Today we come to the first speech of Eliphaz, who was one of Job’s three friends who came to comfort him after he lost his possessions and after he lost his children and after he lost his health. When they heard what had happened to him, the three friends arranged to go and see him to sympathise with him and to comfort him. At first, they sat with him in silence for seven days and nights. Job eventually broke the silence and we thought about what he said when we studied chapter 3 last week. And today we have Eliphaz’s first speech which is followed by Job’s response.
Perhaps at this point I should explain the structure of the book of Job. After the opening three chapters, there begins what the commentators call three cycles of speeches. In the first cycle of speeches, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar take turns to speak to Job; and he responds to each one in turn. So, Eliphaz speaks and Job responds. Bildad speaks and Job responds. Then Zophar speaks and Job responds. That’s in chapters 4 to 14. The cycle is repeated in chapters 15 to 21. So, Eliphaz speaks and Job responds. Bildad speaks and Job responds. Then Zophar speaks and Job responds. And in chapters 22 to 28 we have a third cycle of speeches, but it’s truncated. It’s shortened. Eliphaz speaks and Job responds. Bildad speaks and Job responds. But Zophar doesn’t speak again. He’s got nothing more to say.
After those three cycles of speeches, Job speaks again in chapters 27 to 31. And then we’re introduced to another person called Elihu, who has been waiting for the others to finish before he speaks. And he gives his speech in chapters 32 to 37. And then, finally, God begins to speak to Job. And the Lord speaks from chapter 38 to chapter 41. And in chapter 42, the last chapter of the book, Job responds to the Lord. And then we’re given a brief narrative which tells us what happened next to Job and his three friends. So, that’s a brief outline of the book of Job to help you see that the passage we’re studying this evening is the first part of three cycles of speeches.
But before we get to that, I’ll say that Job’s three friends who came to comfort him did not comfort him. Their words did not bring him any comfort or peace. Their words only made things worse. In fact, some of the commentators believe that they were, unknowingly, agents from Satan. So, Satan attacked Job the first time when he took away his possessions and family. Satan attacked Job the second time when he took away his health. And Satan attacked Job the third time when he sent these three friends to speak to Job. If that’s the case, then Satan was hoping that Job would curse God once he’d heard what his three friends had to say.
The problem with the three friends was their faulty theology, which can be summarised as follows (Ash). Firstly, God is absolutely in control. He controls all things. Secondly, God is absolutely just and fair. He always does what is right. Thirdly, because God is absolutely just and fair, he always punishes wickedness and blesses righteousness. Anything else would be unjust. One preacher (Belcher) refers to this as vending machine theology. You put your money in the vending machine and out comes a snack. And so, if you put evil in the vending machine, then out comes punishment. If you put good in the vending machine, then out comes blessings from God. It’s vending machine theology. Fourthly, if I suffer, then I must have sinned; and God is punishing me justly for what I did wrong. That is to say, if Job is suffering, then he must have sinned; and God is punishing him justly for what he did wrong. So, Job needs to confess his sin and turn from it. That’s their faulty theology.
And it’s what we all naturally think, isn’t it? When any of us suffer, one of the questions we ask is: ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ ‘What have I done wrong that God is now punishing me for it?’
But it’s faulty theology. And it’s faulty theology, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s more complicated than that. God does control all things. God is just and fair. And God will indeed punish the wicked. That is true. But the Lord’s parable of the wheat and the weeds makes clear that the punishment of the wicked has been postponed. Remember the parable? There’s a field which contains both wheat and weeds. The servants want to pull up the weeds immediately, but the farmer tells them to leave the weeds alone. The wheat and weeds will grow together until the time of the harvest. That’s when they will be separated and the weeds will be destroyed. And at the end of time, God will separate the righteous and the wicked, believers and unbelievers. The wicked will be sent away to be punished. But that time has not yet come. It will not come until the end. And in the meantime, God may punish the wicked and he may bless the righteous. He may do that. But he might do something else entirely. He might cause the wicked to prosper and he might cause the righteous to suffer. It may seem strange to us, but that’s because God’s ways are higher than our ways. We cannot understand God’s purposes. But we need to believe what he has revealed, which is that the judgment has been postponed until the end. And so, for now, the wicked may prosper, while the righteous may suffer.
And we also need to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for our sins in full and no further payment will ever be demanded by God from those who trust in his Son. And so, when believers suffer, God is not punishing us. He’s not punishing us, because Christ bore our punishment in our place.
Job’s friends did not know this. And they also did not know that Job was not suffering for being wicked. He was suffering because he was blameless and upright.
Having said that by way of introduction, let’s turn to Eliphaz’s speech in chapters 4 and 5. He begins in chapter 4 by mentioning the times Job has instructed others and helped them. He has supported those who stumbled; he has strengthened feeble knees. But now trouble has come to Job. And he’s discouraged by it. He’s dismayed because of it.
And it’s clear from what he says in verses 6 to 11 that he believes Job should take comfort in the knowledge that God has so ordered the world that he blesses the pious and blameless and he punishes only the wicked. So, the pious, those who fear God, can have confidence. And the blameless can take hope. They can have confidence and take hope because when did the innocent ever perish? When were the upright ever destroyed? Can you think of a time, Job, when a righteous man died before his time? In Eliphaz’s world, the righteous go on to live to a ripe old age and only the wicked perish. And now look at verse 8 where he says: ‘As I have observed, those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it.’ Notice that he’s relying on what he has observed. He’s not relying on what God has revealed, but on how things seem to him. And it seems to him that the wicked get what they deserve and, at the breath of God, they are destroyed and, at the blast of his anger, they perish. The wicked may be like fierce lions; but God will break their teeth. That’s how Eliphaz sees the world: the righteous get what they deserve and the wicked get what they deserve.
And then, in verses 12 to 17 Eliphaz refers to this mysterious revelation which came to him while he was sleeping. It’s a bit eery and we don’t know where this revelation came from. But he says it was brought to him secretly when a spirit glided past his face. And what was the message he heard? Verse 17: ‘Can a mortal man be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?’ The commentators discuss how this verse should be translated because some make the case that Eliphaz is asking, ‘Can a mortal be righteous before God?’ No one can be more righteous than God, since he is infinitely righteous. But can a mortal man be right in the sight of God? And the point he’s making is that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. All have sinned. No one is righteous in the sight of God. Everyone has done wrong. And so, we can be compared to a moth, because we’re liable to destruction. We perish. The cords of our tent — that is, our life — will be pulled up so that we die. That is to say, we will perish unless we turn from our wicked ways and learn to do what’s right. If we learn to do what’s right, then we can expect blessings from the Lord. So, Job has been complaining about his misery and how he wishes he would die. And Eliphaz’s response is to say that Job, like everyone else, is unrighteous in the sight of God. He’s a sinner and God is punishing him.
At the end of chapter 4, Eliphaz speaks about dying without wisdom. And he begins chapter 5 by speaking about the fool. And he seems to be suggesting that Job is being foolish because he’s been complaining about his suffering which comes to all men and women. He says to Job: ‘Call if you will, but who will answer you?’ You’re complaining about your suffering, but no one will answer you and you just need to accept that God must be punishing you for your sins. Don’t be like the fool, but accept that man is born to trouble. That’s our lot in life because we’re sinners and God is punishing us.
And so, Eliphaz turns to Job in verse 8 and says to him that if I were you, this is what I’d do. I would appeal to God. I would lay my cause before him. That is, Job should turn from his sin and turn to God. He then describes God’s greatness and kindness in the following verses, where he says God performs wonders and miracles and he sends rain and he lifts up the lowly and those who mourn. And he thwarts the plans of the crafty and catches the wise in their craftiness. And so on. This is what God does. And everything he says here about God is true.
But then he tells Job in verse 17 that God has been correcting you. He’s been disciplining you. So, don’t despise God’s discipline. And we shouldn’t despise God’s discipline. That’s what the writer of the book of Hebrews says: we’re not to despise God’s discipline, because God disciplines those he loves. But what Eliphaz means is that Job must have done something wrong to deserve this suffering. Eliphaz is sure that God is correcting Job for his sins. And so, don’t despise God’s discipline, but learn from it.
And he goes on to tell Job about the blessings he can expect to receive from God if he returns to God: he will rescue you from every calamity; and he will ransom you from famine and the sword; and he will protect you from accusations and threats and from destruction and from wild animals. He will so arrange things that there won’t be any stones in your field to make farming difficult. Your tent — that is, your life — will be secure. All of your possessions will be secure. You will have many children and you will only go to the grave after a long and full life. That’s what you can expect from God if you turn to him and do what’s right. Trouble only ever comes on the wicked, and not on the good. ‘We have examined this’, he says at the end. This is how the world seems to Eliphaz.
But here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. We know from what we read in chapters 1 and 2 that Job is blameless and upright. God is not punishing him or correcting him for his wickedness. Eliphaz thinks Job is suffering because he’s a sinner; and he regards all suffering as punishment for sin. What Eliphaz does not realise is that Job is suffering because he’s a saint (Green). And Eliphaz does not know that God is able to use even our suffering for good.
And so, we come to Job’s reply in chapters 6 and 7. Ad he begins by saying that his anguish and misery outweigh the sand of the seas. It it is an immense weight and he is burdened down by it. No wonder, then, that his words are impetuous. Someone may think his words in chapter 3 were rash and inappropriate. But they reflect the burden he is carrying and the suffering he is enduring. The arrows of the Almighty are in me. God’s terrors are marshalled against me.
Isn’t that interesting? We know that the one who attacked him is Satan. Satan’s arrows are in him. However, in a sense Job is right, because Satan could do nothing to hurt him without God’s permission. And everything that happens in the world is determined ultimately by God’s most holy and perfect will by which he controls and directs all things. And so, in a sense he’s right when he says that God’s arrows are in him, because it was the will of the Lord to let Satan attack him.
He then refers to the donkey and ox who have been well-fed and who have no reason to bray and bellow. He’s not like them, because he has plenty of reasons for crying out. And he’s not like those who eat a tasty meal and who have no reason to shout for salt. He has plenty of reasons for crying out. He’s crying out because of what he’s suffered.
And in verse 8 he wishes that he might have what he requested. What has he requested? What does he want? He wants to die. What he hopes for is death. Some of the commentators (Ash and Jones) make the important point that the thought of killing himself never crosses Job’s mind. That thought does not occur to him, because the right to take life lies with God and with no other. And so, the thought of taking his own life does not cross his mind. But he wishes that God would take his life so that his suffering would be over.
And look now at verse 10 where he speaks of his consolation. What would be his consolation if God were to take his life immediately? It would be this: that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. Do you see what he’s saying? If he dies now, then he would have the consolation of knowing that he had remained faithful to the end of his life. He’s afraid that if his life continues, he may break. Remaining faithful, persevering in the faith, might become too much for him; and he’ll be tempted to give up his faith and renounce his God. And so, he asks in verse 11 what strength does he have? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have the power I need? He doesn’t think he has the strength to remain faithful for much longer. He’s feeling the pressure to give up. And so, he wants to die now, because if he dies now, then he can be consoled with the thought that he did not deny his Lord or give up his faith. One of the commentators (Clines) compares him to a prisoner who is being tortured in order to give up a secret. The prisoner doesn’t want to give up the secret, but he’s not sure how much more pain he can endure. That’s Job. How much more pain can I endure before I give up? Therefore, let me die now.
And then, in verses 14 to 21, he complains about his friends. A despairing man like Job should have the devotion of his friends. The word translated ‘devotion’ is the same word which is used for God’s love and faithfulness towards his people. Just as we depend on God’s love and faithfulness, so a despairing man like Job depends on the love and faithfulness of his friends. But his brothers — that is, his friends — are as undependable as intermittent streams. When you’re thirsty, you go to the stream for water, but the stream has dried up. What use is it? That’s what Job’s friends are like to him. He describes how a caravan of camels and their riders take a detour in the desert to get water from a well. But when they get there, the well is dry. They had been confident of finding water, but now they’re disappointed. And Job was looking for sympathy and comfort from his friends, but he’s only been disappointed. They are no help.
And in verses 22 to 30 he says he never asked money from them. He never asked them to pay a ransom on his behalf to free him from his enemy. What he wanted from them was their help to understand what he was going through. Teach me and I will listen. Show me where I have gone wrong! But instead of helping him, they have treated his words of despair as if they are empty wind. His friends are no better than those who gamble for orphans and who barter away their friends. One of the commentators (Clines) suggests that these are proverbial sayings about being callous and hardhearted. Only a hardhearted person would gamble for orphans; and Job’s friends are being hardhearted with him. And he stresses at the end of chapter 6 that he is not lying to them. He has done nothing wrong.
And in chapter 7 Job addresses God. We know that’s the case, because he refers to God in verse 7. And he begins this chapter by comparing his life to the life of a hired hand or slave who endures hours of hard labour and drudgery and longs for the evening to come when he can rest. And so, Job has endured months with no rest, no peace, no joy, no hope. And he has had to endure sleepless nights of misery. When he lies down, he wonders, ‘How long before I can get up?’ The night drags on. He tosses and turns and cannot sleep. And his body is covered with worms and scabs and his skin is broken and festering. He’s repulsed by his own body.
And he compares his life to a weaver’s shuttle which shoots from one side of the loom to the other in an instant. And so, his life is brief. It’s but a breath. I’ll never see happiness again, he says. Those who now see me will see me no more. If God looks for him, he will already be dead. His life is a like a cloud which vanished and is gone. In a similar way, he will die and be gone. He’ll never return to his home.
And so, he describes the shortness of his life. It will soon come to an end. And therefore, he asks God in verses 11 to 21, to leave him alone. He’s not a evil sea monster which God must keep under guard. And he complains that when he’s on his bed, God comes and frightens him with dreams and visions. And he says that he’d prefer to be strangled and die than to remain alive and have God attack him by day and by night. He despises his life and he has no desire to live for ever. So, leave me alone, he says to God in verse 16. Leave me alone. You’re tormenting me. So, leave me alone.
The words of verse 17 recall the words of Psalm 8: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ The psalmist was amazed because God has bestowed so much honour on us. But Job is amazed because God pays us so much attention to us and to what we do. Why do you bother yourself with us? Why do you examine us and the things we do? What’s it to you what we do? How can what we do affect you? So, will you never look away from me? Why won’t you let me alone even for a moment? He says in verse 20: ‘If I have sinned, what have I done to you?’ How is it going to hurt you? And so, why have I become your target? Why don’t you pardon my sins and forgive my sins and leave me alone, because I’ll soon lie down in the dust and I shall be no more? Of course, Job believes he is blameless and has done nothing to deserve his suffering. And he’s right to believe that, because God has declared him blameless and upright. And so, by his words in verse 21 he must mean that if God thinks he has sinned, why won’t you forgive me for it? I don’t think I have sinned. But if you think I’ve done something wrong, why won’t you forgive me anyway instead of making me suffer like this?
In chapter 4 Eliphaz asked whether a mortal can be righteous before God. He was making the point that, since we’re all sinners, then we must all expect to suffer because of our sin. And therefore Job should turn back to God.
However we know that Job was not suffering because of sin. His suffering was the extra-ordinary suffering of a blameless and upright man who had not done anything to deserve what had happened to him. And therefore Job’s suffering foreshadows the suffering of our Saviour who was perfectly blameless and upright; and who never did anything wrong; but who suffered in an extra-ordinary way when he left the glory of heaven above to come to earth as one of us; where he was despised and rejected by those he came to save; and where he suffered and died, not for his own sins, but for our sins; so that all who believe in him may have the hope of perfect peace and rest forever in the new and better world to come. And in that new and better world to come, all the suffering and sorrow of this life will be over; and God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes; and our present sufferings will not compare with the glory that will be revealed in us in the life to come. And while we wait for that future glory, we can be re-assured that God will never punish a believer, because Christ bore our punishment in our place. And so, though we may suffer, it’s not because God is angry with us. Of that we can be sure, because Christ has made peace between us.
And then remember Job’s consolation? The only consolation he had was the thought that he would die without denying the words of the Holy One. And whenever any of us suffers, we should look to the Lord to give us the strength we need to endure all things so that we do not deny the words of the Holy One and give up our faith in him. All of us are involved in this great spiritual battle which has been going on since the creation of the world, when Satan first tempted Eve to disobey God’s word. And ever since that time, the Devil has been against God’s people; and he will do whatever he can to destroy our faith and to keep us from worshipping God. But whether our life is full of good things or whether our life is full of sorrow, God is still God and he still deserves our worship. And so, in the midst of our suffering, we should look to the Lord to give us the strength we need to endure so that we will continue to worship him as the one, true and living God, who is worthy of all our praise both now and forevermore.
And just as Job did not understand why he was suffering, so we may not know why we suffer. But we must continue to trust that God rules and reigns in heaven and on earth; and that he is working out his most holy and perfect will; and that he is able to use even our suffering for our good and for his glory.