The Theological Crisis
We are in the part of the book where Job's three friends speak to Job concerning his situation. In their attempt to make sense of the catastrophic things that have happened to him they rely primarily on the common theological thought or axiom of the day which proposed that:
- God blessed the righteous and punished sinners in real-time.
- At a time when there was not a lot of revelation about life after death, this meant that the blessings and punishments were administered here on earth during what was believed to be your only conscious life.
For the friends, therefore, the conclusion was an easy one: bad things had happened to Job, therefore he must have done something wrong to deserve these things.
Now in their speeches they will frame their arguments in different ways claiming that Job has rejected this 'Doctrine of Retribution' (God blesses and punishes now) (Eliphaz), or that Job is ignoring the wisdom of the ancients (Bildad), or that he is a complainer and should simply repent and get this thing over with (Zophar).
Understand that there is no theological dilemma for these men:
- They are sure that they know what has happened (Job is being punished for his sins) and what the solution is (confess and repent).
- They are also convinced that their theology is sound (God, who makes no mistakes, always blesses the good and punishes the sinners).
As I've mentioned before, the theological crisis/dilemma is Job's experience, not theirs. He, like they, firmly believes in the doctrine of retribution. He, unlike his friends however, also knows that he is not a sinner but rather a righteous man. He also believes that God knows this as well.
The theology that guided his life no longer lines up with the reality that he is experiencing. In his replies to his friends so far, he does not defend against their arguments, nor does he try to resolve the contradiction taking place between his beliefs and the reality that he is experiencing.
It is this contradiction that is at the heart of his crisis, not merely the physical and emotional suffering he has to endure. The fact that there is this disconnect between his belief about God and what has happened to him means that he has no access to spiritual comfort since he cannot answer the question, "Does God punish the innocent?"
- If the answer to this question is yes, then Job is at a spiritual dead end with the information he presently has about God.
- If the answer is no, then why is God allowing this to happen?
This brings us to the second cycle of speeches made by Job and his friends.
Cycle 2 Speeches – 15:1-21:34
It has been suggested that the theme of this cycle of speeches is the "fate of the wicked" (R. Smith - International Commentary: the Old Testament. Vol. 3/p.177).
1. Eliphaz – 15:1-35
Eliphaz was kind in his previous approach, but this time he dispenses with any niceties and begins this speech by questioning Job's wisdom.
1Then Eliphaz the Temanite responded,
2"Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge,
And fill himself with the east wind?
- Job 15:1-2
He begins by accusing Job of presumptuousness. In other words, he challenges Job's assumption that he is right and justified contrary to the wisdom of the ancients. Job is undermining accepted norms of religion and going against tradition by claiming his innocence in the presence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Eliphaz's argument is, "How can you claim innocence when God's punishment upon you demonstrates otherwise?"
3Should he argue with useless talk,
Or with words which do not benefit?
4Indeed, you do away with reverence,
And hinder meditation before God.
5For your wrongdoing teaches your mouth,
And you choose the language of the cunning.
6Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;
And your own lips testify against you.
7"Were you the first person to be born,
Or were you brought forth before the hills?
8Do you hear the secret discussion of God,
And limit wisdom to yourself?
9What do you know that we do not know?
What do you understand that we do not?
10Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us,
Older than your father.
11Are the consolations of God too little for you,
Or the word spoken gently to you?
12Why does your heart take you away?
And why do your eyes wink,
13That you can turn your spirit against God
And produce such words from your mouth?
14What is man, that he would be pure,
Or he who is born of a woman, that he would be righteous?
15Behold, He has no trust in His holy ones,
And the heavens are not pure in His sight;
16How much less one who is detestable and corrupt:
A person who drinks malice like water!
- Job 15:3-16
Eliphaz charges Job with adding the sin of presumptuousness (challenging God's wisdom) to his initial sin. He reminds Job of the dangers of not having a clear conscience before God and the speedy destruction of the wicked - the message being, "You can't win against God, so repent."
24Distress and anguish terrify him,
They overpower him like a king ready for the attack,
25Because he has reached out with his hand against God,
And is arrogant toward the Almighty.
- Job 15:24-25
2. Job – 16:1-17:16
Job speaks more directly to his friends in this cycle but doesn't necessarily answer their arguments or accusations in a defensive mode; instead he reasserts his innocence. His reply and speech after Eliphaz' comments have five main points:
A. He reproaches the heartlessness of all three of his friends.
1Then Job responded,
2"I have heard many things like these;
Miserable comforters are you all!
3Is there no end to windy words?
Or what provokes you that you answer?
4I too could speak like you,
If only I were in your place.
I could compose words against you
And shake my head at you.
5Or I could strengthen you with my mouth,
And the condolence of my lips could lessen your pain.
- Job 16:1-5
He rebukes them for the fact that they bring nothing new to the table, not even comforting words. He too could criticize if he were them, but he could also bring comfort, which they have not done yet.
B. He claims that he has now been abandoned by both God and man, even though he is innocent.
14He breaks through me with breach after breach;
He runs at me like a warrior.
15I have sewed sackcloth over my skin,
And thrust my horn in the dust.
16My face is flushed from weeping,
And deep darkness is on my eyelids,
17Although there is no violence in my hands,
And my prayer is pure.
- Job 16:14-17
He is a man suffering in innocence.
C. Since they (his friends) witness against him, he declares that the only true witnesses he can count on (to declare his innocence) are in heaven (God and the angels).
18"Earth, do not cover my blood,
And may there be no resting place for my cry.
19Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven,
And my advocate is on high.
20My friends are my scoffers;
My eye weeps to God,
21That one might plead for a man with God
As a son of man with his neighbor!
22For when a few years are past,
I shall go the way of no return.
- Job 16:18-22
He is correct in this, since God and the angels know the real story. The irony here, however, is that he has guessed correctly but does not know why.
D. His fourth statement is Job's assessment of the present situation concerning the relationship with his friends.
In short, he has simply become a byword to them and he criticizes them for this development.
6"But He has made me a proverb among the people,
And I am one at whom people spit.
7My eye has also become inexpressive because of grief,
And all my body parts are like a shadow.
8The upright will be appalled at this,
And the innocent will stir himself up against the godless.
9Nevertheless the righteous will hold to his way,
And the one who has clean hands will grow stronger and stronger.
- Job 17:6-9
The expression 'byword' is a term for a person who personifies a type. In Job's case a personification of an arrogant sinner who refuses to repent and is punished for it by God. Today we would say, "I've become that guy."
But come again all of you now,
For I do not find a wise man among you.
- Job 17:10
Note that despite this, Job continues to challenge his friends.
E. Job's conclusion, therefore, is that all is lost and death will become his only deliverance.
15Where then is my hope?
And who looks at my hope?
16Will it go down with me to Sheol?
Shall we together go down into the dust?"
- Job 17:15-16
In this, we see a crack in Job's faith, not his faith in God's existence but rather a lessening of his faith in what God can do for him. He figures that all is lost and the only thing left for him is to die in order to end his suffering (keep this thought in mind when we come to the end of the book).
3. Bildad – 18:1-21
Bildad seems to become more irritable as he pursues his condemnation of Job with his second speech. His second speech tells Job that his present situation is simply a foretaste of his ultimate fate.
5"Indeed, the light of the wicked goes out,
And the spark from his fire does not shine.
6The light in his tent is darkened,
And his lamp goes out above him.
- Job 18:5-6
Bildad's point is that in the end, no one will remember Job. This is what God does to the wicked.
17The memory of him perishes from the earth,
And he has no name abroad.
18He is driven from light into darkness,
And chased from the inhabited world.
19He has no offspring or descendants among his people,
Nor any survivor where he resided.
20Those in the west are appalled at his fate,
And those in the east are seized with horror.
21Certainly these are the dwellings of the wicked,
And this is the place of him who does not know God."
- Job 18:17-21
4. Job – 19:1-29
In his isolation (rejected by his wife and friends) Job cries out for sympathy and light. Many believe this is one of the highlights of the entire book.
A. Job begins his second speech by protesting his friends' lack of understanding.
3These ten times you have insulted me;
You are not ashamed to wrong me.
4Even if I have truly done wrong,
My error stays with me.
- Job 19:3-4
He renews his argument that whatever they "think" he has done wrong, the truth is that God has punished an innocent man. He wishes they would understand this.
5If indeed you exalt yourselves against me
And prove my disgrace to me,
6Know then that God has wronged me
And has surrounded me with His net.
- Job 19:5-6
B. Job sees himself as being despised by both God and man. A true low point, can it get worse?
10He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone;
And He has uprooted my hope like a tree.
13"He has removed my brothers far from me,
And my acquaintances have completely turned away from me.
- Job 19:10, 13
C. Job now appeals to the future for some kind of vindication since he has lost hope for the present time.
23"Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were recorded in a book!
24That with an iron stylus and lead
They were engraved in the rock forever!
- Job 19:23-24
He claims that if his defense and appeal are preserved (in stone or a copper scroll) someone in a future generation will read, understand and eventually vindicate him.
D. He makes his final appeal to God Himself since he is convinced that neither his friends in the present nor appeals to posterity will succeed in the end.
Yet as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last, He will take His stand on the earth.
- Job 19:25
In other words, he believes that God alone is responsible for his circumstances and God alone will be able to redeem him. Here we see a definite shift in Job's faith and thinking. At the lowest point (rejected by God and men) Job continues to hope in God. Not simply a belief that He is, but a trust that He will ultimately save Job, somehow.
E. Job finishes with a warning for his three friends.
28If you say, 'How shall we persecute him?'
And 'What pretext for a case against him can we find?'
29Then be afraid of the sword for yourselves,
For wrath brings the punishment of the sword,
So that you may know there is judgment."
- Job 19:28-29
Today we would say, "Be careful, what goes around comes around."
5. Zophar – 20:1-29
This friend merely repeats his argument (affliction is the result of sin) but he doubts his own theory and argument for a moment.
2"Therefore my disquieting thoughts make me respond,
Even because of my inward agitation.
3I listened to the reprimand which insults me,
And the spirit of my understanding makes me answer.
- Job 20:2-3
Zophar's disquieting thoughts on account of Job's comments show that he is momentarily shaken in his position. However, in the next verses, we see that he reverts back to his initial argument.
27The heavens will reveal his guilt,
And the earth will rise up against him.
28The increase of his house will disappear;
His possessions will flow away on the day of His anger.
29This is a wicked person's portion from God,
The inheritance decreed to him by God."
- Job 20:27-29
Zophar continues to argue that no matter how rich, no matter how favored or how high a position one has, if he has sinned somehow, he will be brought low. He speculates that while Job's arguments and claims may have affected him, he declares that he does not know any more than Job all of the circumstances surrounding his situation. He also rejects Job's declaration that he is an innocent man who still trusts God to vindicate him.
6. Job – 21:1-34
Job's reply to Zophar actually comments on the subject of Zophar's speech which has to do with the prosperity of wicked men.
A. Job begins with the age-old question concerning justice and the wicked.
7Why do the wicked still live,
Grow old, and also become very powerful?
8Their descendants endure with them in their sight,
And their offspring before their eyes,
9Their houses are safe from fear,
And the rod of God is not on them.
- Job 21:7-9
In essence, it seems that the wicked often live and prosper without any negative consequences.
B. He then questions the wisdom of the ages, the Law of Retribution (God blesses and punishes in real time) by pointing to common examples that contradict this ancient wisdom.
He also notes that hereditary guilt is not true or moral (the sons bear the guilt or punishment for the sins of the father - a point also made by the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 18:20 - 600 BC, same era as the writing of Job).
19You say, 'God saves up a person's wrongdoing for his sons.'
Let God repay him so that he may know it.
20Let his own eyes see his destruction,
And let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty.
21For what does he care about his household after him,
When the number of his months is at an end?
22Can anyone teach God knowledge,
In that He judges those on high?
23One dies in his full strength,
Being wholly undisturbed and at ease;
24His sides are filled with fat,
And the marrow of his bones is wet,
25While another dies with a bitter soul,
Never even tasting anything good.
26Together they lie down in the dust,
And maggots cover them.
- Job 21:19-26
His point is that from simple observation, we see quite plainly that:
- Many wicked men grow rich and they stay that way and then they die peacefully at a ripe old age and nothing bad happens to the sons they leave behind.
- We also see many righteous men live hard lives, full of troubles who die in the middle of their poverty.
Much like Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, Job states that these inconsistencies are common, and death seems to be the great equalizer in all of this. He refers to a judgment for the wicked that will come one day, even if for now they are buried in fine graves which are watched over and carefully tended to.
30For the wicked person is spared a day of disaster;
They are led away from a day of fury.
31Who confronts him with his actions,
And who repays him for what he has done?
32When he is carried to the grave,
People will keep watch over his tomb.
33The clods of the valley will gently cover him;
Moreover, all mankind will follow after him,
While countless others go before him.
34So how dare you give me empty comfort?
For your answers remain nothing but falsehood!"
Job has not only put his case for final judgment into God's hands at a future date, along with that of the wicked who will likewise be judged, but has also repudiated the basis of his friends' arguments and assumptions against him as falsehood. In other words, Job is laying the groundwork for an argument or a new wisdom that says, "Sometimes the innocent suffer and the wicked go free, but one day God will judge both according to their actions and His wisdom, not man's wisdom."