A Panting Soul | Tom J. Nettles

by | Feb 1, 2024 | Old Testament, Practical Theology, Systematic Theology


We are moving toward 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. Zophar has given his final resentful brutalization of Job (chapter 20). Two more clumsy attempts at applicatory remain.

In Job 22, Eliphaz vents his anger at Job in a rant against Job’s conduct and again calls him to repentance for restoration to favor. He makes wild, unwarranted, and unverifiable accusations against Job. “Is not your evil abundant?” he asked. He accuses Job of greed, cruelty, possessiveness, and favoritism toward the powerful. (Job denies the charges in very specific ways in chapter 29:12-17 and chapter 31).  These sins, (“Therefore”) have brought on Job’s present calamity (22:10, 11) Later Job will counter that temporal calamity is not a quid pro quo response from God. Often the wicked have peace even in the midst of their horrible wrong-doing (24:18-23).

Eliphaz represents Job as treating God as if he were ignorant of the ways of men. Job, so the accusation implies, manifests an unwarranted self-righteousness even in the face of the evidence that God punishes the wicked while the righteous rejoice in the quick justice of God (22:12-20). 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.

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.”). He observes that God does not inflict immediate judgment on the wicked for their crimes.

It is true that God is in deep darkness, and Job searches for some key to gain an audience with God. If he knew where to find him, Job could present his case. That presently he has not discovered the way to “find him” does not mean that God is unobservant. Could Job find the right words and the right arguments, he knows God would listen. God must be addressed in conformity to his character and his revelation. “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Even though he is omnipotent (6), God would not refuse to listen to the case of an upright man.

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. “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (8-10). In the beautiful progress of revelation, we find that Job’s surmising and developing conviction gains great clarity. “And we know,” wrote the apostle Paul, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NASB). Farther along in the progress of revelation, Peter gives precision to this developing conviction of Job: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes though tried by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love” (1 Peter 1:6-8).

Job 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. Rather, his hunger for God’s presence and knowledge of his immutable purpose has increased. Job has “treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (11, 12).

God has purposes built on his unchangeable decrees—“And what his soul desires, that he does” (13). 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 (14, 15). Nevertheless, Job does not allow the mystery and the immutable decree to stop him from wanting an audience with God. Neither the mental darkness nor the emotional gloom has silenced his quest (17).

The mystery of God’s decree extends not only to the unexplained affliction of pain and loss on the one who has “not departed from the command of his lips,” (23:12). Also, Job’s words in chapter 24 give a sober reminder that one must think with a sense of mystery when face to face with the reality that there is no clear pattern of judgment and punishment visible for those that plot, plan, purpose, and lay in wait for evil.

The poor and the widows are ground to dust by rapacious men and yet they continue with apparent free hand. “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 (2-12) while Job sought to give relief. They are murderers (14), while Job sought to protect life in every circumstance. They are adulterers, not merely by the flash of a sudden impulse of lust, but by a well-developed scheme (15-17). Job has systematically and by clearly expressed principle avoided these evils. 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 evil persons eventually will be cut off (24, 25), even as he knows that he eventually will be vindicated (23:10). More convinced than ever is Job that his Redeemer lives.

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