Lecture 11: Job responds to Eliphaz
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Job responds to Eliphaz
Thus far in our study of Job, we have looked at the prologue and seen the situation that was set up in the confrontation between God and Satan. We have seen where Job and in his opening soliloquy cursed the day of his birth and in effect, called down a curse on all of creation. We understood that the reason he did that is not just that he is in pain and he suffered so much; but because his world has fallen apart. He has held to a theological structure that we are just calling the doctrine of retribution, that simply says that the problem of evil is solved by the fact that God punishes the wicked and God rewards the just; and thus, all concerns about the nature of evil and suffering in the world are eliminated.
Job, however, knows that he is innocent; and therefore his suffering makes no sense to him. It is a complete contradiction to the theological world that he has adhered to and that has given meaning and explanation to life as he knew it. Now, nothing makes sense to him. So he cursed the day of his birth and Eliphaz, his friend, knew well what Job was saying; that Job was saying that everything we have believed in has collapsed. And Eliphaz is very distressed about that and he rebuked Job and sought to persuade Job to confess some kind of sin, to repent of it, so that Job could be healed and their world would be back the way they knew it.
We also saw that Eliphaz referred to this night spirit who came to him and that this night spirit was a lying spirit, that he grossly distorted the doctrine that all humans are sinners, the sinners of total depravity, and turned it into something that is nihilistic; that the whole universe, all of creation is disgusting and
unworthy, that there is really no such thing as goodness or virtue and that there is no reason to have any love, any adherence to what is right and good because none of it is real.
Against that dark backdrop, what Job is experiencing, his world is collapsing and then Eliphaz’ answer to him, Job responds.
I. General Statement of Pain and Frustration
It begins with a general statement of his pain and frustration. Let’s take a look at that. What does Job say: “Then Job replied: ‘If only my anguish could be weighed and my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas – no wonder my words have been impetuous. The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me. Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass, or an ox bellow when it has fodder? Is tasteless food eaten without salt, or is there flavor in the sap of a mallow? I refuse to touch it, such food makes me ill.”
This is an interesting statement because he uses these metaphors that seem a little strange to us, that are kind of hard to follow, that maybe seem out of
context. But in context, they actually make really good sense. So what is Job saying?
First of all, the obvious thing is, he knows he is being severely afflicted by God, that God has allowed all of these terrible afflictions to come upon him and he does not know why. That is quite obviously something that would give him great distress and great pain. But when he comes back and says, “If only my anguish could be weighed, all my misery placed on the scales, it would outweigh the sand of the seas…” “I am suffering like no-one has ever suffered.” And he explains this again as being the work of God, the arrows of the Almighty are in him.
So what is Job doing? He is complaining. Why is he complaining? Because he is suffering. He is saying to his friends, “You know, what do you expect? I have
suffered everything a man can suffer. Of course I am upset!” Then he says something that really seems strange and out of place to us: “Is tasteless food
eaten without salt, or is there flavor in the sap of the mallow?” This last line, in my opinion, should be, “Is there flavor in the white of an egg?”
The idea is, there are certain things that are absolutely tasteless, that don’t give any satisfaction. You eat them and you are not satisfied. What in Job’s situation has done this? The thing that has done it is, not just his afflictions, but again, the fact that the answers that he himself would have given and the answers that his friends are giving him, do not satisfy. Again, the answer that the friends give is, “Job, obviously somehow, somewhere you have sinned. That is why all of this has happened to you.” And Job is saying, “No, I have not.” So the answer is to him completely insipid. He compares it to food without salt or in my opinion, the white of an egg. So he says, “I refuse to touch it, such food makes me ill.” Again, he is talking about the answers he is receiving. He is talking about the fact that he finds no satisfaction in what the friends are saying to him.
II. Job Wishes God Would Kill Him
Then we come to the second portion of his speech where he just outright wishes God would kill him, chapter 6, verses 8-13. We look at that and what do we find? “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life. Then I would still have my consolation, my joy in unrelenting pain, that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. What strength do I have that I should hope? What prospects that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself now that success has been driven from me?”
Let’s consider what Job says in this part of the text. Obviously he says, “I wish God would just strike me dead.” Our immediate response is to think, okay, Job is suffering so much, he is in so much pain, he wishes he were dead. Who hasn’t felt that way? Anybody who is in great physical agony, or who has suffered horrible loss as Job has, the loss of his children, the loss of everything he possessed, in addition to his terrible physical pain; naturally we think somebody in that situation is going to say, “I wish God would just strike me dead. I wish he would just take me out of my pain.” That is certainly true and that is certainly part of what Job is experiencing, but he says there is really more to it than that.
If God would strike him dead, he would have the consolation of knowing he had in his own words, “never denied the words of God, The Holy One.” In other words, he had held fast to his integrity. He had not failed this test. Of course, that is the test that Satan originally proposed to God, where Satan said, “You know, if you just take away all his stuff, he’ll deny you and then well, if you just take away all his health, he’ll deny you.” Job experienced both, and he did not deny God. He did not curse God and die. So he wants to die just so that he can get out of this test and come through and so to speak, come out a winner, that he had passed the most gruesome test a man could possibly face, and not failed.
It is important to see also, when he speaks of not denying the words of God, Job is no different from the friends in that he comes out of this worldview that holds to what we are simply calling the doctrine of retribution, God punishes the evil, God rewards the just.
We need to say off the top, it is not that the doctrine of retribution is totally false. We certainly do believe that God is judge of all the earth and frequently in this life we see where God judges the wicked and we see where those who hold fast to their integrity are ultimately redeemed by God. So we are not saying the doctrine of retribution is just wrong, but it is inadequate; and in this case it does not apply because Job is not being punished for any kind of sin.
Job does not deny the doctrine he has always held to. He still believes in God, but he is in a dilemma. He knows who he is and he knows how he has behaved before God and he knows what is happening to him, and they don’t fit, so he just wants it all to end.
III. The Failure of the Friends
Then he speaks of the failure of the friends in chapter 6, verses 14-27. He begins by saying that the friends are a real disappointment to him, Job chapter 16. We will begin with chapter 6, verse 14 and following: “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams, as the streams that overflow when darkened by thawing ice and swollen with melting snow, but that stop flowing in the dry season and in the heat vanish from their channels. Caravans turn aside from their routes and they go off in the wasteland and perish. The caravans of Tema look for water and the traveling merchants of Sheba look for hope. They are
distressed because they had been confident, but they arrive there only to be disappointed.”
The metaphor he uses here I think is pretty straightforward. He speaks of streams. These are the wadis that you have throughout the ancient Near East and certainly around Israel. A wadi is a little stream bed that in summertime is completely dry, there is not a drop of water in it. But in the wintertime you have the rainy season; the early rains, which come basically starting around November, December and the latter rains that are February, March in that general time. You also have the melt-off of snow from up in the Lebanon. At that time the wadis will suddenly become raging torrents, they will be like flash floods. And for a brief season there will be plenty of water and all of the vegetation will flourish and the flowers will bloom and it is beautiful. But then of course, the water runs out and it dries and once again, you just have barren desert.
That is what he is saying his friends are. He came to his friends for help and when times were good, they were great; but now that times are bad for him, they offer him nothing, they are dry stream beds.
IV. Appeal to His Friends to Face Facts
Then he goes on and argues that Eliphaz’ doctrine fails to explain the hard facts of experience. He wants answers from them, but he is not getting them.
Let me read to you my translation of this part of the passage: “For you have now become nothing. You see my calamity and are afraid. Have I said, ‘Make me a gift or from your wealth offer a bribe for me, or deliver me from the adversary’s hand, or redeem me from the hand of the ruthless? Teach me and I will be silent. Make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words. What does reproof from you reprove? Do you think you can reprove words when the speech of a despairing man is wind? You would even cast lots over the fatherless and bargain over your friend.”
First of all, he tells them, “I have not asked for any kind of physical favor. I didn’t ask you to give me money. I didn’t ask you to fight off an enemy for me. I didn’t ask you to save me because I’m in some kind of trouble. All I wanted from you was comfort and answers; and you haven’t given me any of that.” He said, “You have tried to reprove me, but none of it hits home.”
Again, we need to keep coming back to this: The reason it doesn’t hit home is because Job is not guilty of anything. And we need to keep reminding ourselves that God Himself has said that. Job is upright, righteous, a man who fears God and turns from evil, in God’s own words. Job is correct, their reproof, their desire to persuade him to repent, is meaningless.
So he says in verse 27, a very severe reproof: “You would cast lots over the fatherless and bargain over your friend.” That is of course referring to the fact in
the ancient world, if someone was an orphan, he was totally unprotected, he inevitably would fall into slavery and he became in effect a non-person, he
became property that you could just cast lots over, gamble over until somebody took him away as a slave. He says, “You cannot treat a person with less respect than that, and that is how you are treating me. You know who I am, you know how I have lived my life and yet you are hitting me with this constant appeal to repent.”
Then he calls upon his friends to face facts in a pretty severe text, Job 6:28 to 7:6. Let’s take a look at what he says here: “But now be so kind as to look at me. Would I lie to your face? Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake. Is there any wickedness in my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice? “
Notice here, he first of all asks them, “Did I really do anything wrong? Can you charge me with any sin?” The answer of course is “no.” But then again he says, 7:`1: “Do not mortals have hard service on earth? Are not their days like those of a hired laborer, like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or as a hired laborer willing to be paid? So I have been allotted months of futility and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on and I toss and turn until dawn. My body is clothed with worms and scabs. My skin is broken and festering. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and they come to an end without hope.”
I want you to notice what we see here. First of all, he obviously talks about his own suffering. His body is covered with sores and scabs. He can’t sleep. He is in pain all the time. From day to night he gets no relief. But he begins with something that will become a major theme of Job. He speaks about the hard
service of mortals on earth, that their days are filled with longing and suffering and life for them frankly is just miserable. What he is doing here and what he will do much more in later portions of his speeches is to call upon his friends to face facts. Again, they think their doctrine of retribution solves everything. God punishes the evil, so everything is fine. But he says, “Look at the reality of the world around you. There are lots and lots of people who just have absolutely miserable lives, who are born into affliction, who live their whole lives in affliction, who die suffering. Did they all just sin so terribly that all of this came upon us? Is your doctrine of retribution really able to explain all of the suffering, all of the evil, all of the hardship that we have in the world?” And he says, ”No, it is not.”
V. Job Prays
Then Job does something that the friends never do in these dialogues, and Job does it frequently. Job prays. In chapter 7, verses 7-21: “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again. The eye that now sees me will see me no longer; you will look for me, but I will be no more. As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so one who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more. Therefore I will not keep silent. I will speak out in anguish of my spirit and I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
That part of it is pretty straightforward. “God, I am going to die. You know I’m just a mortal. I’m weak, I’m flesh. But what has happened to me I know I didn’t
deserve, so I’m not going to stop complaining” and again, “I’m not going to repent of some sin I didn’t commit.” Then he says something quite striking in verse 12: “Am I the sea or the monster of the deep, that you put me under guard?”
First of all, the sea. The sea in the Bible often of course is just the physical sea; and it is part of God’s creation and in that sense is good. But very frequently in the Bible the sea represents death. The sea and to put it in words that perhaps we would know, “hades” in Hebrew terms, “Sheol”, the grave, the underworld. Those are the two great domains of death. They are paired together; and the sea for the ancient Israelites was thought of as a frightening, dangerous place. The Israelites were not seafarers. Even seafaring peoples in the ancient world had a great dread of the sea. The knew it’s power and they knew that if you fall into it, unless you can get to shore really quick, you die. So for them, the sea is a kind of metaphor for death and the place of the dead.
So you have in the Bible where God sets a boundary around the sea. The seashore is there to keep the sea back, to keep people on dry land, safe from the ravages of the sea. So we should think of the sea as death, as something monstrous, as something ferocious; and the seashore as kind of God’s wall to protect people from its dangers.
Then the monster of the deep. The word could be translated as “dragon,” it is the Hebrew word, (תַּנִּין). We have already seen where he referred to Leviathan in his earlier discourse; and later in the book Leviathan will be very prominent. What is Leviathan? We will explore that in much more detail later; but Leviathan is essentially a chaos monster, he is a creature of death, he is a creature of the undoing of creation, who has to be held in check.
A. Job prays for mercy
Job says to God, “Am I some kind of monster? Am I so dangerous that you have to beat me and afflict me in this way, as if I could somehow hurt someone?” Job in his complaining to God is very direct. We should understand, however, that this is quite normal in Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew prayers. If you read The Psalms, you will notice that very often the psalmist will speak to God and to us amazingly in amazingly direct terms. They will say things like, “God, where are you? Have you forgotten about us? Aren’t you going to save us?” Things that we typically would not pray. So when Job is very direct in his prayers, we should not necessarily think of that as impiety, that is kind of how they prayed.
He goes on and he says: “When I think my bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint, even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I prefer strangling and death rather than this body of mine. I despise my life. I would not live forever. Let me alone. My days have no
B. Job begins to develop hope
At this point again we can say, okay, Job is very unhappy because he is suffering a great deal, and that is true. There is something here, though, that is part of a progression of Job that we need to be aware of. As the book progresses, as Job progresses in his speeches, as we will see, he will more and more begin to develop a hope, a hope for a resurrection and a hope for a redeemer, a hope for someone to stand as an intercessor between himself and God. So this is kind of the very beginning of his pilgrimage. He is beginning in great suffering and he just says, “I want to die.” But he will progress to a much higher vision of God and of redemption.
We then come to one of the most striking passages in all of Job’s speeches, 17-21: “What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention, that you examine them every morning and test them every moment? Will you never look away from me or let me alone, even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sin? For I soon will lie down in the dust. You will search for me, but I will be no more.”
Let me just get one thing out of the way quickly before I get to what I think is the main point of this passage. When Job says, “Why do you not pardon my
offenses?” He is not saying, yes, I confess, I am a sinner. Job will maintain throughout all his speeches, right up to the very end, that he did not commit any
sins to deserve what has happened to him; that he has been upright and blameless, just as God Himself said he was. But what we have here is the sort of
thing you will find sometimes in the Bible or ancient Near Eastern poetry where it is like, “Okay God, if I sinned, forgive me. I don’t know what it was, but forgive me if I did something wrong.” So he is really just saying, “God, relent. I don’t know why you’re doing this.” He is not confessing to some sin.
Now I want us to pay attention to a remarkable parallel. We have just read where he asks, “What is mankind, or man, that you are mindful of him?” This is remarkably similar to Psalm 8. Here is Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of infants and children you have established a stronghold against your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens and the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them? And human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You have made them rulers over the works of your hands. You have put everything under their feet, all flocks and herds and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, that swim in the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
I want you to notice what this psalm does. It begins with creation, that God is the creator, that he is almighty; and this is something the book of Job stresses constantly. Then, out of the fact that God made heaven and earth and everything in it, it asks, “What is humanity that you are mindful of them?” It regards this as something beautiful and positive. We are small, we are insignificant, but God watches over us, he cares for us, he protects us. Not only that, God has elevated us. For all our weakness, our mortality, he has made us rulers over the world and set all the animals under us. So God is praised for how he has made humanity special and how he has his eye on them and how he has elevated the human race.
Job, by contrast, says, “What is mankind that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention and examine them every morning?” For Job, the fact that God makes so much of humanity and examines them every morning is not a thing of comfort, it is a thing of terror because he now looks upon God as someone who is constantly looking for a reason to strike someone down; who is constantly looking for a reason to condemn and to punish. So Job has taken Psalm 8 and has turned it on its head.
We do need to understand, this is to a great extent the outcry of a man who is in deep anguish and who is in a theological crisis. We’ll say this again and again, his world has collapsed because he no longer can see how the doctrine of retribution fits, how it works. So he is left with a picture of God who just arbitrarily and for no reason struck him down. Out of that, he cries out to God, “God, why do you treat us this way?”
The book of Job will answer Job’s questions. Job will raise the most troubling, difficult, frightening questions that a Christian can face. Is God really just? Does God really care? Is God just arbitrary? Why doesn’t God punish the wicked? Why does he allow evil to thrive? These questions are very hard, they are very painful; and Job puts it in very sharp terms. But they are not illegitimate questions. God will answer them, as we will see as we continue through the course.