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"Who Ever Perished Being Innocent?" (Job 4-5) February 25-26

Among Job's friends, Eliphaz the Temanite speaks first, showing him probably to be the oldest and likely reckoned as the wisest. As we will see, Eliphaz is the kindest of the three in his remarks to Job. This, however, is not to say that his remarks are kind. He begins by saying that Job, a counselor and comforter to others, is not able be bolstered by his own typical consolation (4:1-6). We then see that Eliphaz is convinced that God would not punish the truly righteous or sustain the wicked, and that he believes Job must have sinned to be deserving of such calamitous experiences.

The "lions" of verse 10 are figuratively the wicked—though whether this is a statement about the wicked in general or one intended to directly identify Job is not clear. Of course, even if generalized, Job and his family seem to be at least indirectly likened to the decimated pride of lions here. Indeed, this begins to exemplify the whole problem with Job's friends, as we will see. We later are told that Job's three friends have not spoken what is right concerning God (Job 42:7-8). While many of the ideas they express are true in a general sense, these concepts do not apply universally—and they did not apply in Job's case, as God declared him blameless and upright.

To bolster his case, Eliphaz remarkably points to some sort of night vision or dream wherein a spirit communicated with him (4:12-17). Whether this was a made-up story, his imagination or a real encounter—be it with God, a heavenly angel or a demonic imposter—we have no way of knowing. The statement of verse 17 has traditionally been translated as asking if a mortal man can be more righteous and purer than God. However, there would hardly seem to be a question about that. "Many grammarians…render it 'Can a mortal be found righteous in the presence of God?'" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 12-21; compare NRSV). The point would be that Job was certainly guilty of some sin. While this idea was true on the face of it—and is even part of what Job comes to understand more fully at the end of the book—Eliphaz's application of this truth with respect to Job was wrong, as he was trying to prove that Job's suffering was directly related to some particular sin or sins he had committed.

Eliphaz's advice in 5:8—that Job should turn to God for help—was probably rather condescending. Given even the little we know of Job from the narrative so far, we would have to assume that he was a praying person. Surely Eliphaz, an actual companion of this righteous man, knew this too. "How strange to assume that Job hasn't sought God. The advice to 'just pray about it' must seem terribly trite to someone who has been pouring out his heart to God in utter anguish" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verse 8).

Interestingly, the apostle Paul quoted the words of Eliphaz in Job 5:13—about God catching the wise in their own craftiness—as authoritative Scripture, introducing them with the phrase "It is written" (1 Corinthians 3:19). "This serves as a reminder," notes Gleason Archer in the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, "that many of the general principles the comforters brought up in their dialogue with Job were quite true in themselves, even though they may not have been appropriate to Job's situation, and may by inference have been grossly unfair to him. But we should remember that Job himself declared to them, 'Who does not know such things as these?' (12:3)—i.e., those religious platitudes that they had been preaching to him" (p. 396). The Expositor's Bible Commentary suggests that all of Eliphaz's words in Job 5:9-16 (including verse 13, quoted by Paul) constitute a creedal hymn. Indeed, these words may have been part of a psalm already extant within Abraham's family that Eliphaz himself was just quoting.

Eliphaz finishes out his first speech with adages about God ultimately delivering those who repent when chastened by Him. The "covenant with the stones of the field" in verse 23 is probably related to Psalm 91:12, where God speaks of keeping His servant's foot from dashing against a stone. Once more, the sentiments here are true when applied generally. But Eliphaz was misapplying them—not just in perceiving Job as having sinned to deserve punishment but in the heartless, tactless proclamation of these truths to one who needed comfort. Eliphaz says, for instance, that as part of the results of accepting God's discipline, "You will know that your children will be many" (Job 5:25, NIV)—thoughtless of the awful fact that Job's children were dead.

This should serve as a lesson to us of what not to do when people are deeply hurting. Job's friends were at their best when they wept for him and kept quiet. It's when they opened their mouths and started "preaching" at him—with terribly wrong assumptions moreover—that they went off course. We should never approach others suffering loss of loved ones or terminal illness and start in on them with what they should do to prevent such problems or how to get straightened out.

Eliphaz's patronizing attitude in verse 27 made the situation all the worse—and totally misrepresented God. As The Bible Reader's Companion notes: "Eliphaz has neatly packaged his God as one who must act according to his understanding. After all, if the innocent never perish, and if God hears their appeals, all Job has to do is pray and be healed! Eliphaz never stops to think how presumptuous it is to limit God by his own fallible reasoning. How foolish are the many Eliphazes among us, whose assurances that 'if you only have enough faith you'll be healed' are just as superficial, harmful, and wrong."

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