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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Job 23

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Job's Desire to Appear Before God

A. Job longs to take his case to God.

1. (Job 23:1-7) Job's bitter complaint and his inability to connect with God.

Then Job answered and said:
"Even today my complaint is bitter;
My hand is listless because of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!
I would present my case before Him,
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know the words which He would answer me,
And understand what He would say to me.
Would He contend with me in His great power?
No! But He would take note of me.
There the upright could reason with Him,
And I would be delivered forever from my Judge."

a. Even today my complaint is bitter: At the close of Eliphaz's speech, Job continued to feel desperate. The wisdom and counsel of Eliphaz and others was of no relief to him, and just made his mental and spiritual agony worse.

b. Oh, that I knew where I might find Him: Job felt separated from God. Surely, this was not the first crisis in his life (though of course it was far beyond any previous suffering). He had found comfort and solace in God in prior times, but in this catastrophe he felt he could not find God.

i. In a way almost infinitely less, yet nevertheless real, Job experienced what Jesus experienced on the cross: A man who had previously been in the fellowship and favor of God now felt utterly forsaken. This was the greatest source of torment in Job's life.

ii. This not only tells us of Job's sense of the loss of the presence of God, but of his longing to have it back. "Good men are washed towards God even by the rough waves of their grief; and when their sorrows are deepest, their highest desire is not to escape from them, but to get at their God." (Spurgeon)

iii. "In Job's uttermost extremity he cried after the Lord. The longing desire of an afflicted child of God is once more to see his Father's face. His first prayer is not, 'Oh that I might be healed of the disease which now festers in every part of my body!' nor even, 'Oh that I might see my children restored from the jaws of the grave, and my property once more brought from the hand of the spoiler!' but the first and uppermost cry is, 'Oh that I knew where I might find HIM - who is my God! that I might come even to his seat!'" (Spurgeon)

c. I would present my case before Him: Job did not only want the sense of the presence of God for the sake of spiritual comfort; he also wanted it so he might be vindicated in the court of God, especially in the face of the accusations of his friends.

i. "So impatient is Job for the process to begin that he dares to arraign the Lord in court. In effect, he wants to sue God for defamation of character!" (Mason)

ii. "Here Job's courageous honesty is seen at its best. His consuming desire is to come face to face with God, not by a contrived penance, as Eliphaz recommends, but in fair trial." (Andersen)

d. I would know the words which He would answer me … I would be delivered forever from my Judge: Job's conscience assured him that he would find mercy and favor at the throne of God. His friends insisted that God was against Job in his sufferings, but Job stubbornly clung to his innocence.

i. "He has confidence in the Lord that, if he could have an audience with him, God would not use his power against him; but, on the contrary, would strengthen him in order that he might state his case." (Spurgeon)

2. (Job 23:8-9) Job confesses his lack of understanding and need of divine revelation.

"Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.

a. I go forward … backward … left hand … right hand: Job insisted that he had sought God in the midst of his crisis. He looked in every direction he could.

i. "This is one of the marks of a true child of God, - that, even when God smites him, he still longs for his presence." (Spurgeon)

ii. "An old Puritan writer quaintly observed, in commenting on this, 'Job, you have gone forward and backward, and you have looked to the left and you have looked to the right. Why don't you try looking up?'" (Morgan)

iii. "These two verses paint in vivid colours the distress and anxiety of a soul in search of the favour of God. No means are left untried, no place unexplored, in order to find the object of his research. This is a true description of the conduct of a genuine penitent." (Clarke)

b. But He is not there … I cannot perceive Him: No matter how sincerely and how diligently Job looked, he could not find God. God remained hidden through a barrier that was impossible to pierce.

B. Job's confidence in the midst of despair.

1. (Job 23:10-12) Job's confidence in God and in his own integrity.

But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
My foot has held fast to His steps;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth
More than my necessary food."

a. He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold: Here is another bright flash of faith upon a generally black background. Job admitted that he could not get through to God, yet clung to the confidence that God was still over this crisis.

i. With wonderful faith, Job seemed at this fleeting instant to understand what he could and should in his present crisis. He understood that:

- God still observed Job carefully and had not forgotten him (He knows the way that I take).
- God had a purpose in the crisis, and the purpose was not to punish Job (when He has tested me)
- God would one day bring the trial to an end (I shall come forth)
- God would bring something good would from it all (I shall come forth as gold)
- God still valued Job; only precous metal is put through the fire (as gold)

ii. "Suddenly, in the midst of this bitter complaining, there flamed out a most remarkable evidence of the tenacity of his faith. He declared with conviction that God knew the way he was taking. He even affirmed his confidence that it was God Who was trying him, and that presently he would come forth from the process as gold." (Morgan)

iii. "It looks very hard to believe that a child of God should be tried by the loss of his Father's presence, and yet should come forth uninjured by the trial. Yet no gold is ever injured in the fire. Stoke the furnace as much as you may, let the blast be as strong as you will, thrust the ingot into the very center of the white heat, let it lie in the very heart of the flame; pile on more fuel, let another blast torment the coals till they become most vehement with heat, yet the gold is losing nothing, it may even be gaining." (Spurgeon)

iv. "Now he accepts the testing, because he knows: I shall come forth as gold. This image, drawn from metallurgy, does not necessarily imply purification. It could mean simply that the test proves that Job had been pure gold all along." (Andersen)

v. "I shall ask four questions of every man within reach of my voice. God knoweth the way that you take. I will ask you first: Do you know your own way? Secondly: Is it a comfort to you that God knows your way? Thirdly: Are you tried in the way? And, if so, fourthly: Have you confidence in God as to the result of that trial? Can you say with Job, 'When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold'?" (Spurgeon)

b. My foot has held fast to His steps: This was a dramatic defense of his integrity before his accusing friends. Job declared that he still followed God (I have kept His way) and loved His word (I have treasured the words of His mouth).

i. "God spoke to Job. Did God ever speak to you? I do not suppose Job had a single page of inspired writing. Probably he had not - even seen the first books of Moses; he may have done so, but probably he had not. God spoke to him. Did he ever speak to you? No man will ever serve God aright unless God has spoken to him." (Spurgeon)

ii. "Then note, that what God had spoken to him he treasured up. He says in the Hebrew that he had hid God's word more than ever he had hidden his necessary food. They had to hide grain away in those days to guard it from wandering Arabs. Job had been more careful to store up God's word than to store up his wheat and his barley; more anxious to preserve the memory of what God had spoken than to garner his harvests. Do you treasure up what God has spoken?" (Spurgeon)

2. (Job 23:13-17) Job wonders at God's power and sovereignty.

"But He is unique, and who can make Him change?
And whatever His soul desires, that He does.
For He performs what is appointed for me,
And many such things are with Him.
Therefore I am terrified at His presence;
When I consider this, I am afraid of Him.
For God made my heart weak,
And the Almighty terrifies me;
Because I was not cut off from the presence of darkness,
And He did not hide deep darkness from my face."

a. But He is unique, and who can make Him change? Job here argued back with himself against his previous great declaration of faith. He understood though he did deeply and sincerely trust in God, at the same time he could not make God do anything.

i. "Verse 13 is a monotheistic affirmation. Job said, 'He (God) is the unique (one).' The Hebrew expression is rare in the OT but idiomatic." (Smick)

ii. The older King James Version translates who can make Him change as who can turn Him? "But oh! The text itself is music to my ears. It seems to sound like the martial trumpet of the battle, and my soul is ready for the fray. It seems now that if trials and troubles should come, if I could but hold my hand upon this precious text, I would laugh at them all. 'Who can turn him?' - I would shout - 'Who can turn him?' Come on, earth and hell, come on, for 'who can turn him?'" (Spurgeon)

b. He performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him: Job had to admit that God would do as He pleased in Job's life and would not be held hostage to Job's demands. He understood that the reasons and wisdom of God's work are ultimately with Him and not know to Job or others (such as Job's friends).

i. Job here seemed to come closer and closer to the place God wanted him to be in his crisis. He comes closer and closer to realizing that God can be trusted, that God does in fact love and care for him; but at the same time He is sovereign and at least some of His ways are beyond our knowing.

c. Therefore I was terrified at His presence … God has made my heart weak: Knowing what he could not know about God made Job appreciate the distance between himself and God. It made him feel a good and righteous awe of God, though it felt like deep darkness because it was little comfort to him in his crisis.

i. "Job's strongest assertions of faith seem always to be coupled with equally strong assertions of fear and pain. In this chapter his confidence in his own righteousness is more unassailable than ever, yet at the same time 'thick darkness covers' his face and he is filled with dread. Somehow Job's faith is elastic enough to embrace simultaneously both terror and confidence." (Mason)

© 2007 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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