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137. Job 13:23-28, Questions for God to Answer; Allegations Against God
23 How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
24 Why do you hide your face,
and count me as your enemy?
25 Will you frighten a windblown leaf
and pursue dry chaff?
26 For you write bitter things against me,
and make me reap[d] the iniquities of my youth.
27 You put my feet in the stocks,
and watch all my paths;
you set a bound to the soles of my feet.
28 One wastes away like a rotten thing,
like a garment that is moth-eaten.
Job now brings his substantive charges against God. The charges are put in the form of questions. If we look at the structure of this mini-section, we see that Job raises four questions, makes two allegations and then gives us one result. These questions, allegations and result now become the clearest statement of the case Job has put in order (arak, v 18), a case that will occupy him until he finally signs his complaint in 31:35. Though the questions might seem to overlap with each other, each has its own nuance and special power.
The four questions, with some of my embellishment, are stated in verses 23-25: 1) How have I done wrong in this instance? 2) Why do you hide your face from me, evading me at every turn? 3) Why do you treat me as if I am an enemy rather than a just an upright man, as you know I am? 4) Why do you further terrorize me, by frightening me and then chasing after me? Let’s briefly consider each.
Question 1 is the central one. Job has already posed it to his friends, in the form of a statement or demand: “Teach me and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone wrong” (6:24). Bildad and Zophar, the friends who addressed Job after that demand, both assert deep levels of sin in Job or his children, but they do not try to “teach” or “make him understand” his wrong. They just assert Job’s sin and then give him the remedy—confess and everything will become better. That this is an unsatisfactory answer to Job is evident because we now see that Job raises the same question with God.
The issue behind this first question is an important one for Job. Part of its importance can be gleaned from consideration of the language of verse 23: four of the seven words are words for “sin.” Three different words for sin are used (avon, chattaah, pesha), with chattaah being repeated. Though some might want to draw a distinction among these terms, I see them as synonymous here, as if a person were to say: ‘Look at these calamities, miseries, troubles that beset me!’ The disaster is one; the words just try to get at the enormousness or enormity of it. Job knows of the sins of his youth (avon, v 26), but he can’t believe that God would have been holding a grudge for all these years to bring punishment on Job for youthful indiscretions.
So, the question is insistent and powerful. How many are these sins? Make me know them. . . If God is punishing Job for certain sins he has committed, it would make sense that God would let Job know why he is being punished. ‘Is that really too much to ask of you, God?’ We think that if God punishes for no apparent reason and gives no indication of why punishment is happening, then there is no way the person punished can improve or respond intelligently to the punishment.