Friday, October 03, 2003

Job 22: The Accusation

This essay is #27 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Eliphaz

"Yes, Richard. The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere." [Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, (New York: Ace Books, 1988, 228)]

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar remained locked into the idea that Job suffered, because he had sinned. It did not matter that Job declared his innocence. It did not matter that he pointed to other innocent people who suffered. It did not matter that Job pointed to wicked people who got along famously. For these three men, Job's suffering was the only evidence that they needed.

Job 22 contains Eliphaz's last speech and it is very troubling. Remember that the opening chapters identified Job as upright, blameless, God fearing, and one who turned from evil. In this light, the next words of Eliphaz were astounding:

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “Is it to God that a strong man is of benefit? Is it to him that even a wise man is profitable? Is it of any special benefit to the Almighty that you should be righteous, or is it any gain to him that you make your ways blameless? 

Is it because of your piety that he rebukes you and goes to judgment with you? Is not your wickedness great and is there no end to your iniquity?

For you took pledges from your brothers for no reason, and you stripped the clothing from the naked. You gave the weary no water to drink and from the hungry you withheld food. 

Although you were a powerful man, owning land, an honored man living on it, you sent widows away empty-handed, and the arms of the orphans are crushed. 

That is why snares surround you, and why sudden fear terrifies you, why it is so dark you cannot see, and why a flood of water covers you. (Job 22:1-11, The Net Bible)

Eliphaz declared Job's wickedness to be great, "there is no end to your iniquity." He then proceeded to make specific accusations. They were quite interesting and can be boiled down to this, "God is striking you because you did not do all you could to help the poor." If pressed for details, Eliphaz could not have provided a specific incident. Rather he would have said that Job did not do such things directly, but allowed them to happen. He could have intervened, but did not.

The interesting thing about a faulty world view is what happens to it when actual facts challenge its very foundations. The pressure will build until something changes. Either the world view will change to accommodate the new data or the facts will distort to accommodate the world view. Very often, it is the latter, and many have died because of it. During Jesus' day, everything needed to recognize Jesus as the coming Messiah was in place. He taught truth and He performed miracles. No one could deny this evidence, but the unconvinced authorities distorted the miracles by saying that Jesus performed them by the powers of darkness. Job's friends needed sin, so they found it.

Eliphaz could not take Job's situation at face value, so he dealt the be-guilty-about-poverty card. This card can be and has been dealt to just about anyone who has accumulated wealth. Judas played it against Jesus:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was going to betray him) said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” (Now Judas said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money box, he used to steal what was put into it.) So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She has kept it for the day of my burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you don’t always have me.” (John 12:4-8)

Balancing compassion and prudence is hard. Job seems to have achieved a proper balance, but we are given no insight into what that is. Even so, Eliphaz must have implied that Job was ruthless in his dealings with the poor.

Eliphaz then again made issue of Job's complaints to God.

Is not God on high in heaven? And see the lofty stars, how high they are! 

But you have said, ‘What does God know? Does he judge through such deep darkness? Thick clouds are a veil for him, so he does not see us, as he goes back and forth in the vault of heaven.’ (Job 22:12-14)

For which reason, Eliphaz then said the righteous had cause to rejoice over Job's sufferings:

Will you keep to the old path that evil men have walked— men who were carried off before their time, when the flood was poured out on their foundations? They were saying to God, ‘Turn away from us,’ and ‘What can the Almighty do to us?’ 

But it was he who filled their houses with good things— yet the counsel of the wicked was far from me. 

The righteous see their destruction and rejoice; the innocent mock them scornfully, saying, ‘Surely our enemies are destroyed, and fire consumes their wealth.’ (Job 22:15-20)

The interjection, "But is was he who filled their houses with good things--yet the counsel of the wicked was far from me." was a parody of Job's defense and Eliphaz went on to assert that that such a view was incorrect.

So since Job was a wealthy man and did not use his wealth on behalf of the poor, the answer for Job then must be to divest himself of his assets. This was Eliphaz's final answer:

Reconcile yourself with God, and be at peace with him; in this way your prosperity will be good. Accept instruction from his mouth and store up his words in your heart. 

If you return to the Almighty, you will be built up; if you remove wicked behavior far from your tent, and throw your gold in the dust— your gold of Ophir among the rocks in the ravines— then the Almighty himself will be your gold, and the choicest silver for you. 

Surely then you will delight yourself in the Almighty, and will lift up your face toward God. You will pray to him and he will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows to him. Whatever you decide on a matter, it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways. When people are brought low and you say ‘Lift them up!’ then he will save the downcast; he will deliver even someone who is not innocent, who will escape through the cleanness of your hands.” (Job 22:21-30)

The charges Eliphaz brought against Job are almost indefensible. Who can ever say that he has done all to help the plight of the poor? What could Job do, but assert his innocence yet again? I will begin to examine this on Monday.

SIDEBAR: There are those who would like to say that the first two chapters and the last chapter of Job are a later addition to the work. How different would be our understanding of Job 22 were this the case. We might have to conclude that Eliphaz had finally made a point that Job needed to hear. The problem, though, is the book becomes quite trivial without the backdrop of our privileged information. It is Job's righteousness that creates the tension and drama in these exchanges. As you will increasingly appreciate, all the anomalies in this book serve a literary purpose.

Monday: The Big No-Show

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

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