In the previous two lessons, we learned how we live in a God-centered universe that God permits suffering, because it leads to greater good and glorifies Him. Men, in their totally depraved hearts are often prevented from sinning by God’s grace, and Satan operates only when God gives His chain some slack by removing “hedges” that protect us. Now, as you can guess, Job’s friends don’t understand any of this. In fact, they sound a lot like how all non-Christians understand suffering.
“What goes around comes around.” Have you ever heard of this platitude? People call it karma, they call it the law of the universe, they can call it whatever they want. People want to believe that if you’re a real jerk, God or something out there is “gonna get ya.”
Why do people believe this? The world is full of liars, cheaters, and flat-out sadists that are doing quite well for themselves. Why do people believe something so out of touch with reality? People want to believe it is true, because they have an innate sense of fairness that is violated on a daily basis. So, people make up a god or impersonal force that metes out justice the way they wish it was.
Their made up sense of karma appeals to them because it is “fair,” so they often reject God because he’s not the god they want. To understand why people reject God when they think life is “unfair,” it is important to review Epicurus’ argument against the existence of God. We’re in church. We’re not here to learn Greek philosophy. Thankfully, what Epicurus said is both really wrong, but really easy to understand. We need to understand it, because as we will see, Job’s friends anticipated Epicurus’ reasoning by more than 1,000 years.
Epicurus’ said: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
In short, if evil exists then God must either not be all that good because He did not stop it, not that powerful because He cannot stop it, or not that smart because He does not know when or how to stop it. How can God be good but there be evil?
Job’s friends bought Epicurus’ argument. Their defense of God’s justice appears to anticipate Epicurus’ reasoning: God is omniscient/omnipotent/omnibenevolent, but there is evil in the world. God is not lacking in knowledge/power/goodness where He cannot stop it. Therefore, evil MUST be the just punishment for sin. So, if Job is experiencing evils in his life, he must be committing sins.
Horatio Spafford, the modern Job. We already talked about how Horatio Spafford is like a modern-day Job. He not only lost a ton of property and his family, he was accused of wickedness. Why? Because his only son died of scarlet fever. Taken in conjunction with the loss of the rest of his children earlier and his property, his Presbyterian church was convinced he was not God’s elect, as they could not imagine an all-powerful God permitting such a holy man to experience such profound evils. Spafford was never vindicated. Him and his wife, perhaps weary of the world, packed their bags and moved to then-Palestine to wait for Jesus’ second coming. There, Spafford died of malaria before reaching the age of 60. So, God allowed J.P. Morgan, David Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt to make fortunes to live long, prosperous lives when they essentially ripped people off for a living. Spafford died of disease and in relative poverty. Is God fair in this? Maybe some of us have our doubts.
Job’s Friends were convinced that God would not allow such a thing to happen to a righteous man. As we can see, Job’s friends often have a correct premise, but an incorrect conclusion. They are right that God is just, but they are wrong in thinking that God therefore cannot allow bad things to happen to “good people.”
The core arguments of Job’s friends. Job’s friends defend their view of God never allowing evil in three ways. 1. God punishes wickedness. 2. God is inscrutable. 3. Man is totally depraved and deserves nothing. All three of these things are totally true, but these truths are misapplied. God has been gracious to us in the Scripture to have this occur so that we may understand how to properly understand and not misapply the truth. This is something we can so easily do when left to our own wisdom like Job’s friends.
In the following, I am going to sum up the arguments of Job’s friends, about 10 chapters worth, in thematic and sequential order:
Accusations that Job’s committed wickedness.
Eliphaz said, “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it” (Job 4:8).
We know that the Bible says that “you reap what you sow.” So, Eliphaz is correct in this in a general sense. However, we do not always reap what we so right now. Rom 2:7-8 shows that we ultimately reap what we sow in the afterlife:
To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
Later on, a friend of Job’s named Bildad answers his own question:
Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
If your sons sinned against Him,
Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.
If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate (Job 8:3-6).
As we can see, Bildad is being very insensitive. He implies that Job’s children were killed as recompense for sin. After shoving this into Job’s face, he says if Job only repents, God will accept him again. Bildad cannot understand how God will not pervert justice on one hand and yet account Job as blameless. Obviously, Bildad does not agree with God’s sense of justice and would in fact consider God unjust, because that is precisely what God really did.
The last friend, Zophar beats around the bush a little bit and says, “If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness dwell in your tents” (Job 11:14). The obvious implication is that Job committed iniquity and he turned a blind eye to the wickedness of his family members or servants (hence the reference to wickedness dwelling in his tents.)
Job’s friends grow increasingly less tactful in their speech and simply start accusing Job of imagined wrongdoing. Eliphaz said, “For your guilt teaches your mouth and you choose the language of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; and your own lips testify against you“ (Job 15:5-6).
In fact, Eliphaz’s final accusation against Job appears is even harsher. It also appears to reveal a subtle jealousy of Job’s wealth and righteousness, as he seems to accuse Job of doing the exact opposite things that Job really did:
Is not your wickedness great,
And your iniquities without end?
For you have taken pledges of your brothers without cause,
And stripped men naked.
To the weary you have given no water to drink,
And from the hungry you have withheld bread…
You have sent widows away empty,
And the strength of the orphans has been crushed.
Therefore snares surround you,
And sudden dread terrifies you (Job 22:5-7, 9-10).
Job’s friends are not done! They throw even more you-know-what at the wall to see if it sticks by defending God in a way that contradicts their earlier defense.
In fact, they argue that God’s ways are completely inscrutable. Obviously, this contradicts the “God punishes you because you’re evil” idea because if God is inscrutable, you really wouldn’t know why people are punished. When bad things happen to “good” people, sometimes the best response we give is that “God works in mysterious ways.” This is just a simple way of saying that, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD” (Is 55:8). However, Job’s friends seem not to be making a profound point, but rather an intellectual cop-out because they simply cannot rationalize Job’s situation. We must be careful not to do the same when speaking to someone who is suffering.
Eliphaz says for example that, “They [men] die, yet without wisdom” (Job 4:21). So, does that mean we have no way to understand why there is evil in the world? He would have us think so.
Zophar asks Job:
Can you discover the depths of God?
Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?
They are high as the heavens, what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol, what can you know (Job 11:7-8)?
There is an element of truth, as apart from the Holy Spirit we cannot know God. However, He is not completely unknowable nor knowledge of Him unattainable. We discover God in the Scripture and He reveals Himself to us by His Holy Spirit. The Scripture says, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:8-9).
So, anything worth knowing can be known, it is in the Scripture and it is not too difficult to understand.
Man’s total depravity means he can be punished at any point.
Voddie Baucham once posed the question as a rhetorical response to the problem of evil: “Why shouldn’t God put us all in hell right now?” This is a sort of defense for God that Job’s friends invoke, but in reference to Job it does not hold up.
Eliphaz tells Job that he not only speaks with wisdom, but a vision in the night gave him a prophecy. The angel told him a profound truth: “Can mankind be just before God?…against His angels He charges error” (Job 4:17, 18).
Eliphaz interpreted the angelic message as follows:
What is man, that he should be pure,
Or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?
Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones,
And the heavens are not pure in His sight;
How much less one who is detestable and corrupt,
Man, who drinks iniquity like water (Job 15:14-16)!
Do we agree with Eliphaz’s prophecy? Where does it come from? Let’s look again at prophecy the spirit told Eliphaz:
Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker (Job 4:17)?
The vision starts with deceptive representation of the truth. “Can mankind be just before God?” The answer it anticipates is “no.” Of course, this is true and it is precisely because it is true we require an alien righteousness, that is Christ’s, to be just before God.
However, this is not what the spirit encourages Eliphaz to think. Instead, Eliphaz interprets the statement to mean that God is right to crush man and punish him arbitrarily, for there is nothing good in him: “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, for man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (5:6-7).
The Snake in the garden. Doesn’t the rhetorical question sound a bit similar to the snake in the garden. “Did God really say?…Surely you will not die…” Satan asks a rhetorical question and once he gets the listener wrong footed, he encourages him to make the wrong conclusion by asserting a false statement. He is bitter that God even charges His angels with error! So, if he is charged with error and cannot escape judgment, surely he does not want you to know that you can escape your righteous conviction for your sin by faith in Christ!
Some Calvinists like Eliphaz’s verses, but misapply them. You might have heard Calvinists quote these verses before to substantiate the doctrine of total depravity. Even Saint Paul quotes Job 5:13 in 1 Cor 3:19, “He takes the wise in His own craftiness.” Not everything Eliphaz says is wrong, but he goes too far. God puts trust in many of His angels, He does not charge all of them with error. He is in the heavens, He does whatever He pleases…it is not as if the heavens are unclean in His eyes, in the first day God created the heavens and the earth, and it was good.
Satan is a deceiver and he presents us a warped take on total depravity. Indeed, man is impure, but a man born of a woman can be righteous. Obviously, Jesus was born of a woman, as are all of us that are righteous in Christ by faith. It is obvious that he does not want us looking to Christ!
Being righteous in Christ disallows Job’s friend’s conclusions. When Eliphaz asks, “Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect” (Job 22:3) we know that he is wrong. God loves righteousness, “For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” (Ps 149:4).
There is a reason Job’s friends retreat to the doctrine of total depravity. It is the hardest to disprove, because it logically makes sense: because man is depraved, God is always in the right to arbitrarily punish him. The last speech from one of Job’s friends is Bildad’s and it ends on this point. Let’s turn to chapter 25 and consider it carefully.
Aquinas sums up Bildad’s argument quite nicely: “He wants to show in this that man cannot propose his own justice and innocence, however great it may be, as it is reckoned as nothing in comparison to God, when divine justice is in question.”
It’s a solid point. In fact, if men have done nothing to merit their own salvation, then their eternal damnation and punishment is totally deserved because they have wronged an infinitely great God. And so, if man already deserves eternal damnation, why would it be unjust if God caused him suffering whenever He wanted to?
Bildad begins his argument speaking of God’s inimitable power, implying that His station makes Him unquestionable: “Dominion and awe belong to Him…” (Job 25:2). Afterward, he explains why: “…who establishes peace in His heights. Is there any number to His troops? And upon whom does His light not rise” (Job 25:2-3)?
God has dominion, because he controls the heavens and the Earth. He enforces His control with His holy angels. Much like the idiom “the sun never sets on the British Empire,” wherever God sheds His light, which is everywhere, He exercises authority. Therefore, dominion is not only His because of His complete and total sovereignty, but also He is awe-inspiring as His power cannot be matched.
How does Bildad imagine His power? When Bildad speaks of a great tranquility in heaven, Matthew Henry’s says that, “The holy angels never quarrel with him, nor with one another, but entirely acquiesce in His will, and unanimously execute it without murmuring or disputing. Thus the will of God is done in heaven; and thus we pray that it may be done by us and others on earth.” However, other commentators like Joseph Caryl and Aquinas have pointed out that Bildad is speaking of God’s awesome authority. He establishes peace, which means He takes it by force. This is not a picture of peace as Henry imagines, but a picture of war.
We may infer that this is an accurate view by looking at Satan’s fall in the Scripture the:
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit (Is 14:13-15, ESV).
Rev 9:1 appears to substantiate this: “Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star [“Morning Star” aka “Lucifer,” Is 14:12] from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him.” Hence, the falling has already occurred and it will occur again when Satan is thrust into the lake of fire for eternity.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask that “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This should remind us of what we are really praying for. After all, God’s will is done both on Earth and Heaven already for He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). However, we know that Satan is “the prince of this world” (John 12:30, John 14:31). A ruler has been given dominion, but Satan has not been given complete sovereignty. So, when we pray for the Father’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, we are asking for Him to protect us. After all, He has established perfect peace in heaven by casting Satan out.
It should not surprise us that the final request in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” is followed up with its rationale: “for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”So the Lord’s prayer ends just as it begins. God can deliver us because of who He is and His power. Satan does not have a lasting kingdom. He is ultimately toothless.
Bildad appears to understand God’s great strength, but he wrongly concludes that because God is awesome man is by necessity meaningless to Him when he concludes, “How then can a man be just with God” (Job 25:3)? The idea is that God can simply punish wicked man arbitrarily. Bildad’s retribution philosophy puts God in a box that He does not fit into, because God does not take “pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather” desires their repentance (Ezek 33:11).
Bildad then follows up the rhetorical question with a point that Eliphaz already made: “How can he be clean who is born of woman” (Job 25:3)? We already know the answer to this. Christians, like Job, can be clean because their sins are nailed to the cross and they are imputed Christ’s righteousness.
Bildad then ends with one last rhetorical question meant to convey the unworthiness of man: “If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight how much less man, that maggot, and the son of man,that worm” (Job 25:5-6)!
The New Jerusalem won’t have lights…It is so easy to be drawn in by Bildad’s argument. We know that in the Book of Revelation, there will be no sun, moon, and probably stars because compared to the light emanating from God, they are complete darkness. They would obscure the truth in that same darkness (Rev 21:23-24). As David spoke of God in heaven: “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light” (Ps 36:9). However, this is not what Bildad is talking about. He is essentially reiterating Eliphaz’s argument: “The heavens are not clean in His sight” (Job 15:15).
This is really at the core of what Bildad is saying: If even the greatest things are nothing to God, than to presume man means anything to God where He should prevent man’s suffering makes no sense. No one cries when a maggot or worm is crushed. Man is meaningless to God.
This is a very strong and internally consistent argument. Epicurus’ whole problem of evil, where the existence of evil somehow would make God not omniscient, omnipotent, nor omnibenevolent, is exposed as idiocy by Bildad’s point.
The only good reason God should be good enough, or powerful enough, or smart enough to stop evil according to Epicurus is that human suffering should presumably matter to God. However, if man is no more special than a worm, or evoluted from a pile of scum that originated 1.2 billion years ago, then man is nothing and what he confronts has no profound meaning in the universe.
Bildad’s argument should silence atheists, but not Christians. We understand that the universe is Theocentric and not Anthropocentric. Yet, thanks to God’s revelation we know that man is made in the “image of God” (Gen 1:27). God the Son has both human and divine natures that exist in their fullness so that He is fully God and fully man. He existed before His incarnation not in bodily form, but now has a body “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3). Therefore, the universe does not revolve around man, but God does have plans and purposes for man. Man is the only creature that can partake in a divine union with God by being in Christ. He is certainly more than a worm.
In summing up Job’s friends, we may conclude that they are accurate in saying that God punishes wickedness. 2. God is inscrutable. 3. Man is totally depraved and deserves nothing. However, they are wrong in concluding that righteous men like Job always suffer as a result of wickedness, that God cannot be understood at all, and that man’s depravity makes God into some sort of arbitrary judge that metes out justice at a whim. What remains to be seen is how Job, in his suffering, responds to these arguments from his friends.