Job always responds to the previous speaker, but it is clear that he recognizes a common trait in the attitude of each of them. He always answers the friends together – he speaks of “you” (plural) – and not individually.
The similarity between Job’s first answer here and his complaint in Job 3 is remarkable. However, in his reply to Eliphaz, he is more controlled. He also elaborates on more things. But the burden is the same and also here he expresses his longing for death. There is no trace of hope.
This first answer, which includes Job 6-7, is divided into two parts. In Job 6 he addresses his friends, first making a general complaint (verses 1-13), without addressing the three friends directly. In Job 7 he speaks to God. The answer can be divided as follows:
1. The heaviness and reality of his suffering (Job 6:1-7).
2. The desire to be killed by God (Job 6:8-13).
3. The uselessness of his friends (Job 6:14-23).
4. He challenges his friends to test him (Job 6:24-30).
5. The brevity of life (Job 7:1-11).
6. God is his enemy (Job 7:12-19).
7. His appeal in view of sin (Job 7:20-21).
1 - 7 The Heaviness of His Suffering
1 Then Job answered,
2 “Oh that my grief were actually weighed
And laid in the balances together with my calamity!
3 “For then it would be heavier than the sand of the seas;
Therefore my words have been rash.
4 “For the arrows of the Almighty are within me,
Their poison my spirit drinks;
The terrors of God are arrayed against me.
5 “Does the wild donkey bray over [his] grass,
Or does the ox low over his fodder?
6 “Can something tasteless be eaten without salt,
Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?
7 “My soul refuses to touch [them];
They are like loathsome food to me.
Despite all the falsehood hidden behind Eliphaz’s right words, Job has allowed him to finish speaking, and has not interrupted him. When Eliphaz has come to the end of his speech, assured that nothing can be said against it, it turns out that Job is far from convinced. Job’s reaction is introduced with the words “then Job answered” (verse 1). With these words Job begins his reply to the speech of one of the friends each time. Job answers, although he does not address Eliphaz directly in his reaction here.
Eliphaz has reproached Job for succumbing to his suffering (Job 4:5) In response, Job asks that his grief should be actually weighed, i.e. taken seriously (verse 2). Eliphaz says it so easily, but he is not affected by what was done to Job. A great amount of misery has come upon him that cannot be expressed in weight. He has been buried under it. One after the other misery has fallen upon him. It had to be put together in the balances. The picture here is of a balance with two scales. On one of them, the misery and suffering of Job are piled up. Job represents its great collective weight.
All his accumulated misery is heavier than the sand of the seas (verse 3). Is it any wonder, then, that the heaviness of his suffering has led him to ill-considered statements? It sounds like an apology, because he did not make incorrect or rash statements.
But is it not the case that this can happen to anyone who suffers great suffering? We will have to learn to understand such ill-considered statements and not give our cold judgment about them. At the same time, we may think of a man who has also suffered enormously, but speaks of this as “momentary, light affliction”. He was able to do this because he saw “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2Cor 4:17). Paul, for he says this, saw above circumstances, the glorified Lord. Job does not know this. For the Lord Jesus it is even more true that He was looking forward to the joy that lay before Him (Heb 12:2).
There is something even more important to Job than physical suffering, and that is the awareness of the arrows of God, “the Almighty”, that hit him (verse 4; cf. Job 16:12-13). Arrows cause intense, burning pain. He feels he is the target of the Almighty, against Whom no one can stand. This is the first time that Job blames God for his suffering (Job 7:11-21; 9:13-35; 13:15-28).
There is no other way for him to drink “their poison” with his spirit. This is how he experiences what God is doing to him. God is his enemy Who arrays the misery that has come upon him as an ordered army against him. What can he do about it? God is so powerful, so capable of arraying His horrors. No resistance is possible against that.
We know that Job’s view of God is wrong, but Job does not know what we may know and can know (Jam 1:2; 2Cor 4:16-18). He does not know God as his loving Father. But even though we know this, we sometimes forget it. When our circumstances fill our field of vision, we don’t rise above them. Only if we can focus our eye on the glorified Christ and the loving Father heart it is possible to glory in tribulation (Rom 5:3).
In pictorial language, Job points out what some animals let hear when they eat, or better what they don’t let hear when they eat. An animal – a “wild donkey”, or an “ox” – that gets good food is satisfied, you don’t hear it (verse 5). Job, however, is served disasters on the dinner table of his life, and this in a very varied composition. How could he be satisfied with that and be quiet! After all, you don’t eat disgusting food without grumbling. Job cannot see his suffering or the words of his friends as pleasant food. If it was tasty food, he would not complain.
But what is placed before him is an extraordinarily tasteless menu (verse 6). “The white of an egg” can also be translated as “a disgusting tasting slime of a certain plant”. It’s not attractive in any way. It lacks ingredients that would make it tasty and edible. He refuses to touch that menu, let alone eat it (verse 7). Just the sight of it makes him sick. Job just refuses to live such a life.
Job here does not speak the language of faith, that is to say of confidence, as we see, for example, in Paul. Paul was well pleased with what happened to him in defamation and suffering for Christ (2Cor 12:10). Job needs light and must learn to trust God, even where he cannot understand Him. We, at least most of us, have to learn that as well.
8 - 13 The Desire to Be Killed by God
8 “Oh that my request might come to pass,
And that God would grant my longing!
9 “Would that God were willing to crush me,
That He would loose His hand and cut me off!
10 “But it is still my consolation,
And I rejoice in unsparing pain,
That I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
11 “What is my strength, that I should wait?
And what is my end, that I should endure?
12 “Is my strength the strength of stones,
Or is my flesh bronze?
13 “Is it that my help is not within me,
And that deliverance is driven from me?
Job has but one thing to ask of God. He has only one desire which he would like God to fulfil, and only one hope which he would like God to give (verse 8). It is not his desire and hope that God will give him back everything he has lost, but that God will take him out of life. For him, life has no meaning anymore. God can show His goodness to him by not letting him live on, but by crushing him (verse 9). If God would just let him go by loosing His hand from him, it would mean the end of his life for him. He would greatly appreciate this action of God. We see through everything that suicide was never an option for this God-fearing man.
How he would feel consoled (verse 10). Yes, if God did not spare him, but took away his life, it would give him so much strength in all his sorrow, that he would spring up with joy. He also has no fear of death, for he has “not denied the words of the Holy One”. Job has heard the words of God. For he lived in fellowship with Him. He also lived according to what God told him. He has always taken account of what He has said and is unaware of a violation of any of His commandments. Yet he undergoes this fate. Thus he justifies himself, while in veiled terms questioning God’s righteousness.
Job says nothing too much when he says that he has not denied the words of God. But it seems that he sees it as an achievement of his own and not as something he can say by grace. Paul also says that he is not aware of anything, but he does not boast of it. He also says that this does not justify him (1Cor 4:4).
Job notices that God is not fulfilling his desire to die. This makes him powerless, and it makes him so powerless that he has no hope, no prospect (verse 11). Indirectly, this is an answer to the admonition of Eliphaz, who told him to keep hope after all (Job 5:16). But life is of no use to him at all. He no longer has any purpose in his life that gives him any perspective to look forward to living a little longer.
God does not give Job what he desires so much, because He has other thoughts about Job’s life. We also see this with Elijah, who once expressed the wish to die (1Kgs 19:4). God did not fulfill the wish of Elijah because He had other, higher thoughts about the end of his life (2Kgs 2:1,11). In the same way, God has other, higher thoughts about the end of Job.
If God has other thoughts, these are always better and more blessed thoughts. We too can thank God that He does not always give or has not always given us what we want or wanted. We do this when we see that God’s love is greater and goes beyond the short-sightedness with which we look at the things that happen to us.
Job cannot understand that God gives him such a heavy burden to bear. He doesn’t have “the strength of stones” (verse 12), does he? His spirit is broken. And his flesh is not “bronze”, is it? His festering wounds show that. He’s just an ordinary man of flesh and blood. Only God can give the strength to bear this misery. However, he does not see God as a Helper in his suffering, but as its causative Agent. We, Christians, may know that God wants to strengthen us with strength towards the inner man. Following Paul, we may pray for this, for ourselves and for each other (Eph 3:16).
Job no longer sees help in himself (verse 13). The inner, spiritual strength he once had has left him. All hope of deliverance has disappeared. He cannot go to God, for He is against him, at least that is how he experiences it. Then he is thrown back on himself. But also in himself there is nothing that he can hold on to, something that would give him courage to continue living. Then his friends remain. However, they also severely disappoint him, as we hear in the following verses.
14 - 23 The Uselessness of His Friends
14 “For the despairing man [there should be] kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.
15 “My brothers have acted deceitfully like a wadi,
Like the torrents of wadis which vanish,
16 Which are turbid because of ice
[And] into which the snow melts.
17 “When they become waterless, they are silent,
When it is hot, they vanish from their place.
18 “The paths of their course wind along,
They go up into nothing and perish.
19 “The caravans of Tema looked,
The travelers of Sheba hoped for them.
20 “They were disappointed for they had trusted,
They came there and were confounded.
21 “Indeed, you have now become such,
You see a terror and are afraid.
22 “Have I said, ‘Give me [something],’
Or, ‘Offer a bribe for me from your wealth,’
23 Or, ‘Deliver me from the hand of the adversary,’
Or, ‘Redeem me from the hand of the tyrants’?
Job is in distress and has lost all courage. This is a situation in which he desperately needs the help of his friends. Compassion is an obligation to all those in need. He tells his friends that he is desperate and therefore expects mercy (chased, faithfulness, loyalty) from them (verse 14). If they do not, they “forsake the fear of the Almighty”. He who does not help a brother in need actually despises him and sins (cf. Pro 14:21a). There is no brotherly love in him, but also no reverence for God the Almighty. You cannot even speak of a relationship with God (cf. 1Jn 3:17).
In verse 14 Job speaks of a “friend” and in verse 15 of “my brothers” (cf. 2Sam 1:26). In Proverbs 17 these two names are also linked: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Pro 17:17). Unfortunately, this does not apply to Job’s friends. Job finds himself at a time in his life when he can use cordial friendship more than ever. There is a bond of trust with a friend. You can share with a friend the deepest feelings of your heart, because he will understand you or at least not blame you for the things you share with him.
Job is in great distress, but the friends show no sign of warm kinship with Job that is characteristic of brotherly love. They did make the effort to visit him (Job 2:11), and for a week they remained silent, impressed by the great suffering of Job. And yet Eliphaz shows little understanding for the suffering of Job in his speech. On the contrary, the three friends overloaded Job with heavy reproaches. This is because they attribute his suffering to sins he must have committed. They do not stand beside him, but opposite him. They leave him in the cold in every way and add to his coldness by their cold-blooded assessment of his situation and their insensitive assumptions about his sins.
The Lord Jesus has shown Himself the true Friend of His disciples. His love was always there. He loved them to the end (Jn 13:1). He proved His great love for His friends by laying down His life for them (Jn 15:13). He called them friends because He revealed to them everything He had heard from the Father (Jn 15:15).
He also calls His disciples His brethren (Jn 20:17). We do not call Him ‘Brother’ – He is not mentioned like this anywhere in Scripture – but He is the true Brother Who was “made like His brethren in all things” in order to help them in their distress (Heb 2:17). He has not acted as the friends of Job, but has participated in the affliction of His own (Isa 63:9).
Job speaks in the plural, “brothers”, although only Eliphaz has spoken, and he responds to what he has said. That Job speaks to the friends together will be because what Eliphaz said certainly happened in the name of the other friends as well (Job 5:27). Perhaps they have been nodding in agreement with their friend’s words, or they have made consensual noises.
Job is deeply disappointed in his friends. He has expected some refreshment from them, as a weary and thirsty traveler expects from wadis in the desert, namely running streams of rainwater or molten snow water (verse 16). But when he falls down exhausted to take that refreshment, they turn out to be dried-out (verse 17). They have taken a different course and have gone all sides and perished there in the heat of the sun without leaving anything for the thirsty (verse 18). The caravans of Tema and the travelers of Sheba have had this disappointing experience (verses 19-20). With hope they went to the brooks, but how ashamed their trust has become. How disappointing is their finding when they come to the brook, that there is no water.
The comparison with what he expected from his friends, his brothers, is clear. Their friendship in the days of his prosperity seemed promising, but now that he is in the heat of the affliction, they abandon him. He outbursts against his friends, saying that they have become to him like the dried-out brooks for the travelers (verse 21). He leaves no doubt as to how he sees them: “Indeed, you have now become such.” He tells them that they see his terror, but that they are afraid and don’t know what to do with it.
We can certainly learn from this that we shouldn’t put even our best friend between ourselves and God. We may know that the Lord Jesus, as the High Priest, gives help at the right time (Heb 4:16). Still, it is easy to talk when you yourself are not in need. Surely, the Lord has also given others around us just for the time when we cannot manage things by ourselves? Is it always wrong to call on someone else’s help? No, it is not. What will disappoint us is that we expect the other person to help in a way that only God can help. Nor is it right to demand help from others, to claim that help.
Job hasn’t demanded help. He has not told them to give him anything, anything at all, to compensate for his loss, even if only minimally (verse 22). He makes no claim to a gift of their wealth. Nor has he asked for their help to escape from the hand of the adversary and the tyrant (verse 23). Here he seems to be referring to God. The only thing he expected was pity, and that did not come. This is very disappointing indeed. Ashamed of justified expectations causes much pain.
24 - 30 Job Challenges to Test Him
24 “Teach me, and I will be silent;
And show me how I have erred.
25 “How painful are honest words!
But what does your argument prove?
26 “Do you intend to reprove [my] words,
When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?
27 “You would even cast [lots] for the orphans
And barter over your friend.
28 “Now please look at me,
And [see] if I lie to your face.
29 “Desist now, let there be no injustice;
Even desist, my righteousness is yet in it.
30 “Is there injustice on my tongue?
Cannot my palate discern calamities?
If only they could convince him of a sin he had committed (verse 24)! The only thing he wants to know from them is if he has committed an injustice in any way, and therefore, as they say, this mischief has come upon him. Job’s plea is that he has a clean conscience and therefore defends himself against the false accusations of his friends.
He asks them to make him understand where he has gone astray, for that is what they accuse him of. Job takes an open, transparent and vulnerable attitude here. In New Testament language, Job is open to a washing of his feet by the three friends. Eliphaz – and through him the other two friends – have made a number of accusations, but without proving anything. Let them do their best to substantiate their accusations.
Genuine friendship is also evidenced by the naming of sin, through which sin can be confessed and the way is free again for contact with God and with one another. Vaguely alluding to sin is a trick of the devil with which he creates much dissatisfaction. We should not accuse anyone of sin unless we can provide clear proof of guilt.
With some sarcasm Job says that the friends speak “ honest words,” which he also calls “painful” (verse 25). That they are meant to be sarcastic is clear from the following line. There he says that their punitive words prove nothing at all. They just imagine things, without really realizing what they are saying (verse 26). Their words have no content and no basis, while they themselves feel that they are honest words. On the other hand, they consider the words of the plagued Job as wind, as futile, without substance, though they are spoken out of great despair. They have not really listened to Job’s agonizing words, have ignored his suffering, have not taken his heart’s cry seriously.
Paul writes that he has also been desperate, that he and others “despaired even of life” (2Cor 1:8). The circumstances were different from those in which Job found himself. The big difference between Job and Paul, however, is that Job despaired of both life and God, whereas Paul did not. Paul did not despair of God, but trusted in Him “who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a [peril] of death, and will deliver [us]” (2Cor 1:9-10).
Once again Job outbursts against his friends. He now calls them the most ruthless people he can think of. He considers them capable of throwing a dice for a defenseless orphan to make money (verse 27). Also, according to him, they wouldn’t shun to sell their friend. Job is so disappointed in them that he accuses them of things that are not true. But for his feeling it is like this. He is totally ruined by their mercilessness and lack of sympathy. His outburst is inexcusable, but can be understood by what the friends say to him.
Then he regains some self-control and asks them if they still want to come his way, that is to say if they will be able to have some sympathy for him (verse 28). He doesn’t lie to them in the face, does he? He is really desperate, and he cannot think of a reason for this. He calls them to desist and come to their senses, that they will reconsider their opinion of him and the cause of his distress (verse 29). With their view of him and the cause of his distress they commit injustice. He is truly in his right. His “righteousness is still there”. So let them desist.
Job argues that it was not he who made a mistake, but that they made a mistake. There is no injustice on his tongue (verse 30). He has not uttered a single false word. He even suggests that he is a taster, that he really would know it if he had fallen into these “calamities” through his own fault. Job emphasizes that he is honest and sincere. He claims that he is still righteous and sincere, that he is completely accountable for judging his own situation, and that his conscience is perfectly clean and not burdened by some unconfessed sin.
Job wrongly boasts here that he is impeccable in his words. He forgets that he is not perfect. There is only one who could say: “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” (Jn 8:46a).