Lecture 25: Job’s Final Discourse
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Job’s Final Discourse
We have seen how the book of Job is divided into two halves: The discourses with the three friends and then the three discourses by Job, Elihu and God. At the middle of it all stands the wisdom poem of chapter 28.
We are now going to begin the three major discourses: First, the discourse of Job, then the discourse of Elihu and finally the answer of God. The discourse of Job goes from chapter 29 through chapter 31. In this lecture we are only going to look at chapters 29 and 30, although chapter 31 is part of Job’s discourse. We will look at 31 in the next lecture.
The structure of Job’s discourse is first, Job’s former glory, chapter 29:1-25. Secondly, Job humiliated, Job 30:1-15. Third, Job and God, Job 30:16-31. Finally,
Job’s negative confession, Job 31:1-40.
I. Job’s Former Glory
A. He longs for his former relationship to God
We begin looking at his account of his former glory in 29:2-25. The passage begins: “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone on my head and by his light I walked through the darkness! Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate
friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me, when my path was drenched with cream and the rock
poured out for me streams of olive oil.”
Let’s just pause right there. Job is obviously reminiscing about his former glory, his former happiness, all the things he has lost. But I want you to notice where his focus is. He does not say, “Oh, I wish I had all of my cattle and all of my sheep again. I wish I had all the wealth that I had. I wish I was as rich as I once was.” He begins with his relationship to God. He longs for the day when he felt intimate with God, when he could feel God’s care over him; when he knew that God was beside him.
What do we see in this? We see that in the man, Job, the most important thing is his relationship with God. It is his love for God that he cherishes more than anything else. And what is wrong now? We have said time and again that the crisis of Job is not just all the stuff he lost and all the pain he is experiencing; it is his crisis of faith. He thought he understood how it all works. He thought he understood what relationship with God was all about. But something has gone really wrong and for some reason God has afflicted him with all these terrible catastrophes. Job is going through, besides his physical torment and his losses, what we would call “a dark night of the soul.” He feels that God has abandoned him. He is in a situation where if he tries to pray, he feels like he is praying up to a bronze ceiling, that all of his prayers bounce down upon him. He feels alienated from God. He feels God is not with him, God is not there for him.
This is, of course, a common experience of believers in times of great trial, that they often wonder, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is what Job is going through, this crisis of faith, the sense that God has abandoned him; and this is what he misses more than anything else.
The second thing he says he misses, in verse 5, is his children were all around him. So the first thing he loved is God, the second thing is his children. Finally, he speaks of his wealth. He says his path was drenched with cream, which to us sounds weird, but all it means is he was really wealthy. Wherever he walked things went well for him. He prospered and the cream and the oil represents great prosperity.
The first thing Job misses is his relationship with God. The second thing is his children. Only thirdly, the prosperity he once enjoyed.
B. He misses the days that he was a respected man
Then he goes on and describes in more detail what his life was like. “When I went to the gate of the city and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet. The chief men refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouths. Whoever heard me spoke well of me and those who saw me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The one who was dying blessed me, I made the widow’s heart sing. I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger, I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.”
Notice, he basically says two things here. First of all, he misses the days when he was a respected man, when people would honor him, when they would rise when he would come in, when they would listen when he spoke, etc. This is of course a very normal human emotion. It is very painful to feel that people no longer respect you. And even though Job has done nothing wrong, he has been treated as an object of shame. He has been treated as someone whom people reproach. And it hurts to not be respected. It hurts to feel disgrace in the eyes of the community. When someone gets arrested often and they are going into the police station, the first thing they do is they hide their face because they are ashamed. Job has not done anything wrong, but he has lost the respect of everyone around him; and as a normal human being, it hurts.
C. Job Refutes Eliphaz
Then he goes on and he describes how he treated people. Notice, everything he says is a direct contradiction to what Eliphaz says. Eliphaz says that “When
someone gave you a cloak in pledge, you took it away, so that that person had to sleep naked in the cold.” Job says he was the exact opposite. He rescued the poor. He was a father to the fatherless. He gave them his clothing. He gave eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. He does not mean he could heal them; he means that he assisted them in their distress and in their weakness. And he says he broke the fangs of the wicked. In other words, when these people would get in trouble and somebody would, for example, launch a lawsuit against them to take away their property, Job would step in and defend them, he would protect them.
Again, this is the essence of the Old Testament ideal of righteousness, to care about people, to protect them, to give to the needy, etc. Job did all of this. Again, we need to remind ourselves, everything he is saying is true because God says he was a righteous man.
We then come to the rest of the first part of the discourse. Verse 18: “I thought, ‘I will die in my own house, my days as numerous as the grains of the sand. My roots will reach to the water, and the dew will lie all night on my branches. My glory will not fade, the bow will ever be new in my hand.’”
Let’s pause right there. Of course he thinks he is going to have a long, good life and then he will die a peaceful death, and all of that has come crashing down. But I want you to see in verse 19, one more time he goes back to the metaphor of the tree. We have seen this time and again, the idea of the tree, of the righteous man.
It has roots deep in the water and it ever flourishes, it always bears fruit, it’s leaves do not wither; and Job thought that is how his life would be. But it didn’t
turn out that way.
Verse 21:”People listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel. After I had spoken, they spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears. They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain. When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I dwelt as a king among his troops; I was like one who comforts mourners.”
D. Everything he did was for the good of the people around him
Of course you could read this in the wrong way. You could think that Job just loved power and he loved lording it over people and he loved having them bow before him and he loved hearing them praise him, and all that kind of thing. But notice, everything he says is for the good of the people around him. He speaks kindly to them. He smiles upon them and he lifts their spirits. He gives them joy. He doesn’t say, “When I snapped my fingers, they all jumped to their feet.” As we say, “I told them to jump and they all asked, ‘how high?’” That is not how Job lived. Job lived as a man who used his power and his prestige to lift people up, to give them joy.
Actually, there is a kind of little lesson here we should take into account, the lesson of how to be a good leader. You know you are not a good leader if when you walk down the hall, people want to run and hide, if they want to get out of your way and hope that you don’t see them. You are a good leader if they wait expectantly just to hear a word from you. If a simple word of encouragement lifts them up, then you are a really good leader. Job was in a position of leadership in his community, he was respected and he gave joy to the people around him. That is his former glory.
II. Job Humiliated
Then we come to chapter 30. Chapter 30 tells of how he once was high, but now he is brought down. Verse 1: “But now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs. Of what use was the strength of their hands to me, since their vigor was gone from them? Haggard from want and hunger, they roamed in the parched land in desolate wastelands at night. In the brush they gathered salt herbs, and their food was in the root of the broom bush. They were banished from human society, shouted at as if they were thieves. They were forced to live in dry stream beds, among the rocks and in holes of the ground. They brayed among the bushes and huddled in the undergrowth. A base and nameless brood , they were driven out of the land.”
First of all, in this passage, verses 1-8, he gives an extended description of what we would call “the low lifes,” the lowest of the low. These are people who are not just wretched in the sense that they don’t have anything; but these are people who truly do not know how to live. These are people who do not know how to behave responsibly. These are people who cannot be relied upon and who in their behavior become homeless and become unemployed, become the people who kind of gather around on the very outskirts of society.
It seems a little odd to us that Job gives such an extended description of them, but this is characteristic of much of ancient poetry. If you are familiar with the poems of Homer, for example, Homer will often start with a simple metaphor, but then he will give a very extended description of that metaphor. He will talk about his metaphor at great length. Job kind of does the same thing here. All he wants to say is, “These people were low-lifes. These people were shiftless. These people were unreliable. These people were kind of dangerous. They were dirty.” So he gives this extended description of what these people were like. Why does he do it?
We find out in verses 9 and following: “And now those young men mock me in song; I have become a byword among them. They detest me and keep their distance; they do not hesitate to spit in my face. Now that God has unstrung my bow and afflicted me, they throw off restraint in my presence. On my right hand the tribe attacks; they lay snares for my feet, they build their siege ramps around me. They break up my road; they succeed in destroying me. ‘No one can help them’ they say. They advance as through a gaping breach; amid the ruins they come rolling in. Terror overwhelms me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud.”
The reason he gave such a big description of the low-lives is because these people now despise him. They treat him as somebody that you can spit at and who you can kick at and who you can refuse to have anything to do with because he is not good enough for their society. Notice he speaks of them in military metaphors, verse 12: “They build siege ramps against me and break up my road.” In other words, they trap him the way an army traps a city during a siege. Verse 14: “They advance as through a gaping breach.” That is, of course, when the army breaks through the wall of a city and invades and destroys it. The point is, they are all around him; they are making his life miserable; and they are about to crush him.
He moves on, verse 16: “Now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. In his great power God becomes like clothing to me; he binds me like the neck of my garment. He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes.”
Here he speaks very briefly of how his life has become miserable. We need to think about this little metaphor in verse 18, “God has become like clothing to
me.” We would think of clothing as a good thing, but what he means is, God has hemmed him in. God has trapped him so that he can never escape this grip God has on him in all the punishments and all the suffering God has afflicted him with. So he says very bluntly in verse 19 that God has thrown him into the mud.
He continues, verse 20: “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.”
Notice he began his final discourse speaking of how he longed for the days when he was close to God, when he knew God was his companion, when he walked with God, when he knew God was there when he called on him. Now God is his enemy, now God terrifies him and throws him about.
Verse 24: “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. I have become a brother of jackals, and companion of owls. My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever. My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the sound of wailing.”
Here he gives a simple statement of his distress. First of all, no one shows him any compassion. If people see someone who is broken, who is hurt, who is injured from a fall or something, they don’t come and attack him; but that is what is happening to Job. He doesn’t find good anywhere. His skin is burnt and hurting. And he says in verse 29 he has become like the jackals and the owls. In other words, these are creatures that are outside of society, creatures that nobody wants hanging around. He has become alienated to the whole human race. Finally, in verse 31 he says his lyre is turned to mourning. Of course, a lyre is a musical instrument, a stringed instrument, typically for singing songs of joy; so also a pipe, a musical instrument. But instead of making music, all Job can do is wail. The only sound that comes from him is weeping.
Job has gone from a position of high joy and high prestige, to a position of complete ruin. When we come back in the next chapter, he will give his negative
confession in which he declares his righteousness and all the sins that he did not commit.