Let’s open our Bibles to Job, chapter 16 for this Job 16 Commentary.
And as we open to Job 16, we need to remind ourselves of how we got here.
The first few chapters of this book feature a righteous man named Job – for whom life is good. And this man’s righteousness leads God to showcase him to Satan – the unrighteous angel that he is. And that leads Satan to insinuate that Job wouldn’t be righteous anymore if God took his stuff from him. So, God does take Job’s stuff.
Well, then Job’s friends come to him with the desire to comfort – but they just discourage this poor man. Eliphaz had his turn, then Job responded. Then it was Bildad’s time to speak which elicited a response from Job. And last, Zophar spoke and then Job responded to all of them.
So then, last time we saw Eliphaz speak for the second time.
And as we saw, Eliphaz’s response to Job included the following: he insulted Job, he accused Job of offending the friends and attacking God, and then he went into great detail as to how Job’s life matches that of the typical wicked man.
What Eliphaz was trying to do – as all the friends and even Job himself are trying to do – is to make God’s ways make sense.
But sometimes, God doesn’t work like that. Sometimes God’s ways make no sense to us. And so, that’s when the message of this book is so crucial for us to really lay hold of. And that message is – When We Can’t Understand God’s Ways, We Must Trust His Wisdom.
And yet – the friends have no desire to just sit around and trust God’s wisdom. Because – in their minds – God’s wisdom is not something that really needs to be believed. No, rather it’s kind of unavoidable. You don’t come to it – it comes to you.
The way that Job’s friends – and Job himself – envision God’s wisdom – is that he works according to the principle of Retribution. Good is rewarded and evil is punished. Pretty much right away in this life. And there really is no room in their thinking for good people being punished or evil people being rewarded.
And yet, that’s what Job is experiencing. He’s a good man – God even said so – he’s righteous – not sinless – but fearing God and turning away from evil.
And yet, he’s being – from the looks of it – punished!
From that point – Job being apparently punished – Job and his three friends take very different paths to explain this seeming contradiction to God’s wisdom – his wise dealings in this world.
Job’s friends say that Job is secretly unrighteous. Because if he is, then it makes sense that he’s being punished.
Job on the other hand knows that he’s not secretly unrighteous – though at times in this book he’s so confused that he’s starting to wonder if maybe he does have some secret sin that God alone knows about – and not even he knows it!
So, that leaves Job with only one other way to interpret this – according to his theology. And that is that God is not wise. He’s not acting according to wisdom. He’s made some sort of a mistake. And maybe God needs Job to set him straight – even.
And yet, this line of thinking is very troubling to Job. And so, that’s why we’ve seen him in this book accuse God in one line and then go back to confessing his trust in him shortly thereafter. Job is suffering not only from physical and emotional trauma – but now he’s also suffering from mental and spiritual confusion as he tries to reconcile his theology to the way that God is actually working in his life.
He doesn’t understand God’s ways. And at the end he will trust God’s wisdom. But he’s not there yet.
And so, we enter Job chapter 16 and witness Job responding to Eliphaz’s second accusatory and inflammatory speech aimed at Job.
Your advice is not helpful
And so, Job begins this chapter by expressing his desire that his friends would know that what they’ve been telling him is not helpful at all – especially what Eliphaz just said in chapter 15.
KJV Job 16:1 Then Job [answered and said/replied],
2 I have heard many [such things/things like these before]:
[What!…] [miserable/sorry] comforters are ye all.
Your words are worthless and endless
Job then tells these men that their words are worthless and seem to go on forever. And this makes him ask in amazement as to what causes them to keep going on speaking the way they are.
3 Shall [vain/windy] words have [an end/no limit]?
or what [emboldeneth/plagues/provokes] thee that thou answerest?
And I think it’s helpful for us to be going through this book chapter by chapter – like we are – so that we too can feel the way that Job feels. So, if you’ve personally felt like these lessons just go on and on, you’re not alone. Job felt the same way.
And as helpful as it could be to follow a particular theme through this book – which is the approach that some good people take – I think you would miss the feeling of drudgery and repetition that the author of this book is expecting you to feel along with the suffering Job.
I could talk just like you
Well, Job himself goes on to tell these friends of his that he could just as easily speak unkind and ignorant words like they’re speaking to him now – if the roles were reversed – and they were suffering and he were the one doing well.
4 I [also/too] could speak [as ye do/like you]:
if [your soul/you] were in my [soul’s stead/place],
Now, how is Job perceiving that these men are speaking to him?
I could [heap up/compose/pile up] words against you,
and shake mine head at you.
And so, that’s what Job could do. He could be just as unsympathetic and cruel to these men if they were suffering and he was doing fine.
But I would be kind to you
But Job goes on to say that he wouldn’t. He could. But he wouldn’t be unkind and cruel to them.
5 But I [would/could] strengthen you with my [mouth/words],
and [the moving/solace/comfort] [of/from] my lips [should/could/would] [asswage your grief/lessen your pain/bring you relief].
And folks, we need to adopt this mindset. How easy it is to cut others down. How natural it comes for us to kick people when they’re hurting. Let’s take a lesson from how Job envisions himself treating someone who is suffering.
Do you know anyone like that in your life? In our assembly? How are you using your words in that man’s life or in that woman’s life? Let’s work with our words to bring relief to those who are in pain.
And so, we’ve seen Job envision a time where he could comfort the suffering one with his words.
My words do me no good
And yet, that makes Job turn his thoughts to the only one whom he knows to be suffering at this point – and that’s himself! And in his case, his words don’t help him at all. And at the same time, withholding his words don’t help him either.
6 [Though/If/But if] I speak, my [grief/pain] is not [asswaged/lessened/relieved]:
and [though/if] I [forbear/hold back/refrain from speaking], [what am I eased/what has left me/how much of it goes away]?
So, Job can speak and he receives no relief. And yet, if he doesn’t speak, the same thing happens. That is, nothing.
Focusing on the giver of his pain
And that makes Job turn his thoughts to the one who is causing this un-relievable pain in his life – God.
7 [But/Surely] now he hath [made me weary/exhausted me/worn me out]:
thou hast [made desolate/laid waste/devastated] [all my company/my entire household].
So, Job can’t get relief because it’s God who is responsible for exhausting him.
And not only is God exhausting Job personally, but he also devastated his entire household – all his company.
Effects on Job’s appearance
And the level of emotional turmoil that Job is experiencing – in addition to Satan’s direct plaguing him physically – all of that is having its effect on Job’s body and his physical appearance.
8 And thou hast [filled me with wrinkles/shriveled me up/seized me], which [is/has become] a witness against me:
and my leanness rising up [in/against] me [beareth witness/testifies] [to my face/against me].
And by the way, what Job is describing doesn’t at all jibe with what Eliphaz was insinuating about Job in the last chapter. Maybe you remember that Eliphaz was comparing Job to the proverbial wicked man and he said that such a man has “collops of fat” on his “flanks.”
But what Job is testifying to here – being lean (in a bad way) – is pretty much the exact opposite of what Eliphaz was accusing Job of.
And it wouldn’t have taken more than a second look at Job’s physical appearance to realize that this was the case.
At any rate, Job is saying that he feels like his gaunt and sickly appearance testifies against him. As if his outer form would indicate to others that his inner self was just as sickly and wretched.
These realities rise up against him as if they were witnesses in a court of law, declaring that Job is really a secret sinner. And therefore he’s being punished in accordance with his secret crimes – that are apparently even unknown to him!
Addressing adversaries in Job’s life
And Job is now going to reveal that he has adversaries that are ready to attack him for his supposed secret sins.
He addresses these adversaries in order in the next few verses and they are as follows:
- Eliphaz – who just spoke in the previous chapter
- Job’s three friends all together
- And finally God
Eliphaz’s words are cruel
And so, Job speaks of Eliphaz’s cruel words that feel to Job like this.
9 He teareth me in his wrath, who [hateth/hunted down/persecuted] me:
he gnasheth upon me with his teeth;
mine [enemy/adversary] [sharpeneth his eyes upon/glares at/locks his eyes on] me.
And I personally think that’s a reference to Eliphaz there in verse 9 – though it could possibly be a reference to God. But he talks about God in a few verses, so I prefer to see this as Eliphaz.
How Job feels about his friends’ words
Next, Job speaks of all three friends together and what their collective words have felt like to Job.
10 They [i.e., plural rather than singular…] have [gaped/opened] [upon/against] me with their mouth;
they have [smitten/slapped/struck] me upon the cheek [reproachfully/with contempt/in scorn];
they [have gathered/have massed/unite] themselves together against me.
So, these friends came to comfort Job and yet, this is what that comfort feels like to Job.
Job speaks of God
And then finally, Job speaks of what he feels God has done to him.
11 God [hath delivered/hands over/abandons] me to [the ungodly/ruffians/evil men],
and [turned me over/tosses me/throws me] into the hands of [the wicked/wicked men].
And of course in the context, the “ungodly” and the “wicked” that Job says God has delivered him over to are these three friends!
So, things are getting pretty heated here. Again, the poetry section of this book is not to be viewed as four philosophers sitting around a table calmly advancing theories that seek to explain the phenomenon of injustice in this world. No – they’re angry, they’re accusing one another, Job’s accusing God himself!
God is violent and cruel
And Job continues to accuse God of treating him with violence and extreme cruelty.
12 I was [at ease/in peace], but he [hath broken me asunder/shattered me]:
he hath also [taken/grasped/seized] me by my neck, and [shaken me to pieces/crushed me],
and set me up [for/as] his [mark/target].
Now, this statement does seem to be Job’s admitting that one thing that Eliphaz said in the last chapter was right. There – when Eliphaz was comparing Job to the typical “wicked man” – he mentioned that the wicked man – like Job – was at ease and then disaster strikes such a man!
And Job is saying that very thing here. He was at ease – at peace – and then all of a sudden God came out of nowhere and – as it were – shattered Job and shook him to pieces and started using him as target practice for his bow and arrows!
God is shooting arrows at Job
And speaking of arrows, Job continues the archery metaphor to describe how he feels that God is treating him.
13 His archers [compass me round about/surround me],
he [cleaveth/splits open/pierces] my [reins asunder/kidneys], [and doth not spare/without mercy/without pity];
he poureth out my gall upon the ground.
14 He [breaketh/breaks through/breaks through against] me [with breach upon breach/time after time],
he [runneth upon/runs at/rushes against] me like a [giant/warrior/gibbor – giant 1x in KJV, mighty 63x, mighty man 68x, etc…].
So, Job feels like God has pierced him with many arrows. And the imagery is very violent and even gory.
Job pictures God’s arrows splitting open his kidneys and thus pouring out his bile on the ground. And, I’m glad that the Bible consists of words and not pictures or I might have to lie down for a while after picturing such a scene – that Job is painting with these words.
And then Job said that God is battling him like a warrior. And the funny thing is that Job is so weak that he surely would prove no match for such a strong opponent as God.
Job has humbled himself
And so, to show God that Job is no threat to him and no match for his strength and his brutal attacks, Job has humbled himself before the Lord.
15 I have sewed sackcloth [upon/over/on] my skin,
and [defiled/thrust/buried] my horn in the dust.
So, sackcloth was usually worn by mourners. But in Job’s case, he is so identified with his mourning that he is speaking as if he actually took a needle and thread and sewed the sackcloth to himself. That’s the extent to which mourning has become a part of who Job is.
And then we have this mention of Job’s defiling his horn in the dust. What is that?
Well, the Hebrew word translated in the KJV as “defiled” means “to thrust in.” It’s the opposite of lifting something up high.
So, that’s good to know. But what is the meaning of “horn?” This thing that Job is thrusting into the dust…
The NET Bible notes say the following of this “horn:”
42 tn There is no English term that captures exactly what “horn” is meant to do. Drawn from the animal world, the image was meant to convey strength and pride and victory.
So, again, this is Job saying that he is showing his humility before God. He’s not rising up and revolting against God. He’s in sackcloth – no, in fact he’s sewing sackcloth to his flesh, as it were. He’s not lifting up his proud horn – so to speak – no, instead he is thrusting it into the dirt.
All this to show that God doesn’t need to keep beating on Job. Job wants to let God know that God can leave him well-enough alone and pass him by for any further discipline.
Physical effects from God’s treatment of Job
And so, Job continues to bring to God’s attention what his pummeling of Job is resulting in for Job physically.
16 My face is [foul/flushed/reddened] [with/from/because of] weeping,
and on my eyelids is [the shadow of death/deep darkness];
So, Job has wept much in the days since God allowed Satan to touch Job’s life. And we recall that God allowed Satan to ruin Job’s life even though Job had done nothing wrong.
But of course, Job’s friends don’t understand that – that Job is not suffering as a punishment for any sin on his part.
And yet, that’s just what Job asserts in verse 17 – he’s innocent.
17 [Not for any/Although there is no] [injustice/violence] in mine hands:
[also/and] my prayer is pure.
So, Job is weeping from God’s chastening – but it’s not due to any sin on Job’s part.
And this statement of Job’s is an answer to what so often these friends of his have accused Job of – which is that Job was sinning and was not praying.
But Job says here that he’s suffering – but not for sin. And that he is still praying pure prayers.
Earth, testify to my innocence!
And this realization that the suffering that he’s experiencing is not a result of his sin prompts Job to call on the earth itself to bear witness to that fact – especially if Job were to die as a result of his suffering with no one to testify to the fact that Job is innocent. He wants the earth to testify – if that were possible!
18 O earth, cover not thou my blood,
and let my cry have no [place/resting place/secret place].
So, Job thinks to himself – surely the earth has witnessed my integrity. It could testify to anyone who has a doubt as to my righteousness!
God is my witness
But then, it’s as if Job realizes that ultimately there is one who knows of his innocence even better than the earth itself. And that witness would be God.
19 [Also/Even] now, behold, my witness is in heaven,
and my [record/advocate] is on high.
God knows what my friends don’t
And this witness whom Job hopes could also be his record of the way things really are has knowledge that Job’s friends do not have. And it’s to that intercessor – in spite of the friends – that Job appeals.
20 My [friends/friend] [scorn me/are my scoffers/is my intercessor]:
[but/as] mine eye poureth out tears unto God.
Job needs a mediator with God
And yet – though God is the only one who can truly be in the position to intercede for the righteous Job – even better than the earth itself – yet, Job is reminded that he seems to need someone to mediate between him and this God of his who should also be his advocate.
21 [O that one might/And he] [plead/contends] [for a/on behalf of] man with God,
as a man pleadeth [for/with] his [neighbor/friend]!
I despair of life
And because it seems that God is at once Job’s potential advocate – but also seemingly his enemy at this point in his life – Job returns to despairing of life.
22 When a few years are come,
then I shall go the way [whence I shall not/of no] return.
And so, next time, in chapter 17 we’ll see Job continue to speak of his despair that he will ever survive this trial that God has placed in his life.