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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Job 16

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-5

Job Speaks (16:1-17:16)

You Are Miserable Comforters (16:1-5)

Job begins again, as he has before (Job 12:2-3), with a personal gibe at the friends, calling them "miserable comforters" (a possible reference to Eliphaz’ claim in Job 15:11 that they are "the consolations of God"). Eliphaz has charged Job with speaking "windy knowledge" (Job 15:2); Job replies that he has no right to expect the "wind" to stop, and that Eliphaz is not obligated to answer. He asserts that, if their situations were reversed. Job would be quite a different kind of "comforter": instead of such unfeeling criticisms as theirs, he would give solace and comfort for their pain (vs. 5b).

Verses 6-17

My Distress Is Terrible (16:6-17)

Verse 6 brings the subject back to Job’s case, to his own pain which, far from being assuaged, is unremitting. Moreover, in plain words he declares that the responsibility must actually be placed on God. Each of the details of his tragedy he must identify as the direct activity of God. Thus it is God who has "worn" him out and who has alienated him from his friends (vs. 7); it is God who has made his sufferings a "witness" against him (vs. 8); it is God, in short, who is his adversary (vs. 9; the image is that of a dangerous beast). Verses 10 and 11 show that involved in Job’s agony is the fact that he has become a symbol of God’s curse, thereby becoming alienated from men, who do not hesitate to treat him with contempt (see also 17:6).

Job then returns to the list of his grievances as he recites the ways in which God has mistreated him (vss. 12-16). Here the images are those of an archer pursuing his prey and an army taking a city or fortress. As he reaches a climax he describes the way he has come to unrelieved mourning, having laid his "strength" (literally, "horn," a symbol of pride and exaltation) in the dust. Finally (vs. 17) he repeats his basic position that the explanation for this frightful tragedy cannot be found in any supposed wickedness on his part.

Verses 18-22

Where Is There One on My Side? (16:18-22)

Job’s speeches frequently show shifts from the depths of despair to startling reaches of faith (for example, Job 14:1-6 and Job 14:7-17; Job 19:2-27) and from faith to despair (for example, Job 14:7-17 and Job 14:18-22; Job 23:10-12 and Job 23:13-17). Verses 18-22 represent such a venture of faith, not a complete confidence but a venture in the direction from which help must finally come. First Job, the wronged sufferer, the object of God’s anger — as he must think — appeals to the earth itself to be his witness. He is facing a death which he is compelled to interpret as judicial murder. Vindication can come only if the ground itself will take up the cry of "Injustice!" The imagery is the same as that in Genesis 4:10 where the "voice" of Abel’s blood cries out from the ground in testimony against Cain. But even this kind of dramatic witness to the essential rightness of his complaint is not enough to satisfy Job. He knows that there is needed a vocal, personal witness and he affirms his conviction that this witness is in heaven. "Witness" means, of course, not simply one who gives factual testimony, but one who stands for the accused in a trial, a kind of "advocate." Job makes his faith plain when he declares that the one who will vouch for him is "on high" (vs. 19). Does he think of God himself as this "Witness" for the defense and not really the Enemy he has just called him? Or does he think of God as somehow both Adversary and Advocate, both against and for Job? Or does he think of another one, one in distinction from God, one who pleads Job’s case before God? In the light of the context the first seems improbable. Job has already suggested a kind of contradiction in the dealing if not the nature of God, and later he will elaborate the idea (Job 17:3), although ultimately it is discarded as a solution. This may be as far as Job can go at this stage, that is to affirm that, despite the plain evidence to the contrary — evidence he cannot disregard for it pertains to his own real sufferings — God must be somehow for him. This is certainly the sense of his prayer in verse 21, that God would be — or would show himself to be — one who stands for man, like a man himself taking up the concerns of his neighbor. When we remember the Hebrew conception that responsibility for righting injustice rested upon the "near kinsman," we see how Job is being prepared for the leaping insight of Job 19:25. And in this section we see how the thought of the Book of Job points strongly to the New Testament, witnessing to the necessity and the nature of the Incarnation.

Verse 22 presents a special problem, for Job here speaks of death as coming within "a few years." Everywhere else in the book he views death as imminent, and everywhere else he contemptuously dismisses every suggestion of his friends that he has any time left in which to find his vindication. In the very next verse he speaks of his days as "extinct." Some interpreters understand here not "a few years" but "the number of years," meaning that the number of his years has been completed. This involves a slight change in the text as we have it, and it is not entirely satisfactory as a solution. It may be that we have here a poetic expression which points not to length but to brevity, or it may be that the original text has somehow become obscure.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 16". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-16.html.
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