Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Job 15: Eliphaz Speaks Again (2)

In the part of Eliphaz's monolog covered yesterday, he had rejected Job's words completely. As we will see today, he went on to claim a superior source of wisdom and then told Job what lay in his future.

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.


After rejecting Job's defense out of hand, Eliphaz had this to say about the source of his own source of wisdom. It is an interesting piece of language and does require some decoding:

I will explain to you; listen to me, and what I have seen, I will declare, what wise men declare, hiding nothing, from the tradition of their ancestors, to whom alone the land was given when no foreigner passed among them. (Job 15:17-19, The Net Bible)

First Eliphaz appealed again to his experience ("what I have seen, I will declare'). But he also connected it with ancient wisdom and thereby appropriated Bildad's support. Now here is this curious turn of phrase, "the tradition of their ancestors, to whom alone the land was given when no foreigner passed among them." Let's take "the land" to be a metaphor for wisdom. Eliphaz was not speaking of the Jews here, because there were no Jews yet. But compare his words with these of Paul's:

... Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)

Eliphaz was saying something similar about the ancients. They had been given wisdom. and that wisdom was pure because it had not been polluted by the foreign ideas. People must then be careful of introducing foreign ideas, because of their polluting effect. Job's crafty words were foreign to the pure strain and must be rejected. It is interesting to note that the context of Paul's words was the rejection of Jesus by many Jews because of ancient traditions.

So on that self-proclaimed firm footing, he then continued to harangue Job.

All his days the wicked man suffers torment, throughout the number of the years that are stored up for the tyrant. Terrifying sounds fill his ears; in a time of peace marauders attack him. 

Eliphaz here implies that wickedness was the cause of Job's loss of livestock to the Chaldeans and Sabaeans.

He does not expect to escape from darkness; he is marked for the sword; he wanders about—food for vultures; he knows that the day of darkness is at hand. Distress and anguish terrify him; they prevail against him like a king ready for attack, for he stretches out his hand against God, and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield! 

Eliphaz here described Job's agitated state, but drew the wrong conclusions. Job complained that God had attacked him, but Eliphaz saw it as Job attacking God. All the darkness that surrounded Job stemmed from a wicked character. To be precise, Eliphaz was not saying this directly. His words had the following force, "A wicked man would lose his property, live in dread of God's coming judgment and lash out in anger. Job is lashing out in anger, lives in darkness and fear, and has lost his property. Job is a wicked man." The logic, of course, is faulty, but there are three men connecting the dots anyway.

Because he covered his face with fat, and made his hips fat, he lived in ruined towns and in houses where no one lives, where they are ready to crumble into heaps. He will not grow rich, and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land. He will not escape the darkness; a flame will wither his shoots and he will depart by the breath of God’s mouth. Let him not trust in what is worthless, deceiving himself; for worthlessness will be his reward. Before his time he will be paid in full, and his branches will not flourish. Like a vine he will let his sour grapes fall, and like an olive tree he will shed his blossoms. For the company of the godless is barren, and fire consumes the tents of those who accept bribes. They conceive trouble and bring forth evil; their belly prepares deception. (Job 15:20-35) 

It is clear that Eliphaz had heard nothing of what Job said. He laid it out for Job, "Your life, Job, will be just more of the same until you shape up or get shipped out!"

This is what we students of the scriptures have missed by not examining Job's middle section. As you should now be able to see, the situation is quite ugly. Although Job has the upper hand, for now, in terms of a reasonable argument, the book does not end with his vindication, but rather his repentance. Nevertheless, Job is changing, because he must. Eliphaz, soon to be joined again by Bildad and Zophar are men trapped by their religious ways. It is a scary and terrifying thing to have the bedrock of your life shaken by facts that will not go away. Much of what they say has a general truth, but they have not allowed for exceptions. They are, therefore, unkind to an extraordinary degree. If they had been correct that Job was a wicked man, their words would have been the right thing to say. 

What we see at this point in the book of Job, and will continue to see for several more chapters, is what Jesus referred to as old wineskins:

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old garment. If he does, he will have torn the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. Instead new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’” (Luke 5:36-39)

Eliphaz is an old wineskin filled with the new wine of an unexpected situation: a righteous man who is suffering. Such a thing could not be, so he clings to the old truth. In Luke, just after Jesus spoke this parable, the following event occurred:

On another Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and was teaching. Now a man was there whose right hand was withered. The experts in the law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they could find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Get up and stand here.” So he rose and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?” After looking around at them all, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with mindless rage and began debating with one another what they would do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11)

The dynamic at work in the Pharisees was the same dynamic at work in Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. If we are not careful, the dynamic will work in us. God will offend the mind to reveal the heart. You and I have been taught things that have a logical sense to them that may be dead wrong. God may lead us into situations that challenge that teaching and we will panic. The thing to do is to calm down, trust God, get the facts, take your time, pray, study, and come to know the truth. It will be that sometimes, the teaching holds firm. It will be that other times, it will not. 

Very often, the new must come along in order to pass the gospel to the next generation, but the new is troubling to the old. Job like tensions arise in the body and we inflict much pain on each other. These are the times to discern and understand the core gospel message and separate message and transmission. Should Gentiles be circumcised? Can the scriptures be translated to the language of its hearers? Are there musical forms that are a priori wrong? Can a young girl tattoo a cross on her arm or pierce her tongue with one?

May God grant us discernment in such areas.

Wednesday: Job Responds to Eliphaz

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


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