Everyone longs for the good ol’ days every now and then. Declaring that “things ain’t how they used to be” is practically a pastime. We see in today’s readings from Job that this longing for yesterday is an ancient phenomenon.
Job 29-31 consists of Job’s answer to his accusers, these so-called friends who insist that Job’s suffering is divine retribution for his own sin. Yet Job is resilient and determined in the proclamation of his innocence.
Chapter 29 offers Job’s lengthy list of how great things used to be. Job is no foolish sentimentalist—things were indeed great for him. In fact, his joyful, abundant, godly life is the very reason he was in Satan’s crosshairs. He was wealthy; he had a large family; he was well respected in the community; and he loved the Lord.
Chapter 30 describes Job’s present loss of all that once defined him. In his despair and humiliation, he has become the laughingstock of those who formerly held him in high regard. We love a good fall-from-grace story, and it seems that Job’s contemporaries did too. He is in an enormous amount of pain—emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
In chapter 31, Job continues his resilient declaration of innocence from sin. He seems to actually invite God’s judgment if he has stepped out of line in anything from how he has treated the poor, to having a lustful heart, to mistreating his enemies. In each instance, the clear implication is that he has not.
Yet the very last words of chapter 31 jump off the page, especially to the eyes of a New Testament audience: “The words of Job are ended.” Perhaps the author simply meant that Job rested his defense, but one can hardly read those words without recalling Romans 3:19: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” Even Job.
Harry Ironside, a prominent Bible teacher in the first half of the twentieth century, wrote that the book of Job is not first about why bad things happen to good people, but is principally about repentance. If God had chosen a wicked person through whom to teach us repentance, we could perhaps compare our lives to the wicked person and think we had no need of repentance. But Ironside instructs that the book of Job is not about the repentance of a sinner, but rather about the repentance of a saint. He writes,
For if a man of Job’s character must repent, what shall be said of me, and of you, who come so far behind him in righteousness and integrity and have sinned so deplorably and come so far short of the glory of God? Can you not see the wisdom of Jehovah in selecting such a man to show the need that all men should repent?
Job rests his defense, the words of Job are ended, and there is nothing more to say. Suffering happens. As Jesus taught, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45b).
As the drama unfolds, we will see that rather than Suffering, and rather than Job, God Almighty will have the last word.
Ultimately, Job’s life was spared and his fortunes restored. Yet Job points us ahead to a man more righteous still, a man who had more favor with God than even Job, a man who also gave up enormous wealth and honor, a man who also suffered unjustly, but whose life was not spared. The repentance of righteous Job points us ahead to a man who had no need of repentance, yet suffered and died for our sins, and whom God raised on Easter morning for our restoration.