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Bible Commentaries
Job 13

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-19

I Want to Defend Myself Before Him (13:1-19)

Job’s protest appears again in Job 13:1-16, in even stronger terms than before. First (Job 13:1-2) Job sums up what he has said, almost by way of introduction, in chapter 12. Then he states the real issue. There are few places in the entire book where this issue comes to the light as plainly as here. This may, in fact, be taken as a simple statement of the general problem of the book, as distinct from Job’s individual problem. The imagery is that of a courtroom (in modern terms; in ancient times it would have been the city gate). Job, acknowledging the omnipotence and the omniscience of God, nevertheless wants to find a way to present what is indisputably an irrational exception to the general rule of God’s working.

In verse 4 he again refuses the words of the friends. Since, in the preceding chapter, he has declared himself in agreement with them, this must refer not to the basic truths of God’s power and wisdom but to the conclusions the friends drew from those truths. Their lies have to do not so much with their theology as with the application of that theology to life — or its nonapplication — and with their resolute refusal to consider the meaninglessness or seeming irrationality of Job’s situation.

Continuing the image of a legal proceeding Job asks, with some sarcasm, if the friends will undertake to represent God, almost as attorneys for the defense (vss. 6-11). If so, then they must beware lest they show the slightest improper partiality, for God himself would punish them for it. Job still must have some sense of the absolute justice of God!

One of Job’s sharpest condemnations of the friends comes in verse 12 (see also Job 13:4-5 and Job 6:14-27). It has been imagined by some commentators that in this attack we have another dramatic touch, as in Job 6:27, and its result. Here, it is supposed, the friends are represented as rising in shocked protest, all speaking at once. Job, however, waves them back to their seats and, in the next verse, demands silence. He then repeats the basic position (from Job 13:3) in stronger language.

There are two main problems in verses 14-19. The first is the meaning of the expression "I will take my flesh in my teeth" (vs. 14). The second half of the verse clearly refers to a courageous hazarding of life as a venture (for the same expression see Judges 12:3; 1 Samuel 19:5). The first line, then, must be a parallel statement of the same attitude, but the figure is obscure. It may be, of course, a type of proverbial expression, the exact image of which is lost.

The other problem has to do with verse 15. Although the familiar rendering, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him," has a satisfactory ring to it, it cannot be derived from the Hebrew, and moreover, it does not fit the mood of Job. He has just stated his lack of concern for personal safety. He now faces the worst, namely, that he is dying at the hand of God. His position is precisely: "I have no hope" (see also Job 7:6; Job 11:18; Job 14:7; Job 17:15-16). He discards the possibility of hope in this life, and it is that honest appraisal, with all its reason for despair, that opens the door for the great advance he will later make when hope is found beyond this life. This magnificent movement of thought and experience is lost if the reading of the Revised Standard Version is not followed here.

Since Job has no hope, it is imperative that he prepare and state the full case without delay. It is also imperative that he do so without accepting the friends’ charge of sin. He knows that in such a case only true godliness will stand (vs. 16).

The legal atmosphere is strongly present in verses 17-19. Here Job strikingly resembles a complainant who must plead his own case without outside aid. His confident assertion, "I know that I shall be vindicated," does not necessarily, at this point, mean that he will himself live to see such vindication. Rather, he is sure of the vindication itself which will come, even after death. The case will ultimately be decided for him, although he will not see it through. Verse 19 continues the thought; the question in the first line challenges either God or man to bring whatever evidence can be cited against him, for death is rapidly approaching (Una 2).

Why Can I Not Reach Him in Life? (13:20-14:6)

It is characteristic of the discussion that when Job reaches a climax in his protestation he turns directly to God (see Job 7:12; Job 10:2). Here again, without any transitional words, he addresses himself to the God whom he must necessarily regard as the author of his difficulty. And again, even in the depth of his uncertainty, he addresses him as still his Friend. He asks two gifts: relief from his suffering, and release from the paralyzing dread of God that would naturally hinder a man from presenting the kind of case he is outlining (vss, 20-21). The ideal situation for which he yearns is stated in verse 22 — a situation in which God would speak clearly and unequivocally and Job would be able to marshal his arguments in defense, or where Job would present his complaint and God would give satisfactory reasons.

Since such firsthand meeting is not forthcoming, Job again hazards some guesses. Although some interpreters see in verse 23 a break in Job’s confident assertions of integrity, it seems more probable in the light of this whole speech that the question is asked as a pure hypothesis — as though to say, "If sin is the explanation, why not point out what sins, since up to now none has been named." In the same way verse 26 is not to be taken as an admission that what Job now suffers is the direct result of sins committed in his early youth; it is another hypothesis which he advances as a possible but unproved reason for the catastrophe.

All of the contradictions and meaninglessness of Job’s life are caught up in the pathetic words of verses 24-25 and 27. The word "enemy" in the original is a bitter wordplay on the name "Job." The descriptive images of the "driven leaf" and the "dry chaff" not only are pictures of his existence, but they also point up the sheer irrationality of the situation, where a man reduced to this frail state is still subjected to unceasing attention from God (vs. 27).

The thought of Job’s frailty and the tenuous nature of his life suggests the fact that all life, even at its best, is transient and ephemeral. In a short but exceedingly moving section (Job 13:28 to Job 14:6) Job dwells upon this basic paradox of man’s existence (see also Job 7:1-2; Job 7:17). Verse 28 is difficult, for, as the margin indicates, the subject changes abruptly to the third person pronoun, although an antecedent does not appear until the following verse ("man"). For this reason some commentators have suggested that the verse is out of place and would come better after Job 14:6. It is possible that the original order was as it now appears, although it makes for disconnected thought.

The images in this section depict the brevity of man’s life: "a rotten thing," a "moth-eaten" garment, "a flower," "a shadow." All substantiate the fundamental point that it is the nature of man’s life to be short and full of trouble. The mystery is that God adds to this general misery by such special visitations as Job illustrates. Why, Job asks, need there be more suffering and fewer years than would be his common lot as "man . . . born of a woman"?

The question in verse 4 is hard to understand, for it breaks into the general theme of the brevity of man’s life with a query about sin. Is Job agreeing that man is generally sinful? Or is he questioning the proposal that will be made a bit later, that tragedy is God’s means of refining human life? (see 33:19-28). It seems fairly certain that he is at least giving assent to the truth that in comparison with God man is always "unclean" and no amount of experience will make him otherwise. Man will always be man, not God. But that truth does not alter the fact that Job’s case is so special and his suffering so extraordinary that no explanation can be found in the ordinary constitution of man’s life.

The section ends with a sad plea that God, who has set man within such a severely circumscribed life, give man peace in his limited days, to find what little joy he can (see also 7:19; 10:20).

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 13". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-13.html.
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