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24th May

Job 20-23; Psalm 139

Bible in a Year
9 minutes
In this article
24th May

Job 20-23; Psalm 139

Bible in a Year
9 minutes


So far in Job we’ve read through the prologue, the first round of speeches, and started the second round. We read as Job was exalted as a model example of a righteous man. God held court with his divine beings and heard reports, including the report of the satan (think of this as a job title, rather than the big, bad guy of the Bible). The satan asked the question, was Job genuinely righteous and faithful or was he just behaving that way because God was blessing him?

So God put this theory to the test, removing all of his blessing and favour from Job and leaving him alone and with a body full of sores. But despite all this, Job didn't sin or turn from God. He did, however, lament his situation, crying out that it would be better if he hadn't been born, and asking God why he won't just let him die. To begin with, Job’s friends chose to sit with him and mourn with him.

But then they started to rebuke him, leading to the first round of speeches. Eliphaz started off gentle, praising Job for his past wisdom and pointing out that God is just and punishes the wicked. Either Job is innocent and God will rescue him, or he is guilty and deserves what he gets. Bildad claims that Job's children must have been wicked, and that's why they were punished. He argued that we can see that those close to God flourish and those far from him suffer.

Zophar then jumped in to accuse Job of mocking God, saying that Job should be grateful because he deserves worse than what God is currently doing. Responding to them in turn and then as a whole, Job argues that he has every right to bring his case before God. God will do what he will do and Job is willing to accept that, as long as can speak to God himself. All these friends want to do is correct Job and hold on to the box they’ve put in God. They don’t want to comfort him or challenge their own assumptions about how God works.

This started round two of speeches, where the friends get harsher. Eliphaz accused Job of not fearing God and being foolish. God is powerful and humans are abominable and corrupt, so God can do what he wants. Job accused Eliphaz in return and then gave a long speech about how poorly God has treated him. Bildad then comes back in to reiterate that God punishes wicked people because they choose to live apart from him. That must be why Job's children died and why he is suffering. Again, Job has no problem with God punishing him as long as God himself explains why.

Job 20-23

At this point, Job's friends aren't bringing anything new. They are just trying harder and harder to justify their point of view to Job. Zophar starts with a speech on how the lives of the wicked are short. But Job has never denied that. In fact, he regularly complains that life is short.

Next, in response to Job's question why do some wicked people seem not to get punished, Zophar explains that God uses their own wickedness to destroy them. In the same way that someone may eat something sweet in their mouth, but is poison when it hits their stomach. A wicked person may initially enjoy their wickedness, but it will ultimately be their downfall.

At that point, the wicked person can no longer enjoy the fruits of their work, nor will they be able to pass it on to their children. Wicked people will never be satisfied and so they will consume themselves in wanting more. And at the point when the wicked are fully confident in their own actions, that's when God will strike, with burning anger, arrows, and darkness. Their wickedness will be clear for everyone to see, and God will remove them.

The frustrating thing about Zophar, and many of the speeches from Job's friends, is that there are elements that are true. God does use people's wickedness to destroy themselves.

The problem is that they argue that these things are always the case, that God ALWAYS punishes the wicked and ALWAYS rescues the innocent. But we know that's not true. Some times wicked people never seem to be punished and, as with Job, people who are innocent continue to suffer. This is the point at the centre of Job's response.

Job first challenges the friends for their lack of compassion. Rather than comforting him, they mock him and revile him. Job then points out that,too often, we see wicked people prosper. They live long and pass on their riches to their children. Their houses are safe and their livestock breed and multiply. They can sing and dance and enjoy life, and all the while, they tell God that they don't need him.

Job challenges a specific argument of his friends that says, "God stores up their iniquity for their children." (Job 21:19). He points out that he's never seen it happen, and even if it were, the wicked don't care what happens to their children after they die. Job argues that life seems so much more random than his friends are saying. Some die after a full and happy life at the peak of health, while others die in bitterness, with their bodies wasting away.

Job ends by asking his friends if they've ever just looked around at the world around them, or asked people questions. Because if they did, they would see the foolishness of their argument when they realise that there are plenty of wicked that go unpunished and enjoy their lives. The finishes the second round of speeches and started the third and final round.

Eliphaz comes back, but unfortunately, it's more of what we've already heard. Job's friends are incapable of acknowledging anything that Job says because it would mean them having to rethink their entire theology. So instead, they ignore him and just continue to repeat their arguments in different ways. Eliphaz accuses Job of challenging God and then once again labels him a sinner saying, "Is not your evil abundant?" (Job 22:5).

He makes up things that, in his eyes, Job must have done wrong, like not feeding the hungry and not helping the widow and the orphan. He challenges Job for asking God these questions, saying that he is as bad as the wicked who say they do not need God. Eliphaz ends by encouraging Job to turn and repent to God. If Job does, then surely God will restore him and bless him once more.

This time, Job doesn't seem to bother to respond to Eliphaz, but is inspired by his speech. Job finds a fresh hope in seeking God. He changes his tone slightly, and now says that his issue isn't that God is refusing to answer him, but just that he has been unable to find God. He claims that if he could just come before God, then God would answer him and forgive him.

Job points out that he has been looking for God, but wherever he goes, he cannot find him. But he has this one confidence, that even though God has not been near, Job has never once stopped being obedient to God. Job has been faithful and when he can eventually get before God, God will prove him right.

But then Job once again recognises God's authority, and that if God has decided to punish Job, for whatever reason, there's nothing Job can do to change that. Because of this, as much as Job wants to come before God to declare his innocence, he is also terrified of doing so.

The main strength of Job's arguments is their nuance. He can see all these different factors; God's authority and goodness, along with the wickedness of the world and how sometimes it feels like bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Seeing all these things, Job is wrestling to try to work how they all fit together. With Job's friends, though, there is no nuance. They would rather blatantly ignore the realities around them so that they can tie up their theology in a nice, neat bow.

Psalm 139

The psalm is attributed to king David and falls into the category of lament psalm, though it may not seem it at first. We’ve mentioned before that lament psalms are about bringing your complaint to God, asking him to do something, and then declaring your trust in him.

This psalm spends the first three quarters of the psalm declaring their trust in God and his great power. It’s only in the last quarter that the psalmist brings their complaint and request.

Psalm 139:1-6 - The Lord is all-knowing

Psalm 139:7-12 - The Lord is all-present

Psalm 139:13-18 - The Lord as creator

Psalm 139:19-24 - Vindicate me, O Lord

The psalmist starts by declaring that the Lord has searched them and knows them. Whatever the psalmist does or thinks, the Lord knows about it. Even before the psalmist says a word, the Lord knows what they are going to say. This means that the Lord can ‘hem’ the psalmist in by guiding their steps and keeping them safe long before trouble is at hand. The idea of all this is almost too much for the psalmist. They can’t quite comprehend how the Lord can know them so intimately.

It may be that this knowledge scares the psalmist a little, but they realise there’s nothing they can do. There’s nowhere they can run away from the Lord. The Lord is in the heavens and in the pits of Sheol. Sheol was the Old Testament understanding of where you go when you die. They could travel towards the morning (east) or to the farthest limits of the sea (for Israelites, this was seen as the far side of the Mediterranean, to the west) but the Lord would still be there guiding them and leading them. Even if they hid somewhere really dark, the Lord can see in the dark just as well as the light.

This leads the psalmist to think about how it was the Lord who created them. The Lord knows how all the internal organs work, because he was the one that knit them together when the psalmist was in their mother’s womb. The psalmist marvels at the Lord for being able to do that. The Lord saw everything that was going on in the their mother’s womb and even then knew the full extent of the psalmist’s life. Again, this idea is too much for the psalmist to think about or comprehend.

This, finally, leads the psalmist to their complaint and request. The psalmist is clearly surrounded by wicked people that oppose them and oppose God. The psalmist asks that God deal with their enemies. They point out to God that they have been loyal to him, hating those that God hates and those that turn away from God. The unspoken question is if the psalmist is doing what they should be doing, why are they being persecuted like this? So the psalmist then ends with a request that God search them and point out anything that is wicked in them so they can deal with it and live right.

The psalmist’s struggle is that they are surrounded by wicked people persecuting them and they don’t know why. So they first build this logical understanding that God sees all and knows all, and then asks God to either deal with the problem of point out where they’ve misunderstood. This is an incredible prayer. It shows humility to recognise ‘this seems wrong to me, but it may be that I’m missing something that God can see’. This humility and teachability means that we can both ask for God to intervene with our problems, but also gives him space to work on us if we’re the problem.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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