9:1-4, Who Can Justify Themselves before God?
Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God?”vv. 1-2
Job agrees with Bildad’s first rhetorical question (8:3): Indeed, God does not pervert justice. So, Job answers Bildad’s rhetorical with another rhetorical: “Therefore, who can stand before God and be in the right?” The expected answer is, “No one,” which Job delineates as he answers his own rhetorical question.
“If one wished to contend with Him, one could not answer Him once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart and mighty in strength—who has hardened himself against Him, and succeeded?—vv. 3-4
Job’s theology is one that is of the cross—he knows no one can justify themselves before God. He confesses that no one can defend themselves before the Almighty. His valid confession shows the need for an arbiter or mediator—the need for Christ. We see all this play out when God later challenges Job to defend himself (38:3; 40:2, 7). After his failed efforts, Job admits defeat (40:4-5) and repents (42:1-6). Job makes the further point of saying: Who has hardened his heart against God and won? No one. Not Pharaoh, not anybody. As Job proves here, his heart is not hardened against God.
Job then lists many examples of God’s might and power utilising several examples.
9:5-13, God’s Inimitable Sovereignty
“…He who removes mountains, and they know it not, when He overturns them in His anger, who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number.”vv. 5-10
Job points to the creation of the universe as evidence of God’s unsurpassable greatness (His sovereignty). In theological terms, we call this natural revelation, which is the fact that all creation testifies to a single Creator (cf. Romans 1:18-32), but further special revelation is needed to know who this God is, which He has done in His Word through the oral and written proclamations of the His prophets and the Apostles.
God created the mountains; He can tear them apart. He causes such great calamities that they permanently alter the landscape of the earth. Our sun is small compared to many other stars, yet it is still massive in size and power. God controls even this. He can even hide the sun, which He has done on occasion (e.g. the Plague of Darkness in Egypt, Exodus 10:21-22, and Jesus’ death, Matthew 27:45).
Job names three specific constellations, which God also mentions later, showing He was listening very closely to Job (38:31-33): the Bear (aka Arcturus, the Big Dipper), Orion (a hunter in Greek mythology), and Pleiades (named for the seven daughters of Atlas, a god in Greek mythology who holds the heavens upon his shoulders). God made even these. By naming these, Job reveals his knowledge of science (astrology was a science in antiquity).
“Behold, He passes by me, and I see Him not; He moves on, but I do not perceive Him.”v. 11
Job lists all these as evidence of God, but lo, God is invisible. Job wants to meet with Him, but he can’t find Him. Job feels that God is unapproachable.
“Behold, He snatches away; who can turn Him back? Who will say to Him, ‘What are You doing?'”v. 12
No one can demand God to justify Himself and His actions, yet we do this all the time, especially unbelievers. God doesn’t need to explain Himself to us. Indeed, Job is a theologian of the cross.
“God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him bowed the helpers of Rahab.”v. 13
God’s anger is not sinful, but an expression of His holiness. Sin angers God. It’s the only expression a holy God can have toward sin. You and I get mad when someone sins against us and others (we are, after all, made in God’s image). Imagine God’s righteous, awesome anger when we sin against Him and each other.
“Rahab” is a metaphor for God’s enemies as well as the ethereal evil. It’s also used in Psalm 89:10. Sometimes it is used to specify Egypt, such as in Psalm 87:4 and Isaiah 30:7. This is not to be confused with Rahab the woman in Joshua 2. What an unfortunate name to have, like Judas (John 14:22); this other Judas was also known as Thaddaeus (Matthew 10:3) or Judas of James (Acts 1:13). If my name were Judas, I would probably change it something much cooler sounding like “Thaddaeus” too.
In English, Rahab is spelled the same in their different places; but in Hebrew they’re two different words: רַהַב (rahav) here and רָהָב (rahav) in Joshua 2. They each have different a vowels pronounced slightly differently, though our English speaking ears wouldn’t be able to hear it. We have the same thing in our own language. For example, we say “read” differently depending on the tense of the verb. It’s the same thing with “live” and “lead.”
9:14-24, How Could I Possibly Approach this Almighty God?
“How then can I answer Him, choosing my words with Him?”v. 14
Because of God’s aforementioned greatness and supposed unapproachableness, Job feels helpless. He admits he cannot defend himself.
“Though I am in the right, I cannot answer Him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser [judge]. If I summon Him and He answered me, I would not believe that He was listening to my voice. For He crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause; He will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness. If it is a contest of strength, behold, He is mighty! If it a matter of justice, who can summon Him? Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, He would prove me perverse. I am blameless; I regard not myself; I loathe my life.”vv. 15-21
The ESV renders שׁפט (shaphat) “accuser,” but it more accurately means “judge.” Satan is the literal accuser. Not only does Satan do all the accusing, but his name in Hebrew literally means “accuser.” It would be best to keep the usual translation of shaphat as “judge” to avoid confusion.
In 8:5, Bildad urged Job to seek after God and plead for mercy. But, as Job says, who can plead for mercy before this almighty and holy God? He wouldn’t even listen (v. 16). Even though he is, in fact, blameless and in the right, he knows that by attempting to justify himself before this God, he would only end up condemning himself. Hence an even further need for a mediator—for Christ Jesus. Job would make a great Lutheran!
Job is suffering so much that he can’t catch his breath. It is one thing after another. Yet if what’s happening to Job is a matter of justice, who can summon God to explain Himself? Let His justice be done! Truly, Job’s integrity is retained.
“It is all one; therefore I say, He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, He mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; He covers the face of its judges—if it is not He, who then is it?”vv. 22-24
However, Job was in so much despair that he thought God impartially destroys both the righteous and the wicked. If it’s not God, who else? Obviously Satan, as we know. But let us not rebuke Job too harshly or quickly. Who of us have not blamed God for our suffering rather than the Devil? As Barnes notes: “Let us not blame Job for his impatience and irreverent language, until we have carefully examined our own hearts in the times of trial like those which he endured. Let us not infer that he was worse than other men, until we are placed in similar circumstances, and are unable to manifest better feelings than he did” (Barnes, 225-226).
If you lost your entire livelihood and children while suffering some unknown leprosy alongside a nagging spouse and terrible friends making you feel worse, would you not hold some bitterness toward God? Yet while Job falsely accuses God, he still maintains his integrity by knowing he is blameless.
9:25-31, The Brevity of Human Life
“My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away; they see no good. They go by like skiffs of reed, like an eagle swooping on the prey.”vv. 25-26
Again, Job makes mention of the brevity of human life. To Eliphaz, he compared his life to a weaver’s loom (7:6). Now he compares it to a runner who delivers a message, light rowboats made of papyrus on a river (being so light, they could move swiftly), and the eagle speedily diving after its prey.
These words might seem to contradict what he said about his slow suffering (7:1-5), but both are true for him. Human life is, indeed, short, yet his drawn out suffering seemed as if time slowed.
“If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face, and be of good cheer,’ I become afraid of all my suffering, for I know You will not hold me innocent. I shall be condemned; why then do I labour in vain? If I wash myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye, yet You will plunge me into a pit, and my own clothes will abhor me.”vv. 27-31
Job fears that even if he were to purify himself of some unknown wrong, God would still judge him guilty. This word of Law is true. No one can cleanse themselves of all their wrongs. Once again, we see a further need for a mediator. This also alludes to Baptism, where God Himself cleanses us since any effort we make would be insufficient.
9:32-35, Job Recognises the Necessity for an Arbiter/Mediator
“For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together.”v. 32
Earlier in his dialogue, Job pictured his conversation with God as a courtroom trial he simultaneously desired and dreaded. Now he realises that since God is not a man, he cannot enter such a trial. At least, not without condemning himself in pale efforts to justify himself. So then, what would be the point?
“There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. Let him take his rod away from me, and let not dread of him terrify me. Then I would speak without fear of Him, for I am not so in myself.”vv. 33-35
Then Job realises his desperate need: he needs a mediator between him and God—one who will simultaneously silence his bickering and withhold God’s wrath. Though several millennia later, Job gets a positive answer to his prayer. The Mediator came, who is Jesus Christ the Lord.
Job’s closing words mark a helplessness in him, “There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both” (v. 33). While the Son existed before all worlds, Jesus the God-man was not yet our Mediator. The good news for Job, and the good news for us, is that we now have that Mediator Job so desperately needed, which reveals the need for all humans.
As Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Prayer to saints are unnecessary. Prayer to angels are futile. For we have one single, preponderating, sufficient Mediator who is the very Son of God, who is both willing and able to do more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).
Job was given more than he could handle. If or when this happens to you, you have Christ our Mediator before the Father, who intercedes on your behalf just as Moses did before Sodom & Gomorrah. When suffering is too great, you have a mighty refuge (cf. Psalm 91; 46). “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us, then, with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Amen.
Barnes, Albert. Ed. by James Murphy. Barnes’ Notes on the Old & New Testament, Job. Volume 1. Blackie & Son, 1847.