The Self-righteousness of Job
How could a man so right have been so wrong?

Imagine for a moment that you are approaching the end of your days and a short biography has been prepared in honor of your life. And it says this: He was Ivy League educated and graduated at the top of his class. He was the husband of one and father of many. Strict and devout in his religion, he was morally upright and pure. In business, he was wildly successful—ranching, engineering and building. He was fabulously wealthy, yet gracious and benevolent, famous for his philanthropy and service. He fought for the poor and disadvantaged, was wise and judicious, authoritative and eloquent. This man loved people. He loved goodness, equity and service. He was the greatest man of his day.

Not many people would be disappointed with a résumé like that. And yet, that could have been Job’s biography before he turned to God in humble repentance. The Bible begins Job’s biography by describing him as “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1).

Job was the most righteous man of his day—perfect and upright, the Bible says—famous and well liked for his many good deeds. He used his great power and wealth to help the disadvantaged—the poor, the fatherless and the widows. He even used his tremendous power and influence to destroy pagan forms of worship.

But the problem with Job was that he knew he was righteous—and this made him horribly self-righteous. His sin of self-righteousness was—and still is—the most difficult sin there is to see. Though Job was “perfect and upright” in the way he observed the strict letter of God’s law, he was neglecting the spirit of the law—he was full of vanity and pride.

Because of this, as we read in the book of Job, God allowed him to go through a horrendous period of trial and test in order to help him see himself clearly in relation to God!

Job’s Righteousness

Job may have been the most righteous man to ever live up to that point. But, early on in the account, we learn that there was something very wrong with his righteousness.

Notice Job 1:4: “And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.” Job’s children were evidently very much enjoying the high life—made possible, no doubt, by their father’s prosperity. They were partying so much that Job felt it necessary to offer up burnt offerings on their behalf continually (verse 5). Notice Job did this rather than confront them about their behavior.

Verses 6-8 reveal that Satan and his demons walk to and fro across the Earth looking for those they can deceive—but there are limits to their power. These verses and others throughout the book of Job prove that there is no contest between God and Satan! God’s purpose was and always is moving forward precisely according to His plan—He alone is in control.

God told Satan he could destroy all of Job’s wealth—even his children—but that he couldn’t touch Job himself (verse 12). Satan cannot take his attacks any further than God allows. In the case of this very sore trial Job was about to experience, God did allow it. Why? God used Satan to chasten Job for good reason: Job was self-righteous.

In verse 13 we find the children again feasting and partying, and God allowed Satan to strike them dead (verse 19).

At this point in the trial, Job recognized that it was God who gave him those many blessings, and God who took them away (verses 20-22). Job knew exactly what to say—he even had a right attitude, judging by the words recorded here.

But all this only added to his deep-seated problem of self-righteousness.

In Job 2, God allowed Satan to lash out at Job personally—striking him with sore boils from head to toe. This time, God brought it up with Satan—further illustrating that Satan was just a tool to bring about God’s purpose.

Notice verse 3: “And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.”

In saying Job still held fast his integrity, God was hinting at the problem. But Satan did not recognize it because he too is self-righteous. He doesn’t see his own self-righteousness—and he didn’t recognize it in Job.

So God allowed Satan to lash out at Job personally, but without actually killing him. Notice what happened: “Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (verses 9-10).

No wonder Satan kept her alive! She was one of Satan’s most faithful allies. But while it’s not hard to point the finger at Job’s wife, it couldn’t have been easy living with a man like Job.

She lived with a man who was absolutely obsessed with himself. He certainly had a long list of accomplishments, but that would have only made the problem worse at home. He probably talked about them often.

In fact, there were many times when Job simply would not stop talking. He was a learned man, but then when he opened his mouth, it became clear that it was all about himself.

By the end of chapter 2, we see that Job’s sin didn’t show itself outwardly, but on the inside Job just couldn’t understand why he, of all people, would be tried and tested with such sternness and severity.

Carnal Counsel

During Job’s trial, his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar came to console him (Job 2:11). After seven days of sitting in mournful silence with them, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth (Job 3:1-3).

At the beginning of his trial, Job had maintained the appearance of righteousness. “[T]he Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,” he said philosophically. But by chapter 3, we find him so depressed he wished he were dead!

The next 30 chapters of the story recite the dialogue that followed between Job and his three friends. None of these counselors, however, provided God’s solution to Job’s problem, which is why God eventually corrected them. They could only accuse Job of being guilty of some obvious, visible sin, even though they themselves didn’t know what it was. Still, they pointed to Job’s curses as proof of Job’s sin.

Eliphaz pointed out that correction from God should be counted as a blessing (Job 5:17). On this specific point, Eliphaz was right.

Of all people, Job should have known that God loves those whom He corrects. But notice Job’s response: “Oh that my grief were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up” (Job 6:2-3).

Job’s first answer to the counsel his friends provided was to say, I only wish people could see how much I suffer! His mind was totally on himself.

Where is the love for a friend who is suffering? Job asked (verse 14). At this point in the story, our central figure had fallen into the throes of a bitter depression.

Job’s friends continued to insist that his calamity must have come about because of sin, yet when Job demanded they show him where he had erred, they couldn’t point out one mistake he had made (verse 24). Job was right about all of his righteousness—at least on the surface. This shows we can be so right, yet still be horribly wrong!

In Job 8, Bildad thought he would come to the rescue. Quit talking and start repenting, Bildad said (verses 1-2). If you just repent, God will restore all the blessings you seek. The problem with Bildad’s counsel was that he still didn’t identify Job’s sin. Job couldn’t truly repent without first acknowledging his sin.

Self-righteousness, however, is one of the hardest sins to see. In Job 9:20-22, Job says, “Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse. I am blameless; I regard not myself; I loathe my life. It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (Revised Standard Version).

Have we ever qualified our “repentance” with something like this? I’m sorry—I guess—though I’m not sure what I did.

By saying “though I am innocent”—or, even though I’m right—Job was actually criticizing God for administering correction on a perfect person! This was the only conclusion he could draw because of how self-righteous he was.

He goes on: “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no umpire between us, who might lay his hand upon us both” (verses 32-33; rsv). Imagine lamenting over the fact that there is no judge to judge between you and God! Who did Job think he was?

I’m wearing out, God. Just show me where I am wrong, Job went on (Job 10:1-2). This is a common reaction to correction. Well, where did that come from? I didn’t even do anything wrong.

In verse 7, Job said, “Thou knowest that I am not wicked; and there is none that can deliver out of thine hand.” You know that I’m not wicked? Was that really Job’s response? Notice: “If I sin, then thou markest me, and thou wilt not acquit me from mine iniquity. If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction” (verses 14-15).

Job was confused because, in his mind, he hadn’t done anything wrong! It’s not like he detested the thought of being corrected. He welcomed correction—if he was proven wrong. He just never thought he was wrong! That’s the way self-righteous individuals think: Look, I’m not opposed to correction. But you’ve got to show me where I am wrong first.

Next came Zophar. He reminded Job of some of his statements and rehashed some of the advice the others had offered.

Job answered, “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?” (Job 12:2-3).

The battle here is between four know-it-alls. These three friends, while they may have been in awe of Job’s level of righteousness, had the same problem Job did. They were all self-righteous.

Job, who had sought his friends for counsel and correction, now took this as an opportunity to correct them—even while struggling through the worst trial of his life! (Job 13:1-3).

Even when suffering, Job seemed so impressed with his righteousness. But Job wasn’t the only one impressed with his own righteousness—the people who knew Job also stood in awe of his uprightness and talent (Job 29:8-10). And Job rather liked it! He liked it because he was in awe of himself!

In chapter 29, for example, Job uses I, me or my 52 times. Fifty-two times in just 25 verses—that amounts to more than two per verse. Job was obsessed with himself!

But God says in Isaiah 64:6 that our own righteousness is like filthy rags compared to His. Job couldn’t see how filthy and ugly he was compared to God.

In an article titled “What’s So Bad About Self-Righteousness,” Gerald Flurry wrote, “We all have a certain amount of self-righteousness in us; that is just the way we are. We have to get rid of it. Humanly it is almost impossible for us to do good deeds and not have a slightly self-righteous kickback from it” (Royal Vision, July-August 1998).

God sums up Job’s problem with these words in Job 32:1: “So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” None of the counsel helped because Job was righteous in his own eyes. He was horribly self-righteous.

Elihu’s Counsel

In Job 32, Elihu enters the scene. His anger was kindled, it says, because Job put himself above God. He was angry with the three counselors because all they did was criticize Job without getting to the cause of the problem (verses 2-3). They condemned Job without really answering his self-justification. All four of them were condemning God by their attitudes and actions!

Elihu was the youngest of the group and waited to speak last out of respect for his elders (verse 4). He was young, but God was behind him, working with his human spirit—inspiring and enlightening him. It is the Spirit of God, after all, that gives understanding—not human reasoning (verses 8-9).

Job thought he was doing everything right. But by maintaining his innocence even as God was correcting him, Job showed that he thought he was greater than God. So God inspired Elihu to give Job proper perspective (Job 33:8-12).

Why are you striving against God? Elihu asked (verse 13). Job had it backward. Job was like potter’s clay talking back to the potter (Isaiah 29:16).

“Hear my words,” Elihu says in Job 34. “For Job hath said, I am righteous: and God hath taken away my judgment” (verses 2, 5). Imagine saying, I am righteous to the I am!

You see, Job’s error was not so much some secret sin he was hiding (although he certainly had some issues at home); his big problem was that he gave credit to himself and not to God for all of his righteous deeds!

Paul told us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), but that doesn’t mean it’s accomplished by our own power or might. We can’t pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps and make it into God’s Kingdom.

Everything that saves us comes from God. Jesus Christ paid the penalty of scourging and death for us—because of our sins. Beyond that, it is God’s Spirit that impregnates us with eternal life. Without that, we have no life! We cannot possibly give ourselves life beyond the temporary flesh-and-blood existence we now have, and even that is given to us by God.

But here’s the thing: We have to seek God while He may be found. We have to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. We have to surrender to God in humility and submission. We have to turn to God in repentance and faith. And we have to start obeying God and His laws. Job didn’t do this.

Elihu continues in Job 34:10, “Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.” It’s not God who is doing wickedness and practicing iniquity. It’s man! But man wants to flip that concept upside down.

“Job hath spoken without knowledge, and his words were without wisdom,” Elihu continued in verse 35. “My desire is that Job may be tried unto the end because of his answers for wicked men. For he addeth rebellion unto his sin, he clappeth his hands among us, and multiplieth his words against God” (verses 36-37).

This must have been hard for Job to take. Not only was he completely absorbed in himself—justifying himself rather than God—but then he added rebellion to his sin.

God defines rebellion as simply going your own way—thinking your own thoughts instead of thinking like God. The way God sees it, taking even one step away from His law is rebellious.

Job actually held his own righteousness in higher esteem than God’s (Job 35:1-2). Elihu did not mince words in telling Job what the cause of his turmoil really was: his own vanity.

All of Job’s words were vanity—and God doesn’t waste His time listening to vain words (verse 13). “If you are righteous,” Elihu asked in verse 7, “what good is that, really, to God?” Job was so proud of his accomplishments that he believed God’s Work would grind to a halt without him.

Of course God does use human beings to do His Work, but it’s not because He can’t do it without us. God doesn’t need us to do the Work—we need God to do His Work! Our own righteousness cannot contribute to the Work of God.

Even Jesus Christ said, “[T]here is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17). He understood how meaningless and worthless the human condition is without God.

In Job 36 and 37, Elihu went on to magnify our great God. Job may have known and even applied the strict letter of God’s law, but he fell far short of knowing the magnificent wonder of the great Creator God.

The other three friends spoke of God’s right to bring punishment upon sinners, but they couldn’t identify the cause of Job’s trouble. They couldn’t pinpoint his sin.

By contrast, Elihu spoke of God’s superabundant love and mercy—and His willingness to give salvation to those who turn to Him in repentance.

God’s Counsel

Finally, God addressed Job in chapter 38: “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (verses 1-2). God didn’t have a very high opinion of Job’s first three counselors.

At that time, Job was a brilliant architect. Yet here, God says he didn’t even have knowledge! He had plenty of engineering skills and other special abilities, but he didn’t have enough of the right kind of knowledge. And the knowledge he did have just puffed him up!

Notice verses 3-4: “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.”

Job may have built great pyramids, but God built the universe. Job made the mistake of comparing himself with other men, and he ended up getting a big head. We must compare our works to the works of God—not men (2 Corinthians 10:12).

God continues: “Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:5-7).

God said, I don’t care if you’ve built 50 million structures and given $50 million to the poor. Next to God, that is just filthy rags.

God could tilt the Earth a few degrees in either direction and wipe out mankind with a cataclysmic flood (verses 8-11). Do you, little man, run the master clock that is the universe—or do I? God asked (verse 12). Job thought he knew so much. But how much knowledge did he really have?

You think you know all the answers? God said (verses 17-18). Go ahead then, answer me!

Mr. Armstrong wrote the following in an article titled “Why Must Men Suffer?”: “[B]y the time God finished, Job’s estimation of himself was exactly nil. All through his conversation with his three friends, Job stoutly maintained his own righteousness—his self-importance! Even though Satan had taken away his wealth, his children—even though reduced to a pitiful sight, covered with nauseating boils—Job’s own righteousness he stoutly maintained!

“Job was able to maintain his case against Satan—against his friends. But now he could not answer God! Job’s trouble was not what he had done, but what he wasself-righteous! The self in Job had never died!” (Plain Truth, October 1957).

Job’s Repentance

Job answers God in chapter 42: “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee” (verse 2). While Job had said these things before, he didn’t really mean it. He didn’t believe it from the heart. I didn’t understand what I was saying before, he finally admitted (verse 3). He had been deceived by his own vanity. This was the first time Job humbly admitted he simply did not know.

Just like this world, Job had a false image of God (verses 4-5). At last Job repents of his wrong attitude (compare verse 6 to Job 13:1). He finally saw himself clearly and in comparison to God.

As Job’s friends began to blame Job, he tried to maintain his own righteousness instead of God’s, which gets to the core of Job’s problem! This strikes right at the heart and core of Satan’s deception. He wants you to get to the point where you don’t really see yourself for what you are. The lesson of Job proves it is possible to be right, technically speaking, yet horribly wrong.

We all must fight against this satanic mindset and turn to God in repentance, like Job, whose name actually means repentant.

Everything changed for the better—and dramatically so—once Job finally turned to God in humble repentance. In the end, after Job got his mind off himself and onto others, God blessed him with twice as much as he had before.

“Behold, we count them happy which endure,” it says in James 5:11. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”