Whom Can I Trust?
[See D for immediate attention to these verses]
Tom J. Nettles
This lesson concentrates on Job’s soliloquy on wisdom in chapter 28. It is set in the middle of his final reply to his accusers. They have finished their efforts to break down Job from his claims to integrity, have increased in the stridency of their accusations, and have not changed from their formulaic approach to the stimulus-response view of good=reward and evil= punishment.
I. Chapter 22 - Eliphaz vents his anger at Job in a rant against Job’s conduct and again calls him to repentance for restoration to favor.
A. He makes wild, unwarranted and unverifiable accusations against Job. “Is not your evil abundant?” he asked.
1. He accuses Job of greed cruelty, possessiveness and favoritism toward the powerful: verse 6-9; Job denies the charges in very specific ways in chapter 29:12-17 and chapter31.
2. These sins have brought on your present calamity: verses 10, 11. Temporal calamity is not a quid pro quo response from God, Job claims, but he often gives the wicked peace even in the midst of the horrible wrong-doing: 24:18-23
B. Eliphaz represents Job as treating God as if he were ignorant of the ways of men. (“What does God know? Can he judge through the deep darkness?”), even in the face of the evidence that he punishes the wicked while the righteous rejoice (“The righteous see it and are glad.”) in the quick justice of God. Verses 12-20.
C. Eliphaz applied the positive side of his simple theological idea by assuring Job, “If you turn from your greediness and see God as your true treasure your ways and your words will prosper.” Verses 21-30 The “gospel” of prosperity has been with us for a long time.
II. Chapters 23, 24 - On the contrary, Job claims to have sought an audience with God earnestly that he might see what cause has brought on this horrible season of affliction (“My hand is heavy on account of my groaning.”), and observes that God does not inflict immediate judgment on the wicked for their crimes.
A. It is true that God is in deep darkness, but Job took no solace in that, nor does he think that his inability to find God means that God is unobservant; rather he sought him out. He knows God would listen, even though he is omnipotent; he would not refuse to listen to the case of an upright man. Verses 3-7.
B. He has looked for God’s presence in every situation (in which Job is convinced that God himself is working), knows that at some point he can be invoked, and when God has finished with this purposed affliction, Job shall emerge purified and unalloyed. Verses 8-10
C. He professes that in spite of his affliction and in the midst of his urgent cries to God for answers, he has not departed from him but has “treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” Verses 11, 12.
D. But God has purposes built on his unchangeable decrees, and his immanent working often cannot be detected by us. This mystery about God’s secret counsel terrified Job, as well it might since it has resulted in his loss of everything. Nevertheless, Job does not allow the mystery and the immutable decree stop him from wanting an audience with God. (“Yet I am not silenced because of the darkness.”)
E. The mystery of God’s decree extends not only to the unexplained affliction of pain and loss on the one that has “not departed from the commandment of his lips,” (23:12) but to the reality that there is no clear pattern of judgment and punishment visible for those that plot, plan, purpose, lay in wait for evil (verse 13). [“Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty? . . . yet God charges no one with wrong.” 1, 12.] They are horrendous oppressors of the poor [verses 2-12} (which Job never did), they are murderers [verse 14] (while Job sought to protect life in every circumstance) and they are adulterers, not merely by the flash of a sudden impulse of lust but by a well-developed scheme [verses 15-17] (which Job has systematically and by clearly expressed principle avoided). His accusers’ contention that the evil are judged immediately simply does not bear the scrutiny of observable phenomena. In spite of these appearances, however, Job is convinced that the evil eventually will be cut off (24, 25), even as he knows that he eventually will be vindicated (23:10).
III. Bildad’s last speech: Chapter 25 Some suggest that the shortness and apparent inconsequential nature of this speech indicates that text has been lost in the transmission. It is also possible that the text is in tact, but Bildad is not. He utters truisms, but has run out of any ability or nerve to seek to make headway with Job. He asserts that God is more powerful and more pure than any part of his creation, including man. And who would say otherwise? But what is the point in this particular existential encounter between one “who is a maggot . . . and . . . a worm” (25:6) with one in whose sight even “the stars are not pure?” (25:5) Does the reminder of the exalted power and purity of God, a point with which Job agrees, give any in sight into the purpose of God’s ways in this fragmenting encounter? The possibility that this is the entire speech of Bildad seems confirmed by Job’s response to him.
IV. Chapters 26-28 - Job now begins his final response to these friends. It seems that they have realized that their efforts have been fruitless. Eliphaz has vented his bitterness against Job’s tenacious maintenance of his integrity, Bildad has given a final, and short, presentation of the distance between God and man, and Zophar has run out of anything to say. He remained silent.
A. 26:1-4 – Job mocks the repetitive irrelevance of the presentations of his comforters. He particularly derides the speech of Bildad for his restatement of the obvious that God is more powerful than his creatures. With seething sarcasm, Job quips, “How you have helped him who has no power!” Just telling me that God is stronger than I is neither enlightening nor particularly insightful in expanding our understanding of the ways of God with his creatures.
B. 26:5-14 - Job then shows that he fully concurs with the reality of the unutterable greatness of divine power and his present control of all things. His friends do not give him information of which he is ignorant; he does not reject either the power, the present control, or the righteousness of God. “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke.” The images employed by Job are strikingly beautiful, particularly the expression of the created spheres being suspended in space, a more accurate cosmology that that of others of his era. “He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not split open under them” (7, 8) Even, however, with the massive displays of his power and his wisdom manifest in the heavens and the earth, Job knows there is far more beyond that: “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!” (14) Job’s awareness that God’s intelligence, wisdom and power are truly inexhaustible and finally incomprehensible by any creature makes God’s final confrontation with Job (38-41) all the more impressive.
C. chapter 27 – Though he knows that God’s ways are inscrutable, Job does not relinquish his claim to integrity. The theology being espoused by the comforters does not explain his situation. Furthermore, Job’s conviction of personal integrity does not mean that he rejects the reality that God will in fact judge the wicked.
1. verses 1-5 – Though Job agrees that God is powerful and that his ways are beyond finding out by the created intellect of man, he does not consent to his accusers that their presentation has served to explain anything about his own suffering. He can not submit to mere platitudes that give no more insight than already is a matter of conviction with him. Thus he stated, “Far be it from me to say that you are right; Till I die, I will not put away my integrity from me.”
2. Verses 7-23 _ Job now teaches them what he knows about the ways of God with the wicked.
· He gives a strong warning that those who give him such small comfort might be construed as wicked and eventually be taken away in divine judgment. “Let my enemy be as the wicked, and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous” (7)
· When God moves in punishment of the wicked, the judgment is irremediable, and swift. It is not designed to restore the wicked but to obliterate his unfounded hopes. Unlike Job, the wicked, when they are taken away, will not seek for God in a more profound way that they might delight in his ways and wisdom. (8, 9, 10)
· Job himself has observed God’s ways and he is as qualified to speak for his observations as those pompous, judgmental friends that have so derided and belittled him. (11-13)
· Every gain of this life in which the wicked has placed his hope will be removed from him without remedy. (14-23) Call to mind Jesus’ parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21.
D. Chapter 28 – Job concludes that the meaning of the events in a man’s life are not easily discerned. Shallow observation of immediate phenomena will hardly ever yield a true picture of what God is doing. [lesson focus: 1-4,12-13,15-16,20-23,26-28]
1. One does not find the most precious things of the earth on the surface. Neither silver nor gold, neither iron nor copper merely appear fully ready for use, but must be taken from ore that is hidden far from view. Verses 1, 2 and 5-8.
2. Man does not hesitate to pursue the recovery of this ore and will spare no energy nor reject any measure that will give opportunity to collect the valuable resource. (3, 4 and 9-11) “Man puts his hand to the flinty rock and overturns mountains by the roots.” (9).
3. Wisdom, moreover, is harder to come by than the most precious metals and jewels that the earth can provide. As difficult as the collection and the crafting of it may be, it is nothing compared to the attainment of wisdom. verses 12-19
· Those that study these matters of the earth’s treasures can tell where they are and devise means to obtain them; but who, by mere observation, can tell where wisdom dwells? Wisdom does not present itself to rigorous human endeavor, though we should search for it with all our energy. We put prices on gold and silver and barter for merchandise of equal value, but no one can place a value on wisdom for it is not something that is the product of any created thing. (12, 13)
· Verses 14-19 - Every thing of precious value of this creation looks upon the idea of wisdom and recognizes that it transcends all of them in value. Gold, silver, onyx, sapphire, coral, crystal, pearls, topaz—all of them rare and beautiful and of value in comparison to their scarcity and relative appeal—are created things and eventually perishable. The stupid, vain, insolent, rapacious, brutal, covetous, and savage can own any of these things, admire them, and want more of them. This is not so with wisdom. “It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir . . . the price of wisdom is above pearls” (16, 18).
· Verses 20-23) - If none of the energetic efforts of man in seeking earthly wealth, if the value of these things so sacrificially sought have no commensurate relation with wisdom, where is it to be found? Neither in the sight of “everything living” nor in the hidden recesses of the dead does wisdom appear. Everything that can be observed in the entire created order by living beings does not contain the source of wisdom. Nor do the dead find the source of wisdom
· Verses 23-28 – Wisdom is possessed by God alone and created things only reflect infinitesimally small facets of the uncreated wisdom. God puts this in the amazing operations of the created order and the interconnections of purpose in all things. Wisdom dwells with God alone for he alone is the expression of infinite wisdom. To the degree that he communicates to us in his word and by his Spirit both the nature and the power of wisdom, our created lives may engage this wisdom. It begins, therefore, in the reverent worship of God, “the fear of the Lord,” and will have an initial effect on human conduct of turning from evil.
o James 3:13-18 – declares the difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God as it may be exhibited by men made in God’s image. There is a wisdom from below that always points toward selfish ends; but as men receive the wisdom from above an entirely different spirit flows through them.
o Proverbs 1:20-33 personifies wisdom, for wisdom indeed is a person. Wisdom calls for persons to repent of their focus on this world and seek the life that is life indeed [1 Timothy 6:17-19], those riches of eternity that never can perish.
o Job anticipates the statement of the apostle Paul, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:20, 21).
IV. Lessons from Job to be in the process of contemplating. These will be repeated in future lessons.
Embrace and absorb into your central spiritual world view that
B. The driving passion of our lives should be a reverent and filial fear of God that leads to discernment and enjoyment of the attributes of God.
C. Don’t allow some knowledge of God and his ways to drive you to arrogance, judgmentalism, and sinful over-confidence. We must not retreat from what we know to be true, but must also realize that other dimensions of present knowledge will constantly flow into our heads and hearts.
D. We must value spiritual knowledge and holiness of life above all earthly advantage. If God will teach us more of Himself and his purity through the loss of what can be lost then the loss is a great advantage.
E. While maintaining integrity in individual cases as each relates to the judgment of men, we must submit to God’s prerogative to design any event for our overall sanctification. True godliness always involves resignation.
F. Be thankful for the progressive nature of revelation—learn to admire the divine wisdom in the gradually unfolding of layer upon layer of truth—as well as the immediate perfection of the redemptive action of God.
G. We should contemplate the importance of the question, “How can a man, sinfully despicable from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head, be in the right before God?” Where will we find a ransom? Of what honor must such a ransom be?