1 “Has not man a hard service on earth,
and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?
2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
and like a hired hand who looks for his wages,
3 so I am allotted months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
4 When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’
But the night is long,
and I am full of tossing till the dawn.
5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.
6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
and come to their end without hope.
7 “Remember that my life is a breath;
my eye will never again see good.
8 The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more;
while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone.
9 As the cloud fades and vanishes,
so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up;
10 he returns no more to his house,
nor does his place know him anymore.
11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster,
that you set a guard over me?
13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
my couch will ease my complaint,’
14 then you scare me with dreams
and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I would choose strangling
and death rather than my bones.
16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
17 What is man, that you make so much of him,
and that you set your heart on him,
18 visit him every morning
and test him every moment?
19 How long will you not look away from me,
nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?
Why have you made me your mark?
Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression
and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
you will seek me, but I shall not be.” – Job 7:1-21 ESV
Job pulls out all the stops, unleashing a torrent of pain-induced questions mixed with a heavy dose of invectives against his so-called friend, Eliphaz. He has had enough of listening to pious-sounding advice that only intensifies his misery while raising more questions than answers.
Job’s statements recorded in this section contain direct attacks on Eliphaz as well as more veiled questions aimed at God. It is partly a self-defense and a soliloquy. Job seems to be letting his inner thoughts pour out with no attempt to manage their intensity or worry about the impact they may have on the hearer. He can no longer constrain his growing frustration and allows a barrage of pent-up anger to flow from his lips unabated.
But even considering his circumstances, Job’s words are shocking to the ears. As followers of God, we can’t help but question the propriety of his unfiltered and ungodly-sounding speech. Can he say the things he is saying? Is it okay for someone to talk like that, especially to God? It all sounds so unfaithful. The degree of his pessimism appears to be off the charts. Where’s his faith? Just listen to his words:
“I hate this life! Who needs any more of this? Let me alone! There’s nothing to my life – it’s nothing but smoke.” – Job 7:16 MSG
A believer isn’t supposed to think like this, let alone talk like this, is he? Just listen to the way he addresses God.
“Let up on me, will you? Can’t you even let me spit in peace?” – Job 7:19 MSG
How can he get away with that? Shouldn’t we say something? Shouldn’t I quote a verse to him? Doesn’t he need a good dose of Romans 8:28?
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Or how about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18? That’s a good one. “Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” This guy just needs someone to read him the proverbial riot act and tell him to shut up and shape up.
But wait a minute. Before we blow into another person’s despair with our gems of wisdom and some ill-placed and taken-out-of-context Scriptures, let’s try to understand where they’re coming from. Let’s enter into their situation and feel their pain. Let’s share their grief. Let’s get into their shoes and try to experience what they are going through.
Too often, we try to alleviate someone else’s misery because we want it to go away for our sake, not theirs. We want the other person’s pain to go away because it causes us to doubt. It tests our faith. Listen to what Job said about his friends: “They arrive so confident – but what a disappointment! They get there, and their faces fall! And you, my so-called friends, are no better – there’s nothing to you! One look at a hard scene and you shrink in fear” (Job 6:20-21 MSG).
You see, pain is – well, painful. It is hard to watch someone suffer and even more difficult to walk into someone else’s heartache and simply be there for them. We want to fix it. We want to pray them out of their situation. We want to counsel them back into wholeness. And while there’s nothing wrong with prayer or biblically-based counsel, God may simply want us to go through this moment with them to provide love and concern. He may not want us to fix them; He may just want us to care about them.
There is something uncomfortable about Job’s words in this chapter. He is being brutally honest and it assaults our Christian sensibilities. He is saying things that “good” Christians should not say. He is being TOO honest, and it makes us squirm. But in the midst of his pain, Job has lost all his pious inhibitions. He is beyond worrying about what others think about him because he is fighting for his life. Loss has a way of peeling away the layers of pretense and getting us down to the bare reality of life. It causes us to question, and those questions make others uncomfortable.
But why does the pain and suffering of others make us uncomfortable? It’s usually because we don’t have the answers. Of course, those of us who have grown up in the church have the standard Sunday School answers. We know a handful of verses we can apply to a given situation but most of us don’t speak from experience. We have been programmed with the proper responses but our words don’t always reflect a personal point of reference.
Job’s friends had not walked in his sandals. They had never been through what he was experiencing, so they couldn’t relate and it made them uncomfortable. But if any one of them had suffered the kind of losses Job had, they would probably have said less and hugged more. They would have allowed their friend to vent, understanding that it was part of the healing process.
Is there a time to speak up? Certainly. But sometimes it is enough just to show up; to give those who are going through tragedy a chance to express their grief, vent their anger, and ask their questions. God can handle it, so why can’t we? I think it’s because, in the back of our minds, we don’t like to witness the suffering of others because it raises doubts in our own minds. Where is God? Why does He allow good people to go through difficulties? If it can happen to them, what guarantee do I have that the same thing won’t happen to me?
Suffering causes us to doubt. It tests our own belief system. But that’s okay. Part of the reason God placed us within the body of Christ is that we might go through difficulty together. I can learn from the heartache and hurt of others. I can grow from their difficulty – alongside them. Job’s friends could have learned a lot – if they would have only listened.
Job made it clear. He was in pain and he was no longer willing to keep quiet.
“I cannot keep from speaking.
I must express my anguish.
My bitter soul must complain.” – Job 7:11 NLT
And while Job’s skin was covered with sores, his mind was filled with questions. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him. He desperately needed to know he was still loved because he felt completely abandoned and alone. And in a desperate attempt to seek solace and comfort from God, he cried out, “Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone” (Job 7:21 NLT).
It was at that moment that Job needed his friends to show up and wrap their arms around him. He needed to know he was not alone. He needed to be reminded that his God still loved him. But as we will see, Job’s friends failed to hear what he had to say. Rather than listen and love, they will take turns berating their beaten-down friend and attempting to set themselves up as his spiritual superiors and moral betters. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.