For 27 chapters, Job and his friends have debated. The friends have accused Job of sin, saying, “God is just, so you must be suffering because you have offended him in some way.” Job has continued to insist on his innocence and to question God, “I am innocent, so why are you doing this to me?”
In our Scripture reading this morning, we will hear Job's final statement in his debate with his friends. We will hear him call upon God to respond, and then we will hear as God begins to answer Job.
“Oh, that I would have someone to hear me!” (31:35)
Job’s cry would be familiar to anyone who has suffered. Job just wants someone to listen to him. Job’s friend’s certainly have not and, as far as Job knows, neither has God. The silence from heaven is deafening.
Job 31:35-37 are Job’s last words in his debate with his friends. They have accused him of sin, he has denied it. As the discussion goes on Job’s friends attacks have become more severe, but Job is not silenced. He speaks to his friends less and less and to God more and more. He calls upon God to speak, to lay out his charges against Job so that Job may answer them.
“I sign now my defense—let the almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.” (31:35)
Job wants someone to listen to him, but he also wants something else—justice! He wants his day in court. “If God thinks that I have sinned, then let him write out the charges so that I may answer.” Job is so confident of his vindication that he says he would wear the indictment around his head like a crown (v. 36).
“I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as to a ruler.” (v. 37)
Now, we might think that Job appears to be arrogant. I mean, who’s without sin, right? But, we have been told by God himself that Job is, “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:1, 8; 2:3). I don’t think the point is that Job is sinless, but that he is righteous. He is so righteous that he makes sacrifices “just in case” (1:5). Anyway, the point is that Job has done nothing which deserves the suffering he is experiencing.
God will answer Job, but first another “friend” is heard from. Elihu is a young man, at least he is younger than Job’s friends. He has been lurking for a long time, listening in on the conversation, but not saying anything. Finally, he cannot keep silent. He is angry—with Job for having the audacity to question God, and angry with Job’s friends because they have not been able to silence Job.
Elihu is the self-appointed champion of God. He claims divine inspiration:
“I am young in years,
Several times he uses Job’s own words against him, accusing Job of justifying himself at God’s expense:
Job 33:8-11 New International Version (NIV)
you have said in my hearing—
He also claims to have perfect knowledge:
assured that my words are not false;
But, he doesn’t know about the actions of the Satan in chapters 1 & 2. If he really had perfect knowledge wouldn’t he know that the Satan was the source of Job’s troubles and not God? Even though he doesn’t know what he is talking about, he won’t shut up for six chapters!
While Elihu is speaking, a storm is beginning to stir up on the horizon. Without missing a beat, Elihu includes it in his sermon:
draws up the drops of water,
Listen to the roar of his voice,
to this, Job;
Elihu’s conclusion is that God is exalted and unknowable:
Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power;
Well, if God is unknowable, Elihu, how is it that you seem to know so much?
God chooses this moment to show up.
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
is this that obscures my plans
After what we have heard, we might think that God is addressing these words to Elihu, but no, he is speaking to Job. Job had insisted on this meeting to hash things out. This is God’s way of saying, “Why are you blaming me?”
Then God tells Job,
yourself like a man;
God turns the tables on Job. Job wanted to question God, but God says, “I’ll ask the questions. You will answer.”
Let’s look again at the Lord’s questions, this time imagining the answers Job might have given
were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
shut up the sea behind doors
Some people feel that God is bullying Job here, trying to put him in his place and humble him. And there is a degree of that going on here. But, I believe something else is in play here.
The Jews weren’t a seafaring people. To them the sea was the symbol of chaos. So, when God tells Job that he set the boundaries of the sea, he is saying that he is in control of the forces of chaos. I believe that God is referencing the events in chapters 1 and 2. God limits the authority of the Satan. Even the forces in the world which would disrupt and destroy are under the ultimate control of God.
There is mystery her as well as great hope. The mystery is why God allows evil to exist. If he is all-good and all-powerful as we believe, why can’t, or why doesn’t, he put an end to all suffering. Well, he will, in his time. That’s why in the Book of Revelation we are told that in the new earth there is “no more sea” (21:1). There will be no more chaos, nothing to disturb the perfect peace or stand against the rule of God.
But the world we live in now is full of chaos and trouble. Bad things happen with no apparent reason; natural disasters destroy homes and lives, evil men steal and kill, disease threatens. The hope comes when we see that nothing touches our lives that God is not aware of, and that, in it all, God is working out his perfect purposes.
God never answers Job’s questions. Instead, in the next few chapters, God will take Job on a “whirlwind tour” of creation. Without minimizing his grief, God will give Job the gift of perspective. Job will see that the world is filled with terror but also heart-stopping beauty. God will lift Job out of his preoccupation with his suffering and invite him to begin living again.