Lecture 16: Eliphaz’s Second Response
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Eliphaz’s Second Response
We are now into the second cycle and Job has made his opening speech, and so now Eliphaz gives his response. Here we have the second speech of Eliphaz.
I. Job is a Babbling, Blaspheming Fool
The structure is pretty straightforward. It begins by simply saying that Job is a babbling, blaspheming fool in chapter 15, verses 2-6. He says true wisdom
belongs with the three, the three friends, in verses 7-19; and then he gives a poem about Job, the wicked man, in verses 20-35. I should tell you, he doesn’t
explicitly say, “Job,” but it is clear he is talking about Job when he describes “the wicked man.”
Let’s get into it. Chapter 15, verses 2-6: “Would a wise person answer with empty notions, or fill their belly with the hot east wind? Would they argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value? But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. Your sin prompts your mouth. You adopt the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, not mine. Your own lips testify against you.”
This is just his opening salvo; and all he is saying basically is, “Job, you are full of hot air. All you have given us is a bunch of breezy, empty, hollow arguments.” It is interesting, though, he does throw Job’s own words back into his face. He says in verses 5 and 6, “Your sin prompts your mouth. You adopt the tongue of the crafty. Your mouth condemns you, not mine. Your own lips testify against you.” This is, in fact, an echo of what Job said in chapter 9, verse 20: “Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me. If I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.”
So Job, when he said it, he was simply saying, “God, you have so confounded me that nothing I can say will get me out of this mess.” Whereas, Eliphaz is saying, “Job, you’re so guilty, you are confessing your sin even when you don’t realize it.” So again, he is simply throwing Job’s words back into his face and saying, “You are utterly guilty. Everything you say is wrong and you need to repent.”
II. True Wisdom Belongs to the Three
A. Tradition of the elders
He then exclaims that all true wisdom belongs to the three and he claims to have the tradition of the elders behind them. So we pick up in verses 7-19: “Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills? Do you listen in on God’s counsel? Do you have a monopoly on wisdom? What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have? The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father. Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you? Why has your heart carried you away? Why do your eyes flash, so that you vent your rage against God and pour out such words from your mouth? What are mortals, that they could be pure? Are those born of woman, that they could be righteous? If God places no trust in his holy ones; if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less mortals who are vile and corrupt and who drink evil like water? Listen to me and I will explain to you. Let me tell you what I have seen, what the wise have declared, hiding nothing received from their ancestors, to whom alone the land was given when no foreigners moved among them.”
I want you to notice first of all that Eliphaz is doing something the three have already done before. They appeal to the elders and they say that older
generations are the source of all this wisdom and it is folly to turn aside from it. We have already seen this in this speech. Eliphaz simply expands upon it in more detail. We can think about this for a minute and think about what Eliphaz is saying.
We have already observed that it is indeed foolish to simply jettison what former generations of humans have believed all along. On the other hand, if the former generations had all the answers, we wouldn’t still be struggling the way we are struggling. It would just be a matter of embracing what they said and all of our questions would be answered. Certainly, the challenge that Job is facing was not answered by the older generations.
So, let’s remind ourselves: What is the teaching of the older generations? The older generations essentially teach again, what I have called “type 2 wisdom.”
This is wisdom on how to behave in this life and it is good wisdom. So, when you read in the book of Proverbs how it warns the young man to avoid the violent gang, as in chapter 1, the temptation of the young man to get what he wants through crime, through violence, just beating people up and joining a gang and having the comradery of the gang, having riches without having to work for it. That is the temptation to crime that the young man faces. The wisdom of the elders, the wisdom of Proverbs, are again what I would call, “type 2 wisdom” says, that is the way that leads to death. Sooner or later, all your crimes will catch up to you. Sooner or later, people know what you are doing and they will take you in and in the ancient world, that could be very severe punishment indeed. Type 2 wisdom, the wisdom of the elders is, “stay away from that sin.”
Proverbs also teaches the young man to avoid the prostitute and adultery and all forms of sexual immorality. So it will warn that anyone who does this, he destroys his own soul. “The door to her house is the door to death” and that a man who commits adultery is inviting all kinds of disaster upon his own head, not least from the outraged husband. These are two just basic teachings from the elders, from former generations and they are good, they are right. We could say the same thing for example, that throughout the human race there is an understanding of marriage and what marriage means and the importance of fidelity to marriage; and the fact that marriage is heterosexual. This is good. This is the teaching we have received. This has been a universal human cultural reality. It is not something that you should abandon, that you should simply overthrow and think
that you know better.
Once again, we are up against the fact that what the three friends say is not all wrong. In fact, a great deal of it is right; and often where they mess up, they are simply misapplying a right teaching to the wrong situation. So Eliphaz first appeals to the traditions of the elders. Again, this is kind of what we would call generally the conservative mentality. It is also what I have called “type 2 wisdom.” It is the kind of wisdom you find in Proverbs.
B. The night spirit
But that is not the only thing Eliphaz appeals to. In the second part of the speech that I just read he describes not only that the wisdom of the elders is with him, but that something else entirely is with him. He says, verse 14 again: “What are mortals that they could be pure, or those born of a woman?” Let’s pause right there. We can all grant the reality of that. Yes, we mortal human beings are sinful. We are of the flesh. That is taught throughout the Bible and we all acknowledge it. But then verse 15: “If God places no trust in his holy ones; if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes…” Where did he get that? Where do we ever learn that God distrusts the angels, or that God looks at heaven and says it is impure? Well, he got that from the night spirit. So Eliphaz is not only calling upon the wisdom of the elders and the conservative tradition; he is calling upon the teaching of the night spirit. He is confounding the two. He is drawing the two together as if they taught the same thing. That is a serious error on his part and it illustrates how badly the three have gone astray.
What is heresy, after all? You rarely find a heresy that is purely and entirely without any Biblical foundation whatsoever; that is, from beginning to end it is
nothing but contrary to the Bible. Most heresy is a distortion of something that is in the Bible, a gross exaggeration of something that is in the Bible.
For example, a classic heresy is the Arian heresy, the heresy that denied the deity of Christ. Well, what did they get that was right? They got correct that Jesus was truly human and this was actually contrary to an earlier heresy, the Gnostic heresy that denied Jesus was truly human. So the Gnostics got something right and something wrong. The Gnostics said that Jesus is God, but then they said, “so he can’t be man.” The Arians said, “Jesus is man, so he can’t be God.” They both took a true teaching and they distorted it, they undermined the holistic, complete Biblical picture. And it is that way always. You almost never find a heretical teaching that does not contain an element of Biblical truth; but it will be an element of Biblical truth that has been distorted, has been exaggerated or has had other things added to it. In the case of Eliphaz, what has been added to it is the teaching of the night spirit.
He says in verse 15: “Even the heavens are not pure in God’s eyes; how much less mortals who are vile and corrupt, who drink up evil like water?” Let’s consider what he says here. First of all, notice how harshly he puts it. “We are vile, we are corrupt, we drink up evil like water.” There is a Biblical precedent for talking about humans that way. Yes, we have universal corruption. Yes, we all have sin. Yes, we all have evil within us that only the grace of God can rescue us from. But when you simply say that humans are just vile and corrupt and they drink up evil like water, that makes it sound like every person is as bad as bad can be; that people are incapable of doing anything good; that they never have compassion; that they never know how to be kind to people or how to be honest, or how to be faithful sexually. Of course, we know that is not true. There are a lot of people who do a lot of kind and compassionate things, who have consciences, who feel it deeply when they know they have done something wrong and they have harmed another person.
Human nature is complex. Let’s put it this way: We are sinners. We are of the flesh. We have suffered from Adam’s fall. We do have total depravity, if you
understand that correctly. That doesn’t mean that is all we are, that there is nothing else to be said about us and that we are vile and corrupt and drink up evil like water. Eliphaz has taken this doctrine, he has taken something received from the elders, he has combined it with the teaching of the night spirit and he has come up with an almost nihilistic picture of humanity, a picture in which there is really no such thing as goodness, there is no such thing as compassion, there is no such thing as honesty. People are just bad because that is all there is.
III. Poem on the Fate of the Wicked
He then follows with another poem on the fate of the wicked and this is very much a portrait of Job. Verses 17-35: “Listen to me and I will explain to you. Let me tell you what I have seen, what the wise have declared, hiding nothing received from their ancestors, to whom alone the land was given when no
foreigners moved among them. All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless man through all the years stored up for him. Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him. He despairs of escaping the realm of darkness. He is marked for the sword. He wanders about for food like a vulture. He knows the day of darkness is at hand. Distress and anguish fill him with terror. Troubles overwhelm him like a king poised to attack, because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield. Though his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh, he will inhabit ruined towns and houses where no one lives, houses crumbling to rubble. He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land. He will not escape the darkness; a flame will wither his shoots, and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away. Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return. Before his time he will wither and his branches will not flourish. He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms. For the company of the godless will be barren and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes. They conceive trouble and give birth to evil; their wombs fashion deceit.”
It sounds like he is just giving a general poem on the fate of the wicked. These are what the wicked are like, this is how God punishes them. But in fact, from beginning to end, it is a portrait of Job. This is a veiled attack on Job himself. Verse 20: “All day he suffers torment.” That is certainly Job, as Job has himself said very clearly. He suffers all day, he suffers all night, he can’t sleep, his body is racked with pain, terrifying sounds fill his ears. That is what Job has said. “Marauders attack him.” Job has spoken of marauders who attack. Everything he is saying is describing the suffering of Job. “He despairs of escaping the realm of darkness. He is marked for the sword.” Job has spoken of his despair. “He wanders like a vulture. He knows the day of darkness is at hand.” Job has spoken frequently of his death. “Distress and anguish fill him with terror.” Well, yes, Job is filled with anguish. Verse 25: “He shakes his fist at God.” That is exactly how the three friends portray Job and imagine Job. Job is hostile to God. Job is hostile to the truth. Job is shaking his fist at God and is blaspheming God; and so this is Job. “He defiantly charges against God,” verse 26. “Though his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges…”
That doesn’t sound like a good thing, but in the ancient world that was thought of as a good thing. Typically people think of beauty in terms of the opposite of what is common. Something very common, very easy to achieve, people typically don’t think of that as beautiful; but if something requires effort or requires special treatment, they think of that as beautiful. Thus, for example, Caucasian people in modern society where they live all their lives indoors and tend to be very white, tend to think of tanned skin as very beautiful.
In the ancient world fat people weren’t real common. Everybody lived under the shadow of famine every year of their life. Everybody went through lean years when there was very, very little to eat; and every year as the former harvest dwindled, they would have to be sparing in how much they ate until the new harvest came in. So hunger was a daily fact of life in the ancient world and you would find very few overweight people in ancient Israel or anywhere else in the ancient world. So for that reason, first of all they associated fatness with wealth, which of course they thought was a great thing. But then secondly, to them it was attractive because they never saw people like that. They thought of it as something exotic, that somebody was not skin and bones. So when he describes a person who has fatness, it is not to be thought of as if he despises this kind of person. This is a person who has achieved great success in life. This is a person who has become what everybody else wants to be; and so he says, “Though his face is covered with fat, his waist bulges with flesh, he will inhabit ruined towns.”
What does this say about Job? Well, we don’t know that Job was fat, but we do know that Job was successful, that he was wealthy, that he had thousands of
cattle. He was by the standards of the ancient Near East an incredibly rich, prosperous man, certainly not a man who would ever go hungry. So to say that
though his face was covered with fat, he would dwell in a ruined town – and in his case the ruined town would be Job’s own estates where all of his possessions were destroyed, were consumed in fire, were taken by the raiders who came through and despoiled his land. So verse 29: “He is no longer rich, his possessions are gone.” That certainly is Job. “He will not escape darkness. A flame will wither his shoots.” Fire fell down and took Job’s possessions. Verse 31: “Let him not deceive himself.” Job is deceiving himself as far as Eliphaz is concerned. He is trusting in what is worthless, namely Job’s own claims of innocence. “Before his time he will wither, his branches will not flourish.” Once again we go back to the metaphor of the plant and Job is seen here as a person who has been cut off by God like a plant that is now withering and dying. Then verse 34: “The company of the godless will be barren.” Job has lost all his children, so he now is regarded as godless and therefore in effect, barren. He has no offspring to leave his possessions to. “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil, their womb fashion deceit.”
As far as Eliphaz is concerned, Job is totally evil and he has suffered the fate of evil men.
We have talked about the progression of Job in his pilgrimage of faith. We see here again the progression of the three. If we remember, Eliphaz’s first speech was so tactful and so careful and only very gently implied that Job did something wrong. Here he gives this thinly veiled speech in which he says, “Job, all these calamities that have happened to you, you have deserved. You are evil, you are foolish, you are godless and therefore God has brought all this down upon you.”
IV. Is Eliphaz Right?
As we read Eliphaz’s words, we again need to recognize that some of what he says is true, much of what he says is false, much of it is truth that has been distorted and then misapplied. So the three friends have become in their doctrine and in their attempt to refute Job, cynical and even misanthropic, hating humanity, hating people.
This is a warning to all of us, that if we find ourselves becoming angry and hateful over our doctrinal disputes, we are following the path of the three. It is ever the case that those who feel they are defending orthodoxy and yet have somehow distorted something; when they get contradicted, they become very angry, they become very hostile and they attribute wrongly all kinds of sins to their opponents.
This is certainly the case with the Pharisees, who held to many true doctrines, but distorted them and failed to see the work of God for what it was; and in their frustration with Jesus, became more and more angry and finally convicted him as a blasphemer and sent him to death.
So the three friends and Eliphaz in particular, are a warning to us and are an example of the path into heresy.