Beckett: Commentary on Job 4-5, Eliphaz Speaks

4:1-6, How Can You Be So Impatient?

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? Yet who can keep from speaking? Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.

“But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?”

Eliphaz begins almost apologetically as if he’s speaking out of turn. This is like saying, “With all due respect” as we proceed to disrespect the person anyway. Eliphaz reminds Job he was a pillar of strength to others, and then he criticises him for his impatience in suffering. He’s basically saying, “Look, you helped all these people who were suffering and weak in faith. And now that you suffer and have become weak, you have the audacity to be impatient?”

Eliphaz questions the genuineness of Job’s faith. If Job was actually a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned from evil (1:1, 8), he wouldn’t be impatient but would rather patiently bear his suffering. Satan, the Accuser, uses Job’s friends to accuse him of something he’s not guilty of, as we will see.

4:7-11, No One Who is Innocent Suffers

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they are consumed. The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, the teeth of the young lions are broken. The strong lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.”

What Eliphaz says here is the theme of all three speeches: no one who is truly innocent perishes. Eschatologically, he’s right because of Christ. To be justified in Christ is to be declared innocent, blameless, unblemished, and righteous by God for the sake of Christ. Innocent in Christ, no Christian will perish eternally. However, before Christ returns on this side of the eschaton, Eliphaz is simply wrong.

As this book teaches us, suffering is not always the direct result of wrongdoing. Eliphaz is basically saying you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7-9). Even fierce lions suffer misfortune. This is true, but it’s not always true. Eliphaz uses his personal experience to prove his point, yet what he does is put forth the anecdotal evidence fallacy. This is a logical fallacy that puts forth a personal experience in the attempt to prove something as incontrovertibly true. What makes this fallacious is that no two persons’ experiences are exactly alike.

Eliphaz may well have seen evil people suffer the consequences of their actions, but person #2 has seen evil people prosper in spite of their actions (cf. Psalm 37:7). Then there’s person #3 who sees innocent people suffer for no reason, as is the case with Job according to God’s own words (1:8). We ourselves see people suffer for no reason at all. Sometimes people simply do not reap what they sow, whether it’s good or bad.

Not only did Eliphaz put forth a logical fallacy, but he also contradicts himself. He just said Job helped strengthen the weak, which is a good and righteous thing to do. So, Job cannot be reaping evil since he sowed good things to people. It is the sad reality of life that the innocent sometimes do perish.

Just yesterday, Kobe Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash. They were innocent. Even more, Kobe was innocent in Christ because of his Catholic faith. Still, though, Christian or not, the innocent in this life do perish, such as babies, even those still in the womb via abortion. Even Christ, the only one who is truly 100% innocent, perished in this world in order to save us from our sins. What Eliphaz says is a half-truth, or a white lie.

4:12-21, Eliphaz’s (False) Revelation

“Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it. Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice:

” ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in His servants He puts no trust, and His angels He charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth. Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?'”

Eliphaz claims direct revelation from God to further prove his point. A lot of false Christians do this today as well. They claim to have received some direct revelation from God to teach a new teaching. False doctrines and heresies have been built this way, such as the heresy of Mormonism with Joseph Smith’s supposed revelation from God, as well as Muhammad founding the heresy of Islam with a revelation from the angel Gabriel.

Instead of going to the revealed Word, Eliphaz makes up some nonsense. It’s also possible he did have such a dream, unaware that it was from Satan. Satan is, after all, the one responsible for Job’s suffering and he is no doubt using Job’s friends to further his suffering. I think this latter possibility is more likely.

Eliphaz’s supposed revelation asks a rhetorical question, “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” The only expected answer to this rhetoric couplet is: no! And it’s true. Not even Job would argue with that. Also, as he sat in the ashes of his dead skin, Job did not need to hear about the weakness of human creatures. He knows it very well, both theologically and from basic human experience, especially currently.

Job also knows the angels are lower than God, and even more human creatures who live in clay houses. He knew also that he must die and return to dust (cf. 42:6).

Eliphaz utilises poor Law/Gospel distinction (more on this in the application below). Job desperately needed the Gospel, not Law. Eliphaz fails his friend miserably.

5:1-7, “No One Suffers for No Reason”

“Call now; is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple. I have seen the fool taking root, but suddenly I cursed his dwelling. His children are far from safety; they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them. The hungry eat his harvest, and he takes it even out of thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth.

“For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”

Eliphaz’s beginning question is cruel. He tells Job that no heavenly host will answer him with comfort because of his miserable circumstances. Basically, he said, “What’s the point of you calling out to God? Look at you! You’re disgusting and miserable. God has allowed you to get to such a low point, so obviously He wouldn’t even bother with you, nor any angel.” What a terrible friend!

Eliphaz believes Job is foolish and simple. He says only evildoers—or fools—suffer. Job has vexed God somehow and the loss of his children is his own fault. Ouch.

The godless do experience these things, but again, it is not true in all cases for the same reasons mentioned above. From Eliphaz’s worldview, all the evidence points to Job’s supposed evil.

Eliphaz believes suffering does not happen for no reason. Trouble does not “sprout from the ground.” This is like parents telling their children, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Money doesn’t come out of nowhere, and it’s true. However, this is not always true of suffering, as Eliphaz believes. Eliphaz’s statement here is in direct contradiction to what God affirmed earlier of Job in 1:8, that Job is, indeed, blameless, upright, fears God, and shuns evil. Sometimes people really do suffer for no good reason.

5:8-16, “If I were you…”

“As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvellous things without number: He gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night. But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So, the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth.”

This is Eliphaz’s poor attempt at comforting Job. Everything he says about God is true, but he had just told Job, “Who of the holy ones would answer you?” Everything he says here, then, insofar as it was intended for comfort, becomes nullified by that previous statement. As a classic theologian of glory, Eliphaz assumes to fathom all mysteries as well as Job’s condition. “If I were you, I would commit my cause to God,” he says, in essence. But he just told him: what’s the point?

Beginning any advice with the phrase, “If I were you” is immediately bad advice. Eliphaz, you’re not Job. You cannot possibly understand what Job is going through and neither do you fathom the mysterious nature of what he’s going through, which is evident in your presumption that Job is suffering for some evil he has apparently done whereas God said Job did nothing wrong.

Eliphaz’s praise of God has striking similarities to Hannah’s Song (1 Samuel 2:1-11) and Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

5:17-27, Misplaced Gospel

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore, despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He binds up; He shatters, but His hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine He will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword.

“You shall be hidden from the lash of the tongue, and shall not fear destruction when it comes. At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth. For you shall be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you. You shall know that your tent is at peace, and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing.

“You shall know also that your offspring shall be many, and your descendants as the grass of the earth. You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season. Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. [Listen], and know it for your good.”

I put “listen” in brackets because it’s a better translation than “hear” in the ESV.

Eliphaz finally says something worthwhile, true, and (somewhat) comforting. This is pure Gospel. However, he still manages to ruin it. First of all, Eliphaz did not really believe these words. He didn’t believe Job was being disciplined as God’s child (cf. Hebrews 12:5-6); he believed Job did something evil to incur God’s wrath. Despite his words, Eliphaz cannot tell the difference between God’s chastisement of His children and God’s punishment of evildoers. If he had said only this and not all the crap before (as well as the very last verse), he likely would have succeeded at comforting Job.

In verse 19, Eliphaz uses what’s called ascending numeration where a number is increased by 1 to emphasise a point (e.g. Proverbs 30:15, 18; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13). Eliphaz wanted to emphasise to Job all would be well if only he would confess his evil to God. God would then keep him from destruction, famine, and slander. He would also be protected by wild beasts. In ancient times, wild animals roaming around was very common. There were no zoos or other domestication of these animals, so wild animals struck fear in people.

According to Eliphaz, only by admitting the evil he had done to anger God would Job see his possessions return and have many children. Ironically, Job will actually see his possessions return to him and receive more children, but not for the reason Eliphaz thought. Eliphaz said God would give Job these things if he would only admit the evil he had done. What happens instead is that God gives these things to Job because he prays for his friends (42:10). He prayed for his friends who had made him feel lower than dirt, and God rewarded him for such mercy, kindness, and faith.

In the last “behold” statement, Eliphaz says he and the others (Bildad and Zophar) have already weighed the matter concerning Job and are in full agreement with the cause of his predicament. In this closing statement, he lays forth as an axiom all he has said about Job is inherently true—Job absolutely must have done something evil to anger God and deserves what he has incurred.

Application

Place yourself in Job’s shoes. Maybe think back to a time where something terrible had happened to you and, like Job, were grieving immensely. Imagine if Eliphaz had said all this to you. Maybe someone has said something similar to you, that what you’re going through is your fault, and if only you would confess it to God and become a better person (commit your cause to Him), He would make it all go away.

This is all untrue, of course. That’s all about what you can do, but you cannot do anything to make yourself blameless before God. Even Eliphaz admitted this (4:17). What Eliphaz committed here was a colossal failure to distinguish between Law and Gospel.

This Lutheran distinction comes from C. F. W. Walther’s treatise, Law and Gospel. He lays forth and delineates 25 theses describing this distinction, but we will only discuss theses 1 and 2 for now.

Thesis 1 is, “The doctrinal contents of all Holy Scripture, both of the Old and the New Testament, consist of two doctrines that differ fundamentally from each other. These two doctrines are Law and Gospel” (11). Both Law and Gospel come from God. When reading Scripture, the theologian must discern whether what he is reading is Law or Gospel. In some cases, the text is clear about what’s Law and what’s Gospel. Other times, however, it’s not so clear.

For example, let’s use a text we’re all familiar with: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit” (Matthew 27:50). For us Christians, many of us, I think, would say, “This is clearly Gospel!” And it’s true; it is Gospel. We read this verse—indeed, the entire context surrounding it (Jesus’ crucifixion)—and we think, “Jesus willingly died for me to forgive me all my sins!” Yes, this is certainly Gospel.

However, it can also be taken as Law. Why did Jesus have to become human and die for us? Why did He willingly give Himself up for you? Because your sins placed Him on the cross. Thus, the Law is that your sins killed Jesus, yet the Gospel is that Christ willingly gave Himself up in order to redeem you.

Similarly, the same can be said of any crucifix or the cross as a symbol. Generally, Christians see a crucifix or cross and think Gospel: “Jesus died for me. He forgives me of all my sins.” This is most certainly true. This is why we wear crucifixes and cross necklaces and tattoo our bodies with the cross. Yet it can also come across as Law. When a person sees a crucifix with the dead Jesus upon the cross, they can think: “My sins put Him there. I killed Jesus. I’m a murderer.” This, too, is most certainly true. Yet they also must see the Gospel in the cross.

An example of a clear Law text can be any one of the Ten Commandments because they tell you to do something. A clear Gospel text can be John 10:28, “I give [My sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” The Law says do; the Gospel says it is done.

With these Law and Gospel texts, they must be properly distinguished, which is thesis 2: “If you wish to be an orthodox teacher, you must present all the articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, yet [you] must also rightly distinguish Law and Gospel” (35). This applies to both preaching and practice. We’ll only discuss practice here.

When bringing the Word to a person, whether as a sibling in Christ or in pastoral counselling, you must properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. Your question should be, “Does my brother/sister in Christ need Law or Gospel?” To keep it as short and simple as possible: A person needs the Law when they are unrepentant and living in sin; a person needs the Gospel when they are sorrowful over their sin or suffering.

Let’s set forth the following example to illustrate this: Suppose a man goes to his pastor and admits he cheated on his wife. However, he is not sorry for his sin and remains unrepentant. The pastor needs to give this man the Law, which reveals his sin to him. Hopefully, the Holy Spirit convicts his heart and brings him to repentance.

Now suppose that same man admits to his pastor he cheated on his wife and he’s actually sorrowful about it. He admits his sin and desires to change. This man needs the Gospel. If he asks the pastor for private Confession & Absolution and the Eucharist, the pastor must give it to him. Forgiven of his sins, if he is still feeling the weight of guilt and shame for his adultery, this man still needs Gospel.

Job desperately needed the Gospel here. He is suffering for no reason, as God has affirmed. Deeply forlorn and disfigured, Job did not need to be told how supposedly evil he was and to turn himself around in order to find himself back in God’s favour and good graces. This man really needed the Gospel—to hear of God’s goodness and graciousness toward him, God’s presence, and God’s promise in the resurrection in spite of all his suffering.

The theologian of the cross rightly distinguishes between Law and Gospel. The theologian of glory does not know when to convict with the Law and when to comfort with the Gospel. Instead, they seek to glorify themselves to prove they fathom everything about the situation and God’s mysteries.

Don’t be a theologian of glory.

Bibliography

Walter, Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm, ed. by Charles P. Schaum. Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010).

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