There is a sense that Job’s friends are correct. No man can stand before God undeserving of suffering if we already concede that all men merit their own damnation. But how does this apply to Job who is not lacking in righteousness, but is clothed in Christ’s righteousness?
In the previous lessons, we covered how Job was a blameless man who was accused of wrongdoing from his friends, all of which wanted to give an explanation as to why God is just in the face of Job’s suffering. They argued that men suffer for punishment for sin, that man is totally depraved and has it coming to him at any moment, and ultimately God’s ways are inscrutable.
Just as Job’s friends gave the same explanations, Job repeats the same points throughout his dialogues: He laments of his suffering, questions his friends’ motives, defends his faithfulness, and overtly questions God’s justice. It is the latter in which he will later repent of.
Laments of his suffering.
Job is initially apologetic: “my words have been rash…for the arrows of the Almighty are within me” (Job 6:3-4).
Then he goes ahead and says rash things like the following:
“…My adversary glares at me… His arrows surround me.
Without mercy He splits my kidneys open;
He pours out my gall on the ground.
“He breaks through me with breach after breach;
He runs at me like a warrior” (Job 16:9, 13-14).
But these excesses are understandable due to the duration of the suffering. Job says, “So am I allotted months of vanity, and nights of trouble are appointed me” (Job 7:3). It is likely that Job is giving an indication of the time which elapsed between the time in which Satan destroyed his family and property to the present.
One of Job’s laments mirrors Solomon’s in Ecclesiastes. Job says, “Is not man forced to labor on earth and are not his days like the days of a hired man?…When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night continues, And I am continually tossing until dawn” (Job 7:1, 4). Solomon observes, “It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with” (Ecc 1:13). He again observes, “Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity” (Ecc 2:23). In the former, Solomon is reflecting on life itself while in the latter he speaks specifically of work.
Job later makes an entirely different complaint and in Job 7:14-15 cryptically states, “You frighten me with dreams and terrify me by visions so that my soul would choose suffocation, death rather than my pains.” What are these frightening visions that Job prefers death? Being that God commanded Satan to touch everything in his life and we already know Satan came to Eliphaz in a vision, we may rightfully interpret these as something Satanic. Satan is whispering lies to Job in nightmares, voices or delusions in his mind, or something of the sort. Perhaps, he is just trying to terrify him.
Accuses Friends of Falsely Defending God’s Justice.
Job asserts, “My brothers have acted deceitfully like a wadi, Like the torrents of wadis which vanish” (Job 6:15). He disagrees with their arguments because undergirding them is the idea that calamity is “prepared for those whose feet slip” (Job 12:5). Their arguments are prepared for the wrong guy!
What will a just God do in response to his friends’ deceit? Job says, “He will surely reprove you if you secretly show partiality. Will not His majesty terrify you and the dread of Him fall on you” (Job 13:10-11)?
Lastly, Job also makes the accusation that God “kept their heart[s] from understanding” (Job 17:4).
How does God withhold from their hearts understanding so that they speak falsehood, without actually putting falsehood on their lips? Micaiah the prophet gives us a picture of how it works. Before King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom went to battle, he asked prophets to tell him how he would fare. They all said he would fare well, other than Micaiah that is.
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, but pay attention to the details here! The one being deceived, Ahab, wants to believe the lie! All of this occurs in accordance with God’s will as judgment against those who listen to Satan’s lies.
“Oh, you’re just taking this out of context!,” says Mr. Pelagian. “Nowhere else in the Bible has that!”
Nope! 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) anticipated such a rumor because like a shifty eyed mob boss was legitimately afraid that people were always trying to off him. God uses this against him–just like a liar always thinks he is being lied to, a schemer always thinks someone is contriving some sort of scheme against him! It was a fitting punishment for his sin.
“Oh, all of that is only in the Old Testament,” says Mr. Pelagian.
Nope! Those who deny Christ 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 by Satan and his demons to believe what we were already inclined to believe.
Thanks be to God, He has opened our eyes so that we can worship His Son.
So, why doesn’t God than have mercy on all, for all equally do not know the truth apart from grace? 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, On Grace and Free Will).
Defense of his reputation as “blameless.”
Job maintains his integrity that he has “not denied the words of the Holy One” (Job 6:10). These words, as other similar affirmative statements of Job’s faith in God, are important in the book. Job, despite all of his strong language wishing he was dead and questioning God’s justice does not deny His maker nor curse Him.
Job makes further claims of his own righteousness throughout his responses: “[T]here is no violence in my hands and my prayer is pure” (Job 16:17).
“My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
“I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:11-12).
The most important statement of Job’s righteousness is as follows:
“I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
My justice was like a robe and a turban” (Job 29:14).
The righteousness was not his own, but rather belonging to God and given to him. The clearest parallel in the Scripture is when the prophet Zechariah recounts a story of Satan accusing the High Priest Joshua of his sin and God’s redeeming of this man:
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the Lord was standing by (Zech 3:3-5).
As we can see, the clothes come from God. There is both a garment/robe and a turban. The changing of clothing reflects the taking away of iniquity and the putting on of righteousness.
How do I get my hands on these white robes and turbans that make me righteous? Paul tells us in Phil 3:9–
It’s not by “having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith!”
This is precisely how Job was righteous, it was on the basis of faith!
However, he speaks of the righteousness clothing him in the past tense. Perhaps, he feels that the suffering is evidence that God has taken away his alien righteousness. Let’s put that on hold for a bit though.
Thus far there has been nothing wrong with what Job said, but that changes when he
Questions God’s Justice.
How should we understand Job’s impugning of God’s justice? Silas Durand writes, “Job has been murmuring under the mighty hand of God, thus contending with him, and reproving him for laying his hand so heavily upon one so feeble and insignificant, exhibiting the rebellious disposition of our poor fallen nature” (The Trial of Job, XIX).
The following are Job’s accusations:
–God is overly scrupulous in punishing man for sin: “What is man that you magnify him and that You are concerned about him, that You examine him every morning and try him every moment” (Job 7:17, 18)?
He also says: “Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one! Since his days are determined, The number of his months is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass. Turn Your gaze from him that he may rest, Until he fulfills his day like a hired man” (Job 14:3-6).
Matthew Henry makes the connection between Job finding God to be overly scrupulous and the seeming “unfairness” of original sin. He writes concerning Job 14:4, “If man be born of a woman that is a sinner, how can it be otherwise than that he should be a sinner?”
Obviously, the idea is that God is just a bully picking a fight against man who cannot do anything about his innate sinfulness.
In this, Job is of course wrong. God is not a bully! God did not gaze down upon Job hatefully, but rather approvingly when speaking to Satan. Escaping God’s notice never affords any sort of benefit. We have everything to gain from God taking interest in our lives and intervening in the way He knows is best, even if it really does not feel like it. We store up wrath upon our own heads. He’s our only salvation from ourselves.
–God is acting inconsistently with the Gospel.
Job in a few places speaks of a time where God’s grace was apparent: “You have granted me life and lovingkindness; And Your care has preserved my spirit” (Job 10:12). “His lamp shone over my head, And by His light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:3).
It is my assertion that Job understood this to mean that God had forgiven his sins and he was viewed as righteous. This is why Job says, “Have I sinned? What have I done to You…? Why then do You not pardon my transgression…” (Job 7:20-21)? One would not expect forgiveness for a transgression if forgiveness was not consistent with the nature of the One in whom forgiveness is desired from.
Job views the idea that he has not been forgiven as a betrayal: “Yet these things You have concealed in Your heart; I know that this is within You: If I sin, then You would take note of me, And would not acquit me of my guilt” (Job 10:13-14).
Job’s disappointment is understandable. God is supposedly in the guilt acquitting business! This isn’t right. It makes no sense that God would dredge up past sins, when “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
So, Job feels betrayed because he feels that he is being punished for past sins, despite the fact that Christ is supposed to pay his punishment on the cross.
–God’s justice is a tyranny upheld by overwhelming power. This means, Job thinks that God is clearly in the wrong for making him suffer, but because God is stronger than him God’s might makes right. He can have his way by force.
Job speaks of this idea in a few places:
…how can a man be in the right before God?
If one wished to dispute with Him,
He could not answer Him once in a thousand times.
Wise in heart and mighty in strength,
Who has defied Him without harm?
It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how,
When He overturns them in His anger (Job 9:1-5).
There are obvious negative connotations, particularly in reference to what we may infer is God’s creative power in reference to removing mountains. Job complains elsewhere, “Who alone stretches out the heavens and tramples down the waves of the sea…God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him crouch the helpers of Rahab” (Job 9:8,13).
Who is Rahab, do we remember? Who do we think his helpers are? (According to Gregory the Great, “[W]e may also understand the Angelical powers.”) When did God trample them down and stretch out the heavens?
Job does not know it, but he is feeling sorry for the poor old rebellious angels that God clobbered eons ago.
Why? Job is fearful of how powerful God is. He opines, “Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him? Who could say to Him, ‘What are You doing’” (Job 9:12)? Further he says, “If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one! And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him” (Job 9:19)?
Apparent in Job’s response is that he believes God to be unjust, even while he begrudgingly exalts God’s inimitability. “How then can I answer Him and choose my words before Him? For though I were right, I could not answer; I would have to implore the mercy of my judge” (Job 9:14-15). So, Job feels God is the just judge because there is no one higher to appeal to.
Is this why God is just?
No! It is because because He is actually right that He is just.
But Job is doubting this! He is essentially accusing God of being all-knowing but not all-good! It is as if Job now views God’s justice as arbitrary and inconsistent with His nature:
But He is unique and who can turn Him?
And what His soul desires, that He does.
For He performs what is appointed for me,
And many such decrees are with Him.
Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence;
When I consider, I am terrified of Him (Job 23:13-15).
–God upholds the wicked and crushes the righteous.
The tents of the destroyers prosper,
And those who provoke God are secure,
Whom God brings into their power (Job 12:6).
He destroys the guiltless and the wicked. If the scourge kills suddenly, He mocks the despair of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; He covers the faces of its judges. If it is not He, then who is it (Job 9:22-24)?
Is it right for You indeed to oppress,
To reject the labor of Your hands,
And to look favorably on the schemes of the wicked (Job 10:3)?
-God is unjust.
“For He bruises me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause” (Job 9:17).
To some degree, Job is right. God Himself told Satan that He ruined Job without cause. So, both are correct that there was not a specific sin worthy of punishment, but Job is wrong in saying that God has no good reason to do what He is doing.
“Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty” (Job 9:20).
The plain implication of the preceding is that Job knows better than God and that God is an unjust judge.
-God creates disorder
With Him are wisdom and might;
To Him belong counsel and understanding.
“Behold, He tears down, and it cannot be rebuilt;
He imprisons a man, and there can be no release.
“Behold, He restrains the waters, and they dry up;
And He sends them out, and they inundate the earth.
“With Him are strength and sound wisdom,
The misled and the misleader belong to Him.
“He makes counselors walk barefoot
And makes fools of judges
“He makes the nations great, then destroys them;
He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.
“He deprives of intelligence the chiefs of the earth’s people
And makes them wander in a pathless waste. (Job 12:13-17, 23 and 24)
As we can see, the accusation is that God malevolently affects the earth’s creative and social order.
God “deprives the trusted ones of speech and takes away the discernment of the elders” (Job 12:20) which ultimately results in God withholding the truth from men and thrusting them into existential crises: “He deprives of intelligence the chiefs of the earth’s people And makes them wander in a pathless waste. They grope in darkness with no light, And He makes them stagger like a drunken man” (Job 12:24, 25).
In our society, we don’t respect authority and so we won’t view the preceding to be as big of a deal as Job, the respected judge, would have. However, to Job it was as if God was overturning the whole social order.
Why connect God’s overturning of the creative and social order in the same breath? What is the connection between the two?
It is as if Job is saying that the way God made the world is wrong. The world is more than just stuff. It has people, if God does not deal “rightly” with people then there is something profoundly wrong not just with people, but with everything–it’s all connected.
The Importance of Social Order.
The 30th chapter talks about this in detail:
“But now those younger than I mock me,
Whose fathers I disdained to put with the dogs of my flock.
“Indeed, what good was the strength of their hands to me?
Vigor had perished from them.
“From want and famine they are gaunt
Who gnaw the dry ground by night in waste and desolation,
Who pluck mallow by the bushes,
And whose food is the root of the broom shrub.
“They are driven from the community;
They shout against them as against a thief,
So that they dwell in dreadful valleys,
In holes of the earth and of the rocks.
“Among the bushes they cry out;
Under the nettles they are gathered together.
“Fools, even those without a name,
They were scourged from the land.
“And now I have become their taunt,
I have even become a byword to them.
“They abhor me and stand aloof from me,
And they do not refrain from spitting at my face.
“Because He has loosed His bowstring and afflicted me,
They have cast off the bridle before me.
“On the right hand their brood arises;
They thrust aside my feet and build up against me their ways of destruction.
“They break up my path,
They profit from my destruction;
No one restrains them.
“As through a wide breach they come,
Amid the tempest they roll on.
“Terrors are turned against me;
They pursue my honor as the wind,
And my prosperity has passed away like a cloud (Job 30:1-15).
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!