“Behold, God will not reject a blameless man, nor take the hand of evildoers.” … Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” Job 8.20; 9.1-3.
The “Job’s comforter” who opens the dialogue in this morning’s reading is Bildad the Shuhite (Job 8.1). His theology is very simply. God punishes the guilty and blesses the innocent; all the “bad” things that happen in life are punishments from God and all the “good” things that happen are blessings from God. If Job is being punished — and in Bildad’s eyes he most certainly is; he has lost his home, his family, his possessions and his heath (Job 1.13-19; 2.7) — then he must be guilty. God would not inflict on a “blameless man” the punishments that he is inflicting on Job.
Job knows that Bildad’s theology is very flawed, but he has to recognise that at least one of his propositions is true: God will not reject a blameless or perfect man. (The word that Bildad uses for blameless is tam which means “morally and ethically pure, without a moral or ethical flaw”). But that presents Job with a problem. If the blessing and acceptance and protection of God rests on goodness, he feels he can claim it. He feels God has a case to answer for he knows he has done nothing so sinful that it would warrant the appalling catastrophes that have befallen him. But if the issue is his perfection then he is far less confident in taking God to court.
And “taking God to court” is the imagery behind Job’s words in this passage. When he asks, “How can a man be in the right before God?”, he uses the word tsadaq which carries the sense of legal vindication. He sees himself bringing his charge against God and God immediately bringing counter charges against him … putting his, Job’s, life under the microscope. For every thousand charges God could bring against Job — impure thoughts, unkind words, ungracious actions, not doing those things which he ought to have done, doing the things he ought not to have done — there would not be one for which Job would be able to offer a proper defence. He might be good, but he knows he is not good enough. He is not perfect.
And that is, of course, exactly where I would find myself today if it were not for Jesus. I would face the same dilemma that Job faced. But because of Jesus, that is gloriously not so! I am “in the right before God”. I am (to borrow Paul’s words) “found in him, not having a righteousness (Hebrew tsedaqah — “in the right-ness”) of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3.9).
And I have it precisely because God actually did what Bildad said he could not do: God did “reject a blameless man”. He turned his face from his own perfect, sinless Son because the Son willed it to be so. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21). “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8.3-4).
“How can a man be in the right before God?” By going to Christ crucified and putting his faith in what Christ did there on the cross. There is no other way.
Come and see, come and see, come and see the King of love;
see the purple robe and crown of thorns He wears.
Soldiers mock, rulers sneer as He lifts the cruel cross;
lone and friendless now, He climbs towards the hill.
We worship at Your feet, where wrath and mercy meet,
and a guilty world is washed by love’s pure stream.
For us He was made sin — oh, help me take it in.
Deep wounds of love cry out `Father, forgive’.
I worship, I worship the Lamb who was slain.