The opening verse of chapter 17 expresses the essence of Job’s long monologue through both these chapters. He has nothing else to say and piles up a range of metaphors to convey how he feels about the harsh ways in which God has treated him. His ‘comforters’ have brought him no comfort either. The speech indicates someone worn down by all that’s happened to him and all that’s been said as well. He’s hit rock bottom and he’s lost the will to fight back any more. There’s just the hint of a cry to God for pity; but it’s couched in the language of a defeated man pleading with an assailant to stop hitting him any more.
Yet Job still maintains his innocence (16:17) and, although the final verses of chapter 16 are virtually impossible to translate from the Hebrew with any certainty about their meaning, it appears that Job believes that God knows this too. Nonetheless he’s lost hope and is waiting for death.
It would be quite easy for someone as desperate as Job to admit they were in the wrong and deserved to be ‘punished’. It might make the friends feel better; but it would do nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering being endured. Nor is it possible for Job to admit he is ‘guilty as charged’ because he has absolutely no idea what it is that he has allegedly done. Consequently there is no obvious way out of the impasse where Job and his friends find themselves.
I don’t know what it is to be in such despair; but I am aware that others will have known such times in their lives and some will be struggling in its depths today. It can strike anyone; and some of those living on our streets, or in prison, are in its grip, believing themselves friendless too.
Let us be mindful that we can never fully know why someone is their current circumstances; and that their own attempts to explain it may be flawed. Let us be mindful of offering ‘solutions’ when we have no idea what the real problem is. Let us commit, though, to walking beside anyone in despair as a rock on which they can lean for rest, as a shield to protect them from further harm, and as a sign that they are not alone.