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Job 23:1-28:28

Roger Hahn

The Third Cycle of Speeches - Job 22:1-26:14 (cont.)

The third cycle of speeches has several indications of a broken structure. Job 22 contains a full speech by Eliphaz and a full response is given by Job in chapters 23-24. However, the final verses of chapter 24, verses 18-25, are very obscure. Some scholars believe that they were originally a part of a speech by either Bildad or Zophar and were miscopied into this location. Others scholars believe that these verses belong in Job’s third response to Eliphaz.

Bildad’s third speech begins in Job 25, but that chapter contains only six verses, which is too short considering the pattern that has been established in the first part of the book of Job. Job’s response to Bildad consists of chapters 26-28 which is proportionally too long.

Furthermore there is material in Job 26-28 that is very different from anything that Job has said in any of his other speeches. Some of the material seems to fit better as part of a speech by Bildad or Zophar. There is no indication of a speech by Zophar in this third cycle. As a result there are a variety of ideas by scholars about what had happened in the third cycle of speeches. Some scholars assign part of chapter 27 to Bildad, some to Zophar, and some end the cycle of speeches at the end of chapter 26 and make chapter 27 a concluding speech to the three cycles. Almost all scholars of Job agree that chapter 28 is a hymn to wisdom that was not part of the cycle of speeches.

Eliphaz’s third speech appears in Job 22. He begins with a series of accusations against Job. We can see a major reversal from Eliphaz’s first speech. There in Job 4:3-4 Eliphaz had praised Job for his righteousness and devotion. Now he is convinced that Job is the worst of sinners. The accusations of verses 6-9 are an attempt to discredit Job’s behavior toward his fellowman. Verses 12-20 begin by affirming the greatness of God, but Eliphaz quickly twists Job’s words. Verses 13-14 accuse Job of questioning whether God knew anything of human affairs and saying that God does not see through the thick clouds surrounding him. In fact, Job had complained that he could not see God but he had not claimed that God could not see him. Verse 15 accuses Job of following the age old pattern of the wicked. Eliphaz concludes his speech with an appeal to Job to repent and be forgiven in verses 21-28. These verses reflect the best instincts of a "soul winner." The problem, as Andersen (p. 205) points out, is that this appeal is "completely irrelevant to Job’s case."

Job’s Third Response to Eliphaz – Job 23-24

Though the pattern of speeches suggests that Job replies to Eliphaz in chapters 23-24 careful analysis shows that God is Job’s intended audience. It appears that he ignores his friends and Eliphaz’s accusations against him but the matter is not quite that simple. Eliphaz has summed up the position of the three "comforters." In their view Job is suffering because he has sinned and the only way out for him is to confess that sin and hope that God will withdraw the punishment. However, Job cannot compromise his integrity by repenting of some contrived sin he has not committed. Nevertheless he shares with his friends the conclusion that only God can help him now.

As a result Job is ready to appeal to God. But part of his frustration has been the feeling that God is not listening. So Job does not address his friends directly, nor God directly. Rather he delivers a soliloquy about his desire to find God and to see him. Though the friends listen they are never addressed. Though chapter 23 speaks only of God in the third person Job is really crying out to the Lord.

The first seven verses of chapter 23 state Job’s desire to present his case before God. Even though Job describes his complaint as "bitter" and full of "groaning" theses verses actually speak great confidence. In verse 3 Job expresses his longing to appear before God’s judgment throne. If only he knew where to find God he would relish the opportunity to present his case. He would make his appeal and give his arguments.

Verse 5 reflects a confidence that Job would be able to accept God’s judgment with the assurance that justice had been done. This represents a major advance over Job’s earlier speeches. In those speeches Job had demanded an audience with God, but his attitude was one of fear rather than confidence. Job 9:34 and 12:31 reveal the terror of actually standing at the witness stand as he had brashly demanded. Verse 6 allows the possibility that God might unleash the awesomeness of divine power against him but Job still concludes that God would listen to him. In verse 7 he declares his confidence that God would acquit him. He is confident that an "upright person" can argue a case with God and win. This word "upright" is the same Hebrew word used to describe Job in Job 1:1. It is also ironic that Job’s growing confidence in God is beginning to give the first-time reader confidence that God will win his argument against the satan.

The confidence that Job shows in this paragraph is important when compared to his earlier fear. Something has happened in Job to bring about this change. First John 4:18 notes that there is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. A turning point comes with the crisis of Job 19 in which Job seems to reach the bottom of the pit of despair and then rebounds with his affirmation of faith. Within that experience Job experienced a deepening of faith that totally changed his perception of God. Part of maturing faith is the confidence that God will do right and that he can be trusted.

Verses 8-12 continue to develop the theme of God’s hiddenness and of Job’s confidence in God. It is common in times of affliction to feel that all access to God has been cut off (see Lament Psalms in Patterns for Life: Structure and Theology in Psalms). People sometimes speak of their "prayers bouncing off the ceiling." They are describing that sense that Job was feeling of not being able to connect with God. Some of the great saints of the Christian tradition have spoken of this as "the dark night of the soul." Hartley (p. 340) makes the very important point that this sense of hiddenness of God shows God’s confidence in Job. This too is part of the test. Psalm 139:7-10 makes the point that no one can escape from God. When one wants to get away from the influence of God, the Holy Spirit reminds that person of the Lord in a multitude of ways. God could have chosen to reveal himself to Job but his confidence in Job was great enough that he did not.

Job 23:10 shows that God’s confidence was not misplaced. Though he does not know where God is Job is sure that God knows all his thoughts and deeds. And he is confident that when God has finished testing him he will have passed that test, "when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold." Scripture often speaks of God’s testing as a refining process in which the dross of one’s life is burned away by the testing. Hartley (p. 340) also points out that this phrase shows that Job is more interested in "the restoration of his own honor" than "the restoration of his wealth." Eliphaz had challenged Job to disregard material gold and to make God his gold in Job 22:24-25. Job shows no interest in regaining a pile of gold, but he earnestly desires a "golden character."

The mood shifts in verses 13-17. From a skeptical perspective one could say that Job looses his nerve and returns to the groveling fear that had characterized him earlier. However, the difference between these verses that speak of Job’s fear and the preceding verses speaking of his confidence is more than a difference in Job’s feeling. In the preceding verses Job was contemplating God’s justice. In view of God’s justice he was confident that God would confirm his integrity. This allowed him a sense of boldness as he confidently predicted God’s affirmation of him.

However, when he thought of God’s sovereign freedom and majestic holiness Job’s confidence melted away. This is not fickleness on Job’s part; it is simply the recognition that there is more than one way to think about who God is and the nature of our relationship with him. It is easy to testify that I have met the requirements for salvation and thus "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt" that I am saved. A sense of God’s integrity and consistency allows such confidence. On the other hand, it is not so easy to explain why God should choose to save me in the first place or to claim that I have perfectly understood the will of God for my life and salvation. The awesome holiness of God is so different from anything I understand from a human perspective that awe and a certain uneasiness are the natural (and appropriate) responses. That is why Job can confess in verse 17 that he would feel far more comfortable if he didn’t have to stand before God.

The ancient copies of Job present a series of difficult problems for figuring out chapter 24. There have been a variety of responses to these difficulties. The Jerusalem Bible has rearranged the order of some verses to achieve what seems to those translators to be better sense. The New American Bible translators inserted a footnote for verses 18-24 indicating total uncertainty and they then omitted several verses in their version. Others see parts of chapter 24 as being dislocated verses from a speech of Bildad or Zophar.

However, the first 17 verses are fairly clear. As he thinks about the sovereign freedom of God Job’s mind is drawn to the broad extent of suffering in the whole world. It is not just Job who suffers and as he contemplates the holiness of God he feels a sense of kinship with all those who suffer and who wonder why. Job 24:1 begins with the question "why?" Why do those who know God not always experience him in their times of question and affliction? That is Job’s question in the midst of his suffering. But the other side of the matter is why does wickedness go unpunished? That is the question occupying most of the following verses. The various subjects that he addresses can be summarized as abusive injustice against the weak in verses 2-4, 9, terrible conditions for life and work verses 5-8, 10-12, and various criminals acts are never punished in verses 13-17.

It is important to note that such conditions contradict the theology of Job’s friends. Their theology of retribution requires them to declare that all these injustices are in fact punishments from God for the sins of the weak and afflicted members of society such as orphans and widows. Job’s point is that anybody with half an eye to see can tell that the rich and powerful as well as many criminal elements in society daily live in violation of the theology of retribution. In his case his suffering was undeserved and he did not know why it was happening. However, he knew many folk whose suffering was equally undeserved and the reason why was obvious. His cry for justice from God could not remain self-centered.

Justice for Job would also demand justice for those who were wickedly oppressed by human sin. Though verses 18-24 are far from clear, verse 18 does describe the evil-doers as cursed. Job is puzzled about why God would allow such injustice and wickedness to continue. However, his faith in God is so strong that he can not imagine the problem being solved apart from God.

Job 24 is a rebuke against the self-centeredness of much of our spirituality. We often act as if God only exists to deal with what concerns us. Even in the midst of great personal loss and suffering Job’s heart turned to others who also suffered. We will never be biblical Christians until we share that concern for others that penetrates and revamps our concern for ourselves. The key to becoming a person after God’s own heart is not just personal holiness but a heart that hurts for others in every kind of need.

Bildad’s Third Speech – Job 25

Bildad’s final speech lacks the introductory reproaching of Job and a conclusion. Because Job 25 devotes only 5 verses to it, many scholars have concluded that originally the speech was longer. Some suggest that various verses in chapters 24-28 originally belonged to Bildad’s speech but were dislocated in the copying process. Others simply suppose that part of Bildad’s speech was lost in the copying process. While either (or both) of these suggestions might have been true historically, the fact remains that we have only 5 verses in Job 25 to interpret with certainty as coming from Bildad. Andersen (p. 214) believes that the brevity of this speech and no speech from Zophar in the third cycle are purposeful designs of the author to show that the arguments of Job’s friends "have run out of fuel."

There is one thought in Job 25. Bildad returns to the concept of God’s holiness and human worthlessness. Verse 4 is the focal point of Bildad’s speech, both structurally and conceptually. He is convinced that no human being can stand before God as righteous or pure. Theses words echo the pessimism of Eliphaz stated in Job 4:17-18 and Job 15:14-15. If righteousness and purity is impossible before God as Eliphaz and Bildad assume then Job is deluded in claiming his own integrity.

Once again Job’s friends take the side of the satan and reject God’s own evaluation of Job. Bildad concludes his extolling of God’s greatness by appealing to worm theology. Verse 6 is one of the sources of the Christian tradition of referring to human beings as worms and maggots. While the decay of Job’s body makes these words almost literally true of his physical condition they have also been used as a Biblical support for a low view of human beings.

This is the only passage in Scripture using maggots as a metaphor for human worth. This passage; Psalm 22:6; and Isaiah 41:14 are the only passages comparing people to worms. The Isaiah passage reads, "Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the Lord." The words "worm" and "insect" describe the way Israel felt about herself compared to the power of Babylon. They are not prescribing the correct way to think about Israel. In fact God is promising to intervene to save them. The Psalm 22:6 reference is part of a lament psalm in which the psalmist is describing the depths of his personal despair (see Lament Psalms).

This passage in Job is on the lips on Bildad who has misunderstood the truth in both of his precious speeches. The biblical basis for regarding human beings as worthless as worms because of our sinfulness does not rest on a firm foundation. The defining description of human worth is given in Genesis 1:27 where we are said to be created in the image of God. Sin has marred that image but not erased it. However imperfectly we reflect the image of God (see 2 Corinthians 3:18) human worth is still defined by the value of being in the image of God and of being persons for whom Christ died. Our modern world that has made individual desires the measure of all reality needs a healthy dose of the biblical realism of sin. However, Christians must never devalue themselves or others like Bildad and Eliphaz have done.

Job’s Third Response to Bildad – Job 26-27

Job’s final speech in response to his friends appears in chapters 26-27. Because of the very difficult Hebrew text and even uncertainty about what the original reading was there are a variety of theories about the composition of these chapters. Chapter 26 is usually considered part of Job’s response, but chapter 27 is analyzed in various ways. Some scholars see it as a conclusion to the dialogue with the friends similar to the way chapter 3 introduced the dialogues without being a response. Others see part of chapter 27 as belonging with chapter 26 and part of chapter 27 belonging with Bildad’s speech. Others see part of chapter 27 belonging to a third speech by Zophar.

Job 26 consists of two major sections. Verses 2-4 specifically reply to Bildad. These verses follow the pattern of rejecting, even mocking, the opponent’s previous speech. In these verses the Hebrew text shows that the forms of "you" are second person masculine singular. In other responses to the speeches of his friends Job has used second person masculine plural. This change suggests that Job is specifically targeting Bildad with his sarcastic questions.

Verse 2 asks what kind of help Bildad has provided. Condemnation harms rather than helps the powerless. Verse 3 asks how Bildad had managed to come up with such good advice. Were Job written today we might expect a "Not!" to appear at the end of verse 3. Verse 4 asks the source of Bildad’s words and spirit. The word translated "spirit" literally means "breath." It is the same word that is used in Genesis 2:7 to describe God breathing the breath of life into the human. Job’s biting question does raise an important question. We would do well to examine whether the "breath" that blows the words we speak out of our mouths comes from God or from ourselves. Even right theology is undermined by a selfish spirit.

The second section of chapter 26 consists of a hymn of praise of God’s majestic power in verses 5-14. Job begins by acclaiming God’s power over death in verses 5-6. The shades, the waters, Sheol, and Abaddon are all Hebrew expressions referring to the dead or the place of the dead (see "He Descended into Hell" - Sheol, Hell, and the Dead). Sheol, the place of the dead somewhere in the heart of the earth, was hidden from human eyes. But Sheol is naked before God. There is no hiding from God even in the depths of the earth.

Verse 7 portrays God creating the world as a wealthy sheik pitching his tent over the watery chaos. The Hebrew word "void" (tohu) is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 for the formless void. In ancient near eastern thought that void was not simply nothing but had the characteristics of a monster that must be tamed. Thus creation over the chaos was not simply making the world but also involved defeating the powers of nothingness and anti-order (see Genesis Bible Study 2: The Cultural Context of Israel). Subsequent verses describe God’s power over the earth, the clouds, the moon, the waters, and the boundary of light and darkness.

Verse 12 declares God’s victory over the sea and over Rahab. The sea had always been a fearful place in Israelite thought. Rahab was another name for the ferocious monster of the sea, the dragon of chaos who went by various names in other cultures. Rahab or Tiamt was the personification of chaos, disorder, and the destructive forces in the world (see Speaking the Language of Canaan, especially the section Mythical Images in Scripture). This victory of God demonstrates supremacy over evil and anything that threatened to overcome human existence.

It is important that verse 12 attributes this victory both to God’s power and to his insight or understanding. In the mythologies of the ancient near east the gods of wisdom were never the same as the gods of power. Part of the uniqueness of the God of Scripture is the fact that wisdom and power are combined in him.

Verse 14 brings this hymn of praise to its conclusion. All these mighty deeds of God are only the "outskirts of his ways." We hear only a whisper of all that God really is. Just imagine, Job concludes, what it would be to hear the full reality of God thundering forth!

Job 27 begins with an affirmation of Job’s innocence and his commitment to righteousness in verses 1-6. This section begins with the words, "As God lives," which is an oath formula. He calls on the living God to testify to the truthfulness of his words.

Verse 4 contains the heart of the oath. Job swears that he will not speak falsehood or deceit. This is a significant commitment for us to contemplate in our world. So much of the communications of modern society are based on strategic lying. Becoming people of the truth is an increasing challenge in a society of the lie. An important part of the integrity and uprightness that have been attributed to Job since the opening verse of this book is this commitment to the truth. After all the tragedies that have struck him and after all the irrelevant comments of his three friends Job’s commitment to God is still sufficient to call forth such a commitment to the truth. In verses 5-6 he affirms his intention of clinging to his integrity and righteousness forever.

Verses 7-10 are a prayer for the destruction of Job’s enemy. This is a difficult concept for the Christian mind but Old Testament psalms of lament often contained such thoughts (see Lament Psalms). In Job’s case the only way that he can be completely vindicated is for those who opposed and condemned him to be removed.

Verses 11-12 speak of Job’s intention to teach his friends the truth about God. Verses 13-23 proclaim certain punishment for the wicked. Some scholars believe these verses belong with Bildad’s final speech. Since they echo thought of Zophar found in Job 20 other scholars believe these verses are Zophar’s final speech. Others believe they represent the conclusion of Job’s response to Bildad. Regardless of the speaker these verses warn of the danger of sin. No matter how well things may go for awhile, the wicked finally suffer punishment appropriate to their sin. Regardless of one’s righteousness such punishment is not a happy thought.

A Hymn to Wisdom – Job 28:1-28

Job 28 consists of a beautiful hymn in praise of wisdom. This hymn comes at the end of the three cycles of speech that form the dialogue of Job. However, the tone, language, and style of this chapter is so different from what has gone before that most scholars believe that the author of the book has inserted this hymn as an interlude between the dialogues and monologues that will follow. Andersen (p. 224) remarks that this is an interlude told by the story teller (narrator) summing up the conclusions of the story so far. Chapter 28 "emphasizes the failure of the human mind to arrive at the hidden wisdom" that belongs only to God. This chapter thus lays the foundation for the final section of the book that will find its climax in the sweeping speeches of God himself. Verses 1-11 form the first section, verses 13-19 the second, and verses 21-27 the final section of this hymn to wisdom. Verses 12 and 20 provide a refrain or chorus and verse 28 gives the conclusion.

Verses 1-11 have been called "human skill in mining technology." (Hartley, p. 373) These verses contain the most detailed descriptions of ancient mining found anywhere in Scripture. However, as Habel (p. 396) observes, "The mining exercise is a paradigm for probing a mystery in the natural domain which parallels probing wisdom at a deeper level in the cosmic domain." All the human skill and insight used for mining symbolizes the human effort to find wisdom.

But verse 12 asks, "where shall wisdom be found?" Verses 13-19 point out that human ingenuity cannot find it. The most prized metals and stones cannot buy it. Wisdom is of the highest value, but we cannot purchase it. Verse 20 repeats the refrain, "Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?" Verses 23-27 give the answer, "God understands the way to" wisdom. And verse 28 provides the conclusion, "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and turning from evil is understanding." This verse echoes the wisdom teaching of Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10 and of 1 Corinthians 1:24.

Human understanding of the theology of retribution has failed to find the wisdom that encompasses Job’s experience. The advice of Job’s friends has dug deeply and uncovered many nuggets. But they have failed to achieve the true wisdom that will bring faith and understanding to Job. By means of this wisdom hymn the narrator points out that human understanding will never penetrate to the depths known by the wisdom of God. The final part of the book will painstakingly make its way toward God’s wisdom to explain Job’s dilemma.

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 23:1-28:28. Look up the Scripture references given.

1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you from this lesson. Describe why these concepts are important.

2. Select a spiritual truth from this lesson that especially applies to your life. How does it apply to you?

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to guide you into the way of wisdom. Specifically ask his guidance in an area of your life in which you need divine direction.

Second Day: Read Job 29:1-30:31.

1. In chapter 29 Job remembers the good days before tragedy struck his life. What part of his former life seems most important to him? What part would have been most important to you? Why?

2. Job spoke of friendship with God in verse 4. Read Psalm 25:14 for characteristics leading to friendship with God. What areas of your life need to change so that friendship with God can be a reality for you?

3. Verse 14 speaks of being clothed with righteousness. Read Colossians 3:12-14. What virtue does Paul command us to put on? What virtue would you most like to "wear?" Why?

Third Day: Read Job 29:1-30:31. Now focus your attention on Job 30:1-31.

1. What contrasts are drawn in chapter 30 when compared with chapter 29? How would you summarize the mood of chapter 30? Why do you think Job speaks these words?

2. Verse 16 sounds much like Psalm 22:14. Read Psalm 22 and then list the verses of Psalm 22 and Job 30 that describe the suffering of Christ. How does Philippians 2:7 fit in?

3. Compare Job 30:25 with Romans 12:15. Read Romans 12. What characteristics are taught there that describe a person of integrity and uprightness like Job?

Fourth Day: Read Job 30:1-31:40. Now focus in on Job 31:1-40.

1. What verses in chapter 31 deal with sexual sin? Based on theses verses and Proverbs 5-7 how would you summarize the Biblical standard for sexual behavior? Why do you think our society has gotten so far away from the Biblical standard?

2. What verses in chapter 31 deal with hardness of heart against the poor? In addition to these verses read Matthew 25:31-45 and Luke 6:20. What is the biblical standard for treatment of the poor? What do you need to do to better fulfill this biblical expectation?

3. What other kinds of sins are mentioned in chapter 31? Which of them is most difficult for you to gain victory over? Why? Ask the Lord to especially help you in that area of your life.

Fifth Day: Read Job 32:1-33:33. Focus your attention on Job 32:1-22.

1. Why was Elihu angry? Was he right to be angry for that reason or wrong? Why?

2. Do you think Job would agree with what Elihu says in verses 6-10? Why or why not? Do you think Elihu is right in those verses? Why or why not?

3. Compare Job 32:18 with 2 Corinthians 5:14. What is it that compels you to say and do the things you say and do? What would you like to have be the compelling power of your life? Why?

Sixth Day: Read Job 32:1-33:33. Now give your attention to Job 33:1-33.

1. Why does Elihu think that Job is wrong? Do you agree with Elihu? Why or why not?

2. In verse 14 Elihu states that God speaks in several ways. What ways that God communicates does Elihu then describe in the following verses? What additional ways do you believe God uses to speak to us? What way of God’s speaking is easiest for you to understand? Why?

3. Write a brief prayer asking God to speak to you today. Ask him what changes are necessary to make you a person of integrity and uprightness. Write your commitment to make those changes.

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