Friday, August 08, 2003

Job 7: Job Responds to Eliphaz

In Job 6, Job appealed to his friends for kindness and defended his character. In this second part of his speech Job directed his words to God. 

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.

Job First Prayer

After Job appealed to his friends for kindness, understanding, and trust, he became introspective about his condition again:

Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days also like the days of a hired man? Like a servant longing for the evening shadow, and like a hired man looking for his wages. 

Thus I have been made to inherit months of futility, and nights of sorrow have been appointed to me. If I lie down, I say, ‘When will I arise?’, and the night stretches on and I am full of tossing to and fro unto the dawning of the day. 

My body is clothed with worms and dirty scabs; my skin is broken and festering. 

My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and they come to an end without hope. 

Remember that my life is but a breath, that my eyes will never again see happiness. The eye of him who sees me now will see me no more; your eyes will look for me, but I will be gone. As a cloud is dispersed and then disappears, so the one who goes down to the grave does not come up again. He returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him any more. (Job 7:1-10, The Net Bible)

"The evening shadow" was again a desire for death to come. "Months of futility" seems to be a reference to time already gone by. Neither day nor night brought rest or relief. The progress of his disease was disgusting and the days came and went.

"Remember that my life is but a breath" Job, perhaps, was warning his friends to show kindness while there was still time. One of the heartbreaking aspects of grieving the dead are the un-reconciled affairs which must be forever un-reconciled.

As I wrote yesterday, Job had four pressure points working against him: His grief, his health, his friends, and his God. Job now turned to address his God:

Therefore, I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 

Am I the sea, or the creature of the deep, that you must set a watch over me? 

If I say, “My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,” then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would prefer strangling, and death more than life. I loathe it; I would not live forever; leave me alone, for my days are a vapor! 

What is man that you make so much of him, and that you pay attention to him? And that you visit him every morning, and try him every moment? Will you never look away from me, will you not let me alone long enough to swallow my spittle? 

If I have sinned—what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you set me as your target? Have I become a burden to you? And why do you not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? For now I will lie down in the dust, and you will seek me diligently, but I will be gone.” (Job 7:11-21)

"I will not refrain...I will speak...I will complain" How eager might Satan now have been to see the pressure rise in Job's soul as he turned to speak to God. Would Job now curse? No, Job sought understanding instead.

"Am I the sea, or the creature of the deep" This was another allusion to the Leviathan myths. Job said, in effect, "Do you, O God, have to watch over me in the same way that the mythic heroes controlled the sea monster." [If you would like to explore this aspect of Job more, see: Fyall, Robert S. Now my Eyes have seen You--Images of creation and evil in the book of Job (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press 2002).

"You scare me with dreams..." Even when Job could sleep, he would have nightmares. As with all his troubles, Job ascribed their origin as coming from God. Job would not have understood the popular concept of "God's permissive will" and Job is not a book to support such a notion. This is simply a tension that you have to accept with the book of Job. It is the pushing through that becomes a means of wisdom.

"What is man that you make so much of him..." The actual truth behind these words is phenomenal. Judaism and Christianity tell of a God able to attend the large scale universe and the small details with equal ease. The Creator was able to trouble Job such that he could not even swallow without interfering. As we see the pain washing over Job's life and ascribe it to God's hand, we must remind ourselves that His motivation is mercy. Concerning the Lord's ease at the large and the small in His universe, look at these words from Psalm 147:

He heals the brokenhearted, and bandages their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; he names all of them. Our sovereign Master is great and has awesome power; there is no limit to his wisdom. (Psalm 147:3-5)

The Psalmist speaks of the Lord's concern for the brokenhearted and then zooooooooooooooooooms (the number of o's correspond the power of ten that marks the known size of the universe in meters) to the farthest reaches of the universe. Modern astronomers have an estimate for the number of stars, but the Lord has a name for each one. All parts of the creation matter to Him. 

"If I have sinned..." Job put forth a proposition to God. "Assume that I have sinned, what about what I did hurt you so much that you have struck me so hard? Why not forgive instead?"

"You will seek me diligently, but I will be gone." These words were similar to those Job spoke to his friends, "your eyes will look for me, but I will be gone." In both cases, Job was saying, "Is my death something that you really want?" Because Job is about a real situation, we must not expect the characters to remain consistent. Only seconds before, Job was asking God to back off and stop watching his every move. Now it seems that Job was concerned that God might be attending to something else and Job would die and God would return and look for him. The sentiment is anthropomorphic to an extreme, but so what? By them, Job we see that Job had a sense that God still cared for Him.

Eliphaz - Job (1), a Recap

This completes the first exchange between Eliphaz and Job. Eliphaz should have shown kindness to Job, but did not. His references to the children of a fool "crushed in the place of judgment" was incredibly harsh, and so we must vote Eliphaz a dismal failure when it comes to grief counseling.

As for Job's speech. I think that he responded well. He admitted that his opening words had been rash. He asked for kindness to be shown to him. He proclaimed his moral character and invited investigation. We and his friends should account for his great pain.

The story should have ended here. Unfortunately, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are stuck in logic that says, "You get what you deserved." There was no need to investigate Job's contention of innocence when the proof of character was there in the worm encrusted scabs over Job's body.

It was time to make Job face facts.

Monday: Bildad's Wisdom from the Ancients

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

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Job 6: Job Responds to Eliphaz

Eliphaz has spoken, sometimes cruelly, about Job's condition. Job now responds. 

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.

Job Responds

Following Eliphaz's accusations, Job found himself with challenges on four sides.

  • His losses, for we must not forget that he grieved for his children and servants.
  • His health and pain, that made him long for death.
  • His friends and their accusations
  • His God who has assailed him.

Job's response to Eliphaz touched all sides of the pressures boxing Job in.

Job began:

Then Job responded: “Oh if only my grief could be weighed, and my misfortune laid on the scales too! But because it is heavier than the sand of the sea, that is why my words have been wild. For the arrows of the Almighty are within me; my spirit drinks their poison; God’s sudden terrors are arrayed against me. (Job 6:1-4, The Net Bible)  

Job explained the rashness of his opening words on the basis of his great grief and misfortune. Take a balance scale, on one side place the weight of his grief and misfortune and on the other place the sand of the sea. The scale falls to grief and misfortune.

Job also understood, and we do, that his misfortune had come from God. He felt shot through with poisoned arrows. He saw the terrors from God surrounding him like a massive army. Perhaps the "sudden terror" was the surprise attack of Eliphaz. 

Does the wild donkey bray when it is near grass? Or does the ox low near its fodder? Can food that is tasteless be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg? I have refused to touch such things; they are like loathsome food to me. (Job 6:5-7)

Why should Job's words not have been rash? A wild donkey grazing has no need to make a sound. The same is true for an ox. You would hear from them only when legitimate needs go unmet. To a person in agony, even a small inconvenience can loom large, if only because it is one more thing to deal with. For Job, his food had all the attraction of uncooked unsalted egg whites. 

Oh that my request would be realized, and that God would grant me what I long for! And that God would be willing to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and kill me. Then I would yet have my comfort, then I would rejoice, in spite of pitiless fear, for I have not concealed the words of the Holy One. 

What is my strength, that I should wait? and what is my end, that I should prolong my life? Is my strength like that of stones? or is my flesh of bronze? Is not my power to help myself nothing, and has not every resource been driven from me? (Job 6:8-13)

Because Job could not see his situation ever improving, he wanted the end to come. The Lord had said, "Only spare his life" and Satan had said, "Perfect."  Job now wished and prayed that He could die. To go on living in pain was pointless. Job could at least die with his integrity intact. A man or woman in pain can endure much when there is hope or when they have reserves to call upon to better the situation. Job had no strength, no sense of future, and no resources. He wanted his life to end. [As a commentary on the assisted suicide debate of today, the lessons of Job fall on the side of sticking it out. In an age with no pain relief, no itch relief, no anti-depressants, and so forth, Job endured and asked for God to make the call.]

To the one in despair, kindness should come from his friend even if he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. My brothers have been as treacherous as a seasonal stream, and as the riverbeds of the intermittent streams that flow away. They are dark because of ice; snow is piled up over them. When they are warmed, they dry up, when it is hot, they vanish from their place. Caravans turn aside from their routes; they go into the wasteland and perish. The caravans of Tema looked intently for these streams; the traveling merchants of Sheba hoped for them. They were distressed, because each one had been so confident; they arrived there, but were disappointed. For now you have become like these streams that are no help; you see a terror, and are afraid. (Job 6:14-21)

This is marvelous imagery and should have been an effective rebuke to the attitude of Job's friends. The "seasonal streams" or wadis are riverbeds that can flow with water or not depending on distant rains or snow melts. Job painted an image of a caravan in desperate need of water for men and animals. They seek one of these streams and find it empty and dry. Because of this, many a caravan have perished. One can imagine Job seeing his friends coming and hoping for comfort. Job likened the intensity of his suffering to the hot sun and wind that dried up the water that he had expected and hoped for. So what if Job had said faithless things, his friends still owed in kindness.

Have I ever said, ‘Give me something, and from your fortune make gifts in my favor’? Or ‘Deliver me from the enemy’s power, and from the hand of tyrants ransom me’? (Job 6:22-23)

Job reminded his friends that he had never asked them or bothered them to help him in any way. This would have been from times past and in the present. Specifically, it would have included the time between Job's business losses and his illness. In effect, Job was saying that he had given no cause for his friends to think wrongly of him.

Teach me and I, for my part, will be silent; explain to me how I have been mistaken. How painful are honest words! But what does your reproof prove? Do you intend to criticize mere words, and treat the words of a despairing man as wind? Yes, you would gamble for the fatherless, and auction off your friend. (Job 6:24-27)

Job's rebuke of Eliphaz continued. He said in effect, "Give me truth that explains my situation or provides honest correction. Cut me some slack for my outburst and rash words." Job felt betrayed by Eliphaz's rebuke--auctioned off as a slave as it were.

Now then, be good enough to look at me; and I will not lie to your face! Relent, let there be no falsehood; reconsider, for my righteousness is intact! Is there any falsehood on my lips? Can my mouth not discern evil things? (Job 6:28-30)

Job concluded his appeal and rebuke of Eliphaz with a challenge to really look and see if there is any moral cause for the calamity assaulting him. He asked for investigation and inquiry. He affirmed his own honesty.

Job said more, but that will be for Friday.

Friday: Job's First Prayer

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

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.


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. ><>

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Job 3: Lament

This post explores Job's initial outburst about his condition. 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.

The Dam Breaks

After seven days of silence, Job finally poured out his heart. As I covered yesterday, it is possible that tempers had already been frayed. Either Job, as the rightful first speaker, had kept Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar politely biding their time or Job's three friends had stood by and watched him suffer with not so much as a cup of water offered. It is my opinion that by the time Job spoke some feelings were already hurt.

What kinds of things will cause arguments among people? Why do they escalate? Someone will burst out with outlandish statements and possibly scream and holler. Usually, such words were not meant and, if given time to vent, will be replaced with a more coherent and meaningful communication. Unfortunately, by the time the first speaker becomes coherent, the recipient has had time to get mad at the initial outburst. He now explodes. With both parties offended, and the argument is in full swing.

This is how we must understand Job's lament. His opening words are totally irrational, but as he speaks and vents, he moves step by step to a reasonable state of mind.

Job began by cursing the night of his conception and the day of his birth.

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day he was born. Job spoke up and said: 

“Let the day in which I was born perish, and the night that said, ‘A man has been conceived!’ 

That day—let it be darkness; let not God on high regard it, nor let light shine on it! Let darkness and the shadow of death claim it; let a cloud settle on it; let whatever blackens the day terrify it! 

That night—let darkness seize it; let it not be included among the days of the year; let it not enter among the number of the months! Indeed, let that night be barren; let no shout of joy penetrate it! 

Let those who curse the day curse it— those who are prepared to rouse Leviathan. Let its morning stars be darkened; let it wait for daylight but find none, nor let it see the first rays of dawn, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb on me, nor did it hide trouble from my eyes! (Job 3:1-10, The Net Bible)

The first words that Job spoke to his friends asked for the night of his conception and the day of his birth to never have been. If they had never been, he would never have been. If he had never been, he would not be suffering now. There is more than just poetry here. How many more ways could Job have asked for the day of his birth to never have dark? The night, already dark, should never have been.

The following taunt is interesting, "Let those who curse the day curse it--those who are prepared to rouse Leviathan." The phrase, "those who curse" is a reference to conjurers and "leviathan" is a reference to an ancient sea monster in Semitic mythology:

To identify Rahab and Leviathan, Ms. Wakeman had to turn to the mythological lore of the ancient Near East. After analyzing the myths from Sumer, India, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Canaan, Ms. Wakeman concluded that in spite of their great variety, all the battle myths, as she puts it, "about the same thing." She discovered that regardless of the particulars, the crucial action which informs the myth remains the same. Her analysis showed that at the core of the myth three features were always present: 1) a repressive monster restraining creation, 2) the defeat of the monster by the heroic god who thereby releases forces essential for life, and 3) the hero's final control over those forces. [Waltke, Bruce K. Creation and Chaos (Portland, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974) p. 6. Dr. Waltke goes on to identify other references to Leviathan and Rahab in the Old Testament.]

So Job was asking for Leviathan to be revived in order to undo the creation of the night and the day in which he found life. Since Job was one who feared God, we must understand that he was using imagery common to his culture rather than expressing religious belief. It would be the same as a Christian today, perhaps after a mugging, saying, "I wish Superman would come and beat them up." Job borrowed powerful imagery from his culture to express his frustration over his pain. Leviathan for Job was a motif of destructive and un-creating powers. The Lord, interestingly enough, would later bring Job face to face with Leviathan as a motif of pride.

Job then wished that he had died at birth.

Cursing a night and a day was not rational. It might let off some steam, but they existed and so did Job. In a first step towards a more rational view of the world, Job accepts the night and the day and wishes that he had died at birth:

“Why did I not die at birth, and why did I not expire when I came out of the womb? Why did the knees welcome me, and why were there two breasts that I might nurse at them? For now I would be lying down and would be quiet, I would be asleep and then at peace with kings and counselors of the earth who built for themselves places now desolate, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. Or why was I not buried like a stillborn infant, like infants who have never seen the light? There the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they do not hear the voice of the oppressor. Small and great are there, and the slave is free from his master." (Job 3:11-19)

Job saw death as the great equalizer, "small and great are there, and the slave is free from his master." The Lord had said to Satan, "Only spare his life." Satan had just barely spared it. Job was left a man who longed to die. By wishing he had died at birth, he was willing to trade all the good years of his life for never having to experience his current pain.

Job then wished that he could die now.

But Job did not die at birth, as his present circumstance reminded him. Internally Job seems to have acknowledged that he had been conceived, was born, and grew up. He changed focus again and wished for death to overtake him now.

“Why does God give light to one who is in misery, and life to those whose soul is bitter, to those who wait for death that does not come, and search for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice even to jubilation, and are exultant when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God has hedged in?" (Job 3:20-23)

We can see here also, that Job has moved from venting to questioning. At this point, Job is open for kind counsel. 

Job finally announced that he hurt.

Then Job, his outburst vented, laid out his situation in plain terms:

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.” (Job 3:24-26)

Job had moved from irrationally trying to curse the past to talking about his present condition. He was now rational. he was looking at his present condition and describing it in tangible terms. If Job could have begun at this point, the arguments that are about to begin would never have been. But Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had sat around for seven days waiting for Job to speak. They were on edge too. The talk about cursing days and rousing leviathan pushed the wrong buttons. They would now seek to set this man straight.

Wednesday: Eliphaz Speaks

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

Monday, August 04, 2003

Job: Three Friends

This is an ongoing series of essays on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each essay you will find a link to the next.

Job lost his livelihood and his health in a very short amount of time. The loss of his health, through an excruciating skin disease, banished him to the trash heap outside the city. His wife, eager to move on to a new life of her own, has encouraged him to "curse God and die." It is at this point, that the final characters appear before the dialog cycle begins::

When Job’s three friends heard about all this evil that had happened to him, each of them came from his own country—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to come to show grief for him and to console him. But when they gazed intently from a distance but could not recognize him, they began to weep loudly. Each of them tore his robes, and they threw dust into the air over their heads. Then they sat down with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, yet no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. (Job 2:11-13, The Net Bible)

Some time has obviously occurred. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar must first have heard about Job's calamity. Then they had to write among themselves to arrange this rendezvous. We could even suppose that they waited for some time to see if things improved. By the time that they arrived, Job had been suffering a long time.

Their purpose was noble. They wanted to show grief for him and to console him. It is tragic, that they never did. At least they never ever consoled him. When they saw him from a distance, sitting among the ashes and covered with scabs and boils, they did weep and show grief. All this is easy to understand, but their next action is a bit of a puzzle, "Then they sat down with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, yet no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great." What exactly was going on here?

  • The first possibility is culture. We can infer from much of Job that age bestowed strict status. Indeed, the reader of Job eventually learns that there was at least one other person in the company. His name was Elihu, but he remained anonymous and silent until all the others had no more to say. So, perhaps Job was the oldest, and none could speak until he did.
  • The second possibility is their being overwhelmed. Satan, we must gather, had been brutal on Job. The Lord had said, "Only spare his life." and I imagine that is all that Satan had spared. What these three men saw was perhaps beyond comprehension. There were no words to speak. The situation was new.

In either case, seven days was a long time. If we assume the first, then the three men were culturally trapped. They could not speak, nor could they leave. One can imagine that when the seven days completed and Job finally spoke, that they might just be a little put out. If we assume the second, then the three must have pondered, "What did Job do to deserve this?"

Can you imagine seven days of waiting, doing nothing, saying nothing, swishing flies, smelling burning trash, smelling Job, wishing you had stayed home, not quite able to cope? What humor would you be in? On the other hand, there is no evidence that anyone brought to Job so much as a cup of water, or sought among others what they could do for him. No one seems to have even said so much as, "I am so sorry. Is there anything that I can do?" As noted above, perhaps they could not for cultural reasons. But if they were overwhelmed, what was Job to think from their seven days of silence?

By the end of seven days, I think that a bad situation had developed. The conversations that came next deteriorated very quickly.

Looking Forward a Bit

Since I will soon be in the midst of the dialog cycles, I thought that it would be good to cover some things that will help you read and follow along. The conversations move slowly, but they are nonetheless dramatic. Job will grow strong in argument, and his friends will increasingly rise against him. I want to give you my analysis why his friends turned:

The first was faulty logic. Consider the following syllogisms:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates is mortal. 
All men are mortal.
Aristotle died.
Aristotle was a man. 
The wicked will suffer.
Haman is wicked.
Haman will suffer. 
The wicked will suffer.
Job suffered horribly.
Job was an evil-doer

The syllogisms on the left are properly formed and correct. Given the truth of the first two conditions, the third follows. The same can not be said about the ones on the right. Aristotle was a pet fish, who die as well as men. Job was pure, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil. The bottom right conditional is a fancy way of asking the question, "What did Job do to deserve this?"

The second was a challenged world view. Each of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had developed their view of the world in different ways:

  • Eliphaz was the observer and intellect. As he says in Job 4:8, "Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same." He also relied on dreams and visions.
  • Bildad was the purveyor of ancient wisdom. Whatever was taught in the past applied to the present. He was apt to say things like, "For inquire now of the former generation, and pay attention to the findings of their ancestors; For we are recent and do not have knowledge, since our days on earth are but a shadow." (Job 8:8-9)
  • Zophar was a parrot. He appealed to no sources or ways of knowledge. He just spoke his mind according to the moment, "But an empty man will become wise, when a wild donkey colt is born a human being." (Job 11:12) Zophar had seen where his two companions had taken the conversation and took to another level. It was no accident that he ran out of words first.

Eliphaz represents self-constrained scholarship, Bildad represents orthodoxy, and Zophar fundamentalism.

With Job before them, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar saw something new, but they could not acknowledge it as new. Before them was the righteous man suffering--and that was not possible. The more Job proclaimed his integrity and countered their world views with other facts of life, the more firmly they resisted the message. Take Eliphaz, for example. In his first speech, he said to Job, "Is not your piety your confidence, and your blameless ways your hope?" (Job 4:6). In his last speech, he said, "Is not your wickedness great and is there no end to your iniquity?" (Job 22:5) Clearly something changed.

Here then is a second lesson that Job must teach us. When new uncontestable facts challenge our world view, one of two things must happen. Either our view of the world will change to accommodate the new facts or we will falsify reality to keep our world view intact. Consider the leadership in Jesus' day who saw His miracles, but could not accept Sabbath healings and His forgiving sins. They had the evidence to change their world view and accept Him as Messiah and the Son of God. Instead they ascribed His miracles to the powers of darkness. We can push against true truth only so far before we either accept it or take on falsehood. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar chose a falsehood by concluding that Job was wicked rather than seek a new understanding of God's dealings with men.

Job on the other hand, faced the situation head on. That is why the Lord at the end of the book would speak to the three friends and say to them "After the Lord had spoken these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has.'" (Job 42:7)

So Let Us Begin

With Job sitting among the ashes and his three friends appalled at what they see, the seven days and seven nights come to an end. Job is about to speak. I hope that these five lessons have captured your imagination and have created an interest about the middle section that few read and fewer understand. There is much to challenge and learn ahead. Please join me.

Tuesday: Job's Lament

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