What Did JOB Know?
Although Job was righteous, for no reason at all he loses everything – his wealth, all his children, then his health – and is covered with festering sores from head to foot. There is only one thing he doesn’t lose. His devoted and only wife, who has been his partner from his youth and has given him seven sons and three daughters. He still has her. She comes to him in his grief and pain and says, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Truly, a good wife is a treasure!
So what is a man to rely on? I suspect Job might have been the ancestor of all Australians; his friends stick with him, even when the wife gives up. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come around to cheer him. But when they first see him, they keep their distance, tear their robes, sprinkle dust on themselves, and sit for seven days without speaking (Job 2:11-13). These mates go through the whole ritual of mourning their dead friend, even while he is still alive and watching! What a great way to cheer a friend!
It seems obvious by this time that they won’t start the conversation, so Job does. But instead of saying, “G’day mates! I’m all right!”, he asks why he had ever been born (Job 3:3). This forces them to reply.
Advice From His Friends
Zophar was a good, reliable, god-fearing man, but without any compassion at all. His message is simple; you must have some hidden, secret sin. Repent! “God exacts less from you than your iniquity deserves” (Job 11:6)! We have all heard people like Zophar. Every time tragedy strikes, people ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” And there is always some heartless Zophar, with a big black Bible and not a shred of compassion, saying, “You sinner! Let Jesus into your heart.” If ever you are in this position, don’t be a Zophar. Don’t blame the victims; don’t stand on the edge of the pit they’re in and lecture them. Instead, get down beside them and cry with them and bend your own back to lift them so they see out of that pit. Then, as you do, they might see Jesus, and turn to Him in love.
Eliphaz was different. His first speech was gentle, urging Job to humbly accept God’s will, and all will be right. But Job still protests his innocence, so Eliphaz’ second speech was more blunt. He accuses Job: “You undermine piety, and do away with the fear of God” (Job 15:4). According to Eliphaz, trying to understand God’s ways will only get you into trouble; he even asks, “What do you know that we do not know?” (Job 15:9). His words could be summarized, “God does what He sees fit, and we should be thankful for everything we get, even a kick in the teeth.” He says Job should bite his tongue, accept what happens, and trust God’s wisdom. “Are the consolations of God too small for you … that you turn your spirit against God, and let such words go out of your mouth?” (Job 15:11,13).
But Eliphaz doesn’t stop there. He accuses Job of “stretching his hand out against God, and acting defiantly against the Almighty, running stubbornly against Him with a strong, embossed shield” (Job 15:25). He accuses Job of monstrous pride, as though Job presumes to be judge over God, and challenging Him in battle. Eliphaz’ attitude is clear – he urges submission. No questions, no complaints are allowed; to do so insults God.
Compare this to Abraham’s relationship with God. Abraham had faith like no other, but not a timid faith without backbone. Remember how Abraham openly challenged God concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:25)? Abraham was prepared to confront God to His face over an issue that went to the core of God’s character. God is not answerable to us. But He is a faithful God, bound by His own promises and His own nature. Abraham said then, “Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do what is right?” Eliphaz would have ducked for cover if he heard this.
The Eliphaz types are gentle and pious, but at the end of the day they can smother a genuine hunger for God. They propose a God who acts for no reasons we can understand. We must simply submit, and hope for the best. To argue with God, according to Eliphaz, is to show pride and lack of faith. “Keep your head down, or God will kick it again, just to show who’s boss,” is what an Eliphaz thinks.
Do you see the trap in this attitude? It is more like Muslim submission than Christian faith. The New Testament calls us to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). But how can we, if we can’t understand the principles behind God’s actions? We are reduced to cowering in fear, and hoping we don’t get squashed. Who can love and trust in a God like that? More to the point, how can we imitate a Christ we can’t understand?
So don’t be an Eliphaz. Never tell someone, “Shut up and suffer cheerfully!” It’s legitimate to look for God’s mind in all things. We might not find it, but to try is to show faith in a God who acts in love, and who speaks to us about these things. To refuse to even struggle with the question is to believe in a God who doesn’t want us to know the answer.
Bildad, the third friend, was a man who knew the textbook perfectly. His speech about God’s power and justice were right on. His warning about the fate of the wicked was perfectly orthodox. He advised Job to repent and trust, and God will restore him. All correct. The only problem is, it missed the point. Job’s central question was not, “What does God think about sin?” It was, “What is God doing this to me for?” Bildad completely missed Job’s need, and by doing so he just added to Job’s despair.
Job’s friends accused him of three very serious offenses: of a secret sin that he refused to confess; of doing away with the fear of God; and of overwhelming pride that set itself against God (Job 11:6; 15:4; 15:25). He cried out that his friends haven’t comforted him, but have driven him into even greater sorrow (Job 19:1-2).
Job responded to these accusations in an oath. He emphasized its solemnity, certainty and permanence by using the words “written”, “inscribed” and “engraved on a rock with an iron pen and lead, forever” (Job 19:23-24). He made this oath solemnly and in full public view, in words which bind him “forever.” His oath was, “I know that my Redeemer lives and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).
I Know My Redeemer Lives
It would be reasonable to translate the first clause, “I know the Living One, my next-of-kin who is covenant-bound to rescue me.” The knowledge is based on experience, like the intimacy of marriage. The redeemer was the closest relative with a covenant responsibility for one’s welfare. Job sees God’s relationship to him not as a Lord to his servant, but as his head of family, and himself as God’s kinsman. This clause is packed with many implications: of Job’s intimate relationship with the Living One, his confidence that God is closer to him than any earthly relative, and his assurance of redemption by this God. If Job’s earthly next-of-kin is covenant-bound to redeem his life, then surely he can rely even more on God, who is even closer, more reliable and more powerful.
He Shall Stand Upon The Earth
The second clause is, “He shall stand at last on the earth.” “At last” means “after all else” and refers to God’s durability. The word “earth” is not the one for “ground” but for “dust.” The word “stand” carries a secondary meaning of “remain, endure, succeed, overcome,” similar to our popular phrase “the last man left standing.” The mind-picture is that when all else has turned to dust, God will be standing on that dust.
I Shall See God
Then Job says, “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” Job knows his own skin will also turn to dust. The phrase “in my flesh” is unclear. Is Job hinting at a bodily resurrection or is he emphasizing that not even his eyes being turned to dust can prevent Job from seeing his God? This is the same God who has been crushing and tormenting Job from the first chapter of the book.
That this is a vision for which Job’s heart longs is staggering. Job will not stop embracing the God who is destroying him. One parallel with this is when Jacob refuses to release the God who wrestles with him until he has a blessing (Gen. 32:24-30). Significantly, Jacob called that place Peniel, the face of God, just as Job declares his assurance that he also will see God after this struggle. Another parallel comes from Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls – yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18).
Having stated his position, Job then advises his friends to pursue him no further with their allegations or they will bring judgment upon themselves. He has answered their accusations: he has sworn that his soul’s innermost craving is not for sin, but God; he has declared himself single-minded, fearing nothing except God; he has renounced all self-importance by asserting that he is dust and to dust will return, while God remains. In pursuing him further, they will be bringing false testimony against him and God, and therefore will be liable to judgment themselves.
The Lesson Of Job
Although there’s a long way to go in the book before God has the last word, His word is clear: “My wrath is kindled against you (Eliphaz) and your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” And Job, the accused, must intercede on behalf of his accusers, lest they suffer judgment for their “folly” (Job. 42:7-8).
The key in Job is not to ask, “Why do good people suffer?” Job doesn’t answer that. Instead, we should ask, “How are we to understand what God wants of us in a world of suffering?” The three friends assume that God wants us to be righteous, and as a reward God will give us a good life. This is the thrust of all their advice. Whether it is Zophar saying “repent of your secret sin,” or Eliphaz saying “shut up and obey,” the conventional wisdom is that God wants us to be good, and He will reward.
But Job is good – the best! And yet he suffers, and refuses to take the comfortable way out. How easy it would have been to say, “Sorry I’ve done the wrong thing, God. Tell me what it was and I won’t do it again.” But Job’s integrity would not let him take the easy way. His life was not centered on being good, but on God. He did not just want to know how he could do better; he wanted to know God, so he could follow Him better.
Because of his need to know God, he took risks and argued against the God who was tormenting him, because it seemed inconsistent with God’s character. His friends were telling him what to do to get his health and wealth back; but Job wasn’t interested in health or wealth. What he wanted was a clearer understanding of God.
What Does God Want From Us?
So now to answer the big question: What does God want from us? The answer’s easy: He wants us to be righteous. But what does that mean? It’s not generosity to the poor, or caring for our children, or working for justice, or holy living, or any other good deeds. Job had plenty of these to his name. What God wants more than anything is a heart that hungers after Him above all else. This is what Abraham had, and it was accounted to him as righteousness. It’s what God wants in us above all else. It’s the whole point of us being created! God didn’t create perfect machines that could ignore Him; He created us to love Him and to rejoice in His love for us!
This is why, at the end of the book, Job is justified while his moral, upright, doctrinally sound friends are condemned. After accusing him of departing from the fear of God, and bidding defiance against the Almighty, in the end they need Job to intercede for them.
Do we meet the test of righteousness Job sets before us? Do we hunger after God above all? Do we seek to understand His ways, and seek to live Jesus’ risen life (Rom. 6:4)? If this is our greatest hunger, we can rejoice, because God promised that all who hunger and thirst will be filled. Anyone who comes to Him will be given this new life, and empowered by the Spirit to live it – not perfectly, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we make it a priority. In time He’ll conform us to Jesus.
Let’s invite Jesus to take control of our lives, desires, problems and troubles. He might give us health and prosperity, but probably not. But He will give us something much better – a heart that values Him above all else, and a promise to be with us always. And that’s the greatest!
By Bob Springett
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org