Job 17–18: Torn Plans & Trite Words

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 9: Thursday

My days are past, my plans are torn apart,
Even the wishes of my heart.”

Job 17:11

In today’s Bible reading of Job 17–18, Job’s very first words in chapter 17 reflect a man who is listless and numb in his despondency—he realizes there is no help to be had from his friends.

“My spirit is broken, my days are extinguished,
The grave is ready for me.
Surely mockers are with me,
And my eye gazes on their provocation.”
Job 17:1–2

The fascinating thing is that even as he speaks in hopeless resignation, he expresses confidence in how those who are righteous will react to his desolation, and his conviction that his circumstances will not deter them from perseverance in godliness, with their character becoming firmer and more secure.

“My eye has also grown dim because of grief,
And all my members are as a shadow.
The upright will be appalled at this,
And the innocent will stir up himself against the godless.
Nevertheless the righteous will hold to his way,
And he who has clean hands will grow stronger and stronger.”
Job 17:7–9

E. S. P. Heavenor writes:

“Delitzsch speaks of the passage [vv. 8–9] as ‘a rocket which shoots above the tragic darkness of the book lighting it up suddenly although only for a short time’. In a similar strain A. B. Davidson describes it as ‘perhaps the most surprising and lofty in the book’.”1

Then Job speaks the saddest of words, for he knows he’s not dealing with those who are wise, and that he will not hear a word of comfort from them.

“But come again all of you now,
For I do not find a wise man among you.
My days are past, my plans are torn apart,
Even the wishes of my heart.
They make night into day, saying,
‘The light is near,’ in the presence of darkness.”
Job 17:10–12

When I read of his plans and the wishes of his heart torn apart, I know Job has stood where I have stood. Only words of poetry could have expressed the requisite intensity of his circumstances, and by their poignancy I know that I am not alone in my experience. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, a former pastor, Mike Braun, writes:

“Poetry, contrary to popular prejudice, is the art of saying the most with as few words as possible. Far from gilding lilies with unnecessary encumbering words, poetry, at least good poetry, encompasses truth with a sharp and swift observation….profound truth is best expressed in elegant brevity.”2

Have you had comforters who have thought they made night into day by merely saying light is near when the reality is darkness? Sometimes when truths are said without understanding of their foundation and with bland superficiality, they become mere mockery of man and God. Upon asking for prayer in a crushing situation I was told that God would answer prayer, but it might not be what I wanted. Or what about hearing in the midst of anguish that the way to have peace and joy is to take your eyes off yourself and put them on God?  Yes, those statements are true, but that is not all that needed to be said, nor are the bald words enough without love and kindness, humility and understanding in their expression. To borrow Calvin’s words I quoted yesterday, what a cold character this advice gives to God, utterly removing the notion of the compassion He has for us as He remembers our frame of dust (cf. Psalm 103).

And that brings us to Bildad.

In Job 18, Bildad speaks a second time to Job. He pontificates on a topic that has no application to who Job is or for his distress. It’s as if Bildad has in mind exactly what he wants to say and he’s going to say it whether or not his words have any relevance for Job. His words indicate contempt for Job as he firmly gives exactly the wisdom he believes is needed. Heavenor comments:

“Bildad has nothing new to say and certainly nothing that can have any significance for Job. A portrayal of the doom of the wicked can speak only to a man with a guilty conscience.”3

It’s shocking to see the way in which Bildad doesn’t even take the time before he speaks to think about who Job is and what he knows about Job from the past. He has no empathy for Job and doesn’t bother to understand Job and to consider whether or not his words are even appropriate. Job is the invisible man to Bildad. Sometimes people don’t listen to you or see you as who you are. Whether from thoughtlessness, conceit or discomfort in dealing with a situation beyond their ken, they tell you the answer they think they know and that they think you need to hear whether or not it fits who you are and your circumstances.

When Paul wrote this to the Corinthians,

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17–18

he wasn’t speaking glibly. These words are in the context of his love for them and for God. As he speaks from his own knowledge of suffering weighed against eternity, he’s not handing out platitudes, he’s giving encouragement from his knowledge of God.

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.”
Proverbs 25:11

Follow Paul’s example. Speak from the context of your love for someone and your love for God. Use the Bible to encourage, but ask God for wisdom to use the right verses at the right time for the one you love.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Job and his friends, Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Public Domain.
1, 3E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 431.
2Mike Braun, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

3 thoughts on “Job 17–18: Torn Plans & Trite Words

  1. Agreed. And, as further guidance, for goodness’ sake, as a friend, never just say to a brother or sister in distress some pious little quote you saw in a book once. Aaarrgggghhhh. Think. Pray. Nodding without words would be better than that. No, it’s not easy. Hug the person. Shed a tear.

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