Job 9:1-20: Suffering Without Shame
November 9, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Bildad has been lecturing Job. Finding Job in great suffering, Bildad and Job’s other “comforters” first do the right thing by merely listening. But then one by one they go on the verbal offensive and criticize Job for his attitude towards his suffering. According to Bildad, Job must repent of his sins. God is good, he argues; none of us is perfect; God wouldn’t send suffering on the righteous. Therefore, Job must have sinned somewhere to deserve what he is experiencing. And so the right advice to give Job is to tell him to repent.
But while Bildad’s logic seems sensible, it is actually deeply damaging. It layers guilt and shame upon the pain. Instead, Bildad should have come alongside Job and commiserated with him, offered him practical help. He should have preached the gospel to him, not lectured him with religious legalism.
But now how will Job reply? You might think he would reply by protesting his innocence. But Job does not. Instead, he takes the tack that as none is righteous, what does that have to do with the matter. Who could be perfectly righteous before God? Obviously, not everyone suffers as Job did, so the question of his perfect morality is not the point.
He starts by saying, “Indeed, I know that this is true.” He confirms what Bildad is saying—at one level. But then he quickly follows up with this, “But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?” There is no way a mere mortal could establish that he was righteous before the holy God. “Though they wished to dispute with him, they could not answer him once in a thousand times.”
Then Job continues to describe God’s immensity, his power, his astonishing might—over and over again, in pictorial language and poetic description. One phrase in this middle section has caused much head scratching among Bible readers and scholars alike. Verse 13: “God does not restrain his anger; even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet.” What does this mean? To begin with, it is important to realize that this is not same Rahab as we read about who rescued the spies at the taking of the city of Jericho. Probably the best interpretation is that by the medieval rabbi known as Rashi. He argued that Rahab meant “haughty” or proud. God called ancient Egypt “Rahab” because of their pride: “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty; therefore, I have called her Rahab who sits still” (Isaiah 30:7). They are called proud because of the response of Pharaoh back in Exodus 5:2 “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” So in Job 9 verse 13, it would be saying that even the armies of Egypt, the proud or the “Rahab,” cowered at the feet of God.
At any rate, throughout this section Job describes God as all powerful—who then can claim to be righteous before this God? And he ends this section in verse 20 on the same note: “Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.”
People often think it is discouraging to tell someone they are a sinner or to discover the truth for yourself. But it is not so when such discovery is married to an even greater discovery of grace. Over and over again, the Bible shows us that, as Jesus put it, he who loves much has been forgiven much (see Luke 7:47). Job is able to respond to Bildad’s damaging accusations, even in the midst of Job’s sufferings, by remembering that it is certainly true that he is a sinner. But so are they. And this, in Christ, drives us to the feet of the cross to find forgiveness for our sins. Acknowledgement that all are sinners does not mean that what we do does not matter. That would be like saying that acknowledging you have cancer means that you are not going to do anything about it or try to get rid of the cancer. What it does is it drives us to the only place where there is a gospel remedy for sin: to Jesus and his cross. It is only there that all suffering is in the end solved. Only through the cross can we enter the gates of paradise, and only by grace can sinners like us be forgiven and stand before God—even in our suffering—without shame or guilt or condemnation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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