The book of Job demands that we let the prologue and the epilogue inform how we read the speeches of Job’s ”friends.” And yet we will see that some of what Eliphaz has had to say is so true that the New Testament (in two places) approvingly quotes from his first speech. So the question for us then is: How do we discern the truth from the error in Eliphaz’s words? And we have can approach the rest of the friends with the same question. Eliphaz comes across as the gentle old man who is trying to help Job see his sin (we are meant to be shocked by Job’s confrontational reply to this kindly old man). His manner is wise and some of his words are wise, even though we know his assumptions are not. And this means that what he says here is not wise – at least not wise in this context. If we can discern when it is the right context, some of what we say will sound a lot like these friends.
And some of the things that Eliphaz teaches sound more like Satan than Scripture. Of course we remember that Satan knows the Scriptures well and can quote them out of context with the best of them. Since the scene in the Garden of Eden we have seen that Satan knows how to blend truth and falsehood to make the lie appear true.
Eliphaz gets to be the one who speaks first most likely because of his seniority among the elders that Job is addressing. So Eliphaz is the oldest and ”wisest” of the elders who will speak to Job. He is also the most gentle in manner of the three ”friends.” He asks a lot of rhetorical questions and offers suggestions rather than coming across as harsh as the other two elders or Elihu.
With his lamentation, Job has broken the ice and ended the seven days and nights of silence. As Marvin Pope’s commentary puts it: Thus Eliphaz begins with a note of apology for speaking to Job in his great misery but he feels that he is free to speak because Job spoke first. Eliphaz the Temanite then spoke: ”Should one dare a word, could you bear it? But who could be silent now?” (Pope’s translation).
The question: ”Could you bear it?” or literally, ”Will you be weary?” is asking whether Job will be able to listen. Eliphaz rightly understands that Job might not be able to listen – able physically and emotionally and psychologically.
And Eliphaz begins by noting Job’s past faithful teaching of wisdom: ”Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling…” So after asking a wise question and offering a complement regarding Job’s wise instruction of others, Eliphaz then challenges Job for his impatience and dismay.
Under all of his challenges and rebukes is an an incorrect assumption. His assumption is that Job has some unrepentant sin in his life. And he says, ”Is not your fear [of God] your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope.” Substitute faith for the ”fear of God” as the normal word used in the NT to describe it and the verse is saying, ”Is not your faith your confidence and the integrity of your ways your hope.” I would think rather that we ought to place our confidence in God rather than our faith in God and our hope in God rather than in the integrity of our ways. And he says, ”Is not your fear [of God] your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope.” Substitute faith for the ”fear of God” as the normal word used in the NT to describe it and the verse is saying, ”Is not your faith your confidence and the integrity of your ways your hope.” I would think rather that we ought to place our confidence in God rather than our faith in God and our hope in God rather than in the integrity of our ways.
Eliphaz’s larger point is that the innocent do not perish but they prosper. It is a simple divine retribution philosophy. He asks a rhetorical question – Can you remember an innocent person perishing? Like most wisdom teachers he appeals to experience – ”as I have seen.” And what he has seen is that those who ”plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
Eliphaz even appeals to visions that he has had: ”Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men…” And the revelation of that dream is that all are sinners: ”Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in His servants He puts no trust, and His angels He charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth.” Claims to divine inspiration make it especially difficult to know how to respond. He even says, that God ”saves the needy” and thus ”the poor have hope and injustice shuts her mouth” (Job 5:15-16).
And Eliphaz makes the wise comment: ”Behold, blessed is one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 5:17). This wise comment will be quoted in the NT by James 1:12 and Heb 12:5. At least it would have been wise if Job was suffering because God was disciplining him. We know why but Eliphaz did not.
Our first reaction is to approve of what he says about man being pure before God. And when he says the comment about ”his angels” to assume that Eliphaz has in mind Satan and his angels. However, it is curious that no such qualification is given: ”Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error.” Thus not even the angels in heaven who do the will of God are pure before God. This is not solid theology.
And the more that we think about what Eliphaz says there the more problematic his teaching. He is basically saying that only God is pure and that the further from God one gets the less pure one will be. On a first reading this might sound attractive but it is not right. It sounds like something the Adversary might say.
Then too when we read, ”Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.” This would seem to be wisdom, and for most cases it would be (thus the NT quotes), but for Job this was just cruel. The Adversary was saying that God was disciplining Job for some fault that God found in Job. This is what the Adversary wanted Job to believe, but it was not the case as we know from the prologue.
And so what Eliphaz counsels is for Job to repent and God will bless him. ”You shall know also that your offspring shall be many, and your descendants as the grass of the earth” (Job 5:25). No doubt this thought would have disturbed Job greatly – he was grieving the death of his seven sons and three daughters. Job knew he was just in saying that their deaths should not have happened.
The first speech by Eliphaz ends in typical wisdom fashion: ”Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. Hear, and know it for yourself” (Job 5:27). One really knows by doing, so if he would just repent he would experience the truth of Eliphaz’s words, or so Eliphaz says.
Eliphaz holds out hope for Job’s recovery (if he would just repent) because Job is still alive.
Job’s First Reply
Job’s first reply simply put is to say that he is right to lament. He begins by saying that what has happened to him is worse than he has been able to express and worse than they are able to see. He is saying that he is right to express things in such great lamentation. ”Therefore my words have been rash” is not quite right in Job 6:3. Rash is attempting to translate the verb ”to swallow.” In other words, Job is explaining why his oratory is not polished but instead stammering.
Then he says something picking up on the most famous Eliphaz quote, ”For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.” I take this as responding to Eliphaz’s words about God disciplining Job because both use the name ”the Almighty” for God. Job does not agree that he is being disciplined by God, but he does agree that God is responsible for the attack. He does not accuse God of wrong or sin with his lips in saying this.
And Job says that Eliphaz’s words are not very tasty. ”Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the juice of the mallow [whatever that means]? My appetite refuses to touch them; they are as food that is loathsome to me” (Job 6:6-7).
While Eliphaz has been the gentle old man, Job responds in a pretty heated and confrontational way.
So Job again takes up his lament, wishing that God would crush him and his suffering could just be over.
Job also indicates that these friends have turned against him. He says, ”He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14). The point Job is making is that they should stand by him even if he had turned against God. Instead they were ”treacherous as a torrent-bed, as torrential streams that pass away…” (Job 6:15). The torrent-bed is treacherous because it is usually empty of water…the image is one like a mirage in the desert that sends the party off to get water and finding it dry (v.18ff). They would be wet during a rainy season or when the snow melts (v.16f) but dry in the summer when you were in great need of water. Thus they are like the mirage – ”you have now become nothing; you see my calamity and are afraid” (Job 6:21). I suggest that you continue by reading Job 6:22-30.
In these verses we see Job challenge the ”friends” to step up and offer some reason in his life for what has happened. What is at stake is his vindication. The story of Job is one of an innocent man crying out for vindication – for God to say that he was blameless and upright (which the narrator and God have both said in the prologue). But the ”friends” will instead argue that he must not be ”blameless” (which again does not mean sinless, it means that there is no sin standing in the way of his relationship with God).
Job continues with his lamentation over everything in chapter 7, even mentioning ”the sea” and ”a sea monster” bringing in an allusion to ancient myths. The story does this because it forces anyone in those cultures who read it to question their false religions.
Job wants his suffering to end!
Bildad’s First Speech
Bildad the Shuhite speaks next (Job 8). He does not speak as long as Eliphaz did, nor is he as nice. He begins, ”How long will you say these thing, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” Not a very good way to start the conversation compared to Eliphaz.
But the next few verses show the heart of Bildad’s argument.
First he says, ”Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” It is a rhetorical question with an obvious and emphatic answer of ”NO.” Therefore, Bildad suggests, and here is the problem with the retribution theology they are espousing – making this jump, ”If your children have sinned against Him…” So Bildad assumes that perhaps Job’s children had sinned against God and God punished them for their sin. And now ”if you are pure and upright then He will rouse Himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.” And this is contingent on ”if you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy.” He says more, but it does not really add anything of much substance to this.
Bildad too was saying some wise words, if he had been saying them in the right context, but he was making the wrong assumption about Job and his children. He was speaking out of ignorance – not knowing the whole story – not knowing what God was doing.
He hedges everything with ”if” but it does not matter, it is obvious what he assumes is happening and we the reader know he is wrong. But if we were in his place what would we guess?
The irony is that if Job does what Bildad suggests then it would prove Satan right. Satan had said that Job was only fearing God because of the blessings. Bildad says for him to seek God and plead for mercy and then God will give him all that stuff again. The ”friends” are unwittingly taking on the role of Satan in the story.
Job’s Second Reply
Job’s reply sounds like Romans 9:20 (But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?). Job says, ”But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:2-3). And Job appeals to God as the creator for the reason for this inability to contend with God. Job says, ”For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause” (Job 9:17). This sounds like what God Himself said in Job 2:3 to Satan ”you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Job continues to contend that he is blameless but that he would be unable to plead that before God. More than once he says, ”I loathe my life” (Job 9:21, 10:1, also 7:16). Rebekah said the same thing because of her son Esau’s wives (Gen 27:46).
Job’s plea to God in Job 10 is great. He appeals to God on the basis of who God is, how God made him and now has destroyed him, made him like clay and now will he return him to the dust. This sounds like the stuff of the lament psalms. He also continues lamenting his birth (Job 10:18-19).
Zophar’s First Speech
Next to speak is Zophar the Naamathite. Zophar rebukes Job for his words and even goes so far as to say, ”Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” Each ”friend” gets worse in throwing accusations at Job. Eliphaz started out pretty gentle and suggested God was disciplining Job, Bildad suggested that Job’s children might have sinned and Job just needs to seek out God and repent, but now Zophar says that Job deserves worse than he got. It appears that the ”friends” are getting frustrated that Job will not concede his guilt, which they assume he has.
Zophar says some things we might say (if updated for today’s living quarters), ”If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents” (Job 11:13-14).
Job’s Third Reply
Job’s third reply (which is directed at all three) says, ”I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called to God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock” (Job 12:4). His third reply continues from Job 12-14. Job 14 is my favorite in the book, I love to preach it. Much more could be said about this reply but I will leave that for you to discover for yourself.