*Editor’s Note: This is the ninth 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 questions and writhingly open-ended meditations show that he regards the rigid and condemning counsel of his friends-turned-tormentors aggravatingly as flighty and pestilential as dandelion seeds. His refusal to concede to their assumptions brings back Bildad with a bitter speech; Job responds with a statement of increasing hope in God alone.
Bildad upbraided Job for refusing to listen to him and the others as if their brains were impermeable to the truth. His response called into question the settled philosophy of good and evil. Astonishingly, he contemplates that they might be wrong. Job has utter confidence both in himself and in his evaluation of the moral philosophy of the ages. Job seems to regard them as having insight and rationality as equal to cattle or roaming beasts. His rejection of their counsel sends a message to them that they are stupid. When Bildad asks, “Shall the earth be forsaken for you?” he indicates that his perception of the issue is as sure as the earth’s fixedness in the created order.
Bildad gives a narrative of the unremitting woes of the wicked, clearly implying that bad things happen to bad people (18:5-21). The wicked man dwells in the gloom of darkness, emotionally, morally, and socially (5, 6, 18). Because he flatters himself and trusts his own opinion, unpredictable, hidden dangers are set loose on him and constantly badger him (7-12). Demonic forces are given free rein to destroy his health and render his personal presence, his past, his future, and his posterity of no account. “The memory of him perishes from the earth” (17). Having described the dangers, toils, snares, and traps that systematically and pervasively assault the proud and unrepentant wicked person, Bildad concludes with obvious reference to Job, “Such is the place of him who knows not God” (21).
Having endured another onslaught of accusations, Job reasons his way to an affirmation that since God is his adversary, and none can oppose him or explain his ways accurately, then God alone can be his Redeemer.
Job wonders why these friends see it as intelligent or merciful on their part to torment him with accusations. Why do they seek to magnify themselves by using his disgrace as an argument against him? Job finds it impossible simply to concede to their argument and manufacture some false repentance for a crime he does not know he has committed. They believe he is recalcitrant and is hiding and caressing some secret evil, for none of these things would have happened if that were not the case. Job is looking for justice. He knows that this is God’s doing, but he does not know its root.
God has so completely walled Job in and stripped him of every common grace that his condition is utterly helpless and hopeless unless God himself relents. Whereas Paul exclaims concerning the immutable purpose of God to save, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Job sees the other side of this, saying in essence, “If God be against us, who can be for us?” (19:8-12).
God has turned every person in his social and familial circle against him. Brothers, relatives, close friends servants, guests, his wife, siblings, children of the community, and intimate friends make him and his condition the topic of their conversation and a reason to avoid him. He pleads with these friends for compassion. Why should they add pain to pain by removing their friendship when he has done nothing but show kindness to them? God may have some legitimate reason for his affliction of Job, a reason that he has not cared yet to reveal, but what could these people have against Job? Why do they act as if they were as justified as God in their removal of favor from him? “Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has struck me! Why do you persecute me as God does, and are not satisfied with my flesh?” (21, 22)
Job has reached a clear conclusion about this matter. It is as if a theophany has occurred and he wants his utterance to be recorded for all succeeding generations to see. “O that my words were written!” He has gradually been moving to this viewpoint but now gives a clear statement that, in light of the justice of God and the silence in this life concerning his suffering, he will appear before God in the flesh even after his death. And, as none but God can inflict such humanly inexplicable trouble on a man, none but God can bring redemption from such trouble. God will stand upon the earth, and even after the destruction of this present sore-ridden body, in his flesh Job shall see God. The conclusion is overwhelming. “I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (27)
Job then warns those who continue to pursue him with and ridicule him for some secret extravagance of sin, that they make themselves liable to judgment. Job has grasped the teaching of Jesus, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1, 2).
Zophar now arrives with his second speech, and Job gives a deepening and more confident response. In what is now a tiresome theme, reworked with a variety of images and some new flourishes of rhetoric, Zophar reiterates the received wisdom of the day that the wicked always receive quick judgment. They may have some brief time of prosperity and some quick moments of delight, but everything soon turns to poison. Every pleasure flees and brief security gives way to terror and darkness and wrath and bitterness. “In the fullness of his sufficiency, he will be in distress. . . . This is the wicked man’s portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God.” No one needs to wait until the final day to sort out God’s ways with the righteous and the wicked, it is already occurring and is clearly revealed in this life. So Zophar.
Job declares that the entire scenario presented by Zophar, and the others, is demonstrably false. “The wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power” (21:7). Suppose God reserves his wrath for their children; does that matter to them? In reality, the wicked do not receive their judgment in this life but often prosper and are “spared in the day of calamity . . .[and] rescued in the day of wrath” (21:30). Job is done with giving any attention to what they say. He wants them to know that his understanding, though he still wrestles with pain and loss, has gone far beyond their platitudes and their mere birdsong of the commonly received worldview. “There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood” (21:34).
What a marvel of consistency and beauty is divine revelation! This book, so ancient, explores questions that are indeed timeless. This book, so enmeshed in one culture, sustains an extensive dialogue intrinsic to all cultures. This book, so particularized in the experience of one man, intrigues our minds and bares our hearts to the experience of all. This book, so hard in the tragedy of pervasive loss, sustains a solicitation for a revelation of the wise purpose and benevolence of God. This ancient book, so dismally silent at each advancing mental and spiritual crisis, blares in our ears the message of divine prerogative and sovereignty. This book presents a perplexing situation so hopeless from a human standpoint, yet nurtures a deeper hope that a witness, even a neighbor, will open up floodgates of mercy. This book is so intent on obliterating hope, yet refuses to admit that the hope of a man before God can perish. Beyond that, the periodic flash of insight into the way in which a downtrodden man under the severity of divine testing may look for deliverance prepares the soul for the matchless wisdom and redemptive beauty of the incarnation.
At the same time, we must recognize that this particular struggle and this manner of questioning God and reasoning about one’s personal afflictions were brought to pass and recorded for posterity before the time of the prophets, the incarnation, the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Job’s struggles are not recorded as a model of how we are to question God. Job’s perplexed wranglings with God and accusations of his unfairness are not given to justify anger toward God. They are presented in all their complexity and emotion so that we might know the transcendent profundity of the redemption we have in Christ and the great clarity that the gospel has given to these questions. Matters of both redemption and the existential struggle with pain have been given an extensive foundation of purpose since Job struggled toward his answers. We have the word of the prophets made more clear (2 Peter 1:19) and to this advance in clarity through the Scriptures, we do well to take heed as to a light that shines in a dark place.
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.