In the previous chapter Job recalled his past and now lost prosperity. Now he is forced to return to the reality of the present. In this chapter he deals again with his present misery. He starts describing it with “but now” (verse 1; cf. verse 9), which underlines the contrast with the previous chapter.
The change from prosperity to disaster cannot be described more dramatically than in these two chapters. If we get any sense of it, we can imagine how much the soul of Job has been overwhelmed by this change. He used to be honored by the most significant and important people; now he is despised by the scum of society. He used to be praised; now he has become a mockery. God used to guard him; now God has become a cruelty to him.
1 - 8 His Horrible Mockers
1 “But now those younger than I mock me,
Whose fathers I disdained to put with the dogs of my flock.
2 “Indeed, what [good was] the strength of their hands to me?
Vigor had perished from them.
3 “From want and famine they are gaunt
Who gnaw the dry ground by night in waste and desolation,
4 Who pluck mallow by the bushes,
And whose food is the root of the broom shrub.
5 “They are driven from the community;
They shout against them as [against] a thief,
6 So that they dwell in dreadful valleys,
In holes of the earth and of the rocks.
7 “Among the bushes they cry out;
Under the nettles they are gathered together.
8 “Fools, even those without a name,
They were scourged from the land.
Job begins in these verses to describe the dimensions of his misfortune by pointing out the kind of people who now besmirch him. It is the scum among the people. In despicable words Job speaks out about the people he used to do well but who now set themselves above him.
As noted above, the word “but” indicates a change with respect to the preceding chapter (verse 1) The word “now” of this chapter is in contrast to “months gone by” from the beginning of the preceding chapter (Job 29:2). Job is now mocked. And by whom? By people younger than him (Job 19:18). Young people used to hide when he went to the gate (Job 29:8), but now they laugh at him, they amuse themselves by making jokes about him.
The fact that young people speak disdainfully about older people or criticize them negatively is unfortunately becoming more and more common in our time. Such an attitude goes against God’s Word. Whoever does this will face God Himself (Lev 19:32). Young people are called to be submissive to the elderly (1Pet 5:5a). Older people may wonder if they behave in such a way that this is not so difficult for young people.
Job says of these mocking young people that they are the offspring of inferior fathers. How can you expect such fathers to teach their children appropriate standards of decency? He wouldn’t even want to give those fathers a place among the (shepherd) dogs – the only time the Bible mentions these dogs. A place among the dogs means great contempt, for in the east dogs were despised animals (2Sam 16:9).
Job did not want to use these people, but they were also unfit to be used (verse 2). They could not and would not do anything. They had never learned to do anything because they did not want to. When they became old and powerless, there was nothing more to be expected of them. And the descendants of such people have the evil courage to mock Job.
The fathers suffered from want and famine and were therefore “gaunt”, which means that nothing came out of their hands that was of any use to others (verse 3). They were not tolerated anywhere either. Therefore they “gnaw the dry ground”. Their gaunt life suited perfectly to a barren place, which also speaks of barrenness. They stayed in dark dens in the midst of waste and desolation. Their whole environment speaks of death, darkness and desolation.
They lived from mallow they could pick and from leaves of the bushes (verse 4). In this way they seemed to lead an animal life. From “the root of broom shrub” was made the best kind of charcoal that could burn for days. In Job’s time, it was a task for the lowest class of people.
The community was better off without them. When they knocked somewhere, they were chased away like tramps, while being called dirty thieves (verse 5). They were not pathetic people, with whom you should have pity, but people who in no way wanted a decent existence. They chose this kind of life.
As a dwelling place they chose the dreadful valleys, where no one else wanted to live (verse 6). Like rabbits they dug holes in the dust or inhabited the holes which existed in the rocks.
Their mutual communication happened by crying out (verse 7). The same word is used for beaming a donkey (Job 6:5). “Under the nettles” they huddled together for some warmth, but also for the blunting of their sexual lusts. They were totally shameless. Perhaps the unabashed crying out between the bushes should also be seen in connection with that. They lived like animals in every way.
These fathers themselves were [literally] “sons of fools”, i.e. of fathers who lived without God and commandment (verse 8). They came from what we today call antisocial backgrounds and of the worst kind. They did not have a name, so meaningless they were. There is little that offends a man so much in his dignity than to pretend he doesn’t exist, as if he is air. The people Job speaks of are such people who had no right to exist, because they did not take any responsibility. That is why they were “scourged from the land”.
And it is the descendants of these idlers with no decency and no name who now come to Job to express their contempt for him. The question is whether we are able to understand somewhat what kind of grief this must be for him. In any case, it requires a great deal of empathy on our part. If we sit down in the spirit beside Job, we will feel something of the bitterness of the suffering it inflicts on him.
9 - 15 Their Contempt
9 “And now I have become their taunt,
I have even become a byword to them.
10 “They abhor me [and] stand aloof from me,
And they do not refrain from spitting at my face.
11 “Because He has loosed His bowstring and afflicted me,
They have cast off the bridle before me.
12 “On the right hand their brood arises;
They thrust aside my feet and build up against me their ways of destruction.
13 “They break up my path,
They profit from my destruction;
No one restrains them.
14 “As [through] a wide breach they come,
Amid the tempest they roll on.
15 “Terrors are turned against me;
They pursue my honor as the wind,
And my prosperity has passed away like a cloud.
In the preceding verses Job described the depraved environment from which the scum that despised him came. In verses 9-15, Job speaks of the way in which the scum, which he has described in the preceding verses, defames him (verses 9-12) and attacks him (verses 13-15).
In verse 9 Job says for the second time “now” (cf. verse 1) as an introduction for a description of the situation in which he finds himself now and which contrasts with his earlier situation. He is now mocked by the foam of society, by people for whom no one has any esteem, but only contempt. They sing mocking songs about him and make fun of him through mocking words. They amuse themselves with him.
Even such people look down on him with an abhorrent resentment (verse 10). They stay far away from him. Sometimes they run to him to spit in his face and then run away again. They do not do this out of fear, but because he stinks so much. Spitting on the ground when you see someone is a sign of contempt, but spitting in someone’s face is much worse. How deep his misery must be!
What Job says in verses 10-11 is strongly reminiscent of what people have done to the Lord Jesus (Psalms 22; 69; 102). He also felt the deep pain of it, but He suffered and did not threaten. He “kept entrusting [Himself] to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:23). If anyone can speak of the difference between past glory and present suffering, it is the Lord Jesus during His life on earth. He voluntarily exchanged glory with the Father for the greatest insult and mockery in the world.
In all the misery inflicted upon him by men, Job knows that in the end he was made powerless and humiliated by God (verse 11). His “bowstring” or “tent cord” is the thread by which he is bound to life. Peter speaks of his dying as “laying aside of my earthly dwelling [or: my tent]” (2Pet 1:14). Job thought he had the thread of his life in his hand and controlled everything well. But God pushed him out of his socially strong and honorable position.
Now all respect for him is gone. The scum is exploiting his misery and defenselessness to belittle him even further. Everything that had kept them in check (“bridle”) when he lived in prosperity, they cast off and now they turn their biting mockery on him. They do not restrain their tongues, but give them free rein to ridicule and insult him (cf. Psa 39:2; 141:3).
In verse 12 Job seems to speak of another group of opponents. They are of the same low rank, for he calls them “brood”. However, they don’t leave it at mockery, but also sue him and storm him. The right side is the place of the accuser (Zec 3:1; Psa 109:6). Possibly by this brood and these prosecutors he means the disasters and ailments that have come over him. They are taken as a reason to accuse him of evil.
The heavy accusations drive him on the run. He compares himself to a besieged city. Against the wall of that city, siege walls are built, to take the city. Job feels the disasters as roads that are being made to lead him to ruin.
As a result, his path, or escape route, is cut off (verse 13). There is no escape. They are all striving for his downfall. Everyone and everything is against him. Among those who surround him there is no one to help him, there is no one who restrains them (cf. Job 29:12). All of them are besieging him. He is abandoned by God and people.
After the mockery the signal comes to the attack (verse 14). The attackers have made a breach in the wall of his defense. And it is “a wide breach”. In the disasters and accusations comes the destruction. Job threatens to perish in the sea of suffering.
At the sight of the oncoming flood of suffering, Job feels that the horrors have turned against him (verse 15). As if by a gust of wind, his dignity has been taken away from him. All his happiness is gone, wiped away, like a cloud that has passed by and dissolved (cf. Hos 6:4; 13:3).
16 - 19 His Suffering
16 “And now my soul is poured out within me;
Days of affliction have seized me.
17 “At night it pierces my bones within me,
And my gnawing [pains] take no rest.
18 “By a great force my garment is distorted;
It binds me about as the collar of my coat.
19 “He has cast me into the mire,
And I have become like dust and ashes.
Job’s soul is poured out within him, which means that he surrenders to his misery (verse 16). He collapses, as it were. He feels how the last bit of life is flowing out of him. The days of his misery seize him, as if they have hands that grip him powerfully, they overwhelm him. His whole existence and feeling are controlled by it. Every day is full of misery and the days are strung together without any relief or relief at all.
Night is no better than day (verse 17). It seems as if the pain increases at night. The pain shoots through his bones. Pain in the bones is the deepest pain. We sometimes say that we are cold to the bone and by that we mean that we are cold through and through. Thus Job suffered through and through pain in the night, so that he had no rest even at night (cf. Job 33:19). Nor did his gnawing pains take to rest at night. He constantly had palpitations, through which he also remained awake.
After Job spoke of the invisible bones and gnawing pains in his body, he spoke of “my garment”, which is his appearance. He became unrecognizable because of the devastating power of his illness and ulcers (verse 18). He feels seized by God with “great force” at the throat, in a way that a collar of a coat can be so tight around the neck that you feel as if you are suffocating.
Job then feels himself thrown by God into the mire of calamity and misery (verse 19). As a result, he finds himself in a terrible situation and is shunned by everyone. As for him himself, all strength and life have vanished from him, which he expresses by saying that he has become “like dust and ashes” (cf. Gen 18:27). From the beginning he has been “in the midst of ashes” (Job 2:8) and now he feels as if by God’s action he has become as low and worthless as dust and ashes.
20 - 23 No Help from God
20 “I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me;
I stand up, and You turn Your attention against me.
21 “You have become cruel to me;
With the might of Your hand You persecute me.
22 “You lift me up to the wind [and] cause me to ride;
And You dissolve me in a storm.
23 “For I know that You will bring me to death
And to the house of meeting for all living.
Several times Job has spoken about God and accused Him of acting unjustly. Now the time has come for him to speak directly to God Himself (verse 20). But there is no answer. In the true sense of the word only the Lord Jesus could say this (Psa 22:1-3). And what a difference there is between Him and Job. Never did the Lord give up His confidence in God and His righteousness, while Job doubts the righteousness of God. Job doesn’t get an answer (yet) because he isn’t ready yet. The Lord Jesus was forsaken by God and received no answer because God laid the sins of all who believe in Him upon Him and judged Him for them. He did not attribute anything incongruous to God.
Job does attribute incongruous things to God. His suffering remains undiminished and even increases day by day. He stands up straight before God, but he notices that God does not pay attention to him. That is the greatest torment. He knows that God is there and sees him. Yet God pretends not to be interested in him. It seems to Job that God is indifferent to his condition.
This leads Job to say that God has “become cruel” (verse 21). This is a very strong accusation. At the same time, it implies that God is paying attention to Job, but without showing any pity for his situation. On the contrary. God has changed from Someone Who has blessed him into Someone Who now treats him cruelly. The changed attitude of people he has described in the previous verses is also present with God, according to Job. God has turned against him with the might of His hand, His mighty deeds.
Job feels himself a plaything of God, just as a leaf is a plaything of the wind (verse 22). Through the disasters that have blown his life away like a wind, he has lost all hold. He is a defenseless prey of the course of events over which he has no control, just as the wind cannot be grasped. The misery is like a chariot on which he sits and which carries him away, without the possibility of getting off the chariot. How could he if God is the ‘charioteer’? In this way his existence melts away and loses all solidity.
He “knows” that God is leading him unstoppably towards death on His ‘chariot’ (verse 23). Then he arrives at the place where all the living eventually end up, the grave, nobody excepted – apart from Enoch and Elijah. The fact that he “knows” this does not contradict what he said earlier: “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). It is part of the back and forth and up and down going of his feelings. Here again he is completely overwhelmed by his disasters and plagues and sees no perspective.
24 - 27 The Triumph of Misery
24 “Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out [his] hand,
Or in his disaster therefore cry out for help?
25 “Have I not wept for the one whose life is hard?
Was not my soul grieved for the needy?
26 “When I expected good, then evil came;
When I waited for light, then darkness came.
27 “I am seething within and cannot relax;
Days of affliction confront me.
Job wonders if God does not stretch out His hand to one who is in a mess when he calls to Him because he cannot put himself out of this misery (verse 24). He who, in his oppression, calls to God for help – surely He will redeem Himself? Surely God will not keep quiet when He is called upon?
Job refers again to his earlier practice (verse 25; Job 29). Then he had been involved with heart and soul in the suffering of others and had shown compassion and comfort. He had “wept for the one whose life is hard” (cf. Psa 35:13; Rom 12:15). He had done so out of sincere compassion, with sadness in his soul (cf. Isa 58:7,10).
But for him there is no comforter and inner peace. This is a great disillusionment and disappointment. He does not understand why he has to endure all this and that is what makes his suffering so deep. It reminds us again of the Lord Jesus who also complained: “Reproach has broken my heart and I am so sick. And I looked for sympathy, but there was none, And for comforters, but I found none” (Psa 69:20).
Job expected the good to come because he had done good (verse 26). He expresses his deep disappointment that instead of the expected good, evil had come. He sits in the darkness of the misery that has entered and spread over his life, hoping for light.
He cannot understand that this is how it went with him and is inwardly in the greatest need (verse 27). Verse 27 is literally: “My inward parts are boiling.” His inward parts represent his inner feelings (Isa 16:11). It bubbles and boils in him, there is restlessness in his soul and feverish heat in his body. He cannot reconcile himself with his misery and sorrow. It is impossible for him to remain silent in resignation. Unexpectedly the days of misery have come over him. They threatened to ruin his plans and hope for the future, and they succeeded. This makes him totally hopeless, as he shows in the last part of this chapter.
28 - 31 All Woe
28 “I go about mourning without comfort;
I stand up in the assembly [and] cry out for help.
29 “I have become a brother to jackals
And a companion of ostriches.
30 “My skin turns black on me,
And my bones burn with fever.
31 “Therefore my harp is turned to mourning,
And my flute to the sound of those who weep.
Job can no longer discover a ray of light. He goes “blackened, but not by the heat of the sun” as it also can be translated (verse 28). This is because of the illnesses that have affected him so severely and so extensively. This is how he goes; this is how he lives, from second to second, this is how his life ends. Job feels like a lonely wanderer in the darkness, although there is a circle of people around him, even if it is at a distance. When he gets up and calls for help, his cry for help is not addressed to them. It is a general cry for help, made from the greatest need, by someone who used to be ready to help people in need.
He has become “a brother to jackals and a companion of ostriches”, of animals that shun people’s company and that people loathe (verse 29). In the sounds they make, the howling of jackals and the moaning of ostriches, they express the sorrow and lamentation of Job (Mic 1:8). Job feels expelled from the fellowship of men and banished to these animals.
His skin has turned black and is about to fall off (verse 30; cf. Lam 4:8). His body has been torn down by festering ulcers and his bones by burning fever. All joy is gone (verse 31). “Harp” and “flute” are used for expressions of joy, but Job can only use them to play songs of mourning and grief (Lam 5:15). His voice suffocates in the sobs of a crying one.