Beckett: Commentary on Job 6-7, Job Responds to Eliphaz

6:1-4, Your Words Vex Me!

Then Job answered and said: “Oh that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea; therefore, my words have been rash. For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.”

Eliphaz failed to comfort Job. Instead, they only hurt Job even further and increased his suffering. In hyperbolic speaking, Job says that if placed on a balancing scale, his suffering would far outweigh all the sand of the sea. This is poetic expression of his great suffering. He then accuses God of warring against him. Remember that the suffering God had permitted was severe. Job thinks God made him His enemy. Also, then, remember Job is unaware that this is Satan and he’s also unaware of the conversation between God and Satan in chapters 1-2. Moreover, Job is unaware of God’s love and confidence in him.

6:5-7, I Have Good Reason to Complain

“Does the wild donkey bray when he has grass, or the ox low over his fodder? Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the juice of the mallow? My appetite refuses to touch them; they are as food that is loathsome to me.”

Eliphaz used striking imagery to illustrate his point and strengthen his argument. Job uses the same tactic in saying he has good reason to complain. Donkeys and oxen need food to survive. If they’re hungry, they complain to let their master know. Similarly, Job is in need; he has every good reason to complain to his Master. He needed comfort from his friends; instead, they scolded him.

On the “tastelessness” imagery, Job is describing Eliphaz’s argument. Eliphaz’s words were bland and insipid. Because of the blandness and unconvincing nature of Eliphaz’s argument, Job has no desire to even consider his words. I can’t really blame him.

6:8-10, There is Peace in Death

“Oh that I might have my request, and that God would fulfil my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that He would let loose His hand and cut me off! This would be my comfort; I would even exult in pain unsparing, for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.”

As a reprise of when he first spoke in chapter 3, Job once again wishes he was dead. He would have a double satisfaction: that his suffering would end and that God would have heard his prayer for this release. Only in death would he find peace.

Yet the most important note here is that although Job complained against God, he does not curse or deny Him. Complaining against God is not the same as cursing Him. Cursing God would be to renounce Him entirely, such as, “Curse you, God! You are nothing but evil! I don’t need you in my life! Be gone from it!” Job never says anything like this. He simply complains. Again, who can blame him?

6:11-13, The Frailty of Being Human

“What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? Have I any help in me, when resource is driven from me?”

Job asks five rhetorical questions, all with the expected answer, “No.” He has no strength or patience. Job essentially says, “With what strength can I continue waiting for deliverance? I have none. With what patience? My end is nigh. All human life is feeble.” Thus, Job speaks on the fragility of being human. All human creatures are made of flesh and bone, not stone and bronze (these were considerably strong components in Job’s day, roughly 3,000 B.C.). All human life is fleeting; his is nearing its end, he believes.

6:14-23, You Guys are Terrible Friends

“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. My brothers are treacherous as a torrent-bed, as torrential streams that pass away, which are dark with ice, and where the snow hides itself. When they melt, they disappear; when it is hot, they vanish from their place.

“The caravans turn aside from their course; they go up into the waste and perish. The caravans of Tema look, the travelers of Sheba hope. They are ashamed because they were confident; they come there and are disappointed. For you have now become nothing; you see my calamity and are afraid.

“Have I said, ‘Make me a gift’? Or, ‘From your wealth offer a bribe for me’? Or, ‘Deliver me from the adversary’s hand’? Or, ‘Redeem me from the hand of the ruthless.’?”

Job pleads to his friends for sympathy. Friends should be loyal and comforting, even if the afflicted is whining. Instead of being sympathetic and comforting, Job accuses Eliphaz of being unkind (indeed, he was). Even more, a friend who withholds kindness from his friend abandons the fear of God.

Furthermore, his friends are treacherous. They’re like a stream that suddenly dries up. In the climate of Uz (the Transjordan Region in Israel), it was common for a river to overflow only to become completely dry when the scorching sun rose. They are also as fickle as weary desert travelers searching for water. Rather than finding what they expect, the sight of Job makes them afraid.

Job says his request is not unreasonable. He has not asked for gifts, money, or for them to get him out of his trouble. Was it too much for him to expect comfort and sympathy from his friends? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

6:24-30, Eliphaz’s Pointless Words

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words! But what does reproof from you reprove? Do you think that you can reprove words when the speech of a despairing man is wind? You would even cast lots over the fatherless and bargain over your friend.

“But now, be pleased to look at me, for I will not lie to your face. Please turn; let no injustice be done. Turn now; my vindication is at stake. Is there any injustice on my tongue? Cannot my palate discern the cause of calamity?”

Job is surprisingly open to his friends’ perspective. “Show me where I have gone astray.” Essentially, “If I truly have done wrong, please, tell me. Convince me.” Eliphaz failed in this respect, so perhaps he is challenging the other two to convince him of his supposed error. He urges them to be honest and straightforward, which, he recognises, can be painful! Yet such talk must come from a place of understanding Job’s situation, which his friends woefully lacked. I have a very blunt personality, and one thing I keep learning is that honesty, though a good virtue, must come tactfully.

So, he essentially asks Eliphaz, “What does your argument prove?” Eliphaz did not understand Job at all. Ignoring Job’s obviously depressive and desperate words in chapter 3, Eliphaz treated his words like wind—in one ear and out the other.

Angry, Job overreacts and accuses his friends of being heartless people who are the types of people who would take advantage of orphans and treat their other friends as treacherously as they have treated him. Being God-fearing men, this is likely an unfair accusation. These are angry words being spoken here, not words of logic and reason.

He pleads with them again: Do they not know how upright and honest he is? Eliphaz certainly knew and even admitted this (4:6), which makes this a rhetorical question. He beseeches them not to treat him unjustly. His physical disfigurement might repulse them, but he promises he has not spoken any wickedness. His palate is still good, he says. To elongate Job’s metaphor, just as a person’s palate can easily distinguish between red meat and white meat, so Job can still easily distinguish between good and evil.

7:1-5; Life is War, No Respite from Suffering

“Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand? Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.”

In this chapter, Job’s dialogue turns from his friends to God. He compares human life to hard life of service in the army. The word the ESV translates as “hard service” is צָבָא (tsava), which more accurately means “army, warfare,” or “host” in a militaristic sense. (This is the word used whenever we read Yahweh/LORD of hosts.) Basically, human life is like the hardness of warfare. Many of us can agree, I think, especially during difficult times.

Job also compares human life to that of a hired hand and forced labour. A hired hand receives wages, but slaves do not. A hired hand is free to do as he wishes, but a slave is bound to his master’s will. The only thing a slave has to look forward to is shade after a long day’s work.

Unlike the hired hand, Job claims he does not get what he is owed. Instead, he reaps misery. He is even worse off than the slave. A slave finds relief at the end of the day, but after a long day’s suffering Job finds no relief at night. He suffers sleepless nights. Like the slave, he is bound to his Master’s will, which, in Job’s perspective, is to suffer.

Job adds further detail to his physical affliction: skin ulcers with running sores covered in dirt and worms. No wonder he can’t sleep. I’ve never had my entire body covered in sores before, but I’ve had an ingrown toenail once, and at times it was hard to sleep just with that nasty affliction.

7:6-10, Job Expects to Die Soon

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. The eye of Him who sees me will behold me no more; while Your eyes are on me, I shall be gone. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.”

A weaver’s loom.

Job speaks more on the fleeting nature of human life, more so his. He was expectant of an imminent death. The web of a weaver’s loom ends rather quickly. Job expected his life to end quicker than the weaver runs out of web in her loom. Little did he know that God commanded Satan not to take his life (2:6) and He would add 140 years to his life after restoring him (42:16).

Job feared God would no longer see him and he would never see God. Job is not denying the resurrection here (cf. 19:23-27). From the physical viewpoint, people do not go down to Sheol (the grave) and return. They do not return to their homes and live as they once did.

7:11-16, Let Me Die in Peace

“Therefore, I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then You scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.”

Because of the “fact” that Job thinks he’s going to die soon, he cannot hold back his complaints to God. He boldly complains against Him. Job felt God was constantly watching him like one watches a dangerous beast. Even during the night when Job expected relief from his afflictions, he felt God continued to torment him with visions and dreams with the little sleep he did get. He felt God did this with the express purpose of bringing him to long for death rather than life. Job sharply tells God to leave him alone in his suffering so he’ll finally die in peace.

Job’s words, “I would not live forever” inspired the hymn by William A. Muhlenberg in 1824 called, “I would not live alway” (TLH 588):

I would not live alway; I as not to stay
Where storm after storm rises dark o’er the way.
The few lurid mornings that dawn on us here
Suffice for life’s woes, are enough for its cheer.

I would not live alway; thus fettered by sin,
Temptation without and corruption within;
E’en rapture of pardon is mingled with fears,
The cup of thanksgiving with penitent tears.

I would not live alway; no, welcome the tomb:
Since Jesus hath lain there, I dread not its gloom.
There sweet be my rest til He bids me arise
To hail Him in triumph descending the skies.

Ah, who would live alway, away from his God,
Away from yon heaven, that blissful abode,
Where rivers of pleasure flow o’er the bright plains
And noontide of glory eternally reigns;

Where saints of all ages in harmony meet
Their Saviour and brethren transported to greet,
While anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
The smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul?

Such a beautiful, poetic hymn! Especially to be sung in a time of affliction and suffering!

7:17-21, What Business does God Almighty have with Man?

“What is man, that You make so much of him, and that You set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? How long will You not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to You, You watcher of mankind? Why have You made me Your mark? Why have I become a burden to You? Why do You not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; You will seek me, but I shall not be.”

This is likely where David got his words in Psalm 8:4 when speaking on the awesome majesty of God, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” This also has Messianic connotations.

Job wonders why this Almighty, sovereign God bothers wasting His time singling him out. Again, he prays God would leave him alone to die—to stop sustaining his life every day and just let him die. Job recognises he is a sinner but says he doesn’t deserve to suffer so greatly; and, even more, what great offence could his sins cause God? Of course, all sin is offensive to God, but God said Job suffers for no reason (2:3). Perhaps, then, Eliphaz convinced Job he did something to upset God and cause his suffering.

There’s no point in defending Job here. Nevertheless, if we place ourselves in his shoes, we can understand him. Who of us have not blamed God for our suffering whether or not it was our fault?

In his closing words, some scholars read them as Job being sarcastic or blasphemous. Yet considering Job’s upright character, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we? These are more likely honest words. Although Job was searching for justification for his suffering, he does not deny he is a sinner. His previous morning sacrifices are evidence of this (1:5). He’s basically saying, “Forgive me, if I have done wrong, and take away my iniquity. Then, please, let me die. When You look for me on the earth, You will not find me, for I will be in the grave.”

Application

In these two chapters, Job teaches us how to lament in our suffering. “But he complained against God and accused Him of his suffering! That’s sinful!” Is it, though? As we will see much later, Job’s sin was not that he complained against God, but that he was self-righteous (35:1-2). Yes, Job indeed was a blameless and upright man, which even God admitted (1:8). Yet the problem was that Job knew he was righteous, and instead of relying on God’s righteousness, he relied instead on his own.

All righteousness comes from God, for God alone is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 3:10-12; Mark 10:18). In essence, Job’s sin was self-justification. In his complaints toward his friends and God, he justified himself. He was saying, “I have every right to complain. I’ve done nothing wrong.” Indeed, Job did nothing wrong, as God Himself said (unbeknownst to Job), but because he knew this and was wholly cognisant of his righteousness, he became self-righteous.

Thus, there are two applications we learn from Job here: how to lament and not to turn our righteousness/justification in Christ into self-righteousness.

In both my experiences with grief and suffering as well as my studies on lamenting, I believe there is nothing wrong with complaining to God, so long as we don’t complain in self-righteousness as Job did. For example, I believe it’s fine to say, “Why, God? Why is this happening to me?” The psalmists did this a lot. Yet the difference between the psalmists’ complaints and Job’s is that the psalmists never tried to justify themselves (e.g. Psalm 13).

Their questioning God was inquisitorial and investigative, not presumptuous. They complained (lamented), detailed the suffering, and then relied on and trusted in God’s mercy and compassion. Instead of trusting in God’s mercy, Job relied on his own righteousness rather than God’s, speaking sharply toward God to simply leave him to die and even kill him Himself.

Secondly, do not turn your justification by faith into self-righteousness. That is, do not say, “I am justified in Christ! Nobody can judge me! Only God can judge me! I am in the right!” Only God can judge your eternal fate, yes, and that should scare you! Yet a person is certainly allowed to judge when you are being sinful. Scripture says this explicitly (Matthew 7:1-5; John 7:24) and even has measures on how to deal with our sinful brothers and sisters (Matthew 18:15-20).

Justification by faith is not a tool for you to use to prove you’re always in the right or to escape reprimand when you’re in the wrong. Justification by faith is the gift of God that eschatologically deems you, like Job, blameless and upright before God because of what Christ has done, never because of what you have done or ever will do. Justification by faith does not mean that in this life, you can never do anything wrong or never be in the wrong, but that upon the Last Day, God sees you as blameless and unblemished in the blood of the Lamb of God.

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