Job Chapters 23-28: Suffering and Hardship at Work
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
Today’s Public Reading of Scripture comes from the Old Testament’s literature section, the Book of Job. Job was a faithful man who had a large family and a prosperous farm. Satan challenged Job’s devotion to God, saying that Job’s faith was due to his good fortune.
God allowed Satan to test Job. He suddenly loses his family, livelihood and becomes sick. In Job’s lowest moment, three friends arrive. They dialogue with Job on God’s justice and the problem of human suffering.
The friends assert that suffering comes to those who deserve it, and that Job must have done something really bad to receive this punishment. Job disagrees.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of Job Chapters 23-28, we will open with Psalm 23 in prayer.
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Then Job answered and said:
2 “Even today my complaint is bitter;
My hand is listless because of my groaning.
3 Oh, that I knew where I might find Him,
That I might come to His seat!
4 I would present my case before Him,
And fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would know the words which He would answer me,
And understand what He would say to me.
6 Would He contend with me in His great power?
No! But He would take note of me.
7 There the upright could reason with Him,
And I would be delivered forever from my Judge.
8 “Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
9 When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
10 But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
11 My foot has held fast to His steps;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
12 I have not departed from the commandment of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth
More than my necessary food.
13 “But He is unique, and who can make Him change?
And whatever His soul desires, that He does.
14 For He performs what is appointed for me,
And many such things are with Him.
15 Therefore I am terrified at His presence;
When I consider this, I am afraid of Him.
16 For God made my heart weak,
And the Almighty terrifies me;
17 Because I was not cut off from the presence of darkness,
And He did not hide deep darkness from my face.
“Since times are not hidden from the Almighty,
Why do those who know Him see not His days?
2 “Some remove landmarks;
They seize flocks violently and feed on them;
3 They drive away the donkey of the fatherless;
They take the widow’s ox as a pledge.
4 They push the needy off the road;
All the poor of the land are forced to hide.
5 Indeed, like wild donkeys in the desert,
They go out to their work, searching for food.
The wilderness yields food for them and for their children.
6 They gather their fodder in the field
And glean in the vineyard of the wicked.
7 They spend the night naked, without clothing,
And have no covering in the cold.
8 They are wet with the showers of the mountains,
And huddle around the rock for want of shelter.
9 “Some snatch the fatherless from the breast,
And take a pledge from the poor.
10 They cause the poor to go naked, without clothing;
And they take away the sheaves from the hungry.
11 They press out oil within their walls,
And tread winepresses, yet suffer thirst.
12 The dying groan in the city,
And the souls of the wounded cry out;
Yet God does not charge them with wrong.
13 “There are those who rebel against the light;
They do not know its ways
Nor abide in its paths.
14 The murderer rises with the light;
He kills the poor and needy;
And in the night he is like a thief.
15 The eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight,
Saying, ‘No eye will see me’;
And he disguises his face.
16 In the dark they break into houses
Which they marked for themselves in the daytime;
They do not know the light.
17 For the morning is the same to them as the shadow of death;
If someone recognizes them,
They are in the terrors of the shadow of death.
18 “They should be swift on the face of the waters,
Their portion should be cursed in the earth,
So that no one would turn into the way of their vineyards.
19 As drought and heat consume the snow waters,
So the grave consumes those who have sinned.
20 The womb should forget him,
The worm should feed sweetly on him;
He should be remembered no more,
And wickedness should be broken like a tree.
21 For he preys on the barren who do not bear,
And does no good for the widow.
22 “But God draws the mighty away with His power;
He rises up, but no man is sure of life.
23 He gives them security, and they rely on it;
Yet His eyes are on their ways.
24 They are exalted for a little while,
Then they are gone.
They are brought low;
They are taken out of the way like all others;
They dry out like the heads of grain.
25 “Now if it is not so, who will prove me a liar,
And make my speech worth nothing?”
Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
2 “Dominion and fear belong to Him;
He makes peace in His high places.
3 Is there any number to His armies?
Upon whom does His light not rise?
4 How then can man be righteous before God?
Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?
5 If even the moon does not shine,
And the stars are not pure in His sight,
6 How much less man, who is a maggot,
And a son of man, who is a worm?”
But Job answered and said:
2 “How have you helped him who is without power?
How have you saved the arm that has no strength?
3 How have you counseled one who has no wisdom?
And how have you declared sound advice to many?
4 To whom have you uttered words?
And whose spirit came from you?
5 “The dead tremble,
Those under the waters and those inhabiting them.
6 Sheol is naked before Him,
And Destruction has no covering.
7 He stretches out the north over empty space;
He hangs the earth on nothing.
8 He binds up the water in His thick clouds,
Yet the clouds are not broken under it.
9 He covers the face of His throne,
And spreads His cloud over it.
10 He drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters,
At the boundary of light and darkness.
11 The pillars of heaven tremble,
And are astonished at His rebuke.
12 He stirs up the sea with His power,
And by His understanding He breaks up the storm.
13 By His Spirit He adorned the heavens;
His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
14 Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways,
And how small a whisper we hear of Him!
But the thunder of His power who can understand?”
Moreover Job continued his discourse, and said:
2 “As God lives, who has taken away my justice,
And the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
3 As long as my breath is in me,
And the breath of God in my nostrils,
4 My lips will not speak wickedness,
Nor my tongue utter deceit.
5 Far be it from me
That I should say you are right;
Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
6 My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go;
My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live.
7 “May my enemy be like the wicked,
And he who rises up against me like the unrighteous.
8 For what is the hope of the hypocrite,
Though he may gain much,
If God takes away his life?
9 Will God hear his cry
When trouble comes upon him?
10 Will he delight himself in the Almighty?
Will he always call on God?
11 “I will teach you about the hand of God;
What is with the Almighty I will not conceal.
12 Surely all of you have seen it;
Why then do you behave with complete nonsense?
13 “This is the portion of a wicked man with God,
And the heritage of oppressors, received from the Almighty:
14 If his children are multiplied, it is for the sword;
And his offspring shall not be satisfied with bread.
15 Those who survive him shall be buried in death,
And their widows shall not weep,
16 Though he heaps up silver like dust,
And piles up clothing like clay—
17 He may pile it up, but the just will wear it,
And the innocent will divide the silver.
18 He builds his house like a moth,
Like a booth which a watchman makes.
19 The rich man will lie down,
But not be gathered up;
He opens his eyes,
And he is no more.
20 Terrors overtake him like a flood;
A tempest steals him away in the night.
21 The east wind carries him away, and he is gone;
It sweeps him out of his place.
22 It hurls against him and does not spare;
He flees desperately from its power.
23 Men shall clap their hands at him,
And shall hiss him out of his place.
“Surely there is a mine for silver,
And a place where gold is refined.
2 Iron is taken from the earth,
And copper is smelted from ore.
3 Man puts an end to darkness,
And searches every recess
For ore in the darkness and the shadow of death.
4 He breaks open a shaft away from people;
In places forgotten by feet
They hang far away from men;
They swing to and fro.
5 As for the earth, from it comes bread,
But underneath it is turned up as by fire;
6 Its stones are the source of sapphires,
And it contains gold dust.
7 That path no bird knows,
Nor has the falcon’s eye seen it.
8 The proud lions have not trodden it,
Nor has the fierce lion passed over it.
9 He puts his hand on the flint;
He overturns the mountains at the roots.
10 He cuts out channels in the rocks,
And his eye sees every precious thing.
11 He dams up the streams from trickling;
What is hidden he brings forth to light.
12 “But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13 Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 It cannot be purchased for gold,
Nor can silver be weighed for its price.
16 It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
In precious onyx or sapphire.
17 Neither gold nor crystal can equal it,
Nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold.
18 No mention shall be made of coral or quartz,
For the price of wisdom is above rubies.
19 The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Nor can it be valued in pure gold.
20 “From where then does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living,
And concealed from the birds of the air.
22 Destruction and Death say,
‘We have heard a report about it with our ears.’
23 God understands its way,
And He knows its place.
24 For He looks to the ends of the earth,
And sees under the whole heavens,
25 To establish a weight for the wind,
And apportion the waters by measure.
26 When He made a law for the rain,
And a path for the thunderbolt,
27 Then He saw wisdom and declared it;
He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out.
28 And to man He said,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.’ ”
Pause for Reflection
Now we'll take a moment to reflect silently on what we have just read and heard in Scripture.
Suffering and Hardship at Work
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Job
After he loses everything, there is nothing left for Job but to lament. He refuses to incriminate himself falsely, and he refuses to blame or abandon God. But he does not hesitate to express his anguish in the strongest terms. “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11). And “Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in?” (Job 3:23). Notice that Job’s lament is almost entirely in the form of questions. The cause of his suffering is a mystery. Indeed, it may be the greatest mystery of faith. Why does God allow people he loves to suffer? Job does not know the answer, so the most honest thing he can do is ask questions.
Regrettably, Job’s friends are not able to endure the mystery of his suffering, so they jump to conclusions about its source. Anyone who has spent time with a suffering friend knows how hard it is to remain present without trying to give answers. It is excruciating to suffer silently with a friend who must rebuild life piece by piece, without any certainty about the outcome. Our instinct is to investigate what went wrong and identify a solution. Then we imagine we can help our friend eliminate the cause and get back to normal as soon as possible. Knowing the cause, we will at least know how to avoid the same fate ourselves. We would rather give a reason for the suffering — be it right, be it wrong — than to accept the mystery at the heart of suffering.
How much harm have well-intentioned Christians caused by giving pious-sounding answers to suffering, even though we have no idea what we’re talking about? “It’s all for the best.” “It’s part of God’s plan.” “God never sends people more adversity than they can handle.” How arrogant to imagine we know God’s plan. How foolish to think we know the reason for anyone else’s suffering. We don’t even know the reason for our own suffering. It would be more truthful — and far more helpful — to admit, “I don’t know why this is happening to you. No one should have to go through this.” If we can do this, and then remain present, we may become an agent of God’s compassion.
Job is not afraid to take his complaints — including work-related complaints — to God. Job knows that all blessing comes from God, and all adversity is allowed — if not caused — by God. Therefore, we can feel a sharp sting in Job’s complaint, “From the city the dying groan, and the throat of the wounded cries for help; yet God pays no attention to their prayer” (Job 24:12). Job’s friends accuse him of forsaking God, but the evidence is that the righteous are forsaken by God. Meanwhile, the wicked seem to lead a charmed life. “God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power; they rise up when they despair of life. He gives them security, and they are supported; his eyes are upon their ways” (Job 24:22–23). Job believes that the wicked will ultimately be cut down. “They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they wither and fade like the mallow; they are cut off like the heads of grain” (Job 24:24). But why does God let the wicked prosper at all?
There is no answer in the book of Job, and there is no answer known to humanity. Economic adversity is an all-too-real pain that many Christians face for years or even a lifetime. We may have to abandon our education when we are young due to financial hardship, and it could prevent us from ever reaching our potential in the workplace. We may be exploited by others or scapegoated to the ruin of our careers. We may be born, struggle to survive, and die under the thumb of a corrupt government that keeps its people in poverty and oppression. These are merely a few work-related examples. In a million other ways, we may suffer serious, grievous, unfair harm that we can never even understand — much less remedy — in this life. By God’s grace, we hope never to become complacent in the face of injustice and suffering. Yet there are times when we cannot make things right, at least not right away. In those situations, we have only three choices: make up a plausible, false explanation about how God allowed it to happen, as Job’s friends do; abandon God; or remain faithful to God without receiving an answer.
We leave the book of Job with observations and questions, rather than neat conclusions. Job proves faithful to God in prosperity and in adversity. This surely is a model for us. But the odious judgments made by his friends caution us against making too-certain application of any model to our own lives.
God proves faithful to Job. This is our ultimate hope and comfort. But we cannot predict how his faithfulness will be manifest in our lives until his promises are fulfilled in the new heaven and new earth. It would be folly to judge others, or even ourselves, based on the fractional evidence available to us, the paltry wisdom we are able to grasp and the minuscule perspectives we hold. To the hardest questions about the circumstances of our lives, the wisest answer may often be, “I don’t know.”