*Editor’s Note: This is the fifth 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/
The failed attempt of Eliphaz to subdue Job to admit that secret sin had brought the power of God against him, emboldens Bildad to reprove Job, advocate the “goodness brings blessing and badness produces vanity” approach, and issue a call to repentance. He accuses Job of meaningless talk and of avoiding the obvious truth that his sin has brought God’s judgment on him (2, 3). Bildad cruelly insinuates to Job that the loss of his children was a deserved punishment on them (4). He gave what R. K. Harrison called “the popular punitive interpretation of such events” (Introduction, 1029).
Bildad gives the quick answer to this entire problem. If Job will just admit his sin and seek God earnestly, all indications of divine favor will be restored, and, in fact, will be enlarged. This is the lesson of history (“inquire of past generations” NASB), he claimed. This is the rule that governs all things. “The hope of the godless shall perish. . . . God will not reject a blameless man.” (8:13, 20 ESV) Paul House points out that Bildad “rejects any notion that bearing injustice in faith provides glory for Yahweh. Apparently only those enjoying ease embody a lifestyle that honors God.” (Paul House, Old Testament Theology, 432).
Again, Bildad responds on the basis of a general truth but misappropriates it in a fallen world. Fundamental to the biblical understanding of Law and the corresponding doctrine of justification is the clearly established reality that God will “by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7 ESV). Ontologically one must receive the truth that God is just and will not overlook injustice. Job’s friends grasped the certainty of this idea and applied it immediately to the case of Job. In this same passage, however, we learn that God also is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6, 7 ESV) Infused into the dynamic of the counsel of the friends and Job’s perplexity is the dilemma as to how God can be both of these. We are led through the anguish of Job to consider how divine sovereignty, divine justice, and divine mercy are all expressions of the singular goodness and wisdom of God.
Job admits, for the present, that the principle of the prosperity of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked is true. But this is the question: “How can a man be in the right before God?” (9:1 ESV) or “How should man be just with God?” (KJV) or “be righteous before God?” (NKJV). Job considers God from the standpoint of unfettered sovereignty and a transcendent righteousness that can always find fault even in the most righteous among men. “Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser” (9:15, ESV cf with verse 20). God is “wise in heart and mighty in strength” (4). He is omnipotent, omniscient, immanent, indwells, and upholds all things in ways that we cannot see. Somehow, both in matter and manner beyond our perception, God will find a way to accuse those that are not cognizant of unrighteousness in themselves; the only appeal, therefore, with such a mighty and exalted being is for mercy, not justice. “If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?” ((9:19 ESV) or “set me a time to plead?” (KJV). Neither by power nor by our perception of justice can any creature summon God or plead with him with any prospect of appearing other than perverse and guilty, Job observed. What is the hope of a mere creature in the face of such an unequal contest? From a standpoint of despondency, Job asked the question that the Psalmist asked from a standpoint of amazement at divine mercy. “What is man that you make much of him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? (7:17, 18 ESV), Job queried. The Psalmist looked at the divine majesty and asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have … crowned hm with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:4, 5 ESV). What a difference a revelational understanding of divine providence makes!
Given this oppressive reality, Job concludes that the clear lines of distinction drawn by his friend/accusers hold no validity in the face of God: “It is all one; therefore I say, He destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (22).
Job offers that tantalizing scenario in which one that could represent with clarity both the interests of God and the interests of man would take up the case and be able to plead it with effect. “For he is not a man as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both” (9:32, 33 ESV) “Nor is there any mediator between us,” the New King James Version reads. This anguished struggle on Job’s part clearly sets up the case for orthodox Christology in the context of the manner in which God justified sinners.
Though it is useless to present one’s case before a Being of such transcendence, Job viewed himself as the innocent victim of God’s desire to manifest his unopposable power. “You know that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of your hand” (10:7 ESV). “If I am guilty, woe to me! If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look upon my affliction.” (10:15 ESV). Since it appears that God is intent on destroying Job, why did he ever bring him into existence in the first place? (10:16-19) But since he does have existence, why does God not leave him alone for just a while so that this life can have some cheer before he slips into the land of “darkness and deep shadow” (10:20, 21). He revisits this request in 14:5, 6.
No skeptic has ever entered such wrenching questions about God as did Job. No investigation of the problem of pain has ever been approached from a more existentially relevant position. Has the seemingly fortuitous attack of evil ever had a more difficult example to solve than the condition of Job, or have questions as deep and unsearchable been proposed? We have been led to a brief consideration of the divine wisdom in making a path for mercy and lovingkindness.
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.