What do you do when you're depressed? Do you go for a drive? Do you talk with a friend? Do you pray and read Scripture? Do you give up on God? The dungeon of despair often feels dark and lonely, but job's story reminds us that we are never really alone. Jesus knows what it is to suffer . . . and He can sympathize with all our weakness.
Escaping the Dungeon of Giant Despair
Job 6 & 7
John Bunyan was a pastor who lived in the late 1600’s in England.
Because of his Biblical convictions, he refused to align his church with the Church of England. It was in 1678, while Bunyan was in prison for holding unauthorized services, he wrote a book entitled, “The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to that Which is to Come;” now, better known now as Pilgrim’s Progress.
John Bunyan portrayed the adventures of a young disciple, named Christian, who left his home village called the City of Destruction and traveled to the Celestial City – or heaven.
In one episode, Christian and his traveling companion, Hopeful, are captured by the Giant Despair and taken to the Doubting Castle where they are thrown into a dungeon cell.
They are beaten mercilessly by the Giant Despair; one morning they are taken out of their cell and shown the bones of other pilgrims out in the castle-yard who never escaped Doubting Castle.
But Christian and Hopeful refuse to give up . . . and one night, Pilgrim remembers a way to escape . . . he is able to unlock their cell door and the outer gate as well and they run for their lives.
They will escape the Castle and the Giant Despair, not by some show of force or some innate determination, but by a key called Promise.
When you arrive at chapter 6, you find Job languishing in a prison cell controlled by the Giant Despair, deep within Doubting Castle.
As he speaks, you will discover that for the most part he will ask questions; questions without answers.
And the Giant will nearly do him in.
If you remember our last discussion, a large part of the problem is that his tormentors are supposed to be his friends. Only in this scene they are on the giant’s payroll. They are working for him!
Eliphaz has just finished speaking in chapters 4 & 5 and he has condemned Job for being a fool; he has accused him of being a great sinner, thus this great calamity has come upon him. Eliphaz has even implied that Job is guilty of his children’s deaths because of his hidden sins.
The heavy chains are now wrapped tightly around Job’s body and spirit . . . and his response in chapter 6 is nothing less than the misery of an imprisoned believer held captive in Doubting Castle.
In chapter 6, Job addresses his friends.
JOB SPEAKS TO HIS FRIENDS:
First, he (actually ) apologizes for his rash communication (6:1-3)
Notice verse 1. Then Job answered, “Oh that my grief were actually weighed and laid in the balances together with my calamity! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the seas. Therefore, my words have been rash.
In spite of his agony, he offers them an apology.
What incredible character! You see it peeking through every now and then, even though Job’s pours out his pain and frustration.
“Listen, men . . . I know I’m speaking rash words, but understand . . . if you put on the scales my grief and calamity, they would outweigh the sands of the seas.
You know how heavy sand is? That’s how heavy his spirit is.
And what amazes me is that Job has the objectivity and character to offer a veiled apology.
Which gives us a good reminder as we help people who are crushed in spirit . . . as one author said, “to cut them a little slack.” Distribute to them a measure of grace. Remember, don’t just deal with their speech . . . deal with their wounded spirit which issued forth in bitter speech.
Secondly, I want you to notice that Job:
He admits his raw condition in verses (6:4-13)
It’s as if he says, “There’s nowhere left to hide”. Notice verse 4, For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, their poison my spirit drinks; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.
In other words, if God is firing his arrows at you . . . where you gonna hide? He never misses. He has perfect aim and he has found my spirit. Furthermore, Job says “His arrows are dipped with poison and I am now filled with bitterness.”
There’s no where left for me to hide.
Secondly, “there’s nothing left for me to enjoy.” Does the wild donkey bray over his grass, or does the ox low over his fodder? In other words, they’re not complaining when their satisfied with food . . . but as for me, verse 6. Can something tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the white of an egg? 7. My soul refuses to touch them; they are like loathsome food to me.
There’s nothing in life I can enjoy . . . not even the simple pleasure of a boiled egg.
Finally, Job says in his opening remarks, “There’s no one left to help”.
Verse 8, Oh that my request might come to pass, and that God would grant my longing! Would that God were willing to crush me, that He would loose His hand and cut me off! (But you men need to know that if he does) verse 10. It is still my consolation, and I rejoice in unsparing pain that I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
I haven’t cursed God.
How Satan must have hated to hear these words – he and his demons have been longing to hear Job blaspheme the character of God and Job will not do it.
But don’t make him too much of a hero . . . Job says, “What do you think I’m made of – granite? (v. 12); I’ve got tough skin, but do you think it’s made out of bronze? It isn’t!
Indeed, verse 13, my help is not within me and deliverance is driven from me. I agree with the translators that make this a statement of fact, rather than a question.
- There’s no where left to hide.
- There’s nothing left to enjoy.
- There’s no one left to help.
I am periodically reading, Joseph Caryl, a Puritan pastor who preached through the Book of Job and it took him more than 23 years – you thought Romans was bad.
On this text in Job he observed that “although the spirit hath no weight at all; only flesh and material substances are weighty; but a wounded spirit is heavier than wounded flesh.” Then he made this interesting insight; “The spirit is strong enough to bear the burden of wounded flesh; but the flesh is not strong enough to bear the burden of a wounded spirit.”
Joseph Caryl, Practical Observations on Job: Vol. 2 (Reformation Heritage, 2001), p. 421
That’s why when your discouraged you are also tired. Your flesh cannot support a weary, despairing soul. Find rest for your soul and you will find strength for your flesh.
It’s true isn’t it.
And Job says, “This is more than I can take: I am not made of stone or brass. I am a human; I am weak, frail, faltering human being.
J. Allen Blair, Living Patiently (Loizeaux Brothers, 1966), p. 53
He admits to his friends that his condition – his emotions are raw.
I can’t take much more of a beating from the Giant Despair.
But in spite of his weary state in this prison cell, Job apologizes for his rash words; he admits his raw condition and now thirdly;
He appeals for real compassion in verses (vv. 14-23)
Notice this pitiful appeal in verse 14, For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; so that he does not forsake the fear – that is, his reverence – of the Almighty.
Can you see this scene? What pity this should have stirred in these friends of Job.
I can tell you that nothing moved me to empty my pockets than the children in India who scrambled after our luggage and taxis and every where we walked, begging for some small change.
I remember in New Delhi, riding in a car with my window down, coming up on a curb at a busy intersection, there was a young mother standing on the curb, with her baby in her arms, her own face blotched with leprosy, holding her thin arm out with her bony fingers outstretched toward me with a look of sadness and sheer terror in her eyes that even after several years I cannot forget.
Can you imagine, here’s this man covered in boils, racked with pain, bereaved of his children, sitting on the ash heap at the town dump, appealing, not for money (v. 22) or for physical help or deliverance (v. 23) . . . Job isn’t asking for food or clothing or protection . . . he’s only asking them for some kindness.
But they’re afraid – verse 21. They are afraid that if they associate too closely with Job that God will send them the same judgment He sent Job.
So they’re not gonna identify too closely with him, nor give him sympathy since it might only anger God.
And Job says to them, “you are all like a dessert stream” back in verse 15 – you’re like a Wadi . . . that is a dessert streambed that rushed with water during the rainy season but dried up in the heat of the summer.
Traveling caravans from Tema and Sheba (v. 19) were known to travel across the dessert and often times they would be desperate for water and they would travel along one of these Wadi, hoping to find water and some caravans would look in vain and die of thirst.
Job says, “I’m following after you, hoping for refreshing water and at the end of the day you have nothing to offer me.”
You can not even offer me one little cup of compassion.
Not only do they fail to offer Job real compassion, Job says they have failed to provide him with true correction.
Verse 24 to the end of the chapter, Job says, “Listen, verse 24, I’m willing for you to teach me; and I will be silent; you show me how I have erred.”
The Hebrew word for “erred” refers to unintentional sins. Job never denies sinning, he just doesn’t know where he has sinned and refused to repent so that God would now judge him.
John Hartley, NICOT: Job (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 140
He says to his friends, “Listen, I don’t need accusation – I need illumination.” Show me my fault – show me my sin and I’ll readily confess!
Adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe, Job: Be Patient (Victor Books, 1991), p. 32
And of course, they don’t, because they can’t.
So they offer trite advice . . . condescending counsel.
Don’t you feel weary when someone tries to give you advice, but you know they don’t care; their advice is self-exalting . . . condescending . . . or trivial and insufficient.
Charlie Brown, that great theologian, provides a wonderful response on one occasion. In one comic strip, Charlie Brown is complaining because his team always loses their baseball games. “We always lose . . . we are always defeated.” Lucy comes along and in her know-it-all way offers him some advice as she says, “Remember, Charlie Brown, you learn more from your defeats than you do from your victories.” And Charlie Brown replied, “Well then, that makes me the smartest man in the whole world!”
True compassion opens the door to wise counsel – even when it is challenging and reproving.
Identifying with the sufferer is the first part of giving insight to the sufferer.
One of our young people – a middle schooler – was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. What a trooper he was in the hospital . . . I had the opportunity to visit him along with two of our student pastors . . . in fact, we all went down to the game room played a couple of games of pool. It was proven that none of us are wasting time in some pool hall . . . we all stink, which is probably a good thing, right?
I’m not sure how the connection was made, but one of the most encouraging things to this young man, as he battled this diagnosis was receiving an email from David Garrard, the quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. I received permission from both the family and from Garrard to mention his email to you.
I want you to notice true compassion before you read any challenge. I’ve edited it down to just a few lines . . .
My name is David Garrard and I’m a professional football player . . . three years ago I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, just like you. I am here to tell you that I know first hand the circumstances that you are going through . . . I will be praying for you and for a speedy recovery. Remember that God puts things in our lives to teach us to trust Him. Keep your eyes on him and trust him with all your heart. I know that some days can be worse than others . . . but keep your head up. Feel free to contact me anytime.
David Garrard #9
Isn’t that great? What encouragement and wise counsel. Almost makes me wanna root for the Jaguars . . . almost.
There was identification . . . then insight. What a great example for us today.
Now Job turns from speaking to his friends to speaking to his God.
JOB SPEAKS TO GOD
First, Job mourns the misery of his suffering (in the first 5 verses of chapter 7 (7:1-5)
In verse 2 Job effectively says, “Listen Lord . . . even a slave who works in the hot sun eventually gets a chance to rest in the shade; and a hired hand who works hard at least has his paycheck to look forward to . . . but I don’t have any relief – there is no shade tree under which my sorrow can find rest.
My misery has no end.
In verse 5 we are informed that Job’s physical condition is worsening. He says, “My flesh is clothed with worms and a crust of dirt; my skin has hardens and now runs.” – literally it’s cracked and oozing with puss.
It isn’t that it just isn’t letting up – “God, it’s getting worse!” The beatings of the Giant Despair are only growing harder for me to endure.
He mourns the misery of his suffering.
Secondly, He bemoans the brevity of his life (7:6-16)
- Verse 6 – My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
- Verse 7 – Remember that my life is but breath
- Verse 16 – I waste away; I will not live forever; leave me alone, for my days are but a breath.
In other words, since my life is short anyway, why let it linger on – why not end it Lord. The grave would be better than my painful life.
Notice what he says in verse 15. My soul would choose suffocation; death rather than my pain.
It is this verse that John Bunyan put into the mouth of Christian as he languished in the dungeon cell, deep in the dungeon of the Doubting Castle.
Christian says to his companion, “Shall we be ruled by this giant . . . I know not whether it is best to live like this or to die. The grave is more easy for me than this dungeon.”
And right there in the original text of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, himself languishing in a prison cell pencils into his manuscript the reference, Job 7:15.
The natural cry of the believer under great suffering is “How long, O Lord? And if it is for the rest of my life, take me on to heaven.”
Perhaps the greatest injury to Job is not his misery in suffering, or his brevity in life, but it is in the last portion of his prayer as he:
He laments the loss of communion with God (7:17-21)
Notice verse 20, Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, so that I am a burden to myself? Why then do You not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I will lie down in the dust; and You will seek me, but I will not be.
Make no mistake . . . Job is bound, deep in the cavernous depths of Doubting Castle, his spirit ruled by the Giant Despair.
All we can do is observe him there . . . and learn.
I don’t want to be too hard on Job here . . . it is remarkable to me that Job is even praying at all.
We can learn from the writing of John Bunyan who found a way for Christian and Hopeful to escape the castle and it is the same way of escape for us all.
Earlier in Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian had been given a small key and told that whenever he needed to open a door, he should use this gift – this special key had a name – its name was Promise.
One night Christian remembers he has the key in his pocket and he pulls it out . . . sure enough he is able to unlock their cell door and the outer gate as well.
They escape Doubting Castle and the Giant Despair, not by some show of force or some innate determination, but by a key called Promise.
Should you find yourself locked in a similar dungeon, remember the gifts of promise given to us who follow Christ.
Use these keys of promise to defeat the Giant Despair.
- First, in seasons when you conclude God isn’t present – He is.
His promise key is Hebrews 13:5, I will never leave you nor forsake you.
There’s no loophole in that promise. He means it.
When a young Jewish woman named Corrie Ten Boom survived the horror of her imprisonment in Auswitch, she later said, “There is no pit so deep but that God is not deeper still.”
No matter how deep your dungeon . . . God is deeper still.
- Secondly, in times when you feel life is hopeless – it isn’t.
A key of promise that came to my mind is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
- Third; in afflictions when you believe God doesn’t care – He does.
I Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Cast your cares upon Him because He continually cares – the tense declares – He constantly without stopping cares and is concerned for you.
There’s the key . . . it’s His gift to you . . .
David provided another promise key, “You who seek God, let your heart revive, for the Lord hears the needy and does not despise those who are prisoners.” Psalm 69:33
- Fourth; in situations where you are sure you know better than God – you don’t.
Psalm 18:30, As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
- Fifth; in despair when you believe God hasn’t heard your cry – He has.
Psalm 69:32-34, You who seek God, let your heart revive; for the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His children who are prisoners.
One translation renders it, “He does not despise His wounded ones.” (ESV)
The Message paraphrases it, “[God] doesn’t walk out on those in [wretched conditions].”
With God, even when nothing is happening, something is happening – even for those in wretched conditions.
- One more – Sixth – In circumstances where you don’t feel loved – you are.
Here’s the key in Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39. nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May I challenge you to contemplate the connection you have in your suffering to others past and present?
If you are struggling, read biographies of Christian’s who’ve gone before you. Read Foxes Book of Martyr’s when you feel your circumstances are beyond the love of Christ.
See your connection to the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. He was humbled as he voluntarily came to this land of sorrow. He took the form of a servant, Paul wrote in Philippians 2, and died the death of a despised, unwanted, unloved criminal.
See your connection the Body of Christ – His church – we all share in the sufferings of believers around the world, I Peter 5wrote, and we desperately need wisdom in how to handle your own temptation to despair. James 1
You are not alone. You are deeply loved. Whether you sense it, conclude it, feel it or even believe it.
Ask Job . . . the God he thought had abandoned him was actually at this moment, in this chapter of his life, empowering him to survive the beatings of the Giant Despair.
We all appreciate the great testimony of a sufferer named Fannie Crosby, whose hymns have brought strength to so many.
There’s another hymn writer who also suffered from blindness, though not as well known.
I thought I’d end our study today by introducing you to him.
When he was only a teenager, he learned that his poor eyesight was going to deteriorate until he could no longer see. The diagnosis was discouraging, but not defeating. George Matheson continued on with his studies at Glasgow University in his native Scotland.
He graduated from the College when he was nineteen, but when he pressed on in his graduate studies, the prognosis became reality and at the age of 20, in 1852, George Matheson became totally blind.
His sisters joined ranks with him, learning Greek and Hebrew so they could assist him in his studies and pressed on. In spite of the crushing news when his fiancé returned her engagement ring, stating that she was unwilling to marry a blind man.
George never married . . . the pain of that rejection never totally left him. But he entered the ministry and served in the pastorate for 31 years. He became rather famous – this blind preacher. Queen Victoria often invited him to preach to the royal court. In fact, she paid to have his sermons on Job published.
However, after his youngest sister married, leaving him entirely alone at last, he became overwhelmed with sorrow.
Instead of languishing alone, he instead sat down and wrote the words to a poem that since have become a famous hymn of the church.
But more than that – they reflect the keys of promise that kept him from self-pity and defeat;
O love, that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths
Its flow may richer, fuller be.
O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.
Robert J Morgan, Then Sings My Soul (Thomas Nelson, 2003), p. 207 & Wikipedia.com
That’s how you escape Doubting Castle; that’s how you flee from a Giant named Despair.