Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is the first of three lessons from the book of Job, and we begin with one of the very high points of Job’s testimony to the ultimate goodness and sovereignty of God. He has suffered and is suffering great misery and loss. He is in agony and his friends have no real compassion for him. By their calculations “outcomes” are perfect functions of righteous or unrighteous “inputs.” Since Job suffers, their unanimous conclusion is that he must be guilty. With no real compassion or feeling for him they hammer away with speeches declaring this.
Job 19:1 Then Job answered and said:
2 “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?
3 These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me?
His friends (and in particular Bildad who has just spoken) don’t know what they are talking about. Their mechanistic view of suffering and pain being only God’s punishment for evil is just wrong. In fact, Job suffers because he is especially righteous. In any case, it’s not the business of man to be preaching such logic in the absence of any evidence of real wrong on Job’s part.
4 And even if it be true that I have erred, my error remains with myself.
Better they extend sympathy and compassion (and in the absence of evidence of wrong-doing on Job’s part) take his word that his conscience is clear.
5 If indeed you magnify yourselves against me and make my disgrace an argument against me,
6 know then that God has put me in the wrong and closed his net about me.
The friends make Job’s misery out to be God’s punishment. They are wrong in that. But Job doesn’t attribute what he suffers to bad luck or accident. This is in the sovereign will of God. Job knows this and he’s miserable in the knowledge of it.
7 Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice.
God is perfectly just. He’s altogether good. In the long run, His righteousness and holy will will be vindicated. That’s absolutely true and Job knows it. But in his small part of God’s universe in the short run, his righteous life is not being vindicated. God has seemingly not intervened when he’s called for mercy and help. In fact, it seems that
8 He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths.
9 He has stripped from me my glory and taken the crown from my head.
10 He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, and my hope has he pulled up like a tree.
11 He has kindled his wrath against me and counts me as his adversary.
Job is a friend of God. His short term experience seems as if God is treating him as He has promised to treat His enemies. This is misery for Job. He is personally suffering, but more than that, there is the question of whether the world is upside down. Does God uphold righteousness?
Job’s personal misery is dark and deep. It seems like he’s surrounded by a hostile army.
12 His troops come on together; they have cast up their siege ramp against me and encamp around my tent.
There is misery on every side and there is no comfort anywhere.
13 “He has put my brothers far from me, and those who knew me are wholly estranged from me.
14 My relatives have failed me, my close friends have forgotten me.
15 The guests in my house and my maidservants count me as a stranger; I have become a foreigner in their eyes.
16 I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer; I must plead with him with my mouth for mercy.
17 My breath is strange to my wife, and I am a stench to the children of my own mother.
Family, friends, servants and even his wife are of no comfort. They bring him no aid. Their analysis is seemingly like that of those who are speaking to him. Job is a center of misery and no one really wants to be around him. His profane wife has said “curse God and die.”
18 Even young children despise me; when I rise they talk against me.
Insolent kids on the street mock a broken and afflicted old man.
All this is personally unpleasant for Job. But it is even more profoundly dark and utterly depressing in terms of what it says about the state of the world. People ought not act like this. Job is living in a horribly broken situation … and he’s God’s friend. What is the meaning of this?
Job turns again to those who are with him and are offering him philosophy instead of mercy.
19 All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me.
20 My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.
21 Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!
22 Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?
One good commentator points out that rather than wondering at and treading with humility concerning Job’s suffering and that of a good God who in His righteous purposes must ordain the suffering of His friend, these guys prefer to debate points of philosophy. If they are right (and they aren’t) really, isn’t Job’s misery enough? Would it really be wrong of them to allow that they aren’t sure what is going on and offer him compassion? Do they really need to pile on?
23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!
What Job knows is something that is profound and needs writing down. He knows that the problem of pain and suffering of God’s people is not something he alone will face. He knows the darkness he’s experiencing will come to others who live as friends of God in a fallen world. In our time, from believing people dying of Ebola to those being slaughtered in the advance of militant false religions, there will be the kind of questions he’s facing.
Here’s the real end of it.
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
God, the One who has ordained Job’s suffering is also his “kinsman-redeemer” his “vindicator.” Everything around Job seems to be in chaos and misery. But in the long run, “at the last,” this One who seems to be acting as his enemy in the short run “will stand upon the earth.” This is profound faith. God will ultimately set all right. Why should His people expect that all will always go well for them in time? Do I really think that He’s obligated to give pleasant circumstances to me (and everyone else who is His) as He works His purposes in His creation? But what Job knows is that He lives and is indeed Job’s friend and “family” member. And in the end, at the last, He will stand upon the earth and all will be right.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
And this whole business is not just a play in which Job is an expendable bit actor. “Yet in his flesh” he and all who love God will see God. Job’s an eternal being. His body is fading and his life is miserable. But God his friend will at the end order and govern the cosmos in justice and beauty and righteousness. Creation will again be whole and good. And those who love Him will have a part and place in that as real physical beings.
The thought of that takes Job’s breath away.
Turning to his friends present, he cautions them that their talk is impudent and profane and arrogant. They don’t know what really is, and there is real danger for them in presuming and acting as if they do.
28 If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’
29 be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment.”