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162. Job 16-17 Job’s Speaks—Again, Introduction
Though Job 16-17 is one continuous speech of Job, it might be helpful to divide it into smaller sections in order for the flow to be clearer. One way to do so is:
Job 16:1-5, You are the Ones Speaking Windy Words!
Job 16:6-17, A Description of God’s Savage Attack on Job
Job 16:18-22, Job’s Appeal to a Heavenly Witness
Job 17 Exhausted!
If I had to slog through five speeches that were as long, difficult and irrelevant as Eliphaz’s speech in 15:17-35 in order to get to this jewel, the effort would have been worth it. In this passage we see the maturation of Job’s thought unfolding right before our eyes, as if we are looking at a time-lapse photo. The language is vivid, desperate, heart-rending, even hopeless. Yet, there is also a remarkably hopeful dimension to the words, with hope coming in just when it seems that hope has been abandoned.
Job’s maturation happens in two ways. First, though he has previously realized that his friends would probably provide him little help, he now is utterly convinced of it. Granted, he addresses them in verses 1-5, but that address is more dismissive than welcoming. He will declare their unhelpfulness once more (19:2-5), but he really has abandoned any hope of deriving insight from the friends. In the words of a Christian hymn, he realizes that they are among the “other helpers (who) failed and comforts (that have) fled.”
Second, he has a new maturity in his approach to God. Some might use another word to capture Job’s visceral words of unparalleled ferocity in 16:6-17, such as chutzpah or arrogance, but I see his words stemming from the realization that there are very few other comforters he can call on once the friends have been shown to be useless. The tradition says that there is one other source: God, who will provide consolation, understanding, mercy. Yet, Job feels this source has been working againstrather than for his interests. Job 16 shows us how Job negotiates this tension. In a word, Job will posit the existence of a “witness in heaven” (16:19) who will stand for him in his case. We will have to ask, and try to answer, the question later of who this witness might be.
Our interest is immediately rekindled.