Where Words Fail (Job 13)
There’s a limit to what words can do. Words are important, words are powerful, but words are as fallible as anything else human. You’ve probably noticed it: the long conversations that ramble on to nowhere, the meetings at work that never end because some people don’t know when to stop talking, the heated debates about God and apologetics that never achieve what anyone wants them to. I’ve been in all those situations, and while I’m a big believer in the power of words I also recognise their limitations.
Job knew only too well the limitations of words. Chapter 13 is when he gets sick of words with his friends and tells them to shut up. This is what he says:
“My eyes have seen all this,
my ears have heard and understood it.
2 What you know, I also know;
I am not inferior to you.
3 But I desire to speak to the Almighty
and to argue my case with God.
4 You, however, smear me with lies;
you are worthless physicians, all of you!
5 If only you would be altogether silent!
Strong words. Harsh, but probably fair.
By this stage all three friends have had their say: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and Job has responded to each. It’s only the end of the first cycle of these conversations – there’s another 25 chapters yet before God intervenes – so if Job is annoyed now imagine how exasperated he is later on?
The reason is that his friends aren’t speaking in love but trying to prove themselves right. Their seemingly genuine concern and solidarity with Job at the start has given way to increasing frustration about his attitude and an intensifying need to win the argument. As I wrote in a previous post, much of what they said was true, but ultimately the friends missed the point. Job wasn’t suffering because he had sinned, but because God was teaching Satan a lesson. What Job needed was not for his friends to explain and solve the situation, but to simply be his friends and love him through this terrible time.
The truth is that none of them had any idea what was going on. They’re all (un)blissfully unaware of what happened in heaven in the first chapter. To them, it’s a simple equation: suffering = punishment for sin. When Job would not and could not admit to any such sin, his friends get angry and mistreat him verbally.
Job, however, cuts through the matter by focusing on God. He knows he can’t get closure by speaking to flawed humans, he has to take the matter to God. That’s why he says: “I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.” He wants to find out from God what on earth is going on, why has all this happened? It’s completely understandable. We all want to know why.
I want to know why God kept Job waiting for so many more chapters. Was it to prove the limits of human wisdom by utterly exhausting it? Was it to allow all these guys to fully get everything off their chests? I don’t know.
But what fascinates me is the boldness with which Job desires to ‘argue my case with God’. That’s incredibly daring for a sinful mortal to contemplate in the face of a perfect and almighty deity. Job perhaps more than any other Old Testament figure had the strongest justification for making such a case, but even he would have been proved to be sinful and unable to win his case. That’s why God so firmly puts him in his place in chapters 38-41. We have all sinned and all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us could ever argue our case successfully or excuse ourselves before God.
Enter Jesus. Jesus makes all the difference. On our own we’re sinful and doomed. With Jesus we’re justified. Because of Jesus we can say with the writer of Hebrews:
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
How Job would have loved to hear those words. But Job did not know Jesus. Like everyone else in BC times he stood or fell before God purely on his own merit. Neither he nor anyone else without Jesus can approach God’s throne with confidence. Only Jesus makes a way. If you want to approach God, you have to do it through Jesus. If you believe in Him, then you can have total confidence of finding and receiving grace. And I think that’s amazing.