The Theological Crisis
Thus far Job and his three friends have more or less debated to a draw with no progress made by either side:
- The friends have held fast to the conventional wisdom of the day, that sinners are punished in real time for their sins and this wisdom explains the reason for all the calamities that have been suffered by Job.
- Job, for his part, agrees with them in principle but is vexed by all the bad things that have happened to him since he is not aware of any sin in his life that would cause these sufferings to take place. He not only knows that this is true but also argues that God knows this to be true as well.
This theological crisis has caused him to reevaluate the accepted wisdom of that day and begin to formulate an explanation that makes sense of the seemingly conflicting facts that are facing him, primarily that a just and loving God would punish an innocent man.
This new formulation is put forth in his final speech as a response to Zophar in chapter 21. Job's conclusion springs from a wisdom that says, in part, that 'sometimes the innocent suffer and the wicked go free, however, one day God will judge both according to their actions and His, not man's, wisdom will prevail.
This flash of insight is quickly set aside by Job's friends who immediately renew their attack using the same line of argument that has served them from the beginning.
Cycle #3 of Speeches – 22:1-37:24
The friends continue with a condemnation of Job, and in particular, the sins they believe he is guilty of.
1. Eliphaz – 22:1-30
1Then Eliphaz the Temanite responded,
2"Can a strong man be of use to God,
Or a wise one be useful to himself?
3Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous,
Or gain if you make your ways blameless?
4Is it because of your reverence that He punishes you,
That He enters into judgment against you?
5Is your wickedness not abundant,
And is there no end to your guilty deeds?
- Job 22:1-5
Eliphaz claims that God does not need man, even if he is righteous. However, an evil man does get His attention. This is quite a cynical view of God who is unimpressed by a man's righteousness but concerned only with a man's wickedness. Eliphaz reveals his lack of knowledge concerning the true and living God and His character, that he describes as One being devoid of love and focused only on justice and retribution.
Eliphaz moves on from this basic view to list Job's many sins (of which he has no proof) (vs.6-20):
- rejection of the poor, the hungry, the widowed
- indifferent to the presence and the judgment of God = disbelief
- arrogance in rejecting God without fear
He completes his speech by exhorting Job to repent while there is still time (vs. 21-30).
"Be reconciled with Him, and be at peace;
Thereby good will come to you.
- Job 22:21
Eliphaz's appeal is that if Job repents, God will be at peace with him and will repeal all the bad things that have happened to him. His thinking is simple: acknowledge and repent of your sins and God will bless you. This process is true in general, but not so in Job's case and he will say as much in his reply.
2. Job's Reply to Eliphaz – 23:1-24:25
Job renews his search for God's presence and what he would do should he come before God to plead his case (Job 23:1-9). Despite his search, however, Job confesses that He cannot be found. Even so, Job reasserts his innocence. Even if he cannot find God to plead his case in person, Job maintains his innocence nevertheless (Job 23:10-17).
Job even contends that God not only ignores his righteousness, but is also oblivious to the evil taking place in the world and provides an example to prove his point (Job 24:18-25).
From the city people groan,
And the souls of the wounded cry for help;
Yet God does not pay attention to the offensiveness.
- Job 24:12
Much like Solomon, Job says that good and bad people do what they're going to do and then in a moment they are gone and eventually forgotten. All is vanity, and if it is not, who is to say differently?
Job's reply is quite cynical, still maintaining his innocence but expressing the thought that even if this is so, perhaps God doesn't care one way or another. This is the conclusion of a man who still believes but whose belief is warped by his pain and suffering.
3. Bildad's Speech – 25:1-6
Only two of the original three friends speak in this third cycle of speeches (Eliphaz and Bildad). Zophar, the most dogmatic and intolerant of the three is quiet after the second cycle of speeches and his place will be taken by Elihu, the youngest of the men present in the story.
Bildad's short speech (six verses) will focus mainly on man's inferiority to God.
- He has no new arguments to present in order to explain Job's situation so he falls back on the obvious observation that man is inferior to God, furthermore how can he even think that he can know the mind of God.
- His argument is that of the agnostic, we can't possibly know (since we are so inferior to God, why even try?).
- He concludes that what Job is attempting to do (to know God's mind) is not possible.
1Then Bildad the Shuhite responded,
2"Dominion and awe belong to Him
Who makes peace in His heights.
3Is there any number to His troops?
And upon whom does His light not rise?
4How then can mankind be righteous with God?
Or how can anyone who is born of woman be pure?
5If even the moon has no brightness
And the stars are not pure in His sight,
6How much less man, that maggot,
And a son of man, that worm!"
- Job 25:1-6
His final response is that God is so far beyond man in both power and purity, how can man think to challenge Him or even claim to be pure (righteous or acceptable) before Him? This is true without Christ.
4. Job's Reply to Bildad – 26:1-14
Job's reply is divided into two sections.
A. He mocks Bildad's weak response of falling into agnosticism (you can't know).
1Then Job responded,
2"What a help you are to the weak!
You have saved the arm without strength!
3What advice you have given to one without wisdom!
What helpful insight you have abundantly provided!
4To whom have you uttered words?
And whose spirit was expressed through you?
- Job 26:1-4
He summarizes Bildad's position as being useless, as providing no answer or help for those seeking answers, and having no inspired source.
B. Job provides a more exalted vision of the living God.
From the spiritual world that we cannot see.
5"The departed spirits are made to tremble
Under the waters and their inhabitants.
6Sheol is naked before Him,
And Abaddon has no covering.
- Job 26:5-6
To the created world we do see and dwell-in.
7He stretches out the north over empty space
And hangs the earth on nothing.
8He wraps up the waters in His clouds,
And the cloud does not burst under them.
9He obscures the face of the full moon
And spreads His cloud over it.
10He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters
At the boundary of light and darkness.
- Job 26:7-10
Like Bildad, Job acknowledges God's greatness, but he does so with a sense of reverence and respect. God is greater than man, but not simply stronger in measurable ways but greater in ways that only God could be.
He stretches out the north over empty space
And hangs the earth on nothing.
- Job 26:7
The strongest man in the world would not be capable of doing this, only God has this ability.
5. Job's Final Words to His Friends – 27:1-28:28
Zophar does not speak after Job replies to Bildad and so Job takes the opportunity to speak to the three friends who have come to spend time with him after he has suffered the great loss of family, wealth and health. He no longer responds to each in turn but actually speaks to all three as a group.
A. He begins by affirming his innocence.
Despite all of their arguments, he holds fast to the one thing he knows to be true (as well as God), that he is innocent. He summarizes his position by saying:
1. No matter what God does to me, I will not sin, just as I have not done so in the past.
1Job again took up his discourse and said,
2"As God lives, who has taken away my right,
And the Almighty, who has embittered my soul,
3For as long as life is in me,
And the breath of God is in my nostrils,
4My lips certainly will not speak unjustly,
Nor will my tongue mutter deceit.
- Job 27:1-4
2. I will never admit that you and your arguments are right.
Far be it from me that I should declare you right;
Until I die, I will not give up my integrity.
- Job 27:5
3. My conscience is clear.
I have kept hold of my righteousness and will not let it go.
My heart does not rebuke any of my days.
- Job 27:6
B. He describes the mental condition and material ruin of the wicked (Job 27:7-23).
Some scholars believe this is Zophar's response to Job's declaration of innocence. However, it is mainly seen as Job's way of assuring his friends that he is well aware of how God deals with the wicked.
They have continually been saying to him, "You know that God punishes the wicked and you have been punished, therefore, you must be guilty." This argument assumes that he doesn't believe God's ways with sinners, but Job does believe that God punishes the wicked. In other words, just because he holds to his innocence does not mean that he is not aware of how God deals with the guilty.
C. He praises God's wisdom.
Job continues his speech with a praise to godly wisdom with his point being that man cannot answer the ultimate questions for this kind of wisdom is the prerogative of God (Job 28:1-29). This may be his own conclusion to the dilemma that he is facing: "does God punish the innocent?"
His answer, however, seems to be, "Some questions only God has the wisdom to answer." His friends, who thought that they were wise, could not answer his question. Job declares that only God has true wisdom, which is the understanding of how all things work together.
12"But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13Mankind does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.
14The ocean depth says, 'It is not in me';
And the sea says, 'It is not with me.'
15Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it,
Nor can silver be weighed as its price.
- Job 28:12-15
Wisdom about the creation is not found within the creation.
23"God understands its way,
And He knows its place.
24For He looks to the ends of the earth;
He sees everything under the heavens.
25When He imparted weight to the wind,
And assessed the waters by measure,
26When He made a limit for the rain,
And a course for the thunderbolt,
27Then He saw it and declared it;
He established it and also searched it out.
28And to mankind He said,
'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
And to turn away from evil is understanding.'"
- Job 28:23-28
Only God possesses this wisdom.
What is understood here but left unsaid is that God knows the mystery of Job's life and will reveal it because man cannot. In a sense, this is Job's final argument to his friends, God will reveal the truth concerning Job's suffering and innocence one day.
D. Job's Summary – 29:1-31:40
Job has maintained his innocence and demonstrated that he is quite aware of the sufferings brought upon the guilty by God. He has praised God's unique wisdom and suggested that perhaps only God's wisdom will be able to make sense of his dilemma (an innocent man being punished by God) since neither he nor his friends have found a satisfactory answer. In this final section, Job will complete his speech with the following remarks:
- He will review his happy past filled with great power, wealth and righteousness (Job 29:1-25). This highlights the position from which he has fallen.
- He then describes his present wretched condition: having lost family, wealth, influence, respect and health (Job 30:1-31). This is done to indicate his utter loss of all things precious in his life.
- He mounts one final challenge to God to accuse him of sin (Job 31:1-40). Job doesn't ask for his health or wealth back but rather he seeks to clear his name of a false charge. In this he demonstrates that being considered righteous is more important to him than physical comfort, position or wealth. This request demonstrates the kind of man he truly is.
6. The Speeches of Elihu – 32:1-37
At the end of Job's final speech, a new character is introduced. He was the youngest in the group and at a time where there was great respect shown to the elderly, Elihu refrained from speaking until Job and his three friends had ceased to speak and not before. Though he is the last to speak, Elihu has a lot to say with his comments going on for six chapters.
His speeches, however, attack two basic errors that he feels Job has made in his arguments:
- That God is unjust in some way.
- That God can't or won't speak to Job.
These two ideas are contained in five separate points Elihu delivers in one single speech.
A. Elihu expresses his frustration with Job and his friends for not coming to a satisfactory conclusion concerning their disagreement (Job 32:1-22).
He is angry that the friends failed to convict Job and claims that even though he is young, he believes God will enable him to succeed where they failed; he wants to take his turn.
18For I am full of words;
The spirit within me compels me.
19Behold, my belly is like unvented wine;
Like new wineskins, it is about to burst.
20Let me speak so that I may get relief;
Let me open my lips and answer.
21Let me be partial to no one,
Nor flatter any man.
22For I do not know how to flatter,
Otherwise my Maker would quickly take me away.
- Job 32:18-22
B. He explains that sometimes God uses suffering to turn men from their error (Job 33:1-33).
This is a true insight and wise spiritually, but Elihu has no way of knowing this and it does not apply to Job. Not all true spiritual laws or approaches apply to everybody, every time. So this principle was true in general (God uses pain to get your attention), however, it was not true for Job and not the primary reason for his suffering.
C. He defends God's justice (Job 34:1-37).
One of Job's points to his friends was that as an innocent person, God's treatment of him was not justified. If God punishes the guilty and rewards the righteous, then why is a righteous man being made to suffer?
Job was innocent of moral failure, but he was guilty of theological ignorance. Elihu merely repeats the argument of Job's friends: God cannot be unjust, so Job must have done something wrong and is paying the price.
Elihu, however, doubles down on his argument by accusing Job of knowing his sin but denying it.
36Oh that Job were tested to the limit,
Because he answers like sinners.
37For he adds rebellion to his sin;
He claps his hands among us,
And multiplies his words against God.'"
- Job 34:36-37
In the end, Elihu was also guilty of theological ignorance and made his guilt worse by absolute confidence in his theological knowledge.
D. Elihu condemns Job's self-righteousness (Job 35:1-16).
Elihu contends that by holding onto his position (I am innocent yet punished), Job is claiming a greater righteousness than even God. If Job is innocent and God is punishing him unjustly, then the fault lies with God and not Job, making Job's righteousness even greater than God's righteousness.
1Then Elihu continued and said,
2"Do you think this is in accordance with justice?
Do you say, 'My righteousness is more than God's'?
3For you say, 'What advantage will it be to You?
What benefit will I have, more than if I had sinned?'
- Job 35:1-3
The point Elihu makes is that Job's complaint (whether he sins or not, he is punished and this is unfair) is an empty accusation. Elihu answers that this "straw man" argument claiming that it doesn't matter what Job does, good or bad, does not even affect God who is too far above man to care. God does what He wants, regardless of what man says or does. Job's arguments, demands and self-righteous claims, therefore, are meaningless before God.
E. How God deals with man (Job 36:1-37:24).
In the end, Elihu holds out hope because he enumerates the various ways that God's providential care is always available to man.
5Behold, God is mighty but does not reject anyone;
He is mighty in strength of understanding.
6He does not keep the wicked alive,
But gives justice to the afflicted.
7He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous,
But with kings on the throne
He has seated them forever, and they are exalted.
8And if they are bound in shackles,
And are caught in the snares of misery,
9Then He declares to them their work
And their wrongdoings, that they have been arrogant.
10He opens their ears to instruction,
And commands that they return from injustice.
11If they listen and serve Him,
They will end their days in prosperity,
And their years in happiness.
12But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword,
And die without knowledge.
- Job 36:5-12
Elihu repeats what the others have said about God. That He is generous, just and forgiving to those who search and heed His commands, but He readily punishes those who refuse to hear and obey.
14"Listen to this, Job;
Stand and consider the wonders of God.
15Do you know how God establishes them,
And makes the lightning of His clouds to shine?
16Do you know about the hovering of the clouds,
The wonders of One who is perfect in knowledge,
- Job 37:14-16
In his final words, Elihu creates a bridge for what God will say to Job about Himself and His power in the next chapter. With the close of Elihu's speech, we come to an end of the cycle of speeches from Job's friends. The next character to take the spotlight will be the Lord Himself who will question Job's knowledge and wisdom, and in so doing will bring Job into a spiritual crisis.