The discourses between Job and his three friends continue on as they discuss the reason for Job’s suffering and how God runs the world. The answer that Job’s three friends have for Job is that Job must have sinned. God is just and the righteous are blessed and the wicked are punished. This system of thinking is called retribution theology. Job appears to have believed this theology also until now when he is afflicted and suffering though he has not done anything wrong. This has left Job grasping for other answers to explain how God runs the world. The friends are undeterred by Job’s claims of righteousness, continuing to beat down on Job that he must have sinned. One of the important messages we are learning from the book of Job is that the way God runs the world is far more complex than just a simple rule or principle. It is not as simple as saying that God is a just God and so God acts only on that basis. There are far more factors at work which keep us from definitively answering the reason for suffering on any given occasion. The friends of Job believe they have the answer, which is that Job sinned. But the first two chapters of Job show that God’s righteousness and goodness was being challenged and this is the reason for the events that have befallen Job. Bildad now takes another opportunity to instruct Job about his suffering and the way God runs the world.
Bildad’s Rebuke (18:1-4)
Bildad begins his speech by rebuking Job for not listening to their counsel. Why do you disregard our words and treat us as stupid? Job needs to be silent and submit to what the friends are saying. Further, Job is a fool for not listening to them. Not only this, Bildad continues in verse 4 by telling Job that he is having a tantrum that they should ignore. Your attitude is tearing you up, Job. The world does not revolve around you. As we can see, Bildad continues to insult Job.
The Fate of the Wicked (18:5-21)
The rest of Bildad’s discourse is a description of the wicked’s fate. Their light is put out, his steps are shortened, and his own schemes throw him down. The picture is that the end is near for the wicked. They are hunted and must watch their steps (18:5-10). But this is not an innocent description of the wicked. Bildad starts describing what Job is experiencing to show to Job that he is wicked. The wicked have terrors frighten him on every side (18:11), lacks strength (18:12), and his skin is consumed (18:13). His children are killed (18:19) and people are appalled at him (18:20). This is surely the description of the unrighteous’ life and those who do not know God (18:21).
Bildad says that the life of wicked people can seem good on the surface but there are dangers that lurk under the surface that will catch up to them. Thus, all the good Job experienced was wiped away because Job was wicked and their wickedness always catches up to them in this life. But the writer of Ecclesiastes observed the opposite.
Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. (Ecclesiastes 8:10–11 ESV)
Justice does not always come quickly. Justice does not always come in this life. Think about Adolph Hitler. Was justice every given to him in this life? Not at all. The wicked sometimes get justice in this life but not always. Often the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. We must accept this. This is how God set up the world. Justice is not swift and immediate. In a few chapters the book of Job will address this idea further, and we will examine this more thoroughly then.
Job’s Response (19:1-29)
Stop attacking me (19:1-6)
Job engages in another personal response to these friends. “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?” These friends have shown no shame in attacking and wronging Job (19:3). Even if he had sinned, this is an unjustified response (19:4). Further, if you are going to use my suffering as a case against me, then the accusation belongs to God. God has motivated Job’s reaction by the way he has treated him (19:5-6). According to these friends’ theology, God has wronged me.
What God has done (19:7-12)
Job then describes what God has done to him. Job calls out for help and justice but there is none. His honor has been stripped from his and he does not know what to do (19:8-9). God has demolished him and he is finished (19:10). God has kindled his wrath against me and counts me as his adversary (19:11). I am doomed because God’s whole army rages against me (19:12).
The results of God’s actions (19:13-20)
It is painful to read the devastation of Job’s life. Relatives stay away and friends turn against him (19:13-14). His family is gone and close friends have forgotten him. This is so true in trials. So many turn against you when you are going through severe trials. Job’s servants will not even listen to him when he gives them directions (19:16). Job is even repulsive to his wife and little children despise him (19:17-18). Those who he loved has turned against him (19:19). Job is nothing more than skin and bones and he is barely alive (19:20).
Pleads for mercy (19:21-29)
Job closes by pleading for the mercy of God. He begs God to stop attacking him (19:21-22). There is irony in verses 23-24 as Job wishes that his words were inscribed in a book and engraved in a rock to be read forever (19:23-24). Little did Job know that his words would be preserved by God and read by millions of people for help during suffering. But consider why Job wanted his words kept for the permanent record.
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25–27 ESV)
After studying the book of Ruth we have a good understanding of what a redeemer is in the scriptures. Recall that Boaz was the redeemer of Naomi and Ruth. A redeemer was a defender and benefactor, someone who would rescue when a family member was in personal and economic distress. Notice what Job says. He says that God will be his redeemer once the facts are laid on the table. God will be his defender. After his flesh has peeled off he will meet God out of his flesh (meaning at the height of his suffering). I do not believe Job is speaking of resurrection here. Rather, Job is saying that his skin may peel off as he waits for the Lord as his Redeemer, but God will defend him because God is just. There may not be anything left of Job, which is why he wants his words permanently written in the record, but God will redeem and vindicate him. At the apex of this book, Job declares that he will see God. His pain is causing him to hope for something more. Then friends should watch out what God will do to them (19:28-29). You are saying that this suffering is my fault. Just wait to God comes and vindicates me!
Zophar’s Speech (20:1-29)
Zophar now speaks in chapter 20. Though his speech appears long, it is a very simple message. The exulting of the wicked is short and the joy of the wicked is only for a moment (20:5). The wicked die a premature death (20:6-11). The wicked are overtaken by God’s wrath in this life (20:12-29). Zophar offers nothing different than what Bildad states in chapter 18.
Job’s Response (21:1-34)
Job’s response is very simple: the wicked do prosper! The wicked become powerful and grow old (21:7). The wicked live long lives (21:8) and they prosper (21:9-13). They mock God and do not see any reason to obey him (21:14-15). The wicked think they are prosperous by their own hand (21:16) and do not seem to suffer (21:17). They are not like the chaff that the wind blows away (21:18), which is contrary to Psalm 1:4. The prosperity of the wicked is inexplicable and shows that God is truly complex.
Further, who cares if punishment comes to the wicked later in life or in the lives of the children (21:19-22). Job says that he does not see that happening. But even if it does, what consolation is this? Death is an inadequate punishment because all die anyway (21:22-34). God appears to treat the wicked and the righteous the same (21:22-26). The writer of Ecclesiastes made the same observation.
But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. (Ecclesiastes 9:1–3 ESV)
Thus, to Job the evidence is obvious. There is no justice in this world (21:27-34). Job says just ask anyone and people will tell you that there is a lack of justice in this life (21:29). Evil people are kept safe. People get away with evil (21:30). Even the death of the wicked appears to be joyful and blessed (21:32-33; cf. Ecclesiastes 8:10). The wicked even prosper to the grave. Therefore, your words, my friends, are nothing but empty words (21:34).
Message For Today
All of this causes us to long for the justice of God. More importantly, we are longing for vindication. This is what Job is crying out for at this point. Job knows that God is just. Therefore, Job knows that God will be his redeemer and defender (19:25). Job believes that he will be vindicated even as his skin is peeling off and his flesh is rotting away. At some point, let all people know that God will vindicate him. Further, Job expresses this to Zophar. The wicked prosper inexplicably in the way God runs the world. Oh how often the people is the scriptures cried out for vindication and justice from God! The Psalms are filled with people who desire to see vindication!
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. (Psalm 26:1 ESV)
In the book of Daniel we read about the shattering of the power of God’s holy people. But there is yet the hope of vindication.
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1–3 ESV)
The book of Revelation follows a similar path. The people of God are pictured as being killed for the sake of Jesus (Revelation 6:9-11). Their vindication comes later as they are pictured surrounding the throne of God (Revelation 7:9-17; 14:1-5). When we read the book of Revelation, when are God’s people finally vindicated? When do the righteous receive their reward? When are the wicked finally judged for their deeds in the flesh? When does Satan finally receive the recompense for his rebellion? The book pictures nothing in this life as the time of vindication. The righteous are not vindicated now. The wicked and the righteous both die all the same. The death of the wicked is not vindication because we will all die. Wickedness continues to run rampant and it appears that there is not justice. But God is just.
Amazingly, Job has such a great faith that he knew somehow God would do something to be just against the wicked and vindicate the righteous. He did not know how. But he wanted his life record in the book because someday God would vindicate his life. Job is correct. God will vindicate. The book of Revelation shows this judgment and vindication not until the final day of judgment. Then Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, tormented in judgment forever (Revelation 20:10). Only on the final day of judgment are the books of the dead opened and every person stands before God and receives justice (Revelation 20:11-15). So we suffer now waiting for the redemption and vindication of our lives. One day God will act. One day God must act because he is righteous, true, and just. May we sing with this hope the song, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” Wait for the Lord.