly was the seat of feeling. Eliphaz was accusing Job of being full of the hot air of emotion rather than the wisdom of the heart.

With verse 4 Eliphaz turns from pointed questions to direct accusation. Job has broken faith with God by destroying the fear of God in his own life. He accuses Job of intentionally abandoning that source of wisdom that would enable him (Job) to cope with life successfully. Job’s angry attitude was hindering prayerful meditation in the presence of God.

Verse 5 accuses Job of trying to cover up his sin by crafty words designed to throw his friends off the track of their duty. Eliphaz correctly understands the close relationship between a person’s heart and their mouth, which Jesus would later express in Matthew 12:34. The wicked person chooses to express their sin by the things they say. The Bible often urges us to guard our lips because it knows that the mouth reveals the heart. We may not like it and modern culture may deny it, but a person is still condemned by the things they say. Eliphaz had that much right. Where he went wrong was in his initial assumption that Job must have sinned to have suffered so much. He blamed Job’s bitter words on that sin rather than on the depth of his pain.

Verses 7-8 turn to sarcasm. Was Job the first man born? Did he come into being before the eternal hills? Had Job sat in on the council of God? Where does Job get off thinking he is so wise? The questions of verse 7 are built on the cultural assumption of the ancient Near East that older is superior to younger and newer. This is the opposite of modern Western society that worships youth and newness. Were Job as "old as the hills" that would not be an insult as in our world, but a compliment. The same thinking explains verse 10. Eliphaz claims the wisdom of the ages to be on his side and Job has rejected it.

Verse 11 criticizes Job for rejecting God’s comfort, although the parallelism of the verse shows that Eliphaz understands that comfort as the words of him and his friends. Though Eliphaz is correct in assuming that long tradition agreed with him, that is not the same as assuming that his words are God’s words. Some of the most helpful instruction in spiritual direction and pastoral care that I received at seminary were the words of Dr. Hamilton when he said, "Just because you have told someone something does not mean they have light on it." True wisdom is humble enough to let God speak for himself instead of demanding that our words be accepted by someone as the very words of God.

The double question of verse 12, "Why have you let your heart carry you away? And why do your eyes flash?" is instructive. In Semitic thought the heart was the center of the will and one’s reason. But the eyes were closely connected to the heart since they were the gate of information to bring input to the heart and the eyes were the mirror of the heart revealing its state even before the mouth spoke. Eliphaz is sure that Job’s flashing eyes reveal anger against God.

Verses 14-16 replay the message Eliphaz was said to have received in a vision in Job 4:12-19. Verse 14 asks the rhetorical question whether human beings can be righteous and pure from sin. Eliphaz implies that the answer is "no". Verse 15 repeats the affirmation of Job 4:18 that God does not even trust the heavenly beings who surround him in heaven. These two verses enable Eliphaz to draw his conclusion in verse 16 that it is impossible for a human being to be pure or considered righteous in the sight of God. The language of verse 16 is particularly strong. Humankind is described as "vile and corrupt" (NIV) or "abominable and corrupt" (NRSV). The first word in Hebrew means "something that is disgusting and repulsive" (Hartley, p.248). The second word means "filthy" and the corresponding Arabic word is used for sour milk. Eliphaz is convinced that human beings are thoroughly depraved; there is nothing good in a human being. Thus it is not surprising that he would find Job’s claim to innocence to be shocking and even sinful in itself.

Eliphaz’s view of human sinfulness is not completely shocking. It says no more than much of traditional Protestant understanding of the total depravity of human kind. Some of the confession sections of the traditional liturgies of strongly Calvinistic churches contain even stronger language. From a Wesleyan perspective what is missing in Eliphaz’s analysis is any word of grace. While a human being left totally to himself or herself in a sinful world usually ends up as Eliphaz has described, God is always at work bringing some influence and potential for good into a person’s life. What Eliphaz fails to acknowledge is that Job has responded appropriately to the grace of God revealed to him. There is no more evidence of sin in Job’s life than in Eliphaz’ except the tragedies Job has suffered. But the whole point of the debate is whether those tragedies are evidences of punishment for sin or not.

The rest of chapter 15, verses 17-35, form a single unit. These verses describe the fate of the wicked. Hartley (p. 248) calls it an "instruction about the woes of the wicked." Verses 17-19 form the introduction with Eliphaz promising to deliver the wisdom of the fathers. Verses 20-24 describe some of the terrible consequences of wickedness. The wicked are tormented with pain. They live in perpetual fear – hearing terrifying sounds, and experiencing destruction in the midst of prosperity. The wicked have no confidence that their lives will ever turn from darkness to the light.

The Hebrew word amen is the first verb of verse 22 which suggests that the wicked have no sense of security that life will ever turn out right for them. This leads to a paranoid sense of being destined to a terrible and violent end. This anxiety means they can not settle down and be a part of a community. Rather, the wicked must wander in perpetual insecurity.

The reasons for such a terrible life begin to unfold in verse 25. The Hebrew text speaks of a person who has stretched out their hands against God. The NIV catches the sense when it paraphrases, "he shakes his fist at God." Though we rarely like to admit it, such defiance of God reveals a deep sense that we can somehow overpower or outsmart God. Though our theology teaches us quite differently, rebellion against God knows no logic. The Hebrew expression of "stretching out one’s hand against" was used for fighting and warfare.

Verse 26 continues the fighting figure of speech. The woes of the wicked are suffered because the sinner "defiantly" charges "against" God "with a thick, strong shield" (NIV). While such language seems a bit exaggerated for most of us, it is an amazingly accurate description of Job’s angry desire to file a law-suit against God. Sin is both the product of and the producer of an attitude of arrogance toward God.

Verse 27 expands that thought. The wicked suffer great loss because they have become spiritually fat. While fatness is not a positive thing in our society it was regarded very highly in the ancient world. Only the extremely wealthy had enough food and enough leisure to be fat. Thus it is possible that verse 27 attributes the problems of the wicked to their materialistic greed to acquire more and more. However, most interpreters see Eliphaz claiming that the habit of self-indulgence and the acquiring of more and more "things" will cause a person to become spiritually "out of shape" and "unfit."

Verses 28-35 then return to the consequences of wickedness. Verse 28 mentions the loss of one’s home. Recent years have seen this painful toll paid as the result of several kinds of disobedience against God. Verse 29 speaks of financial reverse. Andersen (p. 179) notes the irony that Eliphaz began his speech by accusing Job of being a "wind-bag," but he ends his speech by being one himself. Andersen calls verses 31-35 "a pile of verbiage." In a variety of ways Eliphaz proclaims, "you reap what you sow."

Eliphaz offers Job no encouragement in this speech. He argues that Job must accept the traditional teachings of the wise and acknowledge that his pain is the result of his sin. Eliphaz is willing to accept the view that Job’s blessings were accidents of history and due to raw luck rather than being the reward for Job’s goodness. However, he cannot accept the idea that Job’s sufferings could also be accidents of history. They must be the punishment for Job’s sin. The only amazing thing for Eliphaz is how long it took for God to discover Job’s real nature.

Should we agree with Eliphaz we are left with a powerfully depressing view of the human race: totally wicked and without the grace of God to lift us beyond the punishment we so much deserve. The pessimism of Eliphaz is as deep as that of Paul in Romans 7:14-25. What we miss and what Job lacks is the outburst of worship in Romans 7:25-8:1, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord….There is now, therefore, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."

Job’s Second Response to Eliphaz – Job 16-17

Few of Job’s responses to his "friends" directly answer the charges they make against him. This second response to Eliphaz comes as close as any speech of Job in responding to the friend’s accusations. Most of his speeches have begun with a response to the friends and then shifted to God as the audience. While Job briefly addresses God in this response (Job 17:3-4) most of his words are directly to Eliphaz and his friends. The response begins with an attack on his comforters in Job 16:21-6. This is followed by a personal complaint against God in Job 16:7-17. Verses 18-22 deal with heavenly witnesses and Job 17:1-16 returns to the form of a personal lament.

It is easy – perhaps too easy – to smile at the opening words of Job’s response to Eliphaz in Job 16:2-6. Job admits that he would be saying the same things his friends are saying if their positions were reversed. In fact, like his friends he begins by accusing them of being wind-bags. That accusation seems to be a part of everybody’s speech in response to everybody else. But Job has heard everything they are saying before - it was simply the folk theology of Israel. What Job was discovering is that that folk theology did not match his own experience.

Verse 6 most concisely states his problem. If he talks it does no good; if he is silent it does no good. Whether Job gives into his friends’ viewpoint or throws away the restraints against giving vent to his own feelings, the end result is the same; his suffering goes on. He finds it hard not to be bitter that his friends have turned out to be enemies by tormenting him with prosperity theology in the adversity of his life.

However, the hostility of his friends is a small matter compared to the sense of hostility Job feels from God. Verses 7-17 are devoted to a painfully personal lament in which Job complains that God has become an enemy. Eliphaz had claimed that Job was attacking God but Job responds that it is God who was attacking him. Though verses 7-8 fluctuate between third person talk about God and second person address to God, Job is telling his friends what God has done to him. God wearied him, God has devastated his family, God has "shriveled" him up (v. 8, NRSV), God has turned him over the vicious (verse 11), God has crushed and shattered him (verse 12), God’s arrows have pierced him (verse 13), and God charges him like a warrior (verse 14).

This is the language of ancient (and modern) warfare. Job complains that God has viciously attacked him. While words like this sound strangely violent to us, they are not that different than what God admits to doing in his conversation with the satan in Job 2:3. There Yahweh accuses the satan of inciting him to destroy Job. Job has done no more than provide a detailed description of what God admits to doing to Job.

Verses 15-17 describe the effect of God’s attack on Job. He has sewn sackcloth to cover his scabs, he has buried his face in sorrow and pain, his face is inflamed with tears, and dark shadows encircle his eyes. All these terrible consequences have come upon him even though his prayer is pure and there is no violence on his hands. Verse 17 still proclaims Job’s innocence. Psalm 17:1 suggests that God was more likely to answer a prayer that arose from pure motives. Job’s claim to integrity is an appeal to God to respond to him.

Job 16:18-22 represents a new level for Job. He calls on the earth, "O earth, do not cover my blood." The language here echoes Genesis 4:8-15 where the blood of Abel cried out from the ground against Cain. Here, Job calls on the earth to allow the voice of his affliction to speak out. If the ground would cry out surely God would avenge Job for his suffering. But thus far the ground has not taken the witness stand on Job’s behalf. Therefore, he turns in verse 19 to appeal to his witness [who] is in heaven. Janzen’s words (p. 125) nicely sum up the question of who this heavenly witness is,

Who, then is the heavenly witness to which Job appeals in verse 19? Such a question is misguided, and specific answers blunt the significance of Job’s affirmation. The point is precisely that, in the face of a universe whose earthly and heavenly figures – friends and God – are all against him, Job imaginatively reached out into the dark and desperately affirms the reality of a witness whose identity is completely unknown to him.

Janzen’s point is well taken. To ask if this heavenly witness is God or Christ or the Holy Spirit or some special angel misses the point. Rather, Job is so sure that he is right that he cannot imagine that the truth will not someday be vindicated. Of course it is God who will vindicate the truth and be that witness, but it is not the God that Job has experienced – yet. Job’s experience of God has been an experience of being attacked. This heavenly witness is God to be sure, but it is God as Job believes he must be rather than God as Job has known yet in his life.

In some ways this is a turning point for Job – and for us. The book of Job has been "stuck" on the question of righteousness or justice. Is God treating Job justly? Are Job’s sufferings the expression of God’s righteous judgment against Job’s secret sins? Here Job appeals to God’s love and faithfulness rather than to justice. In fact, many commentators point out that Job is calling on God to testify against himself. Though that is incredible from a legal standpoint it is the heart of Biblical faith. The whole plan of salvation arises from the conflict between God’s love and God’s justice. Hartley astutely concludes:

Here Job appeals to God’s holy integrity in stating his earnest hope that God will testify to the truth of his claim of innocence, even though such testimony will seem to contradict God’s own actions. Such risking is the essence of faith. For a moment Job sees God as his steadfast supporter. In this plea he is expressing the trust God had expressed in him in the prologue because he is pushing through the screen of his troubles to the real God. He is not essentially pitting God against God; rather he is affirming genuine confidence in God regardless of the way it appears that God is treating him. Since Job, in contrast to his friends, will not concede that truth is identical with appearances, he presses on for a true resolution to his complaint from God himself.

Genuine faith may (it frequently does) struggle with doubt and dismay. But genuine faith cannot get away from the confidence that God will eventually vindicate truth and justice. Verse 22 returns to the theme of Job’s death but with a difference. Job had previously warned that he would die because he could not stand much more pain. He here foresees several years and his expectation is that God will come through for him before the time of his death.

Job 17:1-16 return to the form of a personal lament. Perhaps it is best to understand Job 17:1 as a continuation of the thought of 16:22, describing Job’s death. Verse 2 comments that before he dies he is surrounded by mocking friends. Verses 3-4 contain the only words directly speaking to God in this speech of Job responding to Eliphaz. Job uses two unusual words in verse 3, "pledge" and "give surety." Job suspects his friends of not being willing to support him in his argument with God for fear that God will turn against them. So Job appeals to God to speak on his behalf and to not let his friends’ fearfulness triumph.

Job returns to his own condition in verses 6-16. Though his life’s energy is waning and his body is wasting away he challenges his friends with renewed vigor. This new strength does not arise from his past – for Job’s past was full of brokenness. Rather, the renewed faith that appeared in Job 16:19 now sustains Job. There is a fascinating tension between faith and exhaustion. Exhaustion can undermine faith, but faith can also overpower exhaustion. A believer cannot ignore exhaustion or count on faith always to banish exhaustion and its effects. However, frequently God graciously energizes us in the midst of exhaustion when we reach out in trust to him.

Bildad’s Second Speech – Job 18

Bildad’s second speech is constructed with two major sections. The first, found in Job 18:2-4, complains against Job. The second, found in verses 5-21, explains the terrible fate that awaits the wicked. In his first speech (Job 8), Bildad had considered the possibility that Job might be innocent and that God would shortly restore him to favor. However, this second speech is totally devoid of hope. Bildad is intent on convincing Job that questioning God is wrong and will lead to disastrous results. Thus he hammers away at the horrors that the wicked inherit.

The complaint against Job found in verses 2-4 contains the now familiar accusation of vain speaking and of under-rating the listeners. The new step of Bildad’s complaint against Job comes in verse 4 with a sarcastic question. Bildad describes Job as one who tears himself in anger. He believes that much of Job’s struggle is actually a sign of a guilty conscience. Bildad accuses Job of resisting God’s discipline. He then asks if Job expects God to cause devastation on earth because of him. If the earth is forsaken it is a sign of devastating judgment. That rocks would be moved from their place implies an earthquake. Does Job expect an earthquake to shake the earth should he not get his own way? This is cutting sarcasm.

With verse 5 Bildad leaves his attack on Job and begins his instruction to the consequences of wickedness. Verses 5-6 compare life to a light. The statement that the light of the wicked is extinguished means simply that they die. However, in a time before electricity and matches, extinguishing the final light brought deep and terrifying darkness for which there was no relief until sunrise.

Verses 7-10 speak of the various ways in which wickedness ensnares a person and trips them up. Six different Hebrew words are used for various kinds of trapping devices. Hartley (p. 276) points out that the proud sinner may confidently move along with head held high. Though he may successfully avoid one or two or even three traps, he can not escape forever. In this observation Bildad is quite correct. The question is whether Job is guilty of sin and has fallen into a trap as Bildad believes or is innocent and maintains his integrity as Job himself claims.

Verses 11-21 describe a fate worse than death in the minds of ancient near easterners. Verses 11-16 describe the suffering of Job as the kind of punishments given to sinners. Frightening terrors, depleted strength, skin eaten by disease, torn from his secure tent, and nothing dwelling in his tent are all pointed descriptions of Job’s condition.

But verses 17 and 19 speak an even worse consequence for the wicked. For one’s memory to disappear from the earth because one has no name to pass on via children was the worst thing that could happen to an ancient Hebrew. To have no children who would carry on the family tradition, the family name, and the family heritage was to be cut off from the flow of God’s dealing in history with his people. Bildad turns the knife in Job by pointing out that all his children are gone and that the name of Job will disappear from history and memory. Job knows that full well and it is part of the bitterness of his suffering. But for Bildad to describe that as the result of sin is the bitterest blow of all. Even if God should vindicate Job somehow it would be of only short-lived benefit. Without children to whom his integrity can be passed Job’s righteousness was only a temporary matter.

Though our culture does not view children as positively as did Job’s we should consider the profound importance of building integrity and righteousness into the next generation. Our personal salvation is not enhanced if we fail to transmit faithfulness to our children.

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 14:1-18:21. Look up the Scripture references given.

1. Identify one or two new insights in the lesson that seemed important to you. Describe their importance.

2. What insights especially have a spiritual application for your life? What direction for your life is the Holy Spirit giving through those thoughts?

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to renew your faith in the midst of the exhaustion of your life.

Second Day: Read Job 18:1-19:29. Now focus your attention on Job 19:1-29.

1. List some of the ways Job describes God’s actions against him. Which of these seems to you would have been the most difficult to bear? Why? What is the cumulative effect of all of them on Job?

2. In the response of faith found in verses 21-29 Job describes God as his "Redeemer." What did that mean to Job? What does it mean to you? What is your favorite title for God? Why?

3. How does Job express his ultimate confidence in these verses of faith? How are God’s presence and resurrection faith related? What does 1 Corinthians 15 say about the importance of resurrection faith?

Third Day: Read Job 19:1-20:29. Focus your attention on Job 20:1-29.

1. What consequences of wickedness does Zophar present? Does he exaggerate the matter or "tell it like it is?"

2. Is there any positive note in Zophar’s speech? Should there be? Why do you think Zophar honed in on the negative consequences of sin so strongly? What was he trying to accomplish?

3. Are there circumstances in which you would speak as negatively as Zophar does about the consequences of sin? What kind of circumstances? Are those circumstances the same as Job’s? Does Job deserve a better speech from Zophar? Why or why not?

Fourth Day: Read Job 20:1-21:34. Focus on Job 21:1-16.

1. Are the opening verses of Job’s response any different than in his previous speeches? If you think this response is different explain how that is so. If it is about the same describe the similar elements.

2. Job describes the lives of many wicked people in verses 8-16. How is this description different from that of Job’s friends? Is Job right? Are his friends right? Are both right? Why?

3. Verse 15 appears on the lips of wicked scoffers. However, it raises an important question. Why should a person serve God? What is your answer and why do you give that answer?

Fifth Day: Read Job 21:1-22:30. Now focus in on Job 21:17-34.

1. What is Job’s point in verses 17-26, especially verses 23-26? Is he correct? What would be the consequences for the way we live if Job is right?

2. Do verses 27-34 add any new thought to the message of chapter 21? If so what is it? If not, why do you think the author has included them? What is the point of repeating this message?

3. Do you know someone good who has suffered immensely and/or someone wicked who is quite prosperous? What spiritual advice would you give each? Why?

Sixth Day: Read Job 21:1-22:30. Now focus your attention on Job 22:1-30.

1. What wickedness does Eliphaz accuse Job of? What is the basis for these accusations? How do you feel about Eliphaz’s accusations? Why?

2. What advice does Eliphaz give Job? Is it good advice for Job? Why or why not? Is it good advice for anybody? What kind of person is Eliphaz’s advice good for?

3. Write a prayer using modern language and ideas to express to God personally the concepts found in verses 25-26.

-Roger Hahn, Copyright © 2011, Roger Hahn and the Christian Resource Institute
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