Job 18–21

Introduction

Back in chapter 9 and verse 33 Job expressed a wish for an arbiter: someone who would enable Job to speak up and make his case before God without being afraid. He was looking for a mediator to bring them together. And then, in chapter 17 and verse 19, he spoke of a witness in heaven, an advocate on high, and intercessor and friend who would speak up on his behalf and plead for him before God. And Job’s hope for a heavenly mediator, a divine intercessor reaches it highest point in chapter 19 in Job’s triumphant declaration that he knows his Redeemer lives and that, in the end, his Redeemer will stand upon the earth. And after Job’s skin has been destroyed, he will nevertheless see God. Job expressed his hope that a Redeemer would come to deliver him from his affliction. And Job expressed his hope in the resurrection of his body from the dead and everlasting life in the presence of God, where he will see God and be with him forever.

Job was suffering terribly. His suffering was extra-ordinary, because on that one terrible day, all his children were killed and all his possessions were either destroyed or stolen. And afterwards he was afflicted with a terrible illness so that his body was covered in painful sores. And then his friends came to sympathise with him, but they turned out to be miserable comforters, because all they did was accuse him of wrongdoing, even though Job had done nothing to deserve his suffering. His suffering was extra-ordinary and he wished he had never been born and he longed for death to come, because he thought that was the only way he could get peace.

But in the midst of his sorrow and suffering, he continued to trust in God his Redeemer. Though it seemed to him that God was attacking him, he nevertheless trusted in God to save him. Though Satan wanted to destroy Job’s faith, though Satan wanted to get Job to curse God, Job continued to worship God and to trust in him. And we too will suffer in this world, because our life in this world is a life of troubles and trials and sorrow and suffering. In this life, we will suffer. But we must continue to worship God and to trust in him, because he alone is God and worthy of our worship; and he alone is our Great Redeemer, who will deliver us from all our troubles and who will bring us into his presence where we will see him and where we will be with him in that place of perfect peace and rest.

Today’s passage contains Bildad’s second speech and Job’s reply. And it contains Zophar’s second speech and Job’s reply. And therefore today’s passage brings us to the end of the second cycle of speeches.

Chapter 18

Let’s turn to chapter 18 and Bildad’s second speech in which he offers Job no hope. In their first speeches, the friends offered Job some hope. They thought he was a guilty sinner who deserved what he was suffering. However, they offered him some hope. All he had to do was repent and turn back to God and God would bless him once again. And so, in his first speech, Bildad said that God would yet fill Job’s mouth with laughter and his lips with shouts of joy. Turn back to God and he will bless you. Eliphaz said something similar in his first speech: God will rescue you from calamity. He will ransom you from famine and the sword. He will protect you from accusations and threats. Your life will be secure and you will have many children and you will go to the grave after a long and full life. That’s what you can expect if you repent. And Zophar said the same in his first speech. If you devote your heart to God, and put away your sin, God will lift up your face again. You will forget your troubles and life will become brighter than it is at noon.

So, in their first speeches, they offered Job hope. But they offer him no hope now. There are no comforting words. No encouragement. Bildad is impatient with Job. He’s annoyed with Job. And he wants to convince Job that the wicked always get what they deserve in this life. And the implication is that Job is getting what he deserves. While Job may deny it, his friends know he must have done something to deserve what he’s now suffering.

We see his impatience in verse 2: When will you end these speeches? Be sensible. Stop talking nonsense. And we see his annoyance in verse 3: Why are we regarded as cattle? You think we’re as dumb as an ox. You think we’re stupid. Well, you’re the one who is stupid for thinking that the order of the universe will be overturned for you. So, is the earth to be abandoned for you? Must the rocks be moved for you? Bildad is saying that this is the way things are in the world: the wicked suffer for their wickedness; the righteous are blessed for their righteousness. This is the way the world works. Do you think God is going to change that for you?

And in verses 5 to 21 he describes for us the life of the wicked in Bildad’s world of rigid retribution. And so, the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out; the light in his tent becomes dark; the vigour of his step is weakened. Once he may have strode strongly over the earth, but that will not last. His own wicked schemes will be his undoing and he’ll end up caught in a net and wrapped up in mesh and seized in a trap and caught in a snare. He does not know it, but there’s a snare in his way and a trap has been set for him. He’ll get his comeuppance one day.

Terrors startle him. Calamity is hungry for him. Disaster is ready for him when he falls. Bildad personifies calamity and disaster. They’re depicted as hunters waiting to attack the wicked. It’s only a matter of time before they strike. Death’s firstborn devours the wicked man’s limbs, he says in verse 13. When he refers to death’s firstborn, he could be referring to something like a deadly disease. And the wicked person will be torn from his tent and marched off to face the king of terrors, who is death itself. The fire of God’s judgment will reside where he lives. And all memory of him will perish from the earth. Perhaps for a while, people will remember him, but the day will come when his name will mean nothing to anyone.

He will be driven from light into darkness and will be banished from the world. He will have no children. People all over the world will be appalled when they hear what happened to him. This is what an evil man can expect. This is what will happen to the man who does not know God. This is the fate of the wicked.

And though he does not say that Job is the wicked man, that’s the implication. Job you’re suffering the way a wicked man suffers. Something appalling has happened to you. You are now childless. You are now suffering because of a serious disease. Calamity and disaster have visited you. The king of terrors is waiting for you. And since this kind of thing only happens to the wicked, then you must have done something to deserve it.

Bildad lives in a world of rigid retribution where the wicked get what they deserve. And Job is getting what he deserves. But we know he’s wrong, because we know that God regards Job as a blameless and upright man. We know he’s not suffering because he’s a sinner, but because he’s a saint.

Chapter 19

And in chapter 19, the suffering servant of the Lord replies. How long will you torment me? How long will you crush me with words? His friends are meant to comfort him, but instead they are reproaching and attacking him. And even if I have gone astray — and Job knows he has not gone astray — but even if I have gone astray, my error remains my concern alone. It’s not their responsibility to judge and condemn and punish him. If he’s done something wrong, then that’s between God and Job. And as far as Job is concerned, God has wronged him. Do you see that in verse 6? If the world is as Bildad says it is, and the wicked suffer for their wickedness, then God has wronged me because I’m suffering the fate of the wicked unjustly. I’m suffering unjustly, because I’m not a wicked and evil man.

In verse 7 he says that when he appeals to God for help and for justice, God remains silent. God has blocked his way. God has covered his path in darkness. God has stripped him of his honour. He tears me down. He uproots my hope. His anger burns against me. He treats me like an enemy. I’m like a city under seige and God’s armies are advancing in force against me to destroy me.

It seems to Job that God has attacked him. And God has also isolated him and left him all alone in the world. Look at verse 13: God has alienated my brothers from me. My kinsmen or relatives have gone away; my friends have forgotten me. People who were once guests and servants in my home treat me as a stranger. My servant ignores me. My wife says my breath stinks; and so she won’t come near me. My own brothers regard me as loathsome and they can’t stand being around me. I was once the greatest man in the East and now even little boys make fun of me. My friends and those who once loved me detest me and have turned against me.

Do you see? He’s all on his own because of his suffering. And he turns to his friends in verse 21 — and he’s perhaps referring to Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar — and he asked them to have pity on him. So, instead of pursing me, instead of attacking me with your words, have pity on me.

But because of their lack of pity, he expresses a wish in verse 23. He wants his words to be recorded and written down in a scroll. We’ve all heard the words of his so-called friends: the things they’ve been saying to accuse Job. As far as they’re concerned, Job is getting what he deserves. But he wants his words written down: his declaration of his innocence and how he has done nothing to deserve his suffering. He wants that written down. In fact, he wants the record of his words to be permanent. He wants his words to be inscribed in rock forever. He wants it written down as a permanent record, because he’s hopeful that one day he will be vindicated. One day their words will be shown to be wrong; and his words will be shown to be right. You hear people say: ‘Mark my words’. You don’t believe me now, but mark my words. Take note of them. One day you’ll see that I was right. That’s what Job is hoping for.

And Job is hopeful that he will be vindicated, because he knows that his Redeemer lives. In Bible times, your redeemer was someone who was responsible for delivering the members of his family from trouble. Do you remember the story of Ruth and Naomi? They faced a life of poverty. But Boaz was their redeemer and he delivered them from poverty by marrying Ruth. And throughout the Old Testament, God reveals himself to be the Redeemer of his people. For instance, in Psalm 19, David describes God as ‘my rock and my redeemer’. And when Job refers here to his Redeemer, he’s talking about God.

And he says that he knows that his Redeemer ‘lives’. That is, he lives forever. And Job says that his Redeemer will, in the end, stand on the earth. And if you have an NIV Bible, you’ll see the little footnote which says that the word translated ‘earth’ can also be translated ‘grave’. Job is still suffering. He still expects to die. But he knows that after he dies, God will stand over his grave to deliver him. And after his skin is destroyed because of death, yet in his flesh he will see God. That’s his hope. After he dies and his body has decomposed in the grave, he will once again be enfleshed in a body and will see God with his own eyes.

Job was able to look into the future with a God-given faith and know that one day God will deliver him from his misery in this life through the resurrection of his body from the grave. Job did not know how God would do it, but we know that God has delivered us by sending his Only-Begotten Son into the world as one of us to pay for our sins with his life and to make peace for us with God. And our Saviour who died for us has risen; and one day, he will return and he will stand over our graves and he will raise us from the dead and bring us into the presence of God, where we will see God and live with him in body and soul forever. By faith Job looked beyond his present suffering to the time when God will come in the person of his Son to deliver us from our sin and misery in this life and to give us everlasting life in the world to come.

Because of what he was suffering, it seemed to Job that God was treating him as his enemy. And he could not understand it. But by faith Job knew that God was not his enemy, but his Redeemer, his Rescuer, his Champion. He was therefore hopeful that he would one day be vindicated; and it would be made clear that his friends were wrong. And in the meantime, if his friends continue to hound him and to accuse him, they should watch out, because — according to verse 29 — the sword of God’s judgment will fall on them.

Chapter 20

As we turn to chapter 20 and Zophar’s second speech, you wonder has he been listening at all? Chapter 19 ended with a warning from Job to his three so-called friends who were hounding him. And chapter 19 also contained Job’s triumphant declaration about his Redeemer. But instead of trusting in the coming Redeemer and leaving Job alone, Zophar complains because it seems to him that Job has dishonoured him. Like Bildad, he feels insulted. And now he feels inspired to reply.

And he says in verse 4 that surely Job knows how it has been of old. So, this is the way things have already been: the mirth of the wicked is brief; the joy of the godless lasts but a moment. So, the wicked might prosper, but it will not last. Though his pride reaches to the heavens and he does well in life, he will perish. He is like a dream which comes and goes. Those who once saw him will see him no longer. The NIV says in verse 10 that his children will have to make amends to the poor. So, they will have to give back what their father took from the poor. That’s one possible interpretation of that verse. However, it’s also possible that he means the wicked man’s children will end up begging from the poor. In either case, he means the wicked man’s wealth will not last. His youthful vigour will disappear and he will lie down in the grave.

His evil deeds seem sweet to him. That’s what Zophar is saying in verse 12. Yet his sinful deeds will become sour to him. They will become poison to him when God uses the man’s own wickedness to punish him. Everything he accumulated because of his wickedness will be taken from him, because he has oppressed the poor and left them destitute.

His prosperity will not endure, Zophar says in verse 21. In the midst of his plenty, distress will overtake him. God will turn on him with his burning anger and will rain down blows on him from on high. Though he escapes the blow of one weapon, a bronze-tipped arrow will pierce him. Terrors will come over him. Total darkness waits for him. God’s judgment fire will consume him. The heavens will expose his guilt. The earth will rise up against him. A flood will carry off his home. Such is the fate which God has allotted to the wicked. This is the heritage which God has appointed for them. Though they prosper for a time, in the end God will punish them.

And, just as Bildad did not mention Job’s name, neither does Zophar. But the implication of his words is that Job is the wicked man who once prospered, but who has now got what he deserves. Job must have done something wicked to deserve what he’s now suffering.

This is how things work in Zophar’s world. And so, he has nothing more to say to Job. This is the end of his speech and he says nothing more to Job in the rest of the book. The reason you’re suffering, Job, is because of your wickedness. In Zophar’s world, the wicked suffer and the righteous are blessed.

But in the real world, the wicked often prosper, while the righteous often suffer. And Job’s suffering in particular foreshadows the suffering of the one who was perfectly righteous. Job’s suffering foreshadows the suffering of the perfect man, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died on the cross to make peace for us with God. And the ultimate fate which God has allotted to all those who believe in his Son and the final heritage which he has appointed to us is eternal life in his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

Chapter 21

We come now to chapter 21 and Job’s reply to Zophar. He tells Zophar and his friends to listen to him carefully. Instead of talking, be quiet. Instead of speaking to me, listen to me.

Zophar thinks that the mirth of the wicked is brief and the joy of the godless lasts but a moment. But Job asks in verse 7 why it is that the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They don’t get weaker, but stronger. They get to see their children grow up and do well. Their homes are safe. The rod of God never falls on them. Their bulls breed without problems and their cows do not miscarry. They see their children sing and dance and have a merry old time. They spend their years in prosperity and die after a long and full and happy life.

Job is describing the godless: those who tell God to leave them alone and who refuse to acknowledge God or serve him. He’s describing unbelievers who do not see any reason to pray. Zophar says their joy lasts only for a moment, but here’s Job saying that their whole life is full of joy and free from fear. Even so, Job wants nothing to do with them. Do you see that in verse 16? Even though the wicked have a better life than Job’s life, he stands aloof from them and will not join with them in their wicked schemes.

Nevertheless their lamp is not snuffed out. So, while Bildad said in chapter 18 that the light of the wicked goes out, and while Zophar said darkness lies in wait for their them, it seems to Job that darkness does not come on them. How often does calamity befall them? Not often. How often are they like straw which is blown away by the wind? Not often. Someone says that if the wicked get away with their wickedness, it’s only because God is storing up that wicked’s man punishment for his sons. But Job says that the wicked man himself should suffer for what he has done. But that’s not what happens, because the wicked get away with their wickedness and live long and prosper. And it’s the same today, isn’t it? All around the world, God’s faithful people suffer and struggle, but the wicked prosper and do well and live long and full lives.

In verse 23 he refers to a man who dies after a long and prosperous life. In verse 25 he refers to another man who dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. The lie side by side in the dust and worms cover them both. Why did one have a long and prosperous life and the other a bitter life? We cannot tell. We do not know. Job’s three friends would argue that the way to have a long and prosperous life is to worship God. But often the person who lives a long and prosperous life is the godless person who disregarded God all his life.

And as Job draws this speech to a close, he says in verse 27 that he knows what his so-called friends are thinking. They think he’s now getting what he deserves. He’s done something sinful and deserves what he’s now suffering. Job was once a great man. But where is his house now? And God has taken away his possessions to punish him for some unconfessed sin. That’s what they are thinking. But, asks Job, have you never spoken to someone who has travelled? They will tell you that the evil man is spared the day of calamity. The evil man gets away with his wickedness. He is spared trouble. No one repays him for what he has done. When he eventually dies, his family keep watch over his grave. Instead of forgetting him, they remember him. He rests in peace in a sweet-smelling valley. All men follow him and a countless throng of people go before him. Job is perhaps referring to a funeral cortege. So, crowds come to the wicked man’s funeral to pay their respects. That’s the fate God has allotted to them. They do well in life. They live a long life. When they die, crowds honour them and remember them. So, how can you console me with your nonsense? Everything you’re telling me is false.

Conclusion

What Job says about the wicked is true. They often prosper and do well. But, of course, he’s only referring to their lot in this life. And we know that the day is coming when Christ the King will come in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead. And when he comes, he will send the wicked away into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and all his demons, where they will be punished forever and forever for their wickedness.

On the other hand, God’s people may suffer trials and tribulations and sorrow and suffering in this life. They may be hated by an unbelieving world and they may be persecuted by those who do not believe. And Satan may come at them, as he did with Job, with his wicked schemes to try to get them to renounce their faith and to turn away from God. He will try to crush our faith with troubles and to wear it down with disappointments.

And so, our life in this world may well be a life of trouble. But we know that after we have died, and our bodies are buried in the ground, our Great Redeemer will come again and he will stand on our graves and he will raise us from the dead and bring us in to the new heavens and earth where we will see God and where God will wipe the tears from our eyes. And all the sorrow and suffering and the disease and death of this life will pass away and we will have perfect peace and rest in the presence of God. And there we will give thanks to God for sending his Son to save us and for giving us eternal life in his presence.

And so, we need to remember that there’s this life and there’s the next. In this life, the wicked may prosper and do well. But after this life, there comes the judgment. And in this life, God’s people may suffer all kinds of affliction and trouble. And in this life, we may receive nothing for serving God apart from trouble and pain. But after this life, there’s the life to come in the presence of God our Creator and Redeemer, who made us and who saved us by his Son, so that we could live with God in glory. And so, though we suffer in this life, we can declare triumphantly that our Redeemer lives and one day he will stand on our grave and he will raise us from the dead and we will see him and be with him in the glory to come.