In chapter 30, Job describes how profound his misfortune is in order to begin arguing his case that God is not dealing justly.
Job just finished describing what his life was like when his way was guided by God’s light. It was a life full of blessing and others acknowledging his righteousness. It would seem that blessing and righteousness went hand-in-hand, one following the other.
However, after defending his righteousness and proving his understanding that fearing the Lord is true wisdom, Job now expresses his disgust in the reversal of his fortunes. “It just cannot be right,” thinks Job. “There is something seriously wrong with this.”
Job’s charge against God is found in the middle of the chapter: “You have become cruel to me, with the might of Your hand You persecute me” (Job 30:21). How has God persecuted him?
The first example is that instead of being seen with respect as he was before, even children mock him (Job 30:1). In the modern day, where Bart Simpson calls his father a dope and we don’t bat an eyelash, this may not be such a big deal. However, for most of the world outside the West, and most of history, treating the elderly with such disrespect is unthinkable.
In some cultures, such as Cambodia, the way a younger person greets an older person is done in a fashion that shows respect due to their age. They do this by raising their hands to their face and bowing, using special age-specific terms to address the elder, while the elder returns the greeting by notably bowing back with her or his hand positioned chest-level. The fact the young must raise their hands higher shows deference to the elderly. Now, imagine doing that to each person in accordance with their age! This is like second nature to most people throughout history. So, what Job is observing is no minor annoyance. It is as if the whole social order has been overturned!
The second example, that Job takes some time to describe, is that of his being dishonored by his time and place’s “lowlives.” These homeless vagabonds (Job 30:6, 7) are so lowly in Job’s eyes that they would not be worthy enough to be “put with the dogs of my flock” (Job 30:1). They are lazy (Job 30:2) and malnourished on account of it (Job 30:3, 4). These “fools” (Job 30:7) would be from the poorer, rejected element of society.
Every time and place has had them. In the United States it is the “trailer trash” or racial minorities. In Japan it is the Korean minority. Being that in reality not everyone belonging to such a group would be the “fools” Job talks of, it would be useful to think of the homeless drug addicts and winos, who break into cars and steal radios, to be of the sort Job is speaking of.
These men, with their fair share of profound issues, were now in the position to taunt Job (Job 30:9, 10)! Before, they did not dare, but now Job has lost his fortune and his appearance is disfigured. The point Job is trying to convey is that his own superficial society has rejected him to the point where even the rejects look down upon him.
They “profit from Job’s destruction” by robbing what is left from his property and devising schemes against him (Job 30:12, 13). They hit Job like crashing waves “amid the tempest,” as if they are another punishment from God (Job 30:14). Job does not blame man’s “free will” for this course of events. Instead, it is God that “has loosed His bowstring and afflicted me” leading to whatever “bridle” or hedge holding back the lowlives to disappear so that they are no longer restrained from assaulting Job (Job 30:11).
An interesting comment Job makes about these men is that, “They pursue my honor as the wind” (Job 30:15). In modern societies that do not follow practices such as “honor killings,” the term honor does not quite carry the importance or implications that it would in Job’s time.
Space does not permit an extremely detailed discussion here, but “honor” was to the ancients a bank account of respect. Think of it how maybe during the Great Depression, everyone was poor so no one had any financial means in which to be respected more than the next. So, a man having “his word” meant something. He might not have any money, but that man had “his word!”
Likewise, in older times, the “family name” meant something. For example, the idea of divorce was very difficult for many to swallow, but not because of religious reasons. Rather, people were afraid of ruining, as you may guess, “the family name.” The “family name” was important for people want to marry into “good families.” A “good family” was not always rich, but marrying into such a family was sought after because they were seen as a cohesive body of respectable people. Having the reputation of being good was in many ways more important than money.
These illustrations help us understand what honor is like, but in reality honor itself is a little more complicated than this. Individuals had honor such as their “word,” but they also had honor as a family unit (i.e. “the family name.”) The way this plays out in an honor killing would often work like this: a man sleeps with an unwed daughter of another family. The man not only gratifies himself, but by shaming the woman accrues personal honor at her expense. She is not supposed to be sleeping with anyone so by not doing her socially expected duty, she loses her honor and it is given to the man who slept with her. The family, due to their family’s shame, likewise loses their overall honor.
When one’s honor is slighted, outsiders perceive you as weak and prime for shaming, so that they can accrue honor at your expense. It essentially becomes a free-for-all at the expense of the family that just lost their honor.
How does one protect himself from being abused in a vicious cycle? In this situation, a male representative of the shamed family often will kill the man who slept with his sister. This restores to his family some degree of honor, while accruing personal honor to the brother for fulfilling his fraternal duty. In some situations, the woman is also killed because her continued existence is seen as a slight on the family’s honor.
Now all of this sounds crazy, but understanding it helps open up meaning in many parts of the Bible. For example, when Joseph learns that his betrothed, Mary, is already with child, the Scripture says, “[B]eing a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly” (Matt 1:19). He would have been in his right to publicly divorce her, if not have her stoned as an adulterer (Lev 20:10). But, he was a “righteous” and humble man, not seeking to disgrace or hurt his betrothed in any way in order that he might restore some of his depreciated honor.
Likewise, in the Old Testament there are designated “cities of refuge” to serve as sanctuaries for men who killed other family’s family members by mistake (Num 35:11-24). The dynamic at work with the vengeance killing has to do with restoring honor. As we said before, among pagan cultures, to let someone just kill your family member (or sleep with them, or defraud them, or wrong them in anyway) dealt a blow to one’s honor, leading to one being open to continued abuse. God in His mercy provided a way for His people to have their lives preserved and mitigate the role that “honor” would have played in perpetuating bloodshed.
So, when the lowlives pursue Job’s “honor as the wind,” they are targeting Job in his moment of weakness. It is to be expected in this honor-obsessed culture. But, because Job is a blameless man, it is a grave injustice. What Job is trying to show in his case to God is that it is unjust to take a man, who is walking with fear before Him, and then raise him up only to crush him in every imaginable way where even those with nothing seek to shame him. There is no greater shame and dishonor that Job can be exposed to. He has been utterly humiliated.
Job’s low estate extends beyond humiliation. He is in physical pain (Job 30:17, 30), anxiety and depression grips him (Job 30:16, 26-28, 31), and now has to live with privation and homelessness (Job 30:29).
Yet, calling out to God for help does not help. This is what puts Job into despair, because he would have otherwise been confident before that God stays true to His promises and delivers His faithful ones.
I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me;
I stand up, and You turn Your attention against me.
You have become cruel to me; (By not being true to His promises.)
With the might of Your hand You persecute me. (God is responsible for the persecutions because He ordains them and it is in His power to stop them at any moment.)
You lift me up to the wind and cause me to ride;
And You dissolve me in a storm.
For I know that You will bring me to death
And to the house of meeting for all living (At this point, Job feels his death is assured and he has been forsaken, Job 30:20-23).
And if the righteous can be forsaken, then “what is the point of it all?,” Job wonders. Much like Asaph in Ps 73 or Jeremiah in Jer 12 who can perceive that God allows the wicked to prosper and therefore questions the point in being righteous, Job picks up on this stream of thought again:
Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand,
Or in his disaster therefore cry out for help? (God, I am crying for help why are you not listening?)
Have I not wept for the one whose life is hard?
Was not my soul grieved for the needy? (What benefit is there in being righteous in this life?)
When I expected good, then evil came;
When I waited for light, then darkness came (If these things be true, how can I know if my faith in you is true? Reality seems to be the opposite of what I am experiencing…; Job 30:24-26)
In response to God not rectifying his situation, and seeing that it is in God’s nature not to bless him (at least, in a way he understands to be a blessing), Job can only mourn (Job 30:31). Now that Job has shown that being righteous is of no worldly profit, he begins his final defense to His judge.