Job 13–14: Ashes & Clay

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 7: Thursday

“Behold, my eye has seen all this,
My ear has heard and understood it.
What you know I also know;
I am not inferior to you.
“But I would speak to the Almighty,
And I desire to argue with God.
But you smear with lies;
You are all worthless physicians.
O that you would be completely silent,
And that it would become your wisdom!”
Job 13:1-5

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. Francis Andersen comments:

“Job clearly brands them as incompetent; and, by calling them liars, charges them with fraud. They cover their ignorance by diagnosing an imaginary illness in Job (his dreadful, hidden sin) and prescribing a worthless cure (repentance, and so on)…If this is all they have to say, there would be more wisdom in silence.

“In spite of his censure, Job shows here [13:6–8] a remarkably perceptive pastoral concern for the spiritual safety of his friends…By presuming to plead the case for God (8), falsely, deceitfully (7), and with partiality (8, 10), they are in grave danger…

“The grounds of Job’s assault on his friends should be appreciated, for his attitude has been commonly misconstrued by commentators. In particular, they often say that Job doubts the justice of God. But the warning he gives his friends is based on the certainty that they cannot deceive God (9), or get away with things done in secret (10). God will deal with them in strict justice, and their ‘defenses will crumble like clay’ (12, NEB).”1

Job tells them:

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

E. S. P. Heavenor writes 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.”2

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.

Job 13:15 is a famously quoted verse:

“Though He slay me,
I will hope in Him.
Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.”
Job 13:15 LSB

Derek Kidner comments,

“The deeper Job’s darkness, the more his grip tightens on what he has always stood for, and the more doggedly he gropes for the way home. There had to be this obscurity for the test to be true. Yet, in the nature of things, Job’s could not be the total darkness of the pagan or atheist, for the memory of God’s truth and goodness was still there, to break surface at some of the most unlikely moments.”3

In 13:20, Job begins to address God once more. He wants to make his case for his innocence or else hear what his sins are from God:4

“Then call, and I will answer;
Or let me speak, then respond to me.
How many are my iniquities and sins?
Make known to me my transgression and my sin.
Why do You hide Your face
And think of me as 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 possess the iniquities of my youth.”
Job 13:22–26 LSB

Job is torn with desolation and longing for God. Kidner writes (his emphasis),

“We have already noticed (in Job’s rebuke to his friends for their specious arguments, 13:7–12) his conviction that God would have no truck with anything untrue — a conviction which unconsciously contradicted his own suspicion, in a dark moment, that ‘though I am blameless, he would proved me perverse’ (9:20b). In his bones, Job knew what God stood for. And this must surely include (as he hoped against hope) some shred of compassion!…

“For all its ebbing and flowing, that conviction inches its way forward, to reach a point, momentarily, in his next long utterance, where he finds himself unable to believe God’s strange wrath can last forever. Most movingly he pleads:”5

“Oh that You would conceal me in Sheol,
That You would hide me until Your anger returns to You,
That You would set a limit for me and remember me!
If a man dies, will he live
All the days of my labor 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 LSB

Andersen comments, “All Job’s hopes are summed up in the belief that God will remember him (13).”6 Heavenor writes these verses,

“are the 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.”7

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 in my darkest times of anguish. Those who suffer do not need pat answers from friends, 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 those who suffer need 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. 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 and her witness of how God had comforted and restored her heart to Him through His Word. She was a testimony of trust in God in the darkest of circumstances. She was still in the midst of suffering, and she was a living example of someone who turned back to Him again and again. She didn’t tell me, I’m trusting God; she simply shared her agony and how God had helped her. The reality of her trust was evident in her humility and kindness, as she comforted and strengthened me, and as she loved me.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is working in your perseverance in the same sufferings which we also suffer. And our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 LSB

Suffering not only tests the one who suffers, but the sufferer’s friend, and the extent to which the friend knows God is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. If you want to help someone who suffers, love them. If you want to help someone who suffers trust God, share the comfort God has given you.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Wood ash: Laurentius. (CC BY-SA 3.0).
“Never Morning Wore To Evening But Some Heart Did Break”: Walter Langley. Public Domain. The title of the painting is from the sixth canto of the poem, “In Memoriam A. H. H..” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
1,6Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 177–178, 186.
2,4,7E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 429, 430.
3,5Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1985) 67, 67.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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