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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Job 23

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary


Job Speaks (23:1-24:25)

The chapter, like many that follow it to the end of the book, poses difficulties for translators. The Hebrew text here is often uncertain and recourse must be had to ancient translations and to conjecture, as the multiplicity of marginal notes in the Revised Standard Version attests. In this commentary not all the possible renderings will be discussed, nor will every place where there is uncertainty be noted. These can usually be determined from the margin, and where there is no comment it is to be assumed that the translation of the Revised Standard Version represents as good a solution as any proposed.

Verses 1-17

I Cannot Find God (23:1-17)

In the first half of his speech Job complains that it is impossible to come into the presence of God with any sort of accusation directed at his governance of the world. It is quite in the mood of Job here to remark that, like the nation, God cannot be sued. The image of the courtroom, which has been implicit all along, now dominates the entire discussion. Job has a case against God, or at least against God’s supposedly righteous rule, but he has no way of making this case so that it will be heard and credited.

He recognizes that it is, at root, a complaint against God. In verse 1 he declares that his "complaint" (a legal term) is "rebellious" (see the margin). He does not deny that it sets him in the unenviable position of rebel against God. And it is significant that in the last speeches by Job this feeling of rebelliousness heightens. It is true that he has, by and large, settled in his mind the personal outcome of his tragedy (see ch. 19). But the larger question of God’s righteous control of human affairs is another matter, and here Job is by no means content. He will not be stayed from his purpose; he cannot even restrain himself. (Verse 2b is probably, "My hand is heavy on my groaning," meaning that he has tried, in vain, to hold back the rebellious words.)

These words are not restrained, and they break forth like a torrent in a great statement of man’s inability to bring the Almighty to account. Wherever he goes, and however he tries. Job is unable to bring God into the courtroom where judgment might be rendered by normal human standards. In such a courtroom the human complainant might learn the nature of the indictment against him, and even though the divine Judge (or Defendant) would be incomparably the more powerful, at least the case could be heard (vss. 5-6). Job’s confidence in his blamelessness and in the lightness of his position appears in verse 7, as he indicates that he cannot yet think in terms of any other relationship to God than that of rectitude of life. Here he unconsciously echoes the thought of Eliphaz (Job 22:30).

Verses 8 and 9 expand the impossibility of subpoenaing God for a legal proceeding. The terms "forward," "backward," "on the left hand," and "to the right hand" are equivalent to the points of the compass. Job thus declares that although God may be present and active to the widest bounds of human life (vs. 9, see margin) he is unapproachable and remains so completely hidden that man can have no real dealing with him.

The confidence in himself which Job feels throughout appears again in verse 10. If instead of "but" we understand "for" here, the verse is an ironic explanation of God’s hiddenness. He hides precisely because he knows he is in the wrong in Job’s case.

Eliphaz has counseled Job to "receive instruction" from God, and to "lay up his words" in his heart (Job 22:22). Job declares that he has in fact done this but that it is of no effect (Job 23:12-17). He faces the certainty of divine action without divine revelation, and is overcome by the prospect. It is absolute mystery; it points up the meaninglessness of all existence, and before it he can only fear (vss, 13-16), The last verse of the chapter is difficult. As the Revised Standard Version has it, the words are an amplification of the mysteriousness and the meaninglessness to which Job has just referred. Another possibility, keeping the negative (as in the margin), is that Job recalls Eliphaz’ words in Job 22:11 where he says that Job’s "light is darkened" so that he cannot see. Job may be saying here that it is not because of darkness that he is "hemmed in," or because of a shadow before his face, but because of God’s arbitrary and senseless activity. He is overwhelmed, not by inability to see, but by too clear a sight of what must seem to be total indifference in God.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 23". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-23.html.
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