Job’s outburst in Job 3 gives rise to the following three rounds of discussions between Job and his friends. The friends always speak in the same order, possibly according to age: first Eliphaz, then Bildad and finally Zophar. It is always word and response:
1. first an assessment and condemnation on the part of the friends,
2. upon which a self-justification on the part of Job follows,
and all of this in increasingly vehement terms.
There’s something really human in all of this. We need to learn how much wisdom and caution we need if we are to speak to people about something we perceive. The friends do not have what the Lord Jesus does have – and what Job also had, according to the testimony of Eliphaz (Job 4:3-4) – and that is the ability to “how to sustain the weary one with a word” (Isa 50:4). On the contrary, they only increase the grief of Job. They do not know “how delightful … a timely word” is (Pro 15:23b).
It is also clear that the friends do not look at Job the way God looks at him. After all, God has repeatedly spoken of the blamelessness of Job. The friends look at Job as people who only see what is before them and connect that with their knowledge of God, i.e. with their own ‘theology’ of how God is. They do not judge the situation on the basis of their relationship with God.
Their assessment shows that they do not know Job and that they do not know God. They look for the cause of suffering without knowledge of God nor of Job. Behind the suffering they only see the punishing hand of God. They do not know God’s educating hand. It also shows that they do not know themselves. Through all their ignorance, they add grief to Job’s suffering, instead of comforting him in his suffering.
What is always at stake in the disputes is the question of the three friends whether Job really is an upright man or whether he is a hypocrite after all. It is in fact the same question that satan asks God in Job 1 and Job 2 (Job 1:9; 2:4-5).
Broadly speaking, the following can be said of the rounds of discussion:
1. In the first round of conversation (Job 4-14) the friends teach Job about the punitive character of suffering; Job responds to this in despair.
a. Eliphaz describes his own experience of the greatness and righteousness of God.
b. Bildad tells Job the tradition that suffering is retribution.
c. Zophar adheres to the dogma that suffering is the consequence of sins committed.
Although the friends start from the same principle, they each have their own characteristic:
I. Eliphaz is characterized by dignity, his appeal to God, and a penetrating request to listen to him.
II. Bildad appeals to the sober mind and the lessons of history.
III. Zophar is characterized by dogmatic severity and impetuosity with which he denounces Job’s (alleged) sins and the explanation of the certain judgment that comes upon them.
2. In the second round of conversation (Job 15-21) the friends express suspicions and accusations; Job goes from despair to hope.
3. In the third round of conversation (Job 22-26) Job silences his friends. But the mystery of suffering remains.
An important cause of the difference between the speeches of the friends and those of Job is the difference in their relationship with God. Job is determined to be absolutely honest with God. He tells God everything, every tear, every despair. What matters to him is to maintain his relationship with God. The friends, on the other hand, tell God nothing. They only speak about Him, never to Him. They don’t speak out of a relationship with God, but rather express their theories about God, theories they cling to as a rigid dogma. Job doesn’t ask for restoration of his prosperity anywhere either. What matters to him is his relationship to God and God’s relationship to him.
In the arguments that the three friends have with Job, we see that they are based on the same principle and that is that all suffering is always punitive and never educational and that suffering has to do with the righteousness of God. There is no place in their thoughts for the love of God in relation to suffering. They do not see that these two – righteousness and love – always go together in His ways. When suffering is viewed as they do, there is no regard for the difference between the suffering that the righteous undergoes and that which is the part of the ungodly.
Subdivision of the first speech of Eliphaz (Job 4-5)
1. Blaming Job’s despair (Job 4:1-5)
2. God’s favor for the righteous (Job 4:6-11)
3. Vision of God’s greatness and holiness (Job 4:12-21)
4. Experience of God’s ways (Job 5:1-5)
5. Exhortation for Job to seek God (Job 5:6-11)
6. God’s triumph over evil (Job 5:12-16)
7. The use of chastening (Job 5:17-27)
1 - 5 Eliphaz Blames Job for His Despair
1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered,
2 “If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient?
But who can refrain from speaking?
3 “Behold you have admonished many,
And you have strengthened weak hands.
4 “Your words have helped the tottering to stand,
And you have strengthened feeble knees.
5 “But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
It touches you, and you are dismayed.
Eliphaz, the Temanite, thinks, after what Job has said, that he can no longer remain silent, and is obliged to speak (verse 1). He feels compelled to speak and to reply to Job, astonished as he is by his violent reaction to his suffering. He is the main spokesman of the three friends. At each round of conversation, he is the first to take the initiative to speak. We see at the end of the book that the LORD speaks to him as the chief spokesman and His wrath kindles against him (Job 42:7).
With Eliphaz’s answer, a number of dialogues begin, in which the wounds that have been struck inside Job are pressed more and more painfully. The friends always feel that they have to respond to Job’s complaints, and this in turn triggers a reaction in Job.
Eliphaz believes that he must stand up for God’s honor, because in his eyes that honor is violated by what Job says. Unfortunately, his speaking does not impress Job about God. Why is that? Eliphaz has too narrow a view of God’s honor, as if it can only be maintained by exercising utter justice against evil, in which he also believes that cause and effect can be back-calculated by people.
The first words Eliphaz speaks imply that he is aware that his words and those of his two friends will hurt Job, so much so that he supposes that Job can become impatient (verse 2). It is a curious beginning for someone who has come to comfort after all (Job 2:11). But, as he justifies himself, he cannot do otherwise. He must speak.
He immediately takes a stand and points out to Job that he used to teach others who suffered misfortune how to deal with them (verse 3). Through these encouragements, he has given strength to the suffering, he has strengthened their “weak hands”. His words have “strengthened feeble knees” (verse 4). Job – unlike his friends, as will be shown – knew how to speak a word to the weary at the right time. As a result, those weary ones were able to move on.
But now look at Job, now that he himself is in misery (verse 5). Now there is nothing left of all this advice to others. He succumbs to the disasters that have befallen him. Now that fate has struck him, he is in despair. Where are his uplifting words that he had for others? Eliphaz claims that one might expect that Job, who used to be able to encourage others who were in trial, would now address the words spoken earlier to himself (cf. Lk 4:23).
What Eliphaz says is partly true, but the reason lies not only in the disasters that have struck Job. The cause lies deeper, namely that Job presupposes that God is his adversary (Job 3:20,23). There is also a reproach in what Eliphaz says. This reproach is that Job, who has taught another, does not teach himself (Rom 2:21).
We miss a word of comfort in the words of this friend. Grace teaches us to weep with those who weep and to empathize with the afflicted (Rom 12:15). Job has, as the case may be (verse 4), called to the same thing the writer of the letter to the Hebrews calls upon the Hebrew believers to do (Heb 12:12-13). In this we may follow Job. He has taken his time for it, although he must have been a busy man.
6 - 11 God’s Favor for the Righteous
6 “Is not your fear [of God] your confidence,
And the integrity of your ways your hope?
7 “Remember now, who [ever] perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?
8 “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
9 “By the breath of God they perish,
And by the blast of His anger they come to an end.
10 “The roaring of the lion and the voice of the [fierce] lion,
And the teeth of the young lions are broken.
11 “The lion perishes for lack of prey,
And the whelps of the lioness are scattered.
Eliphaz addresses Job about his fear of God (verse 6). Was this not his “expectation”, his confidence? But where is this trust now? With this he suggests that apparently there is something wrong with this trust in God, because otherwise Job wouldn’t be in sackcloth and ashes. He knows that Job feared God, but in his response to the disasters that have struck him, he judges, nothing of this has been revealed. In fact, Eliphaz says the same as satan who also suggested that Job only feared God because of the prosperity he had (Job 1:9).
And then the uprightness of Job’s ways. Wasn’t his hope that nothing bad would happen to him? Here too we see a veiled accusation that Job is not quite right after all. He feared God and was honest in his dealings with men, yet all this evil befalls him.
Without immediately accusing Job of a lack of fear of God, Eliphaz gives Job something to think of, which is a suggestion in that direction. Eliphaz speaks in each of his speeches about the God-fearing of Job (Job 4:6; 15:4; 22:4), which he covers up and calls into question. But Job does not wrestle with the question: “Am I God-fearing and upright?” The question he’s struggling with is this one: “Why is God acting this way with a man as God-fearing and upright as I am?”
Eliphaz can’t see that. For him, things are much simpler. Job has to check whether an innocent person has ever perished and whether any of them have ever been destroyed (verse 7). He teaches Job that God does not let disaster come to the righteous, and that evil affects only the evildoer, no matter how powerful he is. But Eliphaz, for example, forgets Abel. Abel was murdered precisely because he was better than his brother because of the sacrifice he offered (Gen 4:3-8; cf. Isa 57:1; Ecc 9:2; Mt 23:35; Heb 11:36-38). Eliphaz also contradicts God’s judgment about Job (Job 1:8; 2:3).
The yardstick Eliphaz uses in his assessment of the situation of Job is that of his own experience and perception and not that of divine revelation, of what God shows. Nor can God reveal Himself to him, for he has his own concept of Who God is. This measure – the own concept of Who God is – is also laid down by modern man. For man, even so-called Christian man, what God reveals in His Word is not a measure and normative, but what he ‘feels’ and ‘sees’. Here we see an example of religion rather than a relation to God, of theology or ‘God knowledge’ instead of ‘being taught by God’ (Isa 54:13).
The basis of Eliphaz’s reasoning is the law of sowing and reaping (verse 8; Gal 6:8; Pro 22:8a; Hos 8:7a). That he can observe and judge. His judgment is not based on Scripture, but on his own experience. The law that he observes exists, but does not always work in a way that can be explained logically to us. That is how Eliphaz deals with it, however. He makes it a rigid, absolute law without exception. He bases this on what he has observed.
He sees that people suffer because they sin. What they reap is determined by what they sow. Job reaps suffering, then he must have sown sin. In fact, the starting point of the argument of the three friends Who ever died innocently? We see this reinforced in the further accusation of Eliphaz in the third round of conversation in which he elaborates this starting point with an iron logic (Job 22:1-11).
He observes that Job perishes “by the breath of God” and “by the blast of His anger” (verse 9). With “the breath of God” is meant His judgment. The breath can be compared to a hot, scorching wind that passes over a cornfield, through which the harvest dries up and is lost (cf. 2Thes 2:8). “The blast of His anger” refers to God’s anger and wrath at sin (cf. 2Sam 22:16; Acts 9:1).
In verses 10-11 Eliphaz gives an illustration of an unrighteous one. He compares him to a roaring lion and his voice to that of a fierce lion. But the impression made has no effect when it comes to averting disaster. When disaster has come, there is nothing left of his impressive roaring and growling. Nothing is left of the previously so impressive and unjust person.
In Hebrew, eight different names are used for lions. They’re all used to indicate the mightiness of this animal. Here it is described that even the devastating and tearing power they possess is taken from them at some point, so that they lose any threat. Even for the future, no threat remains, because the lion perishes and the cubs are scattered. In this way, the unjust perishes and so do his children. According to Eliphaz, this is an important lesson for Job.
12 - 21 Vision About God’s Greatness and Holiness
12 “Now a word was brought to me stealthily,
And my ear received a whisper of it.
13 “Amid disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night,
When deep sleep falls on men,
14 Dread came upon me, and trembling,
And made all my bones shake.
15 “Then a spirit passed by my face;
The hair of my flesh bristled up.
16 “It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance;
A form [was] before my eyes;
[There was] silence, then I heard a voice:
17 ‘Can mankind be just before God?
Can a man be pure before his Maker?
18 ‘He puts no trust even in His servants;
And against His angels He charges error.
19 ‘How much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
Whose foundation is in the dust,
Who are crushed before the moth!
20 ‘Between morning and evening they are broken in pieces;
Unobserved, they perish forever.
21 ‘Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them?
They die, yet without wisdom.’
In order to further substantiate his claims in verse 6 – that blessing follows fear of God and uprightness – Eliphaz comes to him with a word that has been brought to him in a vision (verse 12). It is again an appeal to his own experience and perception. In verse 8 he speaks about the eye, what he has seen, now he speaks about “my ear”, what he has heard. The way he does this has something mysterious or even mystical. It is a little reminiscent of the way false prophets and false teachers act and of the method of satan, who pretends to be “an angel of light” (2Cor 11:14). It has been “stealthily” brought to him and his ear “received a whisper of it”. It is vague and uncontrollable to others.
Eliphaz wants to impress Job even more with what he has heard, by telling how much he himself has been impressed by the word that has been brought to him (verse 13). It is a remark that resembles manipulation. If someone wants to pass on something from the Word of God, it is not necessary that he first points out what it has all done to him. If the speaker does so with great emphasis, there is a good chance that he and his experience will become the center of attention. Then the attention is subtly shifted from God’s Word to the speaker.
Such vague messages are also heard in Christianity. In some circles the saying ‘so says the Lord’ is regularly heard, and then something follows that the hearers should not question. Or something is passed on which the Lord would have made clear to someone and which everyone else should accept in good faith in the speaker – and not in the Word of God! We have the whole Word of God as our touchstone, and on the basis of it the truth of a statement must be confirmed, and if not, rejected.
Eliphaz uses expressions that testify to great eloquence, but which do not provide any proof of the veracity of his assertions. He speaks of “disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night”. It is the time when “deep sleep falls on men”. The expression “deep sleep” is associated with supernatural experiences (Gen 15:12; Job 33:15).
He also speaks of “trembling” that came over him and that shocked all his bones (verse 14). This also suggests a supernatural experience. With it he seems to say: ‘Job, that which has summoned awe in me, must do the same to you. You can’t just ignore this.’
When Eliphaz thus painted his experience and emotions, he tells what he saw: “A spirit passed by my face” (verse 15). Again he tells about the feelings this caused him: “The hair of my flesh bristled up”, that is, he got goose bumps because of great fear or because of the supernatural character of the vision. Then the spirit stood still (verse 16). Eliphaz saw nothing familiar in the form of the spirit. He only saw the outline of it before his eyes. At first it was silent for some time, as if the right spiritual climate must first be there to hear and understand the message. We may pray to God to receive the gift of discernment of spirits in such cases (1Cor 12:10; 1Jn 4:1). That is something Eliphaz did not have.
The spirit asks the question whether a mankind – and Eliphaz will apply this to Job in his thoughts – would be just before God (verse 17). He then asks whether a man – and Eliphaz will again apply this to Job in his thoughts – would be pure before his Maker. Both questions are so-called rhetorical questions, i.e. questions to which the answer is contained in the question. Of course a man is not righteous before God, and of course a man is not pure before his Maker.
Eliphaz here speaks truths that cannot be refuted, but what is the use of it for Job? In any case, it does not meet the needs of the suffering Job. There is no consolation for Job. By the way, if it is true that all men are unclean before God, and no one is righteous before Him – and that is true! – then Eliphaz should sit beside Job before God. But he won’t get that far.
By the way, this question is answered in the New Testament. In the letter to the Romans we read the basis on which a human being can be righteous before God and be pure before his Maker. That letter teaches us that this foundation lies in faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross.
In the vision, man – and he means Job – is then compared with God’s “servants” and “His angels” (verse 18). His servants are people who know and serve Him and pass on His word to others. His angels are holy beings who are always in God’s presence. None of them, however, are perfect. His servants have at times sinned, and God has also found error with the most exalted angel (Eze 28:15) and judged him and his followers for it. Nothing that is iniquity in those who dwell in heaven escapes Him.
The same is true even more so for those who are bound to the earth (verse 19). Pictorially, Eliphaz says that the mortal lives in a tar, easily breakable house of clay, the foundation of which is in the completely powerless dust. With the clay house he means the body of man (Gen 2:7). Paul calls the body “an earthen vessel” (2Cor 4:7).
Its tenderness and fragility are eloquently illustrated by the comparison with the crushing of a moth. Just as moths are crushed, people are “are broken in pieces” “between morning and evening” (verse 20). It indicates the brevity of human life. He is, so to speak, born in the morning and is no longer there in the evening. It is all so commonplace that it goes unnoticed by the masses when a person dies.
When a man dies, the “tent-cord” or the thread of life with which he was connected to the earth is “plucked up” (verse 21; cf. Ecc 12:6-7a). Here again we hear a beautiful metaphor, that of breaking up a tent attached to the ground with tent cords (cf. Isa 38:12). Paul compares bodily death with the “breaking down” of “our earthly tent in which we live” (2Cor 5:1).
Thus a man dies “yet without wisdom”, by which Eliphaz means that he dies like a wicked man before his time. If a life is suddenly cut off, it is proof to him that it must have been a wicked life. Such a person is one who has not acquired wisdom in his brief and perishable life. Here too we hear a reproach towards Job that he lacks wisdom about God.