The third cycle of dialogue in Job shows the friends of Job reduced to silence because they are unable to refute Job. The cycle also gives Job the opportunity to make a final case that could be presented before God. We still await the evaluations of Elihu the Buzite and God Himself, but in this cycle things really start to get recycled showing us that the wisdom of the elders has been unable to explain the ways of God with Job.
The Third Cycle: Eliphaz
Eliphaz the Temanite opens round three of the dialogues in Job 22. And his opening point sounds right: “Can a man be profitable to God? Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to Him if you make your ways blameless?” (Job 22:2-3). The problem is that Eliphaz assumes that Job needs to make his ways blameless, not that he is already blameless before God. But Eliphaz does not know what happened in the prologue and what God said of Job to Satan.
He says, “Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you and enters into judgment with you?” (Job 22:4). Ironically that is exactly why Job was experiencing this pain. The suffering was to test his faith (his fear of God) and thereby show it genuine.
And then Eliphaz moves into attack mode – he even goes so far as to say that Job had dispossessed the weak to expand his holdings of wealth and land. And he continues to call Job to repentance.
Job’s First Reply
Job 23-24 is Job’s first reply in the third cycle. It has the tone of lament. He says that he would lay his case before God and know that God would pay attention. Yet, “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand but I do not see him” (Job 23:8-9). Still Job expresses faith that God knows the way he takes (double meaning of way) and says that when He has tried Job, “I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).
The next two verses sound like some psalms: “My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my portion of food” (Job 23:11-12).
The next chapter opens with the question: “Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty and why do those who know Him never see His days?” (Job 24:1). He wants to be in the courtroom with God.
And he lists various sins: “Some move landmarks [used to identify property boundaries]; they seize flocks and pasture them”; “They drive away the donkey of the fatherless; they take the widow’s ox for a pledge”; And then Job takes to describing the plight of the poor. Job says, “From out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help; yet God charges no one with wrong” (Job 24:12).
Job is being antitheodic – decrying the lack of divine justice! He is saying, ‘How long?’
And Job makes these great lines: “There are those who rebel against the light…”; “The murderer rises before it is light that he may kill the poor and needy, and in the night he is like a thief”; “The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight, saying, ‘No eye will see me’; and he veils his face”; “In the dark they dig through houses; by day they shut themselves up; they do not know the light” (Job 24:16).
Next to speak is Bildad the Shuhite in Job 25 and he picks up this light metaphor and says concerning God: “Upon whom does his light not arise?” (Job 25:3).
Bildad’s reply continues for only six verses! Including arguing from the greater to the lesser: “Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less a man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (Job 25:5-6). This sounds like earlier arguments about the angels not being pure, let alone man.
Both Eliphaz and Bildad are really pessimistic about man and confrontational against Job by this cycle. They are flustered that he has not caved in yet and running out of arguments to counter Job’s assertions.
Job’s Second Reply
Job’s second (and third?) reply in the Hebrew text we have appears to be Job 26-31.
But it is curious that there are a couple subtitle divisions within this section: “And Job again took up his discourse, and said” (Job 27:1, 29:1). Job 28 is the poem on wisdom.
It has been suggested that we are to understand Zophar as either already silenced (because he has nothing left to say) or that he said Job 27:13-23. If the latter, then a couple subtitles have fallen out of the text – one to introduce Zophar and then one to indicate we have gone back to Job again at Job 28:1. The reason for suggesting Zophar spoke at Job 27:13 is that it begins, “this is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage that oppressors receive from the Almighty: ….” And the text that follows describes the curses of God on the wicked. The retribution theology sounds like the friends rather than Job. If so, it would be accusing Job of being wicked.
At the same time those words could be understood as being said by Job if read within the context of the chapter. Remember that retribution theology is right, the ‘friends’ just misapplied it. Either way, the ‘friends’ speeches that were some shorter in the second cycle are now more abbreviated by the third.
And if Zophar did not speak the third time (as I suspect is the case, I trust the text we have) then it is ironic that he had said earlier in the book: “Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce men to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock? (Job 11:2-3).
Job’s words continue to mention ancient myths – this time the sea monster Rahab (usually symbolic of Egypt) – ‘By His power He stilled the sea; by His understanding He shattered Rahab’ (Job 26:12). This Rahab not to be confused with the one in Joshua but rather refers to the sea monster.
And Job protests, even invoking oath language, “as God lives…” (Job 27:2)… “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me” (Job 27:3-5). Job holds fast to his righteousness and says his heart does not reproach him.
Job 32 will open, “So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” The narrator is right, he was righteous in his own eyes. And Job was right to see himself this way.
Job 28, the poem on divine wisdom, has an extended discussion about mining silver and gold and iron and precious stones. He is talking about where to find wisdom (cf. Job 28:12). The end of the matter: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). Job 28 can stand alone, then the next three chapters lay out a summary of Job’s argument.
Job 29 lays out Job’s former state when people listened to him and called him blessed. Job 30 says that they now laugh at him. Job 31 is his passionate final appeal of blamelessness.
The last verse tells us: “The words of Job are ended.” Thus his speeches are finished.