Now if you would take a Bible and turn with me to the book of Job as we continue our overview of the teaching of the book of Job. You remember the situation. Job is suffering terribly and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, have showed up and after seven days of sitting in silence, they've begun to offer their point of view, their perspective, to try and set Job straight, as they would see it, on the explanation for his sufferings. In their view, remember, it was all Job's fault. He is simply getting what he deserves. We know better, of course, from the opening chapters of the book. We know that Job is not suffering as punishment for a particular sin. Rather, he is suffering in the wise and mysterious ordering of the sovereign providence of God, he is suffering because of satanic attack in order that Job’s fidelity and faithfulness and trust in the Lord might shine the more brightly and the Lord might be vindicated and Satan defeated. But that’s not how his three friends saw things at all. And we’ve listened now to each of them in turn, actually twice over, attempting to set Job straight, actually with dreadful and wounding results. Haven’t we?
And this evening, we are turning our attention to chapters 22 through 26, and this is, if you like, the last round. Eliphaz and Bildad – Zophar stays silent – Eliphaz and Bildad take one last swing at Job before a new character steps onto the stage; a man named Elihu. And we’ll come to him, God willing, next time. So tonight we’re going to survey the argument that Eliphaz and Bildad offer as they wrap up their case against Job. And I want you to see that at the heart of Eliphaz’s argument is a terrible distortion of the truth. And at the heart of Bildad’s argument is an equally terrible omission of truth. And at the heart of Job’s reply, we are going to see wonderful submission both to the Word and to the will of God. You might say here are three possible options confronting us, or available to us, as we try to understand the sometimes perplexing mysteries of suffering as it erupts into our lives at times. It can be inexplicable. How do we respond?
Well, there are three options in the chapters before us. You can distort the truth in order to try and make sense of it all. You can omit vital truth in an attempt to make sense of it all. Or, like Job, you can learn to submit to the Word and to the will of God. And so that’s our outline. Because we are dealing with a large body of text, obviously we don’t have the time to read it all. Let me commend it to you in your own reading and study and reflection. We are going to focus on the words of Job’s response to Eliphaz in chapter 23. But do keep your Bibles open, please, in chapters 22 through 26 and try to follow with me as we address some of the material that we find here. Before we read Job chapter 23 on page 432 of the pew Bibles, let me ask you please to join me as we pray together. Let’s pray.
O God, You know our hearts and You know how fragile we can be, particularly in the crucible of suffering when we don’t understand why, in Your hard providence, we endure what we endure. And in those moments, we acknowledge that the temptation is very real to distort the truth, to misunderstand, to accuse You or to twist reality or twist the truth of Your Word to fit our circumstances. Or to omit vital truth, to overly simplify; perhaps even at times to collapse into despair. Help us, please, by this portion of Your Word this evening to learn instead the difficult path, to walk the difficult path of submission in faith, trusting the living God who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Job chapter 23. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Then Job answered and said:
‘Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food. But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; yet I am not silenced because of the darkness, nor because thick darkness covers my face.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.
Eliphaz and His Distortion
Like many young boys, when I was a kid, I loved to play with Lego. I think my boys, early on, caught that habit from me. One constant temptation for me – I had a big bucket full of Lego bricks – and one constant temptation when I couldn’t find the brick that I needed is to try and, you know, break a bigger brick into a smaller piece and sort of somehow fit it in there, usually with a pretty unhappy result, frankly! Now there are times in our understanding of the world, aren’t there, when things don’t seem to make sense; when we can’t make it all fit. When we feel like the resources we have available to us for making sense of it all just fail us and we’re left wondering what’s going on. Why doesn’t it all make sense anymore? In those moments, the great temptation is to try, like a little boy with Lego bricks, to try and force things, to try and manipulate things or distort things or break things up to make them fit when they don’t seem to fit naturally. And the result, of course, for our spiritual lives when we do that, when we give into that temptation, is never a happy one. It always leads us to distort the truth. In order to make sense of the world and resolve some of our ambiguity about why things are the way they are, we easily opt for twisted, warped conclusions because they, at least, seem to offer some answers. But their impact, if we embrace them, is far more dangerous than the mystery that provoked them in the first place.
And that’s what’s happening in the argument of Eliphaz in chapter 22. Would you turn there with me for a moment and let’s consider the things that Eliphaz has to say to Job. He takes the first option and responds to inexplicable suffering. He distorts the truth. If you cast your eye over the chapter, you’ll see that Eliphaz argues, as we’ve seen him do before, for a kind of prosperity gospel that urges Job to turn to God, and if he will, well then God will certainly make him healthy and happy and rich once again. Back in chapter 4 when we first encountered Eliphaz, he claimed to be the recipient, do you remember this, of a private, divine revelation, telling Eliphaz that the reason Job was suffering was because Job was a dreadful sinner and if only Job would repent then everything would be back to normal once again. He said, Job 4:17, Eliphaz says that he heard in the night this question, “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before is maker?” Eliphaz was given a revelation that told him, the fact is, Job, despite his protestations to the contrary, Job is not righteous; he is a wicked man. And that’s why he’s suffering.
And here in chapter 22, verses 2 and 3, he uses very similar language, almost as though he were paraphrasing and applying the message of his night revelations and applying them to Job’s case once again. “Can a man be profitable to God?” he asks. “Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it any gain to him if you make your ways blameless?” Now his argument, do you see it, is this – “It’s not for God’s sake that we need to be righteous. God isn’t affected by our blameless lives one way or another. No, it is for our own sake we need to do the right thing. Do what’s good, Job, and good will come. Do what’s bad, and bad will come. He who is wise is profitable to himself.”
Now you see the distortion of the truth there. There is a real sense, isn’t there, in which God is not affected by anything that we do. God doesn’t change. We never put God in our debt. Romans 11:33 – “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things.” That’s right on. But Eliphaz distorts that truth horribly when he suggests that God is indifferent to righteousness. That righteousness only matters because of the benefit to us that it may bring.
And the distortion continues, beginning in verse 4 and running all the way through verse 20. If you'll look there with me, please. Eliphaz argues, since Job is suffering terribly, it must be that he is unrighteous. "Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you and enters into judgment with you? Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities." You get the drift of his point of view. God presides as an unfeeling and aloof judge over the lives of human beings, doling out the good life for good people and pouring out misery on those who deserve it. And boy, does Job deserve what he gets! At least according to Eliphaz.
He says, first, that Job is guilty of public sin. Look at verses 6 through 11. "You have exacted pledges from your brother for nothing and stripped the naked of their clothing. You have given no water to the weary to drink and you have withheld bread from the hungry. The man with power possess the land and the favored man lived in it. You've sent widows away empty and the arms of the fatherless were crushed. Therefore, snares are all around you and sudden terror overwhelms you, or darkness so that you cannot see and a flood of waters covers you." It's a list of trumped-up charges; a dodgy dossier of manufactured evidence. Job is being set up. One commentator puts it this way. He says, "These are the most specific, most harsh, and most unjudged words spoken against Job in the whole book." They are simply not true.
But having embraced the distortion of the truth, Eliphaz now has to bend reality to fit his convictions. And notice how he goes on. He argues there are public sins in Job’s life, but there are also secret sins of which Job is guilty that, somehow, Eliphaz is able to divine. You see them in verses 12 through 20. For example, verse 13, we are told that Job is guilty of saying to himself, “What does God know? Can he judge through the deep darkness that clouds veil him so that he does not see and he walks on the vault of heaven?” These are the words that Eliphaz is putting in Job’s mouth. “God can’t see what I am up to in the dark!” Now in one form or another, people say that to themselves all the time, don’t they, as they rationalize their secret sins? “God can’t see what I’m up to in the dark.”
But you get what’s happening in Eliphaz’s argument. Eliphaz has not only invented public offenses with which to condemn Job, he now begins to impugn his motives. And when people do that, when they start reading motivation into action, things start getting really painful. Don’t they? When people start judging your motives, the secret thoughts and intentions of your heart, things become particularly wounding.
And then just as he seems to be twisting the knife, notice how Eliphaz suddenly appears to change tack. He sounds almost conciliatory. In verses 21 through 30, he wants Job to know all he needs to do to reverse the judgment of God is repent of his sin! Verse 23, "If you return to the Almighty, you will be built up. If you remove injustice far from your tents, if you lay gold in the dust and the gold of Ophir, among the stones of the torrent-bed, then the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver. For then, you will delight yourself in the Almighty and lift up your face to God." Eliphaz is implying that Job had made his now-lost fortune by shady dealings. And if he'd only just admit that, if he'd just acknowledge that he really is as wicked as Eliphaz says that he is, well then the Almighty would become his gold and precious silver. He'd be able to delight himself in the Almighty, at last, verse 26. He would be able to pray. And finally, finally, Job has been praying and that the heavens have been like brass above his head, finally, Eliphaz says to him, "You'll have an answer from God," verse 27. There's a certain alluring temptation behind those words. "Just see it my way, Job. Just come clean and acknowledge I'm right, you're wrong; you're wicked. That's why you're suffering." Even beautiful words, as Eliphaz says, there will be a sweet reconciliation between you and the Almighty at last. "Isn't that what you long for, Job?"
But sometimes, you know, the worst poison, the worst poison tastes the sweetest. The operating assumption behind everything Eliphaz says is – “If you sin, you will suffer. If you repent and turn to God, He’ll bless you and everything will be okay.” It’s a distortion of the truth, and it’s one we need to be honest enough with ourselves to admit can still haunt even the most mature Christian believer at times. Think about it. There are seasons of inexplicable difficulty that you fall into and you have no answers for it. You feel like you’re doing everything right. You’re praying. We’re serving. We’re giving. We’re witnessing. We love the Lord. We’re trusting in Christ. We’re far from perfect, to be sure, but we try to keep short accounts with God. We own our sin. We’re clinging to the Lord Jesus. We’re walking with the Lord, and yet still it seems like our prayers are falling on deaf ears. And instead of deliverance from suffering, each bend in the road reveals more trials waiting for us just ahead. And so we start questioning, albeit in the quiet darkness where no one can hear us, but we start questioning if perhaps we did something; if God is punishing us somehow. If He’s withholding His affection from us. Has He maybe even washed His hands of us at last.
You see, there remains deep down in our hearts a hard-to-root-out works righteousness that lives in fear, even though we know better, that unless we somehow qualify for the blessing of God by our own goodness and performance, He might still yank the carpet out from under our feet and withdraw His love and be entirely right and justified in doing it. What a terrible distortion of the character of God that is. We need reminding, don’t we, I need reminding, that God’s grace is not conditioned upon our goodness. As Paul puts it in Romans 11 verse 6, if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise, grace would no longer be grace. Grace, by definition, is free, you see. "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not of works, that no one may boast." By the works of the law, no one shall be justified. Eliphaz just doesn't seem to get that, at all. He thinks Job can get back into God's good books by doing the right thing. And if we're honest with ourselves, sometimes so do we. We think we can work our way out of the hole into which we feel we have fallen. Well in a moment, we're going to see how Job responds. But do you see clearly, I hope you do, the distortion of Eliphaz's argument that very easily reappears in our hearts as we begin to wonder if, perhaps, God is really for us after all. It's a distortion of the truth; it's not the truth. It's a distortion of the truth.
Bildad and His Omissions
But notice, before we turn to Job’s reply, Bildad’s attempt at setting Job straight. First, Eliphaz and his distortion. Now, Bildad and his omissions. Look with me in chapter 25 for a moment. Bildad essentially tells us two things. They’re both sound and orthodox and actually, wonderfully precious. First, Bildad reminds Job that God is utterly transcendent and glorious. Look at chapter 25 verse 2. “Dominion and fear are with God. He makes peace in his high heaven. Is there any number to his armies? Upon whom does his light not arise? God is mighty, vast and immense, utterly and gloriously transcendent.” Bildad is quite right. And then the second thing he reminds Job, equally important and true, is that human beings are totally depraved. God is utterly transcendent and human beings are totally depraved. Verses 4 through 6 of chapter 25, “How then can man be right before God? How is he who is born of a woman be pure? Behold, even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes. How much less man, who is a maggot, and a son of man, who is a worm?” Not only is God utterly transcendent, every human being is a guilty sinner. We are totally depraved.
What’s the problem? It’s not what he says, is it? What he says is right on. The problem is what he doesn’t say. Eliphaz commits the sin of commission. He distorts the truth. Bildad, on the other hand, commits the sin of omission. He leaves out vital, coordinate truths that Job and we badly need to hear, never more so than when inexplicable suffering begins to etch itself into our hearts. And the result of Bildad’s point of view is a pretty depressing vision of reality. Isn’t it? God is utterly transcendent, which means, of course, you cannot possibly get to Him. And human beings are totally depraved, so why ever would He condescend to care for you in the first place?
You see what he's left out? Bildad has no room at all for rescue; no place for redemption. No category for the divine condescension and love that reaches down, stoops down to the weak and the guilty and the helpless and delivers them. And so Bildad's theology here collapses into a dreadful kind of fatalism. And we've all seen that sort of deterministic pessimism in friends and loved ones as the darkness of depression and suffering closes over their heads. Sometimes, perhaps, we've seen it in ourselves truth be told. "Nothing can change. Things are as bad as they can be. I am a hopeless case! God doesn't want to know me. Why would He? What a wretched thing I am?" I wonder if that is your inner narrative. Is that what you say to yourself and about yourself? You may have a great doctrine of divine transcendence and confess an orthodox, glorious doctrine of the Almighty God, a clear view of the depravity and wickedness of the human heart, festering sinkhole of sin that it is. But if those are the only truths that dominate your horizon, no wonder you have no hope! But if along with the transcendence of God and the depravity of human beings you have an equally clear view of the love of God in Jesus Christ, you'll be able to say with Jack Miller, "Good news, you are much worse than you realized and far more loved than you thought possible." You can despair of yourself without despairing altogether because you can anchor your hope in the God who loves you, despite you, in His Son, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.
Job and His Submission
And that’s the third option, actually, that Job models for us. Neither distortion or omission, but submission to the Word and to the will of the Lord. You can see it most clearly in chapter 23, verses 8 through 12. Rather than try to get through everything Job has to say, let’s just focus our attention there. Chapter 23:8-12:
“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”
To God’s Word
It's not distortion or omission, but submission in two ways – to the Word of God and to the will of God. Verse 12, "I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food." Where else are you going to find a proper explanation and clear guidance through the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death? Not from your so-called friends, Job. All they spew out is poison and vitriol and distortions of the truth. No, you'll find the answers in the Word of God. In the Word of God, where you will hear clear overtures of His love for the weak and the guilty and the helpless. Instead of the distortions of Eliphaz and his prosperity teaching or the human despair of the man as maggot theology of Bildad, you need the solid rock of, "The Bible says…" Only there can you find an anchor for your soul in the whirlwind that is at once realistic and reassuring. It will tell you the truth about yourself, but it will offer you hope nevertheless. You are a sinner without hope in yourself, for sure, but here is God not only transcendent, but marvelously condescending and gracious. Slow to anger but abounding in covenant love. He loves the world so much that He gives His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life. Here's a God who stoops down and reaches out to sinners and sufferers.
The Bible, the Word of God, is going to say to you in your lowest and darkest moments that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. When the narrative of the world, and the narrative perhaps even of your friends, certainly the narrative of your own conscience distorts the truth, misunderstands the truth, omits the truth, the Word of God will say to you, “There is hope,” not because you keep yourself, but because you are kept by the power of God unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time. The Lord has got you and His hand will hold you fast and never let you go. We need, don’t we, therefore, to submit to the Word of God. That is where Job seems to find an anchor in the storm.
Have you neglected the Bible as you’ve descended into that downward spiral into the gloom and darkness of your suffering? Have you neglected the Word of God? Perhaps you’ve been listening to every other voice, your own voice perhaps most of all, and you need to hear the voice of God telling you, yes, the bad news about yourself, but the good news about His Son, that there is yet hope if you would but trust Him. Job submits to the Word of God.
To God’s Will
He also submits to the will of God. Verses 8 through 10, Job is lost in a maze. That’s the language he uses. He wants to find God. He doesn’t understand how his suffering fits in God’s plan. He can see no justice in his agony. God is far away. Answers are not forthcoming. He’s lost in a maze. He moves forward, he says, in search of the Lord. He can’t perceive him, verse 8. He turns to the left hand to look for him “and I do not behold him.” He sees movement on his peripheral vision to the right hand and he turns there in search of the Lord, “but I do not see him,” verse 9. He runs into dead-end after dead-end after dead-end. Does that sound familiar? You’re looking for answers and you’re not finding them. You’re calling out to God and He does not seem to be answering you. Where is He? What’s happening? Why is it happening? It’s bewildering, he says. “I’m lost in the maze.”
But look how he finds his way out of the maze. Verse 10, “I can’t find God. I can’t make sense of all of this. I don’t get it. But, here’s my confidence while I wander in the maze. He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. I don’t know where God is, but He knows where I am. I can’t see Him. I’m surrounded by dense clouds and thick darkness, but His eye penetrates the darkness and never loses sight of me. I feel lost because I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what’s happening or what waits for me around the next bend. But I am not lost, because God knows where I am.”
Suffering Christian, do not give into the false teaching that seems to offer shortcuts to blessing and a quick way around pain. Don’t buy the counsel of despair either. Instead, learn to live with the reality. Some things are too hard for us to grasp. Some mysteries are unfathomable. And that’s okay. We don’t need to know why. We don’t need to know why. We just need to know the One who knows why. Don’t we? We don’t need to know why. We just need to know the One who knows why. “He knows the way that I take.”
And notice also, Job seems to discern that there is a purpose in his suffering. It’s not aimless. Here’s precious truth – that suffering and trials are never aimless in the life of a child of God. Verse 10 again, “When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” The word for “try” there means to put a precious metal through a process of smelting, of refining. Impurities will be burned up. Pure gold remains. Job is saying his sufferings are, at least in part, God’s refining work in his life. The apostle Peter, maybe reflecting on these very words, echoes that same conviction. Doesn’t he? 1 Peter chapter 1 verses 6 and 7, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” Their grieving trials have come. But they’ve come that “the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, you love.”
That was Job’s settled conviction. Though he did not know much, this much he knew. He embraced the ambiguity of mysterious suffering in a sovereign God’s world. He lived with his questions, not knowing the answers, but he did know clearly two truths. Didn’t he? He knows that God’s eye is always on him in his trials. Even when he can’t see God, God always sees him. Even when he cannot feel the grip of His embrace, nothing can break it. For all that, it is an unbreakable grip and nothing can separate us from it. And secondly, he knows that God is working in it all. Somehow, He’s working in it all to refine his faith and shape his character. That’s what God is doing in your sufferings and in mine, in our daily trials. He’s refining your character. He’s making you like His Son. He’s teaching you to trust Him in the maze to begin to say with Job, “Even when I can’t see Him, I know He sees me. He knows the way that I take, and though He try me, I will come forth as gold one day.”
When testing times come, God is refining your faith. He’s trying to make you like His Son, the Lord Jesus. The truly Christian response to the nightmares of inexplicable suffering is not to try and explain them away or tie up all the loose ends. It is, rather, to bow before the Lord and confess our confidence in Him, knowing that His eye is on you and you’re not lost. You’re not lost. He keeps you. And because He does, one day you will come out the other side, shining and radiant with the finished character of Jesus reflecting from you, when at last you see Him face to face.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we confess to You that there are times, wandering in the maze, when the darkness of despair can take over. And instead of faith, unbelief gets its talons into us. There are other times when we omit the truth and we distort the truth, simply to try to make it easier and make sense of it all somehow. Help us not to take shortcuts, nor to descend into despair, but to find that safe place Job seems to have found where, listening to the truth of Your Word, being anchored in the promises of hope in holy Scripture, good news in Jesus Christ, he was able to confess that though he can’t see You, he knows You see him and You know the way that he takes. And though You test him, he will come forth as gold. Help us to make that our confession also, in the worst of trials for the glory of God. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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