JOB’S INNOCENCE Job 28–37
“Does He not see my ways and count my every step?” (Job 31:4)Job’s powerful defense portrays a practical piety that can serve you and me as a guide to godliness. And Elihu reminds us that suffering can be a gift.
Elihu’s contribution. Job and his friends had reached an impasse. They believed God punished the wicked. They believed that Job’s torments were usually reserved for the wicked. The three friends concluded that Job had sinned. Job, who knew he had lived a godly life, believed that God was making him suffer unjustly. Elihu broke the impasse by showing that God may use suffering to correct or instruct. It was not necessary for Job’s friends to condemn him without evidence, or for Job to despairingly conclude that God is unjust! Elihu demonstrated that God may have purposes other than punishment in permitting human tragedies. Job still suffered. But he no longer had to feel that God was against him. How important it is when we experience suffering to sense that God is bending near, definitely on our side.
The author inserted his own commentary on wisdom (28:1–28) before reporting Job’s powerful affirmation of his innocence (29:1–31:29). Then a young listener, Elihu, spoke out (32:1–22). Both Job (33:1–33) and his friends (34:1–37) were wrong about God. The Lord is both just and considerate, and may use suffering redemptively as well as to punish (35:1–36:15). Moved by the thought that God cares enough to woo individuals “from the jaws of distress,” Elihu concluded with a paeon of praise to God, who “does not oppress” (36:16–37:24).
Understanding the Text
“Where can wisdom be found?” Job 28:1–28 Many commentators believe this poem in praise of wisdom was penned by the author, not spoken by Job. If so, it reflects on the futility of the preceding argument of Job with his friends. Human beings can wrest precious metals from the earth, but only God has access to wisdom (cf. v. 23). Archeologists have shown that many mining techniques utilizing vertical and horizontal shafts were used thousands of years before Christ. Man is able to find earth’s hidden treasures, but wisdom, which lies in the realm of the spiritual, is beyond human reach. Yet God has revealed a way of wisdom that is simple and clear: “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” Like Job, you and I may not know the purposes God has in the things that happen to us. But we, also like Job, can choose to honor the Lord and live righteously. If we do, we will be wise as well as good. “I dwelt as a king among his troops” Job 29:1–25. Job recalled what life was like before he was stricken. He was honored, wealthy, treated with the utmost respect. Job fully expected life to go on this way for him, until he finally died of old age. This is one of the most unsettling aspects of any tragedy—a death in the family, loss of employment, or a serious sickness. Hopes are shattered and our notion of what the future holds is mangled into uncertainty. At such times a person needs to sense God’s supportive presence. No wonder Job suffered anguish. To Job, who felt that he was being punished, God had suddenly become both distant and unfair. We can handle suffering if we are supported by a warm sense of God’s presence and His love. Without this, suffering becomes unbearable. “But now they mock me” Job 30:1–31. Job not only found himself suffering now, but found that everyone’s attitude toward him had changed. Men mocked rather than honored him (vv. 1–15). God afflicted rather than blessed him (vv. 16–23). And no one helped or comforted as “the churning inside me never stops” (vv. 24–31). Often those in the hospital feel their changed situation as intently as Job did his. A doctor friend of mine underwent surgery and extended follow-up treatment for cancer. He told me how awful it was for him, to go from being treated with the awe doctors are used to, to being told when to eat, when to sleep, when to roll over for another shot—all in a voice an adult might use with a young child. How can we bear such attacks on our personhood? Only with loving support from others, and with the assurance that comes from knowing God still loves and values us. “If I have walked in falsehood” Job 31:1–40. This chapter contains a “negative confession.” Each “if” statement explains what Job did not do. Looking at them, we gain a clear picture of a virtuous life as lived by an Old Testament saint. Studying this passage, you and I can learn how to “shun evil,” which Job 28:28 calls true and godly wisdom. “Elihu had waited before speaking” Job 32:1–33:7. In Old Testament times older persons were viewed with respect. In that culture it was expected years of experience would make a person wise. Out of respect for his elders Elihu, a young observer, had kept quiet until now. But he had become increasingly agitated as he saw flaws in the positions taken by both Job and his friends. Elihu has been criticized by commentators for being wordy and redundant. Yet, as Elihu pointed out, sometimes even younger folk, who aren’t used to organizing their thoughts as well as others, are given insights by the Spirit of God (33:1–4). Elihu reminds us that God can speak to us through others—even our children! We are not to judge the validity of what a person says by his or her age, race, or background. “You have said” Job 33:8–36:26. Unlike Job’s friends, Elihu did not conclude that Job had sinned. Elihu did say that Job was wrong speaking of God as he had when defending himself, and frequently quoted Job’s words (cf. 32:12; 33:1, 31; 34:5–7, 35–36; 35:16). Job had concentrated on God’s justice. In so doing, he had overlooked God’s love and compassion. Job had to try to see his suffering in the context of love, not of justice. In view of God’s love, suffering must be intended for good, perhaps to bring the wicked to repentance and blessing (36:5–15). Without making any judgment as to why God had permitted Job to suffer, Elihu suggested God’s purpose was compassionate and redemptive. We need to adopt Elihu’s perspective when we experience suffering. We too need to filter our pain through a vision of God as loving rather than of God as Judge. “Who can understand?” Job 36:27–37:24 Elihu was moved to conclude with praise of God’s power and wisdom. How great God is! How His wisdom surpasses anything to which mere man can aspire! No human being can hope to understand God’s purposes, for He and they are “beyond our reach.” We can only remember that “He does not oppress.” Should suffering come, we must trust ourselves to God, remembering that He is truly concerned for all who know Him.
Shine on Me (Job 33)
More Americans died in the Civil War than in all the other wars in which the United States has been involved, combined. Families lost husbands, fathers, and sons. Some 26 percent of the men in the South perished in the struggle, and by the end of the war many women and children there were literally starving. Those years, 1861–1865, were marked by intense suffering all over the United States. Yet during the war the South, and particularly its army, was swept by revival, as many thousands came to know Christ. Against the background of suffering and spiritual renewal, a letter found on the body of a Confederate soldier shows how, in the darkest times, the light of God shines on us. I asked for strength that I might achieve. He made me weak that I might obey. I asked for health that I might do greater things. I was given grace that I might do better things. I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise. I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things. I received nothing that I asked for. All that I hoped for. My prayer was answered.
Mine the silver of God’s good gifts from the ore of your suffering.