Job's Third Reply to Eliphaz: Your Kingdom Come: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross {Job 23-24}

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Job’s Third Reply to Eliphaz: Your Kingdom Come: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross {Job 23-24}

WHEN JESUS TAUGHT US TO PRAY, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), he taught us at least three things—a recognition, a hope, and a desire.
First, we recognize that although God is sovereign and nothing happens on earth outside of his will, nevertheless his will is not done on earth in the same way as it is done in Heaven. It is done on earth completely, for there is no dualism, no power that rivals God’s authority; but it is not done perfectly. There is a difference between God’s will as he commands (which always happens) and God’s will as he desires (which will not happen fully until the end).
Second, the fact that Jesus authorizes us to pray this prayer teaches us the sure and certain hope that one day God’s will will be done on earth exactly and perfectly as it is in Heaven.
And, third, because Jesus tells us to pray this prayer, we know that our desires and affections ought strongly and consistently to be directed toward that day. There are two complementary sides to this longing. On the one hand believers groan for the day when we will finally be vindicated, waiting eagerly for our adoption as God’s heirs, the day when our bodies will be redeemed (Romans 8:23).
On the other hand God’s people cannot but long for the day when evil will be punished and the world cleared of wickedness. This too is part of the gospel. In Revelation 14 John sees an “angel … with an eternal gospel to proclaim.” When he listens to this “eternal gospel” he hears, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come …” (Revelation 14:6, 7). The last judgment is the gospel, for it is the day when his people will finally be rescued.
In the speech we are about to hear, Job longs for both sides of gospel hope. He longs first for the vindication of the righteous (and specifically himself) (chapter 23) and then for the punishment of the wicked (chapter 24). He “is perplexed, first by God’s ways with the righteous—namely himself—and then by God’s ways with the wicked.”

Longing for the Vindication of the Righteous (23)

Job pours out his heart’s desire, gives voice to his heart’s confidence, and expresses his heart’s fears.
Job’s Heart’s Desire, the Vindication for Which He Longs: To See God Face to Face (vv. 1–7)
Then Job answered and said:
Today also my complaint is bitter;
my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.” (vv. 1–7)
Job is still suffering deeply. His complaint is “bitter” (v. 2); “the bitterness of my soul” of which he spoke earlier (7:11) is still his experience. Almost everything in his life tastes horrible still. In verse 2b he may say “my hand is heavy” (esv, Hartley) or “his hand is heavy” (Pope, Habel). Either he is saying that God’s hand of judgment is heavy upon him or that his own hand (his ability for action) is heavy—he is weighed down. Either way his life is still miserable.
Verse 3 is remarkable. The expression of this explicit and daring wish is deeply significant. The longings of the heart are vividly expressed in Job by the words “Oh, that …,” which occur more often in Job than in any other Biblical book. In chapter 6 he longs that God would crush him before he denies him (“Oh that … it would please God to crush me …,” 6:8–10). In chapter 14 he yearns that God would hide him in Sheol “until your wrath be past” and then remember and renew him (“Oh that you would hide me in Sheol …,” 14:13–17).
In chapter 19 he uses this phrase three times to express his desire that his defense testimony will be preserved (“Oh that my words were written. Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen …,” 19:23, 24). In this speech his heart aches to meet with God (“Oh, that I knew where I might find him,” 23:3). Finally, at the climax of his last speech he longs for vindication before God (“Oh, that I had one to hear me!… Oh, that I had the indictment …,” 31:35).
Job longs deeply to “find” God, to “come even to his seat” (23:3). Job longs to see the God whom he will one day know as Father (John 14:8). Job knows by faith (since 19:25–27) that he has a heavenly mediator, and this presses him to express this desire.
In verses 4–7 he talks through the longed-for meeting with God. “I would tell him about myself, my trust, my love, my integrity [v. 4], and I know how he would answer me [v. 5]. He would not crush me unfairly [v. 6a]; he would ‘pay attention to me’ [v. 6b]. I would stand before him ‘upright’ and ‘be acquitted forever by my judge’ [v. 7].” Job speaks these words with faith and awe. If we ask him what is the longing of his heart, he will answer that deeper than the desire for his riches to be restored or his children to be given back to him is the heart-yearning to stand before God righteous.
But how can he dare to long for this?
Job’s Heart’s Confidence, the Vindication He Anticipates: The Fruit of a Clear Conscience (vv. 8–12)
In this section Job speaks of a problem (vv. 8, 9) and a confidence in spite of the problem (vv. 10–12).
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food. (vv. 8–12)
Job’s problem—not surprisingly—is that God is invisible. The words translated “forward … backward … on the left hand … to the right hand” (vv. 8, 9) are traditionally spoken from the standpoint of someone facing east and so may mean “east … west … north … south.” The north (Zaphon) is traditionally the place of the mountain of the gods, and the imagery was taken over by Jewish monotheism (e.g., Psalm 48:2, where Zion is spoken of as being in the “north”—symbolically, if not geographically). This may be why the north (“on the left hand”) is the place where “he is working” (v. 9). The repeated point is that in whatever point of the compass Job searches, wherever he goes on the outer fringes of the cosmos, he cannot “perceive … behold … see him” (v. 8, 9). God is invisible, and therefore Job can have no control over God (since knowledge of someone’s whereabouts is akin to power over them). He longs to “find” God (v. 3).
But although he cannot as yet find God, he has a confidence in final vindication. This confidence is expressed in verses 10–12 in terms of a clear conscience. Notice the repetition of the word “way” (vv. 10a, 11b): although Job does not know where God is, he does know and follow “his way” of life (morally), and he is confident that God knows Job’s “way” and that God knows that Job’s “way” is in line with God’s own “way.”
Job is steadfast (“My foot has held fast” [v. 11]), single-hearted (“[I] have not turned aside” [v. 11]), and motivated by love (“I have treasured the words of his mouth” [v. 12]). He is a believer walking the walk of faith. Without having seen God, he loves him and loves his words (cf. 1 Peter 1:8). His conscience is clear before God. This is why he can say that when God has “tried” him, he will come forth “as gold” (v. 10b). This trying may refer to refining or purification; or it may simply be a confidence that when tested he will be found to be genuine, that “the tested genuineness of [his] faith,” which is “more precious than gold,” will be seen in the end (cf. 1 Peter 1:7).
So Job longs for final vindication before God, and he is confident of final vindication before God. But this confidence is not a shallow or trite thing, for Job is also afraid.
Job’s Heart’s Fear, the Awe That Is Mixed with His Confidence: God Is Frighteningly Sovereign (vv. 13–17)
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
nor because thick darkness covers my face. (vv. 13–17)
It is all very well to have a clear conscience, says Job, “[b]ut …”! But God is “unchangeable.” This word is literally “he is one.” He is unique, incomparable; he is the One later celebrated in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4. The particular aspect of his unique deity here is that he does what he chooses to do, and no human being can “turn him back” (v. 13).
As C. S. Lewis so famously said of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, he is not “tame.” Job in essence, “I am suffering and I can have no confidence that my sufferings are yet at an end” (v. 14). So Job is “terrified at his presence … in dread of him” (v. 15). God has made Job’s heart “faint” and “terrified” him (v. 16). The words “at his presence” (v. 15) are literally “to/before his face.” The same Hebrew word is used in verse 4 (“before him”). Job longs to stand before God face-to-face (v. 4), and yet he is also terrified at the prospect (v. 15).
This is a proper understanding of God yet so many today have lost this idea about God. Job knows that God is “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). He is right. Even under the new covenant, believers are warned that “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). The hope of final justification before God is not a light or shallow hope; we will never breeze into God’s presence to talk with him face-to-face. Always there will be awe in the presence of the God who is the one and only, utterly unlike us mortals.
{{{The translation of verse 17 is uncertain. The word translated “not” may mean “surely,” which changes the sense. It is possible that it is a word of final hope and confidence (as in the ESV), but it is equally possible that it is another lament, saying something like “Indeed, I am surely destroyed before the darkness; before me gloom covers all.”}}}
In summary, chapter 23 expresses the longing for final vindication, a measure of confidence in final vindication, but a residue of terror in the presence of the sovereign and unpredictable God. Job now turns his focus from his own vindication to the punishment of the wicked.

Longing for the Punishment of the Wicked (24:1–25)

In chapter 24 Job argues that the punishment of the wicked is necessary because of the victims of their wickedness (vv. 1–12), necessary because they reverse creation order (vv. 13–17), and therefore certain in the end (vv. 18–25).
The Punishment of the Wicked Is Necessary Because of the Victims of Their Wickedness (vv. 1–12)
Job begins by asking a question (v. 1). He follows this with a picture alternately of crimes (vv. 2–4, 9) and victims (vv. 5–8, 10–12).
The Question (v. 1)
Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days? (v. 1)
This is the question that drives the chapter. It concerns “times” and “days,” when Almighty God will judge the wicked. “Those who know him” (the righteous by faith, like Job) long for that judgment, but they do not see it. Eliphaz has spoken of “a day of darkness” for the wicked (15:23) and Zophar of “the day of God’s wrath” (20:28). But where is it? After all, it is necessary.
The Crimes (vv. 2–4)
Some move landmarks;
they seize flocks and pasture them.
They drive away the donkey of the fatherless;
they take the widow’s ox for a pledge.
They thrust the poor off the road;
the poor of the earth all hide themselves. (vv. 2–4)
Here are crimes against the poor, the orphan, and the widow. Their boundary markers (v. 2) are moved by the strong, who appropriate their land (forbidden later in the Law, e.g., Deuteronomy 19:14). The strong seize their flocks, take away the farm animals on which they rely, and use their power to squeeze the poor out of society (“off the road”) so that the poor have to “hide themselves” from the depredations of the powerful (v. 4). It is a picture of cruelty repeated all over the world and all through human history.
The Victims (vv. 5–8)
Behold, like wild donkeys in the desert
the poor go out to their toil, seeking game;
the wasteland yields food for their children.
They gather their fodder in the field,
and they glean the vineyard of the wicked man.
They lie all night naked, without clothing,
and have no covering in the cold.
They are wet with the rain of the mountains
and cling to the rock for lack of shelter. (vv. 5–8)
These abuses of power lead to a pathetic and moving picture of human distress. Here are men and women, made in the image of God, but driven out of civilized society, marginalized, wandering, lost and wild like wild donkeys in the wilderness (v. 5a), slaving away to find food (v. 5b, where “game” just means food), and having to send their children out to find scraps of food on the rubbish tips of society, as in some Third-World slums (v. 5c).
The “wicked man” has a big, beautiful, prosperous vineyard, but all these marginalized people can do is hope to catch a few gleanings from it (v. 6). They lack the basic clothing and protection needed for life (v. 7), and you can see them, drenched to the skin on the hills, clinging pathetically to the rock “for lack of shelter” (v. 8). The picture of them clinging to a rock for support may allude to the image of God as the Rock, the reliable one who can be trusted (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:15); but these people have no help from him.
These are not people who are comfortably well off and yet envious of those richer than they are; they are destitute. And they are destitute because of the selfish greed of the rich and their abuses of power. When will God act to punish the greedy? “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.… Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you … You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence …” (James 5:1–5).
More Crimes (v. 9)
(There are those who snatch the fatherless child from the breast, and they take a pledge against the poor.) (v. 9)
The ESV puts verse 9 in parentheses, but there is no need to do so. Here is a crime that is climactic. Here is the most heartless crime of all. Not only do they steal property and reduce people to poverty by the abuse of power, but when poor people become sufficiently poor, they force them to sell their children as wage-slaves. As collateral for the loans they need for survival, they have to “pledge” a defenseless orphan. Children are sometimes conscripted as child soldiers (as in so many twentieth-and twenty-first-century wars) or forced into slave-labor factories (as in the Third World). The word “snatch” is repeated from verse 2 (ESV, “seize”): not only do they “snatch” flocks and property, they “snatch” defenseless human beings too.
More Victims (vv. 10–12)
They go about naked, without clothing;
hungry, they carry the sheaves;
among the olive rows of the wicked they make oil;
they tread the winepresses, but suffer thirst.
From out of the city the dying groan,
and the soul of the wounded cries for help;
yet God charges no one with wrong. (vv. 10–12)
We have here another moving portrayal of the marginalized. Notice the irony: they slave away carrying sheaves and treading winepresses, surrounded by plenty of food and drink, but they themselves are hungry and thirsty. These people are dying and groaning, crying out for help; but the God who would later be the God of the exodus, who heard his people’s cry (Exodus 2:23, 24), does nothing and charges no one with wrong (Job 24:12c). Why not? Job comes back to the question of verse 1. Judgment of the wicked is so necessary because of the human misery they cause all over the world. When will God act? Your kingdom come!
Then the imagery changes from crime and victims to darkness and light.
The Punishment of the Wicked Is Necessary Because They Reverse Creation Order (vv. 13–17)
There are those who rebel against the light,
who are not acquainted with its ways,
and do not stay in its paths.
The murderer rises before it is light,
that he may kill the poor and needy,
and in the night he is like a thief.
The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight,
saying, “No eye will see me”;
and he veils his face.
In the dark they dig through houses;
by day they shut themselves up;
they do not know the light.
For deep darkness is morning to all of them;
for they are friends with the terrors of deep darkness. (vv. 13–17)
The abuses of power portrayed in verses 2–12 could in many countries be done more or less within the letter of the law. They are the kind of respectable sins that don’t seem too bad until they are exposed. But other sins are flagrant breaches of right behavior in any culture. Murder and adultery, for example. You don’t need the sixth and seventh commandments to tell you that those are wrong.
The language of this next section is dominated by the imagery of light (vv. 13, 14, 16) and twilight, darkness, or night (vv. 14, 15, 16, 17). Daytime, or light, speaks of deeds that are done in the open with a clear conscience, things we are happy for anyone to see. To “rebel against the light” (v. 13) is to adopt a lifestyle characterized by actions we want to remain secret. So the murderer gets to work “before it is light” and like a thief breaks in upon “the poor and needy” to kill them at night (v. 14).
So does “the adulterer,” breaking what God has joined together, but doing it covertly (v. 15). This is a lifestyle of people who shut themselves away by day, lest their actions be exposed (v. 16), to whom “deep darkness” (a spiritual as well as a literal darkness) is like “morning to all of them” (v. 17). The punch line is verse 17b: by befriending dark deeds they befriend “deep darkness,” and “darkness” is inseparably associated with “terrors,” the terrors of Hell. God has so ordered creation that life is tied to light, morality, and virtue, and evil is inseparably tied to darkness, death, and Hell. Those who blatantly reverse the ordering of creation are making friends with Hell. Their punishment is necessary and inevitable.
So Job has moved his argument forward from the horror of the victims to the stupidity of the wicked. This leads naturally to his conclusion: the wicked will certainly be punished in the end. Their dark deeds lead to a dark destiny.
The Punishment of the Wicked Is Certain in the End (vv. 18–25)
It is not easy to be sure exactly what Job’s argument is here, but it would seem to follow three stages. First, a summary or quotation of the view of the friends that evil will always be punished swiftly (vv. 18–20), then a reminder of how evil is their evil (v. 21), and finally Job’s own conclusion that the wicked will be punished, but not yet (vv. 22–25).
You Say the Wicked Will Be Punished Immediately (vv. 18–20)
You say, “Swift are they on the face of the waters;
their portion is cursed in the land;
no treader turns toward their vineyards.
Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters;
so does Sheol those who have sinned.
The womb forgets them;
the worm finds them sweet;
they are no longer remembered,
so wickedness is broken like a tree.” (vv. 18–20)
Job piles up images of disaster and judgment. Like foamy bubbles being blown away on top of the water, they will be blown away, swiftly (v. 18a). Their “portion” (their family and possessions, their estate) will be “cursed” (v. 18b) and their vineyards abandoned, so that no farm laborer will go there to tread the grapes (v. 18c). Just as waters from melting snow evaporate and soak away quickly in a time of drought and hot sunshine, so the wicked will be here today but gone tomorrow (v. 19a).
That is what Sheol does with impenitent sinners; it devours them. Even their mother, who of all people was most deeply aware of them, for they grew in her womb, will utterly forget they ever existed (v. 20a). The worm will enjoy devouring them in their graves (v. 20b). No one will remember them (v. 20c); they will be broken like a tree with no hope for the future.
It is possible that Job is actually affirming that he now believes this. But the absoluteness and impression of rapidity contradicts what he has argued so forcefully in chapter 21. So it may be that he is quoting the view of his friends (notably Bildad in 8:12–15) in order to correct it in verses 22–24. The ESV takes it this way and inserts the words, “You say …” at the start (v. 18).
Never Forget How Cruel the Wicked Are (v. 21)
They wrong the barren, childless woman,
and do no good to the widow. (v. 21)
Verse 21 simply reminds us of the cruelty of these wicked people. “The barren … woman” (v. 21a) has no children to look after her in her old age and to protect her when she is widowed (v. 21b). The powerful wicked people “wrong” her, which has the sense of feeding or preying on her. They treat this vulnerable defenseless woman with heartless cruelty. But even if they are not punished immediately, they will most certainly be punished.
The Wicked Will Be Punished but Not Yet (vv. 22–25)
Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power;
they rise up when they despair of life.
He gives them security, and they are supported,
and his eyes are upon their ways.
They are exalted a little while, and then are gone;
they are brought low and gathered up like all others;
they are cut off like the heads of grain.
If it is not so, who will prove me a liar
and show that there is nothing in what I say? (vv. 22–25)
The translation of verse 22 is difficult. Verse 22a probably means that God “prolongs” (or causes to continue) the life of these wicked mighty people. They are not destroyed immediately, whatever the friends may say. They “rise up” or “rise high” in pride (v. 22b), but the time will come when they will “despair of life.” By putting the word “when” in the middle of verse 22b, the ESV disguises this flow, which might be better translated “they rise up, yet they despair of life”. Yes, they will often prosper, and sometimes for quite some time. But in the end they will “despair.”
While they prosper, God does indeed “give them security” (v. 23a), or at least the feeling and impression of security. But all the while God’s “eyes are upon their ways” (v. 23b). He does see, and he does care. So while indeed they “are exalted,” it is only for “a little while,” and after that they “are gone” (v. 24a). There will be a harvest (v. 24b, c), and when God’s time is ripe they will be “cut off like the heads of grain.”
The whole time they are doing their wicked and oppressive deeds, God is watching and waiting. Just as in the time of Abraham “the iniquity of the Amorites” was “not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16), so these wicked in the days of Job, and the wicked in our day, by their “hard and impenitent hearts” are “storing up wrath” for themselves “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). As in the Parable of the Weeds, the farmer says, “Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30), so it was in Job’s age, and so it is today.
Job’s concluding challenge (v. 25) shows how confident he now is that the wicked will eventually be punished. Job is not echoing exactly what the comforters have said when they spoke of the destiny of the wicked. He stresses the delay, the period when God prolongs the life of these people, gives them a feeling of security, and exalts them; only when their iniquity is complete will the stored-up wrath be poured out upon them. Just as Job has glimpsed the confidence of faith that believes in his final justification, so he has grasped the certainty of the final destruction of the wicked.
Conclusion: Your Kingdom Come!
So Job prays for God’s kingdom to come. He knows full well that it has not yet come, that in his own terrible experience and in the prosperity of the wicked God’s will is not yet done on earth as it is in Heaven. But in praying this he believes that one day he himself will be vindicated and the wicked will be destroyed. And he longs with every fiber of his being for that day. Job’s speech is a wonderful prayer and one we can echo in Christ.
For Christ taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Wickedness is rampant in our day, just as it was in Job’s day. But one day God will set things in order…God will step in and say that’s enough…times up…no more harm will come to my people and HE will vindicate those who are in Christ and judge those who are not. The only question is will you be found in Christ or not?
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