What could have been an encouraging discussion among friends turned into an angry and painful debate. Instead of trying to calm things down, Eliphaz assumed the role of prosecuting attorney and turned the debate into a trial. It was three against one as Job sat on the ash heap and listened to his friends lie about him. According to the Jewish Talmud, the slanderous tongue kills three: the slandered, the slanderer, and the one who listens to the slandered. At the ash heap in Uz it was death all around! Eliphaz had three serious accusations against Job: he is a sinner, he is hiding his sins, and he must confess his sins and repent before God can help him. From 22:1-26:14 Job’s friends explicitly accuse Job of being among the wicked and sharing their fate. Eliphaz did not understand that God would gain pleasure from Job’s righteousness, as He does from every righteous person. God would also gain glory from Job’s steadfast faith, which emphasized the lie behind the evil ones challenge. Job steadfastly claimed he was perfect, as God did himself. The implication of Eliphaz’s rhetorical question…that a human being cannot put God under any obligation that God must repay…is a valid theological principle that the Lord Himself corroborates in 41:11. However his application of that principle to Job’s circumstances was invalid because it was based on the faulty assumption that the righteous are always blessed and the wicked always experience God’s judgement on earth.
Eliphaz continues to be sarcastic, wondering if God rebukes people for their piety. But courts do not try people for their righteousness. They try people for their lawlessness so, since God has sent terrible judgements upon Job he must be guilty of sin. This is not the first time one of Job’s friends has brought this to his attention. Eliphaz missed the point Job was making. Why does God send the punishment before He arrests me, reads the indictment, and conducts the trial. This just goes to show the friends were not only not bringing comfort or encouragement, they were not even giving the Job the courtesy of listening to him.
First Eliphaz accused Job of pride. He asserted that Job was acting as though his character and conduct were important to God and beneficial to Him in some way. Eliphaz’s theology centered around a distant God who was the judge of the wicked but not the friend of sinners. But, they were important to God because God was using Job to silence the evil one. Eliphaz accused Job of being a greedy man who abused people to acquire more wealth. And, he used his power and reputation to intimidate people and rob them. Eliphaz didn’t even live in Job’s territory so how would he know how Job treated people in business dealings. All of this was pure fabrication, a feeble attempt to discredit a godly man who had helped many people. Next came Job’s sin of lack of mercy and compassion. From Eliphaz’s point of view this is why God was not answering Job’s prayers. According to Eliphaz, Job had turned away the weary, the hungry, the widows and the orphans instead of sharing with them out of his rich resources. Since showing hospitality is one of the first laws of the East, that meant Job’s sin was especially heinous. The Old Testament gives Israel the responsibility of caring for widows, orphans and the poor, and repeatedly condemns their neglect as the worst of all social evils. Job agreed that it was wicked but continued to claim he was innocent.
Eliphaz clinched his point with evidence anybody could see. Job was suffering great trials which were the consequence of his many sins. Why else would he be in darkness, danger, and the depths of suffering. This was the hand of God indicating that Job was a godless man. The people standing around listening to these discussions must have been shocked when they heard these accusations against their neighbor Job. They had never seen that side of Job and were left scratching their heads. Eliphaz continued by stating Job had been hiding his sins. He encouraged Job to look up and realize that God could see everything. Because of this Job needed to repent of all his sins and God would restore his prosperity. I wonder if Job was thinking here we go again.
Instead of arguing with his friends, Job ignored them completely and speaks to and about the Lord. Job had already made it clear that his dispute was not with man but with God and he emphasized that in this speech. Job has three complaints against the Lord: God was hiding from him, God was frightening him, and God perplexed him. Job has dropped the earlier doubt he had and now expressed confidence that he could successfully present his complaint. He was prepared to state his case, present his arguments, and let God give the verdict. Job was confident that despite God’s great power as a lawgiver, he would win his case because he was an upright man, and God would not condemn an upright man. But how and where was Job to find God? If Job went one way it seemed God went a different direction. Job could not even get a glimpse of Him. Of course God is everywhere but Job wanted a personal meeting with Him. He had questions. God knew exactly where Job was. He was in the refiners fire but it was a furnace of God’s appointment but not because of Job’s sin. And, God would use Job’s affliction to make him a better man. This is not the only answer to the question why do the righteous suffer but it is one of the best. And it can bring the sufferer great encouragement.
When God puts His own people into the furnace, He keeps His eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat. God knows how long and how much. We may question why God does what He does but often those questions are signs of unbelief. It is important to note that Job’s life was pleasing to God before he went into the furnace. If we are nourished by the Word and submit to His will, the furnace experience, painful as it may be, will refine us and make us better. But if we resist God’s will and fail to feed on His truth, the furnace experience will only burn us and make us bitter. Job did not want the refiners fire. He wanted an examination that would prove that he had been pure as gold and did not need to amend his life.
In looking at Job 23:14 we can compare it to Jeremiah 29:11. Job tells his friends that God controls his destiny and Jeremiah tells us God knows the plans He has for us. God’s sovereign power is terrifying to Job, and Job looks at Him as One who can and does do whatever He wants. Job has absolutely no control over his life. Chapter 24 focuses on why the wicked are not punished. He focuses on the seeming injustices God permits in the world. Sometimes we are no different and we have some of the same questions as Job. The list of injustices is long for Job. He speaks of theft, moving boundary lines, abusing the poor, widows, and orphans. Verses 5-11 give some of the most graphic pictures of the plight of the poor found anywhere in the Bible. They have to forage for food like animals. They freeze because they have no clothes. They are soaked by rain because they have no place to live. Their children are taken from them to pay debts. They are forced to work for the rich but not allowed to eat any of the food they harvest. Job asked his friends if God judges the wicked as you have told me, why has He not done anything with these wicked people?
The wicked like to operate in the dark, when no one can see the things they do. Verses 18-25 are about the ultimate fate of the wicked are problematic. They sound much more like one of Job’s friends than Job and many believe they are the words of Zophar since he did not have a speech in this third cycle of speeches. However it is also possible they are Job’s and he is simply quoting or mocking his friends. It is also possible that Job is pronouncing curses on the wicked, as though he is saying if God will not curse these people, I will.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W