Lecture 10: Eliphaz and the Night Spirit
Course: The Book of Job
We now want to take a look at a special segment of the Eliphaz speech, chapter 4, verses 12-20, in which he describes his visit from a night spirit. I am going to read this to you in my own translation, which is going to be pretty similar to, maybe a few differences from what you might see in standard Bibles.
“Now a stolen word was brought to me and my ear partook of it by a whisper, amid anxious thoughts brought on by nighttime visions. When deep sleep
normally falls on men, dread and trembling came upon me, my bones were in such deep horror. A spirit swept over my face. It made the hair of my skin bristle. It stood still. But I could not discern its appearance. I would not discern any recognizable form before my face. There was only silence and I began to hear a voice. ‘Can a human be just in comparison to God? Or can man be pure in comparison to his Maker? Ha! God has no confidence in his heavenly servants. He charges his angels with going wrong. How much more those who dwell in clay houses, whose foundation is in dust, whom the angels could crush as quickly as a moth! From morning to evening people are being shattered; as a matter of no importance they perish forever. Isn’t their tent cord pulled away from them? They die without understanding any of it.’”
I. Eliphaz Considers This a Revelation From God
The important thing in this vision is that Eliphaz regards it as a message from God. He considers it to be the complete truth and he lays it before Job as an
example of what we might call total depravity. But it is a distortion of the doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity does indeed state that all of us are
sinners and every part of our being is in some way or another infected with sin. It does not say that we are vile and disgusting before God, but it does say we are all truly and really and from our being, sinners. That much is true and correct.
I want you to see in this speech how Eliphaz and how this night spirit have gone far beyond what we Christians would identify as the simple doctrine of total depravity. This teaching goes into nihilism, of humans being of no value whatsoever, and even being disgusting before God. It is a teaching that is filled with hatred, misanthropy, despising the human race and saying, “Humans being what they are, it is no surprise that they are so full of sorrow and trouble and that they all die; and when they die, nothing is really lost.”
II. It Did Not Occur to Eliphaz that this might be a deception
It did not occur to Eliphaz that this might all be a deception. He calls him a spirit.
III. The Word for “Spirit” in Hebrew (ruah) Has a Range of Possible Meanings
The word for spirit in Hebrew is “ruah” and this word can have a range of meanings; and we need to quickly look through what some of these meanings
A. Wind or spirit
It can mean a wind or as here, a spirit. When it has the meaning “spirit” it can have a range of meanings. Let’s just be clear, first of all, it sometimes just means “wind.” Here, it is not wind, it is some kind of spirit. But even when it means spirit, it does indeed have a whole range of meanings.
B. Spirit of God
It can be the Spirit of God. You have a whole range of passages throughout the Bible where the word “ruah” is used for God’s Spirit. Job 33:4, Judges 3:10, Ezekiel 11:5, Isaiah 63:10, these are all just examples of places where you have references to the Spirit of God.
For example, Isaiah 63:10: “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit, so he turned and became their enemy and he, himself fought against them.” So in this case the word “spirit” is clearly the Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit of God.
C. The spirit of a man
In addition, the word “ruah” can mean the spirit of a man, his thoughts, his emotions, his frame of mind, her personality or his attitude. Once again, we have a whole range of passages in which a spirit is the spirit of a man. Genesis 41:8, Deuteronomy 2:30, Isaiah 57:15, Ezekiel 13:3, Job 6:4 and Proverbs 17:27.
We could look at a couple of these real quickly. In the book of Genesis chapter 41, verse 8: “In the morning his mind (that is, his spirit) was troubled, so that he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no-one could interpret them.” So the word he has translated in this version as “mind” is the same word, it is the word “spirit.” Deuteronomy 2:30, we will take a quick look at that one, it says: “But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through, for the Lord your God has made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands as he has now done.” Again, in this case it is the attitude of the man, his emotional framework, his frame of mind. We could look at various passages where there the ruah, spirit, refers to simply the disposition, the frame of mind, the personality of an individual human being.
D. A person or animal’s biological life
The term can refer to a person’s or an animal’s biological life, which is understood to be on loan from God. That is to say, every living creature has a ruah in the sense that it is alive. So you have for example, Genesis 2:7, which says: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living, and it is hear translated as “being;” but once again, it is a living spirit, it is a living ruah.” This means he has physical life from God.
We will have the same thing, for example, in Genesis 6:17, which says: “I am going to bring flood waters on the earth and destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath, (the ruah) of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.” Once again, the ruah, the spirit of life, is simply what we would call biological life, the fact that you are alive physically and not dead.
E. The prevalent attitude in a community
The term can also be used for the prevalent attitude or general condition in a community, as in Judges 9:23: “And God sent a bad spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem.” We have the same kind of thing in Jeremiah 51:1 and Isaiah 4:4.
You have a lot of passages in the Bible where the term “spirit” is used either for God Himself, or it is used for the mind and attitude of a person or a biological life, or even the attitude of a whole community.
F. An autonomous sentient being
In all of the uses we have just looked at, the word “ruah,” spirit, is a feminine noun. In other words, if he is talking about the Spirit of God, it is a feminine noun. If he is talking about a spirit within a human being, whether that human is a male or a female, the noun “ruah” is feminine. Talking about biological life, again, “ruah” is a feminine noun. In all of these cases it is always a feminine noun, except in one really important case. In 1 Kings 22:21-23, spirit, “ruah” is in a masculine form, it is a masculine noun; and in this case it describes an autonomous sentient being. That is to say, it is “a spirit” in the sense of a
supernatural being who is independent of God. To put it in terms we are more familiar with, it is an angel or a demon. It is not God and it’s not like the spirit within a man, his attitude. It is an individual spirit, an angel or a demon. Once again, in this case, the noun “ruah,” spirit, is a masculine noun, unlike all the other cases that were always feminine.
We come to Job chapter 4 and guess what? The term spirit is masculine. The fact that it is a masculine noun tells us we are speaking, not of God, not the spirit of God, but some kind of an individual spirit, some kind of a creature that is an angel or a demon, again to use terms we are more familiar with.
So what is it? What is the nature of the spirit who has come to Eliphaz? To get a better sense of how this might work, let’s go ahead and take a look at the 1 Kings passage, the other passage where we have “ruah,” spirit used as a masculine noun and where it refers to an individual sentient spirit. It is a passage I’m sure you are pretty familiar with. 1 Kings chapter 22, beginning at verse 19: “Micaiah continued: ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven sitting around him on his right and his left. And the Lord said ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ One suggested this and another that. Finally, a spirit, (there is the word “ruah” as a masculine noun), a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets’ he said. ‘You will succeed in enticing him’ said the Lord, ‘go and do it. So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.’”
You probably know the story. This is the story of Ahab wanting to go out to battle and he has all of his prophets around him and all of his prophets say, “Yay! Go ahead! God is going to give you the victory! God is totally with you! Yay! We will win!” Finally he goes to Micaiah at the insistence of Jehoshaphat. First he is kind of sarcastic, he says, “Yes, yes, go have a big victory.” Ahab says, “No, tell me, what did God really say to you?” Micaiah says, “Well, I had a vision and I saw all these spirits before God and God said, ‘I want someone to go and deceive Ahab, so that he will go into battle and he will destroy himself.’ And a lying spirit stood up and said, ‘I will go and I will deceive him.’ Micaiah said, ‘And all these prophets you have here, they are all being led by a lying spirit and that is why they are all telling you that you will win, because God intends to entice you to destruction.’”
We are not going to get into any theological problems related to that passage and God sending a lying spirit. That is a question all its own. All I want to get across to you at this point is, you can have these individual spirits who go out to people, who speak to them and they may not be telling the truth. They may be lying spirits. In our terms, they may be demonic.
IV. The Nature of the Encounter
Let’s consider the nature of the encounter.
A. The spirit does nothing to reassure Eliphaz
First of all, the spirit does nothing to reassure Eliphaz. It sustains the man’s terror with prolonged silence before delivering his message. If you remember, all of these angel encounters that you normally find in the Bible, where the angel Gabriel or some other angel of the Lord comes down and speaks to a person and the person is dumbstruck and terrified, what does the angel always say? He always begins, “fear not” and then proceeds to give some message, some encouragement from God. In this case there is no “fear not.” This spirit allows Eliphaz to kind of tremble and feel all of this terror, gives him no reassurance before he gives his message.
B. The encounter is described as though it were a nightmare
Secondly, the encounter is described as though it were a nightmare. We do have a lot of accounts of visions in the night that prophets received. They are never described as nightmares or something that leaves someone totally terrified. Again, this implies that the spirit is in fact an evil spirit.
C. The message from the spirit is described as “stolen”
Very strangely, and some of the translations may not reflect this, but in the very first verse of the passage, verse 12, the spirit describes it as a message that is stolen. He brings a stolen message. Let me read to you the first verse again, verse 12: “Now a stolen word was brought to me and my ear partook of it by a whisper.” That is a very strange word to use; in fact, translations will often kind of gloss over it, find some other way to deal with it. But it literally says “a stolen word.” Now a word from God might be a mystery, it can be hard to understand, it can be described as “unspeakable” as in 2 Corinthians 12:4. But it is very peculiar if it is a genuine word from God to call it “stolen.” So that again tells us something weird is going on here.
D. Parallel in Jeremiah 23:30
There is an interesting parallel in Jeremiah 23:30: The Lord complains that the prophets tell lies and “steal my words from one another.” So when the Lord is speaking of lying prophets, he speaks of how they “steal words.” That is Jeremiah 23:30; another indication that this spirit is not one we should probably trust.
E. The word implies that the message is illicit
Also, the message appears to be illicit and it appears that a true word of Yahweh, of the Lord, has been taken out of context and distorted. So the fact that it is a stolen word from God implies that obviously something is wrong, that perhaps a true word of God has been distorted. I have already suggested to you, there is a true doctrine of total depravity, or what is sometimes called original sin, or what the New Testament simply calls “the flesh.” That is the fact that yes, we are by nature sinful. “All have sinned in falling short of the glory of God.” That is true. But maybe this true doctrine has been taken and twisted and distorted because it is after all, stolen.
F. An encounter with God in Psalm 17:15
We have another night experience in Psalm 17:15, but this is quite different. This is an actual encounter with God. Let’s take a look at that very quickly, Psalm chapter 17, verse 15: The psalmist is describing his distress. He is describing all of the things that have gone wrong and how he appeals to God and he wants God to vindicate him and deliver him. He says in verse 15: “As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face. When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”
Notice the psalmist here is implying that he is going to sleep, that he is going to receive reassurance from God and when he awakes, he will be at peace, he will be satisfied. He will take assurance from the face of God. By contrast, how did Eliphaz describe his night experience? As something that was totally terrifying. It gave him no peace at all, even though he believes the word of this night spirit.
G. The spirit in Job 4 remains obscure
We should finally note that the spirit of Job 4, this night spirit, takes no recognizable shape, but remains dreadfully obscure. He is dark, he is formless, he
speaks out of shadow; and even though Eliphaz will accept his words as true, in fact, nobody knows who or what this thing is or where he came from.
V. The Spirit’s Message is Profoundly Dark
That is enough about the account of the encounter. What about his message? His message is profoundly dark in verses 17-21.
A. The “spirit” describes God as despising his creation
As far as this spirit is concerned, all of humanity, in fact all of creation including the angels, is foul in God’s eyes. God does not find anything good anywhere with anybody, according to this spirit.
Again, to go back to what he says: “Can a human be just in comparison to God? Can a man be pure in comparison to his Maker? God has no confidence in his heavenly servants. He charges his angels with wrong. How much more those who dwell in clay houses, whose foundation is in dust, whom the angels could crush as quickly as a moth.”
B. The creator has no confidence in anyone
The first thing we see here is God essentially despising everybody. He despises his creation, he despises people and the angels because they are all dirty and they are all foul.
That is a gross distortion. Does God see that all people are sinful? Yes. Does God regard everything in creation, even the angels, as sinful? Well, no. If God regards humans as sinful, does that mean he despises them? No. In fact, God loves his creation. God loves people, even though he sees everything they do that is wrong.
First of all, he accuses God of essentially despising his own creation. Secondly, according to this spirit, everyone, including the angels, is prone to do wrong and the creator has no confidence in anyone. He charges the angels with wrongdoing. He has no confidence in them, much less humans. Again, it is a gross distortion of the doctrine of total depravity in saying that there is no goodness anywhere.
If you say there is no goodness anywhere, what are you really teaching? You are teaching nihilism. You are teaching that goodness, virtue, beauty, these things are all lies, they are not real. They don’t exist. Everything in fact is death and decay and evil.
C. Humans are loathsome
Thirdly he says that humans are loathsome because they are creatures of dust and clay. He speaks of how even the angels could crush humans if they wanted to. Humans are foul because they are physical beings. They are beings of flesh and blood with all these biological functions. This is very close to something that would arise many centuries later, Gnosticism. In Gnosticism the very body is a foul thing. Physical existence is by nature evil and corrupt. The only thing that is true and good is pure spirit. This night spirit regards humans in the same way. It regards, again, the creation of physical human beings as a repulsive thing, that God Himself doesn’t care for and that the spirit plainly despises.
D. It is a matter of no importance that humans die
He then says that humans are incurably stupid and they perish in that state and that it is a matter of no importance that they die.
Let’s listen to his words again. These are very striking and disturbing. “From morning to evening people are being shattered. As a matter of no importance,
they perish forever. Isn’t their tent cord pulled away from them? They die without understanding any of it.” He is saying people are just worthless. They are so stupid. They don’t know what is coming to them and then when it comes to them, well, who cares? They’re worthless. So what does it matter if they all die?
What we need to see here is, this night spirit voices a message that absolutely despises humanity; not just because of total depravity because of their innate sinfulness, but because they are by nature worthless creatures of clay and dust. Then he says, “That is who you really are and you know what? That is what God thinks of you.”
VI. The Spirit’s Message and Satan
We should consider then how the spirit’s message is quite similar to Satan in chapters 1 and 2. The spirit proclaims a message that really does echo everything Satan says. Satan approaches God with profound cynicism about human beings. “Why does Job serve you? Well, you make him rich! And he knows if he stops serving you, he won’t be rich anymore. That is the only reason he serves you.”
Of course, that is extreme cynicism. He regards Job like every other human being, as innately, incurably foul and disgusting. Therefore, he cannot imagine that Job would ever serve God out of anything but a desire for money and for protection. Satan says that Job has no actual commitment to God and no commitment to any moral command. His actions spring from total self-preservation. And Satan says it is only a matter of applying the right pressure at the right time to tear away the mask and expose the monster beneath. “You just let me take away his stuff. You just let me hurt him physically and he will turn on you.”
Satan’s message is beyond cynicism. It is again, nihilism. It is a denial that there is any such thing as goodness and virtue, that there is any possibility that Job might actually love God, or for that matter, that God might actually love Job. So the night spirit and Satan in that sense essentially have the same message: People are wicked and worthless and the only thing you can do is try to please God by at least pretending to be good, so that God won’t destroy you.
VII. God’s Attitude Toward Job and Humanity
We should contrast also God’s attitude in chapter 1. God has faith that Job’s loyalty will survive the most stringent test. He believes that no matter how hard Job gets punched, he will continue to hold fast and not curse God and die. The Lord believes that godliness can exist in a human. Satan and the spirit of the night do not believe that.
Not a single word of the spirit’s message to Eliphaz can be construed as encouragement to piety or virtue because the spirit has in effect said there is no
piety, it is a sham, it is a lie. There is no virtue, you cannot possibly have it. Thus, the spirit in his distortion of the doctrine of depravity is in fact saying, “There is no point to pursuing a devout life.”
VIII. The Friends Echo the Spirit at Various Points
Before we get away from this, we need to think about how these words are echoed later in the book. Not only is the spirit’s word fundamentally nihilist, but it is the message that Eliphaz has grabbed onto and the three friends grab onto.
Let me give you some of the echoes of this passage later in the book. Here is Eliphaz in Job 15:14-16: “What is man that he can be pure or someone born of a woman that he can be righteous? Look! God has no confidence in his holy angels and heaven is impure in his eyes. How much less is his confidence in an
abominable and corrupt being, a human who drinks in malice like water?” That is Eliphaz almost in some cases actually quoting the night spirit. “God has no confidence in the holy angels. In fact, God doesn’t even like heaven, and even heaven is impure in God’s eyes. So he looks down on human beings who are physical flesh and blood beings and he just considers them to be utterly worthless.” That is Eliphaz clearly echoing the night spirit.
We also have Zophar in Job 20, verses 2 and 3. Zophar says: “And so my troubled thoughts bring me back into the fray.” So he is coming back to argue with Job. “And I speak on account of the agitation within me. I keep hearing an insulting reproof directed at me.” So here he is angry at Job because he thinks Job is reproving him. But then he says: “But a spirit beyond my understanding gives me an answer.” Once again, it is a spirit that speaks to him and gives him an answer.
Then we find the message echoed in Bildad in Job 25:2-6. Bildad says: “Dominion and dread are with him. Who makes peace in his heavenly heights? Is there any limit to his army? Or is there anyone against whom his light does not rise? And how might a human be righteous with God? Or how might one born of woman be pure? Look! Even the moon has no shine, the stars are not pure in his eyes. How much less so, a human who is a maggot, or a son of man, who is a worm.”
Notice here, after he speaks that we know God is high, God is powerful, all of this stuff, he then comes back and says, “Even the heavenly bodies are corrupted and vile in God’s eyes. The moon and the sun, the stars, they are not pure in God’s eyes.” The very last word of Bildad – in fact, this is the last word of any of the three friends in the book of Job – is that a human being is a maggot and a worm. Again, that is not God’s attitude. That is a gross distortion of the concept of total depravity, making human beings out to be these foul, loathsome, despicable creatures.
IX. The Psalmist Laments, “I am a worm and not a man.”
You might think about Psalm 22, verse 6 where the psalmist says, “But I am a worm and not a man.” He compares himself to a worm. However, in Psalm 22:6 when the psalmist says “I am a worm, not a man,” this is the emotional outburst of a man who is in intense suffering. He doesn’t mean that all men are worms. In fact, he contrasts the condition of being wormlike with being a man, implying that being a man really is a good thing, It is not something that is innately vile; whereas in Bildad’s speech and in the speech of the night spirit, a human being is innately vile.
X. Psalm 14
Psalm 14 does speak of God looking down from heaven and saying that he finds no-one who is righteous, all are corrupt. Everywhere God looks, he sees evil people; and yes, that is true; that is part of the doctrine of total depravity. But in the same psalm, Psalm 14, the Lord speaks of “my people and the company of the righteous.” Again, what the night spirit has done is taken the doctrine of total depravity and turned it into something very, very foul, to treat all humanity as essentially loathsome.
Eliphaz puts it this way in chapter 22, verse 3: “Does the Almighty care if you are righteous, or does he gain anything from you making the course of your life perfect?” Like the night spirit, they have finally come around to say, “You know, piety is really meaningless. God doesn’t care.” Again, it becomes a kind of charade. “You pretend to be good and God will bless you, but it is not real.” It is all, again, nihilistic.
So what can we conclude regarding the speech of the night spirit and how it is taken by the three friends? They have taken the idea that all have sinned, and have turned it into meaning there is no such thing as goodness, goodness is impossible. People are simply loathsome and worthless and God despises us along with everything else; and being physical creatures, we are just doubly worthless.
They somehow think that this upholds the justice of God. And this is the point at which they are completely misguided. Elsewhere again, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar will say many things that are true and good, albeit misapplied. They will say some things that are a little bit off base. In this case, they are really, really off base. They are completely distorting what the Bible is teaching.
The warning for us as we close, is to understand that you can take a Biblical doctrine and if you misapply it, and if you speak from an unrepentant heart, if you speak from a heart that lacks love, that is not truly touched by God, you turn it into something that is disgusting and vile and nihilistic and hateful.
This is the beginning of the speech of the three friends. This is what Eliphaz has to say. Job will say, “You are wrong.” With that, we close.