*Editor’s Note: This is the eighth 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 left Job in the posture of pure and earnest prayer. He continues interspersing prayer with his own form of anathema against his flint-headed, obnoxious, and censorious advisors. In 16:18, Job does not want any of his life struggles to become a mere nullity, to perish simply with the brutally sterile quietness of a universe with no heart, no ears. Surely, we do not live in a world in which merely natural forces are the final reality. One’s blood is covered only by the dust of the ground and one’s cries finally die as their echo against the rocks is absorbed by the competition of a thousand upon a thousand airwaves produced by lifeless forces. The search for the human heart cannot be more profound than the source of that search. “Thou hast made us for thyself O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” (Augustine in Confessions).
All of this leads him to affirm that man has a witness in heaven, one to testify on high, one that will argue the case with God, one that somehow has a knowledge of and sympathy with the human condition. “My witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high” (16:19) How close this is to the affirmation of the beloved apostle, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:2). Also compare Hebrews 2:14-18. This mediator is a very perplexing person, for Job believes that he is “on high,” the place reserved for God; in addition, Job, from bitter experience, knows that no mere man may come before God to “testify” and to “argue the case of a man.” Somehow, he must have such exaltation that God will listen to him, but at the same time, his interest would be to argue the case “of a man” in the way that “a son of man does with his neighbor” (21). Both the honor of God and the interest of man must be present in this one person.
In spite of all that is against him, Job refused to concede that the kind of hope for which he looks, and that he indeed has, is a mere chimera. Such a longing of the soul, such a desire for an audience with God does not arise from nothing but must be drawn from the soul by the soul-maker.
Job is convinced that the near future holds death and the present will be characterized by mockers constantly perfecting their art of provocation. Biological life will soon terminate and the social relations until then hold no joy but only the presence of bitter self-righteous accusers. Here (17:3, 4) Job seems to ask God to provide a surety for him. None of his friends will do this. They only blame him; who will intercede? Matthew Henry noted, “Some make Job here to glance at the mediation of Christ, for he speaks of a surety with God, without whom he durst not appear before God, nor try his cause at his bar.” Job also seems to think that since all earthly friends indicate that they have no understanding (God has not opened the minds of any of them to help Job sort out these issues), their analysis cannot be the final word. Their viewpoint will not triumph, so God himself will provide an answer.
Most observers continue to mock him and find him despicable. To them, he is a “byword” and like one “in whose face men spit.” So insignificant he has become in community issues and so withered and diminished in physical presence that “all my members are like shadows” (17:7). He cares nothing for the mockers and their words do not phase him at all. “I shall not find a wise man among you” (10). The righteous have no answer; truly they are “astonished,” even “appalled” at this condition and the vision of the formerly regal Job. They continue, nevertheless, to serve God and resist the way that the self-righteous stab at Job with their words. “The upright are appalled at this, and the innocent stirs himself up against the godless” (17:8).
Job now looks to the rapid approach of death and considers whether death and the silence of the grave, and the corruption of the body in the soil is actually to be the final word. Is he, a man, no more than the pit in which he is thrown or the worms that will live alongside his decaying body? (14). The loftier aspirations of his soul, his unquenchable thirst for God, to see his face, to stand in his presence, to learn the purpose of such an exquisite display of destruction,–are all of these things nothing? Is the grave, the silent abode of death, that seemingly inescapable prison of breathless stillness the final identity of soaring desires that rise above the despicable appearance of his physical state?
If one concludes that such is the true final state of man, then it is just as rational to call the worm, “My mother” or “my sister.” Job cannot bring himself to believe that that is the truth. His own state and the false and implacable rigidity of his increasingly strident accusers render it unthinkable to Job that hope shall die with his body. He does not speak of hope in the abstract as a thing in humanity in a general sense, but his peculiar hope, the hope that irrepressibly surges in his own breast. “Where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?” (17:15, 16)
Job’s questions in 13-16 indicate the glory of ever-increasing revelatory truth. He asks these questions with the implication that surely the most apparent answer cannot be true, but with no evidence that another option exists. Grave, darkness, corruption, Sheol, dust, and unrealized hope loom before him as invincible enemies while his inquisitive spirit and yearning conscience abhor the finality of nihilism. What does God think? This we need to know. Soon another saint of God will say, “How precious also are your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” He can answer Job’s perplexities with confident answers to the questions: “Where shall I go from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. … If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed darkness shall not hide from You” (Psalm 139:17, 7-12).
Dr. Tom Nettles is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He joined the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was professor of Church History and chairman of that department. Previously, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a B.A. from Mississippi College and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern. In addition to writing numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles has authored or edited nine books including By His Grace and For His Glory, Baptists and the Bible, and Why I Am a Baptist.
Courses taught: Historical Theology of the Baptists, Historical Theology Overview, Jonathan Edwards & Andrew Fuller.