In the introduction to the book of Job in the 1560 Geneva Bible we find the following paragraph, “In this history is set before our eyes the example of a singular patience. For this holy man Job was not only extremely afflicted in outward things and in his body, but also in his mind and conscience, by the sharp temptations of his wife, and chief friends; which, by their vehement words and subtle disputations, brought him almost to despair…These friends came unto him under pretense of consolation, and yet they tormented him more than did all his affliction. Notwithstanding he did constantly resist them, and at length had good success.”
Now that the initial narrative of chapters 1-2 and Job’s initial lament in chapter 3 are behind us we come at last to the moment when Job’s friends speak up. It begins in chapter 4 and ends in chapter 27. Eliphaz speaks and Job replies. Bildad then speaks and Job replies. Zophar then speaks and Job replies. This repetition or cycle of communication is then repeated a second time and then a third time, and as they progress through these cycles it’s apparent that the friends are not running out of words (they’re speeches do get shorter) but running out of patience with Job (the speeches do grow more pointed).Therefore even though they’ve come to be with their despairing friend and even though his appearance makes them very sad, Job’s words make them very angry.Which, in turn, causes Job’s responses to grow more pointed as well.
Most people already know, by and large, that these friends will not alleviate any of Job’s suffering but will do the exact opposite, adding to it.They have no honesty, for they don’t see the world as it really is. They have no sympathy, for they don’t try to understand Job’s plight. They have no love, for they don’t seek to hear Job at all. They do not believe in Satan, for they have no place for spiritual forces of evil. They have no concept of a delayed judgment, for they believe the good receive blessing and the wicked receive punishment immediately. Lastly, they have no cross. Or in other words, because they believe the good receive blessing and the wicked receive judgment now, they have no place for innocent suffering. Yet though their words are not helpful or encouraging to Job in his despair, we do find their words included in Scripture. So we must sit back and ask, why? Why has God desired us to hear from Job’s friends? Because, we have much to learn from them.
Let me now ask you to do something you’ll find very difficult to do. Don’t do with these friends what they do with Job. Try to hear them, try to understand them, try to see Job and his suffering as they see him and his suffering. By doing this, you’ll see not only how many true things they do indeed say, but how they terribly misapply them to Job.
So, to Eliphaz we turn. Eliphaz is the first friend to speak up and this is likely because he is the oldest among the three friends come to give counsel. When he begins speaking it may surprise us to see such gentleness used. In 4:2-5 he begins, “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? Yet who can keep from speaking? Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed.” Eliphaz doesn’t want to be rude or force himself in where he isn’t welcome, but remember he hasn’t come all the way from Teman to sit back and remain quiet. He has clearly come to remind Job of what they believe, but from the way Job is speaking Eliphaz simply feels there are things that must be said. He reminds Job that just as he used to instruct many, strengthening the weak and upholding the falling with his wisdom fit for the occasion, so too Eliphaz will now do with him while Job is in a state of despair and sorrow (which Eliphaz interprets as impatience and dismay).
Notice then where Eliphaz goes in v6-7, “Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope? Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” In v6 it seems he is really trying to encourage Job here, pointing to his continued faith in and fear of God. But then he quickly snatches any hope away in v7 by saying it’s only the guilty who perish and are cut off. Here we must pause. v7 is a verse to file away in your memory as we continue throughout the rest of these speeches. This verse shows us what the theology of Job’s friends really is. Who is it that receives blessing and prosperity in this life? Only the innocent. Who is it that suffers and perishes in this life? Only the guilty. In other words, God only gives good things to good people.I do think Eliphaz is strangely trying to encourage Job saying he is still alive because at the root he is a godly good man. But what Eliphaz seems to overlook is that his words imply massive things about Job’s children and servants. That they’re dead, according to this thinking, would mean they weren’t good godly people at all and they got what they deserved.
Before Job has the chance to chime in and say ‘What?!’ Eliphaz continues to expand on this theme in v8-11 saying, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, the teeth of the young lions are broken. The strong lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.” To Eliphaz this is simply how it is in the moral order of God’s world. He uses an illustration of five different kinds of lions in v10-11 to prove this saying that although the wicked may roar like a lion they will perish and be scattered.What he has to say here will be true in the end of all things after the judgment of God is carried out, but Eliphaz seems to believe this will be true even now. This is unhelpful, but do you know why? Because he’s missing the category in his theology of the chaotic fallen world we live in. In a fallen world the opposite of what he’s saying may be true. The wicked may prosper and the good may perish. He doesn’t believe that can happen, and by reminding Job of these things it’s as if he’s reminding Job of what they both believe to encourage him in the present condition.
Then in 4:12-16 Eliphaz gets strange. I say he gets strange because he begins proving his point to Job by telling him of a certain mystical vision he had in the night. In v12-16 he describes it, “Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it. Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice…” At this point I want to pause and call this what it is, baloney. Anyone who wants to prove a theological point by using a dreadful vision in the night is usually not someone you should trust. Personal subjective experience may be powerful, but it should never be the data or criteria we collect and use to prove our objective theological beliefs. Christopher Ash comments here saying, “What an extraordinary buildup. And yet it is deeply ambiguous. Unlike the oracles given to some of the prophets in visions of the night, there is no clear indication of the source of this vision or of the one who speaks. Eliphaz may imply that this is supernatural and therefore authoritative, but the author of the book subverts that claim and makes us suspect that something less positive is going on here.”
We as the readers are wondering at this point, what did the voice say to him in this vision? In v17-21 we have the answer. “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth. Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?” Anyone see what’s going on here? Apparently the form or spirit that glided past Eliphaz’s face in this vision believed the exact same thing Eliphaz always has. Ironic, isn’t it? That those in positions of power often use unprovable subjective mystical experiences with the supernatural to keep their positions of power over people. You only have to open a history book to see this is how many of the world’s religions/cults were begun. Siddhartha Gautama, Mohammed, and Joseph Smith did the same and from their personal experience we now have Hinduism, Islam, and Mormonism. Well with all that put to the side, think about what Eliphaz says in v17-21. We’ve heard something like this before in Job 1-3 haven’t we? No man and no woman on the planet is ever right with God, or could ever be. Somewhere deep down that person is lying and hiding some kind of secret sin that they don’t want exposed and if we looked hard enough we’d see it clearly. Even more so, all the angelic host is in the same category too. This is what the night vision implies doesn’t it? It’s frightful to notice that the same argument was used by Satan in chapter 1-2 concerning Job, that he really wasn’t right with God but a lying and hiding sinner. We saw Job’s wife say the same thing and now by saying the same thing himself Eliphaz becomes the next spokesman of the devil. Which lets us know by implication that the dreadful vision he had in the night was an encounter with the devil himself.
After pointing this out to Job with such powerful and rhetorical statements Eliphaz give his counsel to Job in 5:1, “Call now; is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” Because man’s condition is so poor before God Eliphaz believes there is no one among the holy ones who could be a mediator between God and man, and even if we try no one will answer. He continues this in v2-5, “Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple. I have seen the fool taking root, but suddenly I cursed his dwelling. His children are far from safety; they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them. The hungry eat his harvest, and he takes it even out of thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth.” In other words Eliphaz, after all this, is telling Job to not get all bent out of shape about trying to understand what happened to him because we can’t penetrate the heavens to find out reasons why things happen the way they do. ‘Fools do this,’ says Eliphaz, ‘and you know how fools end up, everyone around them is destroyed and cut off. You and I, Job, are not fools, do not give in to this.’Then in v6-7 he gives somewhat of a concluding statement about Job’s condition. “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Why has all this come into Job’s life? Why does he suffer so extremely? According to Eliphaz it’s because man is born to it in this world. We must be realistic about that.
Because of all these things, Eliphaz will now counsel Job to be humble (v8-16) and submissive to God’s ways for his own good (v17-27). Hear what he says in this last section, “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night. But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine he will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword. You shall be hidden from the lash of the tongue, and shall not fear destruction when it comes. At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth. For you shall be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you. You shall know that your tent is at peace, and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing. You shall know also that your offspring shall be many, and your descendants as the grass of the earth. You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season. Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. Hear, and know it for your good.”
Or in other words, ‘Yes Job, God (the God who is great, unsearchable, and marvelous – that God) disciplines people for their own good. There is hope and restoration coming if you hang on to the end. This is something webelieve, and you would be good to remember it.’ In an ironic twist of events Eliphaz ends where he began, being Satan’s mouthpiece once again. Job should, according to Eliphaz, fear God and rest easy during this hard time. Why? Because in the end there is blessing coming. Eliphaz encourages Job to fear God for the exact same reason Satan said Job feared Him, for His blessings and benefits, rather than because God is God.
So what do we make of this? We want to agree and disagree with Eliphaz here. We agree that we do indeed reap what we sow in this life, and that godly choices often bring blessing and wicked choices often bring disaster. But we disagree as well, we do not always reap what we sow. Sometimes godly people do godly things and reap disaster and sometimes evil people make wicked choices and reap blessing in this world. This is the case for all mankind in our fallen world. And it is this fact that ultimately points us to the One whom Eliphaz’s theology has no room for. Job’s disastrous reaping and righteous sowing foreshadow Jesus Christ, the true innocent one who sowed a life of sinlessness and reaped death on the cross, for us. Eliphaz, in all his wisdom, shows us nothing but worldly wisdom while Job in his suffering, shows us gospel wisdom.
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 87.
David Atkinson, Job – BST, page 39.
I could expand on this point, but I won’t. Rather I’ll let these friends teach us as we follow their words throughout this section.
Acts 28:4 is another example of this belief among those in Malta.
Paul quotes this verse in 1 Cor. 3:19 to prove a similar point.