If God Be Against Us | Tom J. Nettles

by | Jan 2, 2024 | Old Testament, Practical Theology

*Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment in a 9-part series on the book of Job by Dr. Tom J. Nettles. As more installments are released, each part of the series will be linked to each post.

To read part 1, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/have-you-considered-job-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 2, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-heavenly-origin-of-earthly-events-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 3, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-name-of-the-lord-is-to-be-blessed-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 4, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/it-is-your-fault-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 5, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/it-is-very-difficult-to-discuss-a-matter-with-god-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 6, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/if-god-will-just-listen-to-me-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 7, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/if-god-be-against-us-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 8, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/if-god-be-for-us-tom-j-nettles/

To read part 9, click here: https://cbtseminary.org/write-my-words-tom-j-nettles/

We now begin to look at the second cycle of speeches by Job’s friends and the corresponding responses of Job. It includes a more intensified version of the same theological ideas of the accusers, an excursion into bitterness on the part of Job, the brushing aside of the shallow impertinence of his interlocutors’ arguments, and a deepening of his own determination to discover the divine rationale behind his experience.

In his original speech, Eliphaz concentrated on the oppressed condition of Job as an indication of divine displeasure over Job’s supposed secret sin. In this speech, Eliphaz first condemns Job for his impertinent and meaningless talk, for his lack of submission to the moral concepts of the friends’ advice, and then returns to the idea that Job is suffering because he is evil.

Job’s words arise, so insists Eliphaz, from his unruly, irrational, and evil posture toward God. Not only are his words mere wind, and unprofitable, but they show he has no fear of God and arise not from an interest in righteousness but from a heart of iniquity. “For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty” (15:5)

According to Eliphaz, Job considers his observations as more profound and relevant than those of his friends and even the wisdom of the ages. “Do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know?” “Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us.” Probably it is not wise to take a position against the absolutely unanimous opinion of others. When these opinions, however, arise only from limited data and reflect the rather narrow sphere of knowledge available to them, to press for a better informed and thus more sound answer is the duty of any serious observer, either to confirm or expand the present state of judgment.  The data available to Job was more expansive than that taken into account by his comforters, the mystery of suffering more deeply puzzling, and the answer more relevant existentially. He could not consent to their platitudes.

Undeterred by Job’s profound, and bitter, resistance, Eliphaz continues to lance the wound. If Job had any respect for the infinite purity of God, he could not possibly persist in his call to present his case before God. What case could he present to one whose holiness transcends even the purest of created things? “What is man that he can be pure?”  “Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight.” (15) God’s transcendent holiness and infinite excellence undergirds all his ways with his image-bearers. Merely stating the glorious fact, however, does not do justice to the multiplicity of ways in which his simple holy goodness engages moral beings in their various situations. A grasp for deeper understanding does not violate the posture of worship and reverence we always should observe before our sovereign Creator.

Eliphaz now returns to the original contention, which Job apparently defies by his words and actions. One must recognize that evil comes on people because they are evil in their heart toward God. “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days.” (20) “He will not be rich and his wealth will not endure” (29) “For the company of the godless is barren, and fire consumes the tents of bribery” (34). Each of the speeches in this round reconstitutes this main idea.

Job’s fourth answer shows that he expects no comfort or substantial reasoning from his friends. He observes the desperateness of his condition, the way in which he is viewed by his contemporaries, and the present condition in which God has placed him; but he does not utterly despair of advancing toward an answer to his troubles or of finding an effective spokesman. His situation presents a disturbing ambivalence to observers, but he cannot bring himself to resign all possibility of advancement in the knowledge of God and his ways. Harrison summarizes Job’s words in 16:18 – 17:16 with the observation, “Overwhelmed by this thought, he relapsed into a hostile attitude towards God.” I think Harrison misses the mark on this as Job has a highly nuanced surge of confidence in this section. Paul House is much more true to the text as he observes, “Job responds with a second bedrock confession of faith.” [433]

Job returns the observation to Eliphaz that his own words are mere wind. If the tables were turned, Job could offer such hostile speech, but he contemplates a more empathetic and redeeming posture on his part (5). He gives graphic observations as to how this situation is in itself a display of God’s own aggressive destruction of Job’s security and pleasant conditions. God has set himself against Job. God “has worn me out, . . . has shriveled me up,”  and “has torn me in his wrath and hated me.” He has set ruffians against him. Verses 10 and 11 could easily be transferred into the New Testament as an account of the treatment of Christ before Pilate and Herod. God is relentless in his removal of all comfort from Job and has, as it were, so removed every comfort from him that he could just as well have disemboweled him.

Even with all this, however, Job knows that his only hope is in God. His great lamentation of his condition, prompted by no immediate reason that he can conceive, does not diminish his continuing contention that God will grant him a hearing. Though crushed by this almighty relentless power that has apparently become his adversary, he nevertheless maintains an outgoing of his soul in prayer (16, 17). Job then expresses a fundamental faith that his condition calls for a more profound understanding of the ways of God with men than he had been presented by his friends. If he himself cannot come before God, if he himself finds that rejection is the only response to his pleas to be heard, then this means that another will be an advocate for him. God surely will not show such a radical moral judgment on one of his creatures without providing some mediator to communicate the truth. Surely such desires as he has for knowledge of God will not fall to the ground with universal silence being the only response.

In our next entry, we will look at Job’s increasingly dolorous and intensely theocentric contemplation.

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