Job 19: Is there no justice?

It’s probably not accurate to call this Lockdown Job anymore. But I’m still trying to lock down what Job has to say to us (from the Hebrew text). Bildad has just spun another hellish speech at Job. But while Job’s description of his trials has similarities, his conclusion is wildly different.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6 | 7 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18

Translation:

19:1 Then Job answered, saying:

2 “How long will you (pl.) torment my soul;
And will you crush me with speeches?
3 These ten times you (pl.) reproach me;
Without shame you attack me.
4 And [if] indeed I have erred;
[It is] with me it remains, my error!
5 If indeed you would act loftily over me;
And plead against me my reproach.
6 Know then that God has wronged me, and has encircled me with his net.”

  • Job begins again by rebuking his friends’ too-neat theology. By now it’s clear that their speeches are actually compounding Job’s grief. He’s already bankrupt and childless and in pain. But he is most “tormented” and “crushed” (v2) that his friends “reproach” (v3) him. Their incessant, repeated (as if “ten times”, v3) diatribes are not helpful.
  • Job doesn’t claim sinless perfection (v4), but he maintains that his sufferings are not his fault (v6). This is important to remember as he continues to describe the depths of his suffering and how closely it matches the fate that does fall upon sinners elsewhere.


7 “Look – I cry out, “Violence”, but I am not answered;
I cry out for help, but there is no justice.
8 My way He has walled up so I cannot pass;
And upon my paths, darkness he has set.
9 My glory he has stripped from me;
And he has taken the crown of my head.
10 He demolishes me all around then I go;
And uprooted like a tree is my hope.
11 And it burns against me, his anger;
And He considers me as his adversary.
12 Together they advance, His troops;
They throw up their siege ramp (lit: way) against me
,
and they encamp around my tent.”

  • The word for “violence” in Hebrew is hamas (an unfortunate name choice for the Palestinian group) – the same word used in Genesis 6:11 to describe how the earth was filled with “violence”.
  • Verse 7 raises a crucial question: is Job declaring definitively that there is no justice (Heb: we-ein mishpat) from God, as many “death of God” theologians and liberals believe? Does suffering happen because we live in a world governed by a blind watchmaker? Yet here and throughout the book, Job is still appealing to God, for justice for his innocent suffering. It doesn’t seem like he’s abandoned belief that God can make things right. More to come.
  • Like the ruler of a besieged city, Job feels trapped (v8), stripped of honour (v9), demolished and warred against (v11). Imagine if you were in a coronavirus lockdown, except there was no food coming in, and the virus was slowly wreaking havoc outside, just waiting to break through into your little bubble. That’s what Job’s suffering feels like, and he wails that God is behind it.
  • Bildad in chapter 18 can wax lyrical all he likes about what hell feels like. But for Job, hell is what he is living through right now.

13 “My brothers he has made far from me;
My acquaintances are estranged from me.
14 My near [family] have refrained [from me];
And my close friends have forgotten me.
15 The guests of my house and my maidservants consider me a stranger;
Foreign I have become in their eyes.
16 To my servant I call but he does not answer;
With my mouth I plead for compassion with him.
17 My breath is loathsome to my wife;
I am a stench to the children of my own mother.
18 Even youngsters despise me,
When I arise they speak at me.
19 They abhor me, all my closest friends;
And those I love have turned against me.
20 To my skin and flesh my bones cling;
And I am left with the skin of my teeth.”

  • Verse 13-18 describe every kind of person and how they have abandoned him. Job is completely alone. He has gone from honoured to “forgotten”; considered “strange”, “foreign”.
  • I think the ESV is a bit too tame in verse 17 – Job’s wife finds even his breath “loathsome”.
  • Verse 20 is where the common idiom “escape by the skin of my teeth” comes from (from its traditional translation “I have escaped by the skin of my teeth”, e.g. KJV). But in context, Job hasn’t really escaped from a close shave, so it’s probably better to translate אֶתְמַלְּטָ֗ה as “I have been left (alive)”. The phrase “skin of my teeth” probably means Job’s gums. It’s a stark picture of Job’s physical state – a toothless frail man who nobody dares to go near.

21 “Show mercy to me, show mercy to me, you my friends;
For the hand of God has struck me.
22 And why do you pursue me like God does?
And with my flesh are you not satisfied?
23 O that they be written, my words;
O that in a scroll they also be inscribed,
24 with a pen of iron and with lead,
Forever on a rock they be engraved.”

  • Job switches now and implores his friends: show mercy to me! (v21) He says it twice for emphasis, and it is addressed literally to “you, my friends”. The worst part of Job’s suffering is the lack of sympathy from his friends.
  • Though when he reasons that “the hand of God” has struck me, we know from chapters 1 and 2 that this isn’t quite what is going on: rather, it is the Satan who God has permitted to strike Job. For Job and his friends, there is a glaring omission of the Satan’s role in causing chaos under God’s sovereign control.
  • Job has been abandoned by all his human companions, yet he still wants to be proved right (v23, 24). From what we’ve seen so far, if Job dies, his friends would just spread the lie that he was an unrepentant sinner who got his just desserts. So he still yearns to clear his name, to have his words inscribed and recorded.

25 But I myself know that my ‘goel’ lives;
The last one, upon the earth he will stand.
26 And after this skin has been destroyed;
Yet from my flesh I will see God.
27 Whom I, I will see myself,
My eyes will see, and not a stranger.
It grows faint, my insides within me.

  • More than a yearning for a written record (v23 begins in the optative, expressing a wish), here in v25 Job moves to a confident declaration: “But I myself know.” Know what?
  • The Hebrew literally says “that my Goel lives”. It’s the same word used to describe Boaz, Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer — someone tied to you by covenant promise, who stood in your place and protected you. It could be translated Redeemer, or Vindicator, or Champion.
  • Note v26 – Job doesn’t necessarily expect vindication in his earthly life, but “after this skin has been destroyed”.
  • It’s tantalising to conclude immediately that Job is longing for Jesus. The text doesn’t say that explicitly. It certainly says that Job is longing to see God himself (v26). When all humans have abandoned him, when Job himself is wasting away, when even his words begin to fail him, this “Goel” will be the last one who stands upon the earth. The redeemer Job is longing for must be God Himself.
  • This vision of God vindicating him and showing up is so powerful for Job, that his heart (literally bowels, or kidneys, where his emotions sit in Hebrew thought) faints within him!
  • Scholars struggle with how on earth a God can “wrong” Job (v6), pursue him, yet vindicate him. But Christians know that God is not just Judge, but also Redeemer; he does not just punish us but also carries us in his arms. And so every person in Christ knows by faith that one day God will stand upon the earth, the last one, and we will see our Champion face to face.

28 “But when you say: “How will we pursue him,
and the root of the matter is found in him.”
29 Fear (imp.) the sword yourself, from the face of the sword,
For [His] wrath [is] the punishment of the sword,
That there is judgement.”

  • And so Job issues a final warning to friends, or those who laugh at the sorry state of the righteous. He warns his friends not to keep pursuing him like God does.
  • So Job is not a disbeliever in justice. Rather, he senses the absence of it in his present moment (19:7), yet still agrees “that there is judgement” (19:29) for those who falsely accuse him.
  • The more I think about this chapter, the more it reminds me that the life of faith is a paradox – we see so much that is unjust, but that ironically reminds us that there must be a God who is for me or against me, who we can appeal to for justice. And even if the pain and injustice we experience isn’t resolved in this life, we can take heart that one day, God Himself will be our Vindicator and stand on our side. In Christ, He will never be socially distant from us. That’s worth raving about.
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