In this chapter, Job looks again to death as his release from suffering only to find that he hopes for something more and that this hope survives in death.
After reflecting on what seems to be a lack of hope that things will ever get better in this life, or that his friends will help him (Job 17:1-2), Job now appeals directly to God.
First, he prays to God to lay down a “pledge” (i.e. promise) that he will be vindicated against his friends (Job 17:3). Why? Job knows that they are speaking wrongly about God and that this is an offense to Him.
In a surprising display of insight into the sovereignty of God, Job asserts that it was God Himself who has “kept their heart[s] from understanding” (Job 17:4). The Scripture says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Because Job knew that what his friends said was untrue and not good, he can conclude that what they spoke of did not come from God (in which only good can come forth).
Then, how does God withhold from their hearts understanding so that they speak falsehood, without He putting falsehood on their lips? Micaiah the prophet gives us a picture of it:
Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit [the Satan] came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you” (1 Kings 22:19-23).
And so God permits Satan to deceive, the one being deceived wants to believe the lie, and all of this occurs in accordance with God’s will as judgment against those who listen to Satan’s lies. The same course of events, including the lying spirit being sent by God, also occurs in 2 Kings 19:6-7. There, Isaiah prophesies that because “the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me…I will put a spirit in him so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land. And I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.” So, the King of Assyria’s itching ears (2 Tim 4:3), anticipating such a rumor, are used against him and to his own hurt as punishment for his sin.
Those who deny Christ and instead continue in their sin will also suffer such judgement. Paul warns, “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thes 2:11-12).
Is God unfair? No, because those who were sent the “deluding influence so that they will believe what is false” already “did not believe the truth.” Being that there are “none who seek God” (Rom 3:11), apart from His grace every one of us believes a lie, lives in wickedness, and deserves to tempted to believe our own self-deception by Satan and his demons.
Why does not God than have mercy on all, for all equally do not know the truth apart from grace? Why are some shown the light while others remain in darkness, with their blindness compounded as punishment for their willful blindness? Augustine may have the answer:
For by giving to some what they do not deserve, He has certainly willed that His grace should be gratuitous, and thus genuine grace; by not giving to all, He has shown what all deserve. Good in His goodness to some, righteous in the punishment of others; both good in respect of all, because it is good when that which is due is rendered, and righteous in respect of all, since that which is not due is given without wrong to any one (Chapter 28).
Therefore, Job’s claim that God Himself has kept his friends’ hearts from understanding is actually a very astute and Scripturally consistent assertion. Because God is at work in heaping up condemnation against his friends, this gives Job confidence in two things. First, he will be vindicated. Second, his friends and their progeny (those who follow them in speaking such errors) will be punished by a righteous God (Job 17:5). Job asserts that the “upright” and “innocent,” God’s faithful people, can see how this is the case. Further, they would empathize with Job’s profound suffering (Job 17:6-8).
The ninth verse (“Nevertheless the righteous will hold to his way and he who has clean hands will grow stronger and stronger”) can be quite confusing. If it relates to the preceding three verses, it merely speaks further of Job’s vindication and expresses a confidence that the faithful, though afflicted, will become increasingly resolute.
However, Job may be speaking in sarcasm about his friends, which would connect with verse 10 (where he calls all of them “unwise” because of their opinions.) This would anticipate the friends accusations against Job growing increasingly fierce. We may not be able to know with certainty what Job is getting at here, but either interpretation does not prevent a consistent reading of the text.
Finally, to end of the chapter, Job yearns for death (which he apparently believes will take years) in the same way he does in chapter 10. In Sheol there will be no more pain and perhaps he places his hope in future resurrection as he describes these thoughts. Nonetheless, there is a mistakenly dark element in his melancholy musings.
The darkness and nothingness of death to Job appears to him as light, as it will bring him relief from suffering (Job 17:12-13). The coming of death is inviting to him (Job 17:14).
Yet, this escalation of darkness as light, and release of suffering as comfort, ultimately does not sit well with Job. Is that it? Do we suffer and we are no more?
No, Job’s faith does not allow him. He places his hope in His God and the resurrection of the righteous in Christ. “Where now is my hope?,” he asks in Job 17:15. His hope is within him, because it is his faith in God. “And who regards my hope?” The Lord does.
“Will it [my hope] go down with me to Sheol? Shall we together go down into the dust?,” Job asks concerning his hope in verse 16. It is a rhetorical question. He already said that he thought his death was sure in a few years. However, his ultimate release from suffering is not his death in Sheol. His hope will follow him there and he will be resurrected from the dead, because his Redeemer lives.