Perhaps a good word to describe Job’s reaction is….incredulous. Did Zophar just say what he did? “Did I hear him right?” Job might have thought.
Job cannot convince his own friends that the tables have been turned on him. While once he “called upon God and he answered” and “though righteous and blameless [integrity],” now he is a “laughingstock” to his “friends” (12:4). At the same time “the tents of marauders are undisturbed,” like those who stole his property and killed his servants (12:6). And it is God who has done this! Who “does no know that the hand of the Lord (Yahweh!) has done this?” (12:9).
The use of Yahweh in Job 12:9 is significant. It is the only time that the author puts the name on Job’s lips in the dialogues. It reminds the reader that Yahweh gives and Yahweh takes away as we are taken back to the Prologue. Yahweh is responsible; life and breath are in his hands. The Job of the dialogue is in sync with the Prologue.
This is why Job must “dispute” with God, and the first half of his speech tells his friends that this is what he will do (12:2-13:19). Though he knows “wisdom and power” belong to God, though he knows “counsel and understanding are his” (12:13), though he knows God builds up and tears down whatever pleases him–and the series of divine actions in 12:14-25 are a testimony to God’s “wisdom and power,” Job cannot but dispute with the Almighty. He “desire[s] to speak to the Almighty and to argue [his] case with God” (13:3).
Instead of supporting him, the friends “smear [him] with lies” (13:4a). He would rather they just be silent–that would be true wisdom (13:5)! But they persist to defend God rather than empathize with their friend. They choose the seeming meaninglessness of God’s work over sitting with Job in his pain. They would rather lie and defend God than share Job’s suffering (13:6-12). Sound familiar to anyone? It does to me–it even reflects what goes on inside my own head at times.
So, why must Job speak? Why does he endanger himself with his honesty in addressing God? “Why do I put myself in jeopardy,” he asks, “and take my life in my hands?” (13:14).
This is the beauty of Job’s lament. On the one hand, he laments because he trusts God though he knows God may slay him. On the other hand, he laments because he experiences life as so totally unfair. This, I think, is the circumstance all faithful lament. It is honest about the seeming injustice of life’s tragic course, but it nevertheless trusts in the “wisdom and power” of God over that life.
Job speaks–he disputes, laments, complains–because “though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15 as the traditional reading says). Or, perhaps the better translation is, “he may slay me, I have no hope.” It is difficult to choose between the two. But nevertheless, Job will speak. And he speaks–he disputes, laments, complains–because “man is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (14:1). With the former, Job knows he will be vindicated (13:18b), but with the latter he recognizes that the grave and suffering are the human condition (14:5, 10). This is the origin of lament–trust and trouble. Lament is a faithful response to God; it is not the cry of the arrogant, but it is faith mourning. Job will pursue his lawsuit against God (13:20-14:22).
Job feels this same tension regarding sin. He does not claim perfection. He remembers the “sins of his youth” (13:26). He knows his “offenses” (14:16-17). But he does not understand why God prosecutes his own servant to this degree. Though he sins, he nevertheless trusts God and follows his steps. “Why,” then, “do you hide your face,” Job asks God, “and consider me your enemy?” (13:24). It seems that God has used every excuse–including his sin, even the sins of his youth–to imprison him and shackle his feet (13:27).
But this does not fit Job’s understanding of God; it does not fit what he would expect from his Creator. This is not the God to whom Job prays. Therefore, he will await the day of “renewal” when God “will call and I will answer,” when God “will long for the creature [his] hands have made” (14:15). In that moment, God will “count [Job’s] steps but” will “not keep track of [his] sin” (14:16). God will, Job believes, seal up his offenses “in a bag” and “cover over [his] sin.” If a person could live again, Job asks, then he would wait for his comfort (Job 14:14).
Ultimately, Job hopes in his God; he trusts in God’s grace and healing, even though he has no way of conceiving it. It seems impossible. In the midst of his lament it is difficult for him to see through the fog. On the trash heap, “he feels [only] the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself” because God has “overpower[ed] him” and “change[d] his countenance” (14:20,22).
This is lament, that is, trouble plus trust (hope) given voice. Sometimes the trouble overshadows the trust and sometimes the trust shines through the trouble. At this point it appears that the trouble is overshadowing Job’s hope though he rhetorically raises the impossible possibility. There must be more, but Job cannot see it at this point.
And, as Christian readers, we know there is more. We know a man did die to live again. We know him as Jesus. But until the final day when death is destroyed, we sometimes sit where Job sits and trouble overwhelms hope, even trust.
Friends who would comfort need to understand this. Let us listen to the voice without critique, judgment, or condemnation. Listen with mercy, compassion and sympathy, even empathy where possible.
God is listening–as the ending of Job confirms, and so should we.