Lecture 15: Job begins the second cycle (Job 12–14) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 15: Job begins the second cycle (Job 12–14)

Course: The Book of Job

Lecture: Job begins the second cycle (Job 12–14)


We have just seen the first cycle of debate between Job and the three friends and now we begin the second cycle with Job’s opening speech. First, everyone knows that God presides over an unjust world, 12:2 to 12:9. Second, yes, God is all powerful and he is responsible for all of this, 12:10 to 13:2. Thirdly, Job demands that they keep silent so he can speak to God, 13:3 to 13. Job makes his confession of faith, 13:14-19. Then once more, Job prays, 13:20 to 14:22.

I. Everyone Knows That God Presides over an Unjust World

So let’s begin with chapter 12, verses 2-9. Everyone knows God presides over an unjust world. “Doubtless, you are the only people who matter and wisdom will die with you, but I have a mind as well as you. I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things? I have become a laughing stock to my friends, though I called on God and he answered, a mere laughing stock, though righteous and blameless. Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping. The tents of marauders are undisturbed and those who provoke God are secure, those God has in his hand. But ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you. Let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done all of this.”

So let’s see what we have here. First of all, he opens his statement to the friends with very powerful sarcasm in verse 2. I think it could be translated, “You are the real people and wisdom will die with you.” The Hebrew is quite beautiful in my opinion. It says [speaks Hebrew]. That is a good example of how Hebrew poetry works. Listen to the similarity of the sounds and if you look at the text, you can see the similarity of the letters. [Speaks Hebrew]. You can hear the kind of “a” and “m” sounds. [Speaks Hebrew}. He ends it, [speaks Hebrew]. The word “hokma” is wisdom [speaks Hebrew] with you, [speaks Hebrew], “it will die, ‘hokma,’ wisdom. Wisdom will die with you.”

Of course, that is pure sarcasm. He is saying, “You think of yourself as just the wisest people in the world. You are so wise, when you die, wisdom will be gone.” He is saying, “Well, no, it is not quite that way. I understand all these things as well as you do. In fact, I understand them a lot better.” Then he moves into giving his lesson in which he calls upon them to listen to the animals. What are the animals saying?

When we look, first of all, at verses 5 and following: “Those who are at ease have contempt for those in misfortune.” Life is unfair. There are people who do well, there are people who are suffering. Those who are doing well tend to despise those who are suffering. “The tents of the marauders are undisturbed.” In other words, raiders, pirates, land pirates who went around attacking people and taking all their stuff and killing and pillaging and raping, they do fine; and those who provoke God are secure. In other words, there are people who do terrible things, who commit awful crimes and God doesn’t seem to do anything about it. So when he appeals to the animals, what is he saying? He is saying, this is just how life is. Every animal knows that the world is an unjust place; that the deer and the gazelle can be out grazing and not bothering anybody, not doing anything wrong, and a lion comes charging out and takes it down. This is how the world works. It is filled with bloodshed and with violence and there is no penalty for it. Those who are more powerful strike down those who are weak. So he appeals to nature in the sense that in our kind of traditional language, nature is read in tooth and claw. He wants the friends to face a really hard fact: Life is just fundamentally unfair and you can see many, many examples of violent people, wicked people, cruel people, people without any sense of right and wrong who seem to be doing just fine. That is the hard fact that Job wants the friends to face.

What is he bringing up? He is bringing up the problem of evil, the whole thing that the book of Job is concerned with. The question, is God just when there is so much injustice in the world?

Before we go any further, I would like to say something that to me is profound about this, and that really sets the Bible apart and the book of Job apart. It does not flinch from the hard questions. It doesn’t say, “No-one should ever even think that. No-one should ever ask that question.” You will not find anywhere in any philosophical tract by some atheist, you won’t find anything that challenges God and the righteousness of God more severely than does the Bible itself. The Bible never flinches from hard questions; and as we move through the book, we will see how those questions are answered.

II. God is All-Powerful and He is Responsible for all of This

Then we come to the second part of Job’s speech. Yes, God is all-powerful and he is responsible for all of this. We begin in chapter 12, verse 10: “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words and the tongue taste food? Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? To God belong wisdom and power, counsel and understanding are his. What he tears down cannot be rebuilt. Those he imprisons cannot be released. If he holds back the waters, there is drought. If he lets them loose, they devastate the land. To him belong strength and insight, both deceived and deceiver are his. He leads rulers away stripped and makes fools of judges. He takes off the shackles put on by kings and ties a loin cloth around their waist. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows officials long established. He silences the lips of trusted advisors and takes away the discernment of elders. He pours contempt on nobles and disarms the mighty. He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings other darkness into light. He makes the nations great and destroys them. He enlarges nations and disperses them. He deprives leaders of the earth of their reason and he makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light. He makes them stagger like drunkards. My eyes have seen all of this. My ears have heard and understood it. What you know, I also know. I’m not inferior to you.”

The first thing to notice about his speech is, any one of the three could easily have said pretty much everything Job just said. Job’s beliefs, his presuppositions, his basic theology is not different from theirs. When Job says this, he is not mocking them. He is not saying, “This is what you believe, but it is foolish and stupid.” Job himself believes all of this. So what is he doing by saying these things that are pretty much already in the minds of all the friends?

First of all, he is telling them he already understands everything they know; and in fact, he is echoing some of their words. When he says, “Is not wisdom found among the aged?” the three have already said, “You should listen to the elders, you should pay attention to what they have said.” So he is to some degree echoing them and to some degree both affirming them and turning their words back upon their own heads. In verse 14 when he says, “What he tears down cannot be rebuilt; those he imprisons cannot be released,” Zophar had just said that God had imprisoned Job. Again, at the same time he is affirming the rightness, the fact that God is the One who punishes; God is the One who imprisons; God is the One who sets free; but he is also kind of casting it back upon them and saying, “Yes, I know this, but it really does not apply.”

The striking thing about Job’s speech is how he repeats and affirms traditional notions of divine justice. The thing you see mostly in traditional statements of divine justice is how God raises up the humble and how he brings down the powerful, the mighty and the proud. You see this all over the Bible. In fact, you see it, for example, in Mary’s song called The Magnificat, where Mary is praising God and she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She goes on and talks about how God raises up the humble and the lowly and how God brings down the proud and the mighty.

This is something that goes all through the Bible. It spans the whole of Biblical teaching and it is a way of saying both that God is just and that God desires
humility and repentance from people as opposed to an arrogant spirit. Job knows all of this. But once again, the point here is, I know it, but in this case it just doesn’t apply. Job has not been proud, he has not been arrogant, he has not been oppressing the poor. He has not let his wealth make him sinful. He has not allowed his wealth to turn him from God. So it is all true, Job is saying, but in this case it doesn’t work, it doesn’t apply.

So Job has given this little part of his speech, which seems to echo so much the speech of the friends, but he does it so that they will understand, a) he already knows it, and b) it just doesn’t fit in this case.

III. Job Demands that His Friends Keep Silent

So we move on to the next section where he appeals to them, if they won’t do anything, just shut up, just keep silent so he can speak to God. This is beginning in 13:3 going to 13: “But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies. You are worthless physicians, all of you. If only you would be altogether silent, for you that would be wisdom. Hear now my argument. Listen to the plea of my lips. Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? Will you show him partiality? Will you argue the case for God? Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive a mortal? He would surely call you to account if you secretly showed partiality. Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you? Your maxims and proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay. Keep silent and let me speak. Then let come to me what may.”

So Job says that they have been lying about him and that they have been showing partiality to God. That seems like a strange thing to say. You would expect someone would always be on God’s side. But Job is thinking in terms of a lawsuit, of a trial in a court in which the question is, “Is Job innocent or guilty? And thus, was it right for God to punish Job, or not?” Job is insistent that he is innocent and again, from the book, we know he is innocent.

The friends have known Job for a long time. They know what he is like, they know his character. They have seen his works of compassion. They have seen how carefully he guarded his integrity. They know what kind of man they are dealing with; and yet, because of their doctrine of retribution, because of how they understand it, they will not admit the facts. They will not tell the truth. They will smear him with lies – and this will become much more clear later in their speeches – they will accuse him of every king of wrongdoing. They will treat him as if he was the vilest of sinners, when in fact, they know he didn’t do any of those things.

So that is what Job is talking about in this passage and that is why he appeals to them just to be quiet and let him deal with God, because they are sure not
helping the situation.

There is one other thing in this passage that is interesting. We have seen how the friends from time to time foreshadow the ending of the book, but they
foreshadow it wrongly. They think maybe God will appear and then he will rebuke Job and chastise him for being such a sinner and Job will break down and repent of whatever sin it is. God does show up, but not the way they expect. Job also foreshadows the end of the book. He says, verse 9: “Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive a mortal?” Well, yes, God will show up and he will address the friends and he will accuse the friends of being sinners and he will tell them they are the ones who need to repent and they need to ask Job to intercede for them. So Job foreshadows the ending of the book without knowing it at this point, but he gets it right, where the friends always get it wrong.

IV. Job’s Confession of Faith

We then come to Job’s confession of faith in 13:14-19: “Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him. I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance. For no godless person would dare come before him. Listen carefully to what I say. Let my words ring in your ears. Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated. Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die.”

This is an interesting statement. Job is absolutely convinced suddenly that he will be vindicated before God. This sounds like a statement of faith just in himself, but it is also a statement of faith in God because he is convinced that God will acknowledge that Job has been righteous. He doesn’t know how, but he is sure it will happen. This is a step forward in Job’s pilgrimage. Earlier he was despairing that God would ever listen to him and he was ready to just die. Now he is saying that God ultimately will be persuaded when Job stands before him. Therefore, he clings to his integrity, but he also clings to his faith in God.

The Hebrew of chapter 13, verse 15 is difficult, but in my opinion it is translatable. The Hebrew looks like this: [speaks Hebrew] In my opinion, this could be
translated, “If he kills me, I will still trust in him, but I will protest my ways before him.” When you consider Job’s dilemma, this is a remarkable statement of faith. So think about where Job is right now: a) he knows he is righteous, b) he has always believed that God just punishes bad people and just rewards good people, c) he has been totally blasted by God. He has suffered as virtually no-one has ever suffered before, though he does not deserve it. Finally, then, he says that even if he kills me, I will still trust in him, but I won’t confess to a sin I didn’t commit.

So Job in a remarkable statement is saying, ”I still know that I’m not guilty of anything, that I didn’t deserve this,” but he has moved beyond just saying, “God, just kill me, obviously you hate me for some reason and I don’t know why.” He has moved beyond that by saying that no matter what, I will still trust in him. So he is able to place his faith in God, even though all of the evidence and the belief system that he formerly held to, tells him there is no hope.

This moves us closer to the grand solution to the book of Job. Part of the solution is that the answer is God Himself. The answer to our problems and to all the injustice in the world and to all the evil in the world is not in some doctrinal system, but it is in knowing God and trusting God. That is what Job does again in the face of enormous evidence that there is no reason for him to trust God, he still does.

V. Job’s Prayer

We then come to Job’s prayer in 13:20 to 14:22: “Only grant me these two things, God, and then I will not hide from you. Withdraw your hand from me and stop frightening me with your terrors. Then summon me and I will answer. Let me speak and you reply to me. How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff? For you write down bitter things against me and make me reap the sins of my youth.

You fasten my feet in shackles and you keep close watch on all my paths by putting marks on the soles of my feet. So man wastes away like something
rotten, like a garment eaten by moths.”

Let’s pause right there. First thing to see here is Job in his pain appeals to God, but he appeals to him in somewhat of a less bitter tone. He is saying, “God, stop hurting me.” When he says, “take your hand from me” he is speaking of how God is giving him so much pain. He asks, “What sin did I commit that you do this to me?”

We do need to say a note about verse 26, “You make me reap the sins of my youth.” The book does not say that Job never, ever sinned in his entire life; but the book does say that at the time Job was afflicted, he was righteous, upright, a man who fears God and turns from evil. So we should not take this line to mean that after all, Job was a sinner and yes, God is punishing him for some sin. That is not the point. The point is, Job is saying, “is there anything in my life that explains why you’re doing this to me?” He is not here saying, ”Yes, after all, I did commit some sin that you are punishing me for.”

So we need to move on. Chapter 14, verse 1: “Mortals born of woman are of few days and full of trouble. They spring up like flowers and wither away. Like fleeting shadows, they do not endure. Do you fix your eyes on them? Will you bring them before your judgment? Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No-one. A person’s days are determined. You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits that he cannot exceed. So look away from him and let him alone until he has put in his time, like a hired laborer.”

Let’s pause there and notice, Job in his suffering is becoming much more aware of the reality of human mortality and human weakness. We are weak, frail
creatures. We are all buffeted and battered by the harsh realities of this world and our own mortality and our own death. Job is facing up to this. Again, this is part of the problem of evil. Why do humans suffer so much? Why is their life so short? If God is good, why doesn’t he do something about it? In this short
passage he again brings up very boldly the problem of evil, with which the book is concerned.

Verse 7: “At least there is hope for a tree. If it is cut down, it will sprout again and its new shoots will not fall. Its roots may grow old in the ground and the stump may die in the soil, yet at the scent of water, it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so he lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep.”

Let’s notice right here, he is especially focusing on human mortality and appealing for compassion from God because humans are weak, mortal creatures. He compares us to a tree that you can cut down, but the stump may still be alive and new shoots may come up from the stump and it will live again, so to speak. No chance of that happening with a human being. When we are cut down, we’re dead and that is the end of the story. That, of course, raises the question, is there anything after that? Is there after-life? Is there eternal life? Is there possibility of resurrection? That is another thing that Job is moving towards.

So we continue, verse 13: “ If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me until your anger has passed. If only you would set a time and then remember me. If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you. You will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps, but not keep track of my sins. My offenses will be sealed up in a bag. You will cover over my sin. But as mountains erode and crumble, as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and the torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy a person’s hope. You overpower them once and for all and they are gone. You change their countenance and send them away. If their children are honored, they do not know it. If their offspring are brought low, they do not see it. They feel but the pain of their own bodies and mourn only for themselves.”

Let’s start by thinking about what he says in verses 18-22. In this part of the text he is pretty grim. He says simply, “Just like mountains erode away and then are no more, when people die, well, that’s it, they are just dead. They may have a lot of children and their children may be doing great and be very successful in life, but they don’t know it, they’re dead.” There is, in effect, nothing left for the dead, they are just dead.

Before we get too upset at what Job has said, let’s think a little bit about how seriously Job is taking death. Not only in the ancient world, but also in the modern world, people tend not to take death seriously, not to face what is really involved in it. If you want good evidence of this, just watch the news sometime and see how people respond when someone they loved has died. These people may have little or no faith in God, little or no religion or religious practice, but they will often say, “Well, I know he is up there looking at me.” “I know they are up there having a good time with our friends” or something like that; and speak of death as if it weren’t real. The fact is, they are not looking at you, they are dead; and the harsh reality of death is something you need to face, something that is a huge problem that needs to be resolved.

The book of Ecclesiastes especially focuses on this problem, much more than Job does, the problem of death. The fact is, when you are dead, you’re dead. That is the meaning of the term. What hope is there for the dead? In the Bible, especially as it is brought out in the New Testament, our hope is not that death is irrelevant. It is not that death is a minor inconvenience. Death is not treated as a doorway to another place or something like that. Death is treated as a dread enemy. Death is the thing that destroys us, that eliminates us, something we rightly fear and are in terror of. The answer is not that we people can actually go on beyond death. The answer is that God can raise the dead, that God is able to do a resurrection of people who have perished. So it is the resurrection and indeed the resurrection of the body that is the hope of the Christian faith. It is not an abstract, general sense that death is really not a big deal, that death is a doorway and we go up there and we can look down on our kids and say, “Hello.” That is not what the Bible teaches.

So when Job faces death in all of its severity, he is not doing something wrong. He is raising up a problem that only God can solve. Job has a glimpse of it, even though Job himself is not yet fully ready for it, in verses 14 and 15. I think this could be translated: “If a man dies, will he live again? All of the days of my hard service I would hope until the coming of my transformation, you would call me and I would answer you. You would long for the work of your hands.” Now Job is at least expressing the thought, the wish that God would overcome death, that God would raise back his servant, that God would call and Job would answer. God would show his love for Job and bring him to himself, calling, saying, “You would long for the work of your hands.”

Think of how Jesus answered the Sadducees when they challenged him about the resurrection. Jesus didn’t say, “Well, of course the doctrine of the resurrection is proven by this text and that text” and citing something like Daniel 12 or something like that. Jesus said, “Haven’t you read in the passage at the bush where God says, ‘I am the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’” In other words, God knows Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He belongs to them and they belong to Him. They are his people, they are the sheep of his pasture. He is not going to forget about or lose the work of his hands. He will call his own to Himself exactly as Job says.

VI. Resurrection

So Job at this point in his pilgrimage is struggling. He is hoping, he is longing, but he is moving towards the key doctrine of the Christian faith in terms of our principle problem of death, and that is the doctrine of the Resurrection. So Job at this point in his pilgrimage, at this point of his faith, is foreshadowing this great work of God to come.

So what we have in this prayer of Job and his answer is, first that his friends are not facing harsh realities. The world is full of injustice, the world is full of violence and they are not facing the harsh reality of death. Job in turn is calling upon God, he asks for compassion, he asks for mercy from God. As he does this, he imagines God calling for him after death and restoring him fully. And that, in fact, is the hope of our faith.

Question: The uncertainty that Job has with the possibility of the Resurrection, although he does believe in it, it’s not like it is an accomplished fact in his culture. Does that point again to an earlier date for Job when the doctrine of Resurrection and hell had not yet been fully developed?

Dr. Garrett: Yes, I would say for example, it would put Job before Daniel, where it is most clearly expressed in the Old Testament. Of course, Daniel, Babylon. It would, in my opinion, put Job certainly before the sixth century. When you read the Psalms, you get vague pictures sometimes, sometimes speaking of abiding with God forever, sometimes speaking of sheol as kind of desolate. It’s a little muddy and it gets much clearer later. Yes, I think that is probably true.

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