Three Ifs and One If Only (Job 9:25-35)
Bill Long 1/21/05
Job has seemingly descended into the realm of despairing cynicism by the end of the previous lesson. Because "it is all one (9:22)," then it doesn't matter what one does. Even God is indifferent to moral life in the world. Even worse, God deliberately undermines moral life by blindfolding judges (9:24). Lady Justice might be depicted as blind, because justice should be delivered without regard to people's station in life, but judges need to see and hear everything in order to render just judgment.
Once this despair sets in, we might think that Job has exhausted his mental and emotional resources. But this is not the case. One of the the attractive featrues of Job, for me, is his spunkiness, his unwillingness to let his prior desperate thought define his reality completely. So in this passage Job continues his thinking as he tries to come up with additional strategies to deal with his situation. I call these strategies "Three Ifs and One If Only."
"25 My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away, they see no good. 26 They go by like skiffs of reed, like an eagle swooping on the prey."
A. Before getting to the "ifs," however, Job brings us back into his world and his consideration of time. Note that the images are drawn from earth (runner), water (skiffs) and air (eagle). Compare his words on time here to those in 7:4,6. How does Job think of the passage of time? Normally we think of time passing very slowly for us when we are sick. Is that your experience? Is that Job's experience?
27 If I say, 'I will forget my complaint; I will put off my sad countenance and be of good cheer,' 28 I become afraid of all my suffering, for I know you will not hold me innocent. 29 I shall be condemned; why then do I labor in vain?"
A. This is Job's "first strategy" or "first if" in dealing with himself in his self-reflective condition. How would you describe this approach?
B. Have you ever told anyone to act this way when faced with distress or hard challenges? Does it work?
C. Why doesn't Job think it will work in his case?
D. What does he mean when he says "I become afraid of all my suffering" in v. 28?
E. What is the relationship of optimistic attitude to success in life?
"30 If I wash myself with soap and cleanse my hands with lye, 31 yet you will plunge me into filth, and my own clothes will abhor me."
A. What is Job's "second strategy" in dealing with his pain?
B. If he is already "pure" or "blameless," why is he thinking of washing himself yet again?
Some scholars have seen this as analogous to Job's oath of self-exculpation in Job 31. That is, Job would be washing himself as a sign of his innocence.
C. Describe the picture that Job is painting for us in v. 31.
D. What view of God must a person have to come up with such a picture?
E. What does it mean when it says, "My own clothes will abhor me"?
"34 If he would take his rod away from me, and not let dread of him terrify me, 35 then I would speak without fear of him, for I know I am not what I am thought to be."
I am skipping verses 32-33 temporarily so that the third "if" might be treated with the others.
A. There is some debate whether the subject of v. 34 is the umpire/mediator of v. 33 or God. Do you have an opinion?
B. What does Job want in this third "iffy" situation?
C. Why does he think that this would work, unlike the other two situations?
D. The last clause literally reads, "for I am not so in/with myself." My reading of it is, "for I am not a fearful person by nature." That is, Job is terrified of God now. If God took away the punishing rod from him, Job could react "normally" to God. I see this, then, as a foreshadowing of the great passage in Job 14:13-15 where Job longs for a new intimacy with God.
"32 For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. 33 There is no umpire between us, who might lay his hand on us both."
A. Here is the "if only" sentence, the first indication the of Job's hopeful longing. The first words of v. 33 can be rendered "There is no umpire," or "If only someone would arbitrate..." They mean about the same thing. What is the deepest longing of Job's heart here?
B. What tone of voice do you think Job says these verses, especially v. 33?
C. Why do you think he introduces the concept of a mediator or arbitrator or umpire here? That is, since he says there is no such mediator, why even bring up the idea?
As we get to know Job more and more we see the intricate and heartfelt nature of his thought, and the fundamentally life-affirming character of his mind, despite the bitterness or vehemence of some of his words. Is Job the kind of person that is growing on you? That you wish would leave you alone? Or, are you kind of "neutral" toward him?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long