Job 17-20: Unanswered prayer

Have you ever been in a situation when God did not seem to hear or answer your prayer?  How did that make you feel?

We tend to look at that situation with distress, thinking that perhaps God has distanced himself from us, or is mistreating us in some way (sounds like of like what Job has had to say so far…).  But as one ages in faith, one begins to understand that unanswered prayer are sometimes just what we need.  As one elderly saint once said: “I have lived long enough to be thankful for unanswered prayer.”

Job 17 is a great example of this.  Essentially, Job 17 is a prayer, a prayer that God will end Job’s life.  Job is not sure how much more he can take.  The first part of the chapter is all about how dire his situation is (his friends are against him, his neighbours consider him the scum of the earth, his plans have been shattered, his body is broken…) and the only out Job can see is to find a home in Sheol (the place of the dead), where at least he’ll find some rest (v13).  God, in his wisdom, ignores this prayer from Job, because death is not the answer Job is really needing.

This plea for death gets Bildad riled right up, who goes on in chapter 18 to lay out for Job (and us) three very gruesome pictures of death, trying to frighten his friend by laying out what happens when wicked people die.  Note that he is still working on the assumption that Job is truly wicked and harboring sin and guilt.  Bildad paints four pictures for us: the extinguishing of light, a traveler on a road set with frightening traps, a criminal pursued and an uprooted tree.  All images of hopeless, terror and destruction.  The main issues continue to be: a) Bildad continues to speak as if Job were a man unfamiliar with God and b) Bildad speaks without a single ounce of compassion, not a bit of tenderness in his heart when speaking to Job of the terrors of death.

Job counters in chapter 19 with seven pictures of trial from his own life.  Essentially he is saying to Bildad, “I don’t have to die to experience trials, hopelessness and terror, I’m experiencing them right now.”

Chapter 20 sees Zophar joining the fray once again, but there is nothing new in this speech, just more warnings for Job to get right with God.  Zophar points out three fates of the wicked (again seeking to terrify Job).

  1. The life of the wicked is short
  2. The pleasure of the wicked is temporary
  3. The death of the wicked is painful.

Overall, none of it terribly helpful for Job.

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  •  What was new from this piece of scripture?  What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  •  How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  •  What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Job 21-23

3 responses

  1. I have always and still do find Job so depressing and can’t even bare to read it- I question as to why w e went from Genesis to Job- don’t get the connection.

    1. Hi Evelyn. Thanks for the comment. Job can be a difficult book to read. One commentator I was reading said that most of the Bible has a fairly optimistic outlook on life, but there are a couple of instances where pessimism tends to be stronger, and Job is definitely one of those books. However, there are some redeeming qualities. I find it nice to read verses in the Bible that speak to doubt and wondering what God could possibly be thinking. As for why we skipped to Job after reading the first 11 chapters of Genesis, it is the type of reading plan we’re following. Instead of reading through book to book, this plan attempts to put the books in order chronologically, by date. So Job fits somewhere between the tower of Babel and the time of Abraham. That is why it is inserted where it is. You will find as we go through this plan that we will skip around a bit. So, for instance, when we read about David’s sin with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 & 12, and the subsequent death of the child born of that sin, we will read Psalm 51 which expresses David’s repentance for his sin after Nathan confronted him. The plan attempts to put all of the pieces of the Bible together in order of time instead of by book. Hope that helps!

      1. yes,thank you-it does-will struggle on-

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