“Shall not his excellency make you afraid? and his dread fall upon you? Your remembrances are like unto ashes, your bodies to bodies of clay. Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will. Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in mine hand? Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:11-15).
We have here in chapter 13 the response of Job to his three so-called friends. The three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, have responded to Job after he, in chapter 3, cursed the day of his birth. After seven days of silence, Job had, in chapter 3, stated that it would have been better for him if he had died immediately after his birth. He asks why individuals have to long for death and it does not come. And Job manifests a spirit of rebellion against God’s will.
We might ask, Is this the same man who just prior to this uttered such profound spiritual confessions? It is. How then are we to understand all of this? Up until this time we have seen strength and consistency in Job. Now we see infirmity and weakness. But at the same time we see the strength to resist temptation. God’s grace is evident, not only in maintaining and keeping Job faithful, but also in preserving Job yet, even now, as he speaks in rebellion against God.
Job clings to God. By His grace he has no thoughts of departing from God. Though the infirmity of his flesh overcomes him so that he murmurs against God, nevertheless he remains faithful and committed to walking before God’s face, and he gives evidence again of his confession of God’s goodness. But he utters hard words and evil thoughts which cannot be justified. We see here the battle between the old man and the new man. We see evidence of the old man coming to the fore, but at the same time we see the sustaining power of God’s grace as He keeps that new man, and as Job is preserved close to God.
The new man, given by the power of regeneration, is the power by which Job will be preserved and glorified. Even in these thoughts Job expresses no cursing of people: no cursing of the Chaldeans or Sabeans, of his wife or of the three friends. But there is a commitment, and conviction, to remain faithful to God. There is no desire to commit suicide, but there is the confession: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (v. 15).
The occasion for this confession is very important for us to understand. The three friends have had their opportunity to speak against Job. They had held their tongues until after Job spoke in chapter 3. Beginning in chapter 4, Job’s so-called friends try to decipher the mystery surrounding Job. God has given us an insight into that mystery, but Job and his three friends knew nothing of the devil speaking to God in heaven. The friends therefore strive to determine, and to explain to Job, the purpose and the reason of his suffering. Each of them takes his turn. We find, throughout the book of Job, three distinct rounds, each round concluded by Job’s own response to their attempt. Job, replying to each in turn, denies the charges of the friends and demonstrates his determination to remain faithful to God.
The first speaker was Eliphaz, in chapters 4 and 5. Eliphaz, in a gentle, polite, but at the same time a heart-piercing manner, replies to Job. The theology of Eliphaz becomes evident: misery implies guilt; suffering is a sign of punishment. Therefore, the sins of Job are the true cause for his affliction. Not merely in general, but specifically. Job has committed, obviously, severe sins which would demand this suffering. Eliphaz cannot reconcile the notion of God’s justice with the suffering of the righteous. In his mind, all who suffer are wicked. His point is that Job has committed some evil deed which Job will not confess. Until Job confesses that evil deed, he will continue to suffer.
Eliphaz had been reserved till now, not daring to bring out anything definite. But later on, in his final speech in the coming chapters, Eliphaz, after he sees that Job is not silent and Job is not brought to confess any sin, begins to accuse Job of definite crimes. His point is that the only way that God removes suffering is by the confession of guilt and the humbling of oneself before God. Only then will prosperity be restored.
Eliphaz is dignified, he is polite. But he lays upon Job an undeserved reproof, rooted in a faulty conception of God’s justice and the suffering of the righteous. All suffering is indeed because of sin. But God does not punish His children for specific sins in the way of suffering. Rather, there are times when God sends sufferings, when He sends trials and afflictions, to test and to confirm the faith He has given. And such it was with respect to Job.
Bildad follows with a rougher and cruder attempt to explain Job’s suffering. Bildad’s focus is not so much on the righteousness of God and God’s justice as was that of Eliphaz, but more on God’s holiness. He assails poor Job, breaking open many wounds. We read of that in chapter 8. He does not offer any praise for Job, but instead advances a doctrine of God’s justice and absolute righteousness which does an injustice to God. Bildad implies that the children of the patriarch were killed as a punishment for their own sins. And Bildad explicitly challenges the integrity of Job and his children, denying the testimony of the Spirit in chapter 1 which stated that Job was perfect and upright. Bildad explicitly denies that, charging that Job, with his children, was a grievous sinner, a wicked man. And Bildad vainly attempts to cover his condemnation of Job with quotes from the ancients. He bases his arguments on tradition. His argument is that the aged fathers possess much knowledge, and their testimony supports Bildad’s assertion that the prosperity of the wicked is short-lived and their doom is certain. Again the implication is that Job is a wicked man. An evidence of that wickedness is the suffering which he is enduring.
Zophar is the third to respond. He is least sensitive of all and insults Job tremendously. Perhaps he is the youngest. Job, later, minces no words in revealing his folly. Zophar appears to be angered by Job’s persistence. In a fiery address he censures the afflicted servant of God without answering any of Job’s previous concerns or questions. Job had insisted, in his previous addresses, that he was innocent. In chapters 6 and 7, Job demonstrated his innocence and his faithfulness before God. In chapters 9 and 10 Job had denied his guilt with vehemence, insisting that he was, indeed, innocent-not that he was sinless, but that he was one who strove to walk uprightly before God. Zophar, belonging to the same school as the others, condemns Job’s lack of submitting to the advice of the men. He condemns Job’s words as foolish, even insisting that Job is receiving less that he deserves. Job lacks understanding and wisdom, according to Zophar. God is dealing kindly with him, says Zophar. And Zophar makes a bold assertion which he cannot prove: He appeals to God to prove that Job is such a great sinner. The only hope for Job is that he confess his pride and humble himself before God. Job is being so desperately wicked that, at this point, he is beyond being saved. The only hope for Job, they insist, is that he must own up to his wicked life and in that way experience again prosperity.
These three friends reveal a lack of true concern and love. There is an element of truth that runs throughout their speeches: sin and suffering are necessarily related. But, if all suffering is due to punishment, why do some of the worst criminals escape it? Their emphasis on the attributes of God is received and accepted by Job. God is indeed righteous, as Eliphaz pointed out. God is indeed holy, as Bildad stressed. God is indeed wise in all of His dealings, as Zophar argued. But they failed to understand the relationship between sin and suffering. And they misrepresent that relationship as they tried to apply it to Job.
God indeed punishes sin. That punishment occurs here in this life already in a temporal manner, and ultimately in hell. But those who are God’s children are merely chastised for their sin. The punishment is put upon Jesus Christ. Job understood in a small way, by faith, that truth.
The so-called friends did not. Their presence merely throws salt in Job’s wounds. He has asked for their counsel. Perhaps they had a good intent. But Job now expresses how wronged he feels by them. He is willing to stand corrected. But now they are laying upon his heart a darkness of soul, implying that God’s love is no longer evident or present, implying that God is acting out of hatred toward him. A Christian cannot live a life devoid of God’s love. The Christian must be assured that God’s love is present, that God’s love is eternal. Man’s piety is not proven by temporal prosperity and personal comfort. That was the point of these three friends. If we are to know how spiritual men are, we need only to look at whether or not they are suffering. If a man is suffering, then he is less spiritual than one who is experiencing wealth and prosperity. Such, in a nutshell, was the theology of these men. The speeches of the three friends, therefore, are entirely devoid of love. No kindness, no genuine concern. No attempt to listen to Job. But only a self-righteous attempt to convince Job that he is a greater sinner than they are.
We must take that warning to heart. Often our response also is that of self-righteous pride, esteeming ourselves above others, implying, perhaps, that their struggles and suffering are because of their sins. And we puff ourselves up in pride because we have been exempted from such suffering.
Such is not true. Job turns to acknowledge God’s majesty and God’s goodness. The majesty of God demands that we stand before God in truth. The friends have falsified the truth of God’s Word. They have formulated lies and faulty conceptions of God’s righteousness, holiness, and wisdom. Job tries to convince the friends not to be so foolish as to attempt anything against God and His Word. We must adore Him in all of His works, especially when we consider our feebleness and frailty. Who is man that he can reply against God? But God’s infinite glory and majesty must be the object of our consideration.
When we consider God’s infinite power and greatness, we will guard our tongues. We will not accuse God of unjust actions or deeds. We will not attempt to bring God down to our level. But, even in the midst of our sorrow, faith will prevail. For the strength which we need to persevere in the midst of our trials is a superhuman strength. Job acknowledges the plight in which he finds himself. He stands before God now with his flesh in his teeth. It is as if he were torn to pieces and is obliged even to take up his own flesh and skin and to carry them with him. His life is in his hands, that is, his life is ebbing from him and virtually gone. And Job confesses that he is more dead than alive. If God does not, sometimes, summon us so that we feel our sins and what endless death is, we will never know how to discuss the truth of God. Babblers, though they boast before men, know nothing of the living God. But those who have been pressed like Job know and confess their weakness and their dependence upon God. They are ones who have been brought low, perhaps. But when we are weak, then we are strong.
Job, here, is battling against total despair. His so-called friends are no friends. But God’s mercy is reserved for him at this time. And when Job has come to the depths of despair in excessive sorrow, he restrains himself and still continues to confess God’s goodness. He does so as a servant of God, as we are. “Though Jehovah kill him,” he confesses, “yet his trust will not waver.”
The friends have implied that Job’s suffering is a result of sin and the judgment of God. And, if indeed, it is, then if God would kill Job, that would be the final expression of God’s anger and wrath. And if Job’s life were taken, Job would be cast into everlasting destruction.
Job, however, knows that that is not true. That cannot be true. God is God. Job knew God as his covenant friend and he knew that his God would never leave nor forsake him. “I will trust in him.” He lets the faithful fall? He cannot! But He will maintain His own until the very end. And Job, therefore, will continue to maintain his ways before God. Not that he will insist on salvation on the basis of his own righteousness. But faith is not passive. Faith demands a pleading with God on the basis of God’s promises. And Job will continue to maintain his own ways before God because his ways are the ways of humble dependence on God’s promises. He will plead and trust and believe the promises of God, even in the midst of great affliction, for faith cannot be shaken off God’s promises.
Job, therefore, reveals a knowledge and understanding of God’s ways. God brings the righteous to suffer in order that their faith be made the greater. At first sight a man would say, Here is judgment. But Job knew the mercy and love of God. And having once experienced that love and mercy, he knew that God could not change. God’s goodness was such that He would never leave His children. And, no matter what the world may do, His saints will be preserved.
While we live in the midst of this world, we experience with Job groanings and bondage to sin. We experience sufferings, struggles. Faith is the power alone by which we hold fast to God as our Father. And our confidence is such that He is our Father, we must call upon Him. Indeed, He afflicts me. And when I am minded to come to Him, I will not always be confident that I am heard because of my own sin. But truly I wait upon God in silence and rest upon His promises, confident that Jesus Christ is my Mediator, praying for me even when it feels as though my prayers cannot enter into the throne room of God, confident that He will be my salvation. And faith draws us in silence to walk the path of obedience.
In the midst of Job’s darkness a light from heaven shines. He sees the greatness of God and he knows that though God slay him, it will not be an expression of God’s wrath and hatred. But God will use that to take him to heaven. Therefore, his so-called friends are wrong. Their doctrine is no doctrine of comfort. For Job knows deep in his heart the amazing grace of God: that God is so great and mighty and that God’s ways can never ever change.
Job pleads with this great God to withdraw His heavy hand and to forgive him if he has sinned, for the burden of sin is greater than he can bear. The shame and guilt of that sin is more than he can handle. God alone can remove that burden and give him the assurance of light. And God does not allow the friends of Job to remove all Job’s joy of heart and confidence in God.
Though Job’s faith does not fail, it does shake in the face of these powerful trials and temptations. Our faith, at times, falters and shakes. But that faith can never be taken from us, for that faith is maintained and preserved by the power of Jesus Christ, by His Spirit in our hearts. Therefore Job cannot be cast off. The fruit of faith cannot be smothered. God is indeed just and righteous. Man is a sinner. But God will preserve him, those whom He has called by His grace and by His strength. Job, therefore, desires not human wisdom. He does not desire the wisdom of the ancients. What can be compared to the Almighty? What is the answer to the chasm between God and man? A Mediator. Job alludes to that possibility in chapter 9 already, in verses 30-35, stating there the possibility and the reality of a “daysman” betwixt us-a daysman, one who will stand between himself and God and one, therefore, who will preserve him to the very end.
Job’s comfort is in God and his assurance is that God will send a mediator to stand between him and his sin. We see then Job’s faith towering above the earthly difficulties. We see the power of God’s grace continuing to preserve His child. And that power of faith we have with Job. That same faith has been given to us, not only by way of the promises, but by way of the power of Jesus Christ. On the basis of that faith we, with Job, press forward. God is good. God is faithful. Even when I cannot see my way, even when it feels as though all is falling around me, even when all of my so-called friends turn their backs on me, I will trust in Him who sticks closer than a brother. He will strengthen me more and more in faith. And by faith we will be victorious in temptation. By faith, though He slay me, I will trust in Him, because it will be the means by which He will cause me to trust in Him even the more.
Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the confidence of faith which Thou hast given unto us. And we pray that Thou wilt grant us strength and devotion to trust in Thee and to be confident that Thy ways indeed are good and perfect, that we might submit to Thee and experience from Thee that strength which we need. Amen.