Devotional: Job 4 -5 Almost Truths

Job has lost everything and has cursed the day of his birth to his three friends. Eliphaz is the first of Job’s friends to speak. Even though we know that Job’s friends become more and more his adversaries, they start out as friends who are there to comfort and speak the truth. Had they not started out as friends, they most likely would not have said anything or had even bothered to visit. Unfortunately, close friends can hurt us in ways strangers cannot.

The response of Eliphaz does seem disconnected and even harsh as a response to Job’s lament. To me, this is one of the reasons I feel like the conversation between Job and his friends is more similar to my own inner turmoil during times of hardship than to my conversations with others. I feel like I am all the characters of this story at the same time as I struggle to understand tragedy or trauma in my own life. Still, there are many similarities in the friends’ responses to things we get told by others.

Job 4

1) Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
2) If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking?

Eliphaz is apologizing for speaking up. In my experience, a person typically only apologizes for speaking up if they are going to say something corrective, contradictory, or negative. His excuse is that Job’s words have compelled him to speak.

3) Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.
4) Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.
5) But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled.

The harshness of criticizing Job for his deep feelings during his trials as opposed to the comfort he gave others sounds more like our own internal chiding. How many of us say, “You need to suck it up and handle this better.” I have rarely heard others say this directly to a person. I have heard this said behind people’s backs, though. I think this observation, though, is not correct at all. The best comforters are those who can emotionally sympathize with the hurt of those suffering. If Job had been gifted at comforting and lifting up those who struggle with trials, it would mean that he felt deeply what they felt. Even though comfort contradicts the negative emotions a sufferer is feeling and expressing, it doesn’t dismiss it at being a wrong emotion or incorrect for the circumstances. Comfort acknowledges the pain and brings in hope and healing to it. What Eliphaz is expressing to Job is the opposite of how he described Job’s comforting. Eliphaz is telling Job that his emotions are not right or legitimate. Instead of bringing hope, he tells Job that he just shouldn’t be feeling those negative emotions at all!

6) Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?
7) Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?
8) Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.
9) By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.

Again, Eliphaz is bringing yet another harsh concept. He tells Job that God does not punish the good, only the evil. This statement implies that Job must have done something wrong. We do see in wisdom literature the observation that foolish and wicked people often bring their own troubles and destruction while wise and good people tend to have peace and prosperity. Still, this a general observation even in wisdom literature and not the law of the universe. Wisdom literature also acknowledges the unfairness in the world and the exceptions. In the Psalms we hear David ask “why do the wicked prosper?” If we are honest with ourselves, we will question why innocent people endure hardships. The problem with acknowledging the messiness and unfairness of our observations is that it implies that God is not just or fair. For those who need a tidy view of God, this messiness must be ignored to make sense of life.

10) The roaring of the lion, and the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions, are broken.
11) The old lion perisheth for lack of prey, and the stout lion’s whelps are scattered abroad.

According to the commentaries I am using, the lions are an analogy for oppressors. If that is the case, Eliphaz is saying that justice is brought to oppressors in some way or another and their young feel the consequences of their parent’s judgement. This analogy implies that Eliphaz sees Job as an oppressor or bully. The implication goes against his description of Job as a comfort or earlier.

12) Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof.
13) In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,
14) Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.
15) Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up:
16) It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying,
17) Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?
18) Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly:
19) How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?
20) They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it.
21) Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? they die, even without wisdom.

Eliphaz describes a disturbing vision he had at night of a spirit. Why did this vision come to Eliphaz rather than Job if it had to do with Job? Eliphaz does not tell us. The spirit tells Eliphaz through rhetorical questions that humans cannot be more fair than God. He describes humans and even angels as being nothing in comparison to God. This picture of God reminds me of a passage in the Koran in which God takes a handful of people and tosses them into heaven and cares not, then tosses a handful of people into the fire and cares not. This image of God being far greater than humans is not necessarily wrong, but God values his creation much more than this image paints. The point Eliphaz and the spirit in his vision is saying is that humans have no right to sit in judgement of God when we are far more foolish and corrupt than God is. There is some truth in this. Yet even children do understand when their parents are being fair or unfair, even when they don’t understand the whole picture. Should we as parents squash our children’s sense of fairness just because they don’t understand everything? No. It is good for children to question fairness so they can learn more about what it is. In the end, they must trust their parents are doing what is best, but as they age they must be able to see and stand up for what is right. The questions are important as long as they are tempered with respect. In the same way, we are far less than God, but this should not stop us from questioning.

Job 5

1) Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou turn?

Eliphaz is asking Job to call on a witness to his position. He assumes that no truly righteous person would believe as Job believes.

2) For wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one.
3) I have seen the foolish taking root: but suddenly I cursed his habitation.
4) His children are far from safety, and they are crushed in the gate, neither is there any to deliver them.
5) Whose harvest the hungry eateth up, and taketh it even out of the thorns, and the robber swalloweth up their substance.

Eliphaz is softening his accusations to pointing out that foolishness cause self-destruction as well. Job doesn’t have to be horribly wicked to cause what has happened to him, just foolish. Either way, Eliphaz is blaming Job for causing his own trials. This accusation is not just common among Christians, but is seen throughout our culture. We blame the poor for being lazy in causing their poverty. We blame the sick for not being clean or eating healthy. We blame the grieving for not doing enough to save those who have died. There are times when there might be some true to the accusations, but no always. Yet, their are lazy people who are rich, dirty people who are well, and neglectful people who live long lives with those around them. The blame here is unjust even if the observation has an ounce of truth.

6) Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground;
7) Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
8) I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause:
9) Which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number:
10) Who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields:
11) To set up on high those that be low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety.
12) He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise.
13) He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.
14) They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night.
15) But he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty.
16) So the poor hath hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth.

Eliphaz says that even though troubles don’t just appear out of nothing, God is in control and is fair. Eliphaz is correct in his description of God’s justice and this passage is sometimes used by pastors. God is just and in control of man’s fate.

17) Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:
18) For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.
19) He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.
20) In famine he shall redeem thee from death: and in war from the power of the sword.
21) Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.
22) At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh: neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth.
23) For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.
24) And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt not sin.
25) Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth.
26) Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.
27) Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good.

Eliphaz concludes his speech by telling Job to submit to God’s correction and them God will reward and bless you in the end. This statement is almost prophetic when we see just how God does bless Job at the end of the book.

The main problem with this assertion is that Eliphaz cannot point to a real and specific fault that Job needs to repent of. We will see in Job’s response next that Job is willing to repent of wrongdoing, if he knew what it was. Emotional gymnastics in trying to repent of just feeling wrong emotions or assuming fault when there is none helps no one learn and grow.

Even though much of what Eliphaz says is somewhat true, the end of the book of Job makes clear that Job is right and his friends are wrong. This makes the book of Job difficult to wrestle with. How much of what the friends say are wrong and how much is true? The answer to this question is left to the reader to wrestle with. We will get Job’s response in the next chapter to and that will help us on our journey. Had Job sinned, than Eliphaz would be correct in his advice.