This post follows directly on from part 1. I’m going to dive straight into the text to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that Job was a self-righteous man, who considered God his enemy. We have got this wrong for far too long, and it has damaged us!
Chapters 1-6 work as a subsection of the text, and can be summed up in a simple phrase – Job Holds his Tongue. Chapter 1, 4-5:
‘His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom.’
We understand from this that after his children held parties, he made sacrifices for sin that might have been committed, to pacify God. Job had no idea whether wrongdoing had taken place, but he wasn’t taking any chances. This is our first indicator of how Job viewed God – as a rule-keeping perfectionist, who punishes any transgression without mercy.
After this Job is afflicted by his first set of troubles – the slaughter of his servants, the fiery consumption of his livestock, the theft of his camels and the death of his children. His response was as follows:
‘At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I shall depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.’
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.’
The robe-tearing and head-shaving were outward shows of grief – an expected cultural display, common in the Middle East – but his first words were not of his loss, but in defence of the Lord, who he believed had done this to him. Job was so conscious of behaving perfectly that he didn’t skip a beat to let his emotions loose, even after the death of many loved ones – He did not know that the Lord is with us in grief and pain.
It is commonly assumed from the statement that Job didn’t sin by charging God with wrongdoing, that his words were true – that God gives and takes away. I don’t believe that holds water, if the entire text is taken as context. Rather than revealing a truth about God, this statement reveals the perspective of Job, and his prime motivation at this stage, which is to avoid the wrath of God by holding his tongue. The ongoing dialogue, however, makes it clear that Job did not mean this first statement at all. In fact, the majority of the rest of the text is riddled with Job charging God with wrongdoing to the point of blasphemy. I find it baffling that we take this single sentence out of context and build theology around it as if it were as fundamental to the Christian faith as John 3,16.
So insidious is this idea – that God gives and takes away – that it has corrupted our teaching, our expectation of God’s activity in our lives, and even our worship. There’s a particular song I take issue with, which not only incorporates that text but places it at the emotional dénouement of the chorus. When I look around and see a roomful of believers, belting this out – ‘he gives and takes away’ – with arms raised to Heaven, I feel sick to the pit of my stomach. God does not give and take away. I challenge anyone who holds to this claim to find that taught as doctrine in the epistles, or espoused by Jesus himself, instead of issuing from the lips of a self-righteous man who is terrified of God.
Back to the text. At this early stage, Job is still watching his tongue. Job 2, 10:
‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’
After a period of mourning, Job speaks, lamenting his suffering and wishing he was dead. Life no longer makes sense to him and he wishes he had never been born. Much of chapter 3 is devoted to lamentation, but verse 25 stands out as different:
‘What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.’
If we remember Job’s obsessive sacrifices, what sense can we make from this? Job had lived in fear of disaster, of punishment for sin his entire life. He never knew or trusted the goodness of God. His spirituality was based on two strong pillars – his own goodness and terror of the Lord. If he mis-stepped in the first he’d fall foul of the second – an exacting, vengeful God.
Most of the book is a dialogue between Job and three friends, who all share a view – that what happens in life is dependent on our own goodness. In other words, they believe in works-righteousness, and that if disaster comes upon us, it is due to our own sin. This view is repeated throughout the book by each friend, so for expedience’ sake, I won’t be lingering on their repetitive, predictable speeches.
In Chapter 6, Job is still just about managing to hold his tongue(v. 8-10):
‘Oh, that I might have my request,
that God would grant what I hope for,
that God would be willing to crush me,
to let loose his hand and cut off my life!
Then I would still have this consolation –
my joy in unrelenting pain –
that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.’
Job wants God to end his life before he blasphemes – accusation against God is fizzing on his tongue – but despite his many sufferings, his fear of God still trumps his pain and loss. This is the turning point for Job. The pressure has got to him, and his heart begins to be exposed. Job turns on his friends and demands they prove the veracity of their advice (v. 24, 29-30):
‘Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.’
‘Relent, do not be unjust;
reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.
Is there any wickedness on my lips?
Can my mouth not discern malice?’
Job’s focus has shifted from avoiding charging God with wrongdoing to justifying himself. This is the first time we see it clearly, but his words are directed at his friends and not yet at the Lord. In Chapter 7, however, he turns both barrels on God (verses 17-20):
‘What is mankind that you make so much of them,
that you give them so much attention,
that you examine them every morning
and test them every moment?
Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
you who see everything we do?
Why have you made me your target?’
Is that the God we serve? Does God examine us, to measure our righteousness in every moment? No, he examines Jesus at every moment, and calls us righteous because we are in Christ. Job seems to have no notion of grace or forgiveness, unlike many figures of faith in the Old Testament such as David and Abraham. If, like David, Job had understood that the Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy his response would have been entirely different. Instead, he turns his accusations on God – ‘If I have sinned, what have I done to you?’ He is compelled by his own righteousness.
In chapter 9, Job continues to justify himself:
‘Although I am blameless,
I have no concern for myself;
I despise my own life.’
His language becomes increasingly accusatory towards God, citing him as the source of injustice (v. 23-24):
‘When a scourge brings sudden death,
he mocks the despair of the innocent.
When a land falls into the hands of the wicked,
he blindfolds its judges.
If it is not he, then who is it?’
He speaks at length of the unequal footing he stands on with God, and why he will not be heard, even though he is innocent (v. 33-35):
‘If only there were someone to mediate between us,
someone to bring us together,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
but as it now stands with me, I cannot.’
In Chapter 10, Job openly accuses God (verse 3):
‘Does it please you to oppress me,
to spurn the work of your hands,
while you smile on the plans of the wicked?’
Again, he defends himself (verses 5-7):
‘Are your days like those of a mortal
or your years like those of a strong man,
that you must search out my faults
and probe after my sin –
though you know that I am not guilty
and that no one can rescue me from your hand?’
Job views God as a rule-keeping perfectionist, ready and eager to judge (v. 13-14):
‘But this is what you concealed in your heart,
and I know that this was in your mind:
if I sinned, you would be watching me
and would not let my offence go unpunished.’
In Job’s view, God is a source of pain for him (v. 20-21):
‘Turn away from me so that I can have a moment’s joy
before I go to the place of no return.’
The next twenty-two chapters are repetitious, re-cycling the same arguments between Job and his friends. Job’s accusations towards God multiply, as does his defence of his own innocence.
In Chapter 14, verse 18-19, Job speaks ill of the Lord, calling him a destroyer rather than a bringer of hope:
‘But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
and as a rock is moved from its place,
as water wears away stones
and torrents wash away the soil,
so you destroy a person’s hope.’
In chapter 16, 9, Job calls God his opponent for the first time:
‘God assails me and tears me in his anger
and gnashes his teeth at me;
my opponent fastens on me his piercing eyes.’
In chapter 19, 5-6, he declares that God has wronged him:
‘If indeed you would exalt yourselves above me
and use my humiliation against me,
then know that God has wronged me
and drawn his net around me.’
In verse 7, he accuses God of violence:
‘Though I cry, “Violence!” I get no response;
though I call for help, there is no justice.’
Throughout chapters 23-26, Job continues to justify himself, and by chapter 27, 2-7 his heart towards God has become clear:
As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,
the Almighty, who has made my life bitter…
I will never admit you are in the right;
till I die, I will not deny my integrity…
‘May my enemy be like the wicked,
my adversary like the unjust!’
According to Job, God is unjust and an enemy. His primary concern is to justify himself – he is still trusting in his own perfection, his own righteousness, to save him.
In Chapter 31, Job bemoans all he has lost, talking at length about how respected he used to be. He talks of the poor he used to help, and boasts of his own righteousness in verse 1:
‘I made a covenant with my eyes
not to look lustfully at a young woman.’
He is confident that he could stand, perfect before God and be vindicated (verse 6):
‘Let God weigh me in honest scales
and he will know that I am blameless…’
Job’s self-righteousness knows no bounds. He lists many sins, insisting that he is guilty of none of them. Verses 19-23 serve as an example of his self-righteousness:
‘If I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing,
or the needy without garments,
and their hearts did not bless me
for warming them with the fleece from my sheep,
if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
knowing that I had influence in court,
then let my arm fall from the shoulder,
let it be broken off at the joint.
For I dreaded destruction from God,
and for fear of his splendour I could not do such things.’
Verse 23 is revealing (‘For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendour I could not do such things’). His reason for refraining from sin is not for the sake of doing good, or from love of others, it was because he dreaded destruction from the Lord. This chimes with his earlier statement from chapter 3, v 25 –
‘What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.’
Job has no faith in divine compassion. His image of God is cruel and vengeful, of a God that searches for faults, and his whole long life has been a quest for perfection, to stave off the Lord’s destruction.
By the end of the chapter 31 (v. 35-37), Job’s heart towards God is fully exposed:
‘“I sign now my defence – let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
I would put it on like a crown.
I would give him an account of my every step;
I would present it to him as to a ruler.”
These are the closing words of Job.’
I hope by this stage it is clear that Job’s earlier, pious statements – that the Lord gives and takes away, that we should receive both blessing and destruction from Him – were utterly empty, an expression of Job’s intention to avoid charging God with wrongdoing. As the pressure gets to Job, his heart is revealed. He is a self-righteous man, most concerned with justifying himself according to his own perfection. He is terrified of God, doesn’t understand or know God, and his initial attempts to hold his tongue out of fear are overwhelmed by his fury at the Lord, who he sees as the author of his suffering. He insults, accuses and blasphemes against God, who he sees as his enemy. This is the heart of Job. In the final instalment of this series, I’ll look at his salvation and how it comes about, the prophetic role Elihu plays, and the mercy Job finds. I’ll be looking at God’s intentions towards Job, and how we can apply this strange, difficult book today, without losing our grip on the love of God.