Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 13: Thursday
“What a help you are to the one without power!
How you have saved the arm without strength!
What counsel you have given to one without wisdom!”
In Thursday’s Bible reading of Job 25–26, Bildad speaks to Job in chapter 25. Job’s reply to him in chapter 26, marks the beginning of a long discourse by Job that will continue for six chapters, until the end of chapter 31.
Bildad gives the last speech of the three friends. He asks, “How then can mortal man be right with God?” This is a rhetorical question to which Job and his friends know the answer: no one can. Eliphaz had already asked this back in Job 4:17. Job knows no one can be in the right before God, and has said so (cf. Job 9:1ff), but he has been accused of bringing his calamities upon himself because he is wicked. In chapter 22, Eliphaz told him:
And your iniquities without end?”
As I read Bildad’s words in Job 26, I thought, he has completely missed what Job said to Eliphaz or else has not a clue as to what to say, but was apparently unwilling to remain silent and felt the need to say something. From Job’s reaction I think he had similar thoughts.
Job had just finished a passionate reply to Eliphaz’ accusation that he is a wicked man, and conclusively contradicted Eliphaz’ dogma that wicked deeds always bring the consequence of suffering. Job ended chapter 24 with a challenge to prove him wrong, and all Bildad can offer is a repetition of a question that has been dealt with, and a brief speech on God’s dominion and power. E. S. P. Heavenor writes:
“Dogmatism has nothing new to say. This short speech is not a case of multum in parvo, but an indication that the ideas of the friends are all but exhausted… There is point in the speech, but in the sense intended by Bildad it cannot help Job. The latter never claims that there is no darkness in him, but only that there is not the darkness suspected by his friends.”1
Francis Andersen concurs:
“The discussion is nearly exhausted. The brevity of Bildad’s final speech and the absence of a third speech by Zophar are indications that the friends have run out of fuel.”2
Job drips with sarcasm when he replies in chapter 26.
“What a help you are to the one
How you have saved the arm
What counsel you have given to one
What sound wisdom you have abundantly made known!
To whom have you declared words?
And whose breath comes out from you?”
Bildad’s words were feeble, to say the least, as if he already knew what he would say was insufficient—hence Job’s scathing opening in these verses.
Job takes the theme of God’s rule and dominion introduced by Bildad and expands it. He goes so far beyond what Bildad had to say that I wonder if Job was trying to underscore the point, in case they missed his sarcasm, and tell them in a not so subtle manner, that, yes, he does realize and grasp the greatness of God. The underlying message is a reiteration of what he said in 13:1–2, he knows what they know, and his understanding does not fall short of theirs.
Job speaks of God’s omnipresence, “God is everywhere present simultaneously with his whole being.”3 Of God’s omniscience: “God is all-knowing.”4
Under the waters and their inhabitants.
Naked is Sheol before Him,
And Abaddon has no covering.”
Job speaks of God’s omnipotence: “God is all-powerful.”5 And of God’s sovereignty: “He is clothed with absolute authority over the hosts of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth.”6
And hangs the earth on nothing.
He wraps up the waters in His clouds,
And the cloud does not break out under them.
He obscures the face of His throne
And spreads His cloud over it.
He has marked a circle on the surface of the waters
At the boundary of light and darkness.
The pillars of heaven tremble
And are astonished at His rebuke.
He quieted the sea with His power,
And by His understanding He crushed Rahab.
By His breath the heavens are made beautiful;
His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent.”
Job concludes God, in His ways, in His being, in His acts, is beyond our comprehension (cf. Job 9:5–12; Psalm 145:3; Isaiah 40:12–31; Rom. 11:33–36).7
And how only with a whisper of a word do we hear of Him!
But His mighty thunder, who can understand?”
Even the fringes of His ways are far beyond us. Only with a whisper of a word do we hear of Him. God is holy. R. C. Sproul explains:
“The primary meaning of holy is “separate”…
“[However] God’s holiness is more than just separateness. His holiness is also transcendent…When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness. The word is used to describe God’s relationship to the world. The world has no power over Him. Transcendence describes God in His consuming majesty, His exalted loftiness. It points to the infinite distance that separates Him from every creature…
“When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be “other,” to be different in a special way…
“…when the word holy is applied to God, it does not signify one single attribute…The word is used as a synonym for his deity. That is, the word holy calls attention to all that God is.”8
Job goes far beyond Bildad in “magnifying the greatness of God,”9 when he says.
And how only with a whisper of a word do we hear of Him!
But His mighty thunder, who can understand?”
“Chapter 26 is one of the grandest recitals in the whole book. It is excelled only by the Lord’s speeches, as is fitting. It sounds well in Job’s mouth and ends the dialogue, like the first movement of a symphony, with great crashing chords.”10
Looking back at the speeches of Job’s friends, I think that at this point they have completely lost sight of who he is. In his commentaries on Job, David Cline includes this quote.11
Before you speak to someone who is suffering, do you take the time to pray and ask God for wisdom, and to help you genuinely consider who the person is and what he or she needs to hear? Do you listen and understand his perspective and see the individual? Or are you caught up in playing the role of counselor rather than actually being one? If your words aren’t well received, do you take the time to think over why they are not? Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar could never get past themselves to focus on helping Job. They remained caught up in their answers, their own fears, and their own sense of insult. Bildad has the last word of the three of them; and it’s fitting that this final piece of advice ends with a sputter.
David Atkinson writes:
“The error of these friends has implications for our understanding of faith. For the friends, faith was a rational system of belief,12 detached from the reality of a living relationship with God (Eliphaz), or a truth held on to because others said so (Bildad), or even a view of the world which fitted in with common sense (Zophar)… Faith for Job is the gift which God gives him to enable him to go on living in his uncertainties. Faith does not provide answers, but it is a hand in the darkness keeping alive that trust that despite all appearances, God is still on his side…
“The error of the friends has implications also for our pastoral theology and our pastoral care…It is not only pointing another person to God as it were from afar, it is also sitting with him on the ash heap to listen to his real feelings and struggles, and to let our theology and our preaching and our counselling engage with him there…
“It is much easier to keep our distance, like these three miserable comforters; to avoid engaging in the personally pressing questions, and to keep our theology academic. But this leaves Job in pain. Let us learn from the inappropriateness of these three friends not only the importance of a practical theology which engages with human need, but also that to a large extent the medium is the message…
“And is that not the message of the incarnation of Christ? We preach a Christ who has come where we are, in whom, as Thomas Ogden puts it, ‘God assumes oour frame of reference’. It the incarnation not a ‘divine empathy’, to use the counselling term, in which Christ engages with us in our humanity without losing his self-identity? God has come where we are, and engages with us as we are in our ordinariness, even in our trivia. The day to day of our lives matters to him. And it is not a simple matter of getting what we deserve. God does not deal with us simply on the basis of ‘you reap what you sow’. He places this theological truth within a broader context of sovereign grace, which prevents us from linking suffering to particular sins.
“In the Christ who bears our judgment for us, we no longer carry the burden of our sins. In the Christ whose life is united with ours by the Holy Spirit, we are given the reward of fellowship with God. In the Christ who suffers for us on the cross, the simple law of deserts is superseded and God meets us in grace. Within his love, the mystery of suffering will find its own purpose and power. Instead of the sterile orthodoxy of natural causes, the book of Job is pressing us to look again at the meaning of our relationship with God.”13
When we suffer, only God knows the extent of what we endure. There are some things we need that only God can give: His comfort and help, our trust in who He is, and perseverance in our trials.
However, there are things you can give, and that is why He has placed you in that person’s life. Job has endured lectures and accusations, and received advice and wisdom which he already knew. When someone you know is suffering consider what he or she needs that they cannot give themselves, but you can.14 Job had better theology than any of his friends. Don’t presume what someone needs to know about God or about the Christian life. There certainly may be things your friend should know that will be helpful, but as I said above, pray and ask God for wisdom, and for His help to consider who the person is, and what your friend needs to hear.
Your friend needs your presence. People need to know they are not alone—they need the touch of another human being to whom it matters what is happening to them. They need to know you respect them, consider them to be a valuable part of your life. They need consolation. They need love.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Job Speaks with His Friends: Gustave Doré, Doré’s English Bible. Public Domain.
1,9E. 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) 435, 435.
2,10Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 231, 232.
3,4,5Matthew Barrett, None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God (Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI: 2019) 253, 253, 253.
6,7Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh: 2021) 64, 14–15: “The Christian Church confesses on the one hand that God is the Incomprehensible One, but also on the other hand, that He can be known and that knowledge of Him is an absolute requisite unto salvation…it is impossible for man to have a knowledge of God that is exhaustive and perfect in every way…At the same time it is maintained that man can obtain a knowledge of God that is perfectly adequate for the realization of the divine purpose in the life of man. However, true knowledge of God can be acquired only from the divine self-revelation [i.e., the Bible. cf. Psalm 19:7–14, 2 Timothy 3:14–17, Hebrews 1:1–4], and only by the man who accepts this with childlike faith.”
8R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton IL: 1985, Second ed. 1998) 37–38, 39–40.
11David J. A. Clines, Job 1–17 (Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI: 1989) frontmatter Testimonia.
12This does not mean faith is irrational. Faith is not a leap in the dark. See my post, Job 11–12: Ease & Calamity, and the quote from Os Guinness that begins, “When a Christian comes to faith his understanding and his trust go hand in hand, but as he continues in faith his trust may sometimes be called to go on by itself without his understanding.”
13David Atkinson, The Message of Job: Suffering and grace (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove IL: 1991) 65-66.
14Peter Bregman, “The Right Way to Respond to Failure,” Harvard Business Review, March 10, 2011. When I read this article years ago, I thought it was very insightful in pointing out someone who hurts may know all the facts to analyze a situation, but the one thing the young girl could not give herself was empathy. While Job had not failed, his life has fallen apart and the accompanying feelings are similar. He knew his theology, but the one thing he could not give himself was empathy. Bregman also points out, “Empathy communicates trust.” He also needed to know his friends trusted his character, rather than having them cut him up into shreds.
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