Posted: 04 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
THE FIRST SPEECH OF ELIPHAZ takes up two chapters. In the first part (Job 4), Eliphaz gives shape to his argument:
(1) The opening lines are seductive (Job 4:2–4). One might almost think that Eliphaz is respectfully pursuing permission to offer helpful counsel to Job, in the same way that Job in times past has offered helpful counsel to others. But that is not it at all. Eliphaz is not asking permission; rather, he is fixing blame on Job because he is discouraged. It turns out, Eliphaz says, that the great Job who has helped others cannot cope when he faces a bit of trouble himself (Job 4:5).
(2) The next verse transitions to the heart of Eliphaz's argument: "Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?" (Job 4:6). In other words, if Job were as pious and as blameless as many had believed, either he would not be in this fix, or else he would at least be able to live above discouragement. The disasters that have befallen Job, and Job's reactions to them, prove that Job is hiding shame or guilt that must be confronted.
(3) In brief, Eliphaz holds that in God's universe you get what you deserve (Job 4:7). God is in charge, and God is good, so you reap what you sow (4:8).
(4) Eliphaz claims nothing less than revelation to ground his argument (Job 4:12–21). In some sort of night vision, he says, a spirit glided by his face (Job 4:15) and uttered words of supreme importance: "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?" (Job 4:17). God is so transcendently powerful and just that even the angels that surround him are tawdry and untrustworthy in his eyes. So human beings, "those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust" (Job 4:19), are less significant, less reliable. The implication, then, is that a man like Job should simply admit his frailty, his error, his sin, and stop pretending that what has befallen him is anything other than what he deserves. The way Job is carrying on, Eliphaz implies, he is in danger of impugning the God whose justice is far beyond human assessment or comprehension.
We should pause to evaluate Eliphaz's argument. At one level, Eliphaz is right: God is utterly just, transcendently holy. The Bible elsewhere avers that a man reaps what he sows (e.g., Prov. 22:8; Gal. 6:7). But these truths, by themselves, may overlook two factors. First, the time frame in which the wheels of God's justice grind is sometimes very long. Eliphaz seems to hold to a rather rapid and obvious tit-for-tat system of recompense. Second, Eliphaz has no category for innocent suffering, so he is embarking on a course that condemns an innocent man.
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