The Theological Crisis

Part 1

September, 2020
The author introduces Job's theological crisis through the speeches of Job's friends and Job's reply to each.
36 min

We've been introduced to Job, a wealthy and righteous man who suffers a series of losses that create an enormous physical and emotional crisis in his life. Despite losing his wealth, children, wife, and lastly his health, he continues to have faith in God and does not sin despite the desperate situation that he is in.

Now, I mentioned last time that one feature of Job's belief system was that he understood that God's justice worked in real-time, for example:

  • Good people were blessed right away by God and so prosperity and health were a sign of righteousness.
  • Sinners, likewise, were judged and punished right away, and so adversity and poverty were a sign of God's displeasure with them and their actions.
  • In other words, the good were blessed and sinners were punished right here on earth.

And so, even though Job reacted faithfully through the physical crisis that he suffered, he began to break down as he faced the theological crisis that came in the form of three friends and a fourth man who challenged the seeming conflict present in his situation. We will note that their comment on Job's predicament said, "If you are as innocent and righteous as you claim, why is God punishing you so severely?"

Job's dilemma, therefore, was that he believed both statements to be true:

  1. He was innocent and righteous.
  2. God always punished guilty sinners.

The dilemma, therefore, was, "Why then was God punishing an innocent man?"

This theological crisis is played out in a series of three cycles of speeches between Job and his friends. There are also two speeches by a younger man called Elihu who waits until Job and his friends have finished speaking before making his comments, and to which Job makes no response.

These dialogues and speeches explain the prevailing theological thinking at that time as well as Job's attempts at resolving the apparent contradiction that he faced and for which he had no answer.

Cycle One - Speeches (4:1-14:22)

Some scholars suggest that the theme of this first cycle of speeches is: "The nature of God." Job's three friends each have a point of view concerning this topic and weave it into their argument with Job.

  • Eliphaz - emphasizes God's holiness and goodness
  • Bildad - emphasizes God's righteousness
  • Zophar - focuses on God's wisdom

1. Eliphaz – 4:1-5:27

Eliphaz is old, devout and more gracious than Job's other two friends. He bases his arguments for the 'Doctrine of Retribution' (the good are blessed and the bad are punished all in real-time) on the notion that this is how things have always been based, on his personal experience.

Eliphaz' approach with Job is to begin in a kindly manner, but he soon discards this attitude and proceeds to rebuke him. He then pleads with his suffering friend not to despise the chastening of the Lord and finishes by promising him future blessings if he simply repents.

Eliphaz' Speech - Summary

Job's elderly friend begins by expressing surprise that one who had comforted others going through similar experiences should break down so quickly. In other words, he exhorts Job by reminding him of his own past conduct when the situation was reversed and he was the one comforting those who suffered, "You ought to be practicing what you've been preaching to others," is his conclusion.

1Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered,
2"If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient?
But who can refrain from speaking?
3"Behold you have admonished many,
And you have strengthened weak hands.
4"Your words have helped the tottering to stand,
And you have strengthened feeble knees.
5"But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
It touches you, and you are dismayed.
- Job 4:1-5

He also reminds Job concerning the 'Doctrine of Retribution' (the theological principle supposedly at play that they both believed was true). One, declaring Eliphaz, that he knew from experience.

7"Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?
8"According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
9"By the breath of God they perish,
And by the blast of His anger they come to an end.
- Job 4:7-9

Eliphaz has been called a mystic and he demonstrates why in verses 4:12-5:7 where he describes one of his visions.

12"Now a word was brought to me stealthily,
And my ear received a whisper of it.
13"Amid disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night,
When deep sleep falls on men,
14Dread came upon me, and trembling,
And made all my bones shake.
15"Then a spirit passed by my face;
The hair of my flesh bristled up.
16"It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance;
A form was before my eyes;
There was silence, then I heard a voice:
- Job 4:12-16

This vision contains three exhortations or encouragements for Job:

  1. Realize and accept that no one is perfect, not even you, accept your sinfulness (4:17-5:7).
  2. Job should commit his cause to God. Innocent or guilty, he should go to God for a resolution to his problems (5:8-16).
  3. Job is reminded of the 'Doctrine of Mussar,' which stated that God disciplined His children (5:17-27). This concept is stated by the writer in Hebrews 12:6, "For the Lord disciplines, the one he loves..." The point Eliphaz is making here is that Job should be happy, not sad or angry since any man chastened by God is a blessed man. In reminding Job of this Eliphaz is trying to frame what has happened in a positive light.

Now Eliphaz's speech is actually true in putting Job's suffering in a positive light (God is chastening him to make him a better man), however, his conclusion is not accurate in the context of what we, the readers, know. Eliphaz is not aware that Satan has destroyed this innocent man's life to prove that without his blessings Job would soon abandon God.

2. Job's Reply to Eliphaz – 6:1-7:21

Job's reply is not a philosophical or theological rebuttal to Eliphaz's arguments and exhortations, his reply is emotional. It is the cry of one who is suffering great loss and tragedy. In a word, his first reply is deeply human. He says three things about his predicament:

A. His intolerable wretchedness

1Then Job answered,
2"Oh that my grief were actually weighed
And laid in the balances together with my calamity!
3"For then it would be heavier than the sand of the seas;
Therefore my words have been rash.
4"For the arrows of the Almighty are within me,
Their poison my spirit drinks;
The terrors of God are arrayed against me.
- Job 6:1-4

In other words, he has ample reason to be miserable and angry.

B. He expresses his great disappointment in his friends

"For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.
- Job 6:14

His point about them is that by withholding their kindness and warmth as friends, their appearance has only increased his suffering and not comforted him as friends ought to do for one another when in need.

C. Job reveals his bitterness against God and his prayer for the end of his suffering through death (7:1-21)

He doesn't deny God, but he is angry with Him, and his prayer is not for deliverance or healing but death which will simply put him out of his misery.

3. Bildad's Speech - 8:1-22

We've noted that Bildad is more rigid and authoritarian than Eliphaz, and his speech is less sympathetic or kind. Bildad suggests that it is the sins of Job or possibly those of his children that have brought on his sufferings. In the end, however, Bildad assures that God will remember Job.

Bildad's speech has three parts:

A. He rebukes Job for his angry accusations against God's justice

1Then Bildad the Shuhite answered,
2"How long will you say these things,
And the words of your mouth be a mighty wind?
3"Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
4"If your sons sinned against Him,
Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.
5"If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
6If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate.
7"Though your beginning was insignificant,
Yet your end will increase greatly.
- Job 8:1-7

Bildad's point is that God doesn't pervert justice, He punishes man for his sins. In other words, God doesn't punish somebody unjustly. If, as you claim, you are so right, why isn't God helping you? Note that he's appealing to the 'Doctrine of Retribution' to support his argument.

B. Bildad then appeals to the ancients (8:8-19)

He makes the case that there is nothing new in what he argues (Doctrine of Retribution), it has always been this way. He simply continues in the teaching of the ancients, his is the traditional position.

C. He completes with a word of encouragement (8:20-22)

20"Lo, God will not reject a man of integrity,
Nor will He support the evildoers.
21"He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
And your lips with shouting.
22"Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
And the tent of the wicked will be no longer."
- Job 8:20-22

Bildad concludes by assuring that Job will be restored and his enemies punished. From Bidad's perspective God will help if Job accepts the lessons from the past. Bildad is true to his understanding of the 'Doctrine of Retribution,' but since he, like Job, does not know the context and reason for Job's suffering, his arguments and conclusions may be sincere but are incorrect.

4. Job's Reply to Bildad's Speech - 9:1-10:22

We need to understand that these cycle of speeches are not necessarily debates as we understand debates. In a modern debate, one person makes a point and the other responds specifically to that point with a counter argument denying or clarifying to his advantage the details made by the first speaker.

Job answers Bildad's claim that he is a sinner and is suffering just punishment, but one day will be restored by God. This theme is a standard outline used by many prophets in the Old Testament (condemnation, punishment and then restoration).

Job, however, does not deal with Bildad's comments but reveals what he thinks about his present suffering:

A. He expresses his feelings of helplessness in the presence of God's omnipotence (9:1-21)

He does try to respond to Bildad but knows that it is futile. He is in the difficult position where he knows too much about God to deny Him, but not enough about Him to understand the truth of what is actually happening. This first thought leads Job to try to make some sense of it all by claiming that there may be another principle at work here.

B. Both good and bad suffer alike and somehow God is responsible for both

This idea was also a common one at the time and may have been Job's appeal to the wisdom of the ancients to explain his own situation. However, he follows this point with his own explanation of what may be going on.

C. God is being unfair to him

He goes one step further by declaring that if there was an umpire (used only once in the Old Testament - decider/adjudicator) between him and God, this would allow him to plead his case without fear.

32"For He is not a man as I am that I may answer Him,
That we may go to court together.
33"There is no umpire between us,
Who may lay his hand upon us both.
34"Let Him remove His rod from me,
And let not dread of Him terrify me.
35"Then I would speak and not fear Him;
But I am not like that in myself.
- Job 9:32-35

This is a primitive and not fully developed type for Christ as the mediator between God, the judge and punisher of sinful man, and man who is both guilty and helpless before God thus needing a mediator.

D. Job cannot understand God's present attitude towards him (10:1-17)

Remember that Job is dealing with a theological crisis where what he believes is in direct conflict with what is happening to him.

'According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty,
Yet there is no deliverance from Your hand.
- Job 10:7

In the end:

E. He renews his plea for death and asks only for a brief respite before he goes (10:18-22)

Job is in a loop. He sees no reason nor rhyme to his suffering, so after an attempt to explain and defend himself, he returns to the only option he thinks remains: death or even a better option, never having been born in the first place.

'Why then have You brought me out of the womb?
Would that I had died and no eye had seen me!
- Job 10:18

Job falls silent once again which opens up an opportunity for the third friend, Zophar, to speak.

5. Zophar's Speech - 11:1-20

Zophar is neither a mystic nor a traditionalist. He is dogmatic, impetuous, intolerant and does not appeal to direct experience with God or the wisdom of the past but sees himself as being the source for truth (H.W. Robinson).

Zophar provides no comfort or encouragement but accuses Job of lying, rebukes him for his sins and asserts the glory of God.

A. The Rebuke (11:1-6)

1Then Zophar the Naamathite answered,
2"Shall a multitude of words go unanswered,
And a talkative man be acquitted?
3"Shall your boasts silence men?
And shall you scoff and none rebuke?
4"For you have said, 'My teaching is pure,
And I am innocent in your eyes.'
5"But would that God might speak,
And open His lips against you,
6And show you the secrets of wisdom!
For sound wisdom has two sides.
Know then that God forgets a part of your iniquity.
- Job 11:1-6

Stop your babbling before God and be thankful that you're getting off easy, you're still alive aren't you?

B. God's Wisdom

7"Can you discover the depths of God?
Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?
8"They are high as the heavens, what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol, what can you know?
9"Its measure is longer than the earth
And broader than the sea.
10"If He passes by or shuts up,
Or calls an assembly, who can restrain Him?
11"For He knows false men,
And He sees iniquity without investigating.
12"An idiot will become intelligent
When the foal of a wild donkey is born a man.
- Job 11:7-12

Man's wisdom is blindness compared to God's wisdom. This is true but not applicable in Job's case because Zophar, like Job, is in the dark when it comes to Job's situation. Job is not guilty of violating or denying God's wisdom, he simply does not know what God knows which, in itself, is not a sin.

C. Exhortation to Repent (11:13-20)

Zophar goes on to make other baseless charges (Job has sinned, or has spoken foolishness to God, doubted and rejected God's wisdom) so the solution is for Job to repent.

Of course, if the charges were true, then sincere repentance would bring forgiveness and restoration, but since Zophar's accusations are false, there is no need for Job to repent for these.

6. Job's Reply to Zophar - 12:1-14:22

Job's reply begins with a direct repudiation of much of what he and the others have said, but as in all of his speeches, the awful reality of what has happened to him and his inability to change any of it returns Job to a solemn and a sorrowful conclusion.

A. Job asserts that his insight is not inferior to that of his friends (12:1-13:2)

1Then Job responded,
2"Truly then you are the people,
And with you wisdom will die!
3"But I have intelligence as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
And who does not know such things as these?
- Job 12:1-3

In his answer to Zophar, Job includes all three friends, and despite his condition, reminds them that he knows what they are talking about, but nothing they are saying has any effect on his misfortunes or his feelings concerning these things.

B. Their defense of God is unnecessary (13:3-12)

In other words, God can care for Himself, He doesn't need you to defend Him. I believe Job is pointing to their defense of God as a subtle form of self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

C. Job mounts a new challenge against God (13:13-28)

So far, Job's main complaint has been that God is not being fair with him (punishing an innocent man), but in this passage he charges that God is bullying him.

24"Why do You hide Your face
And consider me Your enemy?
25"Will You cause a driven leaf to tremble?
Or will You pursue the dry chaff?
- Job 13:24-25

In other words, what is happening to him is overkill. This possibility leads him back to making another comment about not only his life, but life in general.

D. The frailty and brevity of human life in general (14:1-12)

1"Man, who is born of woman,
Is short-lived and full of turmoil.
2"Like a flower he comes forth and withers.
He also flees like a shadow and does not remain.
- Job 14:1-2

Job recognizes that no matter how glorious his past life was and how miserable his present condition, the whole of life hangs by a thread and is quickly over anyways.

11"As water evaporates from the sea,
And a river becomes parched and dried up,
12So man lies down and does not rise.
Until the heavens are no longer,
He will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep.
- Job 14:11-12

E. His conclusion: there is really no hope (14:13-22)

At this point in time in the Old Testament the idea of life after death was not well developed. At best, it was believed people lived on somehow through their children. This is why having children (aside from economic reasons) was so important, and not having children was considered shameful and in a way, a curse from God.

18"But the falling mountain crumbles away,
And the rock moves from its place;
19Water wears away stones,
Its torrents wash away the dust of the earth;
So You destroy man's hope.
20"You forever overpower him and he departs;
You change his appearance and send him away.
21"His sons achieve honor, but he does not know it;
Or they become insignificant, but he does not perceive it.
22"But his body pains him,
And he mourns only for himself."
- Job 14:18-22

Job sees no end to his physical and emotional suffering except his death which will end his life and extinguish his being. This thought also makes the unfairness of what he is experiencing so hard to bear. The point he is contemplating can be summarized in the following way, "I excel at doing what is right and being good, and I am not only punished but will also die without hope."

Although incorrect theologically, having this thought certainly justifies his question and cry, "Why was I even born?"