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My Loving God has Made My Soul Bitter: Now What?

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On January 31st of this year, the World Justice Project released its 2017-2018 WJP Rule of Law Index. This report measures the rule of law adherence, meaning that it checks into how citizens actually experience the given law in their country. The U.S. was ranked 18th in 2016 and fell one spot to #19 in this most recent report. One thing that this report noted about the U.S. was this: “Continuing a long-term trend, the U.S. scored notably poorly on several measurements of discrimination.” Now, the report goes into greater detail to explain what this means, but even as I bring this subject up we recognize that justice is a big deal in our country. The just practice and enforcement of the law matters to us, but our country, as wonderful as it is, has a difficult challenge ahead of us.
Let’s imagine for a short while what it is like to be the one who believes that you have been wronged but that you have absolutely no chance of seeing justice upheld in your situation. What type of emotions would you be experiencing? For some of you, this question is not theoretical. You have been wronged in the past and see no way of receiving justice. There are probably several emotions that we could list. One of those emotions would be frustration. Another would be hopelessness. Both of these emotions are represented in Job’s speech in .
Let’s imagine for a short while what it is like to be the one who believes that you have been wronged but that you have absolutely no chance of seeing justice upheld in your situation. What type of emotions would you be experiencing? For some of you, this question is not theoretical. You have been wronged in the past and see no way of receiving justice. There are probably several emotions that we could list. One of those emotions would be frustration. Another would be hopelessness. Both of these emotions are represented in Job’s speech in .
But before we cover Job’s speech, we will spend time looking at Bildad’s first speech. He’s not really that helpful. If you can imagine a cut-and-dry, traditionalist type, you are probably close to understanding Bildad. We could summarize his words this way: “God does not pervert justice. His justice is absolute, so much so that you can count on this: people who experience bad things have been bad, and people who experience good things have been good.” If we were to sum up Job’s speech in chapters 9-10, it might look something like this: “If that’s all there is, let me fade into death. But I think there’s more to it!” Now, this is perhaps over-generalizing what these men say, but maybe these summaries help you prepare for what we are about to consider in these three chapters of the book of Job. We will see Job himself going back and forth between wanting to bring his case before God and not believing that such an action would accomplish anything. He wrestles with believing God is just and in control and yet experiencing such unexplained and, he believed, unwarranted calamity or trouble. What will you do when your faith and your experience collide?
If there is any section of Job’s speech that helps us see the bigger picture, I would point to . He feels quite clearly his need for help in bringing his case before God. And I plan to return to this need of his for one to stand between him and God as we get to our conclusion.
In our passage today, (1) Bildad Speaks in , and (2) Job Replies in . Let’s begin by looking at Bildad’s speech.
Bildad Speaks —
God’s justice is absolute — 8:1-7
Job has just recently said, in , these words:
Job 6:26 ESV
Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?
Now Bildad takes up the terminology and compares Job’s words to a great wind. This is not a compliment! Job is wasting his words, and Bildad is looking to make sure Job understands that God’s justice is not to be questioned. Yet, just as we saw problems with Eliphaz’s view of God, so too we will see error is how Bildad views God.
Job said in ,
Job 6:4 ESV
For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.
Perhaps in response to that, Bildad asks two questions in 8:3 as he seeks to clarify for Job that God’s justice is not crooked or perverted. It is absolute and without error, as he goes on to illustrate and explain in 8:4-7.
Now to be clear, we do believe that God is just. says this:
Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
But consider the “justice” that Bildad calls Job to accept here. The first example he gives insensitively and foolishly pertains to his children. Though he begins the verse with “if,” the message is clear. His children are dead. They must have died because of their transgression. Again, for Bildad, the world of blessing and punishment or retribution is black and white. Bad things happen to bad people. His children were killed in most unusual gust of wind. They must have earned that punishment somehow through their actions—through their transgression.
But this is something that Job is likely to reject immediately. Why? Go back to .
Job 1:5 ESV
And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Job 1:5–6 ESV
And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
Job 1:5 ESV
And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Like Eliphaz, Bildad encourages Job to seek God (verse 5), and yet Job continually sought God, especially in regard to his children. But there is an even closer referent to this word “seek” that we find in verse 5. Job closed his previous speech by saying in 7:21 to God, “…you will seek me, but I shall not be.” Now Bildad is telling Job that it is actually his responsibility to be the one who is seeking God.
Bildad also calls for Job to be pure and upright, assuring him that God would then restore his rightful habitation, and yet we saw repeatedly in that Job was a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned away from evil. In other words, the careful reader of this book should know after reading these first few verses of Bildad’s first speech that this man has it wrong. He is not aware of what God’s view of Job was at the beginning, but we are and can conclude that Bildad is not being helpful here—in fact, he is plainly wrong.
To further see the cut and dry nature of his counsel, notice that he speaks of a “rightful habitation” (8:6) and on the other hand the “tent of the wicked [that] will be no more.” He also contrasts the one who trusts in “a spider’s web” or literally “house,” and the one who “looks upon a house of stones.” In Bildad’s mind, God’s justice is clearly seen in how life is going for someone. Look at the quality of a person’s life and you can tell whether that person is seeking God and living a pure and upright life or whether that person is living a life of sin.
Bildad thinks this message is good and helpful, saying in verse 7, “And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.” Such advice not only gives hope where there might be very little reason to hope—at least in this life—but it also goes against the very basic teaching of the Bible that says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” () It goes against statements like this that would later come from the apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (). In other words, people who give such advice miss the very fact that if God truly operated by the principles that they are describing, none would be enjoying a life of blessing!
Have you been tempted to think recently, “God must really be pleased with me. Look at how good he has made my life!” Beware of such thinking! At its foundation lies, among other things, a heart of pride that thinks that in some way you have earned what you now enjoy. Perhaps your choices have brought you to a situation of blessing—it is in fact biblical to believe that we reap what we sow—yet even as we might at times reap a harvest of righteousness, we must guard our hearts with the understanding, believers, that before God breathed life into our very souls and brought us salvation we were children of disobedience who were dead in our sins and under God’s wrath and condemnation. Any good thing that we have done we must trace back to God’s gracious work in our lives. God has created you to be one who does good works for the glory of his name. Let not such tools think that they deserve the credit for doing what God himself has created them to do.
Tradition teaches this — 8:8-19
After clearly protecting God’s justice and giving Job hope—at least, this is what Bildad intends and thinks he is doing—he then appeals to tradition. Bildad does not merely depend upon his own wisdom but seeks to show how his advice to Job is grounded in the advice of the ancients, or “the fathers.” What is it they teach? Well, they would point to plants.
also uses contrasting plants to illustrate truth. And broadly speaking, Wisdom Literature made use of plants at times for illustrations. says that wisdom is a tree of life, and says that wisdom’s fruit is better than gold. likens the one who meditates daily on God’s Word to a fruit-bearing tree that is next to a stream of water, and it illustrates the wicked to be like chaff that the wind drives away. So appealing to the wisdom of the past and how it is illustrated through creation—and specifically plants—is by no means wrong.
The papyrus plant grew in places like Egypt along the Nile River. If harvested properly, it could be made into “skiffs, baskets, mats, and parchment” (Hartley, 160). However, if for some reason it lost its connection to water, it would dry up even overnight and be useless. Bildad used such imagery to demonstrate the downfall of those who forget God. In a moment, life as they know it changes and falls apart or withers.
By way of another illustration, those who forget God are like those whose house is merely a spider’s web. Such a house cannot stand and will not hold them up. It does not endure (8:14-15).
Though verses 16-19 are not easy to interpret, Bildad is probably trying to illustrate a plant that rooted itself in a stone heap and, though it was somehow destroyed and for a time that spot looked like it had never had a plant, the roots survive and later, the plant sends up shoots once again. This would be to communicate hope to Job. His life looks nothing like it had just a little while ago, but there is reason to hope that, if he chooses not to forget God, his life will be restored.
So you have reason to be hopeful — 8:20-22
To close, Bildad once again shows the striking difference that he sees between the blameless man and the evil man. Should he prove to be blameless, God will once again fill Job’s mouth with laughter. His enemies will be ashamed even. Yet, Job may also be sure that the living place of the wicked man will not endure. It will be no more.
As we conclude our examination of Bildad’s speech, see one last comparison. Job ended his previous speech in chapter 7 with the words, “I shall not be.” Bildad now ends his speech with “…the tent of the wicked will be no more.” In Bildad’s mind, the only path in Job’s life that would lead to such an ending is the path of wickedness. Yet, that does not have to be the case. So ends Bildad’s first speech.
Reflections on Bildad’s Speech
I have tried to help us see some of the errors of Bildad’s thinking along the way, but let’s take just a moment to reflect on his advice. Here, once again, is how I summarized Bildad’s speech: “God does not pervert justice. People who experience bad things have been bad, and people who experience good things have been good.” I have quoted Christopher Ash before, and once again I would encourage us to consider some words from his commentary.
Speaking of Bildad’s message, he says this, “But is it true? That is the only question that matters. If it is true, there will be no undeserved suffering in the universe. And if there is no undeserved suffering, there can be no redemptive suffering, no sacrificial substitutionary suffering. And if there is no substitutionary suffering, there can be no grace. Ultimately the religious system to which Bildad subscribes is a system devoid of grace and therefore devoid of comfort” (138).
Do we have any such religious systems in the world today? Oh, yes. Sadly, such systems are quite prevalent. Is this your system? Let us not be those that see others suffering and quickly conclude that they if they just made different choices they would be better off. No, brothers and sisters, let us remember that if God had not brought us life we would be in much, much worse conditions than we currently are. Let God’s grace soften our hearts to the misery of life that we might see in those around us!
Job Replies —
We now move into Job’s reply. Overall, you are going to see him going back and forth between hopelessly wishing he could bring his case of unjust suffering to God and actually being more bold and ready to do so. We would say he was wrestling with the choice of what to do. He believes strongly that his actions have not led to his downfall, yet he wonders aloud how he can defend himself before God.
In this speech he uses legal terms quite frequently. He speaks of being in the right before God, he uses the words for being guilty, a trial, justice, a legal adversary, complaint, stating his case, answering a charge, a legal arbiter, summon, arraign, and blameless. Now, sometimes these legal terms are translated differently, so you might not find all of them in your specific translation, but clearly Job is working through his view of God’s justice and whether he desires to form a case before God.
Track, for instance, what Job says in 9:2, 15, 20, and 10:15. This gives us an idea or a glimpse of the emotions and turmoil within Job throughout this speech. What is at the base of his turmoil? He says in 9:2, “Truly I know that it is so...” What is he referring to? Probably Bildad’s main point, best represented in the questions that he asks in 8:3. God does not pervert justice. Job knows this. Yet, he knows that he himself, Job, is in the right. So, he cannot figure out how to reconcile these two truths, and he is greatly intimidated by the thought of bringing his case before God. Yet, he cannot let things go either. So you will see, mixed in with the legal terminology, words of lament or mourning before God, but you will also see him at times praising God, recognizing his sovereignty and might and even his care.
Bringing a charge against God seems pointless — 9:1-20
Bringing a charge against God seems pointless — 9:1-20
Perhaps in seems like state the obvious, but Job knows that taking a case to God like his experience of unjust suffering is not a situation where one would expect to win. Who can successfully contend with God? Job later learns experientially what it is like to be unable to answer God, yet here we see that he knew that God is not one can contend with and win against.
In verses 5-12, Job recognizes God’s vast superiority to humanity in regard to how he manages creation, ending with questions in verse 12 that show Job is fully aware that man does not hold God accountable for his actions.
In fact, if such powerful creatures as the monster Rahab could not oppose God, who is Job to try to stand against him, as verses 13 and following show? Rahab is not a reference to the lady saved from Jericho as the Israelites invaded the city. Rather, this is a reference to another monster like Leviathan that opposed God yet was defeated by him. If you want to track that down a bit more you could refer to . Job knows he is far weaker than such creatures, so how could he have any chance against God in a legal case?
His language in verse 16 is alarming [read verse], yet he says this because of what he is experiencing in verses 17-18. God himself told Satan in chapter 2 that he had destroyed Job “without reason.” Job doesn’t know that God said this, but he is actually right in his statement in verse 17!
God is the one who is mighty, not Job, and God is just, so who can summon him to stand trial? Even though Job is in the right and blameless, against God, it would be Job who would be seen to be the perverse one. His own mouth would condemn him.
To this point, Job’s inner wrestling makes sense to us. But as we come to 9:21-24, Job’s language becomes much more intense and biting.
But God must be the one behind my suffering — 9:21-24
But God must be the one behind my suffering — 9:21-24
But God must be the one behind my suffering — 9:21-24
Again, God said to Job in 2:3 in reference to Job himself, “…He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Now we read Job saying in 9:22, “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.” Based on the text of the book of Job, he is not wrong. Job is correct. Yet this is against what Bildad just told Job for sure. According to Bildad, God restores the rightful habitation of the pure and upright. But that is just not always the case. At least, not in this life.
But now Job goes a step even further in speaking of God’s actions: “When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.” Then, speaking on a very broad scale, he says, “The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges—if it is not he, who then is it?” Are not many wicked people in places of power in national governments even today? In other words, Job’s answer to Bildad is to point him to worldwide injustice that is taking place even as Bildad speaks. His system and view of God, says Job, simply does not represent reality! And since God is sovereign, who else would it be that is allowing this except God himself?
Throughout the book, Job is consistently the one speaking rightly about God, and his friends do not do so, but not all that Job says is right. God does correct Job towards the end of the book, though in a different way than how he handles Job’s friends. Job is speaking from a heart of faith and a basically right view of God, yet his friends do not have their theology of God right—they are very far off!
All that being said, Job is wrong in what he says in 9:23. Yes, God wounded him without cause, and yes, God had destroyed this blameless man, but no, God was not mocking him. God took great joy in the faithfulness of his servant Job.
So, here are my three options — 9:25-35
So, here are my three options — 9:25-35
So, here are my three options — 9:25-35
As Job contemplates his situation, thinking about his options, he sees his life going by very quickly. As a runner, a skiff or boat, or an eagle swooping on prey, his days pass by quickly. He needs to figure out what to do about his situation, so he reasons. And choosing to overlook what has happened to him is not an option. Why? Well, as verse 28 shows, he can’t overlook his downfall because he starts to fear then that, as verse 29 shows, he shall be condemned. What if there is something in Job that is causing all of this reaction from God? So, simply overlooking his destruction does nothing to ease his fears or help him go forward in life.
It is at this point that he considers his second option—the first being to overlook his downfall. Option #2 is to cleanse himself. Yet doing this has little potential for really helping Job, for God can just plunge him back into a pit.
So, option #3 is to find an arbiter. He longs for someone that can understand both him. This arbiter would then bring a conclusion to the matter, resolving the conflict and holding both parties—God and Job—to whatever the arbiter decided was right. This is truly an amazing option, especially as we consider the place that Jesus Christ comes to hold as our high priest and as he is the mediator between God and man. shows us this role of Christ clearly when it says,
1 Timothy 2:5 ESV
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
Yet at this point in history, Jesus has not yet come to earth and Job bemoans the fact that “There is no arbiter between us.” So he is still terrified of God.
Since those options fail, here is my case — 10:1-17
As a result of having no other option that he can identify, and since Job loathe’s his life, he then chooses to voice his complaint. He chooses to say to God, “Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.” He lists his questions for God, giving voice to his belief that God doesn’t understand Job’s plight.
Starting at verse 8, Job recounts God’s involvement in his life from the beginning, from conception to birth, even to the point of saying in verse 12, “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” Yet Job sees cruelty in this. In verse 13 Job goes on to say, “Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose.” In other words, Job is now seeing that although God blessed him earlier in life, he had been planning all along to destroy all those things and people in Job’s life. This turned God’s love that he had known earlier in life into an even more bitter cup to drink.
Job’s very words show that he was seeing God’s actions towards him in a different light since his fall in the beginning of the book. So in verse 12, previously in Job’s life God had watched or preserved his spirit. Using that same root verb, Job says then in verse 14 that if he sins, he knows God is watching him. Job is viewing God’s oversight in his life in a much different way now, so that he may catch Job immediately in any sin he commits—so Job thinks. Yet even if he is in the right, because of his condition, he is disgraced and afflicted. If he gathered any strengthen to raise his head, God would bring yet more against him. As a general might attack a foe relentlessly by continually sending fresh troops against that enemy, so Job believes that God is not letting up his attack against him.
As I conclude my case, hear my plea — 10:18-22
Job will polish this case that he is developing against God throughout his following speeches, but for now he concludes this speech with a question similar to what he has asked before: “Why did you bring me out from the womb?” His fleeting life might improve slightly if God were to leave him alone, yet the end is coming. He knows that the thick darkness of death is his coming destination.
Conclusion:
This passage actually brings up a very basic question that each person must ask. That question is this: “How does God view me?” Or, perhaps we could ask it this way: “Does God accept me, or is he against me?”
We know, because of the beginning of the book, that God saw Job as a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned away from evil. Yet Job did not know that God approved of him, even during the suffering that Job experienced. We know that the trouble in Job’s life was not something that Job himself caused. Yet Job had no idea why his life completely changed for the worse.
Perhaps you yourself wonder at times how God views you. Is he angry with you? Have you let him down so that he is constantly disappointed with you? Does he not care about you, having concluded that you are just not good enough or too damaged for him to use? We saw Job really have a tough time knowing what to do about his plight. He desperately longed for approval from God and a repaired relationship with him, yet he did not know how to get to that point.
You might be a believer who has very little confidence before God. You give way to fear, sometimes, that God does not like you and is constantly displeased with you. Or, you might be someone who has not yet claimed to be a Christian, yet you battle the same fears, not really knowing how to get God to be pleased with you.
For both the believer who is wrestling with God’s view of you and for the person who wants God to accept you yet doesn’t know how to make that happen, I will turn to in closing. Here is the wonderful truth: we can have peace and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ!
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