Beckett: Commentary on Job 13 – There is Hope in Suffering

13:1-5, The Theological Malpractice of Job’s Friends

“Behold, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!”

The attempts of Job’s friends to comfort him was a colossal failure. They were nothing but legalistic—an utter failure of distinguishing between Law and Gospel. Their basic argument is this, “Wow, you’re suffering immensely! You must’ve caused some great offence to God,” despite their complete lack of evidence. As true theologians of glory, they thought they pierced the hidden mind of God and thus knew the truth to Job’s suffering, lacking any real sympathy for their brother. Instead, they injured him and irritated him. Job essentially says to them, “Everything you’ve told me, I already know. I’m not stupid.”

Job compares them to inept doctors who commit medical malpractice. Indeed, they have committed theological malpractice by prescribing Law rather than Gospel. From now on, despite their claims to wisdom, the wisest thing for them to do would be to shut up. Indeed, as we have seen, they have spoken blatant lies, a clear indicator that Satan is strongly at work, who is the father of all lies (John 8:44).

13:6-12, “You Presume to Speak for God”

“Hear now my argument and listen to the pleadings of my lips. Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for Him? Will you show partiality toward Him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when He searches you out? Or can you deceive Him, as one deceives a man? He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. Will not His majesty terrify you, and the dread of Him fall upon you?”

vv. 6-11

To “show partiality” is a Hebrew idiom that means trying to gain someone’s favour with bribery. Basically, Job was accusing them of lowering God from His Most High estate to their earthly estate by presuming to be His lawyers, as if they could manipulate Him like one can easily manipulate a human being. He’s essentially accusing them of pagan magic.

In many ancient polytheistic pagan religions, pagans believed they could manipulate the will of the gods by saying the right words, and by saying the right words by doing the right actions during certain cultic rituals. Perhaps they were trying to manipulate God by saying the right words against Job. As we’ll see much later in Job, they failed miserably.

For this error and for their severe words toward Job, he says, God would surely punish them. Indeed, He does. Yet God spared them thanks to Job’s intercessory prayer (42:7-8, 10).

“Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defences are defences of clay.”

v. 12

When tested, their arguments would shatter like clay and fall like ashes. When God begins His discourse much later, not only does He shatter Job’s misgivings, but He also completely demolishes those of his friends.

13:13-19, Job Hopes in God Despite His Suffering

“Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may.”

v. 13

Once more, Job implores his friends to let him speak. This is unsurprising, considering they’ve complained of his “babble” (11:2-3) and long-winded talk (8:2). It must’ve been quite difficult for his friends to hold back from interrupting. Have you ever vented to someone and they couldn’t help themselves from interrupting and saying all the wrong things?

“Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand?”

v. 14

This is another Hebrew idiom, essentially saying, “My life is out of my hands.” Not as in fatalism in that all events and people have a predetermined fate, but that his life—indeed, all human life—is in the hands of the Creator. Considering Job’s earlier confession in God’s sovereignty, this abrupt interjection makes sense (12:13-25). Thus, Job is fiercely determined to stand before God and plead his case. An extremely bold undertaking, indeed. Only a man of godly integrity could dare to make such an endeavour.

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before Him. Keep listening to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right.”

vv. 15-18

Despite what might happen to him, Job is also fiercely confident and hopeful in God and His salvation. In spite of his disease, pain, and depression and imminent death, he bets everything on God. As God made a bet with Satan that Job would retain his integrity, Job makes a bet with his friends and their devilish lies that God will justify him. Indeed, God does (42:1-6, 9)! In the end, both God and Job win their bets, as they both knew.

This is a remarkable display of justification by faith in the Old Testament. Later on, we’ll see Job’s hope and faith in the eschatological resurrection and his Messiah (19:25-27).

Despite his severe afflictions and losses, Job knows God is his Rock and Fortress (cf. Psalms 6; 18; 91).

“Who is there who will contend with me? For then I would be silent and die.”

v. 19

Therefore, with God as his firm foundation (cf. LSB #728), who can be against him (cf. Psalm 27:1; 118:6; Isaiah 51:12; Hebrews 13:6)? Paul later echoes this same faith (Romans 8:31-39). This is the same hope we have in God, the Rock of Ages (cf. LSB #761).

13:20-28, Job Pleads for God’s Mercy

“Only grant me two things, then I will not hide myself from Your face: withdraw Your hand far from me, and let not dread of You terrify me. Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and You reply to me. How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin.”

vv. 20-23

With his hope in God made clear, Job now moves his speech toward God, requesting two things: (1) For God to show him mercy, and (2) for Job’s fear of God to cease vis-à-vis God’s wrath.

If God grants him these two requests, Job vows to answer when God finally responds to his strong desire to plead his case before Him. Indeed, such a dialogue takes place in chapters 38-42. Yahweh replies, Job listens and repents, and God shows him mercy and brings his fear to cessation.

Job further asks God to reveal his sins and iniquities, a request God is happy to oblige (40:1-2). Job’s proper response is one of reverent fear as his heart moves toward repentance (40:3-5). Be careful what you wish for.

“Why do You hide Your face and count me as Your enemy? Will You frighten a driven leaf and pursue dry chaff? For You write bitter things against me and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth. You put my feet in the stocks and watch all my paths; You set a limit for the soles of my feet. Man wastes away like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten.”

vv. 24-28

At the same time, however, Job feels God is unnecessarily abusing him like one relentlessly pursues a fallen leaf or feckless chaff in the wind (cf. Psalm 1). And as if God has written an indictment against him, as if he’s a prisoner set in the stocks, unable to move. Indeed, he could not move due to his immense level of despair, as he wallowed in the ashes of his dead skin (2:7-8).

Surely, he says, man rots away like garment consumed by moths, a fitting simile as his skin literally rots away. This sets the tone for his remaining dialogue.

Application

As we saw in chapter 12 and will see again much later, God does not answer our question to why He permits evil and suffering, at least not the answer we want. The true answer to suffering Job displays here is hope. Not “hope” as in wishing things will miraculously change on their own like the flip of a coin. This is hope that rests in the sovereign God.

Job knows he has no control over his situation and no say in the longevity of his life (v. 14). So, he does the only thing a man with godly integrity can do: he hopes in God his Saviour. He pleads to God for mercy and pleads for an end to his fear. The hope we share with him is what Paul beautifully confesses of Christ:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us [recall Job 9:33]. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” [Psalm 44:22.] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

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