Having worked through the first cycle of speeches in Job 4-14 we now move to the second cycle of speeches in Job 15-21. It was the older, patient, and friendly Eliphaz who began cycle 1 in chapters 4-5, it is now the angry, impatient, and offended Eliphaz who begins cycle 2 in chapter 15. His response to Job comes to us in two large sections. First in 15:1-16 Eliphaz rebukes Job for his foolish words and calls him a man who has drunken injustice down like water. Second, in 15:17-35 Eliphaz begins by saying he will counsel Job but ends up just continuing the rebuke calling him a wicked man who fears the consequences of his wickedness and who will have a horrific fate from his wickedness. So we have options here before us as to how we’d like to view this second speech from Eliphaz. Whether we want to see this chapter as one large rebuke to Job or whether we to see it as two sections that both serve to rebuke Job, the same thing is in view. Eliphaz has one point to make, namely, Job is a wicked man, and because he is a wicked man he must be warned of what comes to the wicked in life and in death. This is the agenda of Eliphaz in Job 15.
Job’s Words are Empty (v1-3)
“Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said: Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind?”
With all this wind talk about Job’s own words Eliphaz is making a point. Job is in all his knowledge, as we would say, full of hot air. The east wind referred to in v2 would have been for them a wind coming to them from out of the desert, which would’ve been very hot and unpleasant and unfruitful because it wouldn’t have brought any rain to them. In the same way Job’s words are themselves unpleasant and unfruitful because they’re not bringing anyone any kind of good.
Eliphaz’s words about Job’s words here remind me of the usefulness of drinking saltwater when one is thirsty. I think at one point or another we all come to the point where we learn about this. I remember as a kid being out in the ocean and after playing for a time I was becoming thirsty and thought about drinking the water. So I asked my parents if that was ok and they then told me that the water would actually do the opposite of what I wanted and make me thirstier and would dry me out even more. When children here this there is an immediate shock that so much water can’t do anything to quench our thirst. Eliphaz is saying that Job may think his words are helpful and true but the more he talks the more damage he does to those hearing his words.
Job’s Words are Dangerous (v4-6)
“But you are doing away with the fear of God and hindering meditation before God. For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; your own lips testify against you.”
Job is, Eliphaz thinks, hindering pure and proper religion. This is what’s in view when he speaks of ‘meditation’ before God. It’s the way of life for the holy and godly ones. By speaking like he is Job is doing away with the fear of God, which, if true would be a very dangerous effect of his words. Perhaps v4 is the Old Testament equivalent to Jesus’ own words when He says in Luke 17:1-2, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Eliphaz no doubt, thinks Job’s words are such stumbling blocks for all that hear them. But he goes on in v5-6 speaking of the source of Job’s words, placing their origin in Job’s sin which causes him to speak as he does. Thus, Job’s mouth is the very thing that condemns him, not Eliphaz.
Job’s Words are Haughty (v7-13)
“Are you the first man who was born? Or were you brought forth before the hills? Have you listened in the council of God? And do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know? What do you understand that is not clear to us? Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us, older than your father. Are the comforts of God too small for you, or the word that deals gently with you? Why does your heart carry you away, and why do your eyes flash, that you turn your spirit against God and bring such words out of your mouth?”
Perhaps you’ve heard an older person refer to them being ‘as old as the hills’ seeming to imply that their as old, or older even, than the earth itself. This is what Eliphaz thinks Job’s words say, that he is a kind of original creation of God before anything else was in existence, better than all else that followed after.Ironically Eliphaz uses the same argument to shame Job in v8-10 saying that he ought to remember that they’re older than he is and not be surprised that they also know things as well. This is why he references his gray hair, that Job most likely does not share with them. As he continues on in v11-13 Eliphaz asks Job some more questions. If the counsel and truth of God (that he is so wonderfully and clearly presenting to Job at the moment) is good enough and for everyone else, and good enough for them in their old age, why are they not good for Job? It must be that Job’s heart (read there, Job’s sinful heart) has carried him away off into folly which has caused his whole being to move into wickedness. Now, his eyes flash, his soul turns against God, and his mouth opens as the floodgate of folly rolls outward onto all nearby.
Job’s Words are Filthy to God (v14-16)
“What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous? Behold, Godputs no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water!”
In v14 Eliphaz levels the playing field saying all men born in this life are impure and unrighteous. In fact in v15, God is so holy that even the angels and heavenly host aren’t pure either. If this is all true, what hope does Job have? Here in what could be Eliphaz’s final thoughts for Job in this first section, he makes something of a concluding statement that captures the essence of what Eliphaz was trying to say all along. ‘If all the rest of the entire creation isn’t as holy as God is, how can you be Job? You aren’t. But by claiming to be you show yourself to be abominable and corrupt, or vile, filthy, and repulsive to God. Injustice isn’t something you do once in a while, it is as normal for you as drinking water.’
As we prepare to enter into the remainder of this chapter, notice what comes into view in v17-35. In v17-19 there is a common refrain we’ve seen in these speeches before. After the initial outburst of rebuke there then comes a shift when the speaker will stop rebuking and begin instructing. This is what Eliphaz says he will do in v17-19. “I will show you; hear me, and what I have seen I will declare (what wise men have told, without hiding it from their fathers, to whom alone the land was given, and no stranger passed among them).” Remember Eliphaz was the one with the spooky night vision in chapter 4-5 that we concluded was really a Satanic visitation filling his mind and heart with falsehood. Here the same Eliphaz says he will once again declare what he has seen. And again, what he’s about to say goes back farther than just him. v18-19 are a strange couple of sentences that can be taken a few ways. It seems to be that these ‘wise men’ began life as they now know it. And the teaching coming down to them from these wise men is pure because first they told it to the ‘fathers’ and second they didn’t allow a stranger of doctrine to come into their land. I do think that’s the gist of v18-19.
As to what the wise men taught, Eliphaz will now unfold. And it comes down to two things from v20-35, the fears of the wicked and the fate of the wicked. Let’s read this final section in its totality. “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days, through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless. Dreadful sounds are in his ears; in prosperity the destroyer will come upon him. He does not believe that he will return out of darkness, and he is marked for the sword. He wanders abroad for bread, saying, ‘Where is it?’ He knows that a day of darkness is ready at his hand; distress and anguish terrify him; they prevail against him, like a king ready for battle. Because he has stretched out his hand against God and defies the Almighty, running stubbornly against him with a thickly bossed shield; because he has covered his face with his fat and gathered fat upon his waist and has lived in desolate cities, in houses that none should inhabit, which were ready to become heaps of ruins; he will not be rich, and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the earth; he will not depart from darkness; the flame will dry up his shoots, and by the breath of his mouth he will depart. Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself, for emptiness will be his payment. It will be paid in full before his time, and his branch will not be green. He will shake off his unripe grape like the vine, and cast off his blossom like the olive tree. For the company of the godless is barren, and fire consumes the tents of bribery. They conceive trouble and give birth to evil, and their womb prepares deceit.”
Nowhere in this final section does Eliphaz say Job is this wicked man. But by discussing the fears and fate of the wicked after calling Job wicked in v1-16 it is crystal clear who he is referring to here. Which, in a way, makes this a certain kind of instructive warning to Job. Namely that this is what is before if he continues in his sin. v20–24 focus on the anticipation of dire fate, for “the wicked man is forever plagued by an awareness of his doom; he lives continually with the signs of Death and his attendant forces waiting to consume” him.It’s as if his sin will cause him to be a wanderer going around scavenging for food and brings him endless anxiety and distress. Eliphaz has listened well, Job throughout the past has described himself like this in many places throughout his own speeches in cycle one and so Eliphaz states here that if Job feels like this than the origin of his pain is his own evil. Continuing on, in v25-27 Job may say he is a warrior fighting against these things but in reality he has been fighting against God and has gained the double chin and heavy belly of a rich man whose eaten too much food in his ease and luxury.Thus, bankruptcy, darkness, emptiness, and fruitlessness are before him because he has not only done wickedness himself, he keeps a wicked company as well which will only produce more wickedness to come in the years ahead.
Therefore, because of his sin, Job’s life will be full subjective doom and will end in objective doom as the judgment of God heavily comes down on him. Ash ends his commentary with the following words. “The lesson of The System (that Eliphaz and friends are putting forward) is simple: your current state proves you are a sinner. Wherever grace is denied, cruelty follows. It is this harsh, grace-free system that Job is challenging with his insistence that his sufferings are undeserved. Let us learn from Eliphaz to recognize the natural man’s objections to grace and take great care not to let the grace leach out of our teaching and our convictions. It is frightening how you and I can hear ourselves saying what the comforters say and how close they are not only to religions like Islam but also to some so-called Biblical Christianity. The more we find ourselves in sympathy with the comforters, the less we have really grasped the gospel of grace.”
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 178.