Monday, September 08, 2003

Job 15: Eliphaz Speaks Again

The second of three speech cycles begins with Eliphaz. How will he react to Job's declaration of innocence?

This post 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.


In his first speech, Eliphaz told Job, "Is not your piety your confidence, and your blameless ways your hope?" (Job 4:6, The Net Bible) Now, after Job and Bildad and Zophar have spoken, Eliphaz is no longer so kind:

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “Does a wise man answer with blustery knowledge, or fill his belly with the east wind? Does he argue with useless talk, with words that have no value in them? But you even break off piety, and hinder meditation before God. Your sin inspires your mouth; you choose the language of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, not I; your lips testify against you." (Job 15:1-6)

Job had asserted his innocence and had argued that some innocent suffer and some wicked prosper. For Eliphaz such talk was no better than wasted breath and so much hot air, which is a more contemporary understanding of "blustery knowledge" and a belly filled "with the east wind." Eliphaz declared Job's words to be useless and having no value.

Eliphaz was wrong. Job was innocent and he suffered. This was evidence against Eliphaz's view of God and the universe. Eliphaz's compartmentalized view of the world, as one in which only wicked suffer, had met its counter-example. This meant that Eliphaz either had to refashion how he saw the world or filter out the facts laid before him. He filtered the facts. That was why he described Job's words as so much useless hot air.

His next words hinted at his inner distress, "But you even break off piety, and hinder meditation before God." Job had rattled him a little. Unable to accept the challenge to his ideas, Eliphaz accused Job of crafty language. Job remained a sinner in Eliphaz's eye.

Eliphaz next said:

Were you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills? Do you listen in God’s council? Do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know? What do you understand that is not understood by us? The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men far older than your father. (Job 15:7-10)

We see this kind of language in contentious political discourse. When you have no logic with which to gain advantage, you attack your opponent in some other area. So Eliphaz accused Job of being too young to really know anything, but offered no evidence of Job's wrongdoing, and no counter argument to the fact that the innocent suffer. He could only say that some really old guys agree with his position.

Moving on:

Are God’s consolations too trivial for you; or a word spoken in gentleness to you? Why has your heart carried you away, and why do your eyes flash, when you turn your rage against God and allow such words to proceed from your mouth? What is man that he should be pure, or one born of woman, that he should be righteous? If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is abominable and corrupt, who drinks in evil like water! (Job 15:11-16)

Eliphaz spoke some truth here. Job had expressed anger and frustration at God. But if Eliphaz had accepted the truth of Job's situation, he would have understood Job's reaction. Besides, Eliphaz's words had been far from gentle. In his first speech, he had said, "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. (Job 5:3-4)" The reminder to Job of his children's death had not been a word spoken in gentleness.

Now the words, "What is man that he should be pure..." come close to an argument that many of us might make to someone such as Job. Our theology tells us that "there is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:9) However, the book of Job exists to invalidate that argument. Job was declared in the beginning to be pure and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. This is not to say that he was perfect, but dealing the universal sin card is not productive in this discussion. The sin card is a cop out by which we avoid having to deal with just the issues that the book of Job makes us face. If you must play the sin card, then stop reading here. Eliphaz must be correct. There is nothing more to say. However, the Lord's assessment of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar was that they had "not spoken about me what is right as my servant Job has." (Job 42:7)

Tuesday: More on Eliphaz

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