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Some thirty years ago, Marshall Shelley wrote a book titled Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church. The blurb on the book begins this way: “Every church has them—sincere, well-meaning Christians who leave ulcers, strained relationships, and hard feelings in their wake.”

Job’s friends might be considered well-intentioned dragons. The author tells us that his friends “made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him” (2:11). Their intentions were pure. Sadly, their counsel did not align with their intention. Far from offering him sympathetic comfort, they proved to be what Hywel Jones called “the ultimate oxymoron”: “miserable comforters” (16:1).

We have witnessed Job’s friends growing increasingly agitated at his protestations of innocence. Job was quickly reaching the end of his tether—and yet, strangely, finding hope there. In his second response to Eliphaz, we find a threefold, despairing appeal to his friends and to God. But there is hope in his despair, as we will see.

First, Job appealed for sympathy (16:1–14)—both from his friends (16:1–6) and from God (16:7–14).

Eliphaz had accused him of being a windbag (15:2) and he returned the accusation (16:3). He argued that he could easily affirm his friends’ shallow systematic theology if the roles were reversed and prove miserable comfort to them (16:4), though he preferred to think that he would have offered them soothing words instead (16:5).

His friends’ lack of sympathy was obvious in their words and was painful enough. More painful was God’s silent lack of sympathy (16:7–14). It seemed that God was unfeelingly doing everything he could to make Job miserable. He felt that God was actively gnashing his teeth at him in anger and was adversarially tearing at him like a wild beast (16:9). He was giving reason for the ungodly to gather mockingly around him like a pack of scavengers (16:10–11). God was mercilessly assaulting him and beating him down (16:12–14).

Second, Job appealed for justice (16:15–22). Despite the protestations of his friends, he maintained that he was free from “violence” and that his prayer was “pure” (16:17). Those with clean hands and pure hearts ought to have access to God (see Psalm 24) but he felt alienated from God. This was a deep injustice. He therefore appealed, “O earth, cover not my blood, and let my cry find no resting place” (16:18). As Abel’s blood cried to God from the ground for justice (Genesis 4:10–11), so Job longed for his blood to plead unceasingly for the justice that was lacking in his life.

Third, Job appealed for death (17:1–16). He could not understand why God relentlessly pursued him but would not grant him the sweet relief of death. He would love to live long enough to see vindication but he wasn’t sure he could take much more. Perhaps Sheol was his only hope for rest (17:13). Perhaps that is the only place he could hope to lie down and rest. He knew that there was no real hope in the grave, but rest may be the next best thing.

Job’s gut-wrenching speeches reveal the conflicted mind of a suffering believer. In times of great affliction, it is human for emotions to swing to extremes. The Bible unapologetically shows this in Job’s life. At the same time, it shows that, even in the face of emotional swings, Job had some understanding of where to look for hope. Ultimate hope did not lie in the grave. Ultimate hope lay in God himself arguing his case in the heavenly court. We see this in 16:20–22.

In those verses, Job reveals his bold, heartfelt prayer: “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.” Job’s friends had come to bear witness to him as a grave sinner under the chastening hand of God. His only hope was that there was another Witness who would speak differently.

Though Job likely lived before any Scripture was written (hence his friends’ frequent appeals to spoken tradition), he had some inkling of the gospel. We have seen this in previous speeches. We see it here again. We will see it in coming chapters. He knew that his suffering was not the result of sin and he knew that God alone could verify that. He knew that his only hope of a righteous standing before God was if God himself pleaded on his behalf—which is exactly what God did in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

As you meditate on Job 16–17 this morning, thank God, even in your most intense suffering, for the gospel. Thank him that your standing before him does not depend on your own righteousness or resolutions but on him pleading your case in Christ. Be encouraged in the gospel today.