Job 17:9, "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger."
This morning, the thoughts before us and the writing style of this little piece will be quite different from most of our other efforts. Several years ago, Elder Adam Green wrote an outstanding short expose on our study verse. His article - by his permission - will be appended to the bottom of my writing. It is not our intention to improve upon his conclusion but rather to expand his conclusion and thoughts in the face of two other common views to this text. More often than not, I prefer to simply deal with the way that I believe is right rather than talking a lot about how things are not, but every so often, I feel the impression to put opposing views side-by-side to see which ones stand up the best. Whenever one goes down that path, however, one rule must be followed for edification, "Never tear down a house unless you can build and show a better one." Therefore, while I hope that this writing does not come across like a wrecking ball, I do hope that the conclusion of this treatise shows a better house for the tenets of our study verse to abide within.
During times and seasons of theological controversy, verses are ripped out of their immediate and direct context, and almost always, the heart and soul of the verse is completely lost. Such has sadly happened to our verse, from my limited perspective. Over the last several years, I have heard three opinions on this verse, and of those three, one is principally unsound, while the other is Scripturally valid but I believe ultimately misapplied. Having said that, one position is unbearable, while the second is bearable to a point. Both positions do share one common bond, they miss the heart and soul of the third position that I hope and trust is the right one - since it happens to be the one that I hold.
The first position on this text basically declares this verse as a prooftext for showing some over-arching principle that all children of God follow some pattern of life that is perhaps even measurable and observable to some degree. Oftentimes, promoters of this view try to allow themselves a caveat of saying, "Even though someone may stumble and fail, if they are really a child of God, they will come back. After all, the righteous shall hold on his way." However, if they want to allow themselves this caveat, they immediately have this verse stripped from their theological scope, as the verse talks about "holding" rather than "returning." No matter the language or verbiage they use for their lesson and position, this text cannot be talking about an ultimate returning. Rather, the language of the verse only allows for people that are currently standing on the path.
The second position observes that Job is later rebuked by God for his self-justification rather than praise and worship of God. This position posits the idea that this verse is indeed one of those self-justifying statements by Job and therefore the sentiment Job expressed is - at the very least - misguided. Indeed, when the Lord arrives upon the scene in Job 38, He will spend a great deal of time rebuking Job for that very behavior. However, God will also go on to speak of Job speaking that which is right as well. (Job 42:7-8) So, now that we know that Job spoke things that he should and should not have, we are charged with the duty of finding out which case this was. Let us briefly leave the immediate context and consider the big picture of this book for a moment. When Job's three miserable comforters arrive on the scene, they have an extended dialogue that lasts from chapter 3 until the close of chapter 31. At that point, Elihu (who had not spoken to that point) takes up the mantle of the conversation until the Lord speaks in chapter 38. During the long dialogue between Job and the other three, a very predictable pattern ensues.
Job speaks, and then one of the three tries to take him to task for some "secret sin" that he is now suffering for. Most of the time, the dialogue changes back and forth rather quickly. Every so often, a speaker (generally Job) will have dialogue that lasts longer than one of our chapters and takes two chapters to encompass. Then, one of the three will take his turn, and then Job will speak again. However, the pattern shifts in chapter 26. Job speaks for the entirety of chapters 26-31. What could have prompted such a long discourse by him? What makes the conversation shift in a direction unlike its previous history? If we consider the short chapter 25, we see that Bildad (one of the three) asks a series of staccato-like questions that talk of God, but are meant to hurt Job. One of those questions (Verse 4) asks, "How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?" Bildad asks a question along the same subject line (justification) that Job is later rebuked by God about. These series of questions seem to "send Job over the hill" as he starts talking for a long time. When I consider the tenor of Job's words in those chapters, he has an edge to him that he has not previously had.
Consider a couple of chapters after our study verse. Job is talking in chapter 19 about the beauty and glory of his Redeemer that will ultimately raise his body in glorification. (Job 19:23-27) Since this dialogue happens after our study verse, it sure does not seem to my simple mind that Job has yet entered the dire pit of self-justification. However, Job's words are strikingly different in the chapters following Bildad's questions than they have been before. Based on the fact that Bildad asked a question about Job's eventual failing as pointed out by God, Job's change of tone, and Job's length of speaking, I suggest that Job's self-justification occurred in those chapters and not in the midst of our study verse. As we said at the outset, the first position is absolutely untenable as the verse does not support unsound theology. Indeed, no verse props up rotten boards, and this verse is no exception. The second position is not untenable or unsound, but I believe ultimately misapplied. Therefore, let us go on to the building and beauty of the verse, and pray that God give us the wisdom and light to shine forth the richness of His word.
Since Brother Adam's article deals with Verse 8 as well as the specific language of Verse 9 itself with the usage of the word "also," let us pass from that and consider some of the other expressions in the context. Job begins chapter 17 by talking about his low condition (Verses 1-4). Since Job's case has gotten so pitiful, one might wonder how anyone could get through it. Verse 6 strengthens this thought by talking about Job's case being a byword among the people, whereas before the trial, his life was more pleasant like a tabret. Job makes the point that it was not like he never had anything, but what makes his case so hard is not just what he currently endures but also the loss that went before it. His life is no longer like a song but is more like the sad sorrowful tale that people tell one another.
By the time that Job gets to our verse, one might think that such a situation was hopeless and wonder how anyone could possibly get through and endure it. Yet, Job was encouraged in the thought that his life could serve as an example for others also dealing with loss. Have you ever noticed how much it helps people when they learn that others have been where they are? Just knowing that others feel and have felt the same kind of pain serves to lessen the blow many times. The fear of loss and pain pales in comparison to the fear of isolation and complete loneliness. So, for someone to know that they are not alone helps them renew their courage to press on. The courage to deal with the loss of family and possessions and still not charge God foolishly was immense on Job's part. The courage to rebuff 3 miserable comforters that were positive they were right about Job when Job knew they were not took mettle and fortitude. The boldness to call his wife a foolish woman when she encouraged him to curse God and die seems sadly lacking by many today.
How could such courage endure? Job encourages the suffering innocent and upright man by his actions. Job's case serves to show us that we can endure and get through things, because if the Lord is on our side, who could possibly be ultimately successful against us? Job's reminder in our verse serves as a steady and rich guide of encouragement to say what Paul said to Timothy, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." (II Timothy 4:7) Though Paul's trials were different than Job's, Paul still made the same encouragement to the younger upright and innocent ones following him to be faithful and war a good warfare.
Practical godliness is a many faceted and flavoured subject that is quite often sullied by the promoters of theological error. Should Job really have the idea that his words served as some guidepost on manifestation of the family of God, his words lose so much weight and power. What is the beauty of godliness if God's children are going to do that anyway (in some preordained fashion) thereby proving their status as the family of God? The very idea robs the beauty from service and the richness of sacrifice. Yet, there is great beauty and richness to be found in serving the Lord at all times and seasons (even hard ones) and building the mutual faith of God's people by example. When someone considers Job's case, they may eventually recall the fact that he did end up finally needing rebuke from on high for his presumption, but most - if not all - do immediately recollect hardships, sufferings, and the courage of the man that went through it all in spite of his torments from familiar friends and family.
Dear friends, what have we been through in our lives? Can any of us match our case against Job's and say we have had it that bad? Most certainly, I cannot. Therefore, if we find roadblocks and hardships along our way, may we also (with the other upright and innocent ones) hold on our way. If we are pursuing a life of godliness, may we strengthen our hands to the good work before us and thereby get stronger in the things of the Lord as good soldiers of the cross and war a good warfare in this life. If we do, may our lives serve as examples of good stewardship to our children, grandchildren, other family, and friends. Never let rotten theology rob you of a delightful time in the Lord. If we are following the Lord, we will most assuredly find hard times, but it can still be a delightful time if He stands with us. As the songwriter of old said, "While blessed with a sense of His love, a palace a toy would appear. And prisons would palaces prove if Jesus would dwell with me there."
Job 17:9 - "The righteous also shall hold
on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger."