Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 12: Thursday
Then Job replied,
“Even today my complaint is rebellion;
His hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!
I would present my case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn the words which He would answer,
And perceive what He would say to me.”
In Thursday’s Bible reading of Job 23–24, Job answers Eliphaz’ terrible charges in chapter 22: Job has acted wickedly and his deeds are the reason for his calamity. Eliphaz closed his lecture by telling Job to return to God, and God would then restore him. Provoked and goaded by these false accusations, Job replies he would like to find God in order to present his case before Him; however, although he seeks Him, God is not there. Job again asserts his innocence:
“My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth
more than my necessary food.”
As you read chapter 23, you can see Job’s agony of mind as he first states he thinks God would listen to him, yet then goes on to say he is terrified of God. Look at these words of Job:
“But He is unique and who can turn Him?
And what His soul desires, that He does.
For He performs what is appointed for me,
And many such decrees are with Him.
Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence;
When I consider, I am terrified of Him.
It is God who has made my heart faint,
And the Almighty who has dismayed me,
But I am not silenced by the darkness,
Nor deep gloom which covers me.”
E. S. P. Heavenor titles Job 23:1–17: Job’s heart laid bare, and he writes:
“He is no rebel against God; he does not complain for the sheer joy of complaining…He has made a real effort to restrain his cries of protest, but his misery has wrung them out of him.”1
On verses 13–17, Heavenor comments:
“The longing to find God is somewhat clouded over. Job finds himself wearily toiling up the hill of predestination ‘with its icy altitudes’ (W. M. Macgregor). His sufferings have been determined by iron decree.”2
I want to reiterate some things I wrote in Job 7–8: Sovereign & Good: Assuring someone that God is sovereign is not necessarily a comforting thing. The person may already believe and know that—the spiritual battle may be believing in God’s love during a time of intensely feeling abandoned. This struggle with doubt can even be heightened in pain if the person previously knew continuous fellowship with God and worshiped Him as Job did, but now only knows and feels blow after blow from circumstances. Job’s need was to believe in God’s goodness, benevolence and personal care for him in the face of God’s inscrutable sovereignty in allowing his suffering. In Job 6:14, Job said:
“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
Lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
When circumstances overwhelm you and Satan whispers in your ear that you are abandoned by God, the goodness and kindness of friends who are with you in your valley give the lie to Satan’s words. Otherwise, you struggle alone to believe and trust God. Fellow believers are God’s tangible reminder that He loves you and He cares for you as a person and for the agony you feel.
In chapter 24, Job contradicts Eliphaz’ conclusion that wicked deeds always have the consequence of suffering as he points out the reality of the numerous evil and oppressive acts that God lets continue. Job finishes with this challenge:
“Now if it is not so, who can prove me a liar,
And make my speech worthless?”
Job knows Eliphaz’ ideas about God’s providence are wrong; Job can look at his own life and his affliction, and he has also seen the prosperity of the wicked, and the reality is that sometimes the righteous suffer greatly, while those who are evil do not. It’s apparent that he thinks there must be some other rationale for his affliction, but for lack of any reason apparent to him and unable to make his case before God, in the midst of his rebuttal to Eliphaz, Job concludes his sorrow has been ‘determined by iron decree’ of God. Heavenor has this to say about Job 23:17:
“The exact force of this verse is elusive. A. B. Davidson (following one MS) translates: ‘For I am not dismayed because of the darkness, nor because of myself whom thick darkness covereth.’ If this translation is adopted the verse means that Job’s most baffling problem was not the external darkness of calamity about him, nor the darkness that had invaded his own person, but rather his sense of the arbitrariness of divine action.”3
Job’s dilemma was not lack of belief in God’s sovereignty or God’s power, but in his confliction of doubt in God’s goodness. He was beyond his ability to understand his long endurance of intense pain.
What did Job need? I think first of all he needed his friends to admit that Job’s sorrows were beyond their level of understanding. Then he needed affirmation from them of their respect and love for him; respect, because they knew he was a godly man of integrity, and love, because he needed words and deeds that would console him and alleviate his pain in any way possible. Finally, Job needed their affirmation of the goodness of God—and if they’d done the first two things I think it would have gone a long way to helping Job trust in God.
How do you affirm the goodness of God to one who suffers? Pray for them. Listen, love and be with them. Be open and authentic about your own life and share the consolation you have received from God (2 Corinthians 1ff.). As you understand someone’s need and doubt, ask God for wisdom regarding the section of His Word that would build up, restore, clear and correct the ‘fog of war’ of suffering, and enable trust in God. If this seems to be a lot of effort and struggle expended for someone, you’re right. So many times people are crass and do harm because they don’t want to take the time or do the spiritual work involved. Giving a few words of clichéd advice may enable you to check off a duty done, but in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul mentioned the Thessalonians’ labor of love, and so it is.
Is there a Job who needs you to come alongside to help? Labor, then, in love.
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Job and his friends, Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Public Domain.
1, 2, 3E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 434.
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter