‘O that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me; when his lamp shone over my head, and by his light I walked through darkness; when I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent; when the Almighty was still with me, when my children were around me; when my steps were washed with milk, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!++++++++
‘And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest. With violence he seizes my garment; he grasps me by the collar of my tunic. He has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. You lift me up on the wind, you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm. I know that you will bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living.
‘If I have walked with falsehood, and my foot has hurried to deceit— let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!— if my step has turned aside from the way, and my heart has followed my eyes, and if any spot has clung to my hands; then let me sow, and another eat; and let what grows for me be rooted out.
O that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) O that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me like a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.
Job begins to speak again and he sets out his defence over three chapters. In 29 he laments all that he has lost, recalling the high regard in which he used to be held by everyone, when God was his friend (vv.2-6). The lament continues in 30 as Job pathetically sets out his current miserable state. In 31 he demonstrates that his conduct has been exemplary by listing sins of which he has never been guilty; and he swears an oath to this effect. Only 30:20-23 are directly addressed to God; but the whole speech serves to exonerate Job of any charge that might have been alleged against him. At the same time Job’s words function as an indictment against God for acting unjustly towards him.Job’s description of his prior life suggests a man who held very high status and 29:12-17 depict the actions of a righteous ruler (as in Ps.72) who delivered justice to the needy without partiality. He thus refutes one of Eliphaz’s accusations (22.5-9).
There is a degree of self-justification in what Job says and his proud spirit can still be discerned as he almost belittles those who are now humiliating him (30:1, 5, 12); but the effect is to increase his sense of self-degradation. Other people may be the agents of his torment but Job has no doubt that God is his persecutor. He accuses God of ignoring his cries and of being cruel in turning from being a friend into a foe (vv.20f). There is no suggestion that Job expects an answer anymore; but chapter 30 ends with a summary of his case and a statement that he had expected reward for his virtuous life (v.26).
In chapter 31 Job addresses the ‘court’. Both Job and God now stand accused and if God won’t respond all Job can do is deny all misconduct. In v.35 he demands for one last time that God appear and that a proper case be conducted. Job is prepared to sign his ‘statement’ and to flourish it because he is absolutely confident that it vindicates him.
Job has run out of things to say. He is desolate and no-one is responding; but he isn’t cowed before God. He has accused God of many things; but he remains firm in his belief that God exists and that God holds all the power. May we never let go of these truths.
God, there are times when you seem hidden and it feels as though my prayers fall on deaf ears. Help me to remain firm in my faith and, like Job, to be persistent in my cries to you. Grant me resilience in the face of adversity or injustice; and the determination to ensure that ‘truth will out’. As I walk in the way of Jesus draw near to me, I pray, and let me know your presence. In his name, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Emmanuel URC in Cambridge.