A Bible study with Jeffrey J. Harrison
Last time we heard for the first time from Bildad, whose name, as we saw, sounds like bli-dod, "without love." That's a fair characterization of what Bildad had to say. He claimed, for example, that Job's kids only got what they deserved. He said that if Job was really right with God, God would have restored him by now. But since God hadn't restored him, the clear implication was that Job must not be right with God.
Bildad also cautioned that just because things were good in Job's life before his tragedies, this was no guarantee that he was right with God even then. The godless often looks good for a while, until God shows up and destroys him. Since Job was eventually punished, he must have sinned. But now, if only he would get right with God, all his troubles would go away.
Bildad's thinking is simple, and in its own way, very logical. But it misses the point entirely, because Job's case doesn't fit the mould that Bildad is squeezing him into.
In chapter 9, Job answered Bildad by asking how anyone can be righteous before God. Look at God's power, look at his might! And here we begin to see Job's true view of God, a view many people share, that God is a vindictive tyrant, always looking for new ways to punish us or discover our sin.
Besides, Job says, God treats all alike. All die, all suffer when there is a disaster. What difference does it make if you are righteous or unrighteous? And if we can never make ourselves pure, why does he hold it against us?
In chapter 10, Job continues:
Job 10:1: "My soul loathes my life! Let me loose my complaint concerning myself, let me speak in the bitterness of my soul."
Let me voice my true feelings, Job says. I hate my life, my soul is bitter.
10:2: "I would say to Eloah (God) , 'Do not condemn me: show me why you strive with me.'"
Why, God, are you doing this to me?
10:3: "Is it good for you that you oppress, that you reject the work of your hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?"
Do you get something out of oppressing me, your creation, while you approve the plans of the wicked? What purpose does that serve, that the righteous suffer, and the wicked prosper?
10:4-6: "Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a man sees? Are your days as the days of a man, your years as the days of a young man, that you seek for my iniquity and investigate my sin?"
Are your vision and your experience limited to what man can see (as with Job's friends), so that you, too, God, are looking to discover my sin?
10:7: "According to your knowledge [as you well know], I surely am not wicked; and yet there is no deliverer [there is no one to deliver me] from your hand."
Even though you know I am not a wicked person, you don't provide any way for me to be delivered from your punishments.
10:8: "Together your* hands have shaped me and made me all over [made every part of me], and yet you have swallowed me up."
You're the one who made every part of me! Yet now you're destroying me. Why?
10:9: "Remember now that you made me as clay; and will you cause me to return to dust?"
You made me, Job says, as a potter works with clay, an allusion to the Creation account in Genesis (Gen. 2:7). And now you want to return me to the dust? Why?
10:10: "Do you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like curds?"
Many translations put this in the past tense, as if it were a description of God's creation of Job in the womb. But it's written in the imperfect tense, which normally has a present or future meaning. God, Job says, is pouring him out like spoiled milk, or curdling him like curds (a type of cheese), another kind of spoilage.
10:11: "Skin and flesh you clothe me with, and with bones and sinews you weave me together."
You're the one who encloses me in skin and flesh, who puts me together with bones and sinews.
10:12: "Life and lovingkindness you gave to me and your care has guarded my spirit."
You're the one who's given me life and lovingkindness, and taken care of my spirit.
10:13: "And yet these things [life, lovingkindness, care] you have hidden in your heart. I know that this is in you."
I know that you have goodness and kindness there inside of you somewhere, even though I can't see any outward evidence of them right now.
10:14: "If I sinned and you observed me, then from my iniquity do not acquit me."
If you saw me sin, then bring me the punishment I deserve.
10:15: "If I was wicked, woe to me! And if righteous, I will not lift up my head, which is filled with shame. See my affliction!"
If I sinned, I deserve to be punished. And if I didn't, don't worry, I'm not going to be proud about it, for you've filled me with shame. Look at me!
10:16: "And if my head rises, as a lion you will hunt me and turn against me, you will show yourself marvellous [in power] against me."
If I show any sign of pride, you will turn against me to destroy me by your power.
10:17: "You will bring back your witnesses against me and you will multiply your anger against me, with [fresh] reliefs and an army against me."
If I show any pride, you will renew your attacks against me with overwhelming force.
10:18: "And why did you bring me out from the womb? I will expire and no eye will see me."
So why did you bring me into the world to begin with? I'm just going to die and no one will see me anymore.
10:19: "I will be as if I was not, from womb to tomb I will be brought."
From birth I'll be brought to my death, and my life will be as if I had never existed.
10:20: "Are not my days few? Stop and stay away from me and I will smile a little"
My life is so short. Why don't you relent for a while, that I might have a little joy in my life?
10:21: "before I walk, and I will not return, to a land of darkness and the shadow of death,"
Let me have a little joy before I die.
10:22: "a land of gloom like the darkness of the shadow of death, with no order, and where it shines like darkness."
The land of the dead radiates not light, but darkness.
11:1: "Then Tzophar the Naamathite answered. And he said,"
Job's bitter words inspire a response from Tzophar (from tzaphir, a male goat), the third of Job's friends. This is the first time we hear him speak.
11:2: "Is a multitude of words unanswered? And is a man of lips [many words] to be justified?"
Tzophar is frustrated that Job's words have found no answer from the others.
11:3: "Will your empty talk make men silent? And you mock and there is no one being put to shame?"
Tzophar takes Job's frustration in the most negative possible light. He calls his words "empty" and a mocking of God, for which he feels Job should be put to shame.
11:4: "And you say, 'My teaching is pure and I am clean in your [God's] eyes.'"
And you think that you are right before God.
11:5: "But indeed, would that Eloah (God) would begin to speak and would open his lips toward you"
Here we have a play on the word lips (as in 11:2): That God would open his lips toward you as you have toward him.
11:6a: "and tell you the hidden [or secret] things of wisdom. For there are doublings to wisdom."
There is a many-sidedness to wisdom. As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. There's more to it, Job, than you realize.
11:6b: "And know that Eloah allows [or causes] some of your iniquity to be forgotten for you."
Tzophar generously allows that God will forget some of Job's sin. But this is not enough to exonerate Job in Tzophar's eyes.
11:7: "By searching for Eloah will you find him? Will you find the end [or fullness] of Shaddai?"
Can you understand the fullness of God? Can you find all there is to him? Jesus, too, said "no one has ever seen God" (John 1:18).
11:8: "The heights of the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what do you know?"
The fullness of God reaches the highest places in the heavens, and extends lower than the place of the souls of the dead (Sheol). Can you do anything like this, Job? Can you comprehend it?
11:9: "His measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea."
11:10: "If he passes by or delivers up or summons an assembly, who can turn him back?"
How can we possibly interfere with anything God does?
11:11: "For he has known men of vanity [emptiness or worthlessness] and he has seen wickedness, and he will not pay attention to them."
That God does not listen to sinners is also taught in Isa. 59:2 and John 9:31.
11:12: "For an empty-headed man will become intelligent, when a wild donkey will be born a man."
It's as impossible, Tzophar says, for a fool to become wise as for a donkey to give birth to a man. This is why, he tells us, God does not listen to fools (11:11): they will never change. This pessimistic point of view violates Jesus' instruction not to call anyone empty-headed (Matt. 5:22).
11:13: "But if you have prepared your heart and spread out the palms of your hands to him [in prayer];"
This is the Biblical position of prayer: standing with your hands raised to heaven.
11:14: "if wickedness is in your hand, remove it, and do not let injustice dwell in your tents."
If you want to get right with God, Tzophar says, you must remove sin from your life.
11:15: "For then you will lift up your face from moral stain and you will be firmly established and will not be afraid."
Then you will leave immorality behind and have no more fear of punishment.
11:16: "For you will forget trouble; as waters that have passed by will you remember it."
All your troubles will suddenly melt away and be forgotten. The image of waters passing by is most appropriate to the desert area where Job and his friends lived: flowing water could be found only during a rainstorm, and was soon gone.
11:17: "And your life will rise more than the midday sun; though it be dark, it will be as the morning."
You will rise up out of all your troubles. Your life will be bright again.
11:18-19: "And you (Job) will trust, for there will be hope, and you will search about [or explore or possibly dig as for water] in security. You will lie down and you will stretch yourself out; and there will be nothing to cause trembling. And many will seek your face [for your favor]."
You will have ease and security, and many will turn to you for help and advice.
11:20: "And the eyes of the wicked will fail and flight [or refuge] will be lost to them and their hope will be to breathe out their soul (in death)."
But for the wicked, things will go much less well. They will long to die.
12:1: "And Job answered and said,"
Job responds to Tzophar:
12:2: "Truly, for you are the people, and with you wisdom will die!"
So, you are the last source of wisdom on this planet!
12:3: "I also have a mind as you do. I do not fall short of you, and with whom are there not [sayings] like these?"
I also have the ability to think, just as much as you do. And who doesn't know the things you have been saying?
12:4: "A laughing stock to his friends, I am. 'One calling to God and he answers him.' A laughing stock is the righteous and blameless (tamim) one."
Righteous and blameless are the same words God used to describe Job earlier. Yet he allowed him to become an object of mockery because of his suffering. This is a direct foreshadowing of the suffering of Jesus on the cross. He, too, was the righteous one of God, yet he was mocked in his agony.
12:5: "As a torch of contempt [burning contempt] is to the thought of the arrogant, so is one who is established to those whose feet are sliding."
Those who are established in life (like Job's friends) show only arrogant contempt for those who face difficulties.
12:6: "The tents of despoilers prosper, and there is security for those provoking God, to whom God brings provision into his hand."
In real life, the wicked prosper and God helps them. Prosperity is no guarantee of righteousness, nor does unrighteousness always bring ruin.
12:7: "But indeed, ask Behemoth, she will instruct you; and ask a bird of the heavens and he will tell you."
Behemoth is the Biblical name of a large, dinosaur-like creature, about which we learn much more in Job 40. Even the animals, from the largest to the smallest, know these things.
12:8: "Or meditate on the earth and it will teach you; and the fishes of the sea will recount it to you."
They can be seen throughout the natural order all around us.
12:9: "Who does not know of all these that the hand of YHVH has done this,"
Here the sacred name of God appears again (often translated "Lord." For more on this topic, see the Index category Yahweh). The "hand of the Lord" is a prophetic name pointing to the Messiah, the Word of God. He is the one that has ordered life this way.
12:10: "in whose hand is the soul of every living thing and the spirit of all human flesh?"
As it says at the beginning of the Gospel of John, "All things came to be through him [the Word of God], and without him not one thing came to be that came to be. In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:3,4).
12:11: "Does not the ear examine words and the mouth taste its food?"
Even the ear and the mouth can discern from what they experience.
12:12: "With the aged is wisdom, and length of days is understanding."
Wisdom comes with many years of experience.
12:13: "With him (God) are wisdom and strength, his are sound advice and understanding."
12:14: "If he tears down, then it cannot be built, if he shuts up a man, then it cannot be opened."
God does what he wants, and you cannot resist him.
12:15: "If he restrains the waters, then they become dry, and if he sends them out, then they overthrow the earth."
He has absolute control over the waters of the earth, an allusion to the Flood, and pointing prophetically to the parting of the Red Sea.
12:16: "With him are might and sound knowledge; to him belong the one who sins, and the one who leads to sin."
God is God of all, even those who do evil. All is under his control.
12:17: "He makes counsellors walk barefoot and makes fools of judges."
God overturns the fortunes of the mighty.
12:18: "The discipline of kings he loosens, and binds their loins with a waistcloth (as slaves)."
The waistcloth (eizor) was a humble underwear-like garment that might be all a slave had to wear. God removes the power of kings and turns them into slaves.
12:19: "He causes priests to walk barefoot and that which is enduring he ruins."
God even overturns the fortunes of religious leaders and things that have been around for many, many years.
12:20: "He causes the lip to turn aside (deprives of speech) of those who are established; and the judgment of elders he takes away."
He brings sickness and senility to older people who are established in life.
12:21: "He pours out contempt on nobles and lets the belt of the forceful drop."
Even the leaders of society eventually lose their power.
12:22: "He uncovers the depths from their darkness and causes the shadow of death to go out into the light."
He brings even the dark depths of death out into the light.
12:23: "He makes the nations great and he destroys them; he spreads the nations abroad and he leads them away."
He makes nations great, but then destroys them; he gives them power over great territories, but then leads them to destruction.
12:24: "He turns aside the heart of the leaders of the people of the earth and makes them wander in confusion, with no path [to follow]."
He leads leaders astray, and gives them no direction. As Jesus said, the people are like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).
12:25: "They grope in darkness, and not light, and he causes them to wander as a drunkard."
All of this is God's doing, Job says. He bears responsibility for the state of the nations and the troubles of this world. The simplistic theology of Job's friends that righteousness always brings a blessing in this life and its lack a curse is barren and doesn't match the obvious realities that everyone can see in the world around us.
Although Job's attitude is bitter, his difficult experience is forcing him to see that the world is much more complicated than his friends realize, and that God is much greater and more powerful than they have any idea. Unfortunately, there are many still today who want to squeeze God into the same narrow box fashioned by Job's friends, and miss the glory and grandeur of what God is doing even in the difficult and troubled parts of life.