How Can Readers Get the Most out of Job?
Job is an intense and daunting book. The book is intense because of the terrible sufferings it describes. The book is daunting because it is long and filled with complex poetic speeches. In reading Job, bear in mind the following six points.
First, Job is a true story. It describes who Job is, what happens to him, and how he and others respond to what happens. It also tells us what happens to Job at the end of the story.
But, second, Job is a story with long pauses for speeches in which Job and others reflect on what has happened. These speeches are in poetry. Poetry needs to be read aloud to get not only the meaning but also the feeling that infuses what is being said. Do not be afraid to read large sections of the text aloud and let yourself be affected by the emotions of the text.
Third, the text has some uncertainties, and the Hebrew from which Job is translated is difficult. This commentary uses the English Standard Version (ESV). You may like to have on hand some other good translations, such as the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New International Version (NIV). Comparing translations will help you get the meaning and also alert you to some places where there is significant uncertainty.
Fourth, we need to read Job in the light of the whole of the Bible, especially seeing Jesus Christ as the focus and center of the Bible’s story. In the next section, I have tried to set Job in this context.
Fifth, when reading the words of Job, bear in mind a crucial ambiguity about this man. On the one hand, God affirms him at the end (Job 42:7) as one who has “spoken of (God) what is right.” But, on the other hand, Job needs to repent at the end of some things he has spoken that are not right (Job 42:3). That is, Job is a genuine believer and right with God in his heart and essential message, while making some mistakes in what he says.
Sixth, when reading the speeches of Job’s three friends, remember that God’s verdict on them is that, “you have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7).
How Does Job Fit into the Whole Bible?
Often people come to the book of Job expecting to find answers to questions about suffering. But we need to be careful. Job is not what used to be called “everyman,” a generic human being. Job is most emphatically a believer, a worshiper, a man who fears God and turns from evil (1:1, 8; 2:3). He suffers because he is a worshiper; this is the logic of chapters 1 and 2. So the book of Job is about undeserved suffering, the trials of a man who belongs to God and trusts God.
This book is therefore fundamentally a book about the Creator God and particularly his power over the whole of Creation and his wisdom in governing the universe. The character and justice of God are perhaps more critical issues for the book even than the predicament of Job. This book is about the righteousness of God.
But the book of Job is also about Job as the believing and innocent sufferer. There is a deep sense in which, again and again, Job in his sufferings foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ in his sin-bearing passion. We shall not be surprised to find these shadows in the book.
We must not stop there. In a number of places, the New Testament speaks of Christian believers as sharing in the sufferings of Christ and of bearing trials in order that our faith may redound to the honor of God (e.g., Col 1:24; Rom 8:17; Luke 22:31,32; 1Pet 1:7). Just as Job bows down in worship before God, simply because he is Almighty God and not for the blessings he receives, we too learn to bow in humble adoration. Along with all the blessings we enjoy in Jesus we are to expect in some measure to experience what Job suffers. We should not be surprised by this.
The book profoundly foreshadows the gospel, as the undeserved sufferings of Job prefigure the sin-bearing sufferings of Jesus. It follows that we learn from the errors of Job’s friends much about what religion looks like when it has morality but no gospel. We should be warned about the cruelty and emptiness of such religion.
We have seen that Job says things he ought not to say and needs to repent of some of his words. So, Job does not simply foreshadow Jesus; he also helps us to see how our sufferings can lead us into sin as we rail against God and begin to speak and think as though we knew better than God how to govern the world (and particularly our own lives). We need to repent with Job and bow afresh before the majesty and wisdom of the Creator.
The book of Job teaches us, above all, about the sovereign wisdom and faithfulness of God and, therefore, about the steadfastness of Job, supremely exemplified by Jesus Christ and now commended to every Christian disciple.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God”
— Job 19:25–26 ESV
One clear way of viewing the structure of Job is in three unequal parts, in each of which a character is, or characters are, introduced (always in prose); these are indicated in italics.
I. Job and what happens to him (1:1–2:10)
Job is introduced (1:1–5)
What happens to Job (1:6–2:10)
II. Job and his three friends (2:11–31:40)
Job’s three friends are introduced (2:11–13)
Job’s lament (3:1–26)
The first cycle of speeches: each friend speaks, and Job replies to each (4:1–14:22)
The second cycle of speeches: each friend speaks, and Job replies to each (15:1–21:34)
The third part-cycle of speeches: two friends speak, and Job replies to each (22:1–26:14)
Job’s first summing up speech: in two parts (27:1–28:28)
Job’s second summing up speech: in three parts (29:1–31:40)
III. Job and the answers he hears (32:1–42:6)
Elihu is introduced (32:1–5)
Elihu’s answers to Job: four speeches (32:6–37:24)
The LORD’s first answer and Job’s response (38:1–40:5)
The LORD’s second answer and Job’s response (40:6–42:6)
IV. The end of the story (42:7–17)
Introduction of Job (1:1–5)
Nothing happens in the first five verses. They tell us who Job is and what he habitually does. The story proper does not begin until 1:6. Note carefully what we are told. We are told Job’s land (“Uz”); we don’t know for certain where that was, except that it was somewhere to the “east” (1:3) of what later became Israel (possibly Edom, cf. Lam 4:21). We are told his name, which may or may not have any significance. The most important thing we are told concerns his character. Four aspects are mentioned here:
- He is “blameless,” which does not mean sinless; it means he has integrity (cf. Josh 24:14, “sincerity”). His outward piety is matched by a heart of genuine inward reverence for God. Job is not hiding anything.
- He is “upright”; this means he treats other people right. He behaves with justice toward them.
- He “feared God.” He demonstrates the true reverence of a believer who trusts the promises of God and honors the law of God.
- He “turned away from evil” habitually; regular repentance shapes his life. Job is a man who is righteous by faith in God, like every other truly righteous person (cf. Ezek 4:14 and Heb 11:7).
In Job 1:3 we are told of his greatness. Job is a regional ruler. He is in his land what Adam was meant to be on the whole earth. And then in 1:4–5 we are told about Job’s concern that his sons also will walk with genuine reverence before God. To this end he offers regular sacrifices on behalf of his sons. In this he is like the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had the right to offer sacrifices in a way that would later become illegal after the institution of the priesthood. Job is, in a manner of speaking, both a king and a priest.
The Story of Job (1:6–2:10)
What happens now is intense and terrible, in four scenes that alternate between heaven (1:6–12; 2:1–6) and earth (1:13–22; 2:7–10). Job cannot see what happens in heaven, but we can. We are taken into the government chamber of God, a vivid way of helping us understand how God governs the world. There we meet “the sons of God” who we know from elsewhere in the Bible to be figures who are superhuman but less than God (e.g., Ps 89:6, 7). Sometimes called angels, they are like God’s world government ministers. Amongst them is “Satan” (literally, in Hebrew, “the satan”); the word is a title rather than a personal name; it means a supernatural being who is hostile. He is a creature of God, under God’s authority, and yet he is against God and all God’s people.
Satan’s strange role, it would seem, is to test apparent worshipers to see if they are genuine. This explains the exchanges that we read in 1:7–12 and again in 2:2–6. God is claiming that Job is a genuine believer (notice how 1:8 and 2:3 echo the description of Job in 1:1); Satan questions this and suggests that Job just pretends to be a worshiper because of all the blessings he has received. Somehow this question is so desperately important that God says Satan may go ahead and test Job. This he does, first with the terrible sufferings of bankruptcy and bereavement (1:13–19) and then by the final test of the loss of his health (2:7–8).
The genuine faith of Job is attested by his wonderful initial responses to these tragedies (1:20–22; 2:10). And yet the testing of his faith has only just begun, and we must read on. As we do, we hold in our minds this big question: is there a man on earth who worships God simply and purely because he is God, and not for the blessings that God may give him? Only the loss of these blessings can demonstrate if he is utterly genuine.
Job and His Three Friends (2:11–31:40)
Introduction of the Friends (2:11–13)
In the brief introduction of Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (traditionally known as Job’s comforters) we see first a reference to where they come from, “each from his own place.” We do not know for certain where Naamah or Shuah were, but Teman was an important town of Edom (e.g., Jer 49:20) a place that was renowned for wisdom (Obad 8). This is at least a hint that in these three men we see the wisdom of the world, natural wisdom, gathered to try to solve the puzzle of Job.
Next, we learn of their motives. They are Job’s “friends” (2:11), a strong word indicative of covenant loyalty (cf. 2Sam 16:16, 17). They take the trouble to come “together” in order to enter into Job’s grief and offer words of comfort. Here is the wisdom of the world at its very best.
And yet they cannot help. This is the tragedy. They do not “recognize” Job; although they weep and sit on the ground with Job, they cannot reach him. He is deeply estranged from them and desperate in his loneliness. They sit without speaking to him for seven days, the period of mourning for a dead person (e.g., 1Sam 31:13). It is as though Job is already dead. Their silence begins with sympathy, but it ends with them having nothing helpful to say. In his loneliness Job foreshadows a later and greater believer who suffered and died alone (e.g., Mark 14:32–42), whose disciples could not support him in his sufferings, and yet whose sufferings mean that now we need never be so terribly alone as was Job.
Job’s Lament (3:1–26)
The loneliness of Job is heightened in this, the darkest chapter of the whole book. For here, Job does not speak to his friends. He does not even speak to God. He simply speaks as the agony of his soul bursts out of him. In chapters 1 and 2 we read a description from the outside, as it were, of what happens to Job. Now in chapter 3, Job opens for us a window into his heart and soul, and we begin to grasp that when his friends “saw that his suffering was very great” (2:13) they were not exaggerating.
3:1–10 Job does not curse God (as Satan said he would, 1:11; 2:5); but he curses (literally) “his day” (ESV, “the day of his birth”). The curse extends from 3:3 to 3:10. It begins with a curse on the day of his birth (3:3–5) and then reaches further back to the night of his conception (3:6–10). The theme that runs through these verses is the opposite of the words “let there be light!” of Genesis 1; Job wishes darkness instead of light, a kind of undoing of his conception and birth, as if it were possible to negate his existence. “Leviathan” (Job 3:8) is a storybook monster, a great opponent of God; we shall meet him again in chapter 41, where he seems to be a vivid picture of Satan himself.
3:11–19 Job’s curse becomes a sad lament, dominated by the question “Why?” (3:11, 16). First (3:11–15) he asks why, if he had to be born, he must stay alive; he wishes he were dead, “at rest” (3:13) with other powerful men of history. Then (3:16–19) he voices the terrible wish that he might have been stillborn; one can hardly think of a darker or more poignant cry. What lies behind the cry is that this life, Job’s life, has no rest; he imagines that the place of the dead will be a place of rest.
3:20–26 Finally, Job broadens his lament to ask, not only why he was conceived and born, but why other miserable people had to be born. The phrase “the bitter in soul” (3:20) is plural.
There are three features to note in this terrible lament. First, for Job the future is a blank; he can only look back. Every word looks to the past with regret. Hope is darkened and empty. Second, he cannot rest. His life is full of “trouble” (3:10), devoid of “quiet” and of “rest” (3:13), a place where the wicked cause endless trouble (3:17), where there is no “ease” (3:18), full of “groanings” (3:24); his lament ends on this note—“not at ease . . . nor . . . quiet . . . no rest, but trouble comes” (3:26). Third, Job is not alone, for this hopeless restlessness is shared by others.
In a strange way, there is hope in Job’s restlessness. For his restlessness forces him to begin the journey of struggling honest faith that fills the remainder of the book.
First Cycle of Speeches (4:1–14:22)
Between Job’s lament or soliloquy (Job 3) and Job’s closing speeches (Job 27–31) there are nearly three stylized cycles of alternating speeches in which Job and his comforters take turns to speak. Eliphaz speaks, and Job replies; then Bildad speaks, and Job replies; finally, Zophar speaks, and Job replies. This happens twice in full (Job 4–21). In the third cycle, Eliphaz speaks (Job 22), Job replies (Job 23, 24), and then Bildad speaks very briefly (Job 25) before Job replies for the last time (Job 26); but Zophar does not get to speak the third time. The cycles peter out, the words draining into the ground having failed to resolve the mystery of Job and his sufferings.
These speeches are the hardest part of the book to understand. When reading Job’s words, we need to remember two truths in tension. On the one hand, the LORD’s overall verdict on Job is that he has spoken rightly about God (42:7); on the other hand, the LORD also challenges Job for being “a faultfinder,” one who “argues with God” (40:2), and Job admits that he is the man who has hidden counsel (that is, disguised truth) by speaking “without knowledge. . . . what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me” (42:3). Job is a believer (1:1, 8; 2:3); he speaks from a heart of honest faith. And yet he will sometimes say things about God that are not true.
When reading the speeches of Job’s comforters, we must remember that, at the end, the LORD rebukes them for not speaking rightly of him (42:7). So, the headline verdict over them reads “untrue.” Nevertheless, many statements they make are true in isolation; for example, one of the very few explicit quotations of Job in the New Testament comes when Paul quotes with approval a statement of Eliphaz (5:13 quoted in 1Cor 3:19). We need to think carefully about what is wrong overall, in the context of many individual statements that may be true.
Bear in mind one of the main themes of Job’s comforters: a simple framework of morality, what we might call crime and punishment, or virtue and rewards. The elements of this framework are as follows. (1) God is all-powerful; (2) God is just; therefore (3) God always rewards virtue and punishes sin, usually pretty quickly and certainly in this life; it follows (4) that if someone experiences blessing, it must be a reward for their goodness and, conversely, if they experience suffering, it must be a punishment for their sin. This is the moral framework of all serious and religious people; Job himself begins his journey assuming these things are true.
Eliphaz Speaks First (4:1–5:27)
Eliphaz begins (Job 4:2–6) by gently rebuking Job for being so “impatient” (4:2, 5); Job has counselled others with the wisdom of this moral framework, and now he ought to take his own medicine. In 4:7–11 Eliphaz reminds Job of this framework. Job 4:7 is key: “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?” It is simply not possible, says Eliphaz, that an innocent man should suffer or die, because (4:8) we reap what we sow; those who “sow trouble” (4:8) and behave like aggressive lions (4:10, 11) will be “consumed” (4:9). So, Eliphaz implies, your suffering must be the result of your sin. In 4:12–21 Eliphaz claims the authority of some mystical experience to assert that we cannot be pure in God’s sight and must therefore expect to suffer for our sins. Again, in 5:1–7 he rebukes Job for being vexatious (5:2); this is the behavior of a fool who will deserve the trouble he gets. Then, in 5:8–26, Eliphaz exhorts Job to repent, to seek God (5:8), not to try to be too clever (5:13) but to accept his sufferings as God’s discipline (5:17) trusting that God will deliver him from them and give him “peace” (5:24). Finally (5:27) Eliphaz signs-off with a confident assertion that what he has said represents solid truth, “searched out” by himself and his wise friends; Job needs to listen to it “and know it for your good.”
Much is good and true in what Eliphaz says. He is motivated by the desire to help Job. If Job will repent and seek God (which Eliphaz thinks he must not have been doing), then God will restore and bless him. But there are at least two problems. The first is that he is saying this to the wrong man; for Job is already “blameless and upright, he fears God and turns from evil”; we have been told this three times (1:1, 8; 2:3). But the second problem is more fundamental: Eliphaz has no place in his worldview for innocent suffering. He cannot imagine that someone might suffer without deserving their suffering (cf. 4:7). The supreme proof that Eliphaz is wrong comes at the cross of Christ. Here is God’s answer to the question, “who that was innocent ever perished?” Because of the cross of Christ, no suffering of a believer (before or after Christ) can ever be a punishment for sins, since the sins of all believers have been paid for by the death of Jesus. There is a deep sense, therefore, in which the innocent sufferings of Christ overflow into the undeserved sufferings of his people in every age (cf. Col 1:24).
Job Replies (6:1–7:21)
Although we cannot be quite certain in detail, it seems that in chapter 6 Job speaks to his three friends before (in Job 7) speaking directly to God.
6:1–13 Eliphaz has chided Job for becoming so agitated about his troubles and what they mean. But in 6:1–7 Job defends himself. He wants his friends to understand that the pain he is experiencing is far worse than the obvious sufferings of bankruptcy, bereavement and loss of health. The reason his words have been—as his friends think—“rash” (6:3) is that his suffering is far heavier than they think (6:2, 3). It consists—as 6:4 so vividly expresses it—in “the arrows of the Almighty” with their “terrors” and “poison.” His diet—in the illustration of 6:5–7—is truly “loathsome”; this may refer to what his friends are saying, or possibly to his sufferings from God. For it is not just the sufferings that trouble Job; it is that they come from the God he trusted. In 6:8–13 he expresses the depth of his desperation with a longing “that it would please God to crush me . . . cut me off” (6:9) before he denies God.
6:14–30 Job moves to rebuke his friends for being such comfortless comforters. He begins with a headline statement (6:14): a true “friend” has the obligation to show “kindness” (the Hebrew word chesed, covenant love); those who do not—and Job implies that his three friends fail here—break faithfulness with the reverent fear of God. So that they, and we, feel how terrible and disappointing this is, in 6:15–21 Job gives an extended illustration: the picture is of a caravan of travelers crossing the desert, turning to where they hope there will be a water-filled wadi up in the hills; but when they get there, they find it empty. Job’s friends are like that. He has turned to them for words that will be like life-giving water in the desert of his life; and they have nothing. There is a profound truth here. Job’s friends offer him the straightforward morality of human religion: good things happen to good people, bad things to bad people. Such teaching offers no hope to the suffering believer. There is no gospel here. Job has not asked them for gifts from their wealth (6:22) or for military aid (6:23); all he has asked is for them to speak words of gospel and life (6:24 “Teach me . . . ”), “upright words” (6:25). But they have none.
7:1–21 But then, probably at the start of chapter 7, Job speaks to the God who, he supposes, has poured the poisoned but undeserved arrows of his wrath into Job. Speaking especially but not exclusively of himself he laments that his life seems to have no value or purpose (7:1–10), seeing it as “hard service” (a phrase used of slave labor in 1Kgs 5:13, 14). His life is so empty and miserable; the nights seem to go on and on as he tosses to and fro in pain (Job 7:4); a new day dawns but just comes and goes, like a weaver’s shuttle, “without hope” (7:6). Before long he will be dead, buried, and forgotten; just like a fading cloud, he will go down to the place of the dead; his life will have counted for nothing (7:7–10). Finally, in a darkly paradoxical section, Job says to God that if, when God keeps an eye on him, things are so terrible, perhaps it would be better if God simply went away (7:11–21). Job complains that he is not “the sea or a sea monster,” (7:12) that is, a representative of the forces of supernatural evil hostile to God (cf. Leviathan, Job 41). God has no need to keep guard over him, to “scare” and “terrify” him (7:14), to make him “loathe” his life (7:16). And so, he finally utters that terrible cry to God, “Leave me alone” (7:16). Is there a more terrible place to be than to wish oneself God-forsaken? Job 7:17 sounds rather like Psalm 8, but with very different import. Where Psalm 8 asks in wonder, “What is man?” amazed that God should give to man such dignity, Job asks, “What is man that you will not look away, but insist on watching me, intent on punishing me?”
If Job 6 brings home to us the uselessness of human religion to bring comfort in pain, Job 7 helps us to begin—just begin—to feel the misery of bearing the burden of the wrath of God. For there is a profound sense in which Job does bear that burden, in anticipation of One who is greater than Job who will bear that burden for his people many centuries later.
Bildad Replies (8:1–22)
8:1–2 Now Bildad’s turn arrives. Where Eliphaz was generally kind, if misguided, Bildad is already annoyed. He wants Job to stop talking because his words are like “a great wind”; he is just a windbag!
8:1–7 Job 8:3 goes straight to the heart of the comforters’ system: God never perverts justice. He never has, never can, never will—an undeniable axiom. And so Bildad makes two deductions from this, with ruthless logic. First (8:4), your dead children must have sinned; that is why they died; there is no other possible explanation. And then (8:5–7) there is just a chance, Job, if you repent quickly, that you will be in time to get a blessing for yourself.
8:8–15 Eliphaz asserted the system on the basis that he and his friends had researched it and are sure of it (5:27). Bildad develops this at greater length from 8:8 to 8:19. In 8:8–10 he challenges Job to ask “bygone ages” what they have discovered. Do not just consult contemporary thinkers (8:9); ask for the universal verdict of human religion of every age; that is the way to get at truth (8:10). What will Job find? Answer: simple cause and effect. Bildad starts with a negative illustration (8:11–15). Think about papyrus reeds. If there is water they grow; if there is no water, they die. Simple. Obvious. But now apply that to human affairs. Those who “forget God” and are “godless” (8:13) are like plants with no water; they may be people with some kind of faith, but their faith is no stronger than a spider’s web (8:14); their houses (family, life, enterprises) will not endure (8:15). That is how it has always been, Job: bad things will happen to bad people.
8:16–22 Then he gives a positive illustration (8:16–19). Imagine now “a lush plant” spreading all over a garden—and this is a picture of a good person—nothing can stop him succeeding. That is how it has always been, Job: good things happen to good people. And so Bildad sums up in 8:20–22. If you are “blameless” God will not reject you; but if you are an evildoer, God will not go with you. So repent, Job, and do it quickly. Then there may be hope.
Bildad is simple and blunt (and he will be blunter later). The moral system cannot be changed, Job. If you experience bad things, it must mean you deserve them, just as your children must have deserved their deaths. There is no place in Bildad’s thinking, as there was not in Eliphaz’s, for innocent suffering. And therefore, there is no place for the cross of Christ and no hope of any gospel.
Job Replies (9:1–10:22)
9:1–10 “Truly I know that it is so: But . . . ” begins Job (9:2). Remember that Job begins with the same moral understanding as his friends. He is a wise man, a morally serious religious man, a man who believes that God is sovereign and just. So, at one level, he agrees with all that Bildad has said. “But . . . ” there’s a problem. When we listen to Job’s speeches, we hear the honest faith-filled grappling of a believer as he finds that the God he thought he knew is not the God he seemed.
What matters to Job—and it this with which he is struggling—is to be “in the right before God” (9:2). The problem, which Job develops in 9:2–23, is that God’s undoubted sovereignty seems to be exercised in an arbitrary and unjust way. God is very strong and (presumably) wise (9:3–4). But when I consider the simple moral cosmic order that I thought characterized the world, I find that this “God” is messing with it. This is the burden of 9:5–10. He “removes mountains,” those stable symbols of creation order; he “shakes the earth . . . and its pillars tremble” (9:5–6). I thought the world was a safe, predictable, moral place; I am finding it is more like an earthquake zone. The God who made it is shaking it; this is what has happened in Job’s own life: bad things have happened to a good person. Why?
9:11–35 In 9:11–13 Job laments that he cannot see God, let alone dissuade him from working such chaos. “Rahab” (9:13), like Leviathan, is a storybook monster of supernatural evil. Then in 9:14–20 Job laments that, even if God were wrong, he is simply too strong for Job to challenge. But—and this is the climax of chapter 9—in 9:21–24 Job accuses God of injustice. He is not simply worried about himself (“I regard not myself” 9:21). But all over the world God “destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (9:22); God actively causes injustice (9:24). This is really shocking, but it is how the world appears to be when Job looks at it. Job does not know what to do. But, in a remarkable moment, in 9:33 he begins to yearn for “an arbiter.” Job 9:33 may mean “There is no arbiter” or possibly (see ESV footnote) “Would that there were an arbiter.” He knows he must deal with God, and yet he longs for a mediator who can bring him together with God.
10:1–3 In chapter 10 Job continues and asks four terrible questions. First, he asks God why he is against him (“let me know why you contend against me”). Why, oh why, is God pleased to despise Job, whom he made, while he favors “the designs of the wicked”? Why? The question is a terrible one, for it calls into question the very idea that God is just.
10:4–7 Second, he asks God about his “eyes.” Job knows that we humans make all sorts of mistake with our eyes (“eyes of flesh . . . as man sees” 10:4); but he is horrified to think that God’s sight might be similarly flawed, that God might be on the same level as us mortals (10:5). The problem is that God seems determined to find unforgiven sin in Job and to keep punishing him, although God knows that Job is not guilty (that is, his sin is forgiven). A moral universe assumes that God can truly see into human hearts, to determine with accuracy both guilt and innocence. But what is happening to Job calls this into question.
10:8–17 Third, Job writes most movingly of God’s creation of him. God has “fashioned and made” him with “hands” of love, shaped him “like clay,” as milk is turned carefully into cheese (10:10), clothed him with skin, knit him together (cf. Ps 139), given him life (Job 10:8–12). And yet God is busy destroying this creature he has so carefully and lovingly made. God is like a relentless enemy, bringing up wave after wave of troops against Job (10:17). And so Job asks God, in effect, what was the point of making me in the first place if you are only going to destroy me?
10:18–22 Finally, he asks God, why he does not just end his life. As in chapter 3, he wishes he had died in the womb or been stillborn, “carried from the womb to the grave” (in a picture of that most poignant and terrible of funerals, with the tiny casket). Back to “the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom . . . deep shadow” to the place “without any order,” this is where Job is headed.
This speech does not get us very far. But the reader must strive to hear Job as he grapples so earnestly with the strange invisible sovereignty of God and the apparent injustice of God. For his grapplings will bear fruit later.
Zophar Replies (11:1–20)
11:1–4 Zophar is very angry with Job, so angry that he blurts out a cruel allegation. He accuses Job of speaking many words, but they are empty words; Job needs someone to make him ashamed of all the words he is speaking. Job claims that he is “clean in God’s eyes” (11:4) and Zophar thinks this is outrageous. We are naturally inclined to agree with Zophar, or we would be if we forgot the threefold insistent statements with which the book began, that Job truly is a blameless, upright, God-fearing and penitent man (1:1, 8; 2:3). So, not because he is self-righteous but because he is righteous by faith, he truly is clean in God’s eyes. Zophar is wrong.
11:5–6 Zophar wishes that God, in his wisdom (or what Zophar supposes to be his wisdom), will show Job that his sufferings are actually less than he deserves! Not only must Job be guilty of some secret and unrepented sin, but this sin must be so terrible that the loss of his riches, his children, and his health is not nearly as much as he deserves. The cruelty of the simple moral system of human religion is here exposed.
11:7–12 Zophar begins with an eloquent and persuasive description of the grandeur and limitless scope of God’s attributes (11:7–9). On its own, this description could hardly be contradicted by someone who believes the Bible. The problem comes—subtly—in 11:10–12. Zophar speaks of God detaining someone, putting them in the dock, and trying them because he knows he is “worthless” and full of “iniquity,” “a stupid man.” Given how Zophar has spoken to Job in 11:2–6, Zophar clearly supposes this stupid man to be Job! Not only does Zophar implicitly accuse Job of being worthless, but he also implies that he, Zophar, actually does have insight into the deep things of God; the irony is that both these suppositions are false.
11:13–20 Nevertheless, Zophar goes on. Because (he supposes) he knows the mind of God, he makes Job an offer on God’s behalf. If Job seeks God with repentance (11:13–14) then God will forgive him and bless him (11:15–19); but if he does not, there is no “way of escape” for him (11:20).
The cruelty of religion without a gospel of undeserved suffering is here vividly exposed. If there can be no undeserved suffering, there can be no atoning death of Christ; and if there is no atonement, then there cannot be undeserved blessing for anybody.
Job Replies (12:1–14:22)
In Job’s first speech we noticed that he spoke both to his friends (Job 6) and to God (Job 7); he does the same here. In 12:1–13:19 he speaks to his friends; then in 13:20–14:22 he speaks to the Almighty.
12:2–6 Job rebukes his friends for their cruelty. (Although formally he replies to Zophar, in practice all his speeches are addressed to all three friends; each friend speaks for them all. These conversations are not between four individuals, but between one individual—Job—and one coherent group.) There is bitter irony in 12:2: you think you are the people who matter, the people of wisdom! Job laments that he, who was in right relationship with God, is laughed at by his supposed friends (12:4). His friends have the simple task; they are “at ease” and can look contemptuously on the sufferer (12:5).
12:7–12 There is reason to think that Job is here parodying the sort of thing that Job’s friends are saying to him. They are telling him that even the animals, birds, plants and fish could teach him the truth. They are the senior people (12:12), and Job ought to listen to them. By this parody Job shows up the shallowness of the moral system of his friends. If the situation is so obvious that even animals can grasp it, maybe, just maybe, it does not do justice to the complexities of the world!
12:13–25 For the world that Job sees is a wild world. Here, Job speaks of the wild sovereignty of God. There is something uncontainable, something that cannot be simply systematized, about God’s government of the world. Job 12:13–15 hints at what we call natural disasters, times when God tears down humankind, when he brings drought or floods. How does the simple system of Job’s friends account for that? In 12:16–21 the focus shifts from the natural order to human affairs. Far from being a world in which the wise (counsellors), the senior (judges, elders), the powerful (kings, the mighty), and the religious (priests) are secure in their positions, we live in a world in which any one of these can be unseated at any time; and often they are. Why is this? And this instability characterizes nations as well (12:22–25). Job is not solving any problems; but he is demonstrating that the simple moral and religious system of his friends can never be a solution. Bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people. Simple human religion cannot account for this.
13:1–12 Now Job goes on the offensive; he accuses his friends of deceitfulness. He knows all the facts that they know and is familiar with their system (for it used to be his) (13:1–2). He longs to speak, no longer to them, but directly to the Almighty (13:3), a longing that will find fulfilment later in the book. But as for his friends (13:4–12), they speak lies about God (13:4); they are useless doctors (13:4); they speak falsely for God (13:7); in due course they will be rebuked (13:10, and cf. 42:7). They have all these simple “maxims” (their system of morality), but they are useless (13:12).
13:13–19 Next, Job tells them that the living God is the one to whom he must turn. He knows the prospect is dangerous; he realizes that God is not safe. But, in those famous words, he says, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face” (13:15); here he hopes for “salvation” as he prepares to bring his case to God (13:16, 18).
13:20–22 Now, from 13:20 to the end of the speech, Job does what he said he would do (13:3); he speaks to God. What he says to God is very profound and shows that Job is a real believer. He begins by pleading for an interval in his sufferings sufficient to collect his words together and for the Almighty to summon Job to speak, giving him an audience before God. He knows he cannot speak until God calls him.
13:23–27 He knows, what is more, that sin is the great problem between people and God. Although Job is penitent—he habitually fears God and turns from evil—nevertheless he is deeply conscious of sin (13:23). He is experiencing the wrath of God against sinners, so that God hides his face, counts him as his enemy, blows him away like a dry leaf or chaff after harvest, punishes him continually. Job knows this. And Job is right. His sufferings foreshadow (and are, in a manner of speaking, the overflow of) the sufferings of Christ as he bears the sins of many.
13:28–14:6 What is more, Job knows that his mortality is the result of sin. He laments that his life, human life, is like a rotting fruit or a moth-eaten piece of clothing (13:28). Life is short and “full of trouble” (14:1). It is sobering, but right, to remember that our life on earth is like a passing shadow (14:2) that will fade away. Job is deeply aware of this.
14:7–12 Naturally, he now moves from mortality to death itself. He contrasts a cut down tree that may sprout again with a dead man who “rises not again” and “will not awake.” There is something terribly final about death, the full stop at the end of mortal life under sin.
14:13–22 And yet, for Job, death cannot—must not—be the end of the story. And so, he cries, in effect, for bodily resurrection, for that “renewal” (14:14) that will bring him back into the favored presence of God (14:15–17), ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. For (14:18–22) if there is no resurrection, there can be no hope. There is an astonishingly personal faith expressed in 14:15–17, a faith only possible for a true believer. In the midst of his darkness, Job clings to the hope that will later be brought to light in the gospel.
The first cycle of speeches now comes to an end. But the speaking is not finished yet, not nearly finished.
Second Cycle of Speeches (15:1–21:34)
Eliphaz Speaks (15:1–35)
15:1–6 Eliphaz begins the second cycle of speeches, as he had begun the first (Job 4, 5). But whereas in chapters 4 and 5 there was a gentleness to his tone, that softness has disappeared. In 15:1–16 he complains to Job that his challenge is disgraceful. The challenge is disgraceful, first, because the challenge is empty (15:2–3), just wind or empty words. (Bildad, 8:2, and Zophar, 11:2, have said something similar.) Further, the challenge is not only empty; the challenge is dangerous (15:4): if we remove the links between virtue and blessing, sin and punishment, then we undermine “the fear of God,” that is, genuine reverence. Your ideas, Job, will do away with all true religion and serious morality. There is an echo of this objection in Romans 3:8 “Why not do evil, that good may come?” What is more, says Eliphaz, Job’s arguments are motivated by crafty iniquity (Job 15:5–6); you are only saying what you say because you want to justify your sinful life.
15:7–16 Eliphaz again claims the privileges of seniority (as Bildad did in 8:8–10). Job is an arrogant upstart to challenge what wise men older than him have taught. It is as if Job claims to have access to “the council of God” (an irony in the light of the heavenly scenes in Job 1–2, to which Eliphaz also had no access!). Eliphaz feels hurt that Job has not listened to kind counsel (15:11–13) and that Job is utterly unrealistic about what is possible for human beings (15:14–16).
15:17–35 From 15:17 to the end of the speech Eliphaz gives Job a picture portrait of the wicked with their troubles. As we read it, we need to pick up that this wicked man looks and feels very like Job himself looks and feels. The implication is clear: if this is what happens to the wicked man, then Job cannot avoid the conclusion that he himself is a wicked man. He speaks vividly of the terrible fears experienced by the wicked (15:20–24), frightening experiences echoed in Job’s own life. And then he expounds with poetic forcefulness the fate that will come to the wicked (15:25–35). Much of this has already begun to be Job’s own experience. So, both the objective troubles of the wicked and the subjective terrors of the wicked fit closely with the experience of Job. If the simple moral system is true—and Eliphaz is sure that it is—then obviously Job himself must be a wicked man.
Distortion of the meaning of blessing and suffering occurs when religion is followed without the grace of the gospel. For only in the gospel is there both undeserved blessing and undeserved suffering. For Christ there is undeserved suffering. For the followers of Christ there is, paradoxically, both undeserved suffering (cf. Rom 8:17) and undeserved blessing.
Job Speaks (16:1–17:16)
16:1–6 Eliphaz and his friends think Job speaks empty words. But the feeling is mutual, for Job finds their words to be “windy” (16:3). Eliphaz claims to offer Job “the comforts of God” (15:11), but Job finds no comfort from his friends. In the ultimate oxymoron he calls them “miserable comforters” (16:2). Job knows their system well; he could speak as they do—and probably has done so in the past (16:4). But—and this is revealing—what Job longs for is not simply that his friends will comfort him but also that he might be able to comfort them. This is the surprise—the strange but deep truth—of 16:5, namely that only those who have experienced the comforts of God can truly bring those comforts to others (cf. 2Cor 1:4), as Job longs to do. His longing is a mark of his generosity of spirit that he would want to comfort his friends.
16:7–14 Job describes with a terrible intensity his experience of the wrath of God. What makes his sufferings so desperate is not—surprisingly—their content (the bankruptcy, the bereavements, the sickness) but their source. What hurts most is that God has done it, for relationship with God matters more to Job than anything else in life. God has worn out Job and brought desolation into his social world and family (Job 16:7 “my company”). Job’s protection has been so punctured that he is now just a “shriveled” up wretch (16:8). As we read this description, meditate on how we see this chaos fulfilled in the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. God’s attack on Job is violent and personal (16:9), a tearing and gnashing of the teeth. In 16:10–11 we see that this leaves Job desperately alone; people strike him on the cheek, collect themselves to attack him; he is taken into the hands of wicked men. Again, all this is so deeply fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There is a terrifying relentlessness in 16:12–14; the wrath of God is like an army running against Job again and again. The imagery is desperate and vivid.
16:15–21 In all of this, Job’s conscience is clear (16:17); he prays in his misery from a pure heart. And so, in 16:18–21, in one of the most extraordinary passages in the book, Job cries out to the God who is attacking him. Just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground for justice (Gen 4:10), so the blood (the sufferings) of Job cry out to heaven for vindication: “O earth, cover not my blood.” Somehow Job believes that there is a “witness” for him in the presence of God, who will testify for him that he is a true believer (Job 16:19). Who is this witness? It must be God himself. Somehow in God there is a witness who speaks for the believer against the wrath of God. Such a longing finds its fulfilment at the cross of Christ.
16:22–17:5 The rest of Job’s speech is dominated by the shadow of death. Even as he cries to God for an intercessor, he faces the prospect of dying soon, and of going “the way from which I shall not return” (16:22). Surrounded by mockers, all that awaits him is the “graveyard” (17:1, 2). Nevertheless, in 17:3 he appears again to call on God to “lay down a pledge for” him. This probably means he is appealing to God to give security in Job’s place, to provide a substitute to die in Job’s stead.
17:6–16 But Job’s plight is desperately serious. He is a proverb or “byword” for one under the wrath of God; people spit at him (17:6). His “eye” (which expresses desire and the love of life) is now very dim; all his bones and muscles, the whole of his bodily frame is “like a shadow” (17:7). He challenges his friends to keep attacking him, confident that they have no wisdom (17:10). He has nothing now to lose. He has no more plans, no more desires in his heart (17:11). All he can “hope” for, in a paradoxical reversal of true hope, is “Sheol . . . the pit.” There is nothing left for Job but to die.
In all this we read a haunting anticipation of the sufferings of Jesus Christ as he goes through hell for us.
Bildad Speaks (18:1–21)
18:1–4 Like Eliphaz and Zophar, Bildad expresses his frustration with Job. But he says something both puzzling and revealing in 18:4; he asks if “the earth” will be “forsaken for you or the rock be removed out of its place.” The solid rock or earth is an image in scripture for the order and stability of the creation; the inhabited world is a stable place, not like the chaotic waters (e.g., Ps 24:1, 2), built on “pillars” or “foundations” that speak of moral order as much as physical order (cf. 1Sam 2:8b in context). For the rock or earth to be shifted is for the moral order of the world to be shaken. Bildad suggests that Job is asking for the whole moral foundation of the world to be cracked or adjusted so that an exception can be made for him. The idea is unthinkable: bad things happen only to bad people and good things to good people, and there is no changing that.
18:5–21 Bildad continues with a terrifying description of God’s righteous judgment on the wicked. This section contains a remarkable, and accurate, poetic description of the terrors of hell. The concept of the proper place for the wicked runs through the speech (Job 18:4, 21, “place”; 18:6, 14, 15, “tent”; 18:15, “habitation”; 18:17, street”). The place where the wicked are sent is a frightening habitation. Hell is characterized by darkness (18:5, 6), which is just what Job is experiencing (e.g., 17:13; 10:21–22). Hell is a hunter’s snare or trap from which there is no escape (18:7–10); Job feels God has been to him like a hunter (e.g., 10:16) who has hedged him in (3:23). Hell is also a place of terror (18:11–14) in which “terrors frighten him” and “he . . . is brought to the king of terrors.” There is something demonic about this; but terror is what Job is experiencing (e.g., 9:34). Hell is a place where personhood dissolves (18:15, 16) and of the most awful separation from the world of life and hope (18:17–20). This, concludes Bildad (18:21), is where “the unrighteous” live.
The point of Bildad’s description is that it matches so closely the experience of Job. Bildad invites Job to draw the only possible conclusion: that he himself, Job, who has claimed to be blameless, is in fact a man “who knows not God” (18:21). Job badly needs to repent of the secret sins he has not as yet confessed. This is the terrible and terribly wrong message of Bildad.
Job Speaks (19:1–29)
19:1–12 Job understands that suffering and death is God’s righteous punishment for sinners. In that he agrees with Bildad and his friends. He understands their argument that his sufferings must reveal hidden sin in his life. They make his “disgrace an argument against (him)” (19:5). But he cannot agree. They need to understand “that God has put me in the wrong and closed his net about me” (19:6). God has been to him like a mugger; as Job is mugged (by God!) he cries out, “Violence!” but nobody hears and there is no justice (19:7). The description of God’s treatment of Job continues through to its climax in 19:12, with its vivid description of the overkill of all God’s armies coming on, wave after wave, to “encamp around my tent.” God is treating Job like a sinner.
19:13–20 Job shifts his focus from his sufferings to his isolation. People who used to be his friends are now alienated from him, including even his wife—a heart-rending picture of the loneliness of hell.
19:21–22 Job is in no doubt that “the hand of God has touched me” (19:21), and he pleads with his friends for sympathy. We remember that back in chapters 1 and 2, the LORD actually says to Satan that Job is in his (Satan’s) hand (1:11, 12; 2:5–6). Although Job’s sufferings come from the LORD, the immediate agent of them (the “hand”) is actually that of the cruel Satan.
19:23–27 In 19:23–24 Job voices a longing for some permanent memorial of his righteousness; he longs to be vindicated, to be justified. And then, in the famous words of 19:25–27, in a remarkable moment of clear faith, he trusts that there is a Redeemer (the mediator he longed for in 9:33, the witness of 16:19) who will testify for him against his accusers, who will give him final vindication. This Redeemer can be no less than God himself. This thought that, in the heart of God himself, there is a Redeemer for him, fills his heart with awe. We know that Job’s hope is sure because centuries later Jesus Christ, the one whom Job foreshadowed, died with this same hope. The Father was the Redeemer of Jesus; he stood at Jesus’s tomb, raised him from the dead, as the proof that he will do this for every man and woman in Christ.
19:28–29 Job closes by warning his friends that “there is a judgment” for them as well as for him. When Job is vindicated, his accusers must necessarily be condemned unless they repent (cf. 42:7–9).
Zophar Speaks (20:1–29)
20:1–4 Zophar’s next (and, as it turns out, last) speech is very similar to Bildad’s in Job 18. Most of it consists of a vivid description of hell, with the implication that, since this mirrors Job’s experience, it must demonstrate that Job is a guilty sinner before God. Zophar begins by expressing his frustration (20:1–3); he feels personally insulted by Job’s insistence that he is blameless and yet being punished by God. Job needs to understand (20:4) that the punishment of the wicked is a sure and ancient truth which will brook no contradiction.
20:5–11 Zophar’s description of the punishment of the wicked focuses on some different aspects of the misery of hell than those on which Bildad has placed his spotlight. He paints a picture of the wicked as a man who does enjoy tremendous success, but only very briefly. He does exult with joy (20:5) but his exultation is “short” and his joy “but for a moment.” He may, as it were, “mount up to the heavens” (20:6) with great success; but before very long it will all end, and he will simply disappear from this world of life and joy (20:7–9); even his family will suffer (20:10). He may enjoy “youthful vigor” for a while, but it will all end with “dust” (20:11). Hell is the end of this life’s brief joy.
20:12–29 Then in 20:12–19, hell is described as the outcome of evil that is sweet to the taste (20:12). It tastes sweet but proves to be a deadly poison (20:14, 16). Those who crush the poor and seize houses find this to be like a delicious meal that kills (20:19). The inescapability of the wrath of God is the subject of 20:20–28. You can run away from it, but you will not escape (20:24, 25). Zophar concludes that such misery is “the wicked man’s portion from God” (20:29). Since Job’s experience mirrors this so closely, Job must be wicked. The logic is the same as that of Bildad.
We learn from this description (as from Bildad’s in Job 18) that the judgment of God really is as bad as this; hell is a terrible destiny. But we learn also something of the undeserved sufferings of Job, and therefore the undeserved sufferings of Jesus as he endures the judgment of God for sinners. And, as those who share in some measure in the sufferings of Christ (cf. Rom 8:17), Christians learn also to expect in some degree the same sufferings in this age.
Job Speaks (21:1–34)
21:1–6 Job begins by wishing his friends would be quiet and listen to him because he is engaging ultimately, not with them but with God. He is indeed suffering the appalling judgment of God (Job 21:5–6); but why?
21:7–16 He then challenges head on a key supposition of his comforters: that bad things happen to bad people. In 21:7–33, he says that this is simply not true; in this life, and even in death, many wicked people experience a great deal of good. Good things often happen to bad people. In 21:7–16 he paints a picture of their happiness. They have a good life expectancy (21:7), they have big and successful families (21:8), their houses have good levels of security (21:9), their farms thrive (21:10), and they have joyful family playtimes and parties (21:11, 12). They enjoy prosperity and die quietly in their sleep (21:13).
According to the moral system of Job’s comforters we should deduce that these people are not wicked. Since good things happen to them, presumably they must be good people. Not at all. In 21:14–15 Job hears from their own mouths the proof that they care nothing about God or the things of God. “Depart from us!” they say to God. They do not want to serve God and they refuse to serve him. And yet they prosper.
21:17–26 Of course Job knows that some wicked people come to early and painful ends. But he questions how often. He asks, “how often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out?” (as Bildad has claimed in 18:5). His friends no doubt argue that, even if a wicked person survived alright, their family will pay the penalty (21:19); but Job asks why they get away with their wickedness (21:19–21). People die and are buried, whether they are wicked or righteous. It is simply not true that we can see in this life the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked (21:23–26).
21:27–34 Job takes his argument a step further. His opponents point out that the wicked are now dead (21:28); but Job adduces the evidence of those who have traveled the world (21:29) who will testify that all the way to the grave the wicked prosper. And even in their funerals (21:32–33) they are praised and honored. He concludes by rebuking his friends for their evidently untrue system. For if we cannot discern from present blessing the righteousness of a man, surely we cannot conclude from present suffering the wickedness of Job (or Jesus).
Third Part-Cycle of Speeches (22:1–26:14)
Eliphaz Speaks (22:1–30)
22:1–4 Eliphaz makes his third and final speech. In it the implications of his system come right out into the open. Job 22:2–4, however, is a puzzling beginning. Eliphaz suggests that nothing Job (or any of us) does can affect God, give him pleasure, and therefore bias his judgment. Behind the rhetoric of Eliphaz lies the implication that what we receive from God is entirely consistent and depends completely on us and our behavior.
22:5–11 Eliphaz comes right out into the open and accuses Job to his face. His sufferings must prove that he is a sinner. The extensive sufferings prove he must have done “abundant” evil (22:5). In particular (22:6–9) he must have abused his great power, doing the exact opposite of what Job will later maintain he has done (see Job 29). Precisely because Job has behaved so badly, “snares are all around (him) and sudden terror overwhelms (him)” (22:10). Eliphaz has no evidence for this, except that Job’s sufferings are thought to prove it must be true.
22:12–20 Eliphaz reiterates the emphatic teaching of Bildad and Zophar that God sees and always punishes the wicked. Job has claimed that people who say to God, “Depart from us!” often prosper (21:14); but Eliphaz insists that people who say to God, “Depart from us” and “What can the Almighty do to us?” are always and inevitably punished (22:17). And this is the precise punishment that Job is currently experiencing.
22:21–30 And so Eliphaz closes with a final appeal to Job to repent. If Job will “receive instruction” from “God’s mouth and lay up his words in (his) heart” (22:22), if he will “return to the Almighty” (22:23; “return” is the word that means “repent”), then God will rebuild his life—a beautiful appeal. The Almighty God will be precious to Job again (22:25), Job will delight himself in God again (22:26), pray to him and be heard (22:27), prosper in his decisions (22:28), and all because God “saves the lowly” (22:29). What could be wrong with such a beautiful (and biblical) appeal for repentance, with its consequent promise of blessing? The answer goes to the heart of the book. For Job is already penitent; he is suffering undeserved troubles precisely because he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and turns from evil (1:1, 8; 2:3). He is not suffering because he is guilty at all. There is such a thing as undeserved suffering. It all goes back to the question Eliphaz asked in his first speech: “who that was innocent ever perished?” (4:7). The answer points eventually to the cross of Christ and through him to the sufferings of the people of Christ which they share with him (Rom 8:17).
Job Speaks (23:1–24:25)
Where Eliphaz and his friends think that justice is perfectly done on earth, Job knows justice is lacking but longs for the day when it will be established on the whole earth. Job’s speech here is almost an expanded version of the cry “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” in the Lord’s prayer. Job is reaching towards the understanding that, although God is sovereign in all he commands, not all that he commands fits yet with what he desires; in this age God commands puzzling things, in order to work out his inscrutable purposes of good, so that in the age to come he will bring to fruition all that he desires.
In chapter 23 the burden of Job’s speech is the longing that those who are righteous by faith will be vindicated. Then in chapter 24 he turns to the other side of the problem and cries out that the wicked will be judged.
23:1–12 Job voices his deep longing to come into the presence of God to make his case (Job 23:2–7). “Oh, that I knew where I might find him,” this invisible inscrutable God! He believes the day will come when he, and all believers, will be able to stand before God and God will acquit him forever (23:7). In 23:8–9 he struggles that God is invisible; he cannot see him. And yet (23:8–12), even though Job does not know the way that God takes (he is ignorant of the heavenly scenes in Job 1–2), he is confident that God “knows the way that I take” (23:10). And the way that Job takes is the way of a clear conscience, which is why he trusts that “when (God) has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (23:10). He is confident he has “held fast” to the steps of godliness (23:11) and has “not departed from the commandment of (God’s) lips” (23:12).
23:13–17 There is awe in Job’s voice. He recognizes the inscrutable sovereignty of God, who “will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind.” Job is “terrified,” and his heart is “faint”; and yet he perseveres. He knows he must stand, and will eventually stand, before Almighty God and be vindicated. We read here a foreshadowing of the awesome confidence that Jesus had, even as the darkness of God’s wrath against sinners closed in on him, that one day he would stand before the Father vindicated.
[Note about chapters 24–27: many commentators suggest that the text has been scrambled in these chapters and does not represent the original book. There is no manuscript evidence for this. This commentary will take the text as it stands.]
24:1–12 Chapter 24 begins with the key question: why does Almighty God not keep proper “times” or “days” of judgment? Why does he not judge the wicked, as we long for him to do? Job asks this because the world is full both of unpunished crimes (24:2–4, 9) and victims denied justice (24:5–8, 10–12). Job 24:2–4 catalogs crimes of rural theft and abuse of the vulnerable (the widow, the poor). As a result of these unpunished injustices the poor are “like wild donkeys in the desert,” picking food for their children from “the wasteland,” reduced to pitiful gleanings from the shining vineyard of the wicked man, lying naked in the cold night, without proper clothing or shelter (24:5–8); it is a heart-rending description, echoed all over the world. Violent people snatch children and turn them into slaves (24:9). These abused people are put to forced labor and we see them wounded and dying in their distress (24:10–12). Why does God not act in judgment?
24:13–17 This section contains a play on light and darkness and their reversal. Implicitly these sins reverse the proper order of creation. Murderers kill the poor, thieves steal, adulterers go about their lust, and all at night (24:14–16). “For deep darkness is morning to all of them.” These people “are friends with the terrors of deep darkness.” Creation order is being subverted. Why does God not act in judgment?
24:18–25 In 24:18–20 it seems that Job is summarizing what his friends have said (“You say . . . ”). They claim that God will judge these people. Job agrees that he will, but he questions whether God will always act quickly. Job 24:22–25 is not an easy passage to understand, but Job is probably saying that, although “God prolongs the life of the mighty [i.e., these wicked mighty people] by his power,” nevertheless the day will come when they will “despair.” “They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they are brought low . . . cut off . . . ” Probably Job is agreeing with his friends that there will be a judgment but doubting that it always happens straightaway, as they suppose.
Bildad Speaks (25:1–6)
25:1–3 Bildad’s final speech is very short! With it, the talking of the comforters stutters into silence. Bildad begins by reaffirming the absolute sovereignty of God. God exercises “dominion”; he rules “in his high heaven,” far above human challenge. You cannot count his vast and unbeatable armies or find a man or woman upon whom God’s created light does not shine. God is absolutely in control and none can challenge him.
25:4 It follows—and Bildad here repeats what Eliphaz (4:17; 15:14–16) has also said—that no mortal human being can hope to be “in the right” or “pure” in the sight of God. When Job expresses this longing to stand in the presence of God, therefore, as he has done in 23:3–7, his hope is in vain. Job more or less agrees with this (e.g., 9:2; 14:4) and yet he clings to this hope that one day a way will be found, an arbiter or mediator, who will make this astonishing thing possible.
25:5–6 Bildad follows this up by so emphasizing the bright purity of God that no human being can ever hope to be more than “a maggot” or “a worm.” The system of relentless morality espoused by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar ends on this note of hopelessness. There is no gospel here.
Job Replies (26:1–14)
26:1 Chapter 26 is the final speech in the cycles of speeches between Job and his comforters. (The speech is introduced, as the other speeches in the cycles, by the words, “Then . . . answered and said:”) Chapters 27–31 consist of two summing up speeches from Job, rather than a part of the cycles; they are introduced in a different way, by the words, “And Job again took up his discourse, and said:” (27:1; 29:1).
26:2–4 Job gives a biting (even sarcastic) rebuke to his friends. Oh, they have helped him so much! He has no power, but they have brought help! He has no wisdom and they have given him wonderful counsel! How wonderful they have been! Or not! For where there is no gospel, there is no true wisdom, and without gospel there is no power to help the powerless.
26:5–14 Up until 26:13 Job gives his comforters a bright hymn of praise to God. This is perhaps surprising. But maybe it should not surprise us as much as it does. For Job is a believer and, even in the depths of his struggles, he is learning truths from his Creator. His friends have sung the praise of God too. So, we ask: is Job simply agreeing with them? But there are hints that Job is doing more. First, he shows them that he wholeheartedly agrees that God is quite wonderfully sovereign. Even “Sheol . . . and Abaddon” (the place of Destruction, later Apollyon in Greek, “the angel of the bottomless pit” in Rev 9:11) are “naked” to God; even the place of the dead is open to his gaze; there is no corner of the created order that is outside of his control (26:5, 6). In vivid (but not always easy to understand) poetry Job sings the glory and majesty of the Creator. Job 26:7–10 speaks of God’s maintenance of creation order, but 26:11 makes the point that God can, when he chooses, make “the pillars of heaven tremble” as he shakes the created order. His friends will not acknowledge this. And yet Job is presently experiencing these tremors; supremely, when Jesus dies, this instability takes-on a physical manifestation (hence the earthquake in Matt 27:51).
God’s power extends over the chaos-monster Rahab (that is, “the fleeing serpent”) and the hostile chaotic sea (Job 26:12–13). All the powers of the universe are under his sovereign control. In this Job anticipates the final speeches of the book. But—and here Job reaches out for something greater than his friends will admit—in 26:14 Job acknowledges that “these are but the outskirts of his ways”; there is more to God’s power and wisdom than we can yet grasp. How right Job is!
Job’s Summing up Speeches (27:1–31:40)
Speech One: Part One (27:1–23)
27:1 The words, “And Job again took up his discourse, and said” introduce the first summing up speech from Job; he speaks to all his supposed comforters (the address is plural, e.g., in 27:11–12).
27:2–6 The first thing that Job says—and he will return to this in his second summing up speech—is to insist that he really is in right relationship with God. He insists that God has “taken away my right” (27:2); in other words, Job really is righteous, and if he were to admit that his friends “are right” (27:5) he would be speaking “falsehood” and “deceit” (27:4). His friends insist that he, Job, is in the wrong; but he is not. He will not abandon his claim to have “integrity” (27:5) and “righteousness” (27:6). In this he—presumably unconsciously—echoes the verdict of the narrator and of the LORD (1:1, 8; 2:3). Right deep in his “heart” there is no “reproach,” no accusation of a guilty conscience (27:6).
27:7–10 Since Job is in right relationship with God, his friends must not malign him and say he is not. So, in 27:7–10 Job prays for God’s judgment upon them. They have made themselves his enemies; well, then, they have set themselves against God; this is the logic of 27:7. If they rise up against Job, they rise up against God in unrighteousness.
27:11–23 Job warns his friends of the danger in which they have placed themselves. In the description of the wicked given here by Job there are many echoes of the descriptions his friends have given of the wicked under the judgment of God (e.g., 18:5–21). Although many commentators have suggested that the text has been misplaced, and that this section ought to be placed on the lips of one of the friends, there is no manuscript evidence for this. Besides, the context is different. When they described judgment, the echoes of the sufferings of Job made it clear that they thought Job was wicked. But here Job describes the sufferings of the wicked precisely because, in their hostility towards him, they place themselves in danger of that judgment. So (27:11) he offers to teach them what they have tried to teach him—a frightening description! Those who oppose the gospel or persecute those who truly belong to God will do well to take note of it and beware.
Speech One: Part Two (28:1–28)
28:1–11 The tone changes in chapter 28. Now Job does not explicitly address anyone. Heated disagreement is replaced by quiet contemplation. Without any explanation, these verses contain a fascinating and very old poem about the process of mining. It may be the oldest description of human mining in history. Before considering its purpose, we should read it and consider the two main emphases: (a) the great value of what is found and (b) the extraordinary difficulty of finding it. Somewhere under the earth there is a “place” for silver, gold, iron, and copper (28:1–2). But to find it man must go into very dark places (28:3 “darkness . . . gloom . . . deep darkness”). The search is lonely (28:4), fraught with dangers. Growing crops above ground is easy, but it takes explosive fire to unearth what is under the ground (28:5). But what value is to be found there! Sapphires, dust of gold (28:6). But they are invisible even to the falcon (28:7) and inaccessible even to the lion (28:8). How hard they are to find!
28:12–22 Think, says Job, about finding something deeply hidden, that needs a lonely and painful search, but is so abundantly worth finding. In 28:12 Job tells us why he spoke this poem: “But where shall wisdom be found?” By “wisdom” or “understanding” Job means the moral structure of the universe, how and why the universe fits together. This lonely search has occupied Job; he longs to know why he is suffering as he is. He wants to know what we, the readers, know from the heavenly scenes of chapters 1 and 2. And so, in 28:12–22, he develops these twin themes of the great value of wisdom and its extraordinary inaccessibility. He longs to find it; but he cannot. You cannot put a price on it (28:13, 15–19), but it cannot be found, even in the wild extremities of the universe (“the deep . . . the sea . . . ” 28:14). For “It is hidden from the eyes of all living . . . ” and even Abaddon (“Destruction”) and Death (personifications of the lords of the realm of the dead) do not know where wisdom is to be found (28:22).
28:23–27 Job reassures himself and his readers that “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place” (notice that word “place” again). But the conclusion of the poem is perhaps the key to understanding Job’s meaning.
28:28 God now speaks to humankind, for the first time in the book. He says that “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” And yet this is precisely what we know that Job himself does—and does consistently (1:1, 8; 2:3)! Job, in his lonely search, his undeserved sufferings, and his deep perplexity, embodies all that a human being can find of wisdom here on earth. He cannot find the answer to the mysteries of the universe; but in fearing God and repenting from evil he embodies wisdom. In this, Job prefigures One in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are to be found, Jesus Christ (Col 2:2–3).
The formula, “And Job again took up his discourse, and said” introduces Job’s final summing up speech (Job 29–31) as it did his first (Job 27–28). Although there are no markers in the text, our chapter divisions accurately mirror the three parts of the speech.
Speech Two: Part One (29:1–25)
29:1–6 Job begins with passionate longing (“Oh, that . . . ”) for his lost past. But the content of his longing reveals what matters most to his heart. For he begins by remembering, not primarily the blessings he experienced, but rather “the friendship of God” (29:4). The blessings are valued and remembered because they were the blessings of God, the God whose presence Job treasured. This passage echoes the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24–26. The word translated “friendship” conveys the idea of one in whom a person confides and has confidence (cf. Prov 3:32). The imagery of “steps washed with butter” and “streams of oil” (Job 29:6) means abundant food and plenty. In this first section Job longs to walk with God, as his great successor Jesus will do as the Son of God, walking through life in fellowship with the Father.
29:7–10 Through the end of the chapter Job focuses—again, to our surprise—not on the abundance of his former life, but on the privilege of showing godly leadership and being a blessing to others. He longs, in anticipation, to live with the majesty and dignity of the Savior. Here he describes the respect with which he was greeted at “the gate of the city” (the place of business); people drew back, stood up, stopped talking, and waited for him to take his seat.
29:11–20 People treat a human leader with outward honor for many reasons. For some, it is because we are frightened of the terror of a tyrant. But not with Job. Job 29:11–17 tells us why he was so honored. He is the leader they love because he does what a leader ought to do: he delivers the poor, looks after the fatherless, cares for the dying, gives joy to the widow (29:11–13). He is a righteous judge (29:14) who looks out for those who cannot look out for themselves (29:15, 16) and punishes the oppressor (29:17). Job had been, on a local level, what Adam ought to have been for the world, and what Jesus will be for all creation; he had been the Judge and Savior. The dignity of Job anticipates the majesty of Jesus. Job expected (29:18–20) therefore to live a long life without suffering. That is what you would expect in a world without undeserved suffering.
29:21–25 Job ends this part of his speech by remembering again the government with which he had been entrusted. All these longings of Job find their fulfilment in the yearnings of Jesus Christ to walk in fellowship with the Father and to exercise in this world the good government of the Kingdom of God. And so he will. And so will his people as they rule with him (1Cor 6:2).
Speech Two: Part Two (30:1–31)
In chapter 29, Job remembers a wonderful past, in fellowship with God and exercising God’s good government in a needy world. Chapter 30 reverses that, first by replacing dignity with indignity (Job 30:1–15, reversing 29:7–25) and then as the smile of God is taken away (30:16–31 reversing 29:2–6). If chapter 29 looks back, chapter 30 is firmly trapped in a miserable present (“But now . . . And now . . . And now . . . ” 30:1, 9, 16).
30:1–8 The indignity of Job focuses on mockery. These verses paint a picture of those who mock him. They are “younger than I” (30:1), in a culture in which seniority ought to be honored by the young (as it ought). Job does not paint a picture of the virtuous poor; these men come from terrible families (30:1b, lower than despised dogs), are useless and unemployable (30:2–4), rightly driven out of human society (30:5–7) because in their character (30:8) they are “senseless” and “nameless” (probably meaning having no character to deserve a reputation). And yet Job, this great, noble, righteous man is counted as lower even than these dregs of society. How God’s good order of creation is turned upside down!
30:9–15 These utterly despicable people completely despise Job. They laugh at him, make cruel songs about him, keep their distance from him, terrify him. And the reason they do this is that “God has loosed my cord and humbled me” (30:11a). They regard Job as a God-forsaken man, and that is what Job feels himself to be. In his God-forsakenness, as a man under the judgment of God, Job experiences something of what Jesus will later suffer as he too is mocked and scorned.
30:16–31 Job 30:16–23 contains the only direct address from Job to God in chapters 29–31. In 30:20–23 he cries out to God for help. But he is not answered. In some deeply mysterious way, heaven must be silent to his cries, and his undeserved suffering must be filled up in misery and darkness (30:24–31).
And so, after the bright light of chapter 29 we are plunged into the contrasting darkness of chapter 30. Here we see this great and righteous man plunged right to the very depths of human society, drenched with the misery of the punishments of God. This is a deep and moving anticipation of the cross of Christ.
Speech Two: Part Three (31:1–40)
At the end of chapter 31, the end of this final summing up speech, we read that, “The words of Job are ended.” We consider now the final part of the last speech of Job as he prepares to stand before God. What will he say? Again and again, he says something like this: “If I had done this sin, then God would be right to punish me. But I have not done it.” His friends have accused him of deceitfulness; they say he has indeed done these and other sins and does most certainly deserve his punishment. But we know (both from the beginning, 1:1, 8; 2:3) and the end (42:7) that this is not so. Job’s protestations of innocence are true; he is a real believer. He is not sinless, but he walks before God as a forgiven man with a clear conscience.
31:1–3 The structure seems to be balanced. Job begins by speaking of the “covenant” he has made. Rather than addressing just one example (cf. looking lustfully at a woman), Job’s vigilance against lust may stand for his battle against all evil desire. He will end (31:38–40) by calling on the earth (his land) as it were to ratify this covenant, to attest that what he says is true. These bracket the speech; Job claims to have made a covenant to walk with God and is sure that the earth itself will attest that he has kept this covenant in faithfulness.
31:4–6 Inside this outer bracket there is a repeated challenge. Job challenges God to weigh his heart and attest his integrity. This challenge is repeated most emphatically in 31:35–37 where he calls on the Almighty to answer his challenge and vindicate him.
31:7–34 Job offers a representative catalog consisting of examples of his covenant faithfulness. He provides a series of ten denials:
- He has not turned aside from God’s way in his heart (31:7–8).
- He has not committed adultery (31:9–12).
- He has not treated his servants unfairly (31:13–15).
- He has not been ungenerous to the needy (31:16–20).
- He has not abused the weak (31:21–23).
- He has not trusted in his riches (31:24–25).
- He has not made an idol of the sun, moon, or stars (31:26–28).
- He has not rejoiced at the downfall of his enemies (31:29–30).
- He has not failed to be hospitable to visitors (31:31–32).
- He has not been a hypocrite, pretending to be pious when he is not (31:33–34).
31:35–40 Job rests his case. In verses 35–37 he—as it were—signs his defense statement and calls on Almighty God to answer his case. We are not sure why he concludes (31:38–40) by a protestation of innocence concerning his land; most likely this is because the land stands for the whole Created Order, which will testify to Job’s righteousness.
Job claims to be faithful to his covenant with God. This is true. He is a forgiven sinner. But he foreshadows a man who is utterly faithful to his eternal covenant with the Father, Jesus the incarnate Son of God, who has no sin. And yet Job also foreshadows believers today, who are—like Job—covered by the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Job was covered by that death so many centuries before, even as he knew so little of the provision that God would make for his sin. We who know much more are called to “walk in the light” (1Jn 1:7) with a clear conscience before God.
The Answers to Job (32:1–42:6)
Introduction of Elihu (32:1–5)
In Job 1:1–5, the main character of the book, Job, was introduced, and we heard what happened to him (1:6–2:10). Then Job’s three friends were introduced (2:11–13), and we heard—at great length—what happened between them and Job (3:1–31:40), at which point “The words of Job are ended.” Now—again in prose—there is a third introduction. This begins the answers to Job. His three friends have “ceased to answer” him (32:1, emphasis mine); Elihu is angry with the friends because “they had found no answer” (32:3, emphasis mine) to Job, in the sense that they failed to persuade him that he is “in the wrong.” Elihu “saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men” (32:5). Elihu’s speeches thus maintain a heavy emphasis on the need to answer Job.
The other thing we notice about Elihu is his anger. He “burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job . . . He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends . . . .when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger” (32:2, 3, 5, emphasis mine). Elihu is angry because Job has claimed to be in the right and therefore that God must be in the wrong to make him endure such suffering. This accusation against God makes Elihu angry. And he is right to be angry! To accuse the judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25) of injustice is an infinitely serious matter. We see at the end of the book the paradox that (a) Job is right to claim righteousness (Job 42:7), for he is a righteous and blameless man, but (b) Job has said some wrong things about God, for which he will need to repent (40:2–5; 42:1–6).
Many commentators consider Elihu to be an alien intrusion into the book or—at best—an ambiguous voice (as I once thought myself). The position of this commentary is a minority position: Elihu represents a truly prophetic voice and his speeches are a reliable and authoritative preface to the speeches of the LORD.1 He gives four unanswered speeches, the last of which segues very naturally in style and substance into the first of the divine speeches.
Elihu’s Answers (32:6–37:24)
Each of Elihu’s four speeches is introduced by a formula including the words, “Elihu . . . answered and said” (32:6; 34:1; 35:1) or “Elihu continued and said” (36:1).
Elihu’s First Speech (32:6–33:33)
32:6–22 Elihu explains, with some passion, why he has decided to speak, despite his relative youth (32:6–7). He claims in some way to speak by the “spirit” (or “Spirit”), “the breath of the Almighty” (32:8). He is dismayed that the three friends, despite having plenty of time and making many speeches, “answer no more . . . have not a word to say” (32:15). Elihu is filled with “the spirit within me” and simply must speak; he is so angry, so disturbed by the unanswered speeches of Job, that he must find some relief by speaking (32:20) and will do so without favoritism or flattery (32:21–22).
The question in our minds is this: is the “spirit” by which Elihu speaks simply his own human wisdom and anger, or is it in some way the “Spirit” of the Almighty God? Only the content of his speeches will show us.
33:1–7 Elihu says he will speak as one made by “The Spirit of God” (33:4) and yet as one who is mortal like Job, in whose presence Job has no need to be terrified (33:6–7).
33:8–13 He accurately summarizes what Job has been saying. Job claims that he is “clean” (that is, forgiven, penitent, in right relation with God) but that God is victimizing him (33:9–11). Job claims that God does not speak to him; but this cannot be right (33:12–13).
33:14–18 This leads into an important part of Elihu’s argument. In 33:14–30 he argues that God does indeed speak, and in more ways than one (33:14). First, he speaks through what we may call the voice of conscience. He pictures a man terrified by dreams that frighten him and warn him to turn aside from a wrong deed, to repent of pride, and therefore to be preserved from “the pit” into which the wicked will be cast. The kindness of God is displayed when he does this.
33:19–28 Second, Elihu argues that God speaks through pain, which is—in C. S. Lewis’s famous phrase “God’s megaphone to a deaf world.”2 Here is a man “rebuked with pain on his bed” (33:19); but in his suffering, as he faces the prospect of death (33:22), a “mediator” declares to him what is right, shows mercy to him, gives a ransom for him, and the man prays and is restored. That is to say, God uses a man’s pain to bring him to turn to God in prayer.
33:29–33 In conclusion, Elihu says that Job needs to listen to his prophetic voice as he tells him what God wants him to hear in his sufferings. Even the sinless Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:8).
Elihu’s Second Speech (34:1–37)
34:1–15 In his second speech Elihu homes in on his central concern, which is the righteousness and goodness of God. He identifies this concern in 34:2–4. Speaking, presumably, both to Job and his friends, he invited them to consider “what is right . . . what is good” (34:4, emphasis mine). In 34:5–6 he sums up how Job has erred. Job has said (1) that he, not God, is “in the right” (34:5), (2) that God has taken away what Job rightly deserves (34:5b), (3) that God calls him a liar when he defends his integrity (34:6) and (4) that there is no hope for Job (34:6b). This accusation against the righteousness of God is outrageous (34:7–9). It undermines true piety. Elihu’s chief axiom is that God will never “do wickedness . . . do wrong” but will always be just (34:10–11). The reason is that God is God (34:12–15) and for that reason is responsible for the government of the world; if God were not just, then the world could not continue to exist. (This is a profoundly true argument.)
34:16–37 Elihu speaks again to Job (turning from plural to singular verbs). Because God governs the world, he must necessarily be just (34:16–17). He does indeed judge justly, as 34:18–30 argues. He has no favorites (“no partiality” 34:18, 19), he has the power to make people pass away (34:20), his “eyes” see perfectly what people are saying and doing (34:21–25), and he exercises his judgments publicly, for all to see (34:26–28). Sometimes his judgments are delayed (he is “quiet” and “hides his face” 34:29) but this does not mean he is not going to judge. Job needs to admit that he has spoken “without knowledge . . . without insight” (34:35) as indeed it will turn out that he has (40:1–5; 42:1–6).
Elihu’s Third Speech (35:1–16)
35:1–4 This third speech is addressed in the singular to Job. Elihu addresses one particular thing Job has been saying, or implying: “What is the point of being pious? Suppose I live in the fear of God, what then? What advantage have I? How am I better off than if I had sinned?” (cf. 34:9 where Elihu quotes Job saying something very similar.)
35:5–8 This section is the first part of Elihu’s answer (an answer that is easy to misunderstand). Elihu asks Job to look up at the sky and thence to meditate on the transcendence of God. From this he is to deduce that nothing he or any of us can do will cause God pain or pleasure. We can sin, but we do not hurt God (35:6). We can do right but it does not increase the blessedness of God (35:7). In this sense, what we do, whether good or bad, is important to us but does not affect God (35:8). Elihu does not mean that God is not pleased or displeased by what we do; after all, he is reasoning with Job to make him change what he says. But he does mean that we can neither hurt God nor place God in our debt; God is beyond that. So, we are mistaken when we think that by pleasing God, we will put God in our debt and make him bound to bless us, as Job seems to be implying.
35:9–16 This section is the second part of Elihu’s answer. Job 35:9–13 is general; the application to Job comes in 35:14–16. Job 35:9–13 observes that, all over the world, oppressed people cry out to God. But, although they cry, they do not say, “Where is God my Maker?” (35:10); that is, they do not seek God in their hearts. It is possible to cry out without really praying. They “cry out” (35:12), but their cry is “empty” (35:13) because it does not come from faith that God exists and that he answers those who seek him. In 35:14–16 Elihu applies this to Job: “ . . . you say that you do not see him” (i.e., see God or hear his answer). But your talk about God, these wrong things you are saying about God, are “empty” (35:16), “words without knowledge” (a phrase echoed in 38:2).
Elihu’s third speech is robust and hard-hitting. He challenges Job at perhaps his weakest point; for Job has begun, it would seem, to slip into expecting God to answer him because of his piety.
Elihu’s Fourth Speech (36:1–37:24)
36:1–4 Elihu’s final speech is his most majestic. He begins by setting out his purpose: he will “ascribe righteousness to my Maker.” That is to say, he will defend the justice of God; that is his aim.
36:5–25 Now Elihu turns to focus on God’s dealings with people. God is very powerful (36:5) but uses his power (a) to punish the wicked (36:6a), which he will do, even if we have to wait, and (b) to give those who are righteous by faith their “right,” i.e., their vindication (36:6b, 7). Such righteous people may and often are “caught in the cords of affliction” (36:8), as Job is; but God’s gracious purpose in this is that they be restored (36:9–10). Such loving discipline leads to two possible responses (36:11–15): some will “listen and serve him,” while others will “not listen” and come to a terrible end.
In 36:16–25 Elihu appeals directly to Job. God is dealing with Job in loving discipline, he says; he is “alluring” you “out of distress” (36:16). So, Job must be careful to respond in the right way. He must “take care” (36:21) to respond with faith.
36:26–33 Although Elihu’s appeal is right, perhaps he knows that he needs to do something with a more immediate emotional power to move Job to change. Certainly, the remainder of his speech reaches great heights of rhetorical force. He begins this next section (36:26) with the words, “Behold, God is great, and we know him not” (that is, he is beyond our comprehension). He dwells above and beyond time (36:26b). In 36:27–28 he takes the example of how water evaporates and forms clouds which then rain on us; this process is (was) beyond our understanding but is clearly benevolent. Similarly (36:29–33) the more dramatic processes of thunder clouds and lightning are under God’s command and intended ultimately for the blessing of humankind.
37:1–13 The storm language intensifies, giving the reader a sense of awe and wonder. This stormy voice of God (“his voice” 37:2, “his mouth” 37:2, “his voice . . . when his voice is heard” 37:4, etc.) roars to convey the sovereign power of God. We can neither control this nor comprehend it. Snow, whirlwinds (think tornadoes or hurricanes), bitter cold and ice, all this is under the sovereign providential hand of God.
37:14–20 In 37:14 Elihu appeals to Job: “Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” He invites Job, calls Job, summons Job, to bow before the One who is “perfect in knowledge” and unstoppable in his power. This appeal runs through to 37:20. The idea that we know better than God, that we can “speak” in this way to God, is madness: “Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up?” Job needs to bow before God’s sovereign wisdom, his omnipotent knowledge.
37:21–24 Elihu concludes his speech by picturing the scene after the storm has blown over (or perhaps it actually had). The bright light of the sky, the golden splendor, the awesome majesty of God, all this ought to move us to “fear him” and not to be wise in our own conceit (37:24).
In all this, Elihu focuses on the power and the wisdom of God in ways that lead very naturally into the Lord’s own speeches. Elihu is an Elijah-figure, a forerunner for God himself.
The LORD’s Answers and Job’s Responses (38:1–42:6)
At this point, something truly astonishing happens. God himself, the covenant LORD (not given that name since chapters 1 and 2) speaks directly to Job, as Job has both dreaded (9:16–18) and desired (23:3; 31:35). God speaks “out of the whirlwind,” the storm so vividly described by Elihu in chapter 37 that has also enveloped Job’s life.
The LORD’s First Answer (38:1–40:2)
38:1–3 The LORD opens with a rebuke. Job has not concealed secret sins, as his friends have said; but he has said things about God that ought not to be said. He has darkened wise “counsel by words without knowledge.” And so, the LORD summons him to a verbal contest, a contest that turns out rather one-sided! The answer to each question is, “No, I have not; but I acknowledge that you have.” The wise sovereignty of God will be painted in vivid colors.
The speech consists of 17 short sections. The first ten sections focus on inanimate matter (38:4–38), beginning with five sections about the place of evil within God’s creation (38:4–21).
- 38:4–7 Creation is like a building whose completion was accompanied by great joy. Whatever follows, the creation is fundamentally good.
- 38:8–11 The sea is an image of chaos and evil. This is part of creation; it does not lie outside of what God made. And yet it inhabits a strictly limited sphere—“thus far . . . and no farther.”
- 38:12–15 Wickedness will one day be destroyed. Evil is temporary. Every time the sun rises, it serves as a sign and reminder that darkness cannot endure.
- 38:16–18 In biblical poetry, the place of the dead lies at the bottom of the chaotic sea. And yet even this, the most extreme place in creation, lies within the Creator’s power and knowledge.
- 38:19–21 If the last extreme was very deep, these are very wide. From the far east, where the sun rises, to the far west, where it sets, God rules and knows.
The next five sections look up at the sky, a symbol of things that are above us and stronger than us (38:22–38). Note the particular focus on water in four of these five sections.
- 38:22–24 Destructive snow, hail, light(nings), storm winds come down from the sky under the control of God.
- 38:25–27 Instead of destructive water (snow, hail, thunderstorms) we now see water transformed into a life-giving gift that makes even remote deserted lands fertile. The same water is used by God both in a violent way (38:22–24) and a life-giving way. Only God understands how or why.
- 38:28–30 We have here a beautiful meditation about the relationship between water and the Creator. God is the “father” and “womb” from which water comes in all its varied forms. It comes as “dew” and “rain” to bring fertility. It comes as “ice” and “frost” to threaten life. And all from the same Creator, with whom it has this intimate relationship.
- 38:31–33 God focuses now on some of the constellations of stars in the sky. Often these have been thought to be divine, influencing affairs on earth (as with horoscopes). But no! Every detail of these stars is ordained and established by the LORD.
- 38:34–38 And now we come back to water. Every raindrop, each lightning bolt, goes at his command, in detail and precisely as the LORD instructs, whether to destroy or to bring life.
The final seven sections move from inanimate matter to animals and birds (38:39–39:30). Note the particular focus on what is wild. Just as some of the earlier sections looked at extreme parts of creation, so these animals and birds are not domesticated. Note also a theme of life and death.
- 38:39–41 We begin with predators and prey, the lion as a beast predator and the raven as a bird that feeds on the prey of the lion. Surprisingly, God speaks of this whole process—the lion killing the prey and then the raven getting food from the carcass—as a blessing, for it brings food to the defenseless young lions and ravens. So, is it evil or good? What may seem evil could perhaps be good.
- 39:1–4 If the last section looked at death in the wild, this one considers new life in the wild. These are “mountain goats” not farm goats. God enables them to become pregnant, to go into labor, and to give birth, even in the wild.
- 39:5–8 Now the camera moves from the mountain goat to the wild donkey, who roams the dry plains. He too, in his wild freedom is under the care and direction of the Creator.
- 39:9–12 And now the wild ox, a huge and frightening creature. Job is challenged to domesticate this grand animal. But he cannot. The ox is a picture of wild power outside and beyond Job’s control. And yet God controls it all.
- 39:13–18 But what about the ostrich? What a funny creature she is, failing to care well for her young and yet able to run so very fast! Somehow even in her eccentric strangeness this creature helps us grasp that every creature is under the care and government of God.
- 39:19–25 The portrait of the war horse pawing eagerly ready for the fight introduces us to another picture of power. For the horse was the nuclear weapon of the ancient world. We are to picture this magnificent creature and marvel that even he is under the control of the Creator.
- 39:26–30 And then we come back to predator and prey with the hawk or eagle, the bird of prey. Living far above human habitation, God enables him to hunt and to feed his young.
These are meant to be thought-provoking word pictures as we consider the created order and wonder just how and why God governs it as he does.
40:1–2 The LORD gives Job a concluding challenge. Job has been “a faultfinder,” finding fault with the way Almighty God governs his world, not least as he struggles with his own undeserved suffering. He must be rebuked.
Job’s First Response (40:3–5)
In his brief response, Job admits his insignificance (“I am of small account”) and says he will speak no more. He does not explicitly repent, for that must wait until after God’s second speech, as we shall see.
The LORD’s Second Answer (40:6–41:34)
The LORD’s second answer consists of an accusation (40:6–8), and a challenge (40:9–14) followed by portraits of a creature called Behemoth (40:15–24) and another creature called Leviathan (41:1–34).
40:6–8 The accusation is very similar to the rebuke at the start of the first speech (38:2, 3). Still Job is putting God “in the wrong” and condemning God “that you may be in the right.” This suggests that the second speech is needed, not as a kind of postscript to the first, but to deal with a deeper question. This will help us think about what or who are meant by Behemoth and Leviathan.
40:9–14 The accusation is followed by a challenge that is both humorous and dark at the same time. God challenges Job to put on God’s regal clothes (“Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity . . . glory and splendor” 40:10) and then do the job of being the judge of all the earth. He is to look at proud people and bring them down in judgment, in particular the arrogant wicked (40:11–12). He, Job, is to bring them down into the dust (a picture of ending their lives, cf. Ps 90:3) so that they dwell in the underworld (Job 40:13). When Job has done that, picked up God’s job as the judge of all the earth (cf. Gen 18:25) and done it successfully, then God “will . . . acknowledge” that his own right hand can save him (Job 40:14). So, the challenge is for Job to do God’s job of judging the world. And clearly, he cannot do that.
A deeper truth needs to be unearthed here. God is not saying simply that the job of dealing with evil is harder than Job thinks—undoubtedly that is hard work. Rather, God is saying that Job has not begun to understand what will be necessary to win the victory over death and the one who holds the power of death, that is, the devil; for only by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ will this victory be won (Heb 2:14). Strangely, even as Job does not understand this, in his own sufferings he is foreshadowing that victory.
40:15–24 Behemoth means something like a “super beast.” Some have thought he is a hippopotamus and there are some similarities. He eats grass (Job 40:15), is very strong (40:16–18) and lives in the marsh or by a river (40:21–23). And yet there is something of the supernatural about him. “He is the first of the works of God,” a supremely strong beast, and only the Creator can bring his sword and defeat him (40:19). While we cannot be sure who Behemoth is supposed to represent, it seems likely that in some way he speaks about the power of supernatural evil, perhaps the beastly power of Death personified.
41:1–34 With Leviathan, we have more evidence. This terrifying water creature is a kind of monstrous mix of a dragon and a many-headed sea-serpent. He cannot be tamed (41:2), will not beg you for mercy (41:3) or come to terms with you to become your servant (“make a covenant” 41:4), and the very idea of him being a pet for the young is absurd (41:5). You will not find his body in the fish market, as you might a whale (41:6–7). If you fight him, you will not forget the battle (41:8)! But, although he is supremely fierce, he is not as strong as his Creator (“Who then is he who can stand before me?” 41:10) for every creature under heaven belongs to the Creator (41:11). All the way through to 41:32 he is described in fearsome imagery. Job 41:33–34 is a climax of terror, for he is unique (“On earth there is not his like”) and “king” over all the proud creatures of the world.
So who is he? Many commentators think both Behemoth and Leviathan are natural creatures such as we might find today in a zoo or nature park. But the Bible suggests otherwise. We met Leviathan earlier in Job (3:8) where he has the power to write a date out of the calendar. We meet him again in Isaiah 27:1 and Psalm 74:12–14. He reminds us of the Beast in apocalyptic literature (e.g., Daniel 7). In Revelation 12:9 (cf. 20:2) the devil or Satan is called a “great dragon” or “ancient serpent.” It seems most likely that Leviathan is a vivid storybook description of Satan himself (and this accords well also with the stories told in the ancient Near East about a dragon or monster god).
If Job is challenged in the first speech to claim wisdom and power over the created and visible world order, it would seem that in this second speech he is challenged to demonstrate his power over Satan and Death, the powers of supernatural evil.
Job’s Second Response (42:1–6)
If this is so, then it makes sense of Job’s second response, which is much stronger than his first. In the first he agreed to stop speaking. But now he explicitly repents. He admits to God “that you can do all things” (42:2), that you are sovereign over all things without exception, and including supernatural evil. He admits that he has spoken without knowledge (42:3), and he repents with deep humiliation (42:6). If Behemoth and Leviathan are simply two more creatures such as we might find in a zoo, the passage makes little sense. But if they stand as vivid symbols of Satan and the power of Death, it makes perfect sense.
This also solves the puzzle that Satan, having played such a significant part in the story at the start, does not seem to feature again. But if Leviathan is Satan, then he does indeed appear again, and at a very critical point in the story.
The End (42:7–17)
Job 1 and 2 were in prose, as also the introduction of Elihu at the start of chapter 37. Now we return to prose for the conclusion of the book. There are two parts to this conclusion, first the story of what Job has to do for his friends (42:7–9) and then the account of the blessings that come to Job after his sufferings (42:10–17).
Job’s Intercession for his Friends (42:7–9)
42:7 Eliphaz reappears as the senior representative of Job’s three friends. We have not heard from any of them since chapter 25. Elihu had been angry with these three men, and God agrees with Elihu. God too has an anger that burns against them because they have not spoken about God “what is right.” The overall verdict on the Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar is negative. They may have said all sorts of correct things (and they have); but their message as a whole is simply wrong. Their message denies the grace of God because it has no place either for undeserved suffering (Job and later Jesus) or undeserved blessing (the grace we now have in Jesus).
By contrast, God says that Job has spoken rightly of him. This may surprise us, given all we have just heard about how God has had to rebuke Job. Although God’s verdict may just refer to what Job has just said (42:1–6) in penitence, it seems more likely that it refers overall to what Job has been saying throughout the book, and in dialogue with his erroneous friends. For, even as Job has to repent of what he has said, there has been a fundamental heart of faith that lies beneath what he has said. Job has grappled honestly with God in a way that his comforters have failed to do.
42:8–9 In a wonderful reversal of what they might expect, Job offers sacrifices to act as priest and intercessor on behalf of his friends, who desperately need to be forgiven (42:8). He does so, and the LORD accepts Job’s prayer (42:9). In this Job anticipates a greater priest and intercessor who, because of his greater sufferings, intercedes for all his sinful people.
The Blessings That Come to Job and His Family at the End (42:10–17)
The restoration of Job’s fortunes echo in the restoration of the fortunes of the people of God after the exile (e.g., Ps 126). God pours into his life a superabundant reversal of all his trials. This portrait of wealth, love, beauty, hope, and comfort fills our hearts with delight.
Within the broader story of the whole Bible, these blessings that come to Job do not promise us blessing in this life, as the prosperity gospel wrongly teaches. James 5:7–11 speaks of the steadfastness of Job, and of God’s kindness to him, in the clear context of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus in glory. When Jesus returns, we his people will come into the inheritance which Job’s blessings foreshadow. Until then, we are to persevere under trial and live in confident hope. When that day comes, we shall be drenched in beauty, love, comfort, and the abundance of God’s immediate presence.
Ash, Christopher. Job: The Wisdom of the Cross. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. A full-length commentary for preachers and general readers.
Ash, Christopher. Trusting God in the Darkness. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021. A brief introduction to the book.
Ash, Christopher. Lost in the Land of Uz: How to read the book of Job. DesiringGod.org. An introductory article to orient the reader in the book of Job.
Jones, Hywel R. Job. Llandrillo, UK: Evangelical Press, 2007. A brief, conservative, insightful commentary.
Hartley, John E. The Book of Job. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988. A generally conservative and clear commentary.
Habel, Norman C. The Book of Job. Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1985. Not conservative but very helpful on issues of literary structure.
Wilson, Lindsay. Job. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015. A comprehensive survey of scholarly issues and themes in the book of Job.
Endnotes & Permissions
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Job’s Character and Wealth
1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed1 God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Satan Allowed to Test Job
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan2 also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
Satan Takes Job’s Property and Children
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants3 with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.