Job 23 Commentary: Let’s turn our attention to Job 23. The 23rd chapter of the book of Job.
And we need to remind ourselves that Eliphaz's advice in chapter 22 didn't help Job. Part of what Eliphaz said was accusing Job of committing secret sins. And the other part was holding out false hope for Job that if he stopped sinning God would bless him.
Neither of these pieces of advice were correct. And so Eliphaz failed to do what he came to do – to comfort Job.
And that was his third chance at trying to comfort Job. And you know what they say – three strikes and … you’re out. And so, that was Eliphaz’s last speech to Job recorded in this book.
Job 23 Commentary: Lamenting Current Situation
But Job’s still trying to make sense of what’s going on in his life. Why God is seeming to punish him. Him – who is a righteous man, no less! Why is all of this happening?
And that’s why Job begins in verses 1 and 2 lamenting his utterly confusing current situation.
KJV Job 23:1 Then Job answered and said,
2 Even to day is my complaint [bitter/rebellion]:
[my stroke/his hand] is [heavier than/heavy despite] my groaning.
And so, Eliphaz promised Job blessings from God if he stopped sinning. And Job hears that and says – Yes, I should be having God's favor if I'm not sinning against him. And yet even now is my stroke – or the stroke from God's hand – heavy on me. He hasn't let up – even though I'm totally innocent.
And so, that leads Job to yearn to be able to locate God and come into his presence.
3 Oh that I knew where I might find him!
that I might come even to his [seat/place of residence]!
And here's what Job would do if he were to ever be granted audience with God.
4 I would [order/present/lay out] my [cause/case] before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
So, Job – as he envisions this fantasy of appearing before God to figure out why God appears to be punishing him for nothing – Job imagines that he would lay out his case with God. He would argue that what God was doing to him was wrong.
And surely Job would be telling God that he hadn't sinned and therefore God shouldn't be punishing him!
Because that doesn't make sense to Job. It doesn’t make sense to him that an innocent man should be given difficulties by God. Even though Job had originally told his wife that they should receive both good and bad from God – Job has had enough of it.
It's one thing to give verbal assent to a spiritual truth. It's quite another to internally agree with that truth and submit to it when it's in action in your life.
Well, so, Job plans – in his mind – that he could come to God and sort of set God straight on some things. And – of course – he's expecting that God will answer back.
5 I would [know/learn] the words which he would answer me,
and [understand/perceive] what he would say unto me.
So, Job wishfully imagines a time when he comes before God and argues that God should stop doing bad things to him.
Job 23 Commentary: Hope in God's mercy
And we saw that Job is anticipating an answer from God. But the way he spoke about that betrays an uncertainty in his heart as to how the Almighty will respond.
And so, God's response to Job's theoretical arguments is what's in Job's mind in verse 6. How will God respond to Job if he were to stand before him? He wonders...
6 [Will/Would] he [plead against/contend with] me with his great power?
No; [but/surely/only] he would [put strength/pay attention] [in/to] me.
So, Job is hoping for mercy from God – should he ever get this chance to stand before his Maker and plead his case.
And yet, it seems like Job hardly views God's gracious hearing of his complaints as mercy. In fact, in verse 7, Job makes it sound like God is practically obligated to agree with him and take Job's perspective of the matter.
7 There [the righteous/the upright/an upright person] [might/would/could] [dispute with/reason with/present his case before] him;
[so/and] [should/would] I be delivered for ever from my judge.
And so, if Job is viewing God as his judge – this statement is a little unsettling. Job feels like he needs to be delivered from God – the one who is judging and supposedly punishing him.
Job is putting God in the position of being his adversary. And he's also in his mind viewing his ways of thinking as wiser than God's.
This is – of course – why God is going to have to come and question Job at the end of this book about all sorts of things that Job knows nothing about.
Job is getting to the point where he really feels that if he were to be able to bring God to court and sue him for wrongdoing – Job would be vindicated. But what does that mean for God? It means that God would need to adjust his ways to accommodate Job's supposedly superior wisdom.
And we can all identify and sympathize with Job. At yet – at the same time we recognize that Job is going a little too far here. To assume that we know more than God is simply arrogant. It borders on blasphemy.
When we assume that we're wiser than God, we are believing lies about him. We're bringing him down to our level. We must not do this.
When we don't understand God's ways, I suppose we have two choices. We can assume that God is wrong. But that's never the case. And so, the second and correct option is to trust God's wisdom. Even when it doesn't make sense to us.
Job 23 Commentary: Despair
So, Job is starting to feel pretty good about his chances of being heard by God. He's going to appear before God and tell God that he's not wicked and that therefore he should not be suffering. God will hear Job and relent and stop punishing him as if he were wicked.
Or is it?
Well, that would be simple enough – except there's one major problem with Job's plan.
And it's this. Job feels like he can't find God anywhere...
8 Behold, I go [forward/to the east], but he is not there;
and [backward/to the west], but I [cannot/do not] perceive him:
9 [On the left hand/In the north], [where he doth work/when he acts/when he is at work], but I [cannot behold/do not see] him:
he [hideth/turns] himself [on/to] the [right hand/south], that I cannot see him:
So, it's pretty hard to drag someone into court when you can't find that person. And that's how Job is picturing God. He would present his arguments to God. But the problem is – God's nowhere to be found.
Job 23 Commentary: Confidence
And yet, despite that problem of not being able to find God to discuss matters with him – Job bounces back in his own spirit and recognizes that even though he can't find God – he knows that God can find him, and that God knows the truth about Job and his righteousness perfectly well.
10 But he knoweth the [way/pathway] that I take:
[when/if] he [hath tried/tested] me, I [shall/would] come forth as gold.
And here are some samples of what Job's "way" that God knows about has looked like that would give him such confidence if God were to try or test him...
11 My foot hath [held/held fast to/followed closely] his [steps/path],
his way have I kept, and not [declined/turned aside].
So, one of the ways that Job is so confident that God knows his way – back in verse 10 – is because Job’s way has stuck so close to God’s way – in verse 11.
So, Job highlighted in verse 11 how he’s followed God. And the focus was on the feet – so to speak. He talks about his foot holding to God’s steps and not turning with his feet away from God’s way or path.
But now in verse 12, Job is going to focus – not on feet – but on the mouth – and in particular on God’s mouth – as he has obeyed God in his life to this point.
12 Neither have I [gone back/departed] from the commandment of his lips;
I have [esteemed/treasured] the words of his mouth more than my [necessary food/allotted portion].
So, Job is testifying that he has not disobeyed God’s commands. And really – it’s deeper than that. Obedience in Job’s life was merely the fruit of a right estimation of God’s word. He perceived God’s word to be more important than even things that he had a right to – like food.
And by the way, this indicates that at least Job had some access to some amount of divine revelation. But how much of it and which parts of it were available to him are anyone’s guess, I’m afraid.
Well, we just saw Job change his attitude from one of despair into one of some degree of confidence – that if God were to test him, he would come out looking pure.
And that fact should give Job a great amount of joy. But it won’t.
Job 23 Commentary: I can't change God's mind
Because, when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how right Job is and how confident he is in his righteousness. In the end, Job is now going to express his lament that God refuses to change his mind concerning Job in verses 13 and 14.
13 But he is [in one mind/unique/unchangeable], and who can [turn/change] him?
and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.
14 For he [performeth/fulfills] [the thing that is appointed/his decree] [for/against] me:
and many such [things/decrees] are [with him/his plans].
So, I think that some of us have been exposed to teaching that has caused us to think that verse 14 is a great source of assurance and rest for our souls. As in, God will sovereignly do what he has decreed that he will do in my life and I can rest in his care.
And that concept is true and biblical – God is sovereign. He has plans for you. He will make sure they happen.
However – that’s not what Job is expressing. Job is expressing a bleak dread of what God has in store for him next. In Job’s mind, nothing can change God’s course of action in his life. And that course of action has involved a lot of unexplainable suffering in Job’s life.
And Job is taking note of God’s sovereignty – yes. But he’s not resting peacefully in that sovereignty. He’s grudgingly going along with it – because he has no other choice.
Because in Job’s mind, God’s mind cannot be changed and his course of action is inevitable and miserable in Job’s life.
Job 23 Commentary: I'm afraid of God now
And because of this, Job ends this chapter by declaring that he’s now afraid of God.
15 [Therefore/That is why] [am/would be] I [troubled/dismayed/terrified] [at/in] his presence:
when I consider, I am [afraid/terrified] [of/because of] him.
And I can guarantee you that this isn’t how Job felt back in chapter 1 of this book. He would have rejoiced at God’s presence.
But now, he’s terrified of God. And – by the way – I think it’s interesting that Job was talking so big about meeting God in court and arguing his case before him and everything – and now look at what he says. He doesn’t really want to be in God’s presence. He’s afraid of God.
And yet, he has declared that his redeemer lives and that he’ll see him some day. Job has given numerous others indication of confidence and trust in the Lord.
And so, it shouldn’t surprise us when those who are suffering waiver back and forth in their feelings about God and his dealings in their lives. We’re seeing with Job a kind of back-and-forth dynamic in terms of his perception of God. We should expect no less from brethren now who undergo suffering of any form.
Well, Job says that he’s scared of God. Why? Verse 16.
16 [For/It is/Indeed] God maketh my heart [soft/faint],
and the Almighty [troubleth/who has dismayed/has terrified] me:
So, God makes Job’s heart soft or faint and troubles him.
But what does that feel like to Job? In a word, darkness…
17 [Because/But/Yet] I [was not cut off/am not silenced/have not been silent] [before/by/because of] the darkness,
[neither/(blank)] hath [he/(the darkness)] covered [the darkness/deep gloom/thick darkness] [from/(blank)] my face.
Now, this verse is difficult to translate. And so, scholars have a difficult time knowing exactly how to interpret it.
But if we take it as the KJV translates it, then what Job seems to be saying is this. If God would have cut Job off before the darkness – Job wouldn’t be afraid. Why? Because he would be dead.
And on the other hand, God has not covered his face from the darkness. So, God allows Job to experience dark times in his life. And yet, God has not yet allowed those dark times to kill Job. And for that reason, Job fears God.
Job 23 Commentary: Conclusion
So, we’ve seen in this chapter Job responding to Eliphaz – lamenting his current situation, expressing some level of hope that God will be merciful to him, then sinking into despair, but rising to confidence that he will be vindicated, then to lament that he can’t change God’s mind, and finally to express that he fears God – and not the kind of healthy, reverent fear he had back in chapter 1.
In the next chapter we’ll see Job once again declare that wicked men go unpunished – a concept that his three friends disagreed with.