Job and His Friend Eliphaz

Job
by Léon Bonnat (1880)

After Job lost his possessions, his children, and his health, Job sat on the ground for seven days. Throughout these seven days Job was in silence. He was in excruciating pain and unwilling to raise his voice to express how he felt. Job broke his silence and spoke for the first time. Job cursed the day he was born, the night he was conceived, and lamented his situation by expressing his desire to die. Job’s despair was the result of his unbearable pain which made him question the reason for the misery he has endured for days without end.

When Job’s friends, Eliphaz of Teman, Bildad of Shuah, and Zophar of Naama, heard what had happened to Job, they left their homes and came to comfort him. Job’s friends sat down with Job; they remained in silence with Job for seven days. No one said a word to him because they saw that he was in such great pain. After Job broke his silence and cursed the day he was born, his friends felt the need to say a few words about Job’s condition. Eliphaz was the first one to speak to Job.

The First Dialogue Between Eliphaz and Job

A. Eliphaz’s First Speech

Eliphaz came to comfort his friend Job, but after Eliphaz heard Job cursing the day he was born and accusing God of giving him a miserable life (3:23–26), Eliphaz was not in the mood to comfort Job. Eliphaz tried to show Job that the reason he was sitting on ashes was because of his wickedness.

Eliphaz begins his dialogue with Job with polite words, asking Job permission to speak, “Will you be patient and let me say a word?” (Job 4:2 NLT). He tells Job about how he cared for people in the past, “In the past you have encouraged many people; you have strengthened those who were weak” (Job 4:3 NLT). But now that he is suffering, Job has lost his patience, “But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart. You are terrified when it touches you” (Job 4:5 NLT).

Eliphaz reminds Job that he should trust in the righteousness of God, “Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence? Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope?” (Job 4:6 NLT). Eliphaz believes that there must be a reason why Job is suffering, “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed? My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same” (Job 4:7–8 NLT).

Eliphaz knows that the answer is “no” because “A breath from God destroys them” (Job 4:9 NLT). The expression “breath from God” may be an indirect reference to the strong wind that killed Job’s children.

Eliphaz speaks about a dream he had in which a heavenly visitor came to tell him what to say. “This truth was given to me in secret . . . It came to me in a disturbing vision at night” (Job 4:12–13 NLT). The visitor delivered a message to him: “Can a mortal be innocent before God? Can anyone be pure before the Creator?” (Job 4:17 NLT). Again, the answer is “no.” No human is pure before God.

Eliphaz believes that Job has sinned against God, “But evil does not spring from the soil, and trouble does not sprout from the earth” (Job 5:6 NLT). This is the reason his prayer is not answered, “Cry for help, but will anyone answer you?” (Job 5:1 NLT). Eliphaz gives advice to Job, “”If I were you, I would go to God and present my case to him” (Job 5:8 NLT).

Eliphaz believes that Job should be glad that God is correcting him of his mistakes, “Blessed is the man whom God corrects” (Job 5:17). In addition, Job should accept his suffering and what is happening to him as God’s discipline for his sins, “Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty when you sin. For though he wounds, he also bandages. He strikes, but his hands also heal” (Job 5:17– 18 NLT).

B. Job’s Response to Eliphaz

In his response to Eliphaz, Job dismisses the words of Eliphaz because Job seems to believe that his friend was insensitive to his plight and that he did not know what he was talking about. Rather, Job lets him know why he spoke the way he did, “If my misery could be weighed and my troubles be put on the scales, they would outweigh all the sands of the sea. That is why I spoke impulsively” (Job 6:2–3 NLT).

Job says that he has a reason to complain, “Don’t I have a right to complain?” (Job 6:5 NLT). Job makes an appeal to God, “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant my desire” (Job 6:8 NLT). Job’s desire is that he might die and stop suffering, “ I wish he would crush me. I wish he would reach out his hand and kill me” (Job 6:9 NLT).

Job declares his innocence and that he does not deserve to suffer, “At least I can take comfort in this: Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One” (Job 6:10 NLT). Job decries his situation, “I don’t have the strength to endure. I have nothing to live for. . . . I am utterly helpless, without any chance of success” (Job 6:11–13 NLT).

Job criticizes Eliphaz for his hurting words, “One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you accuse me without any fear of the Almighty. My brothers, you have proved as unreliable as a brook that soon runs dry” (Job 6:14–15 NLT). Job says that Eliphaz is afraid that he too may suffer as Job is suffering, “you are as unreliable to me as a dried brook. You have seen my calamity, and you are afraid” (Job 6:21 NLT).

Job expresses his desire to know why he has been afflicted so that he can learn and change. Job told Eliphaz, “Teach me, and I will keep quiet. Show me what I have done wrong. Honest words can be painful, but what do your criticisms amount to? Do you think your words are convincing when you disregard my cry of desperation?” (Job 6:24–26 NLT).

Job concludes his words to Eliphaz by addressing God, asking God to leave him alone. He also asks for a reprieve from God’s oppressive presence. Job concludes by asking God to forgive his sins, even though he knows that he is innocent:

Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days. What are people, that you should make so much of us, that you should think of us so often? For you examine us every morning and test us every moment. Why won’t you leave me alone, at least long enough for me to swallow! If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you? Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone (Job 7:16–21 NLT).

The Second Dialogue Between Eliphaz and Job

A. Eliphaz’s Second Speech

In his second dialogue with Job, Eliphaz ceases being polite to Job and accuses him of being a sinner by saying that his own mouth accuses him, “A wise man wouldn’t answer with such empty talk! You are nothing but a windbag. . . . Your sins are telling your mouth what to say. Your words are based on clever deception. Your own mouth condemns you, not I. Your own lips testify against you” (Job 15:2, 5–6 NLT).

Eliphaz said that Job does not know God’s will because he has not been in the divine council, “Were you listening at God’s secret council? . . . What has taken away your reason . . . that you turn against God and say all these evil things?” (Job 15:8, 12–13 NLT).

Once again Eliphaz says that Job is not a righteous person, “Can any mortal be pure? Can anyone born of a woman be just? Look, God does not even trust the angels. How much less pure is a corrupt and sinful person with a thirst for wickedness” (Job 15:14–16 NLT).

B. Job’s Response to Eliphaz

In his response to Eliphaz, Job tells his friend what kind of comforter he is, “I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are! Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air? What makes you keep on talking? I could say the same things if you were in my place. I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you. But if it were me, I would encourage you. I would try to take away your grief. Instead, I suffer if I defend myself, and I suffer no less if I refuse to speak” (Job 16:2–6 NLT).

Job blames God for his suffering. He believes that he is the victim of God’s hate and abuse: “O God, you have ground me down and devastated my family” (Job 16:7 NLT). “God hates me and angrily tears me apart” (Job 16:9 NLT). “God has handed me over to sinners” (Job 16:11 NLT). Job blames God for the criticisms of his friends.

Because Job sees God as his enemy, Job wants an impartial advocate who can mediate his struggle with God: “Even now my witness is in heaven. My advocate is there on high. I need someone to mediate between God and me, as a person mediates between friends” (Job 16:19–21 NLT).

Job believes that God is responsible for his friends’ criticism of him. Job makes an appeal to God to defend his innocence before his friends, “You must defend my innocence, O God, since no one else will stand up for me. You have closed their minds to understanding, but do not let them triumph. They betray their friends for their own advantage” (Job 17:3–5 NLT).

Job invites Elihu and his friends to present a better argument to explain his situation, but Job believes that they are not wise enough to explain what is happening: “As for all of you, come back with a better argument, though I still won’t find a wise man among you” (Job 17:10 NLT).

The Third Dialogue Between Eliphaz and Job

A. Eliphaz’s Third Speech

In his final speech, Eliphaz tells Job that God has no use for humans and that human righteousness does not benefit God, “Can a person do anything to help God? Can even a wise person be helpful to him? Is it any advantage to the Almighty if you are righteous? Would it be any gain to him if you were perfect? Is it because you’re so pious that he accuses you and brings judgment against you? No, it’s because of your wickedness! There’s no limit to your sins” (Job 22:2–5 NLT).

Eliphaz presents a list of sins Job might have committed: “you must have lent money to your friend and demanded clothing as security. You must have refused water for the thirsty and food for the hungry. You must have sent widows away empty-handed and crushed the hopes of orphans” (Job 22:9 NLT). Eliphaz has no proof that Job committed these sins, but because he cannot explain why Job is suffering, Eliphaz believes that he probably committed these sins.

B. Job’s Response to Eliphaz

In his response to Eliphaz, Job expresses his desire to have an audience with God so that he could present his case, “If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me” (Job 23:3-5 NLT).

But Job cannot find God because God is a God who hides himself, “I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him. I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I look to the south, but he is concealed” (Job 23:8–9 NLT).

Once again, Job defends his innocence, “But he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold. For I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed his ways and not turned aside. I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food” (Job 23:10–12 NLT).

Conclusion

Eliphaz begins his dialogue with Job with the intent of comforting him by expressing deep sympathy to Job for his suffering. In reality, Eliphaz’s words express his indignation for what Job says about himself and God. Eliphaz feels compelled to speak because Job keeps declaring his innocence even though his loss and his illness clearly show that Job has sinned.

Eliphaz is indignant at what he has heard and feels the need to answer Job and show him the reason for his suffering. Eliphaz criticizes Job for hypocrisy. He has sinned against many people and caused them many pains and much suffering, but now, when he shares the same misfortunes he has caused to others, he blasphemes God by claiming that he is a righteous man.

On the other hand, Job strongly defends his innocence and tells Eliphaz that his words are not words of comfort. Job is implying that Eliphaz is criticizing him because he does not believe that he is innocent. Job believes that his friend is criticizing him because he is not the one suffering.

The main lesson one learns from the dialogue between Eliphaz and Job is that it is easy to criticize others when they are suffering and accuse them of having sinned against God, as Eliphaz did to Job.

Another lesson one learns from this dialogue is that suffering causes many people to doubt the goodness of God, as Job did. Job believed that God was his enemy, not knowing that God was on his side throughout his long ordeal.

Next: Lesson 4

“Job and His Friend Bildad”

First Dialogue:
Bildad, Chapter 8
Job’s Response, Chapters 9–10

Second Dialogue:
Bildad, Chapter 18
Job’s Response, Chapter 19

Third Dialogue:
Bildad, Chapter 25
Job’s Response, Chapter 26

For all nine lessons on this series, visit my post on Studies on the Book of Job.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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