Supreme Court Appeal
Preached by Jason Abbott
For chapter after chapter, Job has been suspected and accused of awful sins by his three closest friends. In effect, they’ve told him he’s brought all this misery on himself—they’ve suggested he’s not trusting God; they’ve proposed he’s not confessing some hidden sin; they’ve accused him of committing specific injustices. They’ve been unrelenting in their prosecution of Job. And, yet, we know for sure that these things aren’t true—that this is not why Job is suffering. We remember what God said to Satan about Job in the opening chapter:
…there is none like [Job] on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears [Me] and turns away from evil… (Job 1:8).
How would you reply if you were in Job’s shoes—if you were being accused of doing something you didn’t do, if you were innocent yet assumed to be guilty? What would you say? To whom would you appeal for justice?
In our legal system, a defendant can attempt to reverse an unjust judgment by appealing the ruling to a higher court. If you follow the process thru to the end, then the Supreme Court may agree to hear your case. In a sense, this is what Job is doing here. He’s appealing to the Supreme Justice of the universe—God himself. Let’s look at this final appeal from Job.
31 “I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?
2 What would be my portion from God above
and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
3 Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
4 Does not he see my ways
and number all my steps?
5 “If I have walked with falsehood
and my foot has hastened to deceit;
6 (Let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity!)
7 if my step has turned aside from the way
and my heart has gone after my eyes,
and if any spot has stuck to my hands,
8 then let me sow, and another eat,
and let what grows for me be rooted out.
9 “If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,
and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door,
10 then let my wife grind for another,
and let others bow down on her.
11 For that would be a heinous crime;
that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;
12 for that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon,
and it would burn to the root all my increase.
13 “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
when they brought a complaint against me,
14 what then shall I do when God rises up?
When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him?
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make him?
And did not one fashion us in the womb?
16 “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
17 or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the fatherless has not eaten of it
18 (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),
19 if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
or the needy without covering,
20 if his body has not blessed me,
and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
because I saw my help in the gate,
22 then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
and let my arm be broken from its socket.
23 For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.
24 “If I have made gold my trust
or called fine gold my confidence,
25 if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant
or because my hand had found much,
26 if I have looked at the sun when it shone,
or the moon moving in splendor,
27 and my heart has been secretly enticed,
and my mouth has kissed my hand,
28 this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges,
for I would have been false to God above.
29 “If I have rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me,
or exulted when evil overtook him
30 (I have not let my mouth sin
by asking for his life with a curse),
31 if the men of my tent have not said,
‘Who is there that has not been filled with his meat?’
32 (the sojourner has not lodged in the street;
I have opened my doors to the traveler),
33 if I have concealed my transgressions as others do
by hiding my iniquity in my heart,
34 because I stood in great fear of the multitude,
and the contempt of families terrified me,
so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors—
35 Oh, that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
36 Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me as a crown;
37 I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him.
38 “If my land has cried out against me
and its furrows have wept together,
39 if I have eaten its yield without payment
and made its owners breathe their last,
40 let thorns grow instead of wheat,
and foul weeds instead of barley.”
The words of Job are ended.
A couple of questions will help us to study this poem—(1st) What’s going on in the poem? What’s Job talking about here? And, (2nd) What can we learn from it? What lessons should it teach us? So, let’s ask and answer these questions.
1. What’s going on in the poem?
You probably noticed that Job primarily speaks using contingent statements in the poem. Contingent statements are if-then statements like—If I borrow a book, then I should return it. We use contingent statements all the time. I use them daily with my children to no apparent affect—If you turn on all the lights in the house, then you should also turn them off.
However, Job uses them in this poetic appeal to plead, for the very last time, his case. He essentially says—If I had committed this or that sin, then my suffering would be an appropriate punishment for such transgressions. But, I haven’t sinned in these ways. So, my suffering cannot simply be a result of my sins. That’s his plea to his three judgmental friends, and that’s the basis of his appeal to God.
Let’s look at some examples so you can see this clearly. There are two ways Job makes these contingent statements—two directions that the statements travel. First, Job considers his:
a. Horizontal guilt (vv. 1-23, 29-40)
Job says he’s treated other human beings honorably and lived well socially. In other words, Job knows he has a responsibility before God to treat other people with respect and dignity and kindness. He knows he will answer to God for ways which he hasn’t cared for or has mistreated others. This is his conviction.
It’s interesting to consider the horizontal sins Job examines:
– Sexual sins—lust and adultery (vv. 1-4, 9-12)
– Sins of deception—lying or concealing the truth (vv. 5-6, 33-34)
– Sins of greed—coveting what others have (vv. 7-8)
– And, sins of a social nature—abusing a servant, not caring for the poor, perverting justice, etc. (vv. 13-15, 16-18, 19-20, 21-23, 31-32, 38-40)
Let’s camp here for a moment. Did you notice something concerning this list of sins? Did you notice that more than half of the verses dealing with horizontal sin focus on God’s concern for those who have been marginalized or disenfranchised? There are sixteen verses that deal with social injustice and just thirteen that deal with other sins. I wonder if that should teach us something.
Let me just say this and, then, we’ll move on. God is concerned for the least of these—the poorest and most vulnerable among us. You, I, and they are sinners. We don’t naturally think like God thinks. We don’t naturally value like he values. And, so, we do not naturally relate to one another like God commands us to relate to one another. But, here’s the real rub. Many of us have some power, like Job did, while many others do not. Many of us are privileged, just like Job was privileged, yet many others are not. So, as your pastor, I want to ask you to honestly consider what the Bible says about God’s heart for the vulnerable and the disenfranchised and, then, consider what you’re doing to reflect God’s heart for them.
To use the poetic contingencies of Job—If God calls you to such a ministry, then how will you answer him on that day when he calls you for an accounting?
Well, along with horizontal guilt, Job also considers:
b. Vertical guilt (vv. 24-28)
Job says he’s reserved his worship and praise for his Creator. He considers how he could have sinned against God and, thus, would deserve to suffer as he has, but Job maintains he hasn’t done that—that’s not why he’s suffering. He hasn’t:
– Trusted in his wealth more than God (vv. 24-25)
– Worshiped idols—the sun or the moon or the stars (vv. 26-28)
Friends, the poetic point of chapter 31 is that Job maintains his innocence, both in his horizontal and vertical relationships. He doesn’t claim to be without sin, but he does claim to have dealt with his sin openly and honestly before his Creator. He maintains that he has done nothing to warrant the suffering he has experienced, nothing to another person and nothing to God. And, again, we know this to be true. God himself testifies to this truth:
…there is none like [Job] on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears [Me] and turns away from evil… (Job 1:8).
You know, I’ll bet Job’s theology was probably an awful lot like his friends before all these tragedies came. I’ll bet he thought—If bad things happened to you, then you must have done something to deserve them. And, now, he doesn’t know what to think. His worldview has been turned upside down. Like many who suffer, he’s confused and struggling to make sense of it all.
(Even Job’s poem shows this. The Hebrew poem is disjointed and confused, so much so that some scholars have attempted to tidy it up. But, they miss the point when doing this. The poem’s brokenness reflects Job’s brokenness.) 1
He’s exhausted. So, in the end, he has nothing left to do except:
c. Appeal to God
He signs his name to the poem and calls upon God to judge. In resignation, Job cries out:
Oh, that I had one to hear me! / (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) (v. 35).
With this last appeal to the Supreme Judge, the back and forth between Job and his three miserable friends comes to an end. They won’t accuse him anymore, and he won’t defend himself anymore. They’ve nothing to do now but wait and see whether the Lord will hear Job’s case.
I can just see those three miserable comforters shaking their heads in disgust at Job’s audacity. And, I can see Job hoping and praying for his day of vindication before the Lord. Spoiler alert—both are in for an unpleasant surprise.
This brings us to our second, and final, question.
2. What can we learn from this poem?
As we meditate upon this poem, and the thirty chapters that’ve proceeded it, we can learn at least three things—two that are obvious and one that is very subtle. First, here are the two clear lessons:
– Life in a fallen world is messy.
In just the third chapter of the Bible, our first mother and father invited sin and rebellion against God into the world. Ever since then, things have been messy. Life here is not as it was meant to be. People suffer and die. Diseases and tornados and famines and hurricanes and wars multiply and devastate countries and cities. The world is a mess. Virtually everyone will agree that this is the case—Christian and non-Christian alike.
Job’s caught in that mess. He’s a victim of that mess. And, Job’s responsible for that mess too—just like you and I. Our sin has made a mess of God’s creation, his good and perfect creation. We recognize that something has to change!
– Sinful people can’t fix the mess.
Job can’t fix himself or his situation. His wife can’t fix the situation either; her only advice is to curse God and die! Job’s three best friends arrive on the scene and immediately make things far worse. So, after all these ineffective interactions, Job finally shuts the door on human answers and looks to God alone.
That’s where we find ourselves in this text. Everyone is waiting on the Lord for an answer. Their arguments and their answers have obviously failed to satisfy. God is now the only hope Job has. That much is clear.
And, this brings us to a more subtle lesson.
At this point in the text, everything is on hold. There is a tremendous tension in the narrative. Will God take up Job’s appeal? Remember that Job likely lives about the same time as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses hasn’t been born yet. The Law of God hasn’t been given to Israel. Job has no assurance that an answer from the Lord will ever come. Job cannot be certain that God will take up his case and vindicate him. His suffering may go unanswered!
Yet, here’s the subtle and essential lesson we cannot miss:
– When believers suffer, they know God will hear the case and answer. And, they know they will be vindicated through their faith in Christ.
Job’s tension isn’t our tension. Job’s mystery in suffering isn’t our mystery. We have a confidence and assurance he didn’t have—and this is good news for us who have faith in Christ Jesus. We know God has purposes for us in our suffering, and we know those purposes are ultimately working for our good.
Paul Tripp went to the hospital on October 19, 2014 with what he assumed was simply going to be an insignificant forty-five-minute visit. He didn’t go home for ten whole days and, then, with the knowledge that he would “never not be sick for the rest of his life.” 2 Through that experience of suffering, he penned this poem about the hope we have in Christ.
Weak / I long to be strong / full of vitality/ energy to spare / wide awake / brain in gear / muscles ready / motivation engaged / purposed possessed / raring to go / unstoppable zeal / a competitor / a completer / the envy of others / no frailties / no worries / no regrets / But you have rendered me weak / unable to be what I once was / ever again / not in this life / the old me / gone / I cannot live as I once did / I cannot do what I once did / I cannot press through / what you have chosen for me / I cannot escape / I cannot break free / I cannot will for something better / Weakness is my lot / Suffering is my prison / You have chained me to frailty / I cannot break free / But this prison is your workroom / and I am your clay / You are not a jailer / You are a potter / I have not been condemned / I am being molded / Your hands have been heavy / Your push on me is hard / When the soil is resistant / the molding is violent / My weakness is not about what I am / enduring / My weakness is about what I am / becoming / My travail does not preach your / anger / My travail preaches your / grace / This prison is your classroom / I am learning / Your presence / I am learning / Your promises / I am learning / Your power / I am learning / Your mercy / I am learning / Your gospel / I am learning / learning / learning / The danger for me was never / weakness / The danger has always been / my delusions of / strength / You have shattered my delusion / and in shattering have proven / My strength is and has always been / you