May 17th, 2021 - Job 4-7
Job’s friend Eliphaz spoke first. He was probably the oldest and therefore presumably the wisest of the three. He was also more courteous than Job’s other friends. But, his observations were distorted. He believed God would never punish the righteous and would not preserve the sinner. Eliphaz’s conclusion was that since Job was suffering he must be a sinner. Though Eliphaz seemed a bit surprised at Job’s response in chapter 3, his initial remarks to him are complementary and courteous. In one translation Eliphaz tells Job that he sees Job is weary. Other translations state Job is troubled or discouraged. Being weary here in the Hebrew is one word that can also mean you will become weary. We see that in verse two. The repetition here means Eliphaz recognizes the contradiction between the patient Job we see in the prologue (1:1-5) and the impatient Job of the dialogue.
This section of the Book of Job, 4:1-14:22, begins three rounds of speeches by each of Job’s three friends, each one eliciting a response from Job. In this first round, Job’s friends exhort him to seek God so that he can again enjoy prosperity. Eliphaz claims to have received divine revelation through a dream. His advice to Job was based on this mystical experience. Here Eliphaz acts like a prophet . Over the course of this book we will see Job complain mightily. He will earn God’s rebuke for it but God ultimately confirmed Job’s righteousness. Job’s fundamental complaint was that God did not give him a fair hearing to demonstrate his innocence. In a gracious but firm act of self revelation, God rebuked Job for his over reaching self defense and implied criticism of God’s fairness. God then shifted Job’s focus away from his troubles and toward God Himself.
As we look at 4:9 we see Eliphaz refer to the wind that destroyed Job’s sons house as the wind of divine judgement. We read a bit farther and see Eliphaz speak of people living in clay houses with their foundation in the dust. He is emphasizing the mortality and fragility of human existence. Like true temporary houses people live in, people can perish without anyone knowing. Elsewhere Job uses the same two Hebrew words in parallel to describe the fragility of the human body. Since the body is fashioned from clay, God the potter who fashioned it can easily return it back to dust. I am reminded of the words from Ash Wednesday…remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Eliphaz asks the question can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his maker? The people in this story acknowledge that no one is truly innocent or pure because all are depraved. The apostle Paul tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Eliphaz uses these terms to mean that human beings are sinful creatures and God is the sinless creator. Job and God used them to mean that. Job had faithfully carried out the duties inherent in his relationship with God. Job and Eliphaz never agree on the meaning of these terms and later God says Eliphaz has spoken in- accurately. Again in chapter five, Eliphaz uses a play on the words ground and man, along with the repetition of the word trouble. He maintains that Job’s trouble did not come out of nowhere, that is it did not spring up out of the ground. He speaks of sparks flying upwards from a fire. This may be a reference to the Ugaritic god of the underworld who was supposedly responsible for plagues and lightening. This does not mean Eliphaz believes in other gods. He is simply saying that just as a plague springs up from the demonic forces of hell, so does trouble come from a person’s nature. And Eliphaz insinuates that since Job’s suffering was a result of God’s chastening for his sin, he should not despise or reject what God was trying to teach him. Eliphaz states that God is the author of both pain and healing. He maintains that God would heal the wounds He has inflicted for discipline. When God does allow pain to come into our lives, it is not to harm us but to make us better. 5:19-26 reflects a wisdom formula that speaks of a sense of completeness. The list here speaks of Mosaic covenant blessings and curses. Eliphaz thought that people in a right relationship with God would be free from famine, war and the destruction it causes, and slander. They will even be at peace with wild animals and the stones of the field. This many well mean fertile fields rather than fields littered with stones. It could also mean a wider harmony with the natural world. Eliphaz also believed that the one who is in a right relationship with God will be blessed with many children, and will live to a ripe old age. What Eliphaz is really asking Job to do is make a bargain with God: confess your sins and God will restore all you have.
Job’s response does two things. It attacks his friends/counselors and challenges God. He reflects on the depth of his misery, tells Eliphaz he has failed to offer comfort or sympathy as a friend, and tells him he is arguing stale theology. In the Old Testament arrows are associated with supernatural peril, pestilence, and destructive ills. Job wishes for God to crush him, and he is in good company here. At one time both Moses and Elijah wished that God would kill them. (Numbers 11:15 and 1 Kings 19:4). It seems, reading verse 6:14 and following that Job and his friends might have been bound by a covenant of loyalty and faithfulness. That would make them like brothers, protectors , and trusted friends. If this was the case, Job was accusing his friends of violating their covenant with him. That he called them brothers meant they apparently had a close relationship at one time. This only intensifies his feelings of disappointment.
The city of Tema was in the northern Arabian desert at the junction of roads from Damascus to Mecca and from the Persian Gulf to Aqaba. It might have been named after one of Ishmael’s descendants. Sheba was located in southwest Arabia and it was a marketplace for precious commodities. Job compares his disappointment with his friends to the thirsty caravans whose hopes for water were dashed by dry riverbeds. When Job hoped to receive help from his friends they offered nothing, just like the dry rivers. Job pleaded with his friends to have understanding rather than argumentative spirits. The friend’s demeanor degenerates into arguments and reproofs as they overreacted to Job’s words. A friend must be willing to make allowances for overreaction in someone who suffers, and not respond with similar emotions. The sufferer needs someone to be a friend who will listen with understanding rather than a judge who simply wishes to give reproof.
Human life has been a struggle since the fall. Job argues that his own lot is now worse than the hard service of a hired laborer or a common slave. His use of the word servant is a somewhat ironic given his life as God’s servant has now become full of drudgery and slavery rather than joyous trust in the Lord. Nowhere do we find out how long Job suffered but he states here that he has been given months of futility. Job believed his days were without hope, with not even a thread of hope available to him. He could not see the design God was weaving for his life. But we have to realize that the Great Weaver has a design for each of us and we may not be able to see it until He is finished with our lives. Job describes those who die, literally those who go down to Sheol. This is the first explicit mention of Sheol in the Book of Job. It is described as a place of rest from earthly pressures and distinctions and as a dark dwelling place deep in the earth that is covered in dust. It is the destiny of all the living from which no one can return.
The more Job speaks, the worse his suffering seems to be. He cannot keep quiet. He has turned to every place he has found comfort in the past. Even sleep is torturous. He hates his life and he doesn’t want to play anymore. He wonders aloud why God will not leave him alone, even long enough for him to swallow or catch his breath. We end this reading with Job asking God what he has done to deserve being made a target for God’s persecution. And when Job calls God a watcher of men, he employs a phrase that normally describes God in a positive role as one who preserves His people. Rather than praising God for His goodness expressed in watchfulness Job blamed God for hostile surveillance which actually characterizes satan’s activity. Job is miserable and on some level he doesn’t care who knows it. His friends are of no help and God seems very far away.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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