Open your Bibles to Job, chapter 12 for this Job 12 commentary. We’re entering a section in which Job responds to his three friends. They’ve all had a turn to speak to him and so now he’s going to take chapters 12, 13, and 14 to address them.
And in chapter 12, Job addresses his friends sarcastically. They have all tried their hand at “comforting” Job and it’s been a miserable failure. They’ve been trying to help him understand God’s ways.
The problem is that God’s ways don’t make sense to any of them.
The friends think that God’s ways include punishing Job for sin. That makes sense to them – because in their mind sin is always punished and good is always rewarded pretty much immediately in this life.
Job thinks that God’s ways include him being punished – but he knows it’s not because of sin. And since he’s not sinning, he shouldn’t be punished – because good is always rewarded and evil is always punished pretty much immediately in this life.
So, no one here is really understanding God’s ways.
And that’s OK. That’s not the problem. God’s ways are oftentimes past finding out.
The problem is that none of these men have come to the point where they can trust God’s wisdom.
When we can’t understand God’s ways, we must trust his wisdom.
The best these friends could have done for Job is to encourage their friend to trust God’s wisdom. Instead, they try to force God’s ways into a system they understand. And they end up being flat-out wrong in their interpretation of God’s ways with Job.
Job gets sarcastic with his friends
And any time we might find ourselves doing what these friends are doing, we’re going to discover that the one we’re trying to counsel is not going to be very happy. He might even get a little sarcastic – like Job does in verses 1 and 2.
KJV Job 12:1 And Job answered and said,
2 [No doubt but/Truly then/Without a doubt] ye are the people,
and wisdom shall die with you.
So, Job is actually mocking his friends.
He says that they’re the people. That is – they represent and are communicating what the people of their day would view as correct. They represent the “spirit of the age.”
And then Job goes on to claim that wisdom shall die with them. These friends have been carrying themselves so pompously and asserting that what they say is absolutely correct – even though it doesn’t at all correspond to reality in Job’s life.
So, Job takes a swipe at them and communicates to them basically what they seem to think of themselves – that when they die, wisdom itself will be buried alongside them.
Job is as wise as his friends
And yet, Job moves from sarcasm to stating the facts of the matter – he’s just as wise as they are – verse 3.
3 But I have [understanding/intelligence] as well as you;
I am not inferior to you:
yea, who knoweth not such things as these?
So, what the friends are saying is not all that insightful. In fact, Job tells them that nobody is surprised by what they’re claiming. What the friends have been maintaining is old news – it’s commonplace. Job knows that good should be rewarded and evil punished in this life. Everyone else knows it, too.
What these friends are saying is not new and it’s not helpful, either.
Job suffers ill-treatment by his friends
And then, Job goes on to lament his ill-treatment at the hands of his friends in verses 4 and 5.
4 I am [as one mocked/a joke/a laughingstock] [of his neighbour/to my friends],
[The one/I…] who calleth upon God, and he answere[th/d] him:
the just [upright/blameless] man is [laughed to scorn/a joke/a laughingstock].
So, Job is highlighting how wrong this situation is.
He’s upright. He has called upon God and received answers in times past.
But contrast that to what’s happening in his life now. He’s mocked. He’s laughed to scorn.
And his enemies aren’t doing this. At least, that’s not the group he’s talking about in this verse. No, his neighbor or his “friend” is mocking him.
And so, Job continues to lament his friends’ treatment of him in verse 5.
5 He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.
So, Job is the one whose feet are ready to slip. That’s him admitting to his peril in this life. He’s suffering to the point that he feels as though he’s falling – never to rise again.
And for that kind of man, those who aren’t experiencing that kind of trouble should help him.
And yet, that’s not what’s happened in Job’s case with his friends. His friends are at ease and in a position to help him. But instead of helping, they are despising Job. They are thinking little of him. They esteem him as if he were a disposable lamp.
And all of us need to remember that a lamp in Job’s day is not like our lamps. There’s no electricity or fancy decorative lampshade associated with the lamp that Job is referring to.
Job’s lamp would likely have been a small clay pot with a hole into which you’d pour oil and another hole into which you’d insert a wick. You would light the wick which would use the oil to keep the flame burning.
These things are disposable. In that sense, they are despised.
And Job’s friends are treating Job as if he were one of those disposable lamps that you would think little of.
Wicked men sometimes do well
On the other hand – and this totally contradicts the Retribution Theology that Job and his friends have been believing to this point – wicked men seem to do very well in this life, according to verse 6.
6 The [tabernacles/tents] of robbers prosper,
and they that provoke God are secure;
into whose hand God bringeth abundantly. [they bring their god/idol in their hand…]
So, Job is pointing to the injustice of this life that contradicts his previously-held natural theology.
He’s godly – and so according to this theology and that of his friends, he should be blessed. But he’s being punished, apparently.
Meanwhile, wicked men prosper. They’re secure. They steal and provoke God and are idolatrous – but they seem to sometimes be blessed by the very God they provoke and dishonor. That shouldn’t happen. There’s injustice in this life that Retribution Theology doesn’t take into consideration.
And when we consider evil in the world, we like to try to distance God from responsibility for it. We’d like to think that Satan – not God – is responsible for bad things happening to God’s people.
God is responsible for evil prospering
And yet, what we’re going to see in verses 7 through 10 is that Job is going to claim that God is responsible for these things – for the suffering of innocent people and for the prospering of wicked men.
And it’s so obvious, that even animals and the earth itself could tell you – verses 7 and 8.
7 But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee;
and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:
8 Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee:
and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
Well, what are these things teaching us? Verse 9.
9 Who knoweth not [in/among/of] all these
that the hand of the LORD hath [wrought/done] this?
And “this” is referring to the dynamics we just spoke of – wicked men winning and innocent men loosing. The Lord is behind this, according to Job.
And that’s because the Lord has ultimate power over every living being, according to verse 10.
10 In whose hand is the [soul/life] of every living thing,
and the breath of all mankind.
So, if the Lord has power over all things – especially people, then when a person is successful or a failure, he’s the one who ultimately controls that outcome. That’s Job’s point.
And again, this is Job coming to terms with the fact that the way that he’s thought about God is insufficient. He’s finding places where Retribution Theology doesn’t hold true.
The hinge of the chapter
Then Job asks two questions which anticipate an answer of “yes” in verse 11.
11 Doth not the ear [try/test] words?
and the [mouth/palate/tongue] taste his meat?
And with this emphasis on ears and mouths, Job enters into discussing things from the vantage point of human wisdom – what men perceive with their natural senses.
More years, more wisdom
And he says that those who are older tend to have more of this natural wisdom in verse 12.
12 With [the ancient/aged men] is wisdom;
and in [length of days/long life] understanding.
But then Job is going to say basically the same thing about God. Yes – older men have wisdom. When you live a long life you have more understanding than those who haven’t been around as long.
God is wiser
How much more is that the case with God then? Verse 13.
13 With him is wisdom and strength,
he hath counsel and understanding.
So, I think Job is getting at the fact that God is wiser than all three of these friends. I imagine that Job would also be including himself in this group of aged men.
If these four men think they’re wise and understanding – Job is saying that they all need to recognize that they don’t have a corner on the market of wisdom. No – God is wise and understanding.
God uses his wisdom in this world
And God uses his wisdom in this world in all sorts of ways that Job is going to mention in the next several verses. Verse 14.
14 Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again:
he [shutteth up/imprisons] a man, and there can be no [opening/release/escape].
And as we read these verses we need to notice the contrasts. God breaks down. What’s the opposite of breaking down? What does one do when something is broken down? You build again. And yet, Job is saying that God is so wise and understanding that if he breaks something down with the intention of it not being rebuilt – that’s exactly what will happen. It won’t be rebuilt.
The next contrast in God’s wisdom that we saw in verse 14 is that of shutting up and releasing. When a man is imprisoned, all his thoughts are on his release. And yet, if God is determined to lock someone up – there can be no release for that person.
And surely Job is thinking of himself in this equation. He feels powerless to do anything to change the mind of this God who seems determined to break down and shut up in Job’s life. And there’s not a thing Job can do.
And of course, what Job just really needs to do is wait and trust God’s wisdom.
God wisely sends drought and floods
But then Job moves on to highlight a contrast involving floods in verse 15.
15 Behold, he [withholdeth/restrains/holds back] the waters, and they dry up:
also he sendeth them out, and they [overturn/inundate/destroy] the earth.
So, if God wants to send drought, that’s just what will happen. He just needs to withhold those waters.
In contrast, if God wants to let those waters go, he can do it – and the results will be catastrophic.
So, you can picture a quantity of water on a spectrum. Envision a faucet just lightly dripping and then being shut off completely. On the other side of the spectrum, picture a fire hydrant being fully vented. But actually, it goes beyond the power of a mere fire hydrant. Job is talking about this water overturning the earth in a Noah’s-flood kind of way.
So, God is wise and understanding. And he uses that wisdom and understanding in both man’s affairs and in nature.
Then Job basically repeats the first line of verse 13 in verse 16 – only in the reverse order.
16 With him is strength and wisdom:
the [deceived/misled] and the [deceiver/misleader] are his.
So, in verse 13 Job said that wisdom and strength are God’s. Now, we just saw that Job says that strength and wisdom are his. So, that’s something like a refrain in this little section.
But then Job says that in some way both the one who deceives and the one who is deceived are God’s. What does that mean?
Well, I think Job again is looking at the natural view of things. And if God is all-powerful and sovereign, and someone deceives someone else, then God in some way or another allows that to happen.
If everything that happens is within God’s wise control, then when deception happens, God at least allows it.
And it’s interesting that Job is recognizing God’s wisdom in life. But he’s not necessarily trusting that wisdom yet.
Do you know what that’s like? To be able to explain to your children or to a lost person how wise God is – while at the same time, not necessarily embracing that wisdom because of some carnality in your life or stubbornness or unbelief?
Well, Job continues with the contrasts that highlight God’s wisdom in verse 17.
17 He leadeth counsellors away [spoiled/barefoot/stripped],
and maketh the judges fools.
Now, counsellors and judges are two groups that you would expect to be honorable and wise. And yet, when and if God wants to dishonor them – and show them to be fools compared to his own wisdom – he can do so very easily.
Kings to paupers
And God can reverse the position of kings as well, according to verse 18.
18 He looseth the bond of kings,
and girdeth their loins with a girdle.
The bond of kings is probably some sort of royal apparel. So, God takes those off and replaces them with the clothing of a servant – a girdle.
God’s wisdom vs. powerful men
And, moving to verse 19 – what God does to counselors back in verse 17 he also does to powerful men in verse 19.
19 He leadeth [princes/priests] away [spoiled/barefoot/stripped],
and overthroweth the [mighty/secure ones/potentates].
Again, we note the contrasts. Princes and the mighty are usually in positions of power. And yet, in God’s wisdom, he can overthrow and lead away spoiled these men.
God’s wisdom vs. the wise
And continuing the contrasts, God can take intangible attributes away from the wise in verse 20.
20 He [removeth away/deprives] the speech of the [trusty/trusted ones/trusted advisors],
and taketh away the [understanding/discernment] of the [aged/elders].
So, those who are trusted because of their wise counsel, God can remove and invalidate and nullify their speech.
And the aged – like Job began speaking of back in verse 12 – are not immune to God’s humbling actions according to what we just read.
And don’t you think that Job has his friends in mind here? They are wise. They are aged. And yet, the way that they’re communicating their so-called wisdom is so unhelpful to Job that he’s probably thinking that God has removed their understanding from them.
God humbles the proud
And once more, Job speaks of God humbling the strong in this life in verse 21.
21 He poureth contempt upon [princes/nobles/noblemen],
and [weakeneth the strength of/loosens the belt of/disarms] the mighty.
So, those who are least likely to be held in contempt – God can hold them in contempt. The mighty have a lot of strength – but even them God can weaken.
God and light and darkness
And then Job moves on – from God’s wisdom applied to reversing situations in men’s lives – to declaring how God works with light and darkness in verse 22.
22 He [discovereth/reveals] [deep things/mysteries] out of darkness,
and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.
So, things that are dark, God is able to bring to light. And I’m sure that’s what Job is hoping that God will do for him – bring into light the truth that seems to be concealed – which is that Job has not done anything to deserve this treatment from God.
God’s wisdom vs. the nations
Next though, Job speaks of God’s wisdom and understanding applied to the nations in verse 23.
23 He [increaseth/makes great] the nations, [and/then] destroyeth them:
he [enlargeth/extends the boundaries of] the nations, and [straiteneth/leads away/disperses] them again.
So, Job is saying that God increases the size and populations of various nations. But then the contrast – he destroys them and leads them away.
And this often happens because God deals with the leaders of those nations, according to verse 24.
24 He taketh away the [heart/intelligence/understanding] of the [chief/leaders] of the people of the earth,
and causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no [way/path].
25 They grope in the dark without light,
and he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man.
So, Job has heard his three friends. But he finds their wisdom lacking. They’re not proving themselves to be able to help him in his distress.
They’re not helping him to trust God’s wisdom. Instead, they’re trying to help him understand God’s ways, which isn’t working.
So, Job spent this chapter telling his friends that their advice is not helping and then explaining God’s wisdom in the world.
And Job will continue in chapters 13 and 14 responding to this first cycle of speeches by his friends.