With the man Job, we’ve read of the character of Job as seen in the opening chapters of the self-titled book and we’ve heard of the patience, or better, perseverance of Job as referenced in the Epistle of James. Now, in the 31st chapter of the book, we read something of a self-examination by Job as he makes his final defense.
If we were to strictly view the Book of Job as a courtroom setting, which is not entirely accurate, then we might picture Job representing himself, calling his key witness to the stand, namely himself, and then proceeding with a cross (self) examination. In other words, Job acting as his own defense attorney, proceeds with a cross-examination of himself. Depending on how one analyzes the content of chapter 31, Job makes somewhere between 8 and 12 acquittals with respect to particular sins. I’ve found Puritan James Durham’s analysis of this chapter most helpful and have leaned on him heavily for my own understanding.
Recall that in chapter 22, Job was accosted by Eliphaz with his sharpest critique of Job’s character, largely a character assassination, as Eliphaz accuses Job of extortion, theft, and cruelty to the poor, hungry, weary, widows, and orphans. At this point in chapter 31, Job specifically addresses these charges through his own self-examination. This final attempt at exoneration by Job generally follows a pattern of, “If I have done ‘X’, then may ‘Y’ be done to me.”
He begins with a rather abrupt and startling declaration of his innocence of fornication, or lust of the eyes in verse 1. Durham summarizes this opening remark as if Job had said,
“I was so far from being taken away with that vileness, that neither by the outward eye, nor by the inward affection of the heart that vents itself by the eye, was I carried after it. Yea, I was so abstracted from it, as if I had made a bargain or covenant with mine eyes, not to look a wrong look that way.”
Job offers three critical reasons why he has held his eyes in check with regards to women. First, that he would not lose his portion with God, or we might say his inheritance, namely God Himself (vs. 2). Second, the wages of sin is punishment and wrath from God (vs. 3). Third, the omniscient, all-seeing eye of God upon all his steps and ways (vs. 4). Perhaps if we considered these restraints as Job has, we would find ourselves less apt to give in to sin, whether by hands or by heart.
The second sin of which Job declares himself not guilty is deception, swindling, or cheating of others (vs. 6), followed by the third acquittal, adultery, which comes into view in verses 7 and 8. Here Job proclaims a curse upon himself by saying if he should act in this manner against his wife, may she also act in like manner against him. Additionally, there is an indication that Job has in mind a much stronger consequence, namely that should he be guilty of adultery, may his wife be taken advantage of. Again, as with fornication, Job expands upon the restraints which have kept him innocent of these charges, primarily the heinousness of the crime worthy of punishment at the hand of God and the destruction of the entirety of man’s estate, literally a fire burning beyond death, consuming all that man has and is.
As we read this, ought not our own hearts be examined for the presence of wayward desires realizing that the slightest sinful thought is rebellion against God, let alone the physical act of adultery. Writing in 1 Corinthians 6:18, the apostle Paul exhorts us to, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Here we are informed of the impact that sexual sin has, not merely outside himself or herself, but it is a sin against one’s own body, as the Apostle continues by pointing out that this is because the body of the believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit. How many ministries have been toppled and men who have been used mightily by God been brought low by the heinousness of adultery and the subsequent collapse of their earthly estate. Brethren, flee youthful passions.
Next, we see Job acquitting himself of austerity or severity with his servants (fourth) in verses 13-15 and oppression or lack of charity with the poor, widows, and orphans in verse 16-23 (fifth). This is what Durham refers to as “taking advantage of weak ones” as seen in verse 21. Here again, as with most of these sins, fear of God is a restraining factor in the heart of Job, “For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty” Job 31:23 As to this exoneration, Job finds himself in compliance with the declaration found in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.“
In the next section of Job’s cross-examination, he acquits himself of idolatrous sins, namely covetousness (sixth), in verses 24-25, and false worship (seventh) in verses 26-28. This is followed in verses 29-31 with Job’s focus on bitterness and revenge (eighth), while he lists lack of hospitality towards strangers (vs. 32) as his ninth acquittal. Tenth, we read of concealment of iniquity as with Adam (vs. 33). There’s a potential translation problem here in the ESV that may more appropriately be, “If I covered my transgressions as Adam; by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom”. The eleventh, faintness , fear of man, or cowardice of duty (vs. 34) concludes this patter of acquittals.
Then, in verses 35-37, Job signs, seals, and delivers his final defense to the Judge, essentially throwing himself at the mercy of the court in the hopes for exoneration, the vindication that he has pleaded for from the beginning. Finally, though not listed in the other eleven acquittals above, is Job’s “last vindication (vs. 38-39) that neither his land, nor the masters or tenants upon it, cried against him.” In other words, Job was clearing himself from being an abusive ‘slum-lord.’
What can we glean from this list of acquittals which Job so meticulously defines? First, we must note, as Elihu will in subsequent chapters that blowing our trumpets before others, is essentially self-righteousness. Durham comments, “Job here has much sincerity within, and much provocation without; yet he speaks with too much confidence and grossness of his sincerity, and therefore is found fault with hereafter by Elihu and God.”
However, leaving that aside, there is a genuine application here for believers, namely that holiness is not optional and is attainable. Not sinless perfection mind you, but a real pursuit of grace-driven, love-of-God-motivated, fear-of-God-restraining holiness. Recall that the Book of Job opened up with the narrator defining the character of Job. That was followed with God parading Job’s character before Satan, repeating precisely the words of the narrator, not once, but twice. Job may not be wise in listing his righteousness, much less listing it in the presence of others, but he has lived a holy life and it should be an ambition for our lives until the day we die.
We may conclude with a word from Durham
“Search and see if you are so free of these and the like sins as he was; if as a prince you could go before God, having the testimony of sincerity as he had. It is the most princely thing to go before God with a good conscience. Be painful in the exercise of holiness. Job was under a covenant of grace, and so are you, and yet how exact is he in his walking. Censure yourselves for being so far behind so holy a pattern; think shame when you read, or hear these things read or spoken of such a holy man that has been so watchful in prosperity, and we take such liberty. The reason why Job got so much measure of holiness, [is] he watched over the little things, even his very thoughts, and suffered not the least temptation to have access.”
Having summarized the dialogues and diatribes that took place in chapters 4-27 of the Book of Job, we observed extensive evidence of poor counseling, applied by Job’s friends to his case of heart-wrenching affliction. We’ve already seen how everything they had to say was not necessarily bad or even incorrect, yet the way they offered counsel and the misapplications that they made leave them open to criticism. Fortunately, we can take this criticism of their counsel and use it as a guide, negatively, for our own counseling opportunities.
With that, below is a summation, though certainly not exhaustive, of 9 examples of poor counseling or how not to counsel those going through a period of affliction, primarily collated from the speeches of Job’s friends.
- Do not immediately equate affliction with a specific sin
- Insensitivity; lacking compassion and pity.
- Focusing on emotion filled words, rather than the condition of the afflicted; Failure to allow grace-filled latitude.
- Looking to win a debate, rather than comfort the afflicted.
- Using theology as a club, particularly the sovereignty of God.
- Twisting or abusing Scripture to support your point or undermine the views of the afflicted.
- Failing to allow room for grace when the afflicted are emotionally overwhelmed.
- Attacking the character of the afflicted for the sake of proving a theological point.
- Doubting or denying the faith of the afflicted in their emotionally fragile state.
Rather than taking the path that Job’s friends took by focusing on his words and attempting to verbally beat him into submission and admission of guilt, it is often best to comfort the afflicted and to weep with those who weep, as we read in Job 2:12.
Speaking to the deficiencies of Job’s counselors, Calvin writes,
By this we are admonished, when we wish to comfort neighbors in their sorrows and trials, not to jump to conclusions; as there are many who are forever harping on the same string and they do not consider the person to whom they speak, for we must treat one person differently from another. For if there is someone who is obstinate against God, we must speak in a style and language different than we would toward a poor creature who innocently wandered. And then according to what the evil is, there is also need to be warned how to proceed against it. For example, if men are stupid, we must cry out and rebuke their indifference, in order that they may learn about the hand of God, in order to humble themselves under it. There is, then, need of great prudence when we wish to properly comfort those who God afflicts. This is what we have to remember from the passage (Job 16:2), when it is said that those who attempted to comfort Job were tiresome, since they did not bring to him anything from which he could profit. This, then, is what we have to remember especially.
The book of Job is not primarily a counseling handbook, as we’ve seen. However, once we work through our interpretation of the book, a clear application is how to properly deal with affliction and how to counsel those who are being afflicted. Here, with Calvin, we are reminded that a one-size fit all solution to the numerous sorrows that we as a fallen humanity face is simply inadequate and is indeed the failed strategy of the poor counselors of Job.
Without detailing proper counseling techniques, which could be numerous and case-specific, it would seem then that it is more prudent to disciple in prosperity than to counsel in adversity. Let us teach our brothers and sisters how to handle adversity and how to remain faithful in the face of affliction before that time comes, and it will come. In this way, discipleship is always preparatory for the next affliction. Generally speaking it would seem that too often we have gone to great lengths in our counseling because we have not done the necessary work of discipleship.
Affliction is the theological training ground of God. Allow Him to have His good work in refining His people and removing the dross from their (our) lives. The principle role of a friend in these trials should be that of a loving arm of compassion, intercessory prayer on their behalf, and consistently pointing those who suffer to the Word of Almighty God.