Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
While reading through Job the first few times, it is very hard to distinguish what is actually going on. Between Job’s friends accusing him, Job defending (and complaining), and God giving a speech that doesn’t really directly answer any of it; one might be confused. I know from my experience that Job has always been fascinating and frustrating in its composition. While reading through this time, the Holy Spirit helped to outline what the core of Job’s message to his friends is; now I will try to relate that to you.
About halfway through the book, Job stops answering his friends directly. Likely this is in response to Eliphaz accusing Job of specific wrongdoings as the source of his troubles. Eliphaz states in Job 22:5-11,
Is not your wickedness great?
Are not your sins endless?
You demanded security from you brothers for no reason;
You stripped men of their clothing, leaving them naked.
You gave no water to the weary
And you withheld food from the hungry,
Though you were a powerful man, owning land-
An honored man, living on it.
And you sent widows away empty-handed
And broke the strength of the fatherless.
That is why snares are all around you,
Why sudden peril terrifies you,
Why it is so dark you cannot see,
And why a flood of water covers you.
All of this accusing is hot air since the very first verse of the book tells us otherwise, “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). So, rightfully, as his friends won’t stop accusing him, Job decides to start ignoring them and instead better clarifies his position (since as we’ve read, his friends don’t get it).
First, Job wants us to know that bad stuff happens. He throws out some examples in Job 24:2-11,
Men move boundary stones;
They pasture flocks they have stolen.
They drive away the orphan’s donkey
And take the widow’s ox in pledge.
They thrust the needy from the path
And force all the poor of the land into hiding.
Like wild donkeys in the desert,
The poor go about their labor of foraging for food;
The wasteland provides food for their children.
They gather fodder in the fields
And glean in the vineyards of the wicked.
Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked;
They have nothing to cover themselves in the cold.
They are drenched by mountain rains
And hug the rocks for lack of shelter.
The fatherless child is snatched from the breast;
The infant of the poor is seized for a debt.
Lacking clothes, they go about naked;
They carry the sheaves, but still go hungry.
They crush olives among the terraces;
They tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst.
These are Job’s examples, but if you want something more modern just turn on your TV or open your newspaper. We all know that there is evil in the world. But what really gets Job (and I think most of us) is that there seems to be no divine judgment upon the perpetrators of evil. Job asks, “Why does the almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?” (Job 24:1) He continues in Job 24:12, “The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry for help. But God charges no one with wrongdoing.” He is misquoted by those around him, who assume that Job is using this argument as an excuse for wicked behavior. Elihu (whose purpose in the book is still confusing) responds to Job by saying,
Do you think this is just?
You say, “I will be cleared by God.”
Yet you ask him, “What profit is it to me,
And what do I gain by not sinning?” (Job 35:2-3)
Considering Job’s well-documented righteousness, it is likely he is not justifying sin, but rather challenging his friends’ assumption that God is like a robot and all suffering must have a sin-root. Really Job is confused, because people sin, and the wicked are not wiped out right away.
Next, Job establishes his righteousness. He reminds his friends (and us),
My feet have closely followed his steps;
I have kept to his way without turning aside.
I have not departed from the commands of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread (Job 23:11-12).
There is no need to spend too much time on this; the narrator has already told us that Job is blameless in his ways. Now, if Job is righteous and is suffering while the wicked prosper, it is incorrect of his friends to assume that evil actions are the cause of all bad results. Instead, Job realizes that God does whatever he wants. Job explains,
But he stands alone, and who can oppose him?
He does whatever he pleases.
He carries out his decree against me,
And many such plans he still has in store.
That is why I am terrified before him;
When I think of all this, I fear him (Job 23:13-15).
In doing this, Job is actually glorifying the Lord as the king who is not tied to any course of action- as he is the creator (and therefore master) of everything. Job’s friends had limited God to an enforcer, but Job explained that God is higher than that. He is backed up by one of the psalmists, who writes in Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”
Even though Job submits that the Lord is the ruling authority and answers to no one, he does not suggest that the Lord is wicked in his dealings. For Job still believes that in the end, wicked people will receive their just deserts. Job explains this in Job 24:22-24,
But God drags away the mighty by his power;
Though they have become established, they have no assurance of life.
He may let them rest in a feeling of security,
But his eyes are on their ways.
For a little while they are exalted and then they are gone;
They are brought low and gathered up like all others;
They are cut off like heads of grain.
So Job knows that though it appears the unjust flourish right now, ultimately the Lord will bring about their destruction (and theoretically avenge the righteous). David agrees with this sentiment, as he wrote in Psalms 37:35-36,
I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
Flourishing like a green tree in its native soil,
But he soon passed away and was no more;
Though I looked for him, he could not be found.
The Lord is not unjust; and he will repay people for their deeds. As it is written,
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8).
God sees all that is going on. So don’t worry, when the time is right, he will act.
After establishing all of this, Job looks at his accusing friends and asks, “Why can’t the righteous cry out to God?” The whole conversation of Job started because Job was complaining and it intensified when he started asking God what the deal was. Still, after much arguing, Job maintained the position that since he is blameless, he may as well cry out to God. We read,
Then Job replied:
“Even today my complaint is bitter;
His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
If only I know where to find him;
If only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
And consider what he would say.
Would he oppose me with great power?
No, he would not press charges against me.
There an upright man could present his case before him,
And I would be delivered forever from my judge” (Job 23:1-7).
Actually, this wasn’t even Job’s idea at first. Eliphaz proposed right away that Job ask God about his situation. He says in his very first response to Job,
But if it were I, I would appeal to God;
I would lay my cause before him.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
Miracles that cannot be counted (Job 5:8-9).
It appears though that Eliphaz forgot this statement as later he accuses Job of wrongdoing by taking his case to God. Job feels there is nothing wrong with confronting the Lord about his situation.
What does the Bible have to say about Job’s position? Job is completely right in his thinking! Those who are in the Lord through Jesus are not only ok to cry out to God when in distress, they’re actually encouraged to do so. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Peter backs this up by quoting,
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
And his ears are attentive to their prayer,
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12).
We who are in Christ have a direct line to God. If you don’t have Jesus though, none of this applies to you. For John tells us, “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). So if you don’t already; believe that Jesus died for you, and understand that through him you are made right in the eyes of the Lord. For the Word says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). What father doesn’t listen to his children? So accept Jesus into your heart and take comfort in taking your woes to the Lord through prayer!