We now move to the second cycle of speeches. The words of the participants become more strident and heated as we see here with Eliphaz. He now openly accuses Job of pride in refusing to admit his wickedness and guilt. We know he is wrong to do this because Job is innocent, but we must not ignore some of the wisdom he presents to us. Eliphaz’s words remind us that all of us are sinners, that none of us is so righteous as to be without sin. Our minds are finite and limited so no one can fully understand what the Lord is doing, nor fathom all the mysteries of creation and the universe. Those who claim to do so are really ignorant and filled with arrogance and pride. The Lord will surely punish them as well as all those who behave wickedly and those who refuse to yield to His sovereign authority.
Although these truths are echoed by the Lord at the end of the book, Eliphaz’s words are presented not to edify and instruct Job, but to rebuke and convict him as a prosecuting attorney might do in a court of law. Eliphaz he is the one who has a prideful attitude filled with self-righteous indignation. We must also note that not all of what he says about divine retribution is true. He ignores the fact that the wicked often prosper with impunity while the innocent suffer. He prefers to think that God behaves in a mechanical and predictable manner, always according to the rules. There is little room in his view of the world for God’s mercy and love. The truth is God defies all our attempts to put Him in a nice neat box. He acts in His own way and His own time to accomplish His will. And he freely dispenses mercy to the undeserving.
Many among us, including we Christians have often said the right things for all the wrong reasons or we have said them with an attitude of self-righteousness. Our desire was, like Job’s friends, to prove our case, to maintain our air of superiority, to win the argument. The real reason we should desire to say the right things, to speak the truth is out of love and compassion. We ought not get angry or gloat at the opposition of those who disagree with us. Rather we should mourn for their blindness which will result in their eternal separation from God.
As Job presents his complaint to the Lord, he bemoans the brevity of life. His observations are quite depressing and dark. He notes that life is too short. The fact that it is also filled with so much pain and sorrow makes man’s lot worse. In the light of this, Job suggests that perhaps the Lord ought to turn away from man and not afflict him so severely, but to let him live in peace, to have some measure of gladness. There may peace after death, but for Job, there is loneliness and emptiness as well. Life is all man has for no one comes back from the grave. If only death were temporary, then the Lord would raise man up after a while much as a new tree sprouts up from the stump of one that has been cut down.
Job’s theology did not allow for resurrection from the dead so his words are dark and filled with despair. Yet his allusion to death as temporary presents us with a bright ray of hope for, although Job did not know it, death is only temporary. Man can be resurrected to a glorious, wonderful, and trouble-free eternal existence. This is because Jesus died and rose again. His death atoned for our sins, took away the sting of death, and the punishment of the eternal darkness of Sheol that separated from God for ever. If we place our faith in the sacrifice of Christ we will not fear the emptiness that Job described. We can have hope even in the bleakest of trials, a hope that will enable us to persevere.
Yet for those who refuse to accept the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf, Job’s stark picture is a grim reality. In this life they may have much pleasure, happiness and excitement, yet these things will not survive death. They have an illusion that their life after death will continue in the same way, but, as Job reveals, they will be sadly mistaken.
Job continues to chastise his friends for their apparent lack of compassion and understanding. They claim they want to help, but all they have done is accuse him of wrongdoing. Despite the criticisms, Job persists in maintaining his innocence. He will state his case before the Lord even though this is a risky venture not only because those who see the face of the Lord cannot survive the encounter (Isaiah 6) but also because he is daring to speak back to God and to imply that He is unjust and has made an error. He has to state his case even though he believes that he has no chance of getting a fair hearing.
Too often we do the same to our friends who are in the midst of trials as Job’s friends did to him. We claim we want to help them, to be there for them. Yet when they speak their mind we cut them short. We tell them they should not feel this way, and even if they do feel this way, they should not speak such words to God. We accuse them of sin in daring to say such things. We judge their behavior as sinful. We tell them why God is allowing them to suffer, as if we really knew why and for what reasons. This type of approach is only our attempt to control the situation so that we can know that our actions and deeds will produce a desired result and prevent the same afflictions from happening to us. But our brusque dismissal of the complaints of our loved one often serve to belittle that person as well as to cut short what God is trying to do. As we have noted before, the approach that is often the one that is the wisest and the most compassionate is to let the suffering one speak and offer no platitudes or easy attempts to comfort. That means agreeing with their assessment or seeing things from their point of view. In such a way we can help them come to terms with God and avail themselves of the real comfort and help only He can provide.
Job resents Bildad’s persistent assertion that he has sinned and needs to repent. If he is so obviously at fault, why hasn’t someone told him what he did to deserve his predicament? Job does agree with Bildad that the Lord is just, but what he is experiencing has him baffled. His tribulations make it seem that the Lord is not fair or just for He apparently sends afflictions not only upon the sinful but also upon the righteous and in an arbitrary manner. His confusion about God puts him in a better place to learn truth and wisdom than his closed-minded friends: his struggle to make sense of it all leads him to the Lord.
Yet when Job considers arguing with God or filing a suit against him in a court of law, he finds this impossible. God is supreme; He makes the rules. He has created all things and He controls all things. All that happens in the universe is under his sovereign power. He limits the most ferocious of beasts. He controls the deadliest and most powerful of storms and natural disasters. He sets boundaries upon the oceans and the heavenly realms so that nothing happens by chance. A man cannot dispute with God and tell Him He is wrong for allowing anything that occurs, good or bad. Such an assertion assumes that man knows better than God and this is just not possible. Man needs an arbiter or umpire who would allow him to speak to the Lord without fear of reprisal.
Job did not know this, but that intermediary, that one who negotiates for us is Jesus. Therefore we who are in Christ should never be afraid to tell God what is really on our mind. It is okay to tell Him what is really bothering us about what He’s doing in our life as well as the trouble and turmoil we see in the world around us. Because we go clothed in the righteousness of Christ we will always receive a welcome hearing even if we have to wait for an answer or if the answer is not what we think is best.
Job’s friend next friend, Bildad, seems to be quite upset by Job’s response and by his failure to confess his sin. He continues to stress the “wisdom” Eliphaz presented about the certainty of God’s retribution. Bildad assumes that since God always blesses the righteous, it must be certain that Job has sinned. According to his way of thinking, which is quite common today among Christians, all those who suffer pain and deprivation are surely being punished by God for wickedness. Therefore, according to Bildad, Job’s children earned their untimely death because they had sinned. Bildad’s rigid type of thinking will not allow him to consider that God could act in another way or that He would allow the innocent to suffer for any reason.
Bildad’s statements are rather callous considering the context of Job’s suffering and grief. He should refrain from speaking because, though he is called a friend of Job’s, he really does not care about his spiritual or emotional well-being. And he does not really know his friend. If he did, he would know that Job was blameless so there must be another explanation for his tribulation. Neither does he know God even though he asserts emphatically that he does. To admit or even consider that Job’s experience contradicts his concept of God would challenge and upset his personal views of a nice neat orderly world in which God’s behavior was predictable. There is no room in his life for a God of supreme mystery and awesome wonder.
We have all endured our share of suffering, pain and grief. During such times some people may have suggested or said outright that we were being punished for sin. We may have even thought it ourselves. We may have tried to figure out what we or perhaps our suffering loved one were guilty of. Sometimes as with sexually transmitted diseases the sin is obvious. In such cases we must repent but such repentance with the Lord’s forgiveness does not remove the suffering. Yet at other times, such as with various cancers and heart disease, there is no direct connection. In any case, unless we are sure and unless we know our friend or loved well and have had a longstanding relationship with him or her we ought remain silent. None of us is guiltless.
Job’s response reveals that he is extremely disturbed and that is an understatement. Eliphaz has mocked his pain and revealed that he does not know Job at all. His friends came to help but Job finds that their advice is as unattractive as unseasoned food. Their counsel is as empty and lifeless as a dry stream. As a counselor and friend, Eliphaz is totally useless and wrong for, as Job announces, and as we already know, he is blameless. He has done nothing to bring this catastrophe upon himself. He is right with God. Job continues to maintain his innocence before them and before the Lord. If he has sinned, then show him what he has done so that he may repent and make himself right.
In response to their accusation of sin, Job accuses Eliphaz and the other 2 friends of being fearful of God, afraid that by associating with Job in his pain, they will suffer the same thing. Their nice comfortable little reasoned view of life has put God in a box where, to a large degree, He is under their control. So long as they please Him, they figure they are safe from trouble. Looking at Job they are afraid to even think that this is not so.
The reality is that God will often act in ways that mystify and confuse us, filling us with fear and turmoil. We think that if we just do all the right things and say all the right prayers God will be obligated to us. This of course puts us, not the Lord in control. It may be nice to think this way and even teach it as do those preachers of the gospel of health and wealth. Yet experience tells us that bad things do happen to good people for reasons that only God knows. He does not have to share those with us. Contrary to what we may have been told or what we think, He will not wreak havoc on us when we share our complaints with Him about what He is doing in our life or about some perceived injustice. He will hear our cry and give us strength and patience to endure.
Eliphaz continues to speak out to Job about the necessity of repentance. He assumes that God always does good and that he punishes only evil. Therefore it is foolish to argue with this basic truth. Since the Lord is disciplining Job, it must be for a sin or sins he has committed. He needs to ask God for forgiveness. Eliphaz’s speech is filled with Biblical wisdom and statements of God’s greatness that remind us of the Psalms. They inspire confidence in God who rewards those who walk in obedience and punishes the wicked. What Job is enduring is God’s discipline. The best thing to do is cooperate and learn.
Yet as wise as this advice sounds, it is highly inappropriate and wrong. We readers know this because we were privy to what Satan did at the permission of the Lord and why. Neither Job nor Eliphaz are aware of this. Yet even so we can see tell that Eliphaz does not know or really care about his supposed friend because he assumes he has sinned. If was a true friend he would know who Job was and what his life was like and would be puzzled by his pain. But Eliphaz He ignores Job’s pain as he makes mention of those calamities the Lord will deliver the righteous from: those calamities are the very ones Job has suffered. This statement of great wisdom, meant to encourage and instill hope becomes an insult, a proclamation that is insensitive to Job’s pain and sorrow.
True friends are wary of making such hurtful statements to those in pain. Rather we should think about the time we were in sorrow or pain and recall what our relatives and friends did or said that was helpful or consoling. Yet even then before speaking we ought to consider the person we are addressing for even wise statements could be harmful or insensitive if spoken at the wrong time.