Job 22-31

The outspoken way in which Job had told his friends, that the comfort they had offered was untrue and valueless, rather naturally moved Eliphaz to begin his third speech on a still more bitter note. Job certainly had been defending his own character, but did he confer any profit or benefit on the Almighty by the righteousness and perfection that he claimed? And would God enter into judgment with him as though he were His equal? There could be but one answer to these questions, and it would be salutary for Job to realize what it was. As our Lord told His disciples, the confession of us all has to be, "We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10).

But, having uttered these wise words, Eliphaz plunged into a series of accusations against Job, which in the light of the testimony God bore to him at the outset of the story, must have been utterly unfounded. These accusations fill verses 5-9 and reading them we can see what provoked Job to sing his own praises, as he does in Job 29. Eliphaz did not deal in vague insinuations but affirmed Job's wrong-doing in regard to the needy, the naked, the weary, the hungry, the widow and the fatherless. In Job 29, Job rebuts these things and is equally explicit in declaring how well he had acted to these very people.

In verse 13 Eliphaz supposes the evil had been mainly in secret and that Job assumed that God did not know of his wickedness-another false assumption. In verses 15-18 we have a reference to the flood. Job had just spoken of wicked men, who said unto God, "Depart from us," and here Eliphaz asks if he had really taken to heart this very thing, as displayed in the antediluvian world. What men did after the flood, as they lapsed into idolatry, was just what had been done before the flood. Eliphaz is quite right in saying that the root of all their appalling wickedness was departure from God, and shutting Him out of their lives and even out of their thoughts.

At this point we may well pause and consider our own age. Job's assertion in the previous chapter was that when, as often, God prospered wicked men, they desired God to depart from them for they had no desire for His ways. Now Eliphaz has stated that of old wicked men dismissed God from their thoughts and lives and were cut down by the flood. Job's point was that God often prospered the wicked and their judgment only came at the end, whereas Eliphaz insisted that God did intervene in judgment, as the flood had borne witness. Both it seems were right, and in our own day we can see the direful results of men dismissing God from their thoughts and lives. If God be thus turned out, every kind of evil comes in.

How true therefore is the exhortation of Eliphaz in verse 21. The knowledge of God does indeed lead to both peace and good as the ultimate result, but at first it leads to deep unrest and trouble, as Job had to find. Before he reached the good, recorded at the end of the book, he had to experience the anguish of self-judgment-see, Job 40: 4; Job 42: 6.

Underlying this verse however, and the succeeding verses too, is the old assumption that Job did not know God, that he was astray from Him and needed to come back and put away his iniquity, which was bringing all this chastisement upon him, and he closed with a glowing description of all the advantage that would come to Job if he did so A clearer translation of the last verse is, "He shall deliver him that is not guiltless," and in his closing words Eliphaz seems to state that if only Job had clean hands he would deliver other people as well as himself.

Job's next speech occupies chapters 23 and 24, and is remarkable in that he makes no direct reference to what Eliphaz had just been advancing.

Job 23 has the nature of a lament with a great deal of pathos in it. Here he was full of bitter complaint, yet feeling that the weight of the stroke laid on him was beyond any groan that he uttered. The stroke came from God, vet he did not know where He was nor how he might find Him. If only he could find Him and order his cause before Him, he felt sure relief would come, and he would be delivered-verse 7 has been translated, "There would an upright man reason with Him; and I should be delivered for ever from my Judge." Thus once more did Job assume his own uprightness, and his complaint was that he was troubled by the Almighty, whom he could not reach and into whose presence he could not come.

Nevertheless he still had confidence, as verse 10 shows, that all the path of sorrow he was treading was known to God, that in it he was being tested, and that as the result he would come forth as gold at the end That indeed was the end finally reached but, we suspect, not in the way Job expected. As yet, filled with confidence in his own righteousness, he expected to be approved of God. He did come forth as gold, but as the fruit of his abasement in self-judgment before God, and then he was lifted up and abundantly blessed.

Verse 12 is striking and frequently quoted. But the words translated, "my necessary food," are literally, "my appointed portion," as the margin shows. The New Translation renders them, "the purpose of my own heart." Reading it thus, we may well challenge our own hearts as to whether we are prepared to set aside our own purposes in subjection to the words of God.

The first verse of Job 24 propounds a question, the exact force of which is not easily discerned. But it does appear that in the rest of the chapter Job is recounting the evils that were filling the earth in his day, which were going on unjudged until the grave closed the history of the wicked, as giving point and force to the question he asked. This being so, the latter part of verse 1 would mean, "Why do the God-fearing not see days of judgment falling from God on the heads of the godless?" A very pertinent question, approximating to that raised in Psalm 73. At the end of the chapter Job, as well as the Psalmist, sees judgment ultimately coming upon them. But seeing it does not so come now, Job challenged all comers to confute him and prove him a liar.

For the third time Bildad now spoke, as recorded in Job 25. As with Eliphaz so with him, each speech was shorter than the preceding one, showing that their powers of compassion, as also of argument, were running short. Moreover there appears to be little of reference to Job's statements in what he said. His description of the greatness and glory of God is fine and almost poetical, and what he says of the sin and uncleanness and insignificance of man, who is like a worm before his Creator, is equally true. But he could only reiterate the question Job asked in Job 9, "How then can man be just with God," without making any attempt to answer it, or express a desire for a mediator, as Job had done. To Bildad it was an unanswerable question, and perhaps he thought it gave some kind of excuse for the sin, with which he and his friends had been accusing unhappy Job.

This moved Job to open his mouth for the ninth time, in a speech longer than all the rest. As their arguments for the prosecution were failing, his for the defence increased. Bildad's brief words had been of a gentler kind, but before Job showed that he too can speak in glowing terms of the greatness of God, he indulged in the sarcasms that fill verses 2 and 3 of Job 26. To us it seems quite obvious that the speeches of the friends had not been helpful nor saving nor wise, but Job being human, he did not miss the opportunity to hurl these taunts at them. Other translations render the opening words of verse 3, "To whom," rather than, "For whom." That would mean that Job wished them to remember that though their words had been addressed to him, they had really been speaking in the presence of God, and speaking moreover not in the right spirit.

His description of God's creatorial power is striking. Verse 7 in particular shows how these early saints, living in the fear of God, as far as He was then revealed, had a true and simple knowledge of created things, far removed from the fantastic ideas entertained, even by the learned, when their minds had been darkened by lapsing into idolatry.

He knew that God had wrought by His Spirit in garnishing the heavens, which is what learned unbelievers would hardly admit today; and at the same time he was conscious that what was known in his day was only a part of His ways, and his comment was, "What a whisper of a word do we hear of Him!" (New Trans.). Let this pathetic cry of Job sink into all our hearts. He had but a "whisper of a word" as to God. Israel knew something of "the thunder of His power," when at Sinai through Moses the law was given. We have the high privilege of knowing and enjoying the "grace and truth" that came by Jesus Christ, and further of walking in "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4: 6). We may well bless God, who has brought us out of darkness into His marvellous light.

What a striking witness we have in this book-one of the oldest in the world-to facts which stand out plainly in the New Testament. Here are patriarchal saints, living only a few centuries after the flood, with a knowledge of God according to the primeval revelation of Himself. Men did not develop out of heathenism into the knowledge of God, but the reverse. As Romans 1 says "When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God;" and again, "As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over . . . " However stubborn Job was in his self-righteousness, and his friends were in their thoughts, they did not exclude God from their knowledge. He was very present in their thoughts.

The opening words of Job 27 indicate that at this point Job paused, expecting Zophar to speak; and apparently he paused again at the end of Job 28. But no reply was forthcoming. This was not surprising, for the man who bases his position on intuition has a very restricted field of argument. The man who argues from his own observation may have had a wide field of vision and therefore a lot to put forward. So too, the man who delves into past history and argues from tradition. But the man who only urges what he thinks, the ideas that he has intuitively formed, may urge them with great force in his opinionated self-conceit; but if his thoughts be rebutted, there is not much else he can say.

So Job resumed his discourse, striking a very solemn note, as taking an oath before God. In affirming his own integrity and truth he charged his friends with being the ones who spoke falsehood and deceit, while he held fast his righteousness with the utmost resolution. This "righteousness," as Job 29 will show us, was concerned with his outward conduct, for as yet the searching light of God had not entered his soul. He had been charged with being a deceiver and a hypocrite. He knew he was not this, and he was not going to plead guilty to it for a moment. We too know that he was not, but outward correctness does not in itself count for righteousness in the presence of God. Job's own words here prove it, for the way he complains of God in verse 2 shows that his heart was not right in His sight.

In the rest of the chapter we find Job enlarging upon the way God deals in judgment with the hypocrite. He had just been virtually charging his friends with being hypocrites in their accusations against him, so it would appear that his words were a warning to them that such might be their fate, something akin to what had happened to him.

He followed this - Job 28 - with the remarkable words about man's search after wisdom. In his days mining was practised: it may have been then a new pursuit, whether for iron or copper, for gold or silver or gems. They dig down, they divert the subterranean stream, they make paths untrodden by the strongest of beasts or the most keen-sighted of birds. But in all this searching they never find wisdom. This is the question he raised in verse 12, and he affirmed very rightly that it could not be found in these human activities. Men may discover much, and since Job's day they have discovered an immense deal more, but wisdom eludes them. If Job could have been given a glimpse of man's activities and discoveries in our atomic age, he would say the same, only with emphasis a huudred-fold greater.

So, "Where shall wisdom be found?" (verse 12). Job begins to answer this in verse 23. God, who understands it, knows its way, and has declared it to man, as verse 28 declares. "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. "In all the statements made during this prolonged discussion no truer nor wiser thing had been said. In Proverbs 9: 10, we find Solomon making a similar statement, and it is corroborated in the history of the early church, as we see in Acts 9: 31.

As the fear of God departs from the heart of man, so his own selfwill increases, which produces endless folly. In the present age the knowledge and cleverness of man has risen to heights undreamed of a century ago, and his destructive folly threatens to descend to undreamed of depths. Psalm 36: 1, quoted in Romans 3: 18, exposes the root of it all.

As Job continued his parable, in Job 29, he sighed for a return to the days of his prosperity and, remembering the accusations of Eliphaz, which we had in Job 22, he began to utter his own praise. What light and luxury were his! What deference and even reverence was paid to him! And then he declared his acts of benevolence and righteousness and judgment, which he felt had entitled him to very preferential treatment in blessing from the hand of God.

Job 29 has thus become one of the great "I" chapters of the Bible. Ecclesiastes 2 is Solomon's "I" chapter: that personal pronoun occurs 16 times in the first 9 verses: true chapter of the self-gratified "I." Job 29 is the chapter of the self-satisfied "I" Romans 7 is of course the chapter of the self-condemned "I" And to be self-condemned is far better than to be self-gratified or self-satisfied. Best of all is to be self-eclipsed, as we find Paul to be in Philippians 3, where he mentions "I" a good many times.

But our chapter records how Job was permitted to let himself go, and sing his own praise, and thus reveal to us the self-righteousness and self-conceit, which had lain deep down within him, hidden from all eyes but God's. To bring this to light, and to bring Job himself to judge it, and to judge himself in the presence of God, was the object God had in permitting Satan to bring these extreme testings upon him.

For the moment however Job was full of the great and excellent things he had done, and of the commanding position amongst his fellows which had been his as the result. This did but make more vivid the contrast of his present condition, and to this he returned in the sorrowful lament recorded in Job 30. He had now become the derision of the basest of men, and even of the youngest among them. They could make up songs about his misery. and even spit in his face- a cruel insult indeed. In verse 20 however he turned to God and made bitter complaint to Him, and even against Him. He felt that He had opposed him and cast him down and disregarded his prayers and entreaties, and so had "become cruel" to him. Poor Job! Without any question men had become cruel to him, and he now felt that God had become cruel also. In the closing verses of this chapter he described the extreme state of bodily weakness and misery and corruption into which he had been brought. God had given Satan permission to do his worst, short of taking his life. With malign skill Satan reduced his body to such a state of loathsome disease as, we suppose, no man has suffered before or since; for in every other case the victim would have died before such a mass of bodily trouble could develop. Let us not judge Job harshly. In such a fearful plight as his we should probably have said far worse things than he.

Having uttered these sorrowful complaints, Job closed his lengthy speech, as we see in Job 31, by a series of asseverations almost amounting to oaths. His friends had accused him of definite sins and wrong-doing. As to these things his conscience was clear, though, as we have seen, he admitted he was not pure in the sight of God. So he strongly affirmed that he had not committed the kinds of evil that were alleged or insinuated.

This chapter bears witness to the fact that before the law was given a high standard of morality was still found among God-fearing men. A standard moreover which had regard not only to the outward act but also to the inward motive that prompts the act: see, as instances of this, he spoke of what he thought, or did not think, in verse 1; of his heart walking after his eyes, in verse 7; and again, his heart being secretly enticed, in verse 27; and of hiding his iniquity, and covering his sins, like Adam, in verse 33. This may remind us of the Sermon on the Mount; particularly if we compare his words in verse 30, realizing that merely wishing a curse to his enemy would be a sin, with our Lord's words in Matthew 5: 24

Again, he knew that deceit and false witness was wrong; see, verse 5: that adultery was wrong; see, verse 9: that idolatry was wrong; see, verses 26-28; since the worship of sun and moon was the most primitive form that idolatry took. So also he knew that he was not to covet what his neighbour possessed, for in contrast he should be a giver to his necessities, as we see in verses 13-22.

So most evidently the standard of conduct that Job had before him was a very high one, and he felt he had rigidly observed it. He knew too that there would be a day when God would rise up and visit and he asked, "What shall I answer Him?" (verse 14). Reviewing all these things, Job felt he could call down a curse upon himself, if he had not observed them: that on his land thistles might "grow instead of wheat, and cockle [tares] instead of barley." With this Job also lapsed into silence.

The end that the Lord reached with Job is made all the more striking by the fact that in me main these assertions of his were correct. At the outset Jehovah bore witness that he was perfect and upright, and when finally He intervened He did not utter words of contradiction. It is just this which imparts such tremendous force to the utter abasement and self-condemnation that sprang from Job's lips, before he was blessed at the end of the story.