The Second Cycle of Speeches: Job 15:1-21:34 (cont.)
The second cycle of speeches in which Job responds to his comforters, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, is found in Job 15:1-21:34. The speeches of Eliphaz and Bildad are shorter than the speeches they made in the first cycle but Zophar’s is slightly longer. Job’s responses are also somewhat shorter. Bildad’s second speech is in Job 18. Job’s response will appear in chapter 19 with Zophar’s second speech following in chapter 20 and Job’s response in chapter 21.
Job’s Second Response to Bildad – Job 19
Job’s speech begins with a complaint against his friends in Job 19:1-6. Though English versions do not show it, Job uses the plural form for "you" in these verses. This shows that Job was addressing all three of his friends. However, the opening words of his speech, "How long…" are identical to the opening words of Bildad’s speech in Job 18:2. This suggests that Bildad’s words are in mind even though Job speaks to all three friends.
Job uses strong words in verse 2 to describe the painful comfort being given by his friends. The first word is often translated "torment" or "grieve" and it describes personal sorrow. The second word can be translated "break," "crush" or even "pulverize" and it was often used to describe military action against one’s enemies. It was not often used with psychological or emotional overtones. Thus Job’s point is probably not that he "feels" crushed, but that his friends are treating him like an enemy they are bound to destroy.
It is not just the friend’s "words" that are hurting Job as many English versions imply. Rather, the Hebrew word means "arguments." It is the fact that his friends are arguing the case against him that is so destructive to Job’s sense of well-being. The reference to ten times in verse 3 is not a literal counting of the speeches made so far or of the total number that will be made by Job’s friends. Rather ten is a number expressing completeness (from the total number of fingers perhaps). His friends have completely reproached him. The Hebrew word suggests humiliation and public dishonor. Job turns a traditional Hebrew expression on its head in verse 3. The verbs "humiliate" and "shame" were frequently used in parallel constructions. His comforters have humiliated and shamed him. The second line of verse 3 suggests that the comforters should have been ashamed of such treatment of a friend. Unfortunately they were not.
The meaning of verse 4 is built around an important distinction in the Hebrew words for sin. Hebrew has a particular noun and verb for unintentional errors or inadvertent mistakes. Though these mistakes needed atonement in the sacrificial system to enable fellowship with a holy God (Lev 4), they did not break relationship with God as did intentional sins or sins with a high hand (clenched fist). It is the word for unintentional or inadvertent error that appears in verse 4. Job concedes that he must bear the consequences of any unintentional mistakes but he is sure that he has not sinned in any such way as to deserve the misfortune that has come his way. In fact, verse 5 points out that his friends have "exalted" themselves at his expense. He uses the language of psalms to describe the arrogance of his comforters. He doesn’t quite say so, but he implies that by their self-exaltation they are the ones who are closer to intentional sin than he is.
However, Job’s real complaint is against God and verse 6 brings that back into focus. Bildad had stated back in Job 8:3 that God does not "pervert" justice. The Hebrew word translated "pervert" there means to twist, bend, or make crooked. Job uses the same word in verse 6 and affirms that God is mistreating him. Habel (p. 289) attempts to bring out the play on words by translating God "has subverted me." The second line of verse 6 uses the language of trapping or of laying siege to describe God’s action against Job. This suggests that God has hemmed Job in on all sides with no way of escape.
All of Job’s theology (and that of his friends) is in conflict with his experience and he can find no way out of the deadlock. Job’s accusation that "God has wronged me" (NIV) sounds too strong to most evangelical ears. However, the Old Testament and Job in particular are not afraid to speak of their experience of God in ways that violate traditional theological teaching.
There is a fine line to be drawn here. Our experience of God must always be held in accountability to a community of faith and what we know of God from past revelation. In that sense we are subject to theology. However, theology that reduces God to logical conclusions and categories is not true to Scripture. Though the same in essential character yesterday, today, and forever, the God revealed in Scripture is a bit unpredictable. And it seems that God will often crash through our theological categories and boxes when we are too comfortable thinking we know everything there is to know and explain about him.
Verses 7-12 then develop Job’s complaint about God’s mistreatment that is so painful to him. He feels that God is treating him like an enemy. He cries for help but there is no justice. Not even God has responded to his desperate cries for help. God seems to be building walls across the path Job is walking or turning the light to darkness. Job had trusted God and had lived in close fellowship with him. He had had a sense of God’s presence and blessing. Suddenly when these tragedies of life have overtaken him God has withdrawn. Not only are the blessings gone, there is no answer when Job appeals to God for an explanation.
In fact, it seems to Job that God is not only silent, he has taken the offensive in destroying Job. Verse 12 brings this present complaint to its climax with a powerful mixing of metaphors. Job accuses God of laying siege against his tent. By referring to himself as a tent Job emphasizes his frailty. But siege works are the military action taken against a walled city. God is attacking Job as if he were as strong as a walled city when in fact he is only a flimsy tent. Hartley (p. 286) remarks, "With this hyperbole Job expresses his utter astonishment at God’s treating him so roughly."
Alienation from God is bad enough but Job is also alienated from the natural human supports that should have come his way, as verses 13-20 point out. Family, friends, acquaintances, guests, servants, and his wife are all alienated from him. In Biblical culture a person’s sense of identity and worth was connected very closely to the social network of family and neighborhood friends. Job’s point is not just that he is no longer popular but that all the support structures that give meaning to life are no longer working for him.
Verse 18 expresses the matter poignantly. Even young children, normally the most trusting, affectionate, and accepting people around, make fun of Job and will have nothing to do with him. If you’ve got a face that makes babies cry you are in trouble – the very trouble that Job was experiencing. He brings this section to a climax in verse 20 by expressing amazement that he has even survived. The expression "escaped by the skin of my teeth" appears in verse 20. Perhaps Job was the first to use the expression that has become a part of our language.
Verses 21-27 contain a plea for help that turns to a statement of assurance. Job begs his friends to be merciful to him. The sense of being cut off from his supporting community is so devastating that he must have someone who will take his side and see things his way. Job desperately needed the friendship of his comforters at the very time they were most concerned with threatening him for his "bad" theology. Job has little reason to believe that his friends will come through and so verse 22 sarcastically accuses them of joining God in hunting him down to devour him.
Fearful that his friends will fail him Job searches for some way to make his case. Verses 23-24 latch onto the idea of engraving his story on a stone monument for all to see and read. If he dies without someone to speak for him all future memories of Job would simply be misrepresented by his three comforters. Job longs to vindicate himself for history by inscribing his story on the monument.
Verses 23-24 have been wishful thinking, but verse 25 turns to a deep and profound affirmation of faith. Instead of wishing for a monument Job affirms in verse 25 "I know." The Hebrew word does not refer so much to theoretical knowledge as to personal acquaintance. Job is not speaking theologically about God’s existence. He is affirming his personal relationship with a God who is a "redeemer."
The word Job chooses, here translated "redeemer," is the Hebrew word go’el. It was used of the nearest relative who would assume responsibility for a person’s debts and redeem them by buying them back out of slavery. The book of Ruth is built around her discovery of Boaz as the go’el for her family and her attempts to convince him to fulfill his redemptive obligations. As the Old Testament writers reflected on Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel out of slavery in Egypt it is not surprising that they frequently used the word go’el to describe God. It is significant that this is the title Job chooses to refer to God in this passage. The go’el was a rescuer, one who delivered out of the direst of circumstances. At this low point in his life Job expressed his faith in God by appealing to God as the one who rescues and delivers those who have no hope of being able to save themselves.
All the first line of verse 25 says is that Job knows that his redeemer is alive. Job may die. His friends may spread wildly false stories about him. The monument was a bad idea, but God is alive and God will not let Job’s suffering go unexplained forever. God will eventually vindicate Job. Someday the missing piece or pieces of the puzzle of Job’s theology and his experience will appear and the picture will make sense. Finally, the second line of verse 25 affirms God will take the witness stand and speak in Job’s behalf.
The Hebrew text of verses 26-27 is quite obscure and this had led to a great variety of translations and interpretations. The traditional interpretation is that Job is describing his hope of resurrection when he will see God personally and be vindicated. Almost all modern scholars now believe this traditional view to be a case of reading New Testament faith back into Old Testament people’s lives. Throughout the book of Job death is portrayed as the end. There is no return from death and there is no existence in some disembodied form after death. The rest of the Old Testament shares this perspective. In fact, it is not until almost New Testament times that language clearly speaking of resurrection appears in the writings of the Jewish people. Even the conservative Wesleyan scholar, John Hartley, acknowledges that Job would not be thinking in terms of resurrection here. Job’s hope is that God will not stay hidden from him but that before he dies he will have a chance to see God again and to make his case before him. Hartley (p. 297) provides a very helpful conclusion to this section.
Job’s great expression of faith seems to have exhausted him and his speech comes to a close.
Zophar’s Second Speech – Job 20
Zophar is not happy that Job has accused the friends of increasing his torment but neither does he know how to actually comfort Job. As a result he delivers a one dimensional speech on the fate of evildoers. In this he seems to reject Job’s faith affirmation and to continue the painful assault that has characterized the "comfort" of Job’s friends. To the modern Western mind Zophar’s speech seems to be rambling, but, in fact, it reflects a traditional way of arguing in wisdom literature. The structure of Zophar’s speech is quite simple. Job 20:2-3 contains the typical response of hurt feelings at the previous speech. Then verses 4-29 all deal with the doom of the wicked (Clines, p. 480).
Zophar’s first point, argued in verses 5-11 is that the joy of the godless is temporary. He begins with a question though it is not clear whether the question was, "Do you know that…?" or "Do you not know that…?" The fact that the original wording is not clear does not change the basic thrust of Zophar’s question. The point is that Job ought to know that the mirth of the wicked is brief and the joy of the godless is hollow and temporary.
There is an implied rebuke in Zophar’s words. Job had testified in 19:25 to knowing that his redeemer was alive. Zophar suggests that what he ought to know is that the joy of the godless is short-lived. It is easy to see that Job has chosen the better position – personal knowledge of God rather than theoretical knowledge of theology. However, Zophar’s real purpose in bringing up the issue is in his conviction that Job is guilty of some terrible sin and thus the end of Job’s happiness must be the clear signal that Job had grievously sinned. Verses 6-9 suggest that the higher a person rises in this world the more quickly they will disappear when their wickedness is discovered and punished.
Job would not disagree with Zophar’s basic premise that the joy of the wicked is momentary. Job is already convinced that all human life is temporary. The difference between the two is that Zophar assumes that Job has sinned and is suffering the consequences of that sin which Job is maintaining his innocence. Andersen (pp. 195-196) points out that Zophar is actually assuming with Job that human experience at any given point is not the final answer. The difference between the two is that Zophar assumes that suffering is the result of God’s punishment of sin which Job believes that suffering may happen regardless of one’s sin and punishment may be delayed even until after one’s death.
Verses 12-18 make an important point. Often the punishment for sin is a slow process because God permits the consequences of sin to work themselves out in a person’s life. Sometimes that takes many years before it is even clear that sins from long ago are bearing fruit. Paul expresses this idea in Romans 1:18-32. There sad refrain of those Pauline words is, "God gave them up to…" as he describes the various sins and evil as the outworking of wicked choices. One of the very unfortunate examples of this truth occurs regularly in troubled marriages. Often one partner establishes a pattern of neglect, abuse, or insults. Years later when that person has matured and is ready to establish a genuine relationship with the marriage partner the partner refuses and leaves the marriage because of the damage done early in the marriage. Zophar’s words can be paraphrased, "You can choose to sin but you cannot choose the consequences of sin and you cannot choose the timing of those consequences.
Zophar’s speech is narrowly focused on the terrible consequences of sin. While what he says is true, what he leaves unsaid is very dangerous. His speech gives no hint of the possibility of repentance or mercy. There is no evidence of compassion. Andersen (p. 197) points out that Zophar is just as materialistic as the wicked people he condemns. For him the most horrible thing that can happen is God’s judgment carrying away one’s possessions (verse 28). Job is tormented with the loss of fellowship and communication with God. Zophar seems too shallow to care about that. He is a good example of the fact that a person can have lots of correct theology yet be far from reflecting the heart of God. Zophar’s life and viewpoint is far simpler than Job’s, but it is so shallow that it is not worth keeping.
Job’s Second Response to Zophar – Job 21
This speech of Job will bring to a close the second cycle of speeches. There are several features of this speech that differ from Job’s previous ones. First, this is the first speech which is directed completely to his friends without shifting to God as an audience. Second, Job specifically responds to several accusations of his friends in these verses. Thus there are more direct connections to the previous speeches than has been customary. Part of what this means is that Job is now actually entering into dialogue and argument with his comforters. As a result there is less bitterness and not so much the sense of emotional outbursts. Job is more rational and more in control as he addresses the issues that interest the author of the book. The structure of this speech is also more narrowly focused. After appealing for a sympathetic hearing in verses 1-6 Job speaks in the form of a wisdom disputation raising questions about the traditional view of rapid retribution in verses 7-33. Verse 34 presents a final complaint against his comforters.
Verse 2 appeals for Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (and us as readers) to give close attention to Job’s words. That very courtesy of listening would be more comfort and encouragement than they have provided so far. Job reminds us here of the importance of listening. We are too prone to want the power of being able to give "good advice." When we do not have advice that seems adequate we often refuse the gift of just listening because that seems too little and too weak.
Job then unleashes an attack on the argument of his friends that suffering is the necessary and immediate result of sin. To the contrary, Job argues, the wicked actually prosper. He points to the blessings enjoyed by wicked people in verses 7-16, to how rare it is that the wicked are punished in verses 17-21, to the failure of the doctrine of retribution in verses 22-26, and to weaknesses in his friends’ arguments in verses 27-33.
Job’s comforters had argued that sin causes suffering and that suffering is evidence of sin. Job denies both claims. In fact, Job paints a picture of the blessings enjoyed by the wicked that very much resembles the picture of the good man Eliphaz had described in Job 5:17-27. Zophar claimed in Job 20:11 that the wicked die young. Job claims the opposite in verse 7. Bildad had declared in Job 18:13 that the wicked would die childless. Job points out that the wicked often have large and happy families. Eliphaz had asserted in Job 5:24 that by being righteous Job’s home would be secure. Job declares in verse 9 that it is the wicked whose homes are secure. According to Job’s observation in these verses, all the blessings that Israel claimed for the righteous are also enjoyed by the wicked. Verses 14-15 describe the irreverent attitude of the wicked who assume that God has nothing to offer them and that devotion to the Lord is a waste of time.
These are very interesting remarks from Job. His own background has taught him to think just as his friends think (Job 16:4) but his personal experience is not fitting in with what he has been taught. Thus before the tragedies described in chapter 2 befell him he would have also argued that suffering is punishment against the wicked. But his experience of suffering without having sinned has also opened his eyes to other exceptions to the doctrine of retribution. Now he can remember wicked people who have enjoyed all the blessings Israel traditionally assigned to the righteous only.
However, his training is too strong to completely throw off. In verse 16 he rejects the idea that the wicked ultimately prosper. In the final analysis he agrees with his friends that sometime the wicked will suffer the consequences of their sin. He will not align himself with the wicked. Job accomplishes two purposes in this paragraph. Since there are wicked people who prosper Job’s suffering does not automatically categorize him as a sinner. Second, since Job will have nothing to do with the viewpoint of the wicked his friends are wrong in claiming that he is wicked.
In verses 17-21 Job challenges the view that Eliphaz (5:4) and Zophar (20:10) that God stores up punishment deserved by the wicked to give out that punishment to their children. Job essentially points out the inconsistency of his friends. They have claimed that God is just and as a result he punishes the wicked with suffering. However, they accept the idea that punishment might be delayed a generation. Job will have none of that idea. That is not justice. In verse 20 he demands that the wicked see their own ruin and drink the cup of their own judgment.
Verses 22-26 point out that the doctrine of retribution just does not always explain life or death. In these verses Job sounds much like Ecclesiastes in denying that there is any predictable pattern that always works to explain the connection between sin and suffering. He concludes by rebutting arguments that he expects to come from his friends.
The Third Cycle of Speeches - Job 22:1-26:14
The dialogue between Job and his friends has moved along irregularly. Some positions stated in the first cycle are not answered until the second. These speeches have reflected the painful reality of grief up against pat answers. However, as a general rule in the first cycle Job’s friends spoke in generalities without applying them directly to Job. In the second cycle the friends openly accuse Job of sin and explain his suffering as God’s punishment for that sin. Job vehemently denies that he is guilty of sin and the dialogue seems to reach an impasse. This impasse quickly becomes symbolically clear in the third cycle of speeches. The breakdown of communication is symbolized by the breakdown of structure. Only Eliphaz’s third speech is constructed appropriately. There are problems and contradictions in each of the following speeches and there is no evidence that Zophar speaks again. The dialogue comes to a halt.
In his third speech Eliphaz sharply contradicts Job. He accuses Job of "great" wickedness in Job 22:5. In verses 12-24 he then rejects Job’s claim that the wicked sometimes prosper. Eliphaz then concludes his speech in verses 25-30 with a stirring call to Job to repent of his sin. Eliphaz felt the need to defend God’s honor but he chose to attack Job. Hartley (p. 335) wisely remarks, "But a genuine defense of God must not downgrade another human being. Eliphaz fails to realize that in condemning Job he is also casting reproach on God, Job’s creator." This is an important warning for us. Our defense of God must always respect the people God has created or our defense turns into an attack on God.
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 19:1-22:30. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you. Describe why they are important.
2. What spiritual truths have you learned from this lesson? Describe how those truths should be applied in your own life.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you listen better to those who suffer and to give them the gift of true listening rather than pat answers.
Second Day: Read Job 23:1-24:25. Now focus your attention on Job 23:1-17.
1. What desire does Job express in verses 1-7? What statements reflect a teachable spirit in Job? What confidence does Job express about himself?
2. Read Psalm 139 and compare it with Job 23:8-17. What similarities do you find? What differences? Which seem most important to you? Why?
3. Paraphrase Job’s statement in verse 10 in your own words. Could you be so confident? What needs to change in your life so that you would be comfortable making such a statement?
Third Day: Read Job 23:1-24:25. Now focus in on Job 24:1-25.
1. What is Job’s complaint in verses 1-17? Do you ever feel the same way? What are some examples you know of in which wicked people seemed to go unpunished? How does it make you feel?
2. What different message comes through in verses 18-24? Which message do you think is most correct? Why?
3. Most of chapter 24 deals with the wicked. What does this chapter say about God? How does the teaching about God apply in our day and age?
Fourth Day: Read Job 25:1-27:23. Now focus your attention on Job 25:1-26:14.
1. What does Bildad affirm about God in Job 25:1-3? How does it compare with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:45? How does Bildad’s conclusion in Job 25:4-6 compare with Jesus’ in Matthew 5:46-48?
2. Is Bildad justified in comparing people with maggots and worms in Job 25:6? What harm can come from taking these words too seriously? What harm can come from not taking them seriously enough?
3. What truths about God does Job declare in chapter 26? If this chapter were the only chapter in the Bible what important truths about God would we miss out on?
Fifth Day: Read Job 25:1-27:23. Focus your attention on Job 27:1-23.
1. Summarize Job’s testimony in verses 2-6. What spiritual desires arise in your heart as you study Job’s testimony? Ask the Lord to help you fulfill those spiritual desires.
2. What consequences of sin does Job describe in chapter 27? Which ones seem to be the worst consequences to you? Why these and not others?
3. In verse 10 Job implies that the righteous delight in God. Study Psalm 37. What instruction does it give about delighting in the Lord? What must we do to be able to delight in the Lord?
Sixth Day: Read Job 27:1-28:28. Now give special attention to Job 28:1-28.
1. What is the point of verses 1-11? Does verse 12 change the flow of thought that has been developing in verses 1-11? If so, how? If not, what is the point of verse 12?
2. What do verses 13-22 say about human ability to find wisdom? Compare these verses with I Corinthians 1:18-31. How does the wisdom of God compare with human wisdom?
3. What new truth do verses 23-28 contribute to Job 28? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to lead you to his true wisdom.