Last Sunday evening we reached the end of the second cycle of speeches between Job and his friends. And there is one more cycle of speeches to go before we meet a fourth friend named Elihu who also wants to speak to Job. But we don’t meet Elihu until chapter 32. In the meantime, we have the third and final cycle of speeches. And you might remember that this cycle is truncated. In the first two cycles, Eliphaz spoke and Job responded; then Bildad spoke and Job responded; and then Zophar spoke and Job responded. That’s what happened in the first two cycles. In this third cycle of speeches, only Eliphaz and Bildad speak to Job; and he responds. We don’t hear from Zophar again. He has nothing more to say to Job. So, this cycle is truncated. It’s shortened. And it begins, once again, with Eliphaz.
Of course, in one sense, it doesn’t really matter which of the three friends speak, because all three of them say pretty much the same things. The three friends are all in agreement about the world and about Job.
They’re in agreement about the world, because, in the world they live in, the wicked are always punished while the righteous are always blessed. For instance, back in chapter 4, Eliphaz asked, ‘Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?’ On the other hand, ‘those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it.’ So, the righteous, the innocent, the upright, are blessed by God, whereas the wicked only reap trouble for themselves. I’ve said before that this is vending machine theology. Put money in the slot and out comes a snack; always and immediately. And so, put wickedness in the slot and out come curses; always and immediately. Put righteousness in the slot and out come blessings; always and immediately. Theirs is a world of rigid retribution where people always get what they deserve in this life.
So, the three friends are in agreement about the world. And they’re in agreement about Job. If Job is suffering now, then he must have done something to deserve it. God is punishing him for what he has done. And so, Job needs to repent. He needs to turn back to God and learn to do what’s right. If you turn back to God, and learn to do what’s right, then God will bless you once again. God will fill your life with good things.
That’s what Job’s three friends have been saying. On the other hand, Job has argued that things are not as straightforward as them friends believe, because often the wicked live long and prosper and their lives are filled with good things; and often the righteous suffer and their lives are filled with trouble. Job himself is a case in point, because Job is a righteous man who has done nothing to deserve his suffering; and yet he has suffered in an extra-ordinary way.
So, in the real world, the wicked do not always reap trouble; and the righteous are not always blessed. Job’s three friends are clearly wrong about the world. And they’re wrong about Job. And we know they’re wrong about Job, because God regards Job as blameless and upright. He’s a man who fears God and shuns evil. God is not punishing him.
So, that’s what Job’s three friends have been saying about the world and about Job. And Job has been responding to them. Today we turn to chapter 22 and to Eliphaz’s final speech. And then we have Job’s response to Eliphaz in chapters 23 and 24.
And if Eliphaz was once courteous towards Job, his courtesy has completely vanished. As one of the commentators notes (Estes) there’s a hostile tone to what he says. He makes no effort to sympathise with Job, even though the reason he came to see Job in the first place was to sympathise with Job and to comfort him in his suffering. But now he wants to win the argument. And the way to win the argument is to attack Job.
And so, he asks in verse 2 of chapter 22 whether a man can be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him? In other words: What advantage does God ever derive from us? What pleasure do we give him whether we are righteous or not? What does God ever gain from us? Eliphaz is referring to what the theologians call God’s impassibility. Whereas our emotions change so that we change from being happy to being sad and back again, depending on what happens to us, God does not and he cannot undergo changes of emotion like that. He is in complete control of who he is and what he does. He is never overcome by sudden, unexpected moods. And he’s not affected in any way by the things we do; and he is not affected by anything outside of himself. That means we cannot make God sad and we cannot make him happy, because our God does not change.
Eliphaz is therefore right about God. We cannot be of any benefit to him; he derives no advantage from us; and he’s not affected by what we do, whether what we do is right or wrong. We sometimes say to children that our sins make God sad. But that’s not right, because what we do does not affect God in any way.
So, Eliphaz is right about God, but he’s mistaken in his application of this doctrine. His point seems to be that God’s treatment of Job is utterly impartial. God is not moved by any consideration apart from strict justice. God is not motivated by selfishness and Job’s sin does not harm God and his obedience does not benefit God. And so, if God is punishing Job, it must be because Job deserves it, because why else would God treat him this way? Eliphaz therefore asks in verse 4: ‘Is it for your piety that he rebukes you?’ No, he’s not rebuking you for your piety, but for your wickedness. And Eliphaz goes on in verse 5 to accuse Job of great wickedness. He says Job’s sins are endless. God had said that Job is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. But, here’s Eliphaz who declares that there’s no end to Job’s sinning. His wickedness is great.
And in verses 6 to 9 he lists some of Job’s sins. Of course, none of what he says about Job is true. We know none of it is true, because God regards Job was blameless and upright, a man who fears God and who shuns evil. So, he has not done what Eliphaz says he has done. However, according to Eliphaz in verse 6, Job demanded security from his brothers for no reason; and he stripped men of their clothing and left them naked. In Bible times, if someone owed you money, they might give you something they owned as security on the loan. It was a kind of pledge or promise that the debt will be repaid. But if someone gave his cloak as a pledge, the money-lender must return the cloak at night, because the debtor needs it to stay warn in the night. In other words, don’t be cruel. Don’t be mean. Don’t strip a man of his clothes and leave him as good as naked. But, according to Eliphaz, that’s what Job did. And he did it, not to strangers, but to his brothers: to his own family!
According to verse 7, Job refused to give water to the weary and he withheld food from the hungry, though he was a powerful man who owned land. In other words, he was able to help, being a man of means. But he refused to help the needy who came to him looking for help.
According to verse 9, he sent away widows and he broke the strength of the fatherless. Widows have no husbands, and orphans have no parents, to care for them. They rely on the kindness of other people. But, according to Eliphaz, they could not count on Job. He sent them away empty-handed.
And having listed some of Job’s sins — and we know Job has not done any of these things — Eliphaz goes on to say in verse 10 that this is why snares are all around Job. This is why sudden peril terrifies him. God is repaying him for what he has done. God is punishing him justly. This is why his life has become dark and why a flood of troubles has overwhelmed him.
According to Eliphaz in verse 12, God is in the heights of the heavens. That is, he is highly exalted. He is transcendent over all. But then Eliphaz accuses Job of thinking to himself that he can do as he pleases, because God does not see it. God is too far away to know what Job is doing. God cannot see, because he is veiled in darkness. And therefore Job thinks he can do what he wants and treat the poor and the needy unkindly; and God does not see it. And so, he asks in verse 15 whether Job will keep to the old path which evil men have trod. That is, will he keep to the old path of sin and rebellion. Since he mentions a flood in verse 16, he could be referring to the days of Noah when man’s wickedness on the earth had become very great and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time. And so, because of their wickedness, they were carried off before their time by the flood. They said to God, ‘Leave us alone!’ They did not fear God either: ‘What can the Almighty do to us?’ Eliphaz is likening Job to them. In fact, just as God filled their houses with good things, so God filled Job’s house with good things. And just as God punished them, so he has punished Job too. And, according to Eliphaz in verse 19, the righteous will see the ruin of the wicked and rejoice. They will rejoice because at last their enemies have got what they deserve. God has destroyed them. He has sent the fire of his judgment on them to consume their wealth.
Eliphaz is saying that this is what has happened to Job. And therefore, Job should repent. Submit to God and be at peace with him. In this way, prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from God. Lay up his words in your heart. And if you return to God, you will be restored. By mentioning nuggets of gold in verse 24, he’s perhaps suggesting that Job’s wealth was the cause of his downfall. And so, he must turn from gold and make God his treasure. And God will hear his prayers; and your plans will be fulfilled and not frustrated; and light will shine on your ways. Job will intercede on behalf of others, asking God to lift them up. And God will hear him and answer him and save the downcast because of Job’s prayer. The guilty will be pardoned because Job prayed for them.
Eliphaz spoke more than he knew, because in the end of the book, God instructed Job to pray for Eliphaz and his two other friends, who had sinned by saying things about God which were not right. And God said he would accept Job’s prayer for them and not deal with them against to their folly. And so, though they were sure of their own righteousness and of Job’s guilt, it was Job who was righteous and it was they who were guilty. And, in the end, they were only delivered from God’s wrath and curse because of Job’s intercession. In this way, Job foreshadows the Lord Jesus who was accused and condemned and killed for being a blasphemer and a sinner, even though he had never done anything wrong and was perfectly righteous. And though he was condemned as a sinner, the Lord Jesus now stands before the Father in heaven to intercede for us and to ask the Father to pardon us. And the Father is willing to listen to him and to pardon us because the Lord Jesus has paid for our sins with his life.
And so, just as Job was condemned by sinful men, so the Lord Jesus was condemned by sinful men. And just as Job delivered those sinful men who condemned him, so the Lord delivers us and all who trust in him.
And so, we turn to Job’s reply. He says: ‘Even today my complaint is bitter’. He means that every day and right up to today my complaint is bitter. And it’s bitter because he’s suffering bitterly. The NIV says in verse 2 that ‘his hand’ is heavy. That is, despite his groaning, God’s hand is heavy against him. God has given him no relief or respite. The ESV translates the verse as ‘my hand is heavy’. In that case, Job’s hand is heavy because he’s been weighed down by his suffering.
And he expresses a wish: If only I knew where to find God. If only I could go to his house. If only I could find him, then I’d state my case before him. I would make clear my innocence. And I would find out what his response would be. Would he oppose me with his great power? No. Neither would he press charges against me. Job is confident that, as an upright man, he would be able to present his case before the Lord, with the result that he would be delivered from his judge. Before, he wondered why God was treating him like an enemy. But now he seems to believe that it will all be fine. He’ll be able to sort things out with God. God will listen to him, so long as he’s able to find God.
And that’s the problem, because if I go to the east, he’s not there; and if I go to the west, I don’t find him there. When he’s in the north, I don’t see him; when he’s in the south, I don’t see him there either. I can’t find him. I don’t know where he is. If I could stand before him and present my case, he would listen to me. But I can’t find him anywhere.
However, even though he can’t find God, Job knows that God knows the way that he takes. Do you see that in verse 10? ‘He knows the way that I take.’ He literally says that ‘God knows the way with me’. He might be saying that God knows all about me. In that case, he means that God knows that I have lived obediently. On the other hand, he might be saying that God knows God’s way with me. In that case, he means that God knows what he’s doing with Job. Job is puzzled by God’s treatment of him, but Job now takes comfort in the thought that God knows what he’s doing with Job. I may not understand it, but I trust that God knows what he’s doing. And he goes on to say that God is testing him. So, God is not punishing him, but testing him, the way we might apply heat to a metal to test that it’s genuine. And the result of this testing by God will be to make clear that Job is in fact gold. God is putting Job through this terrible experience to demonstrate to Satan that Job is pure gold. Satan said Job only worshipped God for what he would get out of God in this life. But even though he lost his family and possessions and health and happiness, Job continued to worship God. He did not renounce his faith. His faith was real. It was genuine. His devotion was real. His worship was real. He was prepared to worship God for nothing in this life. He was prepared to serve God ‘come what may’. And so, the testing of his faith has demonstrated to Satan that it was genuine. His feet have continued to follow God’s steps. He has kept to God’s ways. He has not departed from God’s commandments. He has treasured God’s words more that his daily bread. God’s word is more precious to him than anything else.
Nevertheless God is sovereign. He stands alone, Job says in verse 13. No one can oppose him and thwart his plans. He does whatever he pleases. Our plans are frustrated continually and we rarely get to do what we want, because something or someone spoils our plans. But no one is able to keep God from doing whatever he wants. And so, he was free to carry out his decrees against Job. And he was free to do even more to Job. That’s why I am terrified before him, Job says. When I think of all this, and what God is like, I fear him. The thought of his sovereign and almighty power makes my heart faint. And yet — verse 17 — I am not silenced by the darkness that covers my face.
So, God is terrifying. There is none like him. He can do whatever he wants and no one can thwart him. He’s a mighty lion and not a pussy cat. But Job is still hopeful. God knows what he is doing. And so long as I can find him, he will listen to me.
In chapter 24, Job sets out once again to undermine the view of his friends that the wicked are always punished in this life. That’s not the case, says Job.
And so, why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why does he not set a day for punishing the wicked? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? So, God’s people have been oppressed by the wicked and they long for the day when God will punish the wicked and save them. But it seems that that day does not come.
And Job proceeds to list the sins of the wicked and how they oppress the poor and the weak. So, they move boundary stones. Boundary stones mark out the end of one person’s field and the start of another person’s field. But the wicked move the stones and thereby take someone’s land for themselves. They pasture flocks which they have stolen. So, they are sheep-stealers. And instead of caring for widows and orphans, they drive away the orphan’s donkey and take the widow’s ox in pledge. She needs that ox to make a living, but they have taken it from her. Instead of helping the needy, they thrust them away. The poor are afraid of them and go off into hiding.
Because they don’t help the poor, the poor have to go foraging for food the way a wild donkey does. And the wicked send the poor to work in their fields and vineyards, but they don’t pay the poor enough. And so, the poor spend the night naked with nothing to protect themselves from the cold. The poor are soaked when it rains and they cling to rocks for some shelter from the elements. A fatherless child is snatched from his mother and put up as a pledge for a debt. They carry sheaves of corn, but they are forbidden to eat any of it. They crush olives and tread grapes. So, they are surrounded by luxurious food, but they themselves are starving. Their groans go up to heaven, but it seems to Job that God does not hear them and he does not charge anyone for mistreating the poor. The wicked are doing things to the poor which God forbids. And yet, God does not intervene and stop them. He does not hold them to account. He does not punish them. He seems indifferent to the suffering of the poor and to the wickedness of sinners.
In verses 13 to 17 he describes those who rebel against the light and who do not know its ways or stay in its path. These people prefer darkness to light. In fact, they wait for the darkness of night to do their wicked deeds. So, he’s thinking of the murderer who gets up at night when it’s dark and kills the poor and the needy. And he’s thinking of the adulterer who watches for the night so that no one will see what he’s doing. He’s thinking of burglars who wait for the night before they break in and steal. They live in a topsy-turvy world where the morning is when they go to bed and the night time is when they get up and go to do evil.
Some of the commentators are puzzled by what Job goes on to say in verses 18 to the end of the chapter. Up until now, he has pointed out to his friends that very often the wicked do well and prosper in this life. Whereas his friends said the wicked are punished by God, Job said that’s not the case.
And having described their wicked behaviour, Job goes on from verse 18 to describe the judgment they deserve. May they be foam on the water which does not last. May their land be cursed. May the grave snatch them away. May worms feed on their dead bodies. May they be forgotten. May they be broken like a tree.
Job’s words here are puzzling, because in previous chapters he argued that the wicked do not get what they deserve. Though they do wrong, God lets them prosper and do well in this life. However, in these verses, he seems to expect a time when they will be punished. For this reason, the ESV suggests that Job is quoting his friends in verses 18 to 20. In that case, he’s saying: This is what you believe, but it’s not true. However, some of the commentators take it that Job is not quoting his friends, but he’s calling on God to curse the wicked. He’s calling on God to rise up and to condemn them.
And they deserve to be condemned because, according to verse 21, they prey on barren woman and they show no kindness to widows. They oppress the poor and the weak.
But God drags them away by his power. Though they are well-established, they can have no assurance that their life will continue. God may let them feel secure for a time, but God sees what they are doing. For a little while they are exalted and do well, but eventually they will be gone. They will not last. They will be brought low and gathered up for destruction. If this is not so, who can prove me false?
Though Job has argued before that God allows the wicked to prosper and to do well, he now acknowledges that they will not get away with their wickedness forever. They may be fine for a while, but not forever.
And Job is correct. While it’s true that the wicked may prosper and do well in this life, while the righteous may suffer and struggle, it is also true that the Lord Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead: everyone who has ever lived. When he comes, he will separate the people the way a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will gather the righteous on one side and the wicked on the other. The righteous, those blessed by God, will receive the inheritance which he has prepared for them, which is eternal life in his presence. This is an inheritance which they do not deserve and cannot earn, but which God freely and graciously gives to them for the sake of Christ who died for them. And the wicked, those who are cursed by God, will be sent away into the eternal fire to be punished forever for all that they have done wrong.
Eliphaz and his friends thought the wicked will be punished in this life. But the judgment has been delayed. It will not take place until Christ comes again. But it will come. And in the meantime, God is patient with the wicked. In fact, he is more than patient, because he fills their lives with good things. He causes them to prosper and to do well. But they do not realise that God’s kindness is meant to lead them to repentance. God is giving them time to turn from their sins and to turn to Christ for salvation. If they turn to Christ, God will forgive them. But if they do not turn to Christ, they will condemned one day. Job was right: For a little while they are exalted; but then they will be gone when Christ the King comes to judge the world.
Whoever does not believe, must turn to Christ for salvation. And whoever has already turned to Christ for salvation, should give thanks to God for his mercy towards you and for pardoning you for your sins and promising you eternal life in his presence, which is an inheritance you did not deserve and could not earn, but which is given to you freely for the sake of Christ.
And before we finish, let me return to Job’s words in chapter 23. God knows what he’s doing. He knows what he’s doing. And he always knows what he’s doing. And so, when he sends troubles and trials and afflictions into our life, he knows what he’s doing.
And who knows? Maybe he’s sending these things into our lives to test us and to test our faith the way he sent them to test Job and Job’s faith. Maybe he’s sending these things into our lives to demonstrate to Satan that our faith is real. Just as metal is tested with fire, so our faith can be tested by afflictions. And if we withstand the test and persevere in the faith, it becomes clear to Satan that we’re not just worshipping God for what we can get from him in this life, but we’re prepared to worship God for nothing; and we’re prepared to serve him ‘come what may’. And so, by persevering, we demonstrate to Satan that we’re not worshipping God because of what we can get from him; we’re worshipping God because he is worthy of our worship.
Of course, none of us is strong enough to persevere on our own. All of us are weak and frail and liable to fall. And so, when you suffer afflictions in this life, you should look to your Heavenly Father to keep you from falling. And you should look to Christ your great High Priest, who suffered as one of us, and who is able to help us in all our distress.