Job 9 – “Job’s Third Speech – Part I”

clothes-line-300x199Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
In a fervent and moving speech, Job proclaims his innocence and accuses God of injustice. While Job would like to bring God to trial, he knows that God would find some way to prove him wrong.

II. Photo

Job confronts God about the unfairness of his situation: “If I washed with soap, Cleansed my hands with lye, You would dip me in muck Till my clothes would abhor me.” (vv. 30-31)

III. Important Verses
vv. 2-4: Indeed I know that it is so: Man cannot win a suit against God. If he insisted on a trial with Him, He would not answer one charge in a thousand. Wise of heart and mighty in power — Who ever challenged Him and came out whole?
vv. 14-15: How then can I answer Him, Or choose my arguments against Him? Though I were in the right, I could not speak out, But I would plead for mercy with my judge.
v. 20: Though I were innocent, My mouth would condemn me; Though I were blameless, He would prove me crooked.
vv. 21-24: I am blameless — I am distraught; I am sick of life. It is all one; therefore I say, “He destroys the blameless and the guilty.” When suddenly a scourge brings death, He mocks as the innocent fail. The earth is handed over to the wicked one; He covers the eyes of its judges. If it is not He, then who?
vv. 30-31: If I washed with soap, Cleansed my hands with lye, You would dip me in muck Till my clothes would abhor me.
vv. 32-33: He is not a man, like me, that I can answer Him, That we can go to law together. No arbiter is between us To lay his hand on us both.
vv. 34-35: If He would only take His rod away from me And not let His terror frighten me, Then I would speak out without fear of Him; For I know myself not to be so.

IV. Outline

1. Introduction
2-24. Third-person Complaint
    2-4. Man cannot beat God in court
    5-10. Hymnic praise
    11-21. Futility of putting God on trial
    22-25. God is guilty
25-31. Second-person Complaint
32-35. Futility of putting God on trial


V. Comment

In chapter 9 Job begins his third speech. He makes two passionate points: (a) God is guilty of favoring the wicked and “laughing” while the innocent suffer, and (b) even though God is guilty, it is impossible to convict Him in a court of law. It isn’t always clear who Job is addressing because he speaks of God in the third-person (vv. 2-24), the second-person (vv. 25-31), and the third-person again (vv. 32-35). In terms of literary form, the chapter incorporates many legal references (v. 3, 14, 15, 16, 19, 32), and even hymnic praise found in the psalms (vv. 5-10).

While Job’s previous speeches have been intense, Clines notes (p. 225) that “a new level of intensity and poignancy is reached in these chapters.” Indeed, Job seems to accuse God of injustice (vv. 21-24), “I am blameless — I am distraught; I am sick of life. It is all one; therefore I say, ‘He destroys the blameless and the guilty.’ When suddenly a scourge brings death, He mocks as the innocent fail. The earth is handed over to the wicked one; He covers the eyes of its judges. If it is not He, then who?” While God is known to “mock” his enemies (cf. Ps. 2:4, 59:9), and Wisdom mocks those who don’t follow her (Prov. 1:26), this is the only time that God is accused of mocking the innocent.

Job is sure that he is in the right, but proclaims that he would lose any legal dispute with God. In v. 15 he says, “Though I were in the right, I could not speak out, But I would plead for mercy with my judge,” and in v. 20 says, “Though I were innocent, My mouth would condemn me; Though I were blameless, He would prove me crooked.” Similarly, Job says “Indeed I know that it is so: Man cannot win a suit against God. If he insisted on a trial with Him, He would not answer one charge in a thousand. Wise of heart and mighty in power — Who ever challenged Him and came out whole?” (vv. 2-4) It is interesting that Job mentions the ratio of 1/1000; it appears in many other contexts. For example, Josh. 23:10 says, “A single man of you would put a thousand to flight, for the LORD your God Himself has been fighting for you, as He promised you,” and Eccl. 7:28 says, “As for what I sought further but did not find, I found only one human being in a thousand, and the one I found among so many was never a woman.”

What is the nature of the legal dispute that Job would like to carry out?  While it isn’t clear from our chapter, Clines writes (p. 228), “What is envisaged is a lawsuit in which a person lays charges and one’s adversary (in this case God) counters them with questions of cross-examination until the position of one or other of the disputants falls to the ground through inability to give satisfactory answers… The dominant legal metaphor in Job has Job as the defendant and God as the plaintiff; here Job envisages changing roles by laying a counter charge.” Thus, while Job is on the offensive in this chapter, it seems that he wanted to enter into a back-and-forth debate with God. See 13:22 where Job speaks of himself as a defendant, “Then summon me and I will respond, Or I will speak and You reply to me.”

In vv. 30-31 Job uses a metaphor to describe his helplessness: “If I washed with soap, Cleansed my hands with lye, You would dip me in muck Till my clothes would abhor me.” It is interesting that the analogy of cleansing is used elsewhere in regards to sin. For example, Jer. 2:22 says, “Though you wash with natron And use much lye, Your guilt is ingrained before Me — declares the Lord GOD,” and Psa. 51:4 says, “Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity, and purify me of my sin.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Proverbs 1-20 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Murphy, Wisdom Literature (FOTL)
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