In the previous chapter Bildad argued, on the basis of the tradition of the fathers, that God’s government is simply based on the law of cause and effect, of sowing and mowing, of sin and retribution. Job responds to this, in which he demonstrates his powerlessness opposite a God Whom, to his sorrow, he must experience as an adversary, when in fact he longs to serve Him.
1 - 4 No One Can Compete With God
1 Then Job answered,
2 “In truth I know that this is so;
But how can a man be in the right before God?
3 “If one wished to dispute with Him,
He could not answer Him once in a thousand [times].
4 “Wise in heart and mighty in strength,
Who has defied Him without harm?
Job’s answer to Bildad is introduced by the sentence which also introduced the answer to Eliphaz: “Then Job answered” (verse 1; Job 6:1). Job is not convinced by what Bildad said. He is of a completely different opinion.
There is an intense bitterness in the first words of his answer. Apparently he agrees with Bildad when he says “in truth …” (verse 2). But it is an agreement in which irony resounds. Job says, as it were, ‘Of course, dear Bildad, you’re forcing an open door’. Job also knows that there can be no “man … in the right before God”. He emphasizes that, as a man, he has no chance to exist before God. He asks his question with the built-in certainty that it is impossible. The divine answer to his question is only given, but then completely, in the New Testament. Paul’s letter to the Romans is entirely devoted to that answer.
Job’s words do not stem from a surrendered will, from trust in the goodness of God. They conceal the harshness of despair. Power is right. God has power on His side, and therefore He is always right. Who can resist Him? He can call anyone to account and no one will be able to answer for Him (verse 3). If God presents the human being with only one out of a thousand accusations against him, he knows nothing to answer for. Man has no defense whatsoever to the countless sins he has committed, in words, in deeds, and in his thoughts.
No one escapes His judgment. God is “wise in heart and mighty in strength” (verse 4). Wisdom and strength are a rare combination, which is found only in God, not in any human being. A man can be wise, but he lacks the strength to put his wisdom into action. A man can also have strength, but he lacks the wisdom to make good use of it. But no matter how wise or how strong you are, you cannot compete with God.
He who defies the only wise and all-powerful God does so to his own harm. Literally it says: “Stiffened his neck against God and remained safe [or has peace].” God is so wise and mighty that a successful rebellion against Him is impossible. Man’s true wisdom and also his duty is to surrender to God. Then he will have peace.
If a sinner confesses his sins and believes in the Lord Jesus, he will be declared righteous and have peace with God (Rom 5:1). If the believer entrusts himself to God, no matter how much trouble he is in, he will have the peace of God in his heart (Phil 4:6-7). The Lord Jesus knew this perfect peace because He trusted God completely (cf. Isa 26:3-4).
5 - 9 God’s Irresistible Strength
5 “[It is God] who removes the mountains, they know not [how],
When He overturns them in His anger;
6 Who shakes the earth out of its place,
And its pillars tremble;
7 Who commands the sun not to shine,
And sets a seal upon the stars;
8 Who alone stretches out the heavens
And tramples down the waves of the sea;
9 Who makes the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades,
And the chambers of the south;
In this section Job continues on the strength and greatness of God. The language he uses is of high quality, and his description is true. But the undertone is that of terrible doubt as to the goodness of God’s great and mighty Person to him. He feels himself no match for that great and mighty God. Neither is he, nor any human being. However, it is not a question of strength, but of trust. And the latter is lacking in Job. He feels wrongfully humiliated by God. In his eyes God abuses His power. In verses 5-7 the might of God is therefore painted in his destructive strength.
What will he, puny mortal, begin against a God Who removes mountains and does so in a way that no one notices (verse 5; Psa 46:2)? In the Bible, mountains are an example of firmness and stability. If He overturns mountains in His anger, with what ease does He overturn Job? If He touches the earth with a finger, it shakes out of its place (verse 6). Its pillars, which give stability to the earth, tremble. Surely the life of Job is nothing in comparison?
He can even change the laws of nature (verse 7). One word from Him is enough to prevent the sun from rising and the stars darken so that they no longer shine. Job seems to say that God did the same with the sun of life and the shining stars in his life. His days have become dark and the night of misery has no end.
God as the Creator of heaven and earth has power over the universe. When He created the heavens, no one was His helper: “He alone stretches out the heavens” (verse 8; cf. Isa 44:24; Psa 104:2). Even the wild, high waves of the sea are under His authority. For He created the sea (Gen 1:7). He walks over it, as we can see in the walking of the Lord Jesus over the sea (Mt 14:25-26). If the disciples see Him walking in this way, however, it does not bring peace to their hearts, but unrest. This is also the case with Job.
Furthermore, Job describes God’s power of creation in the universe in the whole expanse above him (verse 9). He does this by listing the four most important and brightest constellations that were visible at the time. God created the Bear in the north, the Orion (Evening Star) in the west, the Pleiades (the Seven Stars) in the east, and the chambers of the south (a constellation that was brightly visible four thousand years ago, but now no longer is by shifting of constellations) in the south. Job mentions these constellations not to admire them, as in Psalm 19, but as an explanation of God’s absolute, irresistible strength.
10 - 24 God’s Inaccessibility and Judicial Acts
10 Who does great things, unfathomable,
And wondrous works without number.
11 “Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him;
Were He to move past [me], I would not perceive Him.
12 “Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him?
Who could say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’
13 “God will not turn back His anger;
Beneath Him crouch the helpers of Rahab.
14 “How then can I answer Him,
[And] choose my words before Him?
15 “For though I were right, I could not answer;
I would have to implore the mercy of my judge.
16 “If I called and He answered me,
I could not believe that He was listening to my voice.
17 “For He bruises me with a tempest
And multiplies my wounds without cause.
18 “He will not allow me to get my breath,
But saturates me with bitterness.
19 “If [it is a matter] of power, behold, [He is] the strong one!
And if [it is a matter] of justice, who can summon Him?
20 “Though I am righteous, my mouth will condemn me;
Though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty.
21 “I am guiltless;
I do not take notice of myself;
I despise my life.
22 “It is [all] one; therefore I say,
‘He destroys the guiltless and the wicked.’
23 “If the scourge kills suddenly,
He mocks the despair of the innocent.
24 “The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
He covers the faces of its judges.
If [it is] not [He], then who is it?
Here Job describes in wonderful poetic language that he has no access to this great and almighty God, Who hides Himself and gives no account of His ways to anyone. There is no one who can fathom Him and therefore understand what He is doing (verse 10). God is not only unfathomable in His motives, He is also inimitable in His wondrous works. His wonders are incomparable and uncountable.
Job here says the same as Eliphaz (Job 5:9). Only he applies these words in a completely different, opposite way. Eliphaz wants to show how God by His strength does what is right and proper, that He brings those who grieve to safety and frees the poor from the grip of powers that are stronger than them. But Job sees God’s strength as that of a sovereign majesty who is answerable to no one.
God is uncontrollable and imperceptible. Job experiences that God passes by him, but he does not see Him (verse 11). He feels that God is passing by him, but he does not perceive Him. God is a force that works mysteriously to do whatever He wants, without anyone being able to stop Him. In short, God cannot be reached or approached because of His greatness.
He is so sovereign that He can snatch away everything He wants (verse 12). There is no one who can command Him with any authority to give back what He has taken. There is not even one who can ask Him: “What are You doing? (cf. Dan 4:35). There is no one above Him. Between the lines we read the background of the personal tragedy of Job himself: everything has been taken away from him by Someone Who cannot be called to account by him.
What Job says here, he said before: “The LORD has given and the LORD has taken” (Job 1:21b). That was in surrender, but immediately after everything was taken away from him. Then the full weight of what had happened to him had not yet penetrated him. Now he is a few months and many thoughts about God further. He has been reflecting on God’s actions in connection with what has happened to him. What he said earlier in surrender now has an undertone of reproach.
All that Job knows and has spoken of God are impressive truths about God. They are not naked theological truths, but deeply felt truths. But this knowledge of God offers him no consolation. It gives him an ever-deeper sense of total powerlessness opposite that so great and powerful God. We can sometimes feel this way, for example when He takes health away from us or possessions, our friends, the life of a loved one. Then He wants us to find peace in the awareness that whatever is disappearing from our lives, it is He Who has taken it away.
Job goes on to speak of God Who does not turn back His anger (verse 13). This is true for anyone who persists in his sins. To such a person remains the wrath of God (Jn 3:36). God does turn back His anger from anyone who believes in His Son Jesus Christ. He can do so because He did not turn His wrath away from His Son when He took upon Himself the sins of everyone who believes in Him.
God’s anger strikes “the helpers of Rahab”. They cannot stand, but “crouch” beneath Him. Rahab means “arrogant” and is a sea monster (Job 26:12). Rahab is used as the poetic name for Egypt (Isa 30:7; 51:9), the people who do not care about God. All their pride and denial of God will be judged by Him.
If the greatest powers in the world are to bow down before God, what can Job do against God (verse 14)? What will he say to God to justify himself (verse 15)? He cannot but “implore the mercy” from Him, whom he calls here “my judge”. Job does not say this because he is convinced of his sins, for he speaks of himself as righteous. But he sees himself opposite Someone who always has the right at His side and always knows how to find something that is not right. No matter how carefully he would choose his words, there will always be something that his Judge would consider wrong. So it makes no sense to defend yourself against that great God.
Job sees himself as completely insignificant opposite that exalted, sovereign, and unreachable God (verse 16). If he would call out to God and God would answer, he cannot believe that God has heard his voice. We hear again that struggle of Job in his dealings with God. He wants to call out to the God in Whom he believes, but whom he does not understand in His dealings with him.
He expresses this incomprehension in verses 17-18. God bruised him by a tempest and made his wounds numerous. But Job cries out, He has no reason to do so. Job cannot understand why God has done so with him, while he has served him so faithfully. And there is no end to this misery. He gets no chance from God to get his breath (cf. Job 7:19). On the contrary, God satiates him with bitterness. While talking, Job’s portrayal of God becomes more and more negative.
Once again Job points out that God is strong when it comes to a trial of strength (verse 19). He no longer even talks about his weakness in comparison. God is strong, that’s all. Only He is strong. But is God also righteous? That’s what Job questions, or even more so, he strongly doubts. The doubt of God’s righteousness stems from the conviction of his own righteousness. He wouldn’t know who to sue him for some transgression. After all, he has done nothing for which he could be accused.
Job considers himself righteous (verse 20). But yes, he realizes, God will find something in the words he speaks to his defense that will make him declare him guilty. Job realizes that all his outward righteousness is no excuse for the wrong words that come out of his mouth. His words prove that he has no good thoughts about God in his heart. So, despite his sincerity, God will have to declare him guilty. You always lose a lawsuit against God.
It seems that Job is bowing to God’s condemnation, although he emphasizes that he is guiltless (verse 21). If God condemns him, he surrenders. He does not take notice of himself, he despises his life. Surely life has no meaning any more. Let judgment come.
It does not matter at all. It doesn’t matter if you are guiltless, like him, or if you are wicked (verse 22). God kills both one and the other (cf. Ecc 9:2). Surely this is clear from the way God acts with him, a sincere one, isn’t it? He does the same with him as with the wicked. Here again it is clear that Job doubts the government of God, not to say that he accuses God of indifference. In any case, he cannot understand God’s way of acting.
Let us not be too hard on Job for his failure and let us not forget that these are the words of a desperate one. God lets Job speak, He lets him speak without interrupting him. We should not want to silence him with our well-intentioned advice on how he should see the matter. What we can do is pray in humility whether the Lord will keep our hearts in fellowship with Him to learn the lessons that this book contains for us.
The scourge of death can suddenly enter a person’s life without any reason, without any prior warning (verse 23). Job has experienced that scourge. Time after time he has been scourged in rapid succession with messages of death. According to Job, God even “mocks the despair of the innocent”. As if God has a certain pleasure in making those who are innocent and therefore desperate even more desperate. This is how it can be experienced by believers who suffer long and hopeless suffering. Each day added to this suffering increases despair. If God is also experienced as a cruel adversary, the desperate is hopeless.
Job has nowhere on earth to turn (verse 24). The wicked is in charge. Certainly it is true that satan, the great wicked one, is “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31). But that does not mean that God no longer has control over the world. Job himself says that “the earth is given over into the hand of the wicked” (cf. Lk 4:6; Jn 19:11). Given means that God is behind it. God has complete control over everything, including the evil that takes place.
We can know that, just like Job, but we can forget it when we are completely consumed by our misery and nothing seems like God is doing anything for our benefit. In fact, according to Job, God does not allow justice to take its course. He prevents the good judges who are still there from fulfilling their task, because He covers their faces, that is, He takes away their understanding of the law.
In the last part of this verse we hear again how Job holds on to God as the cause of his misery. He proclaims it as a question: “If [it is] not [He], then who is it?” It sounds like a reproach. At the same time it is also the element of hope. He has nothing to do with satan, nor with earthly judges, but with God. Each time he speaks about or to God. There is no alternative for Job. And that is precisely what makes his struggle so fierce. He doesn’t understand God, Whom he experiences as cruel, but he can’t live without Him either.
25 - 28 Job’s Complaint
25 “Now my days are swifter than a runner;
They flee away, they see no good.
26 “They slip by like reed boats,
Like an eagle that swoops on its prey.
27 “Though I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
I will leave off my [sad] countenance and be cheerful,’
28 I am afraid of all my pains,
I know that You will not acquit me.
In this section Job applies his argument about God’s arbitrariness and alleged cruelty to his own situation. Again he speaks of the speed with which his days have passed without seeing the good (verses 25-26; Job 7:6). The days in which he was prosperous are long past, yea, in oblivion. In itself, it is important that we too are aware that life is quickly over. The question is how we give substance to our lives. Do we live for the world or for God? What happens for the world is lost with life; what happens for God remains forever.
Job can no longer remember the good of the former days; those days passed so quickly. He makes comparisons with what goes fast on earth, “runner”, on water, “reed boats”, and in the sky, “an eagle”. The speed of an eagle also has to do with the food it flies towards.
The days of prosperity are over and forgotten. His complaint has replaced that, which he cannot forget (verse 27). He is not able to take in anything pleasant. It is impossible for him to bring even a smile to his face. There is not a glimpse of joy in him. There is only the unending physical and spiritual suffering that he cannot possibly forget, which also makes his face scarred and marred.
He can say that he wants to forget his complaint, that he wants to put on another, a happy face and wants to refresh himself, but then he fears that all this suffering will start again (verse 28). He can’t get away from that. That reality is “all my pains”. The greatest pain, however, is that God will not acquit him, that He does not hold him innocent anyway. That is also what he keeps hearing from his friends.
29 - 35 Job’s Longing for an Umpire
29 “I am accounted wicked,
Why then should I toil in vain?
30 “If I should wash myself with snow
And cleanse my hands with lye,
31 Yet You would plunge me into the pit,
And my own clothes would abhor me.
32 “For [He is] not a man as I am that I may answer Him,
That we may go to court together.
33 “There is no umpire between us,
Who may lay his hand upon us both.
34 “Let Him remove His rod from me,
And let not dread of Him terrify me.
35 “[Then] I would speak and not fear Him;
But I am not like that in myself.
Job says that whatever he does to convince God of his innocence will always be in vain (verse 29). So why should he do his best? Surely he can never compete with God. That is why it is best for him to submit to Him. He does this not because he agrees with God in His dealings with him, but because God is stronger than he is and therefore always right.
He addresses himself directly to God in verses 30-31. ‘Imagine’, he says to God, ‘that I was thorough with the purest snow and cleanse my hands with lye. It couldn’t be any cleaner. But what are you doing then? Then you plunge me into a cesspool full of filth, where I come out so dirty and smelly that I can’t put my clothes on anymore.’ Job uses this extraordinarily strong language to express the feeling he has about how God treats him. Whatever he tries to prove his innocence, God does nothing with it. On the contrary, God increases his suffering. Surely in this way he cannot appear before God to go to court together.
We could say that Job has and gives a very wrong portrayal of God. Then we would be right because God is not like that as Job experiences Him. We know that from Scripture. At the same time we would be on the side of Job’s friends. It is not our intention to attack Job because of what he says. That’s what the friends do. God wants to teach us to become a true friend of Job by listening carefully to him and being aware of who is speaking. It is the language of a totally desperate one.
Job sees himself confronted by someone who is not his equal. Against a man, a lawsuit would be a real possibility. But he is faced with Someone Who is at infinite distance from him (verse 32). There is an unbridgeable gap between him and God. It is a completely unequal and therefore unfair relationship. If Job and God were to come together to court to plead their case, Job would be nowhere. How can he, smeared with dirt, appear before that holy God? How could he give him an adequate answer, one that would satisfy Him with regard to his vision of his suffering?
Again, in verses 33-35, Job tries to propose a possible lawsuit where he still has a little chance of being proved right. According to Job, there is no “umpire” (verse 33) between him and God. The umpire that Job desires is someone who can “lay his hand upon us both”. By this he means someone who stands above the parties and for whom both parties, that is to say he and God, are equal. This umpire could then, of course, understand the situation of Job and bring reconciliation between the two parties. But there is indeed no such person.
There is ‘an umpire’, a Mediator, the Lord Jesus, who has met man’s needs toward God by satisfying all the holy demands of God (1Tim 2:5). This “Umpire” has not proven Job’s innocence, but has taken on Job’s guilt. Job will see this partly later (Job 16:20-21; 19:25-27).
Since there is no umpire, he himself takes up his case and calls upon God to take away “His rod” with which He disciplines Job (verse 34). He asks the same for the “dread of Him”. Let God take it away as well, so that the dread of God may be removed. Then there will be room for him to speak without fear of Him and to account for himself before Him (verse 35). Then he will face a lawsuit against him with confidence. With his statement “but I am not like that in myself”, he indicates that there is no sin to be pointed out with him. So he will plead his innocence with good result.
Job presupposes that he can prove that he has not earned the suffering that has been inflicted on him if he is given a fair chance in a trial. Because he doesn’t get that chance, he necessarily submits to his suffering, without acknowledging that God is righteous in what He brings over him.
God is often accused of injustice, severity, and harshness. This does not always happen out loud, but in the heart. We should not blame Job for his impatience and irreverent language when we have not yet come to know our own hearts in times of trial similar to what has befallen Job.