“The Justice of Job”
July 3, 2016
II. Background for the Book of Job
III. Justice as administered by Job
The book of Job: I think it is one of the most fascinating books in the Bible. It covers an incredible range of topics beyond suffering and affliction, which is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Job. James mentions this in his epistle.
“10As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the LORD. 11Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and have seen the outcome of the LORD’s dealings, that the LORD is full of compassion and is merciful.” James 5:10-11
Indeed, we have all heard of the endurance, or as the King James Bible puts it, the “patience” of Job. But today I would like us to explore an aspect of Job’s life and character that is usually eclipsed by the horrible afflictions that befell him and his family. Instead of the patience of Job, let’s see what his book says about the Justice of Job.
Before we dig into this I would like us all, especially me, to hit a kind of reset button with regard to attitude. The book of Proverbs and the apostle Paul have many choice words for the able-bodied who refuse to work, and for those who habitually make foolish, self-destructive life style decisions that keep them perpetually in poverty. We are not talking about enabling irresponsible or sinful behavior when we advocate helping the poor. Those are not the people that Proverbs, Jesus, and the apostles admonish us to help, and those are not the people that Job was helping. To be sure, we should at least try to reach these people. They need Jesus and a transformed life. But they are not the focus of the passages we will be looking at today. The poor people that Job was concerned for were the truly helpless, who were afflicted through no fault of their own and desperately needed an advocate.
First, a little background: The book of Job is almost certainly the oldest book in the Bible in terms of the date of its original authorship. We don’t know exactly when the book was written, or by whom, but we do have some clues. Job and his friends were clearly Semitic people from the same general language and patriarchal culture as Abraham. There are no references in Job to the Law of Moses, or to the Hebrew tribes. Job significantly pre-dates Moses. In spite of the errors in thinking that God thoroughly reproves them for, beginning with chapter 38, Job and his friends had the same general understanding that Abraham and his descendants did, of God’s character, divine attributes, and His supreme authority over all things as the Almighty Creator. They also understood that it was the holy character of God Himself that defined the moral framework within which they had to live. The words for God used in the book of Job, “El,” “Elohim,” “Eloah,” refer to “God Almighty”, and the “one who is worshipped.” The word Jehovah, or Yahweh, does not appear in the book of Job. In Job we see many of the same theological and moral concepts that we see throughout the rest of the Old Testament. These men knew the One True God, though imperfectly, and at the end of the book, God deals with Job and his friends on a direct, personal level, much as He did with Abraham.
An interesting clue to Job’s time in history is his age at death. According to Job 42:16, he lived 140 years after the events recorded in the book. Job was already a highly respected older man and the father of ten adult children when his troubles began, making him possibly sixty years old or considerably more than that at the time of his troubles. That gives him a lifespan of at least two hundred years which is similar to the later post-flood patriarchs. After the flood, the life spans of the patriarchs rapidly declined. For reference, Terah, the father of Abraham, died at age two-hundred and five. This doesn’t prove that Job lived during the 20th century B.C. but it is suggestive.
Some scholars point to the names and lineage of some of Job’s friends, such as Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, as possible evidence that Job may have lived a bit later; around the 16th century B.C. One of the grandsons of Jacob’s son Esau was named Teman. In these early tribal times, the descendants of Teman would have been called Temanites. After the death of Sarah, Abraham had a son by Keturah named Shua. Shua’s descendants would have been called Shuhites. Of course, this idea depends on the ancestors of Eliphaz and Bildad being the same Teman and Shua from Abraham’s lineage, which may or may not be true. Either way, Job is truly an ancient book.
The Book of Job is classified as both wisdom literature and as poetry. The prologue and the conclusion of Job are written in straight prose, but everything in the middle is in poetic form. As such is it a priceless gem of ancient near eastern literature, and for us, a really hard read in English. As a highly educated Prince of Egypt Moses probably had access to the Book of Job, and would have recognized it as being from God and not from a pagan source. Moses is probably the one who included it in the early body of Old Testament scripture.
Even though most of the book is in poetic form, we know that Job is not a fictional character, but an historical figure because he is referred to that way elsewhere in the Bible. Ezekiel 14 is a prophecy against the blatant idolatry of the elders of Israel. Because of this idolatry severe judgment was going to befall the land. To underscore just how complete the spiritual corruption was, God made the following statement that reveals how extremely highly He thought of Job:
“14Even though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 14:14
He repeats the same thing three more times in verses 16, 18, and 20, holding up Noah, Daniel, and Job as models of righteous biblical manhood.
In his book, “Missing from Action,” subtitled, “Vanishing Manhood in America,” Weldon M. Hardenbrook laments what he calls the death of biblical masculinity and provides quite a bit of scriptural insight into what to do about it. In chapter 9, he holds up the description in Job chapter 29 as an excellent model for biblical manhood. This is where we will see what I am calling the “Justice of Job.”
Justice as Administered by Job
In chapter 29, Job looks back on his life prior to his overwhelming afflictions, but surprisingly he does not dwell exclusively on his own physical condition, the lives of his late children, or his lost prosperity. These things are mentioned in verses 1-6. But most of the discourse in verses 7 through 25 relates to his position of authority and the services he was able to render to others when he had the resources to do so.
Job’s Former Personal Circumstances – Job 29:1-6; Job 1 &2
At the very beginning of the book, we find out that Job was a godly and tremendously wealthy man.
“1There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil. 2And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. 3His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east.”
While there are many uncertainties about the life and times of Job, I think we can be certain that he pitched his tents upwind of the livestock. We also learn from Job 1:4-5 that Job regularly prayed and offered sacrifices for his ten children.
“4And his sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5And it came about when the days of feasting had completed their cycle, that Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.”
Job’s incredible response to the sudden loss of all of his material wealth and the tragic deaths of all ten children completely falsified Satan’s vicious accusation that Job would turn against God if these things were lost.
“9Then Satan answered the LORD, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? 10Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face.” Job 1:9-11
Satan did not expect Job’s response to these calamities:
“20Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped. 21And he said, ‘Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.’ 22Through all this Job did not sin, nor did he blame God.” Job 1:20-22
Satan’s frustration mounted as Job held fast his integrity even after his body was covered with boils, and he incited Job’s wife, who was totally overwhelmed with grief and pain by this point, to get Job to curse God as Satan had predicted he would.
“9Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!’ 10But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.” Job 2:9-10
After much wrangling with Job’s three friends, who could see no possible cause for Job’s affliction other than that he must have sinned, we come to chapter 29, where Job looks back on happier times before all of this happened and he laments his current circumstances.
“1And Job took up his discourse and said, 2Oh that I were as in months gone by, as in the days when God watched over me; 3When His lamp shone over my head, and by His light I walked through darkness; 4As I was in the prime of my days, when the friendship of God was over my tent; 5When the Almighty was yet with me, and my children were around me; 6When my steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” Job 29:1-6
If Job had stopped here we would not blame him. We would mourn with him and his wife for all they had lost, especially the ten children. We would “weep with those who weep” as Paul instructs us in Romans 12:15, and as Job’s friends actually did for a while in chapter 2, verses 11-13, when they first went to comfort him, and before they blew it and started overthinking the problem. But the focus for Job’s mourning went way beyond his material and personal loss.
Job’s Former Respect and Authority – Job 29:7-11
“7When I went out to the gate of the city, when I took my seat in the square; 8The young men saw me and hid themselves and the old men arose and stood. 9The princes stopped talking and put their hands on their mouths; 10The voice of the nobles was hushed, and their tongue stuck to their palate. 11For when the ear heard, it called me blessed; and when the eye saw, it gave witness of me.”
Besides demonstrating the enormous respect that Job commanded, this passage raises some interesting questions. Why, for example, did the princes clam up and the other nobles have their mouths go dry when Job showed up. They may have had reason to feel more than a bit uncomfortable around Job over and above the respect he commanded. Verses 12-17 might explain why at least some of them had this reaction.
The Champion of the Poor and Oppressed – Job 29:12-17
“12Because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper. 13The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me, and I made the widow’s heart sing for joy. 14I put on righteousness and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. 15I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. 16I was a father to the needy and I investigated the case which I did not know. 17And I broke the jaws of the wicked, and snatched the prey from his teeth.”
I think Job’s motive in saying these things was twofold. First and most obviously, his conduct during those years was well known to all, and contradicted the accusations of sin that his misguided friends were throwing at him. Second, he genuinely regretted losing the ability to materially help the poor, the widows and the orphans, and to thwart the wicked who would exploit the vulnerable people in his community. Let’s look at each of the actions mentioned in this passage more closely.
Verse 12: Job delivered the poor who cried for help. There are many parallels between parts of the book of Job, and the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 21:13 and 28:27 admonish us not to ignore the cries of the poor.
“13He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and will not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13
“27He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.” Proverbs 28:27
God does not want His people to ignore the plight of the poor. Look at Job’s intense attitudes and feelings about the poor and oppressed.
Job 30:25 - “25Have I not wept for the one whose life is hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy?”
Job didn’t just hear the cry of the poor, he felt their cry with great empathy. He let their pitiful condition get to him emotionally. It actually moved him to tears as well as to action on their behalf. Job also understood that the poor have every bit as much human dignity as the more fortunate. Speaking hypothetically in chapter 31, Job said,
“13If I have despised the claim of my male or female slaves when they filed a complaint against me, 14what then could I do when God arises, and when He calls me to account, what will I answer Him? 15Did not He who made me in the womb make him, and the same One fashion us in the womb?” Job 31:13-15
Once again we see parallels to Proverbs regarding the human dignity of the poor as people created in God’s image.
“31He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” (“Him” being their Maker) Proverbs 14:31
Job was gracious to the poor. He interacted with them with kindness, respect and dignity, and never with an attitude of superiority or condescension, or as many have done, with contempt.
Verse 12: Job delivered the orphan who had no helper.
Before doing this study I had never noticed in Job 31:16-18 that he actually took in orphans and raised them as if they were his own children. A man with ten children of his own did this! The following passage is part of Job’s defense. He is continuing to list things that would merit judgment if he had done them, but of course he has done the opposite.
“16If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not shared it 18(but from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, and from infancy I guided her)…” Apparently, Job took orphans into his own household.
Orphans may be the class of people who are most powerless and vulnerable to cruelty and exploitation by evil people. Besides simple neglect, that can lead to disease or starvation, the modern world sees orphans exploited by human trafficking into various forms of slavery and forced conscription as child soldiers. In Job’s time, an orphan might end up as a slave or have his or her property taken away, which should have been an inheritance from the parents. Job prevented this kind of thing when he could. Job 31:21-22
“21If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate, 22Let my shoulder fall from the socket, and my arm be broken off at the elbow.”
Notice the phrase, “… because I saw I had support at the gate.” The gate is where the elders of the city, the nobles and the leaders, including Job, gathered and judged. Remember those nobles whose mouths went dry when Job showed up at the gate in chapter 29 verse 10? If any of them had been involved in trying to profit by cheating or exploiting a widow or an orphan, they would have had to go through Job, and probably his friends, first. It would have resulted in shame to them and possibly worse. I don’t think any of them would have relished the thought of standing up to Job for an unrighteous cause.
Verse 13: The one ready to perish blessed Job (presumably for their rescue from death).
Job delivered those who might have otherwise died from hypothermia during the cold winter’s night.
“19If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering, 20if his loins have not thanked me, and if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep…” Job 31:19-20
The phrase, “…if his loins have not thanked me,” refers to providing food to someone who is hungry or starving.
Verse 13: Job made the widow’s heart sing for joy. The typical widow’s problem in ancient times, especially widows with small children and no surviving extended family was a lack of income and ability to pay anyone to work the land she might own. Widows had to work hard, but it was often impossible to keep up with the demands of life. This made them almost as vulnerable as orphans to many forms of exploitation. She might be forced in desperation to sell off her land, but unscrupulous buyers would offer far less than it was worth, or give her loans to keep her perpetually in debt, or even find ways to cheat on the acreage. Job chapter 24:2-10 lists many bad things that wicked people do to widows, orphans, and the poor in general. These are all things that Job worked hard to prevent or correct.
“2Some remove landmarks; they seize and devour flocks. 3They drive away the donkeys of the orphans; they take the widow’s ox for a pledge. 4They push the needy aside from the road; the poor of the land are made to hide themselves altogether. 5Behold, as wild donkeys in the wilderness they go forth seeking food in their activity, as bread for their children in the desert. 6They harvest their fodder in the field, and they glean the vineyard of the wicked. 7They spend the night naked without clothing, and have no covering against the cold. 8They are wet with the mountain rains, and they hug the rock for want of a shelter. 9Others snatch the orphan from the breast, and against the poor they take a pledge. 10They cause the poor to go about naked without clothing, and they take away the sheaves from the hungry.”
The reference to removing landmarks in Job 24:2 has its parallel in Proverbs 22:28:
“28Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.”
Moving boundary markers and pretending they were in their original locations was a form of stealing land. Most of the time it would be hard to get away with this, but it might work if used against an overwrought, desperate, and distracted widow.
Verse 14: Job clothed himself with justice, like a robe and a turban.
Job recognized that the poor and the needy had a right to justice. Throughout all of human history, it has always been easier for the strong, the rich, the well-educated, and the influential people to obtain justice in a court of law than it has been for the poor. Often, there has been a presumption that somehow the poor were less important than others in the grand scheme of things, and therefore, less deserving of justice. But we have already seen that this attitude is soundly contradicted by God’s view that all human beings, regardless of station in life, have the same rights and dignity before God. Who then are human officials to deny them these rights? When the book of Proverbs talks about the rights of the poor, it isn’t talking about material possessions, but equal standing under the law. Proverbs 29:7 says it all:
“7The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor. The wicked does not understand such concern.”
This is a good description of Job’s understanding of how justice relates to the poor. Job is also a perfect example of the instruction given in Proverbs 31:8-9:
“8Open your mouth for the dumb; for the rights of all the unfortunate. 9Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.”
There are Christian legal ministries, such as O.C. International, at work in behalf of the poor both domestically and in parts of the world where religious and ethnic minorities are kept in poverty and oppressed by unjust legal systems.
Verse 15: Job was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.
Remember that Job had many people working for him. Obviously, he couldn’t do everything himself, but he could learn of the needs and make sure that they were taken care of. We don’t know how he did it, but as “eyes to the blind and feet to the lame,” Job located the physically disabled, who in his days were usually beggars if they had no well-to-do family to take care of them, and met their needs as best he could.
Verse 16: Job, P.I.
We have seen many ways in which Job was a father to the needy. But the second half of chapter 29, verse 16 is really intriguing. “… I investigated the case which I did not know.”
On occasion, Job served as a private investigator! People could come to him with a case in which they had somehow been cheated and Job would put on his “robe and turban of justice” and check it out. He also had the clout to set things right when necessary, which brings us to what I call the “dental” part of the chapter in verse 17.
Verse 17: Job broke the jaws of the wicked and snatched the prey from his teeth.
This is poetic language, but as with each of the other verses in this section, it had real-world, practical application. There were no doubt times when Job had to use force to secure justice for others who had been cheated, oppressed, or otherwise exploited by those more powerful than them. Maybe some of the nobles at the gate had sore jaws. Job lived in very different times and this passage should not be used to advocate vigilantism. However, as advocates for the poor and oppressed, Christians can bring relief to the genuinely needy who are powerless to help themselves, to those who have been driven from their homes by war, to those who have been cheated and denied legal rights by unscrupulous employers or corrupt government officials, and to those who have been trafficked into modern forms of slavery. We can also be instrumental in calling down the full force of the law on those who have earned it.
Conclusion and Challenge
Job lived nearly 4,000 years ago, but his life speaks volumes to us today. In the first two chapters where we see Satan challenging God to lift his blessing and protection from Job and predicting that if He did so Job would curse Him to His face, we see how intensely Satan hated the man. I think a big part of the reason for this was not just that Job was extraordinarily blessed and privileged, but that he spent a large part of his energy and resources helping others at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. And he did so, not to be thought well of by others as the Pharisees did 2,000 years later, but out of a genuine heart of empathy and compassion.
Trinity has always been a solidly biblical, doctrinally sound church, and by the grace of God that will never change. But for the last several years the elders have felt led to involve the church more directly in compassionate ministries, as we did with Family Promise and as we do with GUM. In the coming weeks we will hear from several leaders of Christian compassionate ministries in our local area that Trinity may be able to participate in. I would like to encourage everyone to join us during the Sunday school hour for the “When Helping Hurts” video series, and for the guest speakers later this summer. Compassionate ministry was dear to Job’s heart, and central to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus sent the following message to John the Baptist:
“5The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Matthew 11:5