Lecture 22: Job wants Justice; Bildad Advises Despair
Course: The Book of Job
Eliphaz has just given the last major speech of the three. Bildad will speak in a moment with a very, very short speech. In this lecture, we are going to look at the next speech of Job, which is chapters 23 and 24 and then Bildad’s short response, which is chapter 25.
Let’s begin with Job’s response. It is in three basic parts. First, Job wants to lay his case before God, 23:2-7. Secondly, he says “I am innocent, but God is hidden and he does as he chooses,” 23:8-17. Thirdly, God neither judges the guilty nor helps the righteous, 24:1-25. So let’s begin.
I. Job Wants Justice
A. Job wants to lay his case before God
Job wants to lay his case before God, but he is unable to do so, 23:2-7: “Even today my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and would consider what he would say to me. Would he vigorously oppose me? No, he would not press charges against me.” “There” he says, “the upright can establish their innocence before him and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.”
First of all, we need to be sure we read this in the context of the book of Job because we read it from the standpoint of what we understand, what we know, as Christian believers. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” When we stand before God, the only thing that saves us from the wrath of God is the righteousness of Christ and his crucifixion for us. And so we read what Job says when he says, “If only I could stand before God and I could make my case, I would be acquitted,” and we think, “Oh, that is not right.” But we need to understand in the context of the book of Job, it is right. Job is righteous. He is a man who fears God and turns from evil; and so when he says “If only I could make my case before God,” he just wishes he could come to some kind of direct encounter with God where he would speak to God face to face and say, “Okay, here is how I have lived my life. Can you point out any sins?” And God would say, “No” and Job would be acquitted.
Again, in the context of this book, what he is saying is correct. I also want you to notice that Job has not lost faith in God, contrary to what Eliphaz and others have said. He knows that if God hears his case, God will acquit him. He believes in the fundamental righteousness and goodness of God.
The other thing we might ask about at this point is, what about Job’s heavenly intercessor? Didn’t he speak of having this intercessor who would intercede between himself and God? Yes, he does; but he speaks of this intercessor as an eschatological figure. You will remember, as I translated it, he calls him “the final one,” the eschatological redeemer. Job wants to go before God right now. Job is suffering terribly. Job has lost everything. Job is being treated like a wicked man and Job thinks, if I can just go before God, make my case, everything will be okay.
We do need to understand here one more thing. Once again, Job in his thinking is not that far from the three because of course, the three hold to the doctrine of retribution and basically so does Job. So he thinks, well, if I can just prove I’m innocent, then God will stop hating me and that will be the end of my problems. But of course, God never struck him for being sinful. God struck him, in fact, because he was righteous. There are a lot of things going on in this passage, these few verses, and we need to read it very carefully.
B. I am innocent, but God is hidden and does as he chooses
He then goes on and says, “I am innocent, but God is hidden and does as he chooses” in verse 8-17: “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns south, I catch no glimpse of him.”
Notice here, very simply, Job has mentioned east, west, north and south. In other words, everywhere I go, I can’t find God. Verse 10: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept his way without turning aside.”
Let’s be clear on what Job is saying here. Job is not saying that God does not know how Job has lived. He says, “God does know, he knows how I have lived. He knows I’ve kept to the right path.” But he thinks, in order to be acquitted he has to have a face-to-face encounter with God; that he has to be able to lay out his arguments before God in order for God to say, “Oh, well, you are right” and then everything would be okay. So he is not denying that God knows; but he just believes, in order for God to change what he is doing, he must somehow confront him and lay out his arguments.
Verse 12: “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” He is saying once again, “I have been innocent. I have been upright.” Again, what he is saying is true. Verse 13: “But he stands alone. Who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me and many such plans he still has in store. That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him; God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.”
Notice Eliphaz has spoken of darkness covering God. Job says “Darkness is covering me.” But Job is still holding fast to his righteousness and he says, “If I can just go before God and make my case, everything will be good.” But notice what he says about God. God is a terror to him right now. He does not understand why God is behaving the way he is behaving.
When he thinks of God as a terror, we can compare Job to the young man, Martin Luther. You know, Martin Luther was a devout Catholic. He became a friar and a theologian studying theology and a very, very devout, serious friar in the Roman Catholic Church. He attended mass constantly. He constantly went to his confessor and confessed sin, after sin, after sin, to the point that his confessor said, “Please, Martin, stop! I can’t have you here every day, confessing every little problem you’ve had.” He did penance. He did everything he could and he never could cleanse his conscience. He never could feel right before God. Martin Luther later made an astounding statement. He said, “While I was doing all of that, I was living as purely as I could. I was confessing sin as fast as I could. I was doing penance. While I did all of that, I hated God” because God for him was just this ferocious, terrifying figure that he could never appease.
In some way, what we see here in Job is comparable. In the case of Job, it is not that he has this burden of sin that he can’t get rid of; he is not constantly
confessing sins and wishing he could be acquitted. But it is the fact that he has no control over what God does. God is powerful; God is mighty; God hands out punishment as he chooses. To Job, God has become a terror. What Job needs, and what Martin Luther needs, and of course what we all need, is a way to be reconciled to God.
We have already seen how Job has gone through this pilgrimage of thinking that there could be an intercessor between himself and God; and thinking there could be resurrection; and finally culminating in the idea of the heavenly redeemer who would rise against the dust and who would enable Job himself to rise again. But what we find in that is the solution to the terror of God, or the hatred of God. It is to have redemption in someone who really does go between us and God and make it all right, make it all good.
C. Job articulates the problem of theodicy
We continue on. Chapter 24, Job makes a very powerful statement on the problem of theodicy. Remember, theodicy literally means the justice of God and it is the philosophical theological question of, is God really righteous and good? Because there is so much evil in the world, there is so much suffering, why
doesn’t God change it? Either God doesn’t care, or God is not there, or God is not powerful, or something along those lines. Job will lay out one more time in very stark terms the problem of theodicy; that is, the problem that there is so much evil in the world that is supposedly controlled by God. So here is what he says.
First, his opening summary: Verse 1: “Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?” What is he saying there? He is saying, “When is God going to do something? We see evil all around us. We see all kinds of corruption. We see sexual immorality. We see people who commit heinous crimes. We see whole nations that plunder other nations. We see murder and perversion. We see people who mock God and despise God. And it seems that God doesn’t do anything.” So Job says, “When is he finally going to act? When is he going to set a time to judge the wicked?” We could say in passing, this is a very old problem. We still struggle with it today. And Job thousands of years ago had the same problem. Is God ever going to get around to judging the wicked?
He then speaks of how the wicked abuse the poor in verses 2-4: “There are those who move boundary stones; they pasture flocks they have stolen. They drive away the orphan’s donkey and take the widow’s ox in pledge. They thrust the needy from the path and force all the poor of the land into hiding.” Look at these accusations. These are how he describes the way of the wicked. They move a boundary stone. This is actually forbidden in the law. But the idea is, in the ancient world, of course, you didn’t have the kind of titles that we have. They would simply put out stones and say, “To the right of the stone is his property; to the left of the stone is that man’s property.” If you move the stone, then of course somebody loses land and somebody gains land. So to move a boundary stone was essentially to steal land.
“Pasture flocks they have stolen.” Of course they know what this means; but we need to take it in context. In the ancient world your flocks were everything. They were your wealth. You didn’t have flocks of something on the side, they were pretty much everything you possessed, they were your livelihood. Without them you would starve. So people steal other people’s animals.
Verse 3: “The orphan and the widow.” People take advantage of the weakness of other people. They steal from them; they abuse them and take away what they have. So people without a means of defending themselves are abused.
“Thrusting the needy from the path” is just a kind of mark of arrogance, the arrogance of the powerful. We see this kind of thing reflected elsewhere in
ancient near eastern literature where an eloquent peasant describes the arrogance of the powerful. They go down the path and they just shove people
aside to get them out of their way. What is he saying? He is saying there are a lot of wicked people in the world and this is how they treat people. Of course the point behind it all is, and God doesn’t do anything.
Verses 5-8: The wretchedness of the oppressed. “Like wild donkeys in the desert, the poor go about their labor of foraging food; the wasteland provides food for their children. They gather fodder in the fields and glean in the vineyards of the wicked. Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked; they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold. They are drenched by mountain rains and they hug the rocks for lack of shelter.” You could not have a more eloquent, short statement of how people suffer in this world. But of course, we know it is not over. We all know of places in the world where children will scrounge in garbage dumps, looking for food, looking for clothing, just stuff to live on off of other people’s garbage. Here he speaks in the same way of these children foraging for food out in the wasteland, gleaning in the vineyards.
According to the Old Testament, if you had a field of whatever it was – a vineyard or a field of barley or wheat – when you harvested, you were to not pick it clean. You were to leave behind the gleanings, which would be in the case of grain, sheaves of grain that had just fallen on the ground; or in the case of grapes, some grapes on the vine that you had missed. You are not supposed to go back and get it all. You are supposed to leave that behind, so that people who are extremely poor can come into the field and can pick up the gleanings and have something to live on. This is, of course, what happened with Ruth and Naomi in the book of Ruth.
What he is describing here is people who are so wretched that in order to avoid starvation, they have to go into other people’s lands and pick up what little
gleanings they can find. He then speaks of how they are naked and spend the night in the cold and in the rain and have no shelter. So these are what we would simply call “homeless people.” He is speaking very directly of the wretchedness of people in the world that are all around us. And again, the question behind it all is, why doesn’t God do something?
Verse 9: “The fatherless child is snatched from the breast; the infant of the poor is seized for a debt.” This is of course about as tragic as you can imagine. This is taking someone into slavery because of the indebtedness of the parents. The parents are in debt, they can’t pay it off, so the person comes and he takes their children away and sells them into slavery. Hard to imagine a more pitiful and wretched fate than that.
Going on, he speaks again of the wretchedness of the poor in verse 10 and following: “Lacking clothes, they go about naked, they carry the sheaves, but still go hungry. They crush olives among the terraces; they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst. The groans of the dying rise from the city, the souls of the wounded cry out for help. But God charges no one with wrongdoing.” In verse 11 he is speaking of how these people do the hardest jobs and they get the least benefit from it. They are the people who have to crush olives on the terraces. Of course, in ancient Israel the hill country was terraced and there would be olive trees and the olives would be harvested and then they have to be crushed for olive oil, etc. Very hard work, back-breaking work. Or wine presses, the grapes have to be harvested and put into vats and then crushed to make wine. So the poor do all of this hard manual labor and they get virtually nothing from it. He is talking again about the poorest of the poor who do the hardest work and get the least from it.
He then talks about how their lives are filled with darkness, verse 13 and following: “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways
or stay in its paths. When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up and kills the poor and needy; and in the night steals forth like a thief. The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed. In the dark, thieves break into houses , but by day they shut
themselves in; for they want nothing to do with the light. For all of them, midnight is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”
This is obviously again talking about wicked people who commit terrible crimes; and he is making the point that they commit their crimes in the dark, in the night. When no one will see, they commit murder, they commit theft, they commit adultery and they are all people of the darkness, people of the night. Obviously the darkness here is both literal and metaphorical. It is literal in the sense that they do what they do in the night so that no one will see them and they won’t get caught. It is metaphorical in the sense that they live in darkness, that they are without any light in their hearts and their minds. They are completely consumed by evil. Again, the implied question is, where is God? Why doesn’t God do something about this?
Then we read in the following passage, verses 21-25: “They prey on the barren and childless women and to the widow they show no kindness. But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established , they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and they are gathered up like all the others; they are cut off like heads of grain. If this is not so, who can prove me false and reduce my words to nothing?”
He says something that seems a little unusual here. He says the wicked commit all kinds of outrages, but are not suffering for it. The powerful, however, are often cut down. “God does drag down the mighty” he says for example in verse 22. Job is not saying that the powerful are always powerful. Everybody sooner or later falls. Every rich family sooner or later falls. He is not blind to that reality. He is aware of the turnover. But what he is saying is, that doesn’t solve anything. Yes, powerful people will fall, rich people will lose their riches; but still, the whole world is filled with corruption and other ruthless people will rise up to take their place.
Once again, the issue is, where is God? When is he finally just going to make everything right? Job at this point doesn’t give us any answers. He only raises the question because again, the question of theodicy is at the heart of Job and the ultimate answer will come from God Himself at the end of the book. But we can say a couple of things about it.
First of all, we all know that if God were to judge the whole world right now, there would be no future generations. There would be no space for repentance for those who are sinners right now, but who might repent. So anyone who calls out for God to judge right now is kind of cutting off the future hope of everybody else who is to come. Job doesn’t think about that. Job at this point is only concerned with what he sees and he is raising the problem. At this point the text has not yet given us the answer. So we need to not just give kind of a simple, what I would call even superficial, answer. Yes, it is true, if God were to judge right now, there would be no future. But there still needs to be a word from God to kind of wrap it all up, to give us the final decisive answer.
We do need to have the problem of evil laid out for us in very clear, very direct terms. Because what we as Christians kind of tend to do is, we don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to face it. We don’t want to read a whole catalog of how much wickedness there is in the world that God apparently is not judging. The book of Job is forcing us to come to terms with this reality; and only when you confront the problem and know what it is and can enunciate the problem, do you have an answer.
That is where Job leaves off in his speech.
II. Bildad’s Third Response
Very quickly, let’s look at Bildad’s speech in 25:1-6. We have already actually looked at it briefly, so we’ll just very quickly see what he says. Chapter 25: “Then Bildad the Shuhite replied: Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of his heaven. Can his forces be numbered? Upon whom does his light not rise? How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot, a human being, who is only a worm?”
We have spoken of this text already in our discussion of the night spirit of chapter 4. We saw in the night spirit of chapter 4 that first of all, in the theology of the night spirit the whole of creation is foul in God’s eyes. He regards the angels as evil, he regards all of heaven as corrupt. Nothing is good before him, nothing is right before him. Again, it is a very nihilistic theology. This is precisely what Bildad says when he says, “Even the sun and the moon are not pure in God’s eyes. Everything is foul in God’s eyes.” He has embraced that nihilism and he especially embraces it in the very last words, and this is the very last thing that we hear from the three. Zophar doesn’t have a final speech. We just had this last word from Bildad in which he says, “Man is a maggot and a worm.”
We have explored this a little already. We will just remind ourselves that this is not the Biblical view of humanity. We are sinners. We are also created in the
image of God. We are also people whom God loves. We have a lot of things about us that are bad and that we regret; but we are also fearfully and wonderfully made, beloved in his eyes. The three have reached the point that the whole world dissolves away in nihilism; and humanity itself is a foul, despicable creature. That is not Biblical theology.
How can we sum up everything that is wrong with the three. First, they affirm the majesty of God, but turn it into something that abhors creation and people. Second, their doctrine of depravity finally asserts that people are worms, this is their last word. Third, they exemplify the kind of theology that led the young Martin Luther to say he hated God. Then, if you actually believe that in God’s eyes all people are worms, are maggots, and that the whole of creation is foul and impure, what is there about God to love? So strangely, for all of their attempts to defend orthodoxy and righteousness, the three wind up with the most horrendous possible theology.
We will then come back to Job’s final answer to the three before we get to the intermission of the book, the wisdom poem of chapter 28 and then move toward the conclusion of the book.