Chapter 21 offers yet another of Job’s speeches. Here he begins by asking: “As for me, is my complaint addressed to mortals?” (21:4) The answer is “no”. Job’s complaint is addressed to God. Job longs to come before the Almighty. In chapter 23 he says,
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
That I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
And fill my mouth with arguments.
In short, Job wants to have his day in court.
I had a class in seminary many years ago where we studied the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. In that class, we held a sort of mock trial where Job presented his case before God and Job’s “friends” testified against him. I do not remember how the trial turned out; perhaps the conclusion was similar to the one at the end of the book of Job. However, that little exercise helped us to visually see, and to act out, what was going on in this book. Job longed more than anything else to come into God’s court and to be heard by the ultimate judge.
Job’s main question in this section of the book is simply: “Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” (21:7) His assumption is that if God were truly just, this would not be the case. If God were truly just, the good would prosper and not the evil ones of this life. Job comes to a similar conclusion as that of the author of Ecclesiastes. From a purely human perspective, life sometimes seems meaningless, for everything ends in death.
One dies in full prosperity,
Being wholly at ease and secure,
His loins full of milk
And the marrow of his bones moist.
Another dies in bitterness of soul,
Never having tasted of good.
They lie down alike in the dust,
And the worms cover them. (21:23-26)
In chapter 22, Eliphaz denies Job’s nihilism outright. Life is not meaningless. Rather, God is working out his purposes. “If you are suffering Job, then it must be God punishing you for your sin.” That is Eliphaz’ repeated response, like a broken record. “Is not your wickedness great?” (22:5) The solution to this problem, according to Eliphaz, is not to continue complaining against God but rather to agree with God about one’s sin and be at peace. “In this way good will come to you.” (22:21)
Eliphaz’ response sounds right, and true, and biblical. There is just one problem: it is not based upon actuality. Eliphaz’ high-sounding theology is misapplied. We, the readers, know what Eliphaz does not, because the narrator has told us in the introduction. Job is a righteous man. Therefore, he is not suffering for his sin. There must be some other reason for Job's pain.
Job’s response to Eliphaz, in chapter 23, reaches another pinnacle of faith. Despite the fact that Job cannot find God in his mess, he continues to believe that God sees him and holds him in remembrance....
But he knows the way that I take;
When he has tested me, I shall come out like gold….
For he will complete what he appoints for me. (23:10,14)
Despite Job’s pain and depression, he has moments, pinpricks, where the light shines through.
However, in chapter 24, Job plunges back into despair. “Why does God not keep office hours?” he asks in 24:1. “Why do those who know him never get an appointment with the Almighty?” Instead, the wicked are allowed to do whatever they like. Meanwhile…
From the city the dying groan,
And the throat of the wounded cries for help;
Yet God pays no attention to their prayer. (24:12)
Once again, Job’s stark honesty is startling; if we are honest, then we too must admit that sometimes this is exactly how life looks. In the end, there seems to be no hope. “Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters; so does Sheol those who have sinned.” (24:19) We are back to Sheol again, with no mention of the possibility of resurrection; the Kinsman-Redeemer is no longer in sight. This leads me to think that Job’s eloquent, almost Christian comment (“I know that my redeemer lives.”) in chapter 19 was really the addition of a later editor of this book.
One more thing to notice: Job never mentions Satan. He attributes all that is happening in his life to the sovereign hand of God. This suggests that the introduction to this book, where we meet Satan in God’s heavenly court, was written by a different author than the main body of the book. Job knows nothing of the cosmic battle between God and Satan that is being waged over his own life. If he did know of this battle, would his life make any more sense? Probably not; the thought of humans having to undergo suffering because of a cosmic wager is not a very comforting thought.