Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Job 4, 5: Eliphaz Speaks

After Job lamented his condition, Eliphaz spoke his mind. This post looks at this speech. It is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.

Before looking at what Eliphaz said, I want to layout the structure of the book of Job from here on.

The Cycles of Speeches

Job chapters 4:1 - 26:4 contain three speech cycles:

  1. Eliphaz - Job, Bildad - Job, Zophar - Job
  2. Eliphaz - Job, Bildad - Job, Zophar - Job
  3. Eliphaz - Job, Bildad - Job

As you can see, Zophar only speaks twice. Bildad's last speech is very abbreviated--indeed you can see him begin the to rev up and then he shuts down. It is the book's way to communicate that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar run out of ideas concerning Job's situation.

What follows Job's last response to Bildad is interesting, important, and subtle. It is as subtle as it is true. The book takes on an unusual character after the final Bildad - Job exchange. Most translations continue to ascribe Job 26:5-14 to Job, but the tone does not support this. After you have gotten to know the tones in which Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Job speak, and then read Job 26:5-14, you will find yourself asking, "Who is speaking here?" The tone is different. It has neither the accusations of the three friends nor the questioning and despair of Job. Furthermore, Job 27:1 begins, "And Job took up his discourse again." as if Job had not been speaking. 

The same thing happens at Job 28:1-28. The section sounds like its from none of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, or Job. Job 29:1 then reads, "Then Job continued his speech" as if he had been interrupted.

My theory about this relates to literary form. How might a story end that begins, "Once upon a time..." Most of you have answered, "And they lived happily ever after." Literary forms are part of culture and they help define meaning in tales and stories. But Job is some of the oldest literature that we have and it may not conform to our literary structures.

The third cycle of speeches create a crisis for the reader. Eliphaz had stooped to slander. Bildad cut his speech short, because the past had no more to offer. Zophar, never having had an original idea, was speechless. In the meantime, Job had provided evidence that the wicked often prosper and the innocent often suffer. Furthermore, Job wanted a hearing before God in the worst way and was convinced he would come out on top. The sensitive and understanding reader might, in the words Francis Schaeffer might say, descend below the line of despair. All seems lost. At this moment, the author relieves pressure. In other words, Job 26:5-14 are the author's foreshadowing of a good end and Job 28:1-28 tells us that the very value system by which Job and his friends have judged the situation is wrong. It is my opinion that such intrusions were part of the literary genre of Job's day. 

Job's final soliloquy from Job 29:1-30:40 reveal his inner soul and his need.

Elihu, an unannounced newcomer, changes the tone of the dialog and prepares the way for the speeches of the Lord in Job 38-41.

Eliphaz

If we were to take the last lines of Job's lament and match them with the last lines of Eliphaz's first speech, Job and his friends might have had a civil discussion:

Job: "For my sighing comes in place of my food, and my groanings flow forth like water. For the thing that I dreaded has happened to me, and what I feared has come upon me. I have no ease, I have no quietness; I cannot rest; trouble has come upon me."

Eliphaz: "Therefore, blessed is the man whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also bandages; he strikes, but his hands also heal. He will deliver you from six calamities; yes, in seven no evil will touch you."

Unfortunately, Job began irrationally and Eliphaz was irritable anyway. So Eliphaz also began with an outburst and moved to a more sensible position. By then the damage was done:

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “If someone should attempt a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can refrain from speaking? (Job 4:1-2, The Net Bible)

Are these the first words that one should speak to a man who has lost children, property, health, and the respect of his wife? What ever happened to, "Job, I am so sorry this has come upon you! What can we do to help?" But the words of Eliphaz came from judgment and not compassion, "who can refrain from speaking." 

"Will you be impatient?" Eliphaz assumed a negative response from Job, he knew that what he was about to say would be tough.

Look, you have instructed many, you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled, and you have strengthened the knees that gave way. But now the same thing comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are terrified. Is not your piety your confidence, and your blameless ways your hope? (Job 4:3-6)

Eliphaz went on to tell Job that he was making too big a deal out of the circumstances. If Job applied the same counsel to himself as he had to others, he should feel much better:

Call to mind now: Who, being innocent, ever perished? And where were upright people ever destroyed? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. There is the roaring of the lion and the growling of the young lion, but the teeth of the young lions are broken. The mighty lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered. (Job 4:7-11)

But then Eliphaz connected suffering with wickedness. It is the beginning of the transition that would ultimately accuse Job of wickedness. At this point, we can imagine that Job's body language balked at where Eliphaz was going, because Eliphaz appeals to a vision that he had in the night. Here is the vision:

Now a word was secretly brought to me, and my ear caught a whisper of it. In the troubling thoughts of the dreams in the night when a deep sleep falls on men, a trembling gripped me—and a terror!— and made all my bones shake. Then a breath of air passes by my face; it makes the hair of my flesh stand up. It stands still, but I cannot recognize its appearance; an image is before my eyes, and I hear a murmuring voice: “Is a mortal man righteous before God? Or a man pure before his Creator? If God puts no trust in his servants and attributes folly to his angels, how much more to those who live in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like a moth? They are destroyed from morning to evening; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their excess wealth taken away from them? They die, yet without attaining wisdom." (Job 4:12-21)

We must wonder who this dark specter was that so counseled Eliphaz in the night. This is, again, a dark word to give to a man such as Job. But on the basis of this vision, Eliphaz then challenged Job:

Call now! Is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? For wrath kills the foolish person, and anger slays the silly one. I myself have seen the fool taking root, but suddenly I cursed his place of residence. His children are far from safety, and they are crushed at the place of judgment, nor is there anyone to deliver them. The hungry eat up his harvest, and take it even out of the thorns, and the thirsty swallow up their fortune. For evil does not come up from the dust, nor does trouble spring up from the ground, but people are born to trouble, as surely as the sparks fly upward. (Job 5:1-7)

Here is where things get bad. Let's translate Elpihaz's remarks:

  • Call now! Is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? No one is there who is willing to listen to you right now Job. Men have trouble enough being righteous, and you have fallen.
  • For wrath kills the foolish person, and anger slays the silly one. Your talk, Job, of cursing days and nights was foolish and silly, therefore I am going to conclude that you are foolish and silly.
  • I myself have seen the fool taking root, but suddenly I cursed his place of residence. His children are far from safety, and they are crushed at the place of judgment, nor is there anyone to deliver them. Let's give Eliphaz points for sensitivity here. Job's children were crushed when the house fell on them. Did Eliphaz think Job a fool? Did Eliphaz curse the place of Job's residence? Probably not, but these words of Eliphaz were reckless and had to be exceedingly painful to Job.

If not before, now it was Job's turn to become enraged. Eliphaz continued:

But as for me, I would seek God, and to God I would set forth my case. He does great and unsearchable things, marvelous things without number; he gives rain on the earth, and sends water upon the fields; he sets the lowly on high, that those who mourn are raised to safety. 

He frustrates the plans of the crafty so that their hands do not accomplish what they had planned! He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the cunning is brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope about in the noontime as if it were night. So he saves from the sword that comes from their mouth, even the poor from the hand of the powerful. Thus the poor have hope, and iniquity shuts its mouth. 

Therefore, blessed is the man whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also bandages; he strikes, but his hands also heal. He will deliver you from six calamities; yes, in seven no evil will touch you. In time of famine he will redeem you from death, and in time of war from the power of the sword. You will be protected from malicious gossip, and will not be afraid of the destruction when it comes. You will laugh at destruction and famine and need not be afraid of the beasts of the earth. For you will have a pact with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with you. 

And you will know that your home will be secure, and when you inspect your domains, you will not be missing anything. You will also know that your children will be numerous, and your offspring like the grass of the earth. You will come to your grave in a full age, As stacks of grain are harvested in their season. 

Look, we have investigated this, so it is true. Hear it, and apply it for your own good.” (Job 5:8-27)

If only Eliphaz had just spoken these words along with, "Job, I am so sorry this devastation has come your way. What can I do to help?" Instead we have had a near accusation and a message from a demon about not being able to call to God. It seems like Eliphaz was just probing the situation looking for something that would stick. But he spoke some very cruel words, otherwise, Job could maybe have taken some solace in these kinder sounding words.

Based on what we know of Job and the Lord's estimation of him, the confident conclusion of Eliphaz rings hollow, "Look, we have investigated this, so it is true. Hear it and apply it for you own good." The thesis had been laid out, "Who, being innocent, ever perished? And where were upright people ever destroyed? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed." Comparing this to what we know of Job's character reveals the faulty conclusion that Eliphaz has drawn.

  • Job was blameless, i.e. innocent, and was close to perishing
  • Job was upright and destroyed.
  • Job feared God and turned away from evil, but has found trouble.

Job knows this. He must come to terms with God and his situation in the face of his friends firm conclusion about this matter.

Thursday: Job responds to Eliphaz

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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