The Defense Rests Its Case
Topic: Affliction & Suffering Passage: Job 27:1–31:40
For twenty-five chapters you and I have found ourselves as spectators in an ongoing, back-and-forth debate between the severely-tried Job and the three friends who have come to comfort him in his affliction.
Through three rounds of discussion, we have observed the rising intensity of passion being poured out from all sides. After seeing him firsthand, Job’s counselors are convinced that his problems were the direct result of latent and unconfessed sin in his life, while at the same time Job has steadfastly maintained his innocence. And the more insistent the attacks have been on Job’s character, the more vehement he has become in defending himself.
Job’s defense will reach a climax in the chapters we will be looking at this morning. His critics have been silenced...they have no more to say. There is one more counselor who will arrive on the scene shortly, but first we must listen to Job’s closing defense.
Job is a man who has lost everything...all of his possessions, his livelihood, all ten of his children, his health, and for all practical purposes—so it would seem—the support of his wife and the few remaining friends that he had. He is a man alone...but not completely alone.
Somehow, in spite of appearance, Job believed that God had not utterly abandoned him and that He would one day vindicate him. Therefore, in building what would amount to his closing argument, he employs a five-fold strategy.
In the first place, in chapter 27,
Job discredits his accusers (27:1-23)
The chapter begins with the statement, “And Job again took up his discourse.” This would suggest that some interval of time—perhaps not long—would have passed following Job’s response to Bildad in chapter 26. And although the content of his defense would not change, the manner in which he presents it would.
Repeatedly Job has asserted his innocence, but now there is more vehemence in his argument. In verse 5 he says that he would rather die than to compromise his integrity by admitting to sins that he did not commit. He was not about to fabricate a confession simply to placate his friends. One can imagine him speaking with clenched fists as if to imply, “I’m only going to say this one more time!” Clearly he is going on the offensive now.
This is a chapter that deals ultimately with the inevitable judgment of the wicked. The faulty “retribution theology” of his friends would in time prove to be false. In fact, he cites a number of examples to demonstrate that “the one who dies with the most toys does not win.” He assumes the role of the instructor in verses 11 through 23 in order to explain that the fate of the wicked is no more secure than his own life had been. Tragedy and death are no respecter of persons. Wealth and security for any of us can disappear overnight. “Therefore,” he seems to say to his friends, “Don’t be so quick to judge me.”
In fact, a person who places himself in role of judge over one who suffers righteously places himself in a very precarious position. You say, “Well, how do we know when someone is suffering righteously and not just getting what they deserve?” The answer is...we don’t! That is why we must be exceedingly cautious in passing judgment upon one who suffers while maintaining his righteous standing before the Lord. And I remind you that from the very beginning of this book, Job has been labeled by God as one who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1, 8, and 2:3).
I never had a big brother growing up, but I did have a family relative who was eighteen months older than me. And although he would “pick on” me and “poke fun” at me when we were alone, I always knew he had my back when others were around. He was much bigger and stronger than me, and we were as close as brothers. If I got stopped by a bully on the way home from school, I would make sure that I walked home with Donny the next day. If anyone tried to mess with me when he was nearby, they would do so to their own peril. In a much greater way, when the Lord sets a person in right relationship with Himself, He commits Himself to him or her and will most assuredly defend that person against the charges of others whose knowledge of the situation is inferior.
Job has silenced his critics, effectively stating that there is more to his circumstances and the ways of God than meets the eye. So in chapter 28,
Job discusses heavenly wisdom (28:1-28)
This is a truly amazing chapter...one that deserves a sermon of its own. Some commentators, in fact, believe this to be an interlude inserted to get us ready for God’s disclosure of Himself later in the book. And while that may be true, it is probably more accurate to understand these as the words of a man who was gaining insight into his circumstances and beginning to resolve the tension between “feeling” and “faith.”
Job 28 is a hymn in praise of wisdom. But what is wisdom? It is clearly more than the accumulation of knowledge. Jim Schuppe, who to this day remains the most influential professor I ever sat under, taught us that “wisdom is knowledge that passes a test.” In other words, one can gain and store up great volumes of information, but it remains just “filler for the mind” until it is applied to “real-life” situations. It is not until knowledge moves from the realm of the theoretical to the practical that it becomes wisdom. Someone else has said that “knowledge is knowing what to say, and wisdom is knowing when to say it.” Briefly put, wisdom goes beyond just knowing.
In fact, to take this a step further, there are some things that we simply are unable to know...until God chooses to reveal them to us. In Deuteronomy 29:29, we read, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever.” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were smart, but as their words indicated, they were not very wise. In terms of wisdom, Job was advancing beyond his friends. And why was that? Because what he knew about God—his knowledge—was being put to the test.
There are three main thoughts worth noting from this chapter on wisdom. First of all, from verses 1 through 11, we learn that man has been able to discover many things through technology and the sciences, but the quest for wisdom is never satisfied. That is because it involves a sense that goes beyond man’s inherent ability to grasp. To use the writer’s language, it cannot be “mined.” When God built the universe, he did so according to a blueprint called “wisdom.” Wisdom is, therefore, the fundamental ingredient upon which all of God’s creation is sustained. And while man may increase in intellect, he will not advance in wisdom apart from God’s revelation.
The second thought we are able to glean from this chapter is that wisdom cannot be bought or purchased. Verses 12 through 22 ask, “Where shall wisdom be found?” and “Where...does wisdom come from?” and the answer is surprising. In fact, these verses present for us what appears to be an unsolvable dilemma. Let’s read these verses and observe three propositions.
(Verses 12 through 14):
“But where is wisdom to be found?And where is the place of understanding?Man does not know its worth.and it is not found in the land of the living.The deep says, ‘It is not with me,’and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’”
Proposition number one: Wisdom cannot be found.
(Now verses 15 through 19):
“It cannot be bought for gold,and silver cannot be weighed as its price.It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,in precious onyx or sapphire.Gold and glass cannot equal it,nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal;the price of wisdom is above pearls.The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,nor can it be valued in pure gold.”
Proposition number two: Wisdom is so valuable that it must be found.
(And finally verses 20 through 22):
“From where, then, does wisdom come?And where is the place of understanding?It is hidden from the eyes of all livingand concealed from the birds of the air.Abaddon and Daeth say,‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’”
Proposition number three: Wisdom cannot be found.
So are we back where we started from? Not exactly, because ultimately our unfulfilled quest for wisdom should lead us to the conclusion that we will never be able to find it by ourselves. You see, wisdom is not something that is born from within...it is rather bestowed from without. And that takes us to the third major thought of this chapter...the conclusion, if you will: wisdom is found in God alone. Read on, beginning in verse 23:
“God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight
and appointed the waters by measure,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a way for the lightning of the thunder.
then he saw it and declared it;
he established, and searched it out.
And he said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”
There it is! “The fear of the LORD is beginning of wisdom.” It is the theme that links all of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament together. We see it in Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, as well as here in Job. The search for wisdom is found ultimately in “the fear of the Lord.” This then becomes the litmus test for our hearts. These few words are critical to our understanding of the entire Book of Job. Here our thoughts are directed away from ourselves and our agonizing questions, and are placed upon Him. It is necessary for us to see that God does not take us by the hand and lead us to answers, rather through our circumstances He leads us to Himself and may choose not to tell us the answers. Our eyes are directed away from the search itself to the One to Whom that search leads. Therefore, the exhortation is, do not seek wisdom...seek the Lord!
In building his defense, Job has discredited his accusers and he has discussed heavenly wisdom. But as if jolted back to his present situation, Job spends chapter 29 in something of a state of reminiscence. Christopher Ash begins his discussion of this chapter with these words: “It is a mark of grace when a desperate longing for a lost happiness turns out to contain within itself the seeds of a future destiny.” Therefore, you and I should not think it strange that...
Job desires his past prosperity (29:1-25)
Job had lost everything. All that had defined his life had been taken from him. Would anyone of us in similar circumstances not have longed for “the good ole days”?
I recently found myself looking through some old photographs from when I was a boy. As I studied the faces of those who were in the photographs with me and the backgrounds in some of those pictures, I felt a strange sense of nostalgia. It was as if, for just a moment, I was that young boy again. I could feel the warmth of the summer sunshine, smell my Mom’s bread baking in the oven, and see myself taking two stair steps as a time as my parents called out for me to slow down. I didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
And then somehow “life happened.”
“Life happened” for Job in chapters 1 and 2 of his story, and things would never be the same. Notice that he begins almost with a sigh in verse 2, “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me.” When we compare that phrase with the opening words of chapter 30—“But now”—we are able to sense Job’s longing for happier, less worrisome days. His had been a place of honor and he had the respect of young and old alike. When you and I go through happy and peaceful times like those, we expect that they will last forever. But deep within, we know that they won’t. Perhaps the loss of his self-esteem was the final blow that had reduced Job to his present state.
It is important for us to realize that the blessing Job pined after was not the blessing of a hedonist. It was not the blessing of the “prosperity gospel” or even the self-centered blessings of “health and wellness.” Rather—as we carefully read this chapter—we recognize that Job longed for the blessing that consisted of being a blessing to others.
Had Job yearned only for physical, psychological, or material blessings, his longing would be merely pensive and reflective, but there is a hope in his words that rings with the same authenticity of Israel’s prophets of old. It cast the same-shaped shadow that they also saw...the image that the Lord would one day restore all things and bring His justice to light. The words that C.S. Lewis would one day write would have captured Job’s thoughts well:
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Job was unable to maintain that nostalgic glance for very long. As noted, the “But now” that opens chapter 30 serves to sharpen the contrast between those blissful days and his current state. Continuing his discourse,
Job describes his present misery (30:1-31)
“But now they laugh at me,” Job begins, expressing his sudden-dehumanized condition. He has become the portrait of mockers and the disdain of all who see him. He has been stripped of every ounce of his dignity. Not only had he been made the innocent victim of Satan, but he had also become the helpless prey of diabolical detractors. Look at verses 10 and 11:
“And now I have become their song;
I am a byword to them.
They abhor me; they keep aloof from me;
they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.”
The experience of Job only makes ultimate sense when it is understood as a foreshadowing of the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ. This past week a friend who is going through an intense period of affliction himself, while admitting that times of adversity were inevitable for us all, struggled to understand why God permitted Satan to inflict Job to the degree that He had. Considering the prolonged and subsequent anguish, my friend concluded, “It seems to be pointless.”
I can’t tell you how I appreciate honesty like that. It is “pointless” if we remove the cross of Jesus Christ from the equation. As badly as Job suffered, Christ suffered still more. Job endured both emotional and physical agony to a greater extent than any of us ever will. We don’t want to minimize that, and I certainly don’t want to minimize any suffering you have gone through or are presently enduring. At the same time, it is good to remember that Christ suffered infinitely more.
Listen to these familiar words from Isaiah (53:3-6), penned seven hundred years before Christ fulfilled, and yet written as if they were an eye-witness account:
“He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
As innocent as Job was and as great as his affliction, he was not as innocent as Christ and nor was his affliction as great. It was upon Jesus Christ—the sinless Son of God—that the full wrath of God was poured. And it was there on the cross that sin was atoned for. Therefore when we read words like Job 30, verses 16 and following, we hear not only Job’s cries but those of our Lord Jesus as well:
“And now my soul is poured out within me;
days of affliction have taken hold of me.
The night racks my bones,
and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
With great force my garment is disfigured;
it binds me about like the collar of my tunic.
God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to you and you do not answer me;
I stand and you only look at me.
You have turned cruel to me;
with the might of your hand you persecute me.”
“And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Or as Jesus uttered from the cross the question of the ages, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
As verse 30 indicates, there would be no immediate answer for Job, just as Jesus too would wait to be vindicated. And yet for now God is silent. There seems to be an unexplained divine necessity associated with redemptive suffering where unanswered prayer would appear to be the price of obtaining ultimate understanding. I realize that sounds counterintuitive, so hear me out. When God remains silent in answer to our urgent cries, it is certainly not because he does not hear. Then why does He not respond? Why does He remain mute? Could it be that it somehow necessary for us to cry out in vain and wait in hope until He achieves in us—and through us—what He wills to achieve? I believe so.
It is perhaps noteworthy that Job is the only speaker in the book—barring Satan—who addresses God directly. The others speak of God, but Job speaks to God. In verse 23, Job fully expects that God will let him die. Therefore, the chapter closes on a somber note. This paragraph reads as if he is planning his own funeral service.
Job brings his defense to a close in a somewhat unexpected way.
Job declares his innocence (31:1-40)
...in chapter 31 by speaking of a “a covenant” he has made with his eyes. We need to keep in mind that Job predates the Jewish nation, so therefore the covenant of which he speaks is not one that is imposed on him from the outside but rather one that he has made with himself.
Verse 1 is a rather popular verse today, especially in light of the Christian accountability websites intended to guard against Internet pornography. But this verse is much broader in its application than how it is commonly referenced in our day. In fact, the key word is “covenant.” In declaring his innocence, Job is declaring that he has solemnly bound himself to maintain a clear conscience in his allegiance with God.
Certainly sexual purity is an aspect of that covenant. Throughout the Scriptures we see the link between sexual immorality and spiritual idolatry. As we have indicated before, we cannot be certain how much Job knew about God, but what he does know he has pledged himself to and has determined to keep his conscience clear. Within this chapter we find him taking the witness stand, serving as the prosecuting attorney, as well as the defendant. This chapter is characterized by a series of “if” clauses which stipulate three covenantal relationships he has pledged to maintain.
The first of these is with himself in verses 3 through 12. Here he disavows lust, vanity, and falsehood, calling down curses on himself if he fails to maintain his integrity. Job is intent on maintaining purity and faithfulness in his heart and in every area of his life.
Beginning in verse 13 and extending through verse 23, he then pledges himself to live with consideration and benevolence with his fellow man. He will deal with justice toward his servants, give generously to the needy, and take no disadvantage of the defenseless.
The third of these covenantal commitments is with God. We see that in verses 24 through 34 where he disavows materialism, paganism, vindictiveness toward his enemies, self-centered refusal to help others, and hypocrisy.
In short, given what might be called Job’s “rules for life,” he has lived a life that is open and free to inspection. Therefore, in verse 35, he again pleads to meet God and to be heard: “Oh, that I had one to hear me!” When he says parenthetically, “Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!” he is doing what few of us would have the courage—or the character—to do. He is laying himself bare before the Lord, asking to be examined by Him. Job has lived a life of open confession before God and, when appropriate, before others. He never claims to be sinless, but he does claim to have lived a life that has been consistently transparent before God. He is perfectly content for “the books” to be opened and the charges read against him. He has nothing to hide, and he is convinced that by doing so he will be exonerated.
The chapter closes by telling us that “The words of Job have ended,” indicating that we will hear no more from him, except for his brief response to the Lord’s challenges in chapters 38 through 41. The mystery of Job’s suffering remains unexplained. Therefore, we must sit with him “in the ashes” (cf. Job 2:8) a while longer. At this point the reader is left to judge for himself whether Job has sinned “with his lips” (cf. Job 2:10).
There is a divine necessity about the sufferings of Job, something so deeply necessary that it justifies injustice and the unanswered prayers of a righteous man. Centuries later it will justify the most unjust action in human history, when a Man without sin is falsely accused, unjustly condemned, cruelly stripped of His dignity, cut off from society, and subjected to the most disgraceful death reserved for sinners. In Hebrews 5:7 we read that “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” “He was heard,” but He was not spared...at least not until His task was completed.
If this was ultimately necessary for Jesus Christ, it is also necessary that His followers should know what it is to have their prayers for rescue remain unanswered in this present as they too suffer for no good apparent reason. In the end we shall see that there is a good purpose—in fact, a great purpose—achieved by those sufferings.
But not now.