New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Job 23:1 Then Job answered- Job's reply over Job 23 and Job 24 slips into self justification and fails to engage specifically with what Eliphaz has said in his last speech. Job 24 is largely a repeat of the general observation that the wicked prosper, and the suffering of anyone is therefore no sign they are sinning. This all indicates the overall decline of the dialogue. And it is a path followed by so many failed personal interactions.


Job 23:2 Even today- As if to say that yes, I am still going to keep complaining about my situation.

My complaint is grievous. His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning- AV "My stroke is heavier than my groaning”. Job fell into the trap of thinking that his terrible situation somehow allowed him to speak whatever words came into his head. Job felt he hadn’t been ‘fed’ and so he was entitled to “bray” and “low” over his misfortune (Job 6:5). Because of the weight of his sufferings, he thereby justified the fact that "Therefore have my words been rash (Job 6:3). Likewise “Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit” (Job 7:11). “I will give free course to my complaint. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 10:1 RV). Zophar criticizes Job being “full of talk” and speaking “the multitude of words”, “for thou sayest, my doctrine is pure” (Job 11:1-4)- as if Job felt that because he held true doctrine he was justified in pouring out words as he did. “Why should I not be impatient?” (Job 21:4 RV). “Today is my complaint bitter. My stroke is heavier than my groaning” (Job 23:2)- i.e. his complaining was due to his sufferings. “If I hold my peace, I shall give up the spirit” (Job 13:19 RVmg.). Job felt that the situation he was in forced him to use the words he did, and certainly justified it [we may well have used this reasoning ourselves when justifying the use of bad language]. But in the end, Elihu on God’s behalf rebuked him for his wrong words. And Job himself recognized: “I am vile. I will lay mine hand upon my mouth” in regret of his words (Job 40:4). “Wherefore I loathe my words and repent” (Job 42:6 RVmg.). He realized his mistake: he had thought that the situation justified his words. Now he hung his head and admitted that there was no justification for speaking in the way he had. Especially in the matter of the tongue, we can so easily justify ourselves; ‘I only said / did it [or didn’t do it] because…’. And it is all so child-like. Once we leave off all attempts at self-justification, we will face up to our sins.

Job understood God to be in control in Heaven; he rejects the idea of a cosmic conflict going on ‘up there’ which the friends seem to allude to. More specifically, Job speaks of how God’s hand forms and can pierce the “crooked serpent” and smite any monster (Job 26:11–14). It’s as if Job is mocking the idea that God has let him go into the hands of the cosmic monsters which the friends believed in. For Job so often stresses that it is the “hand of God” which has brought His affliction (Job 19:21; 23:2). That Divine hand was far greater than any mythical ‘Satan’ figure. The theme of his speech in Job 28 is that Yahweh alone is to be feared throughout the entire cosmos. Nobody else – such as the ‘Satan’ figures alluded to by the friends – needed to be feared.

Job 23:3 Oh that I knew where I might find Him! That I might come even to His seat!-
Job sought to "probe" (AV "find out") the Almighty (Job 23:3; 28:12), whereas Elihu appears to agree with Zophar that "the Almighty" cannot be 'found out' (Job 11:7; 37:23). God's own appearance at the end is perhaps an answer to this. He cannot be 'found out' by intellectual argument or personal righteousness, but He still responds to the spirit of Job's request by appearing. Instead, He 'finds out' people and saves them by grace. Paul expresses the same idea when he writes that it is not so much a case of man 'knowing God', but rather of being "known of God" by grace (Gal. 4:9).       

Job 23:3 perhaps epitomizes this desire of Job for judgment day: “Oh, that today I might find him, that I might come to his judgment seat!” (NAB). He wanted the judgment seat to come that very day! The invisible hand of God is working in every life that suffers from ones’ brethren ‘playing God’ in false judgment of us… to lead us to this wonderful and blessed attitude.

The use of the word "order" in Job's words in 23:3-6 repays examination: " Oh that I knew where I might find (God)! that I might come even to His seat!. I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments... Will He plead against me with his great power? No". See on :10.


Job 23:4 I would set my cause in order before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments-
Earlier, Job had judged himself, setting in order his legal case, but declaring himself righteous (Job 13:8). By Job 23:4, Job is realizing that he needs to set his case in order before God; but he can't find God, or get God to engage in this game of judgment. He needed the final appearance of God at the end of the book to review his case, and declare that he is in fact wrong and condemned. But by grace, God will count him as right. He was prepared for this by Elihu's speech in Job 37:19: "Teach us what we shall tell Him, for we can’t make our case by reason of darkness". "Make our case" is s.w. "set my cause in order".

Job appeals for ‘witnesses’ (Job 9:33–35; 16:18–22; 19:20–27), an advocate in Heaven (Job 9:33), denies his guilt and demands a legal list of his sins (Job 13:19), he wishes for God to come to trial (Job 9:3), and thus Job is described as a man who has taken out a ‘case’ with God (Job 23:4; 40:2). Job 29–31 is effectively Job’s declaration of legal innocence and an appeal to God to hear his case more sympathetically (Job 31:35). And of course God pronounces a final legal verdict at the very end (Job 42:7), in response to Job’s earlier plea: “Sleeplessly I wait for His reply” (Job 16:22). It’s as if the whole experience of Job was [at least partly] in order to test out the Canaanite theories of ‘Satan’, suffering and evil in the court of Heaven; and also the various theories which arose to explain Judah's captivity in Babylon. The friends represent the traditional views of evil, and often make reference to the myths of their day about ‘Satan’ figures. They speak as if they are the final court – Eliphaz speaks of how the judges and elders of their day, the “holy ones”, had concluded Job was guilty, and that they, the friends, were right: “To which of the holy ones will you appeal [legal language]?... we have [legally] examined this, and it [Job’s guilt] is true” (Job 5:1,27). This is of great comfort to those who feel misjudged by man – above them in Heaven the ultimate Heavenly court is considering our case, and that is all that matters.

Job 23:5 I would know the words which He would answer me, and understand what He would tell me-
Job promises to be obedient and acceptant of whatever outcome there was from his meeting with God. And when God does finally appear and in a way condemn him, he does accept this. Or perhaps the sense is simply as in GNB "I want to know what he would say and how he would answer me".

Job 23:6 Would He contend with me in the greatness of His power? No, but He would listen to me-
AV "Would he plead against me...?". God, and Elihu on His behalf, did plead against Job by recounting God's power. Judgment before God was not quite as Job had imagined. When Elihu was established in Job's mind as God's true representative, he found that he had nothing to say, as he thought he would have. Elihu seems to refer back to this speech when he challenges the dumfounded Job: "If thou hast anything to say, answer me... if thou canst answer me, set thy words in order before me" (Job 33:32,5 AV). Elihu has in mind Job 23:4 "I would set my cause in order before Him". Job several times spoke of how he would fully explain himself to God, if he found Him. Yet in the presence of God and Elihu, he finds that all the words dry up. Words became irrelevant. All he can do is behold the majesty of God's righteousness, and declare his own unrighteousness. That spiritual pinnacle of Job still lies ahead for the majority of us. The desire to speak is a desire to express our own thoughts. Words are a construct which can trap us. Only God's words can liberate. There is a wordless element in being truly humbled before the Almighty.

Job 23:7 There the upright might reason with Him, so I should be delivered forever from my judge-
Job's imagination of judgment day was that there would be some upright person present who would be as his advocate, and deliver him from God as his judge. Elihu appears according to Job's wish (Job 33:6); but he condemns Job. And God then appears in person to judge Job. Elihu couldn't save Job from that.

Job 23:8 If I go east, He is not there; if west, I can’t find Him-
We note there was no God to be found to the east, whereas He is apparently present at the other compass points, although invisible to Job. Perhaps this would be a reference to the spiritual bankruptcy of the children of the east, from where the friends had come from. It would also be a statement from Job, as one of the greatest of the children of the east, that there was no God in his surrounding society.

Job 23:9 He works to the north, but I can’t see Him. He turns south, but I can’t catch a glimpse of Him-
"The north" in Hebrew is 'the hidden place'. There appears to be the idea that God is indeed at work to the north and south, but Job can't glimpse God there.

Job 23:10 But He knows the way that I take-
Job cannot discern the way God takes, not even the compass point He is working on; but the point is that God knows the way Job takes. Paul expresses the same idea when he writes that it is not so much a case of man 'knowing God', but rather of being "known of God" by grace (Gal. 4:9). See on :3.      

When He has tried me, I shall come forth like gold- This appears to be an allusion to Job 22:25 LXX "and he shall bring thee forth pure as silver that has been tried by fire". This is the image used of the intended effect of Judah's sufferings in Babylon (Is. 48:18; Ez. 22:18-22). If the LXX is correct, then Job quotes this back to Eliphaz here in Job 23:10. Job is arguing back that he does not love gold over God, and that he will himself come forth as gold after the trials have finished. Unlike the friends, who generally refuse to engage with Job's words in their speeches, Job specifically engages with their words.

Job 23:11 My foot has held fast to His steps. I have kept His way, and not turned aside-
Job says this in the context of having lamented that he senses God's activity in various places, but cannot see God there (:9,10). But he has planted his feet in the footsteps left by the invisible God and not turned aside from that path. Job "held fast" to God's footprints, even though He didn't see Him, and yet he later realized that the afflictions God sent had taken hold [s.w. "held fast"] to him (Job 30:16). We see here the mutuality between God and man, achieved through the experience of suffering brought by Him.

Job 23:12 I haven’t gone back from the commandment of His lips. I have treasured up the words of His mouth more than my necessary food-
Job had had no fresh revelation from God since God gave the satan power over him. Perhaps he had been party to the discussion between God, satan and the other "sons of God" (the friends) recorded in the prologue. He would have hung on to God's statement that He considered Job to be His righteous servant. And that the afflictions were somehow for the benefit of the friends / satan / "sons of God". See on :14. But there is a wider principle here. The Word of God should be our daily food - indeed, our dependence upon it, and natural desire for it, should be even greater than our instinctive appetite for physical food: “... I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” was Job’s feeling (Job 23:12). Jeremiah likewise: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). Making time during each day for regular Bible reading is therefore a vital thing to build into our pattern of daily life. An uninterrupted 30 minutes of Bible study first thing in the morning is bound to start us off each day in the right spiritual gear. Such faith-forming habits are vital.

Job 23:13 But He stands alone-
The idea may be that God remained "alone" from Job's perspective, refusing to allow Job to come to Him and enter into dialogue.

And who can oppose Him? What His soul desires, even that He does- The dramatic story of Job thrice uses the same phrase as in Is. 43:13, concluding that "who can hinder...?" God's way (Job 9:12; 11:10; 23:13). The exiles were to understand that no human opposition or discouragement can turn back or hinder God's purpose to save His people, even if they are as Job in suffering. His saving and restorative purpose will not be hindered, if we wish to identify with it.

Job 23:14 For He performs that which is appointed for me. Many such things are with Him-
Again Job demonstrates his understanding that all his afflictions were from God, not any cosmic satan being. And those afflictions were those "appointed"- perhaps referring to God's words in the prologue, which Job had continually meditated upon (see on :12; Job 24:1).

Job 23:15 Therefore I am terrified at His presence. When I consider, I am afraid of Him-
Job has lamented that he senses God but cannot see Him (:8,9). But clearly he felt His presence in a very real manner. So we conclude that the presence of God can be felt in His very absence. We like Job can sense His hand working through His very silence and apparent lack of direct engagement with us.  

Job 23:16 For God has made my heart faint. The Almighty has terrified me-
See on :17. We can read this 'terror' as a reference to the panic attacks which were apparently part of Job's sickness (s.w. Job 22:10).

Job 23:17 Because I was not cut off before the darkness, neither did He cover my face with the thick darkness
- The Hebrew in :16,17 is difficult, and GNB offers "Almighty God has destroyed my courage. It is God, not the dark, that makes me afraid—even though the darkness has made me blind". The darkness was typically associated with cosmic forces of evil. Job sees through that and perceives it is God behind the darkness. The exiles had to learn the same (Is. 45:5-7).