*Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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/
Job’s life of productivity, prosperity, and conscientious piety has been shattered. Through a conference in heaven in which Job’s genuine love for God was challenged by Satan, divine permission for a series of earthly tragedies was given. Chapters 3-14 give the first cycle of attempts at theodicy and advice for the afflicted. The cycle begins with Job’s lamentation of his condition, wishing he had never been born (3:1-10), or that he had been stillborn (3:11-19), or that he could even now find the death he wants but that eludes him (3:20-26). Each of his three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—then contribute their analyses of what has brought on Job’s suffering. Job responds to each of them, moving from incredulity and bitterness toward them and perplexity toward God, to a deeper contemplation of the purpose of God in giving suffering.
After a week of silent meditation that began with wrenching lamentation (2:12, 13), Job sets forth his dismay at life when beset with such misery: “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul?” (3:20 ESV) Then friend Eliphaz speaks.
After common courtesies and acknowledgment that Job has been a man of compassion and instruction, Eliphaz tells Job that the tables are now turned and he needs counsel and an honest appraisal of his situation (4:1-5). Eliphaz sets Job up for a candid hearing of his instruction by reminding him that Job’s confidence and hope depend on embracing a right view of the ways of men before God. Eliphaz claimed to speak in light of a spiritual revelation (4:12-16 – “Now a word was secretly brought to me”).
The principle of Eliphaz’s argument is true in itself (“Who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?), and he indicates that he will pursue an application of the principle with honest rigor even though Job might not like what he says. Job’s three friends never give up on this principle and they argue throughout, therefore, that Job has committed some sin that he is refusing to acknowledge, and this sin is the reason that God has given him over to these personal disasters. If Job will confess this sin and repent, God will restore his life of earthly blessing: “You shall laugh at destruction and famine, . . . Your descendants shall be many” (5:22, 25 NKJV).
That God is exact in his justice is an unassailable biblical truth. We live, however, in a fallen world in which, in accord with his eternal purpose of grace, God preserves the world through common grace until he calls to salvation all his elect. The nature of the fallen world as well as special providence demonstrates that God consistently gives us tokens of wrath against sin before the full execution of it at the day of judgment. Christ has been judged, (or from Job’s perspective was to be judged) to the full execution of God’s wrath against the sin of his elect, and thus, during this life, we do not see sin and judgment in a quid pro quo arrangement. Job’s experience, and the inspired narrative of it, constitutes a large portion of the special revelation as to how we are to regard suffering among the people of God.
Job responded with incredulity to Eliphaz. In short, Job considered Eliphaz disappointing both as a friend and as a counselor. He also lifts a bitter cry to God wondering why such severity has come to him as if he were any more than a mere breath. After hearing Eliphaz, Job realizes that his would-be counselor/reprover has no mental instrument or empathetic experience by which he might weigh the true import and depth of Job’s words. “O that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances!” His words have seemed rash to Eliphaz for Eliphaz does not grasp that Job’s calamity is “heavier than the sands of the sea.”
Job reiterated his desire for God simply to remove him from the earth and expressed confidence that he has “not denied the words of the Holy One” (6:10). He invited Eliphaz to be his counselor but does not wish for mere platitudes or insensitive condemnation built on a peremptory judgmentalism. Job does not believe that he is hiding any secret injustice for which immediate retribution from God is due. He does not, therefore, think that the position of Eliphaz thus far has any merit in the argument or comfort to the soul. Job himself would know it if this were the case: “Cannot my palate discern the cause of calamity?” (24-30).
Job’s disappointment and frustration with Eliphaz gave way to perplexity in his address to God. The life of mere human creatures is hard enough, but for such intense attention to be given to one man (7:19, 20) seems unbearable. In addition, the issue of sin seems a bit confusing to Job. How can a man’s sin be of any import to God? How can a mere man’s failure be of any concern to God? If it is of concern, why does he not simply pardon transgression and take away iniquity? (21) This issue will be revisited later in the book
The interaction with Eliphaz has provoked deep thought from Job about important issues. How does God regard the sin of mere creatures? In what manner can a sinner be cleared of God’s displeasure with him. Job’s dilemma brings us to confront the deeply existential importance of sin in its relation to human suffering and the eternal implications of divine immutable justice. All of this is given to guide us into a more profound gratitude for redemption and a more pure worship of God.
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.