Job 13–14: Ashes & Clay

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 7: Thursday

Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ashes,
Your defenses are defenses of clay.
Job 13:12

In today’s Bible reading of Job 13–14, Job finishes his rejoinder to Zophar and his other friends. Zopar was the last of the three men to speak to Job, and as I look back, the first set of lectures from them became increasingly worse, and Zophar’s words are the final straw. Job’s reply, begun in chapter 12, breaks out in sarcasm and anger. Chapter 13, opens with him telling them he’s not their inferior, and he already knows everything they know: they “smear with lies,” and they are “worthless physicians.” E. S. P. Heavenor writes that the three are:

“…seeking to justify the ways of God by maxims of ashes and defenses of clay. He accuses them of being, not genuine allies of God, but cringing sycophants, using twisted arguments to bolster a cause they support out of a wholesome respect for their own skin….The friends have made much  of God’s omniscient gaze upon Job. Are they remembering that the very same gaze is upon the motives for their championship of God? How will they fare when they stand at the bar of the majesty and omniscience of God?”1

His friends could not handle the reality of inexplicable suffering. As I’ve mentioned before, they feared for themselves if they could not find a recognizable cause and effect between sin and Job’s suffering. Their fear trumped their concern for the anguish of Job, and so they came up with their proverbs of ashes and defenses of clay.

It’s a terrible thing to suffer alone, but it’s worse to receive accusations. As their words become harsher, you can see the effect on Job, both in his replies to them and in his questioning of God. In the middle of chapter 13, he begins to address God once more. He wants to make his case for his innocence or else hear what his sins are from God:2

“Then call, and I will answer;
Or let me speak, then reply to me.
How many are my iniquities and sins?
Make known to me my rebellion and my sin.
Why do You hide Your face
And consider me Your enemy?
Will You cause a driven leaf to tremble?
Or will You pursue the dry chaff?
For You write bitter things against me
And make me to inherit the iniquities of my youth.”
Job 13:22–26

In chapter 14, Job varies between desolation and longing for God.

“Oh that You would hide me in Sheol,
That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You,
That You would set a limit for me and remember me!
If a man dies, will he live again?
All the days of my struggle I will wait
Until my change comes.
You will call, and I will answer You;
You will long for the work of Your hands. ”
Job 14:13–15

Heavenor writes that in these verses we find,

“…words of a man who cannot let go his faith in the God whose present dealings are a blank mystery to him; a man raising questions which Jesus alone can answer. Cf. Jn. 11:25; 2 Tim. 1:10, etc.”3

Chapter 14 ends bleakly, and Job, once again, is desolate.

I find in the vacillations of Job echoes of my own waiverings of trust and doubt. Those who suffer do not need pat answers, indeed, there are none to be had, for you cannot explain the inexplicable, and to attempt to do so is to find yourself in ashes and clay territory. What is needed is love that trumps fear and can risk not knowing the answers or whys, but leave those in God’s hands.

This is the moment to comfort someone with the comfort you, yourself have received from God (2 Corinthians 1). In Organizing Love, I told how my friend, Lisa, did that for me:

“Lisa started coming to visit me, listening to my lament and praying with me.  I was still reeling from other events in my life prior to my illness.  With a kind and understanding heart, Lisa heard my doubts and my cries, with love and without judgment.  At her suggestion, I started memorizing Psalm 27.  Now at the time, I could barely manage to remember a verse a week, but she never treated me as inferior.”

Lisa had no answers to my sufferings, and she had had no answers to her own. What she did have was love. She gave me a witness that God had comforted and restored her heart to Him through His Word. She was still in the midst of suffering—and she gave me an example of someone who turned back to Him again and again. In humility and kindness, she comforted and strengthened me as she loved me and was a testimony of her trust in Him in the darkest of circumstances.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Job and his friends, Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Public Domain.
1, 2, 3E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., pp. 429, 430.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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