Before we begin, let us pray:
Blessed you are, Lord, great God, for the testimonies of the prophets we bless you. For the statutes of the law we bless you. For the gospel of Christ and the witness of the apostles we bless you, O glorious God. Grant to us the Spirit of your glory and the brightness of your presence that we might read your Word and understand. Through Jesus Christ, our gracious Lord. Amen (Worship Soucebook)
Let us continue our study of the speeches. We are now at the first cycle of speeches from Job’s friends. Eliphaz will first speak and he offers his counsel from chapters 4 and 5. We will examine chapter 4 and it is composed of two sermon points: 1) Eliphaz’s Conventional Wisdom; 2) Eliphaz’s Vision Report.
Let us us begin….
Eliphaz’s Conventional Wisdom
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? “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 (verse 1-11)
Verse 1 speaks of the main character doing the first speech and he is Eliphaz the Temanite. Now it seems he occupies the most prominent position among Job’s three friends primarily due to clues from the speech’s arrangement and form.
First, he is the first speaker. In cultures similar here in Asia, we put priority to those older than us. So in this case with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar gave way for Eliphaz to speak first and since Eliphaz spoke first we can consider he is most wise.
Second, since they all consider him to be wiser from all the rest, he has been given the most space to speak his counsel. The length of Eliphaz’s first speech is 98 lines while Bildad’s and Zophar’s are 43 and 40 lines respectively. According to Hartley’s commentary, Eliphaz’s is more than twice as long than the two who followed him.
Now, the speech follows several poetrical forms. Eliphaz’s uses on the first part of his first speech rhetorical questions, a four clause parallelism, then wisdom proverb with anthromorphism, and another proverb used as a visual metaphor. The variety in forms call attention to the sophistication of Eliphaz. With these consideration, we can consider the most wise among Job’s friends.
Eliphaz started his speech with a rhetorical question to point out politely Job that his lament lacks the virtue to patience and wisdom. He passes judgment over Job and considers the cursing of his birth and the lament over his condition as a harsh and poor attempt to establish his innocence over the matter. For Eliphaz, it is imprudent to even consider speaking unwise words while suffering pain and affliction.
These rhetorical questions from Verse 2: “if one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? Yet who can keep from speaking?” assumes a negative answer. We must keep our words wise and not allow imprudence gets the best of us. And at this point of Eliphaz’s while we can consider his words are true, later on we can see how they irrelevant to Job’s condition. Again, we know Job did not sin while he was under this whole ordeal.
Verses 3-4 Eliphaz commends Job’s action when he helped other go through pain and suffering. He praised him for instructing the foolish, strengthening the weak, upholding those who stumble, and firming up those who fall. These are the kinds of people who because of their foolish actions received the bad consequences of their decisions. And for Eliphaz, he expects Job to follow his own advise and not turn into those who fall into the trap of their own foolishness. Eliphaz exhorts: “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?” Job not only had to endure the loss of his wealth and health. At this point, he also needs to fend off unsymphatetic charges from his own friends.
Eliphaz then brings forth the doctrine of retribution according to Hartley and it is summarized by these rhetorical questions, “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (verse 7). The answer Eliphaz offers is obvious to the negative. He does believe no one perishes if they are innocent, no one is cut off if they are upright or found righteous. And for Eliphaz, he considered Job as a pious godly man (verse 6) so he obvious thinks Job must have done something to deserve all this. We will go back later in our exhortation to emphasize what Eliphaz got right and what got wrong. In the meantime, let us continue the expository of the succeeding verses.
Now in order to back up his claim, Eliphaz used a testmonial proverb, athropomorphism, and a pictorial proverb. The first is a farming metaphor, the second is a hyperbole, and the third is a personification. First, Eliphaz accounts the truthfulness of his claim, and says he knows enough by experience that we reap what we sow. He uses the negative illustration here to imply to Job that he must have done something wrong in order to deserve his wretches lot. He is convinced that Job must have “plowed iniquity and sow trouble” and this why he suffers or “reap the same” (verse 8). Second, Eliphaz alludes to the storm winds that devastated his whole family (Job 1:19) and then compared it as God’s judgment against the wicked. We can notice that Eliphaz puts his testimony first before God’s attribute here. We will pick this up later again. So God’s act in nature is tied with God’s anger. It becomes an anthropomorphic description of his justice and wrath. Third, Eliphaz uses a lion without his teeth as visualize the folly of those who does not follow the way of wisdom and ignore the doctrine of retribution. He compares them to the magnificent and ferocious lion who by God’s appointment lost their teeth. So no matter strong they are, none of them can destroy their enemies. Without this seemingly vital part like their teeth, they become altogether powerless. They cannot even eat nor defend their young.
So the final analysis Eliphaz’s counsel appears to reflect the conventional wisdom of the doctrine of retribution. We simply reap what we sow. The innocent prospers while the wicked perishes. We must believe this to be true as a law and for they true by experience but we must carefully apply them when it is applicable. For there wisdom is achieved. Eliphaz appears to be wise holding to this orthodox view but we must know in this situation he is the foolish one. For he has discounted one minor detail: Job is innocent. That while it is generally true that the innocent prosper but we must distinguish it as ultimately true. It means there is always a crook in everyone’s lot and only the God who places them there has the power and appointment to bring it to its end.
So Eliphaz will end up becoming judgmental against Job. Rather than becoming symphatetic he increase becomes critical against him and even charges Job of being the chief reason of his demise. Like adding insult to injury, Eliphaz blames Job for the death of his sons and daughters.
Eliphaz lacks the humilty often required by wisdom. He puts himself first above God. Later in the next section this gets emphasized even more but it seems Eliphaz is too full of himself. He grounds the doctrine of retribution to his own experience first , “As I have seen” (verse 8) rather than God’s divine attribute (verse 9). This makes him an unwise counsellor and Job suffers from bad counsel.
Like Eliphaz we all tend to become judgmental against our own friends and family. We often think that because we know must about God’s election, his providene, his character, and his laws we tend to become unwise into thinking we have become superior against all others. Personally when I find myself often getting into this trap of self importance, I pray to God to remind me of his tender mercy and grace.
It is often helpful to remember that God in his providence while appointed some parts of my lot to suffer, he also uses them to bring me to a saving knowledge of my own sins and my need of a Savior. All these did not happen by chance or accident. They were by design. That while my redemption does not explain the cause of all these pain that I had to endure, all these suffering that I need to experience in this life, it definely points to its purpose not only in this life but more surely in the life to come.
Suffering and glory goes together side by side, one after the other for the demonstration of God’s mercy and grace. We do not deserve neither of them so none of us can lay claim of them nor boast about them. Humility comes with suffering primarily by God’s grace demostrated in our frailty and this is what Eliphaz missed and he misses a whole lot. So Christian, let us not lose sight of this as well. Let us receive the wisdom that comes from his grace. Eliphaz missed this because he relies on his own private understanding and this makes him unwise.
Eliphaz’s Vision Report
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?’ (verses 12-21)
This section is called a Vision Report. It is supposedly an authority claim used by Eliphaz for Job to accept his verdict regarding his situation. We know Job eventually ignored the counsel of his friends and insists on his innocence until the end but at this point, Eliphaz enforces his judgment over Job because of his supposedly private revelation.
It is composed of two parts. The first part is the narrative of the receiving of the message (verses 11-16) and the second part is the message itself (verses 17-21). First, the reception of the message points to the way Eliphaz receives his private revelation. It is primarily auditory and vaguely visual. It is also personal and supposely a secret wisdom. According to Eliphaz, what he heard was a whisper (verse 12) and a voice uttering words (verse 16). He supposedly understood those words and wants to share to Job so he too can benefit from this piece of wisdom he receives. Now this voices comes to him in the night when he was in deep slumber (verses 13-14) and have a semblance of a figure (verse 15-16). Eliphaz was only able to discern a form out of it but not enough to be certain of it.
The softness and vagueness of this so-called epiphany highlights the contrast between private and special revelation. Compared to Eliphaz’s claim to authority which we can simply identify with his own private interpretation, Old Testament prophets receives the sure Word of God and publicly declares them. Prophets speaks not from their own authority but deliver to God’s people every Word that comes out of God’s mouth. They were simply messengers, God’s mouthpieces. Eliphaz seems to have claims authority over Job because of his personal wisdom which makes his claim unwise and unsure. We go back to later in the end for the exhortation.
The second part of this section is the message itself. It is again a pair of rhetorical question then followed by explanation about God’s transcendence where it highlights God’s place over his creation. Eliphaz asks “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? (verse 17).” The answer is to the negative. Man is more right nor pure before God. And this is true. Eliphaz continues and explains that neither celestial and earthly beings can stand the judgement of God. Angels even though considered as glorious being are not infallible (verse 18). Man even though considered as those made in the image of God still came from dust and to dust he must return (verse 19-21).
Eliphaz speaks what is true but again it is misapplied. Job is not claiming sinless perfection. Eliphaz does not understand the pain Job suffers and fails to emphatize with his suffering. Eliphaz imparts knowledge and claims authority not from God but by his own understanding and for it he loses the very thing he claims to possess. How ironic!
As Christian, we often get blinded by own foolishness. We try to generate our own light and by it offer insights and like Eliphaz, we end up becoming unwise. Humbly submitting to God and his Word makes us wise. It may appear foolish in the eyes of the world but surely, this is the path of the righteous.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18)
So Christian, God’s Word gives godly wisdom, let us humbly submit to it.
ZCRC(Imus), God alone is good, wise, merciful, and gracious. His Words contains his Law and Promises. Let us continue to hear them in faith and with humble obedience. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.