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Doug Van Meter - 7 August 2022

A Crushed Spirit, Who Can Bear? (Job 15:1–17:16)

When people—including Christians—undergo (especially intense and inexplicable) suffering, it is not uncommon to hear them say some not-so-easy-to-digest words. As Christian counsellor Diane Langberg recently tweeted, “If you are going to enter into the suffering of those who have been traumatized, you have to learn how to sit with and listen to fear, anger and great grief with compassion and understanding. You will also have to learn how to do it for far longer than you prefer.” Job is a case in point. Job’s friends were angry that he was not hearing their counsel—and he was angry that they were not hearing him. In response to Eliphaz’s second speech, Job said some hard-to-hear things as he agonised in confusion. His response reveals a crushed spirit. We consider this lengthy section under the following outline: I. Eliphaz’s Accusations (15:1–35) A. Awe-less Arrogance (vv. 1–16) B. Woeful Wickedness (vv. 17–35) II. Job’s Excruciating Pain (16:1–22) A. Exasperated with Friends (vv. 1–5) B. Exhausted by God (vv. 6–22) III. Job’s Broken Spirit (17:1–16) A. Hope Broken (vv. 1–9) B. Hope Buried (vv. 10–16)

Scripture References: Job 15:1-35, Job 16:1-22, Job 17:1-16

From Series: "Job Exposition"

A devotional exposition of the book of Job by Doug Van Meter.

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Those who know her well are appreciatively aware that my wife has the unique ability to say the hard thing in a way that it is easy to hear. She does not take things personally and so her lack of defensiveness, coupled with genuine concern, makes her a great counsellor and a wonderful friend. Not long ago, I was helpfully reminded of this.

After an extended hospital stay, I was being difficult, rather grumpy, and hard to live with. Jill said to me, with obvious concern, “I can’t figure out if you are in great pain or if you are just behaving like an idiot.” I wasn’t in great pain, but I was behaving like an idiot! Her words were helpful because they were compassionately convicting. Eliphaz could have learned a thing or two from her.

When people—including Christian people—are undergoing (especially intense and inexplicable) suffering, we should expect to hear them say some not-so-easy to digest words. Honest words but often over-the-top words. Christian counsellor Diane Langberg recently tweeted, “If you are going to enter into the suffering of those who have been traumatized, you have to learn how to sit with and listen to fear, anger and great grief with compassion and understanding. You will also have to learn how to do it for far longer than you prefer.” I couldn’t help but think of Job.

Job has suffered insuperable pain having lost all his wealth, his health, and, most painfully, his ten children. To top it off, his friends have proven to be physicians of no value (13:4). Rather than merciful counsellors, they have proven to be miserable comforters (16:2). Rather than lifting his spirits, they have further crushed his broken spirit. And as Proverbs 18:14 instructs, “a person’s spirit can endure sickness, but who can survive a broken spirit?”

Charles Bridges wrote “Outward troubles are tolerable, yea—more than tolerable, if there be peace within. The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmity. But if the spirit be wounded—if the prop itself be broken—all sinks…. The wound of the spirit is so much the more piercing, as the spirit itself is more vital than the body. The grief gains the victory, and becomes intolerable.” To this, Job would say a heartsore “amen.”

In the chapters before us, Eliphaz adds further to Job’s broken spirit by his simplistic, slanderous, and cruel accusatory counsel. Eliphaz is clearly angry. But so is Job. He is angry at his supposed friends. But Job is also in agonising confusion. He laments that God has become his enemy (16:9). He says some things about God’s treatment of him that he will later blush over, but, in his defence, he is not being an idiot; he is in great pain. He needs someone like Jill, not Eliphaz.

As we briefly look at these three chapters, we will focus primarily on Job’s crushed spirit, his pain and response to the pain, and how we can helpfully come alongside those whose spirit is broken. Our understanding their pain and confusion must accompany any undertaking to help our brothers and sisters who feel crushed under the weight of their burdens.

We will consider this text under the following outline.

I. Eliphaz’s Accusations (15:1–35)
A. Aweless Arrogance (vv. 1–16)
B. Woeful Wickedness (vv. 17–35)

II. Job’s Excruciating Pain (16:1–22)
A. Exasperated with Friends (vv. 1–5)
B. Exhausted by God (vv. 6–22)

III. Job’s Broken Spirit (17:1–9)
A. Hope Broken (vv. 1–9)
B. Hope Buried (vv. 10–16)

Eliphaz’s Accusations

Chapter 15 records two broad accusations that Eliphaz levels against Job.

Aweless Arrogance

First, Eliphaz accuses Job of aweless arrogance:

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said: “Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind? Should he argue in unprofitable talk, or in words with which he can do no good? But you are doing away with the fear of God  and hindering meditation before God. For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; your own lips testify against you.

 

“Are you the first man who was born? Or were you brought forth before the hills? Have you listened in the council of God? And do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know? What do you understand that is not clear to us? Both the grey-haired and the aged are among us, older than your father. Are the comforts of God too small for you, or the word that deals gently with you? Why does your heart carry you away, and why do your eyes flash, that you turn your spirit against God and bring such words out of your mouth? What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous? Behold, God  puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water!”

(Job 15:1–16)

Eliphaz, in his anger that Job rejects his counsel, stoops to an earthy rebuke, implying that Job’s response is akin to a belly full of gas (v. 2). Nice! Eliphaz, perhaps convicted but definitely humiliated, now ups the ante and openly accuses Job of having no fear of God. The implication is that Job’s is a dangerous man (vv. 4–6). Job’s lack of awe for God, according to Eliphaz, indicates he is arrogant (vv. 7–13). Eliphaz concludes that Job is abominable (vv. 14–16). Eliphaz presents God as having no grace; Job is simply getting what he deserves.

Woeful Wickedness

Eliphaz’s second accusation is that Job is guilty of woeful wickedness.

“I will show you; hear me, and what I have seen I will declare (what wise men have told, without hiding it from their fathers, to whom alone the land was given, and no stranger passed among them). The wicked man writhes in pain all his days, through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless. Dreadful sounds are in his ears; in prosperity the destroyer will come upon him. He does not believe that he will return out of darkness, and he is marked for the sword. He wanders abroad for bread, saying, ‘Where is it?’ He knows that a day of darkness is ready at his hand; distress and anguish terrify him; they prevail against him, like a king ready for battle. Because he has stretched out his hand against God and defies the Almighty, running stubbornly against him with a thickly bossed shield; because he has covered his face with his fat and gathered fat upon his waist and has lived in desolate cities, in houses that none should inhabit, which were ready to become heaps of ruins; he will not be rich, and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the earth;  he will not depart from darkness; the flame will dry up his shoots, and by the breath of his mouth he will depart. Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself, for emptiness will be his payment. It will be paid in full before his time, and his branch will not be green. He will shake off his unripe grape like the vine, and cast off his blossom like the olive tree. For the company of the godless is barren, and fire consumes the tents of bribery. They conceive trouble and give birth to evil, and their womb prepares deceit.”

(Job 15:17–35)

Eliphaz seemingly has no conscience, and certainly no empathy, yet he assumes the position of a uniquely wise man (vv. 17–19), pouring his contempt on Job. Eliphaz is sure that Job will face the dreadful fate of the wicked at the hand of God. Job is so wicked that he can only expect woe upon woe (vv. 20–26). In fact, according to Eliphaz, this is already happening (vv. 27–30; cf. 1:16–19).

Eliphaz’ final assault on his friend assures Job that he is empty of any good. He is self–deceived, and a godless man facing certain destruction (vv. 31–35). Finally, and mercifully, Eliphaz’s accusatory, condemning speech comes to an end. What impact has it had on Job and how will he now respond? That is, how will Job respond to Eliphaz’s tidy, graceless, legalistic, prosperity theology?

Job’s Excruciating Pain

Job begins his response to Eliphaz in chapter 16. His response reveals that he is a wounded man, in excruciating, almost unbearable, emotional (and physical) pain. Keep this in mind when dealing with those suffering inexplicable and intense suffering. Don’t be too hard on them.

Exasperated with Friends

Job is exasperated with his friends.

Then Job answered and said: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you. I could strengthen you with my mouth, and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.”

(Job 16:1–5)

The word translated “miserable” implies anguish, wearisomeness, toil, and trouble. Whereas they should be consoling Job, his friends rather are simply exasperating his agony (vv. 1–3).

If he were in their shoes, he would help them, not hurt them (vv. 4–5). They are doing the easy thing. Condemnation is always easier than empathetic involvement. Hanging on to a simplistic system is easier than acquiring and applying biblical wisdom.

Exhausted by God

Not only is he exasperated with his friends, but Job is also exhausted by God.

“If I speak, my pain is not assuaged, and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me? Surely now God has worn me out; he has made desolate all my company. And he has shrivelled me up, which is a witness against me, and my leanness has risen up against me; it testifies to my face. He has torn me in his wrath and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me. Men have gaped at me with their mouth; they have struck me insolently on the cheek; they mass themselves together against me. God gives me up to the ungodly and casts me into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, and he broke me apart; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me up as his target; his archers surround me. He slashes open my kidneys and does not spare; he pours out my gall on the ground. He breaks me with breach upon breach; he runs upon me like a warrior. I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin and have laid my strength in the dust. My face is red with weeping, and on my eyelids is deep darkness, although there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure.

 

“O earth, cover not my blood, and let my cry find no resting place. Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God, that he would argue the case of a man with God, as a son of man does with his neighbour. For when a few years have come I shall go the way from which I shall not return.”

(Job 16:6–22)

Job’s most excruciating of pain is his thought that God hates him (v. 9), is opposed to him, and that he is no longer accepted by God (3:25–26). Moving from god’s friend to his enemy is too much to bear. He desires to be exonerated by God, only to experience increasingly being exhausted by God’s hand against him.

Rather than being fat and flourishing in wickedness (16:27–28), Job is lean and emaciated, the object of God’s wrath, despite his innocence (vv. 6–9, 17).

God, Job believes, has amassed enemies against him that mock and even strike him in contempt (vv. 9–11). God has broken his body and has so set himself against him that he is like one hopeless before a ravaging animal and a bloodthirsty warrior. Without cause, Job is suffering and can only cry out in hopeless agony (vv. 12–17).

I know something of the literal sense of hopelessness associated with bile being poured on the ground. When I was in hospital following several surgeries, the bile would not stop draining. At times, I wondered, “Lord, how much more? Is this ever going to come right?” I understand something of being exhausted by God. But I also know something of being helped by a physician of value, a merciful not a miserable comforter.

Speaking Better Than He Knew

The chapter ends on an interesting note of expectation (vv. 18–21) in which Job makes a plea for justice as well as a confession of faith in his heavenly mediator. Job makes appeal for God to appeal to God. He knows that time is running out (v. 22), yet he dares to believe that a mediator will end God’s exhaustive opposition to him.

This is perhaps difficult for us to hear for we live on this side of the cross and the empty tomb. But even so, there are times in which we wrestle with the thought that God is against us. C. S. Lewis did.

When his wife died, he reflected on this very thing and wrote, in A Grief Observed, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there is no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

Thanks be to God that we know the truth of Romans 8:31ff. God provided his mediator to present us faultless before the throne of God above. Through Jesus’ sinless life, his sacrificial and substitutionary death, his victorious resurrection, and his ongoing intercession, those who have trusted in him know that God is not against us. We need to continually remind ourselves of this truth, thus guarding ourselves against unworthy thoughts that God is out to exhaust and reject us. Be alert to the presence of the Satan who accuses us with the goal of despair.

Job’s Broken Spirit

Job ends his response to Eliphaz in chapter 17, lamenting his condition and expressing his hopeless despair. Job, understandably, is the ultimate Eeyore.

Hope Broken

Verses 1–9 show the utter brokenness of Job’s hope.

“My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me. Surely there are mockers about me, and my eye dwells on their provocation.

 

“Lay down a pledge for me with you; who is there who will put up security for me? Since you have closed their hearts to understanding, therefore you will not let them triumph. He who informs against his friends to get a share of their property—the eyes of his children will fail.

 

“He has made me a byword of the peoples, and I am one before whom men spit. My eye has grown dim from vexation, and all my members are like a shadow. The upright are appalled at this, and the innocent stirs himself up against the godless. Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger.”

(Job 17:1–9)

A wounded, broken spirit is the bedrock of a hopeless mindset. Martin Luther wrote, “It is as easy to make a world, as to ease a troubled conscience.” Job’s conscience was clear (16:17) but his mind was troubled. Being conscious of God, he did not like what he saw, and those around him only added to his doubts and despair (vv. 1–2).

Verses 3–9 are difficult to interpret but it seems that the main thought is that Job’s broken spirit is exacerbated by his friends (v. 5), while at the same time the community casts aspersions on him contemptuously dismissing him, spitting in disgust at him (v. 6). On the other hand, there does seem to be a remnant of the reasonable who are willing to stand with him (vv. 8–9). But lest we should conclude that things are beginning to look up, think again!

Hope Buried

If there was some hope indicated above, it now seems to be buried.

“But you, come on again, all of you, and I shall not find a wise man among you. My days are past; my plans are broken off, the desires of my heart. They make night into day: ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’  If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?”

(Job 17:10–16)

Job is calling upon these supposed wise men to think and to try again. But he holds no more hope in their proving to be any wiser than before (v. 10). He concludes with what seems like a death wish and yet confesses that, if he does die, then hope will die with him and his only companions will be maggots (vv. 11–16). Job seems to expect to die the way he is now living: alone.

The pain of loneliness in affliction is an unbearable burden and is sure to wound and break the spirit. What a horrible way to suffer. What a horrible way to die. So, what’s the point of this?

We must keep before us that the reader knows what Job does not know: that God is not against him. In fact, he is very much for him (1:8; 2:3)! And if we skip to the end of the book then, from our eagle’s eye-view, we know that Job is not hopeless. God is not Job’s enemy. God is on Job’s side. He is not alone.

Conclusion

Like Job, the Lord Jesus Christ experienced excruciating pain, on several levels. He was mocked by those who should have been his friends. He was falsely accused, slandered, and slain. And a part of his suffering was that he experienced a wounded, a broken, a crushed spirit (Mark 14:32–37).

Like Job, Jesus not only felt that God hated him, but, for three hours on the cross, the Father treated Jesus as if he hated him (Matthew 27:46). And yet, like Job—and so much more!—Jesus kept hoping in God.

When you think about it, Jesus, like Job, had a literal death wish. He came to die for sinners. But unlike Job, Jesus expected to rise from the dead. The Father vindicated him by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4; 6:4 Ephesians 1:20; etc.). And because of this, we have hope that heals our broken spirits. By his stripes we are healed as we have returned to the shepherd of our souls.

Have you returned? Do you share in the hope of such a healing? Repent now and be saved.

Let me draw this study to a close with a few words of application.

First, those with a wounded spirit need empathy alongside exhortation. We need to beware of the simplistic expectation that the truth “God is in control|  relieves us of the responsibility to engage with the hurting over the long-haul.

Second, Christians also get depressed. Be prepared to come alongside them. Be prepared if it comes upon you. Be prepared by developing true and faithful friends. Be prepared by making the local church your centre of spiritual gravity.

Third, we must do all we can to communicate the gospel to those in their hopelessness. In 16:18–21, Job seems to be appealing to God against God. He is appealing to one who has the status to argue the case with God as an equal. When the hopeless grasp the grace of God in his appointed Mediator, hope can spring eternal.

Fourth, let each of us grow in biblical wisdom so that rather than being miserable comforters we will be merciful counsellors, to the good of the church to the glory of God.

AMEN