Lecture 21: Eliphaz makes a Furious Final Speech
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Eliphaz makes a Furious Final Speech
We are now into the third cycle of the debate between Job and his friends. Job has opened up the third cycle and now Eliphaz for the third time, will speak. What we will find is first, that the three friends are pretty much out of arguments. We will see a lot of repetition and recycling of their former arguments. Secondly, we will see that they have now become utterly furious and irrational, even deceitful in what they say; and that the theology of the night spirit, the nihilistic theology that humans are worthless, will come to dominate their thinking.
We begin with this speech of Eliphaz in chapter 22, verses 1-30. The structure is: First, human righteousness is meaningless to God, 22:2 and 3. Secondly, there is a direct attack on Job, 22:4-14. Third, Job is the paradigm of the wicked man in 22:15-20; and finally, another appeal for Job to repent, 22:21-30.
I. Human Righteousness is Meaningless to God
So let’s go ahead and have a look at what the text says, beginning with verses 2 and 3: “Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise person benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?”
That is an interesting argument for Eliphaz to open with. We have seen it a little bit already, but here he makes it the spearhead of his argument to Job that God doesn’t benefit in any way if you are righteous. Why would he even say such a thing? Well, apparently his thinking is, Job is contending that he is righteous, that he has obeyed God, that he has not turned to evil or been corrupt or oppressed people, or anything like that. For that reason, Job thinks it’s wrong for God to punish him. And apparently, Eliphaz is coming back by saying, “Even if all of that is true, that doesn’t help God, that doesn’t do anything for God, so he can still punish you.”
The thing we should see is first of all, Eliphaz has undercut his own argument because all the way through he has been arguing, “Job, you are a sinner and that’s why God is punishing you;” and he will continue that in just a moment. But if he is going to say, “Well, Job, even if you are righteous, it doesn’t matter,” it totally destroys his theology of retribution; that the way the world works is, God punishes the evil and he rewards the good.
We do need to think a little bit about this claim of his, that God receives no benefit from our righteousness. Is that correct? I guess, strictly speaking, it is true. We don’t in any way specifically benefit God in terms of God receiving something from us, as though it were a financial transaction or something like that. But I think he is missing the point. It is not that we do something for God that he needs. It is not that God lacks something and we need to provide it for him by being righteous. It is that God loves us and that God wants what is best for us. God knows that what is best for us is for us to live wholesome lives with integrity, with compassion. God knows that the thing that is best for us is to know Him because he is the source of all life, he is the source of all love. Whereas technically Eliphaz may be correct, that we do not benefit God in any way by doing something for him; in fact, when we are righteous, we are doing what God wants, what he desires. What he desires is our good because he loves us.
You might compare it simply to the illustration of a parent and child. If a little child does something right, does that child benefit the parent? Well, no. But, is the parent happy, pleased, joyful even, because the child has done something right? Well, yes, he is. So Eliphaz, I think, has completely misunderstood the situation. We should note also that this brings him deeper into the theology of the night spirit, this nihilistic theology which says essentially, “Righteousness and goodness are meaningless.”
II. Direct Attack on Job
Let’s go on. He then makes a direct attack upon Job beginning in verse 4: “Is it for your piety that he rebukes you and brings charges against you? Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless? You demanded security from your relatives for no reason. You stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked. You gave no water to the weary and you withheld food from the hungry although you were a powerful man, owning land, an honored man, living on it. And you sent widows away emptyhanded and broke the strength of the fatherless. That is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you; why it is so dark you cannot see; and why a flood of water covers you. Is not God in the heights of heaven? And see how lofty the highest stars are. Yet you say, ‘What does God know? Does he judge through such darkness? Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see us as he goes about in the vaulted heavens.’”
I want us to see, first of all, that Eliphaz, who earlier in the debate was tactful towards Job, was very hesitant to bring direct charges, now brings a whole array of severe, harsh accusations against Job; and we should say up front, accusations that are completely groundless, they are false. But he begins on a very ironic note. Notice again verse 4: “Is it for your piety that he rebukes you?” Did God hit Job so hard because Job was a righteous man who feared God? The answer is, “Yes!” Eliphaz doesn’t know it, but he got it exactly right when he asked if it was because of Job’s godliness, his reverence, his upright life that God rebuked him. That is precisely why God - if we can put it this way - punished him, because God was showing that Job was truly righteous; that even when everything he had was taken away, he would still hold fast to God. He would not curse God and die. Then he gives his catalogs of false accusations beginning with, “Isn’t your wickedness great? Aren’t you really a horrible, terrible man who has committed all kinds of heinous sins?” What does he say Job did? First he says, “You demanded security from your relatives for no reason; you stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked.”
What he is accusing him of is something that was very important in the ancient near east. People would fall into poverty; and when they fell into poverty, they would need to borrow money from people who had it. They would need to give some kind of surety, some kind of collateral, for the loan they took. If they were extremely poor, the only collateral they could have was the cloak that they wore. People in the ancient world typically had two basic essential garments. The one was what could be called “the tunic,” which was kind of your basic, everyday garment. Think of it like a really long T-shirt, kind of a night shirt sort of a thing. That was their daily, ordinary garb. Over that they would wear a cloak. The cloak would be, of course, typically of wool, would be a warm material; and at night their cloak became their blanket. So if you are really, really poor, that is pretty much all you have: The tunic, which is your basic clothing, and the cloak, which is kind of your overcoat and at nighttime, your blanket.
It was understood that if you took away a man’s cloak as collateral for a loan, that you needed to give it back every evening because otherwise he had nothing to sleep in. He could freeze lying there, wearing nothing but his thin tunic. In fact, we have this in the law. When we turn to Exodus 22:25: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” So there we have the law of God in the book of the Covenant in Exodus 22. And the point is, as we have just said, if you loan money to someone and the only collateral they have is a cloak, you have to give it back every night so that they have something to sleep in.
Eliphaz says, “You didn’t do that. You would just take away the cloak and keep it, and you basically left them naked. You left them to freeze in the night.” Then he says, “Job, you have no compassion at all, you are utterly greedy and selfish.” Notice in verse 7: “You didn’t give any water to the thirsty. You didn’t give any food to the hungry.” We can recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “I was naked and you clothed me. I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.” So here he is saying, “You didn’t do anything like that.” We need to be sure that we understand why this is so significant. In the Bible, in the Old Testament, and pretty well in the ancient near east, this was an essential part of righteousness. We sometimes wrongly think that the Old Testament understands righteousness to simply be a matter of not breaking commands like, “Don’t break the command, ‘do not murder’ or ‘do not steal’ or ‘do not commit adultery.’” We think of righteousness as simply being a negative thing, that you don’t commit heinous sins. But in the Old Testament righteousness is very much a positive thing. That is, you are expected to show works of compassion. You are expected to be generous. You are expected to be forgiving. You are expected to withhold yourself from greed. So Abraham is a paradigm of righteousness. When he and Lot had a little dispute over land and who would get what land, Abraham gave Lot the first choice, and Abraham took the second choice, a mark of his generosity. When Abraham rescued Lot after a battle with the enemy who had captured him, and Abraham captured all of this wealth, all of this booty, he could have kept it for himself, but he didn’t keep any of it. Abraham interceded for sinners when he prayed to God, or spoke to God, and asked God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if he could just find ten righteous people.
This ideal of caring for people, interceding for people, giving to people, generosity, compassion; this is of the essence of Old Testament righteousness.
When Eliphaz accuses Job of not doing any of this, he is saying “Absolutely, you are not a righteous man at all.” He says, verse 9: “You sent widows away empty-handed, broke the strength of the fatherless.” When you look in the prophets again, you see again and again this exhortation to take care of the widows and the orphans, people who are helpless, who have no means of support; you are to care for them.
He goes on and says that Job has no fear of God. In verse 12 he says: “Is not God in the heavens? Look at the high stars!” Verse 13: “Yet you say, ‘What does God know? Does he judge through such darkness? Thick clouds veil him, so he doesn’t see us. He goes about in the vaulted heavens.’” What Eliphaz accuses Job of is believing that God doesn’t see anything that goes on in the earth and doesn’t care, that God is simply indifferent to how people behave. Elsewhere in the Bible, in the book of Psalms, etc., that is again a mark of a wicked man; someone who is indifferent to God as in Psalm 14, which begins: “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” It doesn’t necessarily mean he is a full-fledged atheist; it just means he thinks if there is a God, God doesn’t see, God doesn’t care, God is so far away in the high heaven, that anything we do down here, God is indifferent to. Eliphaz says, “This is what you say, Job. This is what you claim about God.” And so he says Job has no fear of God.
The first thing we need to say is, we can go through all of the speeches of Job, Job never says anything like this. Job never makes any such claim at all. In fact, to the contrary, let me read you some of the things Job actually does say about God: Does Job say, “God dwells in the high heaven, he does not see; he doesn’t care what we do; he doesn’t even know what we do.”? Let’s see. Here is Job in chapter 7, verse 19: “Will you never look away from me or let me alone for an instant?” Does this sound like someone who thinks God doesn’t see? Here is what Job says in chapter 10, verse 5: “Are your days like those of a mortal, your years like those of a strong man, that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin?” Does this sound like Job thinks God doesn’t see or God doesn’t care? Verse 14: “If I sinned” he says to God, “you would be watching me and would not let my offense go unpunished.” And chapter 14, verse 3: He again is speaking to God: “Do you fix your eye on them? Will you bring judgment? Will you bring them before your judgment?” Finally, verse 6: “So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put his time in like a hired laborer.” In that verse Job is appealing to God to just look away.
Let’s get back to the main point. Eliphaz has said, “You say God doesn’t see.” In fact, Job contradicts that multiple times. So what we see is, Eliphaz is outright lying about Job. He has heard all of this. He was sitting there the whole time. He knows what Job says. But he is at least twisting Job’s words and at worst, outright lying.
III. The Paradigm of the Wicked Man, Referring to Job
Then he gives another picture, a paradigm of the wicked man; and again, of course, he is really talking about Job. Let’s see what he says in verses 15-20: “Will you keep to the old path that the wicked have trod?” The old path the wicked have trod refers to the traditional teaching about the nature of an evil person; and he is saying, “Job, you are squarely in the path of an evil person.” He goes on: “They were carried off before their time, their foundations washed away by a flood. They said to God, ‘Leave us alone! What can the Almighty do?’ Yet it was he who filled their houses with good things, so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.”
Let’s just pause right there. Eliphaz says of Job, that he believes that the Almighty can’t do anything for us; the Almighty should just leave us alone. And Eliphaz says, “I just want to stay away from people like that.” Again, verse 18: “So I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.”
Now let’s consider what Job actually says. Turn back from this passage to 21:14 and 15: Job is speaking and Job says: “Yet they, the wicked, say to God, ‘Leave us alone. We have no desire to know your ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’” Then Job says: “But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.” That is what we see Job saying in 21:14-16. We go back to 22:17 and 18. Again, Eliphaz says to Job and speaking about Job: “They say to God, ‘Leave us alone, what can the Almighty do for us?’” Then Eliphaz says, “So I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.”
What does that all mean? When Job said what he said, he was talking about the wicked. He was not identifying with them. He is not saying, “I am one of them.” But he is saying, “This is how the wicked behave.” And then Job says, “I stand aloof from them. I avoid them. I keep far from them” like the righteous man of Psalm 1:1, who does not stand in the way of the wicked. Eliphaz quotes his words as though the words of the wicked were Job’s own opinions, as though Job believed the things he was saying about the wicked. Then Eliphaz says, “I’m the one who stands aloof from the wicked. You, Job, are among them.”
The point here is that Eliphaz has taken Job’s words and has absolutely twisted them around and has made him to say something he certainly did not say in the way that Eliphaz meant it, something that he certainly never meant. He goes on and he says, “Job, you have been enriched by God.” Again, verse 18: “It was he who filled their houses with good things.” He says then, verse 19: “The righteous see their ruin and rejoice. The innocent mock them, saying, ‘Surely our foes are destroyed and fire devours their wealth.’”
“The righteous stand aloof and they mock,” Eliphaz says. Again, he is taking Job’s condition and his words and he is twisting it. Job has said he has been the subject of mockery. He has talked about how the mob despises him and how people look down upon him and how people rejoice to see this rich man brought down, but not the righteous. Job has said that the righteous see him and they are grieved, they are confused, they are distressed to see another righteous person suffering in this way. Once again, Eliphaz has taken an actual statement of Job and he has twisted it and turned it around. He is again, most cruel when he says at the end of verse 20: “Fire devours their wealth.” Of course. What happened to Job? In chapter 1, verse 16, fire came down from heaven upon him and his possessions. He is taking all of the misfortunes of Job and he is saying, “Look, that is God punishing you.” He is taking the mockery of the mob and saying, “Look, righteous people laugh at you.” He is taking Job’s words and he is twisting them to mean things he never said; or he is inventing things that Job in fact never said.
Eliphaz at this point has gotten about as low as he can be. He began being tactful and kind, thinking he was doing a service to Job by appealing to him to repent; and he ends by lying about him, by making false accusations, by twisting his words; and really by sticking a knife into Job by reminding him of the fire that fell down upon all his possessions.
IV. Appeal for Job to Repent
So then he gives his final appeal to repent. In verse 21 and following: “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored; if you remove wickedness far from your tent and assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines, then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you. Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty and will lift up your face to God. You will pray to him, and he will hear you, you will fulfill your vows. What you decide on will be done, and light will shine on your ways. When people are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’ then he will lift up the downcast. He will deliver even one who is not innocent, who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”
First of all, let’s very quickly see what he is saying. Obviously, one more time he thinks that Job needs to repent and he calls on him to repent. He says, “If you do return to God, God will restore you.” In verse 24 he says to throw your gold nuggets into the dust, the gold of Ophir into the rocks of the ravines. First of all, the gold of Ophir was proverbial for being very fine gold, the purest gold, the best gold. Why would he say Job should throw his gold into the dust? That seems strange. The first thing we should perhaps note is that he is making a wordplay.
The word for dust is [speaks Hebrew] and the word for “gold of Ophir” is “Ophir.” So, throw the gold of Ophir into [speaks Hebrew]. So he is making a little wordplay, which is very common in Hebrew poetry. But what he means is, “Get rid of all of your wealth. Get rid of everything you have. Turn away from your riches and turn to God and God will enrich you.”
This is kind of strange because really, Job has pretty much lost all of his wealth already. Secondly, there is an implied accusation here that Job has been a very greedy man, something that Eliphaz has stated outright already. We know that is not true. But his basic idea is that if you turn away from clinging to money, then God will be your treasure. He then goes on and says, “If you pray, God will hear.” Then he goes on and says: “When you intercede for people, God will listen and God will forgive them.” Verse 30: “He will deliver even the one who is not innocent.” So “Job, after you repent and turn to God and let God be your treasure, then when you pray, God will listen. And when you pray for a sinful man, God will forgive them.” That is how he ends his statement to Job.
V. Irony in What Eliphaz is Saying
I want you to notice once again the irony in everything he is saying. Job will be reconciled to God; not in the way he imagines, but he will be reconciled to God. And when that happens, Job will indeed be restored and Job will pray for sinners. What sinner will Job pray for? for Eliphaz. Job will intercede for the man who is now rebuking him.
The text has given us all kinds of warnings and teachings and assertions, that the teachings of the three are perverted, are false. This is important for this reason. In the history of Christian interpretation of Job, there is a strong tendency to kind of slyly favor the three; to kind of come back and say, “Well, you know, the three were kind of harsh, but Job obviously was in some way sinful and he needed to learn some lessons. He needed to have a better sense of how to be pious before God. He needed to turn to God in a way he had not turned before. He had some hidden sin he had to turn away from.”
When interpreters do that, they are effectively joining the three and they are missing the whole point of the book. This final speech of Eliphaz, who is really the leader of the three in effect, is so misguided, it is so full of falsehood, it is so twisted. Then in the end, with all of that irony, where in fact, it is Eliphaz whom Job will pray for, we are supposed to get the point, the three are wrong. If in any way you think the three are right, you do not understand the book.
That is the end of Eliphaz’s speech. We will come back to Job’s response and a very short response from Bildad; and that will conclude the speeches of Job and the three.