Lecture 09: Eliphaz’s First Response (Job 4–5)
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Eliphaz’s First Response (Job 4–5)
In this lecture, we want to look at the first response of Eliphaz because in a very meaningful way, it sets the tone for everything else.
First of all, the structure of Eliphaz’ speech. It is a fairly long speech, you can see it is two chapters, chapters 4 and 5.
II. Appeal to Reason and Experience (4:2, 5:27)
We begin with an appeal to reason and experience. Eliphaz is appealing to Job on the basis of what he knows and what he has experienced, to change his mind.
III. Tactful Opening (4:2-6)
There is this tactful opening where Eliphaz will in a very respectful way suggest that Job is wrong.
IV. Doctrine of Retribution (4:7-11)
There is the doctrine of retribution laid out in simple terms that we have been discussing.
V. The Night Spirit (4:12-21)
He describes the night spirit. This is something we are going to have to look at in detail. This is perhaps the most important element of any of the speeches of the three friends because the message of the night spirit is at the core of much of what they believe and it is the source of much of what is wrong with what they believe. So we will have to look at that.
VI. Misery Comes to Fools (5:1-7)
He says simply that misery comes to fools and he has a very specific fool in mind, namely Job, in 5:1-7.
VII. Turn to God Who is Unfailingly Good
He appeals to Job to turn to God who is unfailingly good, (5:8-16.)
VIII. Those Whom God Loves, He Reproves and They Have Happiness
He says that those whom God loves he reproves, that they may in turn have perfect happiness, (chapter 5, verses 17-26).
Finally, there is another appeal to reason and this is again an inclusion structure. This is like the bookends where he begins with this appeal to reason and
experience. He ends with the same thing and that sort of brackets the whole speech.
Let’s begin. Taking a look at chapter 4, verse 2: “If someone ventures a word with you, would you be patient? But who can keep from speaking? Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands.”
Notice here, he appeals to Job saying, “You know, you yourself have instructed people. Can’t someone give you a word? Is it okay if someone else talks?” So it is kind of an appeal for him to be reasonable, to be open to discussion and to remember that there are lessons he himself has learned. He repeats the same kind of thing towards the very end, chapter 5, verse 27: “We have examined this and it is true, so hear it and apply it to yourself.” He says, “We have experienced all of this. We have tested it, we have tried it. Our experience tells us it is true. So Job, go ahead and just believe that we know what we are talking about.”
He then gets into his tactful opening, verse 4: “Your words have supported those who stumbled. You have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you and you are discouraged. It strikes you and you are dismayed. Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?”
A couple of things to notice here about this little part of the passage. First of all, again it is very tactful. It is very respectful. Eliphaz did not come looking for a fight. When we see Eliphaz become more and more bitter, it is evidence of how his misunderstanding of doctrine and even how his adherence to true doctrine, but misapplied, has simply made him more and more angry and he can’t handle it anymore. It is very important to see. He does not come as Job’s enemy. Notice also, he acknowledges that Job has been a righteous person. “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” He knows Job has lived a life that is absolutely above reproach, that Job has been a good man. He does not deny it. So he says, “You know, Job, you have encouraged people, you have instructed people. When necessary you have rebuked people. Now something has happened to you and maybe you need a little correction, you need a little rebuke. So let me as a friend give it to you.” We should see that he comes on with a very, very positive attitude.
Then he gives a pretty basic statement of the doctrine of retribution, verse 7: “Consider now, who being innocent has ever perished? Where were the upright every destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble, reap it. At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more. The lions roar and growl, yet the teeth of the great lions are broken. The lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.”
Here we have the basic idea of the doctrine of retribution. First, the innocent never perish, first thing he says in verse 7. So if someone has had terrible things happen to him, if he is beset by tragedy, if he suffered terrible loss, it is certainly not that he was innocent. Of course we know from the prologue, in Job’s case that is wrong. But that is the doctrine of retribution. Against that, he says that everyone who does evil, everyone who is vicious like a lion, gets crushed by God, has his fangs pulled out, his teeth broken.
What is Eliphaz saying here? He is saying the doctrine of retribution holds true. The reason people suffer is because they did something wrong. The reason
people prosper is because they are righteous, or maybe God is setting them up for a fall, they only prosper for a very short season. This is the basic doctrine that is at the heart of everything Job and the three friends have believed. I’ll say it one more time: This is how they explain the world. This is how they explain the injustice in the world. This is how they make sense of it all and this is the thing that for Job has collapsed. Eliphaz is saying, “No, it is in good shape, it is great, no problem here.”
We then come to the night spirit, but I want to come back to him at the end because the night spirit is such a critical passage. I want us to give a lot of
attention to that, so let’s move past the night spirit in chapter 4, verses 12-21 and move ahead to what he says in chapter 5, verses 1-7.
Misery comes to fools. He says: “Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? Resentment kills a fool and envy slays the
simple. I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was crushed. His children are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender. The hungry consume his harvest, taking it even from among the thorns and the thirsty pant after his wealth. For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”
Here he says basically, if you are a fool, you will experience misery. Verse 2 especially, “Resentment kills a fool, envy slays the simple.” So if you do not follow the precepts that we are teaching, your life will be a wreck. Everything that you possess will fall away from you.
There is something in all of these speeches and the friends we need to be very careful about because they tend to make everything abstract and general when in fact, they have a very specific point in mind. They will describe the fate of the wicked and the fool, but in doing so they will always use as examples things that happened to Job. What they are doing is, in a veiled way, they are saying, “Job, you are the fool. Job, you are wicked. Job, everything that we have learned and taught about how evil people can prosper for a little time and then total disaster comes down upon them, that is true of you.”
So you have to be careful when you’re reading passages like Eliphaz’ speech and the speeches of Bildad and Zophar. When they seem to be talking in generalities, in fact they are really talking about Job. Notice, for example, chapter 5, verse 4: “His children are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender.” Children far from safety. What happened to Job’s children? They were all slaughtered, they all got killed. “Crushed in court without a defender.” Literally, that seems to imply they will be taken into court, they will be sued, they will have to go before a court and they will lose. More metaphorically, it is the fact that God is not there to defend them; that when trials come upon them, God won’t help them. What Eliphaz really is saying is, “Job, look, this happened to you. Therefore, you are a fool. You are a wicked man and all of this stuff came upon you.”
Verses 6 and 7 are quite difficult. It says, once again in the NIV, “For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.” The Hebrew of this text is quite obscure and there is a specific difficulty in it. Let me give you an alternative translation. Let me read this to you: “For misery does not come from the ground, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. For humanity is born to trouble and the sons of Resheph mount up in arrogance.” In those translations in verse 7 that is translated “the sparks fly upward” the word is Resheph in Hebrew, or the full expression, sons of Resheph, [speaking Hebrew]. Resheph was actually a Canaanite god and he was the god of pestilence. The term could possibly be used for sparks in such things as that; but many interpreters believe that is not the point here. It could be that the sons of Resheph, the sons of this god of pestilence, are to be understood as wicked people. We have in Hebrew the expression, “sons of Belial.” If you have ever read the Old Testament in the King James Version, you have seen that expression, “sons of Belial.” In modern translations it isusually rendered something like, “wicked people” or something along that line. But it literally is “sons of Belial;” and I think “sons of Resheph” are probably the same thing. The sons of Resheph who come up are wicked people. They are vile people. They are evil people. In the revised translation that I have given you, misery does not come from the earth, nor does trouble sprout up from the ground. It means, trouble does not just happen by accident, it doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. Rather, humanity is born to trouble. The word “trouble” there can mean not only trouble in the sense of bad things happening to you, but bad behavior. People are kind of born to be bad and born to have bad things happen to them. Then he says – and again, the translation of the Hebrew is difficult, but I would suggest it means – the sons of Resheph (that is to say, wicked people) mount up in arrogance.
So what I think Eliphaz is saying is, “Wicked people are coming up all the time, people who are arrogant, people who defy God, people who assume nothing
wrong will ever happen to them.” What he is saying is, “Bad things don’t just happen by accident. They happen because people are so evil, people are so
twisted.” Then he says, chapter 5, verses 8-16: “Turn to God, who is unfailingly good. If I were you, I would appeal to God. I would lay my cause before Him. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. He provides rain for the earth. He sends water on the countryside. The lonely he sets on high and those who mourn are mounted up to safety. He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so their hands have no success. He catches the wise in their craftiness and the schemes of their ways will be swept away. Darkness comes upon them in daytime, at noon they grope as in the night. He saves the needy from the sword of their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful; so the poor have hope and injustice shuts its mouth.”
What Eliphaz says here, is it true? Yes, it is true. God is powerful. He is the One who sends the rain. God does see all that is done in the earth. God does care about the poor. God does punish the evil. All of that is true and nothing Eliphaz says here is problematic of itself. What is wrong? What is wrong is, it doesn’t fit this case. Job is not a wicked man who is being punished.
What I am wanting you to see thus far: There are things Eliphaz says that are completely true, but misapplied. There are other things he says that are a little bit off; and in a moment we are going to see where he says something that is completely wrong. He calls for Job to repent and I want you to notice, in a strange way, what he predicts will happen, but not as he predicts it. He predicts that if Job turns to God, that everything will go well, God will heal him and his life will be good again. Well, God will meet Job. Job will have a confrontation with God; and at the end of it all, Job will be healed. Job’s suffering will come to an end. He will have his property restored. He will have children again. His life will be good again. All that Eliphaz predicts in that sense is correct. But it is ironic because it doesn’t happen the way he expects. He expects Job to repent of some sin. What Job instead does is come to a new understanding and the person who is in trouble at the end of all of this is Eliphaz.
Thus, he concludes with something that I think we could all agree with. Those whom God loves he reproves and they in turn have happiness. So we read,
“Blessed is the one whom God corrects, and so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Just like Hebrews says: “Those whom God loves he chastises.” That is true, that is correct. Again, Eliphaz is saying things that are correct, but he is misapplying the situation. Verse 18: “He wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will touch you.” He speaks again of how Job will have complete freedom from suffering. “You will be protected,” verse 21, “from the lash of the tongue and need not fear when destruction comes. You will laugh at destruction and famine and need not fear the wild animals, for you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, the wild animals will be at peace with you. You will know your tent is secure and will take stock of your property, find nothing missing. You will know that your children will be many, your descendants will be like the grass of the earth. You will come to the grave in full vigor, like the sheaves gathered in season.”
Once again, amazingly everything he predicts here in a sense will come true, but not as he predicts it. There is something else, though. What Eliphaz says is in a sense true, but in a sense goes a bit too far. Is it really correct that those who fear God have no anxiety at all about something going wrong with their lives? That every time disaster strikes, that they can just laugh at it and think nothing of it. It is true that God cares for his people, that God watches over them. It is true, as the psalmist says: “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen those who fear God begging bread.” That is all correct, that is all true. But he makes it sound like, if you just believe in God and obey what he says, your life will be absolutely blissful. You will have no problems at all. That is a distortion of what God promises.
God promises to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He does not promise we will never have to walk through the valley. He does not promise that we will never have times when we are suffering greatly. If nothing else, we can look to Jesus, who suffered enormously, though he was perfectly righteous. And the life of Paul, who as God’s servant, who as the apostle to the Gentiles, gave his total life over to the service of God and yet gives us in the New Testament a whole list of all of the terrible things he suffered and his misery and his anxiety and his concerns and his worries. So it is simply not true that those who are righteous have no troubles, that disaster never strikes them, that they are never afraid, that they are never worried or distressed.
So Eliphaz has taken, again, something which is essentially right and good, and has gone too far with it. What we have seen thus far then in the speech of Eliphaz is that he began very tactfully. He intended to do good. He didn’t come to afflict Job. He does see Job as genuinely one of the fools, one of the wicked. He believes Job has been afflicted by God for some sin. He rightly speaks of the justice of God, though in this case he misapplies it; and he exaggerates how the righteous live, saying that they never have trouble, they never have fear and anxiety.
We have seen thus far in all of these elements of Eliphaz’ speech, things that are true, things that are partly true, things that are misapplied, things that are a little troubling in his accusation of Job. But the most important thing in this speech, the thing that really will carry through the entire book of Job is what Eliphaz says about the night spirit. That is what we will look at in our next lecture.