In chapter 23, Job’s emotions alternate between hope and despair. In this he makes his faith, and his confusion as to matters of Theodicy, obvious.
The chapter begins with Job defending himself against the accusation that his complaints are too “bitter” or “rebellious,” depending upon one’s translation of Job 23:2. His reason for his tone is simple: “His [God’s] hand is heavy despite my groaning.” It is through this lens we must understand Job’s excesses in his complaints and accusations about God. Job appears to be aware what he is saying is extreme, but asks for pardon because of how substantial his suffering is.
However, as we have touched on before Job still has faith in God, even though he is dazzled by the rug being pulled from under him. “Oh that I knew where I might find Him…I would present my case before Him,” says Job with hope in Job 23:3-4. “Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me” (Job 23:6).
Job’s earlier apprehensions about God declaring him guilty though he be in the right merely because of His brute strength (Job 9:2-4, 15), appear to be fading away. His hope is in his Redeemer: “There the upright would reason with Him and I would be delivered forever from my Judge” (Job 23:7). Job sees that Jesus Christ delivers us forever from God the Father’s judgment: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
For the rest of the chapter, Job’s emotions alternate between hope and despair, before settling on a dark note that continues into Chapter 24. His Redeemer seems curiously absent amidst the present time (Job 23:8-9). Yet, Job knows that after the test is over he will still be accepted in His sight (Job 23:10-12). Acknowledging Prov 17:3 (“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests hearts”) Job asserts, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
As the chapter continues, Job concurs with the Psalmist: “The arrogant utterly deride me, yet I do not turn aside from Your law” (Ps 119:51, see Job 23:11). Further, he understands that obedience to God is more important than food (Job 23:12). Job’s experience appears to echo Deut 8:3: “He humbled you and let you be hungry…that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”
The “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and is “God breathed” (1 Tim 3:16). Whether Job’s words were recorded before the preceding Scripture references or were gathered by the inspired writer afterwards, it is apparent that Job’s mind is conformed to God’s in many respects. We want to think, speak, and apply Scripture like Job does. We want it to be part of us and come out of us, because it reflects that the Holy Spirit is at work in us.
Job, after displaying such spiritual heights, falls back into despair. God’s nature makes Him unwavering (Job 23:13) and so from this he infers that God clearly wills and decrees his suffering (Job 23:14). This makes Job terrified of God (Job 23:15) for it is “God who has made my heart faint and the Almighty who has dismayed me” (Job 23:16). The fact that God ordains suffering does not sit well with Job, just as it does not with many Godly men to this day.
The chapter ends with a note of dissatisfaction. Though Job’s whole worldview has been submerged into darkness and chaos by his experience, he wants to make his voice heard before he dies. As we will see in the next chapter, Job is about to destroy the arguments of his friends that God is always retributive. In fact, just as easily as God can permit suffering to overtake the Godly, He allows evil men to prevail. And, if whatever “His soul desires, that He does” (Job 23:14), God therefore ordains it and is ultimately accountable.