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Bible Commentaries
Job 23

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-17


Ceases directly to address his friends. His present speech rather a soliloquy. Takes no notice of the charges laid against him by Eliphaz. Laments the want of access to God in order to plead his cause before Him. Expresses his consciousness of integrity and obedience to the Divine will, as well as his solemn awe at the absolute sovereignity of God, and the mysterious character of His dealings with him.

I. Complains of the continuance of his troubles and the view still taken of his conduct under it (Job 23:2). “Even to-day [after all I have already suffered] is my complaint bitter (or, ‘even to-day [after all I have asserted of my innocence] is my speech [regarded as] rebellion’); my stroke is heavier than my groaning” (or, is [viewed as] heavy on account of my groaning). Expresses either his own sorrowful experience, or the views of his friends regarding it. His troubles now of some weeks, or perhaps months, continuance. No relief as yet either to his mental distress or physical disease. Observe—

1. Protracted trouble worst to endure. The spirit worn out and exhausted by continued suffering. David’s complaint—“Day and night thy hand was heavy upon me” (Psalms 32:4). The misery of the lost that time brings no change. Eternity the only lane that has no turning. As the tree falls, so it lies.

2. An aggravation of trouble when complaint is construed into rebellion. Job’s complaint perhaps not always entirely free from it. His spirit not always what it was in ch. 1 and

2. To complain under such sufferings only human. Bitterness of complaint not always rebelliousness of spirit. Bitter complaint consistent with meekness and submission. A bitter cry heard on the cross from the lips of the only spotless sufferer (Matthew 27:46). Job alone conscious of the depth of his distress. The heart knoweth its own bitterness.

3. Grace forbids not to groan under trouble, but puts a bridle upon the lips. Job’s groanings frequent but restrained. He is a conqueror, not who never groans under protracted trouble, but who holds out patiently to the end. Terrible conflict sometimes to be maintained—
(1) Against suffering;
(2) Against sin;
(3) Against suffering and sinning at the same time.

II. Longs for free access to God (Job 23:3). “O that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat. I would order my cause before him, I would fill my mouth with arguments [in proving myself an innocent sufferer]; I would know [without fear of the result] the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me” [in answer to my arguments, and in reference to my character and the cause of my suffering]. Perhaps his answer to the exhortation of Eliphaz (ch. Job 22:21). God so familiar to Job’s thoughts as to be spoken of without being named. His life, like Enoch’s, a walking with God. Observe—

1. No uncommon thing for one who walks with God to be at times without free access to Him. God, for wise purposes, hides Himself at times even from His own (Jeremiah 14:8). No finding God but as He reveals Himself. Want of access in time of trouble a special trial of faith and patience.

2. Access to God the privilege of believers. A time for finding God (Psalms 32:6; Isaiah 55:6). The contrary implied (Proverbs 1:24-29). God found nowhere but in Christ. Christ the way to the Father (John 14:6). Free access to God for sinners through Him and His shed blood (Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 10:19-22. The Holy Spirit given to believers in order to their free access and approach to God through Christ (Ephesians 2:18). The spirit of grace and of supplication (Zechariah 10:12); of adoption, crying: Abba Father (Galatians 4:6). Helps infirmities of the saints, making inward intercession for them with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26).

3. God not always found immediately (Proverbs 8:34-35; Luke 18:17). Yet always found where there is earnestness, humility, and faith in seeking Him (Isaiah 45:9; Jeremiah 29:13). In the time of Job, the way to God through Christ still comparatively obscure, and the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of supplication and adoption, still comparatively withheld. God found the sooner the more we are humbled under a sense of sin and unworthiness. Job’s desire still rather to have access to God as a righteous man, in order to have his innocence affirmed, than as a sinner to have his sins forgiven. God reveals Himself to the humble and contrite, not the self-righteous (Isaiah 66:2; Luke 18:10-14).

Job still persuaded of God’s favourable regard (Job 23:6). “Will he plead against me (overawe me or put me down) with his great power [as unable to prevail by words]? No, but he would put strength in me” (enabling me to plead my cause successfully; or, “he would give heed to me,” affording a gracious and impartial hearing to my case). God the opposite of the Unjust Judge in the Parable. Not only hearkens to our pleading but gives strength to plead. So the Divine angel wrestling with Jacob at Penuel (Genesis 32:24-30).

His confidence as to the result (Job 23:7). “There (in such a case—on being admitted to His tribunal) the righteous might dispute with him (the innocent man—referring to himself—might freely plead his cause); so should I be delivered for ever (come off victorious) from my judge.”

(1) God’s throne at once one of justice and grace.

(2) The comfort of true and tried believers that they shall obtain a favourable verdict from God. Believers have—(i.) The testimony of a good conscience; (ii.) The consciousness of a personal interest in Christ as their Surety and Advocate with the Father (1 John 3:21; 1 John 2:1). The believer not absolutely righteous in himself, but in Christ the Righteous One his Head and Representative (Romans 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The confidence of Messiah, as God’s righteous servant transferred to His believing members (Isaiah 50:5-9; Romans 8:32-34).

(3) A small matter that man condemns if God approves (1 Corinthians 4:3).

III. Laments his inability to find God as he desired (Job 23:8). “Behold, I go forward (or, ‘to the east’) but he is not there; and backward (or, ‘to the west’), but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand (or, on the north) where he doth work (the north being the more populous part of the world, the region of stars and constellations and the birthplace of storms and tempests), but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand (or, on the south, where all is solitude and waste), but I cannot see him.” Observe—

1. A believer, while in darkness and trouble, makes continual attempts to find God (Song of Solomon 3:2). Nothing satisfies a living soul but God Himself (Psalms 63:1-2).

2. God found anywhere with humility, earnestness, and faith; without them, nowhere. Found neither in solitude nor society unless He graciously reveals Himself in Christ through the Spirit. God’s absolute presence everywhere; His gracious manifested presence only as He is pleased to afford it. The latter promised to faithful believers (John 14:21-23). God’s dealings with men in Providence with a view to their seeking Him, feeling after Him, and finding Him (Acts 17:26-27).

3. God often graciously near us when we are without sense or consciousness of His presence. Job’s case now like that of Hagar in the Wilderness (Genesis 16:13; Genesis 21:19).

4. Prayer answered at the best time and in the best way. Job’s desire ultimately granted after Elihu’s speech had prepard him for it. Then no longer has a case to plead, but conscious of personal unworthiness and the Divine perfection, is able to leave it entirely in the Lord’s hands. Our own spirit generally the greatest hindrance to our prayers being answered.

5. God’s manifested and enjoyed presence the greatest happiness. Happy when everything in nature, sunrise and sunset, storm and calm, “prompts with remembrance of a present God.”

“His presence who made all so fair, perceived,
Makes all still fairer.”

IV. Comforts himself with the thought of the Divine omniscience and the assurance of ultimate triumph (Job 23:10). “But he knoweth the way that I take (Margin: ‘that is with me,’—all my experience and conduct in this affliction, as well as all my previous course of life); when he hath tried me [sufficiently by these troubles; or, simply, ‘he hath tried me, viz., by these present sufferings], I shall come forth, out of this furnace of affliction, or out of this probation to which I am now subjected] as gold” [comes out of the fire that tries and purifies it, refined from the dross of remaining corruption, and freed from all charges and suspicions as to my character and conduct]. Observe—

1. The mark of an upright believer to rejoice that God is acquainted with all his ways.

2. A believer’s comfort under affliction and reproach, to know that God is perfectly acquainted both with his character and experience. If in trouble we cannot see God, it should be our comfort that God sees us, and knows all about us. Hagar’s happy discovery in the wilderness: “Thou God seest me” (Genesis 16:13).

3. Our great comfort, when reproached by men, to know that our conduct is approved by God. Our main concern, therefore, ought to be to obtain that approval. “Let them curse, but bless Thou” (Psalms 119:28).

4. God tries and proves all his children (Psalms 11:5; Jeremiah 20:12). The desire of a sound believer to be tried by God (Psalms 17:3; Psalms 26:2; Psalms 139:23). A believer’s trials and afflictions often only the divinely intended means of proving his principles and faith (1 Peter 1:7; James 1:12; Deuteronomy 8:2).

5. The result of a true believer’s trials certain. This result threefold:

(1) The justification of his faith;
(2) The confirmation of his hope;

(3) The purification of his love (Romans 5:4, &c.; Isaiah 27:9; Hebrews 12:10-11; Daniel 12:10).

6. Genuine believers like gold.

(1) Precious (Lamentations 4:2; Isaiah 43:4);

(2) Rare (Matthew 7:14; Luke 12:32);

(3) Usually found mixed with earth and dross (Isaiah 1:25);

(4) Subjected to the fire of purification (Zechariah 13:9); 1 Peter 1:7;

(5) Able to endure the fire (1 Corinthians 3:12;

(6) Ultimately made perfectly pure (Isaiah 1:25).

V. Declares the ground of his assurance (Job 23:11-12). That ground the consciousness of his character and conduct (1 John 3:21). Job conscious of—

1. Persevering obedience to God’s will (Job 23:11). “My foot hath held his steps (followed faithfully and perseveringly the steps he prescribed to me, and which were pleasing in his sight); his ways have I kept, and not declined: neither have I gone back from the commandments of his lips.” God’s steps not only prescribed by Him, but trodden by Himself. “Be ye followers of God, as dear children.” “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Peter 1:16. Luke 6:36). Especially trodden by God manifest in the flesh (John 13:15; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). Those steps marked in the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 4:2). Observe—

(1) The proof of sincerity not merely to put our feet in God’s steps, but to keep them there; not only to enter upon God’s way, but not to decline or turn aside from it.

(2) God’s way to be kept, not our own;

(3) Many temptations to decline from God’s way. These are—(i.) From the world; (ii.) From our own heart. Sometimes the frowns of the world, sometimes its smiles, prove temptations. Hence Agur’s prayer (Proverbs 30:8-9).

(4) Possible for a man to keep God’s way, and not decline from it. True generally, though not absolutely. “Not a just man on earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves” (Proverbs 7:20; 1 John 1:8). In a general sense, possible with Paul to live in all good conscience before God (Acts 23:1). So David, as typical of Christ (Psalms 18:21-23); Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:6; 2 Kings 20:3); Josiah (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Kings 23:25); the writer of Psalms 119:0. (Daniel?) (Psalms 119:22; Psalms 119:31; Psalms 119:51; Psalms 119:55-56). God’s Word given and to be attended to for this purpose (Joshua 1:7-8; Psalms 119:11). Requires—(i.) Reflection. (Proverbs 4:26; Psalms 119:59; (ii.) Resolution (Psalms 119:106); (iii.) Courage; (iv.) Watchfulness; (v.) Dependence on Divine strength; (vi.) Prayer.

(5) Job in the Old, an example to believers in the New Testament dispensation. Much more light and grace vouchsafed in the latter than in the former. The Gospel dispensation especially the dispensation of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:8-11). Hence a still higher and holier life to be expected. Believers to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

2. High esteem for the words of God (Job 23:12). “I have esteemed (Hebrew: ‘hidden, or treasured up’) the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Margin: “My appointed portion;” or, “than my own purpose,” when these have come in collision). Words from God’s mouth known in all ages. God, at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past to the fathers (Hebrews 1:1). The words of God’s mouth treasured up in the Scriptures of truth (Deuteronomy 31:19; Deuteronomy 31:22; Deuteronomy 31:24; Isaiah 30:8; Habakkuk 2:2). Spoken and preserved as the rule of faith and practice. To be—

(1) Highly esteemed as our most precious treasure;
(2) Chosen and adopted as the only rule of our faith and practice;
(3) Carefully treasured up in memory and heart;
(4) Held fast and persevered in.

Reasons for highly esteeming God’s Word.

(1) Its source,—God Himself;

(2) Its nature and character—(i.) Pure; (ii.) True; (iii.) Efficacious.

(3) Its tendency and end. The Word of God is—(i.) A means of convincing of sin and error (Psalms 19:11; Hebrews 4:12); (ii.) A means of conversion (Psalms 19:7); (iii.) The Holy Spirit’s instrument in regeneration (James 1:18); 1 Peter 1:23); (iv.) Means of spiritual enlightenment (Psalms 19:8; Psalms 119:130); (v.) Directory as to duty and the way of salvation (2 Timothy 3:16; John 5:39); (vi.) Means of spiritual comfort, refreshment, and delight (Psalms 119:50; Psalms 119:54; Psalms 119:111; Psalms 19:8; Psalms 19:10; Jeremiah 15:16; (vii.) Means of sanctification (John 15:3; John 17:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18); (viii.) Means of spiritual fruitfulness (John 15:7-8); (ix.) Means of perfecting Christian character (2 Timothy 3:17); (x.) Means of preparing for usefulness (2 Timothy 3:17).

Evidences of highly esteeming God’s Word—(i.) When it is attentively read or heard (Proverbs 8:34; John 5:39; (ii.) When seriously and frequently pondered (Luke 2:19); (iii.) When carefully treasured up in the memory (Psalms 119:11); (iv.) When preferred to earthly comforts, possessions, liberty, even life itself; (v.) When our own views, purposes, and practices are given up because in opposition to its teachings; (vi.) When suffering and loss are preferred to the violation of its precepts.

Examples of such esteem: David (Psalms 19:10; Psalms 119:97); Jeremiah (Job 15:16); Daniel (Daniel 6:5; Daniel 6:10); Mary (Luke 10:39-42). “I had rather be without meat, drink, light, everything than Matthew 11:28.”—Selneccer. “I would not for all the world that John 17:24 had been left out of the Bible.”—Baxter. “My soul hath found inexpressibly more sweetness and satisfaction in a single line of the Bible, than in all the pleasures found in the things of the world, since the creation, could equal.”—John Brown of Haddington. “I would not live in Paradise without the Word, and could live in hell with it.—Luther.

God’s Word to be esteemed more than our “necessary food,” His Word the food of the soul, and necessary unto health and vigour (1 Peter 2:2). The spiritual part of our nature of greater consequence than the material. Man’s life not sustained by bread alone, but by every word of God (Matthew 5:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). God’s favour better than life. Spiritual refreshment sweeter and more valuable than corporeal. Better for the soul to be satisfied from God’s Word than for the body to be satisfied from the best spread table. “The flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Man’s soul can no more dispense with spiritual than the body with material food. A famine of the Word of God a much greater calamity than a famine of bread (Amos 8:11).

VI. Recals with awe the unchangeableness and absolute sovereignty of God (Job 23:13). “But he is of one mind (or, ‘truly He is one,’ the only Supreme Ruler and Potentate; or, ‘He is one and the same’ [in purpose], i.e. unchangeable; or, when he is [set] on any one [object or purpose]) who can turn Him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. And he performeth the thing that is appointed for me; and many such things (either such sovereign and mysterious purposes and proceedings in relation to His creatures, or such severe dealings in relation to Job himself), are with Him. Therefore am I troubled at His presence [in my thoughts, or at His dealings with me]; when I consider [His majesty, power, and sovereignty], I am afraid of Him.” Observe—

1. God the only Potentate or supreme Ruler of the universe (1 Timothy 6:15). Rules and works according to His will. None able to influence, restrain, check, or counteract His procedure.

2. God unchangeable in His purposes. Ever like Himself. The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Free from the inconstancy and variableness adhering to creatures. The Father of lights, without variableness or shadow of turning (James 1:17). Is of one mind, character, and purpose. Hence our safety and comfort. “I am the Lord; I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). God neither fickle in Himself, nor capable of being influenced by persons or events so as to change His purpose. The history of the universe eternally planned and mapped out by His infinite mind, in full harmony with the freedom of the creature’s will and the operation of second causes, which are included in it. Eternity, with all its actualities and possibilities, every moment open to His all-seeing view. His being one eternal NOW. Unnecessary and impossible for a Being, omniscient and omnipotent, all-holy, all-wise, and all-good, to change His purpose. Such change at any time only apparent. Ascribed to Him in condescension to our capacity. A change in His external procedure no change in His eternal plan.

3. God irresistible in His purposes. “I will work, and who shall let it” (Isaiah 43:13). God as irresistible in His power as He is immutable in His purpose. Nothing too hard for the Lord. For creatures to resist His will is for thorns and briars to oppose a consuming fire. God as able to execute, as He is wise to construct, His plan. The creature’s safety, happiness, and success, in falling in with the Creator’s will.

4. God’s purposes extend to all His creatures. No creature so insignificant but has his lot “appointed” for him. Nothing in the universe left to chance. The fall of a sparrow under His goverance as truly as the wreck of a world. Nothing either too minute or too vast for an infinite mind to direct or an almighty hand to control. Creatures and events linked with each other in His purpose throughout the universe, the chain extending from one eternity to another. The combination of a thousand events necessary to raise Joseph to his designed elevation, in order, among many other things, “to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

5. God’s Being, Purposes, and Providence such as to beget deep reverential awe. Too deep and mysterious for man’s faculties to fathom or comprehend. The constant nearness of such a Being to us, our intimate relation to, and absolute dependence upon, Him, overwhelming. Our comfort that He is at once infinitely wise and holy, and just and good. The interests of all His creatures safe in His hands. Only disobedience and rebellion can interfere with the creature’s happiness. God revealed in the Gospel in the most amiable possible light as love itself, and as giving the most unequivocal evidence of His character as such, in assuming our nature, obeying His own law, and enduring the utmost penalty of our disobedience, in order to our eternal redemption (1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:8-10).

6. Fear the natural effect of thoughts of God viewed apart from Christ and His work of redemption. Man inwardly and secretly conscious of sin and alienation from God. Fear, Peter’s first feeling on the apprehension of Christ’s Divine character, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

VII. Returns to his own particular case (Job 23:16). “For God maketh my heart soft [with fear and dismay (Joshua 2:11)], and the Almighty troubleth (or ‘confoundeth’) me [by His mysterious and apparently cruel procedure]: because I was not cut off [by death] before the darkness [of these calamities came], neither hath he covered the darkness (Heb. ‘thick darkness’ of such accumulated trouble) from my eyes” [by hiding me in the tomb]. Observe—

1. God able by His providence to make the stoutest heart soft with fear. Able also by His grace to make the hardest heart soft with penitence and love. Often makes the softness of fear from the iron rod of the law a precursor and preparative to the softness of love from the golden sceptre of the Gospel.

2. God able to trouble and confound the wisest and most daring by His mysterious and righteous dealings (Exodus 14:24; Exodus 8:19).

3. God’s dealings with ourselves often such as we are unable to comprehend.

4. A mystery that a benevolent and Almighty Being brings men into the world who are destined to suffer. But

(1) No suffering which is not in some way the consequence of sinning.
(2) All things made by God for Himself and for His own glory. In a way unknown to us, every creature made to contribute to the end of its creation. Perhaps God’s highest glory hereafter from those who suffer most here. God’s grace often greatly glorified by patient suffering even in this life. A patient, submissive, and thankful sufferer here probably one of the brightest jewels in the cabinet of God hereafter.

(3) Suffering the appointed path to glory (Acts 14:22; Romans 8:17). Probably the greatest sufferer in time the loudest singer in eternity. The crown of thorns preparatory to the crown of glory. As with the Head, so with the members (Luke 24:26; Romans 8:17).

(4) The sufferings of one made to contribute to the benefit of another. Paul’s testimony in reference to himself, applicable to believers in general (Colossians 1:24). The members thus made to share with the Head. Probably the happiness, moral excellence, and mutual love of redeemed men greatly increased by such a Divine arrangement.

(5) The wisdom and the love of God in bringing Job into the world where he had so much to suffer, long ago made manifest both to himself and others.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Job 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/job-23.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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