In spite of his speech about the senselessness of an argument against God, Job is forced by his terrible suffering to go on with his complaint. The language that Job speaks against God in this section is not the result of his physical suffering, but of the wrestling of his faith in the goodness of God. He cannot but see the hand of God in all the suffering that befalls him.
At the same time, he cannot understand that God is inflicting this suffering on him. This leads him to make statements or better exclamations about God that are not true. God does not call him to account for this. His friends do. But even they don’t speak about God as He is. The inner conflict that Job has with his situation is getting bigger and bigger as a result. We taste the bitterness of it in the following verses.
1 - 17 Again Job’s Complaint Against God
1 “I loathe my own life;
I will give full vent to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
2 “I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me;
Let me know why You contend with me.
3 ‘Is it right for You indeed to oppress,
To reject the labor of Your hands,
And to look favorably on the schemes of the wicked?
4 ‘Have You eyes of flesh?
Or do You see as a man sees?
5 ‘Are Your days as the days of a mortal,
Or Your years as man’s years,
6 That You should seek for my guilt
And search after my sin?
7 ‘According to Your knowledge I am indeed not guilty,
Yet there is no deliverance from Your hand.
8 ‘Your hands fashioned and made me altogether,
And would You destroy me?
9 ‘Remember now, that You have made me as clay;
And would You turn me into dust again?
10 ‘Did You not pour me out like milk
And curdle me like cheese;
11 Clothe me with skin and flesh,
And knit me together with bones and sinews?
12 ‘You have granted me life and lovingkindness;
And Your care has preserved my spirit.
13 ‘Yet these things You have concealed in Your heart;
I know that this is within You:
14 If I sin, then You would take note of me,
And would not acquit me of my guilt.
15 ‘If I am wicked, woe to me!
And if I am righteous, I dare not lift up my head.
[I am] sated with disgrace and conscious of my misery.
16 ‘Should [my head] be lifted up, You would hunt me like a lion;
And again You would show Your power against me.
17 ‘You renew Your witnesses against me
And increase Your anger toward me;
Hardship after hardship is with me.
Job continues his answer to Bildad. He loathes his own life (verse 1). The burden is unbearable. He must express himself and let himself go. He gives free rein to his complaint and speaks from the bitterness of his soul. The expression of complaints is a way to draw attention for the situation a person is in. There are people who always complain out of dissatisfaction with their circumstances. They think they have suffered badly compared to others. This type of complainer about their fate, complains because they feel that they have been wronged and because their desires are not being met. Job is not that kind of complainer. He really has something to complain about.
His complaint is against God (verse 2). God should “not condemn” him or let him know why He is doing this to him. Job is not yet ready to resign himself to his fate and certainly not to surrender to God for his fate. Rather, he should call God to account. Then, if God does not let him know why he is fighting him, he will ask God his questions.
It is, of course, inappropriate to call God to account. Unbelief does so in great moderation, because it does not want to know about a sovereign God. Paul says to such people: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Rom 9:20). But Job is not such a person. He wrestles with God and, out of the greatest despair, slings his questions to heaven. God does not blame him for putting up a big mouth against Him. He knows Job and lets him rage until Job comes face to face with him (Job 42:5-6).
Job does by no means and nowhere abandon God. It is precisely his great difficulty with God’s actions that drives him towards God. In his struggle to understand God, he fires a number of questions at God. He wants to know from Him whether it is right for Him to oppress him (verse 3). What is His gain if He uses His power to oppress him? Faith answers: “For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men” (Lam 3:33). But Job is not that far yet.
He knows that God’s hands have made him, that God did also “labor” for him. But what does God do with him, the labor of His hands? He rejects him. Surely this is impossible to reconcile? Doesn’t God love His own work? But there is nothing of that in His treatment of Job. He treats Job, who has served Him so faithfully, as a masterpiece without value. And what is even stranger is that He looks favorably on the schemes of the wicked. They live happily in the light, while he is in darkness.
Would all this escape God? That is why Job asks God if He sometimes has the eyes of flesh and sees as a man sees, so that He has overlooked Job’s suffering. A creature cannot look beyond its own horizon. A human being certainly cannot look into the hearts of others (verse 4). But God does, doesn’t He? That is the desperate underlying thought of Job. But then he can no longer grasp God’s ways, for him they are all murky and incomprehensible.
God is not bound to time either. This brings Job to the firing of his third question, why does he look so much like a mortal who counts the days, and like a man who sees his years pass by (verse 5)? Job knows that God sees much wider and much deeper than a man and that He is not bound to time and space. For God there is no past or future. For Him, His past and future are always present.
But then why does He pretend that He, like a human being, is limited in understanding and in time and space? For Job this is apparent from the way God is occupied with him. He experiences it as if God thoroughly investigates His iniquity, as if He is unaware that He has served Him faithfully (verse 6). Why, then, does He search so much for His sin? Why doesn’t God wait patiently until sin is clear to everyone? Why does He hasten, like a man, to torture Job in order to force a confession?
Of course You know, Job says to God, “that I am not guilty” (verse 7). But it says nothing to You. You are continuing to destroy me. And I cannot resist it. Nor is there anyone who will stand up for me against You, to save me from Your hand. Who would that be? No one can stand up to You.
Job can’t understand that the Creator and the Destroyer are the same Person. At first God’s hands skillfully “fashioned and made” him and protected him, but now these two hands are around him to destroy him (verse 8). Job is not an evolutionist; he firmly believes in God as his Fashioner and Maker. He just cannot understand what God does with what He has fashioned and made. God first created him with great wisdom, ability, effort, and care. And then, suddenly and without cause, He destroys His work, Job, with the same hands. Who makes a beautiful vase to smash it into pieces a little later?
He reminds God that He made him a fragile, vulnerable clay (verse 9). He knows that God formed man, Adam, “of dust from the ground” (Gen 2:7). He also knows that man “to dust … shall return” (Gen 3:19). This presupposes that Job knows about the Fall and its consequences for man. He also acknowledges God’s judgment of sin, that death has come into the world through it.
After the picture of the potter, Job now uses the picture of the cheesemaker (verse 10). A solid substance, cheese, comes out of the liquid milk after coagulation. This is a beautiful picture of man’s creation and growth. This is also God’s work.
He places the skin and the flesh through which a figure is created (verse 11). He also places the bones and sinews through which the body can move and walk. In this way He weaves man into a whole. David says that he is “woven” in his mother’s womb and that he is “skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth” (Psa 139:13,15). Man is a piece of art, the product of an Artist.
Job now speaks of the life he was given as a gift (verse 12). It was given to him by God, both in conception and in birth. He also acknowledges that God, by giving him life, has also given him lovingkindness. Life is a gift from the merciful God. His spirit, with which he can be connected to God, is also the object of God’s care, says Job here. God has preserved the spirit of Job in His care. That Job has not abandoned God is the result of God’s care for his spirit.
This wonderful description of his life as a product of God is a prelude to a new complaint about God’s dealings with him. God has so clearly cared for him. But His intention is very different from Job’s expectations. Now it appears, Job says to God as it were, that You had other, hidden plans with my birth (verse 13). In fact, Job says it so strongly, that he knows that God planned this with him from the beginning.
Job constantly feels God’s piercing eye on him, but now not only to take care of him (verse 12), but to spy on him and catch him for sin (verse 14). Not the slightest sin escapes him. Certainly, if he is guilty, he has to fear God’s wrath (verse 15). Then the cry fits him: “Woe to me!” But even if he is righteous – and he thinks so of himself – he will not be able to raise his head proudly. After all, God is aiming at him. He is therefore satiated with disgrace and can only bow his head out of misery.
‘Can You face my misery and remain unmoved? It seems so because You don’t care about my misery. But if I myself try to put myself out of my misery, then “You would hunt me like a lion” (verse 16). If it seems that You leave me alone for a while, then I am mistaken, for You return to me to hoist me further. You are acting very miraculously with me; I don’t understand a thing. First You have created me with care, and then You make every effort to humiliate and destroy me.’
Job complains that God is bringing new witnesses against him instead of asserting his right (verse 17). It may be that Job means his friends by this. They set themselves up as lawyers of God. They defend His interests, at least that is the impression they give. They do so in a way that makes Job feel God’s anger against him. Every new plea of the friends that they think they should keep in favor of God and in which they charge Job, is as it were a new army that positions itself against Job. It is an army that in turn constantly bombards him with words. It is therefore not strange that Job erupts in a new series of complaints.
18 - 22 Job’s Longing for Death
18 ‘Why then have You brought me out of the womb?
Would that I had died and no eye had seen me!
19 ‘I should have been as though I had not been,
Carried from womb to tomb.’
20 “Would He not let my few days alone?
Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer
21 Before I go—and I shall not return—
To the land of darkness and deep shadow,
22 The land of utter gloom as darkness [itself],
Of deep shadow without order,
And which shines as the darkness.”
What Job says in verses 18-19 reinforces what he said in Job 3. Here he attributes his birth explicitly – and rightly so, of course – to God (verse 18; cf. Psa 22:9a). However, he is not thankful to God for this act, but complains to Him about it. He should never have allowed his birth to take place. If only he had died in the womb, no eye would ever have seen him in the wretched circumstances in which he now finds himself. Then it would be as if he had never been there (verse 19). He would have been brought from the belly to the grave nameless and would be buried. Then he would never have known of the torments he now undergoes (cf. Ecc 4:2-3).
But he is still alive, and he experiences that life as a long path of suffering on which he has been consciously placed by God. He has only a few days left and then his life is over (verse 20; Psa 39:5). He wishes that God would stop tormenting him, that he would not continue to do so until the last moment of his life. He would like to have some rest and joy in the few remaining days before he leaves this life forever (cf. Psa 39:13).
If he leaves this life, he will be in the grave and will never return to earth (verse 21). The grave is in “the land of darkness and deep shadow”. It is “the land of utter gloom as darkness [itself]” where darkness is lord and master and “the deep shadow” covers everything (verse 22).
In that darkness every order is lacking, just as it was before the days of creation (Gen 1:2). There is no order of day and night or summer and winter or heat and cold. There is also no order by age or gender or rank or status. The bones of the dead are gathered together without anyone knowing who they belong to except the all-knowing God.
The darkness shines there as if it were light. If the light is darkness, how great is the darkness! The light reveals everything, but if the light is darkness, then the darkness itself is extremely dark. The darkness is impenetrable. Nothing is visible in it, there are not even vague contours perceptible so that there might be some recognition.