Week 2 of New Zealand’s lockdown. I’m just travelling through Job in the mornings. Enter Eliphaz.
1 And Eliphaz the Temanite answered, saying:
2 “[Shall] one try words with you? You would be weary.
But who is able to keep from speaking?
3 Look —
you have corrected many
and the weak hands you have strengthened.
4 Your words uphold the one who stumbles,
and the knees which are bent you make firm.
now it has come to you and you are weary;
it touches you and you are startled.
6 Is not your fear your confidence/folly,
your hope and the blamelessness of your ways?
7 Remember: who that is innocent has ever perished?
And where have the upright been destroyed (lit: hidden)?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity,
and those who sow trouble reap it.
9 By the breath/spirit of God they perish,
and by the force of his anger they are consumed.
10 The roar of the lion, the voice of the lion[ness?], and the teeth of the young lions are broken.
11 The lion perishes from lack of prey, and lion[ness?]’s cubs are separated.
- Eliphaz responds to his friend’s lament (see chapter 3) by saying: “Has anyone tried speaking to you? (No? OK – I will then)”. He can no longer stay quiet and wants Job to take the same advice he has told others before.
- Eliphaz knows of, and references Job’s blamelessness in verse 6 (same word as in 1:1 and 1:8), but that merely moves him towards his maxim…
- That as “he has seen”, it is wicked people who suffer (4:8). They are literally consumed by the “breath of His nostrils” (v9), or like a den of lions that’s been starved out (v10-11). According to Eliphaz’s wisdom, only if you’re guilty of something will you suffer.
4:12 Then for me a word was stolen;
and my ears received a whisper about it.
13 In anxious thoughts from visions of the night,
during the falling of sleep upon men,
14 Dread approached me, as well as trembling,
and the abundance of my bones shook.
15 And a spirit passed my face,
the hair of my flesh bristled.
16 It stood, and I could not recognise its appearance.
A form (f.) was in front of my eyes,
[there was] silence, then I heard a voice:
“17 Is a man righteous before God?
If before his Maker, [could] a man be pure?
18 Look, in His servants He does not trust,
and his angels he attributes with madness(?).
19 Indeed, those who dwell in houses of clay,
which in the dust [have] their foundations;
They are crushed in place of a moth.
20 From morning to evening they are beaten,
without thought forever, they perish.
21 Is not their tent-cord pulled out with them,
[do they not] die, and without wisdom?”
- Here Eliphaz switches from proverbial truths he knows (allegedly from Job), to a mystical-sounding, hair-raising vision that’s been “whispered” to his ears (v12)
- It turns out to be a dramatic restatement of a familiar epithet: no man is righteous before God (v17). Remember, Eliphaz is saying this in response to a friend in deep sorrow and lament.
- Verse 18 could be a reference back to the early scenes with the ben elohim / sons of God who assemble before Yahweh in chapter 1 and 2. This verse ends with the word , which is very difficult to translate but sits in parallel with “he does not trust”.
- Line after line Eliphaz pummels us with descriptions of humanity’s frailty, and therefore our unworthiness before God. His rhetoric continues in chapter 5, but even here His God seems very one-dimensional and Deist. The God of the Bible is more than a distant unfeeling Maker.
My own thoughts:
- When sitting with friends who suffer, I really need to “keep from speaking” too quickly.
- “Only bad people suffer” sounds nice in theory, but doesn’t match what happens in reality. COVID is a reminder that suffering does not discriminate.
- I need to hold everything I know that’s true about God, not just one aspect. God is holy and unlike me, and yet I should remember He is also near me through His Spirit. Holding one attribute of God without the others deflates the fullness of His character.