Job Falls into Nostalgia and Self-Justification (Job 29-30)
The new emphases in Job’s second lament (Job 29-42) are nostalgia and self-justification. Job “longs for the days when God watched over me” (Job 29:2) and “when the friendship of God was upon my tent” (Job 29:4). He reminisces about when his “steps were washed with milk, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil” (Job 29:6). He remembers how well respected he was in the community, which in the language of the Old Testament is most dramatically portrayed by his “seat in the square” near the “gate of the city” (Job 29:7). Job was well-received by the young and old alike (Job 29:8), and treated with unusual respect by the chiefs and nobles (Job 29:10). He was respected because he tended to the needs of the poor, fatherless, widows, blind, lame, needy, strangers and those dying (Job 29:12-16). He was their champion against the wicked (Job 29:17).
Job’s nostalgia deepens his sense of loss when he realizes that much of the respect he received in work and civic life was superficial. “Because God has loosed my bowstring and humbled me, they have cast off restraint in my presence” (Job 30:11). “And now they mock me in song” (Job 30:9). Some people experience a similar sense of loss due to retirement, career setback, financial loss or any kind of perceived failure. We may question our identity and doubt our worth. Other people treat us differently when we have failed, or worse yet, they simply stay away from us. (At least Job’s friends come to see him.) Former friends speak cautiously if they must be around us, lowering their voices as though hoping that no one might find them near us. Maybe they think failure is a disease that’s catching, or maybe being seen near a failure will brand them as a failure. “They abhor me, they keep aloof from me,” laments Job (Job 30:10).
This is not to say that all civic and workplace friendships are shallow. It is true that some people befriend us only because we are useful to them, and then they abandon us when we cease to be useful. What really stings is the loss of what seemed to be genuine friendships.
In contrast to his first lament (Job 3), Job dishes up a large portion of self-justification in this round. “My justice was like a robe and a turban” (Job 29:14). “I was a father to the needy” (Job 29:16). Job touts his impeccable sexual purity (Job 31:1, 9-10). We have known all along that Job is not being punished for any fault. He may be accurate in his self-appraisal, but the self-justification is neither necessary nor endearing. Adversity may not always bring out the best in us. Yet God remains faithful, although Job is not able to see it at the moment, “for,” as he later says, “I was in terror of calamity from God” (Job 31:23).