Now let me invite you please to take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me once again to the book of Job. And tonight, we’re considering chapters 18 through 21. You can find them beginning on page 428. Chapters 18 through 21. One of the features of the book of Job that we’ve noticed, though largely only in passing really as we’ve worked our way through the book of Job, is the whole issue of wounding words. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Job’s three friends, are masters at wounding words. More than once, they’ve given the lie to the trite old saying that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Haven’t they? As we’ve seen, no small part of Job’s suffering has been generated by the terrible things these three have said to him.
Last Sunday evening, we began the second cycle of speeches that comprise the large, central section of the book of Job. This is round two, if you like. And so last time in chapter 15, remember, Eliphaz had his second swing at Job. And tonight, we’re going to hear a second time from Bildad and again from Zophar; Bildad in chapter 18, Zophar in chapter 20. And our plan, as it has been our pattern so far, is to look in summary at the speeches of both men just to get a flavor of the way that they are speaking to Job. Their basic point really hasn’t changed at all. Like Eliphaz before them, they believe that Job is suffering in the way that he is suffering because he deserves it. He’s done something and God is punishing him. What goes around, comes around. “You put bad stuff in, Job, no wonder you’re getting bad stuff out!” That was their perspective. It’s the same ugly, old tune we’ve heard them play already.
And our objective tonight isn’t really to discover some fresh nuance. There aren’t particularly fresh nuances in the things that they say to Job in this second attempt to try to persuade him that they are right and Job is wrong. Our objective tonight is rather just to focus a little more purposefully on the terrible things they are saying to get a sense of the way their speech has been so profoundly wounding. And then once we’ve locked that down, we’re going to take the rest of our time thinking through how it is Job does not repay evil with evil. You know if I was on the receiving end of the kind of vitriol and judgmentalism that Job was made to receive, I would respond, I would try to fight fire with fire. I don't know about you. At some point, I would reach my limit and the gloves would come off. But Job doesn't do that. He continues, rather patiently actually – the patience of Job is proverbial, after all – protesting his innocence and appealing to the Lord for vindication. So we’re going to ask, “How come? How does he do that?” so that when wounding words come our way, we might be equipped to do the same.
Before we read the Scriptures then and begin to try and think through the material that we find here, let me ask you please would you bow your heads with me as we pray.
O Lord, we are, all of us sometimes made to take the brunt of wounding words from people we thought were friends. We’ve been on the receiving end of judgmentalism and gossip. People have said terrible things to us, terrible things about us. Sometimes, we confess, we’ve been the ones saying the terrible things. We’ve both wounded and been wounded. And now we pray that You would deal with our hearts. Would You correct us and rebuke us and instruct us and train us in righteousness that we might be equipped for every good work? Help us to tame the tongue. Help our hearts to melt in love toward those who need not a wounding word but a word of comfort. And help us when we are made the recipients of wounding words to know what to do that we may not repay evil with evil but rather with good. For we ask it all in Jesus’ name, amen.
We have a lot of material to cover, so let me simply read a few sections of chapter 18 and a few sections of Job’s response to Bildad in chapter 19. Although please keep your Bibles open and try to follow with me as we look at the material in 18 through 21. We pick up the reading at chapter 18 verse 5. This is God’s holy Word. Bildad is addressing Job:
“Indeed, the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of his fire does not shine. The light is dark in his tent, and his lamp above him is put out. His strong steps are shortened, and his own schemes throw him down. For he is cast into a net by his own feet, and he walks on its mesh. A trap seizes him by the heel; a snare lays hold of him. A rope is hidden for him in the ground, a trap for him in the path. Terrors frighten him on every side and chase him at his heels. His strength is famished, and calamity is ready for his stumbling. It consumes the parts of his skin; the firstborn of death consumes his limbs. He is torn from the tent in which he trusted and is brought to the king of terrors. In his tent dwells that which is none of his; sulfur is scattered over his habitation. His roots dry up beneath, and his branches wither above. His memory perishes from the earth, and he has no name in the street. He is thrust from light into darkness and driven out of the world. He has no posterity or progeny among his people and no survivor where he used to live. They of the west are appalled at his day, and horror seizes them of the east. Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous, such is the place of him who knows not God.”
That’s Bildad’s perspective on Job. Then listen to Job’s reply. Chapter 19 at verse 23:
“Oh that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.
A friend of mine, a few weeks ago, was describing an incident with a colleague in his workplace with whom he became aware there was some tension. He knew things were not good between them, and so when saw him, he ran into him one day by chance in a local coffee shop, and immediately he took the opportunity and went up to greet him and asked after his welfare. You know, trying to patch things up. And his colleague stopped him in mid-sentence, “I don’t like you. I don’t trust you. I don’t want to be your friend. I would have been better if you had never come over here.” And he turned and walked away. And my friend was left absolutely stunned. It was like a verbal slap in the face.
It’s one thing when you just think you’re the problem of people have a problem with you. It’s something else entirely when they look you right in the eye and they wound you like that; right to your face. Job is not the victim of a covert gossip campaign. Is he? They are not talking about him behind his back, sniping and mocking at him from the shadows. It’s much, much worse than that. Eliphaz, as we saw last time, Zophar and Bildad this time, they’re sitting right there while Job is weeping and mourning and scraping his wounds with broken potsherds. And they are pouring out their terrible denunciations directly to his face. And Job is in no doubt at all about what’s being said to him. If you look at chapter 19:13-20, you will see Job’s own summary. Job’s perspective of what is being done and said to him and about him. Job 19 at verse 13:
"He has put my brothers far from me and those who knew me are wholly estranged from me. My relatives have failed me; my close friends have forgotten me. Those guests in my house and my maidservants count me as a stranger. I've become a foreigner in their sight. I call to my servant but he gives no answer. I must plead with him with my mouth for mercy. My breath is strange to my wife; I am a stench to the children of my own mother. Even young children despise me. When I rise, they talk against me. All my intimate friends abhor me. And those whom I love have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.”
Everywhere he turns, people who were dear to him – servants, guests in his home, brothers, his sisters, his wife, his dearest friends, Zophar and Eliphaz and Bildad – all of them have turned from him. They’re repulsed by him. “My intimate friends abhor me. No one has any sympathy for my pain.” He’s crystal clear, isn’t he, about what is really going on here. He knows what people are saying. Eliphaz last week, Bildad and Zophar last week, he understands are really only the representatives of the dreadful talk and the scuttlebutt around town about Job. Let’s think about what Bildad has to say, first of all. Chapter 18 at verse 5. He sums up his view of what has happened to Job. Look there with me, please. Chapter 18 verse 5 – "The light of the wicked is put out. The flame of his fire does not shine." "You are wicked, Job! That's why your candle is being snuffed out!" That's the explanation.
Bildad and Zophar’s Accounts
And then what follows in the rest of the chapter as we read it together is an appalling account of what Bildad considers to be the well-deserved sufferings that ought to come Job’s way. Look at the hellish torments that Bildad says Job still has coming to him. Right to his face – can you imagine saying this stuff to someone suffering as Job already was? Look at verses 11 through 13. Terrors frighten him on every side, chase him at his heels. His strength is famished. Calamity is ready for his stumbling. It consumes the parts of his skin. The firstborn of death consumes his limbs. He’s thinking about Job’s dreadful skin disease. Isn’t he? His leprosy or whatever it was consuming Job right before his eyes. “And it’s only going to get worse, Job, and it’s all your fault!”
He concludes his charming remarks, just to make extra sure there’s no ambiguity at all of his view of Job in verse 21. Look there with me. Verse 21, “Such are the dwellings of the unrighteous. Such is the place of him who knows not God.” “So are you getting the message yet, Job? Not only are you receiving exactly what you deserve, you’re just comeuppance. But your sufferings are actually evidence. They’re proof that whatever piety or devotion you may claim to the contrary, you don’t know God at all. You don’t know God at all.” It’s pretty brutal, isn’t it?
Or take a look at Zophar and the kind of things he says to Job. Chapter 20. At the end of chapter 19, Job warns his friends, so-called, that there is judgment to come. And Zophar, at the beginning of his response, sort of bristles in outrage. “I hear censure that insults me,” he says in verse 3. He’s affronted by Job’s response. “How dare Job warn us when he’s the one so obviously already enduring the judgment of God?” And then, I can’t help but imagine with a condescending sigh, Zophar sets out to put Job right one last time. Look at chapter 20 verse 4. “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth? That the exulting of the wicked is short and the joy of the godless but for a moment. Though his height mounts up to the heavens and his head reach to the clouds, he will perish forever like his own dung.” “No matter how full of yourself you get Job, no matter how high-minded you become, you will perish like the pile of human waste you really are.” That’s what he’s saying.
Or look at verse 22. “In the fullness of his sufficiency, he will be in distress. The hand of everyone in misery will come against him to fill his belly to the full. God will send on his burning anger against him, of his wrath, and rain it upon him into his body.” Verses 25 and 26 – terrors come upon him. Utter darkness is laid up for his treasures. A fire not fanned will consume him. Verse 27 – the heavens will reveal his iniquity and the earth will rise up against him. The possessions of his house will be carried away, dragged off in the day of God’s wrath. This is the wicked man’s portion from God; the heritage decreed for him by God. It’s pretty nasty, gruesome even, graphic. “You’re going to suffer the fire of divine wrath, an unfanned fire. You know, slow burning. It will be prolonged, drawn out, Job. That’s precisely what you deserve. The shoe fits, Job. This is what the wicked deserve and the shoe fits.”
Now let me just say this in passing before we turn to think about Job’s response. Both Bildad and Zophar are using language that may very well reflect the agony of Job’s bodily sufferings – the open sores covering his body. But it is the language that we find in other parts of Scripture used to describe the wrath of God in general and the terrors of hell in particular. Isn't it? The slow-burning fire of divine wrath that Zophar seems to take such relish in describing for Job, it’s hard not to read that way. And I think there’s an exhortation here that is worth pausing to hear. The Bible does tell us that hell is real. The wrath of God is terrible indeed. And yet, when you read Jesus’ words, no one spoke about hell more than Jesus. Or you read some of the other descriptions of the judgment and wrath of God, the realities of hell in the Scripture. The tone is radically different from the tone of Bildad and Zophar. There’s a solemnity about it, a warning note that sounds, a gravity that attaches to them that belies a reluctance to speak of these dreadful things. We speak of them because we must, with the greatest of hesitation. We never talk about them with glee. We never use the wrath of God as a bludgeon to terrify others into conforming to our private program as Job’s friends seem to be doing with him. We never use the holy, righteous judgment of the Lord as a way to put others down or to win an argument. There’s nothing more diabolical, there’s nothing more hellish than someone who claims to speak for God like Bildad and Zophar who speak with such hostility and lovelessness about the judgment that is to come.
Once, when Robert Murray M’Cheyne inquired of his friend, Andrew Bonar, what he had been preaching on that past Sunday, Bonar told him that he had been preaching on the subject of hell. To which M’Cheyne famously asked, “Did you preach it with tears?” Did you preach it with tears? That’s really the only way to speak about it. Isn’t it? With an awesome sense of the horror of it. With a catch in your voice and a heart that melts in love for those facing the possibility, the awful possibility of a lost eternity apart from Jesus Christ. Writing to the Philippians, Paul reminded them “of the many of whom I have told you often, and even now tell you with tears, who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction.” Paul is weeping as he writes, thinking of the names and faces of people who are hostile to Jesus Christ, knowing the wrath of God and the judgment to come, longing that they might be delivered but fearing that they will resist.
Sometimes we must warn people of the wrath to come. Job himself, as we’re going to see, will do exactly that a little later on. But we must never do it in the tones of Bildad and Zophar who seem to take such delight in pouring out upon poor Job their venom, disguised as the word of the Lord. We are to speak about it with tears. We are to speak about it shrinking back, daring only to speak because constrained by love we must. We must warn people to flee the wrath to come and point them to the only Deliverer – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well so much for Bildad and Zophar. What about Job? How does he deal with it all? That’s our question, isn’t it? How in the world does he handle it? He doesn’t repay evil for evil. There’s no venom for Bildad or Zophar on Job’s lips. It’s remarkable. How about you? How would you deal with it? When your boss puts pressure on you telling you you’re not a team player. “You know, I may have to look elsewhere for that promotion” because you refused to lie to that client for him. What do you do when people say, “We think you think you’re better than us because you refuse to join in their excesses on a Friday night.” Godliness, remember, is an irritant in the festering wounds of an unbeliever’s conscience. And when they see quiet, consistent, repentant, determined, broken-hearted faithfulness to Jesus in you, I guarantee it, at least sometimes, some of your friends will not react well. And so our question is, “If it comes, when it comes, how will we deal with it?”
Well, notice how Job deals with it. The bulk of chapter 19 is an attempt to explain to Bildad the real nature of his sufferings; to try and help Bildad see, from Job's point of view, what's really going on. He insists, as we've heard him insist already, that he is a righteous sufferer. Now, Job is mistaken. He does not understand the role of Satan in his afflictions and he thinks somehow God Himself has turned His back upon him illegitimately and mysteriously. He does not understand, given that he is not guilty, verse 6 for example of chapter 19 – "Know then that God has put me in the wrong and closed His net about me. I don't get it." But don't miss the extraordinary words of hope. We read them a few moments ago together as we read from verse 23. Look there with me. Even though he's confused, even though he doesn't understand, even though it's mysterious, even though he thinks perhaps God has turned somehow against him, look at these words at verse 23. "Oh that my words were written, oh that they were inscribed in a book, oh that with an iron pen and led they were engraved in the rock forever. For I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last, he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has thus been destroyed, yet, in my flesh, I shall see God. Whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and not another. My heart yearns within me. If you shall say, ‘How shall we pursue him?’ and ‘The root of the matter is in him,’ be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword that you may know there is a judgment.”
Two things here that explain how Job deals with the poison and the venom and the wounding words that have come his way. First, Job is full of hope for personal vindication. Full of hope for personal vindication. And secondly, he’s full of hope for future retribution. Personal vindication and future retribution.
Think about personal vindication first; 23 and 24. He wants his words somehow recorded in a book for posterity. I can’t help but wonder if right now in heaven one of the things that thrills Job’s heart is the way that that desire has been fulfilled. We are reading them together right now, after all. Aren’t we? Though Job himself had no idea of it when he said them, he was merely pouring out his longing for justice, for someone, somewhere, sometime to remember him and vindicate his cause. And then something surprising happens as he’s giving vent to this longing to be remembered and vindicated, verse 25 through 27 we have this extraordinary declaration of faith. He seems to see through his sorrows to his only Redeemer. Up till now, he said he knows several things. He said he knows he is suffering innocently. He knows God is being unfair to him. He said he knows he is going to die, perhaps without vindication. And now, almost without any warning or preamble to give us a hint of it coming in the passage, the gloom of all of that is shattered and the clouds break and the sunlight of future hope pours in. Now he knows something else. Now he knows his Redeemer lives.
The word he uses for “redeemer” is an important one. You probably know it. It’s the little Hebrew word, “go’el” – a “go’el” is a kinsman-redeemer, a close relative, who could fulfill legal obligations on your behalf that you could not fulfill. You remember Boaz. He is a close relative and he is able to be a redeemer to Ruth and to Naomi and to do for them what they could not do for themselves. And Job says, "I have a redeemer. I know I have a redeemer who lives, who will act for me, who will do for me what I could not do for myself, who will bear a cost and pay a price I cannot pay and cannot bear." He has a rescuer. Notice the identity of the rescuer. Verses 25 and 26 are written to be parallel to one another. "I know that my redeemer lives. At the last, he shall stand upon the earth" – that's the first line. "After my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God" – the second line. The second line amplifies and clarifies and explains the first line. In verse 25, the figure who provides this hope is the kinsman-redeemer. In verse 26, it is God Himself. The one who lives, who is Job's rescuer, his redeemer, who will stand on the earth after Job is dead and yet whom Job knows he will nevertheless see in his flesh, Job somehow knows will be God Himself. After he's dead, Job has hope. God Himself will step onto the scene and vindicate Job so that death will not be the end for him. The skin that was destroyed shall one day be restored, and in his flesh, he shall see God in glorious resurrection victory.
Now we know who the Redeemer is. Don’t we? And quite literally, God did step onto the scene of human history. He really did stand on the earth, under which Job’s bones lay buried in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is Job’s kinsman-redeemer, his close relative, the one who would do for Job what Job could not do for himself. The God who became man, in Job’s own nature, suffered desertion and mockery and persecution and agony of body and soul and mind, who really did bear – Job isn’t bearing it, but He really did bear the sentence of divine rejection for sin. And also, that Job might be counted righteous and vindicated and acquitted and justified in the sight of the Lord. Job’s response to injustice and hurtful, spiteful speech, from people he thought were his friends, was not to hate them back. It wasn’t to wallow in self-pity. It wasn’t to nurse a grudge. It was to look to the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel, to cling to the truth that “I have a Redeemer. One who will be my vindicator, who will justify me.” What ultimately matters, you see, what Job somehow seems to have understood, is not what other people say about us. It is the verdict of God in Jesus Christ that matters. And if your confidence is in your Redeemer, God’s verdict over you is justified, righteous, and beloved.
If we trust in Christ, God counts us righteous, whatever our so-called friends may count us. And grasping that, clinging to that, can help us not repay evil with evil but to repay evil with good. Job has hope for personal vindication. Do you have hope for personal vindication? Are you trusting in the Redeemer, the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ? He can be and is the only vindication you need. In Him, God will count you righteous, even in the face of the slanders of a dark and wicked world. Personal vindication.
And then, very quickly, future retribution. The other side of our hope of our own justification is that evil will one day be vanquished. When our Redeemer comes, He will come not simply to be the Rescuer of all His people, but the Judge of all who have rejected Him. And Job now reminds Bildad and Zophar of that, if you look at verses 28 and 29. “If you say, ‘How shall we pursue him?’ and the root of the matter is found in him, be afraid of the sword for yourselves. For wrath brings the punishment of the sword that you may know there is a judgment.” Job is trying to help his friends understand since there’s hope for all those who trust in the Redeemer, there is none for those who deny Him. Bildad and Zophar were trusting in their own righteousness and denouncing Job for his lack of it. Job’s confidence lay not in himself, but in a Redeemer who lives. Bildad and Zophar have no such hope. And so Job, here, strikes that note we were talking about earlier just right. There’s no gloating vindictiveness as he warns them of the judgment to come. But there is honesty and realism and a note of warning they need to hear.
And let me say this just before we close. There are, I think, depths of suffering – there may be wounds some of you in the room here tonight are carrying; things that have been done to you, said about you, that you carry that you know that in all likelihood this side of the new creation there will be no earthly justice done for you. That may well be true. That’s what Job seems to feel here. But he also knows that one day justice will be done, though he may not live to see it, this side of the new creation. But justice will be done. There is a judgment. Evil doesn’t win. Righteousness will triumph. And though it may wound us and grieve us to say it, there is peace for hurting hearts who need justice in the knowledge that God Himself, the Judge of all the earth, will do right one day. And you can find refuge there, in the God who says, “Vengeance is mine and I will repay.” You don’t have to extract a pound of flesh, you don’t have to fight evil with evil, you don’t have to hit back. You can appeal to the Judge of all the earth and meekly submit to Him and His sovereignty knowing that your Redeemer lives, and trusting that there will be a day of vindication and retribution when all loose ends will be tied off at last and justice will be done.
So may the Lord help us, may the Lord help us when wounding words are hurled in our faces to love those who wound us, to point them to the only Redeemer who may rescue them, and perhaps even with tears to warn them to flee the wrath to come while we make our appeal to the Judge of all the earth who will surely do right. Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we confess to You that this does not come naturally to us. It's hard. When we are hurt, we want to hurt back. When we are wounded, we want to wound. Would You forgive us when we've been the instrument of injury in others when, in our own anger or frustration or bitterness, we've lashed out. Forgive us even when we've used sacred things, spoken of holy truth and made it an instrument to hurt or belittle or self-aggrandize. Instead, would You teach us the truth that Job, perhaps dimly and yet truly has found for himself – that our Redeemer lives and what really matters is not what men may say about us, but Your verdict. Do You say over us, "Justified, righteous, accepted in the Beloved"? Is that the truth about us because we trust in Jesus? What really matters is not that we see earthly justice done, but that evil will not prevail in the end and that the Judge of all the earth will do right and accounts will all one day be settled at last. Help us to make our appeal to You and make us instruments of blessing and not of cursing, not a burden, but brothers and sisters who lighten and bear one another's loads. For we ask it in Jesus' name, amen.