1 - 5 The Friends Are False Witnesses of God
1 “Behold, my eye has seen all [this],
My ear has heard and understood it.
2 “What you know I also know;
I am not inferior to you.
3 “But I would speak to the Almighty,
And I desire to argue with God.
4 “But you smear with lies;
You are all worthless physicians.
5 “O that you would be completely silent,
And that it would become your wisdom!
The answer of Job to Zophar continues. In the verses 1-2 Job responds to his friends. His eye sees as that of Eliphaz (Job 4:8), his ear hears as that of Bildad (Job 8:8), he knows or has a heart like Zophar (Job 12:3). He makes it clear that he is not inferior to them in the knowledge of God (Job 12:14-25). And surely he will not give in to them, that is to say, be convinced by them of their rightness in their judgment of him. The friends have spoken of things which they have observed, and which have been observed by wise men. Well, so Job can speak. His wisdom and observations are as good as theirs.
Here’s a lesson for us. If we want to convince people on a religious level on the basis of wisdom, experience and perception, they have the right to respond with their own wisdom, experience and perception. Even if we teach the truth, they may reject it if we give the impression that we are just a little bit smarter than they are. But when we quote God’s Word, the weight of divine proof stands behind our words. People can still reject it, but when they do, they reject God and not us.
We can deduce from Job’s reply that his friends say what he too would have said before he was in this misery. He saw his life in prosperity as a reward from God for his faithfulness, because it was also for him that God rewards faithfulness and punishes evil. But now that evil has come upon him, that view on God is broken. The friends stick to their theology, without a relationship with God. Job has lost his ‘theology’ and struggles from his relationship with God with the question why God is acting so with him. How should he see God then?
That is why Job turns to God, about whom he speaks as “the Almighty” (verse 3). His friends have assumed he has sins on him. From them he does not have to expect understanding. They wrong him greatly with their unfounded accusations. They know neither his feelings nor his motives, yet they judge him harshly and treat him like a hypocrite. This is because of their limited view of God. They also do wrong to God by presenting Him in this way to Job.
All that remains for Job is to speak to the Almighty and present his case to him, as he did in Job 9-10. In Job 9 he sees no benefit in a trial with God, because he always loses it. But now he wants a trial anyway, because he still expects a righteous judgment by God.
The friends are instruments in God’s hand to teach Job and to draw him to Himself. God wants to use everything that happens to us to cause us to go to Him. For this He also uses the incomprehension that we meet with people. Not that Job is already where God wants him to be. But what we hear here from Job is his deep longing for contact with God. God will interrogate Job in a special way when He has finished His work on him. At this moment Job is still too convinced that he is in his right.
Job flatly accuses his friends of being false witnesses of God (verse 4). What kind of helpers are they that they treat a case like his this way? This does not mean that they deliberately tell lies, but they do not speak the truth and have no eye for Job’s struggle. What they express as ‘theological truth’ is not truth because it is applied to the wrong person at the wrong time.
They are “all worthless physicians”. They are quacks. The reason for this is that they think wrongly and at the same time assume they have all the wisdom, while they reason away the trouble of Job. They say that Job has sinned and that he will be healthy again if he confesses his sins. Job says that he has not sinned, and that they are therefore worthless physicians. They do not make him healthy; on the contrary, they make him sicker. What they say in no way alleviates his misery. On the contrary, it aggravates his suffering.
He prefers them to remain silent (verse 5). This is what they did for the first seven days, when they sat tacitly with him. If only they had never broken their silence, for nothing came out of their mouth, which gave him some consolation. It only pushed him deeper into misery. If they would take that attitude again, it would be to their wisdom. “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent” (Pro 17:28).
6 - 12 The Friends Are Not Impartial
6 “Please hear my argument
And listen to the contentions of my lips.
7 “Will you speak what is unjust for God,
And speak what is deceitful for Him?
8 “Will you show partiality for Him?
Will you contend for God?
9 “Will it be well when He examines you?
Or will you deceive Him as one deceives a man?
10 “He will surely reprove you
If you secretly show partiality.
11 “Will not His majesty terrify you,
And the dread of Him fall on you?
12 “Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ashes,
Your defenses are defenses of clay.
Job calls on his friends to stop speaking and to listen to his defense (verse 6). He asks them to pay sincere attention to his defense. He is in great suffering, but has not lost his mind. He knows what he is saying and can defend himself with reasonable arguments against their accusations. Listening to someone requires a great deal of self-denial if you really think you have the answer already. Really listening and trying to understand the other is a task and an assignment. It prevents a hasty assessment and gives the other the feeling of acceptance. Job feels rejected by his friends and not taken seriously.
Job warns them of the injustice of their actions (verse 7). They act as if they are speaking right about God, or they are repeating after God in the right way. But in reality they speak injustice of God. They present Him as One Who punishes only evil men. Job is punished, so God sees Job as an evil man. They also speak what is deceitful for God by treating Job in His light as a hypocrite, a sneaky sinner. But Job is not.
He sees his friends as ‘accomplices of God’, because they take sides with God (verse 8). God is against him and so are his friends. God punishes him too heavily, he thinks. The misery in which God immerses him is disproportionate to his transgressions, he believes. His friends, he experiences, put themselves on God’s side and are deaf to his defense. They assume that he is wrong and that God is right to punish him. Their view of God is that God makes man suffer exactly to the measure of what he deserves. Whatever Job brings against that, it is as they see it. The pain they add to Job’s suffering is proof that they are not ‘defending’ God in the right way.
God, speaking with respect, is not waiting for anyone to take sides with Him and pursue His trial. In His Word, God forbids partiality (Deu 10:17). He doesn’t need or want anyone for His trial. Whoever thinks he should help God, has a high opinion of himself. To witness to Him is not the same as to bring Him in to prove us right. In the latter way the friends talk to Job about God. They believe that they know exactly how God looks at Job. If he agrees with them now, God can start blessing him again, they think. What they don’t realize is that they present God to Job in a completely wrong way. God’s judgment of their speaking is that they have not spoken correctly about Him (Job 42:8).
How important it is that we speak about God in the right way! Our knowledge of God should not prove itself in making theologically correct statements, but in a living relationship with Him. We may and must involve Him in all things of life. This can only happen in a sound, balanced way if we take Scripture as the norm and not our own opinion. We will therefore be correctable if it turns out that we have misunderstood something. The awareness that God really is God will keep us from forming an idea of God from theological knowledge and from that idea presenting God. That will help us to speak about God in the right way.
Job points out to his friends that God not only knows him, but also them (verse 9). He points out to them their own failures, for which they apparently have no eye. They surely do not think that God, if He examines them, will find in them nothing to condemn? They cannot deceive Him, as they deceive human beings, their mortal fellows. We can hide our thoughts and motives from humans, but not from God. The friends have come to Job to place him in God’s light. In doing so, they have forgotten that they themselves come into that light as well. They measure broadly what is lacking in Job, but ignore the “looking to yourself” (Gal 6:1).
According to Job, the friends can count on God to punish them for secretly showing partiality (verse 10). They do not say it in so many words, but their words show that they are taking sides with God. Partiality is always wrong, whatever party it may be. Partiality is always done for one’s own sake. God is not a party you can prefer. Whoever takes sides for Him in the belief that it will benefit them in any way, does not have to count on His support, but can count on His punishment (cf. Job 42:7). God also sees it when it happens in secret or with hidden intentions. He always acts without regard for persons.
Job confronts his friends with the “majesty” or glory of God (verse 11). God is above all partiality, above everything and everyone. If the friends think of God in this way, doesn’t it frighten them and make them fear Him? This thought of Him should make them reluctant to say false things about Him.
By the way, this is something every preacher of God’s Word should think of. It is a great responsibility to pass on God’s thoughts. Whoever passes something on, orally or in writing, as in this commentary, as God’s thoughts or intent, must pray that he is preserved from giving his own interpretation of it. We also do not appreciate it when someone misuses or misquotes our words or misinterprets them. But when it comes to God’s words, we sometimes handle them with great ‘smoothness’. That should not be the case. We may not understand something (cf. 2Pet 3:16). Then let’s be honest about it.
The friends have given their opinions. They haven’t said anything new. For Job they are memories of what he already knew (verse 12). It does not appeal to him at all. All their spells are words with as much basis or grip and value as “ashes”, so none at all. Such words have no effect, they have no effect at all. Their response to what he himself has said is also of no value. It is just as easy to overthrow as something made of “clay”. Nor does it offer any firmness when struck, but it breaks to pieces.
13 - 19 Job Will Plead His Own Case With God
13 “Be silent before me so that I may speak;
Then let come on me what may.
14 “Why should I take my flesh in my teeth
And put my life in my hands?
15 “Though He slay me,
I will hope in Him.
Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
16 “This also will be my salvation,
For a godless man may not come before His presence.
17 “Listen carefully to my speech,
And let my declaration [fill] your ears.
18 “Behold now, I have prepared my case;
I know that I will be vindicated.
19 “Who will contend with me?
For then I would be silent and die.
If the friends keep their mouths shut, he will speak (verse 13). He will not hold back. He will throw out before God everything that bothers him. He doesn’t care about the consequences. Let it come, what may. When he says “I take my flesh in my teeth” (verse 14), he means he is taking a risk, for you will not be able to keep it for long. He puts his life in his hands, that is, he puts it at risk (cf. Jdg 12:3; 1Sam 19:5; 28:21), to get his right with God. He will speak, though there is a great risk that he will be devoured by his own words and perish.
In verse 15 Job pronounces a brilliant paradox, an apparent contradiction, which can only be understood by faith. God smashes his life to pieces, yet he insists that God is good. It radiates hope and confidence in God. He does not understand why he must suffer so much. Let God tell him, even if it means killing him. But his death doesn’t change his hope in God. He will defend himself before God. God is his prosecutor, that’s how he feels, but also his lawyer, Someone Who stands up for him. Job expects his redemption from Him (verse 16). He dares to come into the presence of God, something that is not possible for a hypocrite. Job is therefore not a hypocrite, as the friends say of him in a veiled way that he is.
In verse 17 he again urges his friends to listen to him (verses 6,13). He has clearly stated his case. If only they would listen to what he has said. Job imagines himself in a courtroom where he as the accused has set out his case (verse 18). He has no doubt whatsoever about the outcome: he “will be vindicated”, that is to say, he sees himself as acquitted of any charge. There is no evidence that he has sinned. Everything the friends have said, of which they have accused him, is based on nothing more than suppositions. His defense is convincing, he himself judges.
Job’s question as to whether there is anyone else who dares to contend with him sounds almost defiant (verse 19). Let them come, the accusers. He is certain that there is no objection against his defense. There is no fear whatsoever that God will prove his accusers right, so much he trusts in the right outcome. He has had to speak, he has been unable to restrain himself. If he had remained silent, it would have meant his death. He could not go on living without answering so many unjustified accusations. His defense made him worth his life.
20 - 23 Job Asks God to Change His Attitude
20 “Only two things do not do to me,
Then I will not hide from Your face:
21 Remove Your hand from me,
And let not the dread of You terrify me.
22 “Then call, and I will answer;
Or let me speak, then reply to me.
23 “How many are my iniquities and sins?
Make known to me my rebellion and my sin.
Job now addresses a question to God. All he wants is that God will not do two things to him (verse 20). If God does, Job will no longer deal with God in an attitude of fear. He will then no longer feel an obstacle to go to God and can then speak to Him on an equal footing. Then he will no longer be overwhelmed by God’s greatness and highness. He wishes to be free to plead his case with God without the obstacles resulting from a deeply weary and painful illness. He now feels weakened by sickness and unable to devote himself to defending his cause as he did in the days of his prosperity.
Job asks two things (verse 21). The first is that God removes his oppressive hand from him, and the second is that the dread of God no longer terrifies him. Job feels the misery and suffering as the oppressive hand of God – not of satan. If only God would remove that hand far away, he would be able to take an enlightened breath and prepare to speak to God as a worthy party. But Job also wants to free himself from the dread that emanates from God for him. He sees God as his unapproachable adversary, Who, if he does the slightest wrong, will plunge him back into misery. If God does not change this, he cannot yet calmly present his case to Him. Then the dread will remain in the background that he will always have to lose out to God, Who is so much greater and higher than he is. Elihu later elaborates on these arguments in his argument (Job 33:7).
In verse 22 he proposes God compellingly to call him to account so that he can answer. Now he does not see God as a Judge, but as a Party at issue. If God does not respond to his demand, let him speak, and then let God answer him. In Job’s imagination, it is a lawsuit. But God will not participate in it. That is why Job resumes his complaint in verse 24. Job does not know it here yet, but God will certainly speak to him one day, but then Job will not know how to answer (Job 40:1-5). God speaks, but in His time and not in the time that Job determines.
In verse 23 Job opens the lawsuit. He challenges God to list his iniquities and sins. With this Job demands of God that He justifies Himself for the great disasters He has brought upon him. If these disasters are really the result of his iniquities and sins – as the friends claim – then God must be able to list a whole list. Let Him come forward with it. What Job is saying here is not the question of a conscience that wants to be convinced and come to confession. Job challenges God from an attitude that he can’t be accused of anything.
24 - 28 Job Resumes His Complaint
24 “Why do You hide Your face
And consider me Your enemy?
25 “Will You cause a driven leaf to tremble?
Or will You pursue the dry chaff?
26 “For You write bitter things against me
And make me to inherit the iniquities of my youth.
27 “You put my feet in the stocks
And watch all my paths;
You set a limit for the soles of my feet,
28 While I am decaying like a rotten thing,
Like a garment that is moth-eaten.
Because there is no answer from God to his questions in the previous verses, Job resumes his complaint. There is no answer because he is not yet ready to be stripped of his own righteousness. He sees God as One Who does not look at him, but hides His face from him in wrath (Psa 104:29) and acts as the unapproachable God against him (verse 24). Job experiences God as his adversary. God has overloaded him with misery, although he has always served Him so faithfully.
Why does God persecute such a ‘nobody’ like him? He feels completely at the mercy of God, just as a dead leaf has nothing against the wind and dry chaff is blown in all directions by the wind (verse 25). Why does He concern Himself with someone who is nothing more than a dead leaf?
Job may experience this negatively, but we can see in this the care of God for Job. For God, Job is not a ‘nobody’, but rather ‘a someone’ to whom all His interest is directed. In his actions with Job, it is precisely His concern for him that is evident.
God’s care still completely eludes Job. God is for him Someone Who rages against him and writes bitter things against him (verse 26). It seems as if God has issued a warrant for the arrest of a villain who has a lot to answer. That is very bitter. His guilt is certain in advance. Then according to Job it must be youth sins (cf. Psa 25:7), because he is not aware of any sins lately. Isn’t God digging up old skeletons that He is still accusing him of forgotten sins?
He feels like a prisoner of God, who has put his feet in the stocks, so that he is hindered in his movements (verse 27; Jer 20:2). In doing so, God also keeps a close eye on him and watches over all his paths, that he does not attempt to escape. God has also set a limit for the soles of his feet, literally, set a carve for his feet. If he should escape anyway, his footsteps are easy to recognize and he can be picked up again easily. Job describes how God makes it impossible for him to make any attempt to escape from his misery. He is in it and is condemned to remain in it.
How is it possible for God to do this to someone like him, Job wonders, no doubt. Surely God can see that his sickened body is decaying and rots (verse 28)? His body, which is covered with maggots (Job 7:5; 21:26), is like a garment that the moths eat (cf. Isa 50:9b). Moths do their destructive work slowly, but also thoroughly (cf. Hos 5:12). Thus, Job’s body slowly crumbles and dies little by little. What is the point of God letting even more misery come over this?