Tonight we come to the end of the first cycle of speeches in Job as Job responds to Zophar’s counsel in 12-14. These three chapters are split up into two large sections, and one short comment at the end. First in 12:1-13:19 Job rebukes his friends for how they’ve counseled him so far. Second in 13:20-14:17 he pleads with God, asking Him to grant him two specific requests. Lastly in 14:18-22 Job leaves us with a final word of despair. Since these three sections are large we’ll go through them in smaller chunks to see how they fit together as a whole.
Job’s Rebuke (12:1-13:19)
First look to 12:1-6, “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these? I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called to God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock. In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip. The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their hand.”
Job begins his response to Zophar by speaking to all three of his friends. Speaking somewhat mockingly or sarcastically in v2-3 he says he’s worried that when they die wisdom will no longer be present in the world! Really though, he wants them to see how egotistical they are to think they’ve got a corner on the truth of God when he knows his stuff as well. v4 Job feels he has become a laughingstock to them. v5-6 Job says they, who are at ease, really have no understanding and no comfort to give those who suffer. Rather they who “bring God in their hand” to Job are robbing him of true comfort and causing his misfortune to increase. Job likens them as robbers who sleep in peace, when in reality they ought to be the ones who are vexed in the error of their ways, not him.
Job expands on this in v7-12, “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”
Here Job says that what he is about to say in v13-25 is not hidden in disguise but clear for all to know. Even the creatures of the earth (beasts, birds, fish, even the bushes) know it as true and don’t fight against it. ‘Why do you?’ is the implied question for his friends. In God’s hand is all things, and all know it. Job illustrates this by saying as the tongue tastes food and discerns flavors of different sorts, so too the ears of all (especially the ears of the aged in v12) hear this to be true.
Then in v13-25 Job tells us what is clear and known to all, “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land. With him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his. He leads counselors away stripped, and judges he makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings and binds a waistcloth on their hips. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows the mighty. He deprives of speech those who are trusted and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong. He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light. He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.”
In this passage Job labors to strip away the wisdom and might of his friends by saying God alone has wisdom and might.More so, God not only knows what is right, God not only knows what to do with that knowledge, God alone has the power to act on that knowledge perfectly. So in v14, man cannot rebuild what God tears down. In v15 God alone sends drought and famine and man can’t stay His hand. In v16-24 Job describes God undoing counselors, judges, kings, priests, the mighty, elders, princes, the strong, nations, and the chiefs of peoples. Then in one final rebuke in v25 Job says all of these, because of God’s undoing work, will grope in the dark without light, and stagger like a drunken man. This is how Job rebukes the ‘wisdom’ of his friends. God will undo you as well. Christopher Ash writes here “This God is wild and dangerous. He is dangerous in nature, dangerous with leaders, dangerous with nations, and especially dangerous to all human beings who think – as Job’s friends do– that they have the universe sorted out and have attained wisdom.”
Job’s rebuke isn’t done. He continues on in 13:1-12, “Behold, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom! Hear now my argument and listen to the pleadings of my lips. Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him? Will you show partiality toward him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man? He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. Will not his majesty terrify you, and the dread of him fall upon you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.”
As they have spoken with him in the past chapters now Job speaks to them. For all of their wisdom, his friends don’t seem to know this but Job says he does know all these things and is not, therefore, beneath them as they have been treating him. So Job will bring his case to God, not these whitewashed and worthless physicians, for if they were truly wise they would’ve remained silent. But they didn’t. They spoke falsely and deceitfully, without partiality for him as they pled their ‘case for God.’ But, v9-11, God will not be mocked and will search them out thoroughly rebuking and terrifying them with His majestic dread. Thus, Job says in v12 that their maxims and defenses are nothing but ash and clay, weak things that cannot stand in the face of reality, suffering, or truth.
In 13:13-19 Job makes an interesting transition. Having rebuked his friends he will now turn to this dangerous God as he said he would back in 13:3 and present his case. v13-19 shows how Job prepared to do such a thing.“Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may. Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand? Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. Keep listening to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right. Who is there who will contend with me? For then I would be silent and die.”
Come what may, Job will argue his ways to God’s face, and though He slay Job, Job will hope in Him. This text is a strange mixture of almost a brash boldness before God and a submissive hope in God. I will come before Him (!) mixed with and I am ok with whatever God does to me (!). But even as He does this Job tells his friends to listen in to this. why? They have said he cannot stand before God because of his sin, but Job knows he doesn’t have sin, so as he comes before God Job believes he is about to be consoled while his friends are further rebuked.
Job’s Plea (13:20-14:17)
His plea to God begins in v20-22, “Only grant me two things, then I will not hide myself from your face: withdraw your hand far from me, and let not dread of you terrify me. Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you reply to me.” Job wants two things, and two things only from God. First, he wants God to withdraw His hand from him, because he doesn’t want to continue being gripped by the terror and dread of God. And second, he wants God to respond to him once he’s made his case.
Hear now the entirety of Job’s plea to God found in 13:23-14:17, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin. Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy? Will you frighten a driven leaf and pursue dry chaff? For you write bitter things against me and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth. You put my feet in the stocks and watch all my paths; you set a limit for the soles of my feet. Man wastes away like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten.“ Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day. “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant. But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep. Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity.”
Job knows sin is his problem, so he asks God to reveal it to him because he doesn’t see it. Job entertains the thought that God is punishing him for the sins of his youth, hiding His face from him, and putting him to open shame for old sins he’s committed and now he is reaping the fruit thereof. Whatever the reason is that moved God to punish him as He is Job believes his sin leads to a reality of his mortality. That he is little more than a man, born of woman, and full of trouble. Or a rotten fruit, or moth eaten piece of clothing, or a short lived flower, or a fleeting shadow. There may be hope for a tree, for once it is cut down it will spring back up as a new tree takes root in it’s place. But for a man like him, sin has lead to an awareness of his mortality, and his mortality is a reminder that when he dies he will not rise and nothing will spring up in his place. So Job desires, 14:13, to be hidden from God’s wrath.
But, in 14:14-17 Job expresses the hope of God doing the miraculous and bringing renewal to Job, watching him rather than watching his sin, forgiving and covering his sin, and God longing for Job as Job longs for God. This is a brief preview of the loving God of resurrection we ultimately in Christ who covers the sin of all those who come to Him in faith, but almost as soon as Job mentioned hope he returns to despair at the end in v18-22.
Job’s Despair (14:18-22)
“But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man. You prevail forever against him, and he passes; you change his countenance, and send him away. His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not. He feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself.”
Just as the wind, rain, and floodwaters wear away the rocks and mountains of the earth, so too the judgment of God ‘destroys the hope of man.’Whether or not his sons and daughters meet with honor in life, he will not know because the only thing he’ll know is his own grief and pain.
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 163.