As Job 12 begins, all three of Job's friends have spoken. However, neither Eliphaz, Bildad, nor Zophar have given Job any real answers. They have not provided Job much comfort with their words. They continue to accuse of him of great wickedness, not being able to conceive of any other reason for his immense suffering.
The suffering patriarch speaks for a fourth time in Job 12-14. This is the second longest of his speeches. Job's response here can be divided into two themes: (1) He gives a "tongue-lashing" to his critics, and (2) He challenges God to meet him in "court."
Job begins with a sarcastic attack against his friends' so-called wisdom - "No doubt you are the people and wisdom will die with you!" (Job 12:2). Job knows that he is not inferior to them in understanding--contrary to their claims (cf. 8:8; 11:12).
"Indeed, who does not know such things as these?" (Job 12:3). Job affirms that everyone knows what has been said, but the problem is that it does not apply to his situation. What the friends have expressed is probably the conventional and historical thinking of the fathers (namely, that suffering is always caused by one's sins). But, Job wants them to consider some other possibilities.
Although Job has been "mocked by his friends," he continues to maintain that he is "just and blameless" (Job 12:4). Job has observed that it is sometimes the case that "the tents of robbers prosper" (12:6). His friends are at ease and look down upon him, but Job wants to know why evildoers (whether thieves or blasphemers) sometimes prosper. If the view of the friends' was correct, then such should never happen (cf. 5:24)!
Job expounds upon his view throughout the rest of the chapter. Job's point seems to be that the activities of God with both animals and men are indiscriminate and irresistible - "But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?" (12:7-10). All nature testifies to God's wisdom, and Job is not denying God's involvement in the calamities that have befallen him. He just wants to know why they have befallen him.
"Does not the ear test words and the mouth taste its food? Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding. With Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understanding. If He breaks a thing down, it cannot be rebuilt; if He imprisons a man, there can be no release. If He withholds the waters, they dry up; if He sends them out, they overwhelm the earth. With Him are strength and prudence. The deceived and the deceiver are His. He leads counselors away plundered, and makes fools of the judges. He loosens the bonds of kings, and binds their waist with a belt. He leads princes away plundered, and overthrows the mighty. He deprives the trusted ones of speech, and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes, and disarms the mighty. He uncovers deep things out of darkness, and brings the shadow of death to light. He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them. He takes away the understanding of the chiefs of the people of the earth, and makes them wander in a pathless wilderness. They grope in the dark without light, and He makes them stagger like a drunken man" (12:11-25).
Clearly, the focus in this section is upon God (note Job's repeated use of "He" and 'Him"). Job states that God has all wisdom, might, and understanding, therefore He makes no mistakes. Job also implies that all of God's acts have intelligent purpose. In any area or walk of life, what God says is done! No one will be able to change that which God has decreed. Job believes that God does nothing without good reason (even though man may have trouble seeing the reasons). Job doesn't understand why he is suffering, though he knows God is ultimately behind it (which is true, indirectly). Job knows that all things are under the power of God. Ironically, God uses nature in the final chapters of the book to teach Job the lessons he needs to learn.
As Chapter 13 opens, Job refers to the comments he just made. He is fully aware of the supremacy of God and Jehovah's right to act as He wishes. He feels he is wasting his breath with his friends, however, and their incorrect theology. He wants to talk to God and reason with him to find out why he is suffering - "But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God. But you forgers of lies, you are all worthless physicians. Oh, that you would be silent, and it would be your wisdom!" (13:3-5). They have prescribed cures for ailments Job does not have (cf. Prov. 17:28).
"Will you speak wickedly for God, and talk deceitfully for Him? Will you show partiality for Him? Will you contend for God? Will it be well when He searches you out? Or can you mock Him as one mocks a man? He will surely rebuke you" (13:7-10).
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have spoken wickedly about Job by insisting that he has sinned. Their viewpoint is partial in affirming that God always sends good to the righteous and bad to the unrighteous. Job believes that God is impartial, but good and bad things happen to both the righteous and wicked (cf. Matt. 5:45). Job fears that their words are going to get them in trouble with God (and this is precisely what happens; cf. 42:7,8). It is dangerous to "pigeon hole" God or to try to fit Him into one's own little package. It is not for men to say what God is like, but for God to reveal what He is like. Their judgment of Job has been rigid and without mercy (and just plain incorrect). How will they fare when God examines them?
Perhaps the friends try to interrupt Job in 13:13. He tells them to hold their peace while he speaks, and then they could attack him again. Job affirms that his hope would be in God--even until his last breath - "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him" (13:15). A guilty man would not speak as confidently as Job speaks here--would he? But, even though he trusts in God, Job sees no reason why he should not express himself and what he is struggling with (namely, understanding the reason why).
"Listen carefully to my speech, and to my declaration with your ears. See now, I have prepared my case, I know that I shall be vindicated. Who is he who will contend with me? If now I hold my tongue, I perish" (13:17-19). In contrast with the friends' view, Job believes he will be proven correct. He continues to maintain his innocence.
Job requests two things of God that are found in 13:21 - "Withdraw Your hand far from me, and let not the dread of You make me afraid." If God will honor his request, Job wants to speak with Him. However, currently he is too frightened. When he and God do talk, Job intends to ask the following questions - "How many are my iniquities and sins? Make me know my transgressions and my sin. Why do You hide Your face, and regard me as Your enemy?" (13:23,24). Job wants to know what he has done wrong and why he is suffering now. Is he suffering for sins of his youth? He does not know, but he feels like the enemy of God and that the Almighty is watching him like a prisoner ("You put my feet in stocks" - 13:27)--yet Job does not understand why.
In Job 14, the great patriarch still wants to die and he expresses the brevity of life with two similes: a flower and a shadow - "Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue" (14:1,2). The section is often a favorite for preachers to use in funerals. Sometimes death comes quickly and somewhat unexpectedly. When life has been lived in turmoil, it adds to the tragedy.
Job recognizes all is within the power of God. God determines the length of man's life (which is why Job was still alive by a thread) - "Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass" (14:5).
Job considers the fate of inanimate things to be better than the fate of humans:
"For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its tender shoots will not cease. Though its root may grow old in the earth, and its stump may die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant. But man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he? As water disappears from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dries up, so man lies down and does not rise" (14:7-12).
A tree, for example, that is severed at the trunk looks dead, but a new branch can spring forth from it and the tree can live again. A tree has this hope of new life, but when man dies there is nothing he can do (physically speaking). Even a dried up river has the hope of being filled again. But Job has never seen a corpse return to life as the tree stump or river bed.
Then Job goes on to say - "Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep. Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, that You would conceal me until Your wrath is past, that You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes" (14:12-14). These verses are difficult to comprehend. Did Job have an understanding and hope of the afterlife? If so, it certainly would have been very limited. Or, is Job merely expressing his desire to die (i.e., the change from life to death) and the view that man would not be disturbed from his "sleep" even if a tremendous cataclysm should occur and the heavens be no more? Either view is possible. Keep in mind that Job's understanding is incomplete, and he is a depressed man at this point in his life.
"But as a mountain falls and crumbles away, and as a rock is moved from its place; as water wears away stones, and as torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so You destroy the hope of man" (14:18,19). The rock of a mountain is solid. However, as nature continues to beat on the rock, it eventually erodes. Likewise, man's hope can be extremely strong like rock, yet it can be worn down and destroyed. Job feels that his appearance has changed; he is worn down and will pass on. Once he dies, he will have no knowledge of what happens on Earth (cf. Eccl. 9:5,6).
We will continue our study of the book of Job in future lessons. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.