Job 15-17:What Do You Do When People Just Don’t Get Your Pain?

Today’s Reading


Veiled insults, a form of passive agressive behavior, surely have been around since the beginning of time. They come in many forms like, “Hey Jimbob, you’ve really been packing on the weight lately . . . just kidding.” We’ll we have all been there when we know that deep down the person who was “just kidding,” was actually very serious.  Well, in today’s reading, Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, has chosen to really let Job have it, while not actually saying that it was Job he was talking about.  In this text he talks about what happens to a “wicked man,” when we all know (Job included) who Eliphaz is really talking about.

20     All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him. 21     Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him. 22     He despairs of escaping the darkness; he is marked for the sword. 23     He wanders about—food for vultures; he knows the day of darkness is at hand. 24     Distress and anguish fill him with terror;

they overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack, 25     because he shakes his fist at God

and vaunts himself against the Almighty, 26     defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield. 27     “Though his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh, 28     he will inhabit ruined towns and houses where no one lives, houses crumbling to rubble. 29     He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land.

30     He will not escape the darkness; a flame will wither his shoots, and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away. 31     Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return. 32     Before his time he will be paid in full, and his branches will not flourish. 33     He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms. 34     For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes. 35     They conceive trouble and give birth to evil; their womb fashions deceit.”


This attack on the character of Job comes in two parts. First of all, he describes what the life of the wicked man under God’s chastening hand is like. Remarkably, it is a lot like Job’s life.  Secondly, he describes what the life of Job will be like in the future, viz., not much better than the present.  In this diatribe, Eliphaz is condemning Job to a present and future filled with bitter and awful times.  In fact, he feels emboldened in his opinion because presumably, no one in the heavens is with Job  and neither is any wise man on earth.  “The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father” (Job 15:10).  These words come from a man emboldened from the uniform voice of authority.  Eliphaz is not saying these things based on his authority, but upon the authority of the great understanding of the wise of this world.  A throng who believe in the law of retribution, i.e., a man will get what he gives.  Such a position is inferior to the law of grace, but this is the way that wise men thought and think and Job is all alone in a world in which there is God with his veiled purposes and the wise of the world and their veiled threats.  Job is in the most maddening position that any man of his stature and reputation could be. He is accused of wickedness that he has never committed by men who assume that God acts as mechanically as a Swiss clock.


So, here the situation stands very clear for Eliphaz.  God is very predictable for him and the ways of God are well defined for him and so he forgets that God is a being who is free to act in any way he wishes.  While we could fault Eliphaz for this mistake here, the reality is that this is a common mistake in our day.  We must never forget that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). While we have the benefit of the whole of Scripture to teach us this, Elipahz had no such advantage.  It is the fact that God is not a God of pure reciprocity but that he is a God of grace as his character shown forth from for all to see when Jesus cried out from the cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:43).”


Times of prosperity reinforce the law of retribution.   When things are going well for us, we believe that this is how it ought to be as we naturally have a high view of ourselves.  It is in the midst of the despair of loss that we begin to see things somewhat differently.  Job is beginning to see that God does not deal with us all in the same way and he is also beginning to realize that the law of retribution doesn’t always apply.  Job deals with this in two ways.


First, Job has come to realize that these men cannot understand that which they have never been taught.  Throughout their lives, these men have generally seen the law of retribution at work – when they work hard, they are rewarded.  When they were lazy, they found themselves in want.  God had spared them from experiences as Job suffered when he seemed to be doing things right while everything actually went wrong.  Job now has come to grips with this reality as he is all alone in this situation and it is pointless to continue to try to get his friends to understand him. He admits this in 17:4, “you have closed their minds to understanding; therefore you will not let them triumph.”  Job understands that these men need God to do something to help them understand his predicament.  Job has resigned himself to the reality that without God’s intervention, there is no hope that they will understand his plight. 


The second thing that we see here that is quite amazing and that God is teaching Job here is about grace.  Job knows his own character and he knows that he has done nothing that would lead to this kind of punishment.  Therefore, once again, he is beginning that God is doing his work in our lives while we suffer.  Amazingly, Job is learning compassion in this time of extreme difficulty. After being scolded by Eliphaz he begins with a startling admission of compassion towards his accusers,


 “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters you are all!  Will your long-winded speeches never end?  What ails you that you keep on arguing?  I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.  But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (Job 16:2-5). 


Job was now beginning to understand that God does not always work according to our expectations or our schedule.  It has been said that that the famous theologian, Karl Barth had once exclaimed, “it is not we who have God under the microscope, but it is God who has us underneath it.” 


So how did Job deal with these guys who didn’t get it?  He realized that only God could show them and took the pressure off himself to prove it to them.  At this point he knew that it was only God’s opinion that mattered.  Secondly, he began to realize that God doesn’t always work the way we think that he should.  Job was beginning to realize what grace is all about and even in the face of this withering attack against him, he could still say that if the shoe was on the other foot and they in his position, he would encourage and comfort them rather than condemn them.  Job is beginning to get it.


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