Job 21–22: False Answers & Accusations

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 11: Thursday

Then Job answered,
Listen carefully to my speech,
And let this be your
way of consolation.
Bear with me that I may speak;
Then after I have spoken, you may mock.”
Job 21:1–3 LSB

Thursday’s Bible reading is Job 21–22. Job has endured hearing Bildad (chapter 18) and then Zophar (chapter 20) tell him of the terrible end of the wicked—both unfeeling speeches with no application to the man Job is. Zophar was especially hardhearted as he spoke without any expression whatsoever of mercy or love after having just heard Job’s distressing plea for pity in chapter 19.

In chapter 21, Job begins his rejoinder to Zophar and from his opening words you can tell he has their measure. He proceeds to destroy their arguments that evil actions are always followed by bad consequences in life:

“Why do the wicked still live,
Continue on, also become very powerful?
Their seed is established with them in their presence,
And their offspring before their eyes,
Their houses are safe from dread,
And the rod of God is not on them.”
Job 21:7–9 LSB

And in verse 22, he says they have arrogated authority they do not have.

“Can anyone teach God knowledge,
In that He judges those on high?”
Job 21:22 LSB

E. S. P. Heavenor comments on Job’s speech in verses 22–34:

“Suddenly Job accuses his friends  of presumption in their cut-and-dried theories about divine government. They are virtually teaching God how He ought to govern, instead of facing the facts as they are…

“One man dies in effortless prosperity; another in abject misery. Who has a right to assume that virtue explains the former and vice the latter? That is theory and not fact, theory that is wrecked on fact as can be borne out by the testimony of those who have broad knowledge of men and affairs and can point to specific cases where wickedness seems to pay…In view of that, what comfort can he expect to find in his friends’ sweeping generalities, which are based on cases which suit their argument and which conveniently ignore those which do not?”1

The third cycle of speeches between Job and his three friends begins in Job 22 with Eliphaz’ words. Francis Andersen summarizes the gradual change in how the three have been speaking to Job:

“In the first cycle the friends are content to talk in generalities, without venturing to apply their doctrine openly to Job. In the second round the main theme is the fate of the wicked and Job’s point of view comes into open contradiction with that of his friends. Their relationship noticeably deteriorates and there is a certain amount of vituperation. The inference from Job’s resemblance to the state of the wicked, namely that he must be a sinner, has been made, obliquely at first. Now it comes into the open and the breach between them is complete. Once this point is reached there can be no further dialogue, and the discussion grinds to a halt.”2

Eliphaz begins by saying:

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
“Can a mighty man be of use to God,
Or an insightful man be useful to himself?
Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous,
Or profit if you make your ways perfect?
Job 22:1–3 LSB

Heavenor comments:

“To Eliphaz the answer to the question he poses is undoubtedly negative. It would be clearly positive to the writers of such passages as Je. 31:20; Ho 11:8; Mt 23:37; etc. In his estimation, the aloof God in the icy altitudes of His remote heaven could not be concerned in His own person about human virtue or vice…He could not have said, ‘God so loved the world…’; he could only have said, ‘God has so legislated for the world…’ He had no cross on Calvary to inform him of the love and agony on God’s heart as He surveys sinning men and women, and of His gladness when they allow themselves to be set in right relationship to Him.”3

Rather than admit that Job is correct and they have been wrong, Eliphaz accuses Job of being wicked and proceeds to cite a list of wrongs of which Job is guilty.

“Is it because of your reverent fear that He reproves you,
That He enters into judgment against you?
Is not your evil great,
And your iniquities without end?”
Job 22:4–5 LSB

Eliphaz thinks Job can’t possibly be suffering because of his reverent fear of God. Andersen comments, “We know, in fact, that this is precisely why Job is suffering.”4

Remember these men were not strangers to Job—chapter 2 states they are his friends. If Job had done the things Eliphaz accused him of doing, then word would have gotten out long before this and Job’s lifestyle would have come up for discussion at the very beginning of their speeches. Eliphaz’ words reveal the sin of his own heart, not Job’s, because making these unfounded charges reveals he would rather lie than acknowledge that his explanation for Job’s sorrows is wrong.

Grace and humility are so important when attempting to help someone who is in pain; the world hurls accusations enough without Christians piling on. Many times, however, the problem may not be direct accusations, but blunders. If the person tells you that what you have said hurts, then your reaction will reveal a lot about the extent to which you were trying to love that person. Are you more concerned that your words were not found to be helpful or are you more concerned that your words were not received as you thought they should have been? A backhanded apology is an attempt to preserve your image as righteous and place the blame on the one who suffers.

We all blunder and sometimes our best attempts backfire. A sincere, “I’m sorry,” without any qualifications will probably go a long way towards actually helping the person know you care. If you really think the other person’s reaction was sinful, then this is one time to really be fervent in your love, and let love “cover a multitude of sins.” Pray and ask God for wisdom about what and when to say something—and be more concerned for the other person’s welfare than for your own. What’s more important to you—to be seen as someone who’s wise and spiritual or to love and help someone who suffers?

Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each of you looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Galatians 6:1 LSB

Another thing that unfortunately can follow making blunders is maing things worse by abandon­ing one who suffers. Rather than say, “I’m sorry,” and “I want to learn how to help you,” sometimes people just leave. That is not love. That is wounded pride. It’s the last thing needed by someone in the throes of affliction.

We may not know why someone is suffering, but one thing we do know that is in direct opposition to Eliphaz is that God is not remote, He is not far off, He cares for His children. In Psalm 139, David speaks of God’s personal knowledge of who he is, and writes:

You have enclosed me behind and before,
And You have put Your hand upon me.
Psalm 139:5 LSB

We have a God who knows us, loves us, and cares for us. Peter writes, quoting the Old Testament:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, CASTING ALL YOUR ANXIETY ON HIM, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7 LSB
Cast your burden upon Yahweh and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
Psalm 55:22 LSB

We may not know why someone is suffering, but another thing we know, as Os Guinness says, is why we trust God who knows why.5 (See Job 11–12: Ease & Calamity). Whether we suffer or whether those we love suffer, when we don’t know why something has happened, when it makes no sense to us, we must know why we trust God. Guinness writes,

“it is all important that we do know why we trust God

“The test of suffering reveals whether our ‘knowing why’ is an irreducible bedrock conviction grounded in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, or whether our faith is resting to any degree on what is not foundation, but superstructure or just plain sand.”6

Suffering tests not only the one who suffers, but the friend who walks alongside. If you know why you trust God, that will affect what you say to someone who suffers and how you say it. It’s one reason why those who have suffered can help and encourage those who are in the midst of pain.

It’s why we read books written by Joni or Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Corrie’s story of Betsie’s words when she fell ill in Ravensbrück has been retold endlessly.

“Sleet stung us as we reached the outside. I stepped close to the stretcher to form a shield for Betsie. We walked past the waiting line of sick people, through the door and into a large ward. They placed the stretcher on the floor and I leaned down to make out Betsie’s words.

‘…must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.'”7

Their lives are witnesses to us that in the midst of whatever we are enduring, God is there and He can be trusted.

Job’s last words in chapter 21 were:

“How then will you vainly comfort me,
when your answers remain full of falsehood?”
Job 21:34 LSB

Don’t vainly comfort someone. People need answers full of truth. That means those answers will also be full of love for God and full of love for them, and from a heart that trusts in God.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Job and His Friends, Knesset Menorah: Tamar HaYardeni. COM:FOP Israel. COM:DM Israel.
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., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 433, 433.
2,4Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 217–218, 218.
5,6Os Guinness, Doubt (Lion Publishing plc, England: 1976; Third Edition, 1987) 206.
7Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, The Hiding Place (Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan NJ: 1971) 196–197, 209–210.

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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