In this chapter we hear Job’s answer to Bildad. The contents of this chapter can be divided into four couplets:
1. First, the despair of Job over the persistent attacks of the friends who waltz over him (verses 2-5).
2. Then comes his despair about God, Who has left him and, according to his feelings, continues to attack unjustly (verses 6-12).
3. Then comes his despair that God has alienated his loved ones and even his wife from him (verses 13-20).
4. But finally he turns in faith to Someone, his Redeemer, Who will redeem him at the end (verses 21-27), with the result that he makes a plea to his friends (verses 21) and gives a warning (verses 28-29) to stop with their false accusations.
1 - 6 How Long Will the Friends Continue?
1 Then Job responded,
2 “How long will you torment me
And crush me with words?
3 “These ten times you have insulted me;
You are not ashamed to wrong me.
4 “Even if I have truly erred,
My error lodges with me.
5 “If indeed you vaunt yourselves against me
And prove my disgrace to me,
6 Know then that God has wronged me
And has closed His net around me.
Just like the previous times Job answers to what has been said to him, this time by Bildad (verse 1). He asks Bildad and in him the other two friends how long they continue to accuse him (verse 2). They deeply sadden his soul with it. His feelings are deeply hurt and crushed by the words of Bildad and his friends. They completely destroy him inwardly with what they say to him.
They have already disgraced him “ten times [an expression that means ‘many times’ (Gen 31:7; Num 14:22)]” with their unfounded accusations (verse 3). Each time he has pointed out to them their error and denied their accusations. They have not yet been able to substantiate any of their accusations with evidence. Their assumption is that he suffers because he has sinned. Despite their lack of evidence for their accusations, they are not ashamed to treat him so harshly.
Their actions against Job are downright shameless. After all, their coming was meant to console him, wasn’t it?
Let alone, Job says, that I have truly erred. Then what have I done to you (verse 4)? After all, I only did it to myself, didn’t I? Then you don’t have to worry so much about that, do you? You have no right to treat me so harshly. But you are taking God’s place now. You exalt yourselves above me with your statements about the sins I am said to have committed (verse 5). You look down on me and speak to me from high above. You are making yourselves great at my expense. As evidence for your accusations you invoke “my disgrace”. This disgrace would have been brought upon me because of my sins.
But I do not have to do with you, I have to do with God (verse 6). God has pushed me down in defamation and disgrace. If you want to sue someone, do not sue me, but sue God! That is what they should do. Job sees God’s hand in everything. Only he has no explanation for why God’s hand weighs so heavily upon him, while the friends claim that this hand has come down upon him in discipline because of his sins.
Job thinks that God is against him for no reason. His friends think God has every reason to be against him. Neither of them are right, for God is for Job. The anger of God kindled against the Lord Jesus on the cross in full force, but not against Job.
Job feels surrounded by God’s net of trouble and calamity, from which he cannot free himself. This contrasts with Bildad’s assertions that Job ended up in that net through his own fault (Job 18:7-8). At the same time, there is also the aspect that God draws Job to Himself with His net. Job is not yet ready to hand himself over to God, but he is constantly searching for Him.
7 - 12 Rejected and Abandoned by God
7 “Behold, I cry, ‘Violence!’ but I get no answer;
I shout for help, but there is no justice.
8 “He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass,
And He has put darkness on my paths.
9 “He has stripped my honor from me
And removed the crown from my head.
10 “He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone;
And He has uprooted my hope like a tree.
11 “He has also kindled His anger against me
And considered me as His enemy.
12 “His troops come together,
And build up their way against me
And camp around my tent.
Job calls that the law is violated in his case (verse 7). He says it is God Who does that. Yet Job turns to God for help. His cry for help, however, is not heard by Him. He does not get his right. There is no one who stands up for him, no one who says that the suffering he suffers is unjust and must be taken away from him.
From verse 8 onwards he directly accuses God of making life impossible for him. His life path is blocked by God and is therefore impassable (verse 8). And the paths he has gone have been shrouded by God in darkness, so that he has lost all orientation. He cannot go in any direction. We would say: He sees no light at the end of the tunnel. There is nowhere to find a way out.
Job accuses God of robbing him of his honor and taking the crown from his head (verse 9). There is nothing left of the prestige he used to have and the wealth he possessed as a crown and gave him dignity (Pro 14:24). His good name and fame are gone.
Job describes the ruin of his life in pictures. Like a building, he is demolished by God, so that nothing but a mess remains (verse 10). He has perished because God has broken him down on all sides: materially, in his family, in his health, in his social contacts and in his friendships. He also compares himself to a tree that has been “uprooted” by a hurricane. As a result, he is now without hope of life.
He considers himself to be the target of God’s anger that has been kindled against him in all fierceness (verse 11). This gives him the feeling that God is treating him as if he were his enemy. His desire is for God, yet God brings all this misery upon him. He doesn’t understand anything about this ‘war situation’, why God is so opposed to him. He hasn’t given God any reason to do so, has he?
Job sees the disasters that have come upon him as “His troops” (verse 12). It is as if in the disasters God is sending His armies against him. Those armies have built up their way against him, suggesting that they have been stopped by nothing. They have done their utmost to reach the tent, the abode, of Job in order to lay siege to it. It is as if his small, tiny tent is a mighty and hostile fortress with thick walls. What is God doing? It is not a question for Job that God has done this. The question of why God has done this remains a tormenting one for him.
In fact, Job is reasoning exactly like his friends. He also believes that God brings calamity to a man when he sins. The friends conclude from the calamity that struck him that he must have sinned. Job knows that this is not so. This brings him into great conflict with his thinking about God. He knows that he has done nothing to justify this suffering, yet God punishes him. The problem isn’t with him, so … God must be wrong.
God endures Job’s accusations until His time has come to bring him into His holy presence. Anyone who is in endless suffering can wrestle for some time with the question of why God let this happen. As long as we have not been in such suffering, we would do well to suspend our judgment of Job’s accusations until we have heard God speak.
What we should know is that God does not consider us His enemies when suffering enters our lives. We may not always understand God’s way with us, but we may know that for those who love God, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love” Him (Rom 8:28). In addition, when He disciplines us, He shows His love for us, and proves that He sees us as His sons (Heb 12:6). There is no enmity against us.
13 - 20 Despised by the People
13 “He has removed my brothers far from me,
And my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
14 “My relatives have failed,
And my intimate friends have forgotten me.
15 “Those who live in my house and my maids consider me a stranger.
I am a foreigner in their sight.
16 “I call to my servant, but he does not answer;
I have to implore him with my mouth.
17 “My breath is offensive to my wife,
And I am loathsome to my own brothers.
18 “Even young children despise me;
I rise up and they speak against me.
19 “All my associates abhor me,
And those I love have turned against me.
20 “My bone clings to my skin and my flesh,
And I have escaped [only] by the skin of my teeth.
In this section Job passes from the enmity of God towards the disgust of men towards him. After his total breakdown he feels abandoned by everyone. But here too he says that it is something that God is doing to him. Much of what he says about people’s attitudes toward him can be applied to what people have done to the Lord Jesus and how they have seen Him. The Lord has been truly forsaken of all. Job sees no explanation for what people did to him, but the Lord knew perfectly well why He was treated this way and why people considered Him this way.
It is a great torment that those from whom you should expect support have become unreachable to you when you suffer intensely. They no longer come to you, but drop you. And when they come to you, you still feel an enormous distance because they do not understand you, cannot sympathize with you, or even come up with advice that hurts you. God allows us to be disappointed in relying on our relationships, even the most intimate ones, to learn to rely on Him alone. When He has achieved that goal, He reveals Himself to us.
Brothers or brethren, who were always there for you, on whom you could count especially in times of need, fail (verse 13). His acquaintances, those who know him, pretend he is a stranger to them (cf. Psa 69:8). These brothers and friends have nothing of the brother and friend of whom Solomon says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Pro 17:17). A true friend not only loves when you are doing well, but also when you are doing badly. In times of need, that friend will become a brother, someone who will help carry the burden as a family member (cf. Gal 6:2). The perfect example of this is the Lord Jesus. He is like that for us and never disappoints us.
Job is completely on the skids. That is why his close relatives no longer seek him out (verse 14). They do not want to be seen in the company of such a man. They are ashamed of him. His acquaintances don’t even think of him anymore and forget him. There are more important things to do than to concern oneself with someone who has got himself into such trouble. As long as somebody’s doing well and there’s some honor or benefit to be gained from visiting, we’ll do it. But if something like pity is asked for, we let it go. We can’t deal well with other people’s suffering.
Job is considered a stranger by those who live in his house and his maids, as someone who does not belong to them (verse 15). Not only did they not offer him any help, but they broke off their relationship with him. These are the people who experienced him closely during the period of prosperity in daily life. Now they stare at him as if they had never seen him before, as if he came from a different country, with a different language and different customs.
The servant who used to carry out his duties willingly and faithfully is now deaf to the voice of Job when he calls him (verse 16). He does not answer and pretends that Job is air to him. Why should he still serve Job? Job can no longer give him anything, no reward and no punishment. In the old days a movement of the hand or head could be enough to make the servant do something. Now Job must use his mouth to get his servant to do something. And instead of commanding him, Job humiliates himself by begging his servant.
Job’s wife has apparently stayed with him, although she is not what a wife should be, a help to her husband (verse 17). She too sees him as an object of God’s displeasure, and leaves him alone in his suffering. She stays at a distance, so that she cannot smell his breath. The love that was between her and Job has cooled down. It is extremely tragic when, in a marriage, a tragedy affecting one of the spouses causes separation. On the contrary, need should lead to greater unity between man and wife.
He is loathsome to his own brothers and sisters. They squeeze their nose in front of him, he stinks because of the festering wounds that cover his body.
Young children despise him (verse 18). Little children tend to stare at deformed people and walk around them with a bow. This is more out of fear than contempt. Young children may despise someone and treat him disrespectfully because of his appearance (cf. 2Kgs 2:23). Job must have looked hideous, repulsive. When he stood up, they showed no respect, but began to contradict him, perhaps even to boo him. Young children can be mercilessly hard on the weak and vulnerable in society. How important it is that parents teach their children respect for every human being as a creature of God, according to the command: “Honor all people” (1Pet 2:17; cf. Jam 3:8-11).
All those with whom Job had a confidential relationship, with whom he shared things in confidence to hear what they thought of them, turned their backs on him in horror (verse 19). With some people he had a special bond, a bond of love. That goes beyond a confidential bond. The people he loved have now become his opponents. They have turned against him. Love is answered with opposition (cf. Psa 109:4). That’s very painful.
Job has emaciated so much that he has become even less than ‘skin and bones’ (verse 20; cf. Lam 4:8). His bones stick through his skin and his flesh. Parts of his skin and flesh have been tarnished away. He has been reduced to a skeleton. All that is left of him is his gums. He can still chew on that.
21 - 24 The Supplication for Pity
21 “Pity me, pity me, O you my friends,
For the hand of God has struck me.
22 “Why do you persecute me as God [does],
And are not satisfied with my flesh?
23 “Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 “That with an iron stylus and lead
They were engraved in the rock forever!
Job has reached the nadir of the description of his situation. He makes a heartbreaking appeal to those he emphatically calls “my friends” to have pity on him (verse 21; cf. Job 6:14). He particularly needs their help now that God’s hand has hit him so hard (Job 1-2). That hand still rests heavy on him, without giving him a reason for it. He yearns for them to help him bear the suffering.
Now it is still the case for Job that they persecute him and behave towards him as God behaves towards him (verse 22). When will they be saturated with his flesh? When they see him, should it not dawn on them how much he suffers? Is this not sufficient reason to stop tormenting him with their accusations, making his suffering all the greater?
Job is so sure that he suffers innocently that he wishes his words to be written down and inscribed in a book (verse 23). Then future generations will be able to read his defense. He is convinced that they will come to the conclusion that his accusers are wrong and he really is innocent.
He also wants them, in addition to being inscribed in a book, to be “engraved in the rock with an iron stylus and lead forever” (verse 24). After all, a book can perish or be lost, but what is engraved in a rock and filled with lead is very durable and remains legible for a long time. In this way he wants to lift his ‘right’, the testimony about his innocence and the injustice done to him, over his death.
What Job desires has been done in a much more convincing way than he proposes. His words have been taken up by God in His Word, the eternal Word. Only that did not happen as he intended it to record his innocence forever, but to teach us about God’s dealings with a man to whom He wishes to reveal Himself.
Job’s words come from the desire to defend his sincerity. Thus he has defended his words before (Job 7:7-11; 10:1; 13:3,13-14). They are also a direct answer to Bildad’s harsh words that his memory will perish on earth and that his name will be extinct (Job 18:17). Both Job and Bildad know the truth of the words of wisdom: “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Pro 10:7). Job clings to the first part, Bildad uses the second part for Job.
25 - 27 The Triumph of Faith
25 “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
26 “Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
27 Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!
Then in these verses we suddenly see another ray of light of Job’s faith. Instead of being engraved in a stone rock on earth, Job now seeks it higher up by the Living Rock. He speaks of a Redeemer, whom he very personally calls “my Redeemer” (verse 25). His rock (verse 24) is his Redeemer. In Hebrew the word “I” is emphasized at the beginning of the verse. It shows Job’s firm conviction: ‘I, yes I, know.’
The word “lives” is more than “being alive”. It implies that the Redeemer will continue His work to establish Jobs’ sincerity and to justify the accusations against him. This is also contained in the words of Job in the last verses of this chapter.
In two previous chapters (Job 9; 16) where Job expresses his deep bitterness towards God, he also spoke of the Person whom he calls here “Redeemer”. In Job 9 he notices the absence of that Person: “There is no umpire between us” (Job 9:33), including the question: “If only there was one”. In Job 16 he pronounces that this Person is Someone Who knows and looks after His cause: “My witness is in heaven, and my advocate is on high” (Job 16:19). Here in Job 19 this grows to the conviction that He is a living Redeemer, Someone Who gives Him all that belongs to Him: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
Job has more in mind here than just Someone Who will testify to his sincerity. In Job 16 he sees himself as a victim of murder when he shouts, “O earth, do not cover my blood” (Job 16:18). He is counting on his Savior, his Goel, to testify for him, but also to do him justice. He knows that God will do this after his death. He does not yet know that God will do him justice on earth. That makes his statements a statement of faith.
The Hebrew word for ‘redeemer’ is goel. Depending on the context, this word is also translated as ‘blood avenger’. The word is important in the Old Testament jurisprudence. It has an aspect relating to crime and an aspect relating to civil relations. As the ‘blood avenger’, the goel had the responsibility to avenge the blood of a killed family member (Num 35:12-28). He was not seeking vengeance, but justice. The redeemer or goel, also restores lost rights or loss of property. He upholds justice (Lev 25:25-34).
Regarding the civil aspect, the goel had the responsibility to “repurchase” and thereby redeem the lost inheritance of a deceased family member. This could be done by buying free from slavery or by marrying the widow to provide for an heir. As such, he was the defender of the oppressed, as we see in the book of Ruth (Rth 4:1-10; Pro 23:10-11). In the exodus and in the exile, God is the Goel of His oppressed people (Exo 6:6; Isa 43:1). As the Goel the LORD frees persons from death (Psa 103:4).
Because His Redeemer lives, Job also knows that this Redeemer “at the last … will take His stand on the earth [literally: dust]”. This means that He will exercise His dominion over all matter, including man, who is dust. “Take His stand” means to move in order to take action. The Redeemer will rise up and come to earth to restore everything and do justice everywhere.
Job expects to die and that of his body in the grave nothing will remain (verse 26). When he dies he is stripped of his skin. However, even though his skin is gone, he will see God from his flesh. Here it appears that Job has faith in the resurrection. Here he speaks as his conviction the truth of a literal, bodily resurrection. With his statement about the resurrection Job ‘plants the flag of victory on his own grave’. David also spoke about the resurrection (Acts 2:31). The believers in the Old Testament know that there is a resurrection (Psa 17:15; Isa 38:11-19).
In addition to his faith in the resurrection, he also believes that he will then see God. He will not hear God speak His decision in favor of him from a distance, but he will stand face to face with God in a glorified body. He will see God in the face of Jesus Christ Who is the image of God. Sickness and the grave will consume his body, but that is not the end of his existence. He says, as it were, what David later says: “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” (Psa 17:15).
He Himself shall see God with His own eyes (verse 27). It is that God Whom he now experiences as Someone Who is against him. At the same time he knows of that God that He is His God. There is no other God. God is the God on Whom he has always trusted, even though he is in despair about His dealings with him. He knows God and God knows him. Job will be no other person, no stranger, someone kept at a distance because he has no relationship with God. God is also no other God than the God he has served on earth.
His longing is not for the recovery of his health, the liberation from all his troubles and the return to his former prosperity and well-being, to all that God has ever given him. He knows that this is unattainable, he does not believe in it. What he longs for is what is greater than all earthly prosperity, and that is God Himself. That desire is so great that it causes his heart to faint within him. It indicates the intense and total longing of all that is within him. At the end of the book this longing is fulfilled already in a sense, while he receives in addition what he didn’t ask for.
28 - 29 A Serious Warning
28 “If you say, ‘How shall we persecute him?’
And ‘What pretext for a case against him can we find?’
29 “[Then] be afraid of the sword for yourselves,
For wrath [brings] the punishment of the sword,
So that you may know there is judgment.”
Job concludes his answer to Bildad with a serious warning to the three friends. They have accused him unjustly. Let them turn to themselves and wonder why they are persecuting him, why they are accusing him (verse 28). Job denies that he has sinned, but he does not deny that God judges sins. According to you, Job says, the root of what has happened to me lies within myself. But if you continue to condemn me and presume that I am responsible for my own suffering, then when the sword of righteousness comes to you, you yourselves will be found guilty (verse 29).
That is why they themselves should fear the sword of God’s righteousness. They have spoken to him in anger and not in compassion. The strong accusations they have thrown at Job have not been friendship, but a crime. They will have to account to God for that.