The Book of Job-Chapters Four-Five:
"The Errors of Eliphaz"
In these chapters Job's friends begin to come close and offer their advice. In their own way they are trying to meet Job's great need for comfort. I hope you'll join me as we search out their comments and opinions:
Ch. 4, Verses 1-5: "Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said, If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking? Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled."
Eliphaz, the first friend, begins with a mixed tone. His comfort is laced with unmistakable ridicule. There is a special distain for "believers" who run into difficulties in life. Many today hold to this notion that a life of true faith never leads to prolonged suffering. Therefore, if you are a believer and you suffer greatly or for a long time, it indicates a weakness in you as a person and your faith. Listen as ancient Eliphaz continues:
Verse 6: "Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways? "
He's speaking more plainly now and even taunting Job. Job, he seems to say, what happened to your faith? Why has your life fallen apart?
Verses 7-8: "Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off? Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same."
This is Eliphaz's first error. That all who suffer are necessarily paying for a transgression. And Who does he think maintains this universal moral balance in life:
Verse 9: "By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed."
It is not wrong to reverence God and respect His righteousness, but Job and his friends seemed to have had a fear of God based on a losing of control of their life on this earth. It gets worse now as we hear Eliphaz describe God as sort of a monster. But really, it's the depths of his fears and desperation that are in view:
Verses 10-21: "The roaring of the lion, and the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions, are broken. The old lion perisheth for lack of prey, and the stout lion's whelps are scattered abroad. Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof. In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up: It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying, Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth? They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it. Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? they die, even without wisdom."
Job's calamity has brought out Eliphaz's deepest emotions about life and personal loss. He is a rotten comforter because the closer he looks at Job's pain, the more he wants to comfort himself. I'm not picking on this guy, for I often have found it hard to be around the suffering of others for having similar feelings to his. But we must learn to resist these errors, beloved. God does demand our respect and deserves it. But panic is not worship and it always cripples our efforts to bring (or find) comfort in difficult times.
Ch. 5, Verses 1-3: "Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou turn? For wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one. I have seen the foolish taking root: but suddenly I cursed his habitation."
The real problem here is that Eliphaz is so sure of himself, and so, like many of us (ouch), he goes on to sermonize. There is nothing worse than a sermon founded upon an error. And for Job right now, nothing more heartless and cruel:
Verse 4: "His children are far from safety, and they are crushed in the gate, neither is there any to deliver them."
Blinded by his fears, I don't think Eliphaz realizes just how cruel a thing that was to say to man who has just lost his children, not to mention possessions and health. Our errors are only compounded by religiosity. And how much more today when false teachings can beam around the world to millions? You see, this study isn't meant as an attack on Eliphaz. His struggle is over. It is we who must define a view of life and the Lord for our times. And mass communication may be the Gospel's greatest enemy in the end. We mustn't send Eliphaz's small and selfish view of God to either our small circles of influence or the world.
Verses 5-11: "Whose harvest the hungry eateth up, and taketh it even out of the thorns, and the robber swalloweth up their substance. Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward. I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause: Which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number: Who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields: To set up on high those that be low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety. "
Can you see how this man, I think, was a believer. And we who believe are just as guilty of this error at times as was he. But we cannot let our struggle for earthly blessings become the mission and function of the Church. That is probably worse than having no Church at all!
Verses 12-16: "He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong. They meet with darkness in the day time, and grope in the noonday as in the night. But he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor hath hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth."
Eliphaz is painting Job as sort of a trickster and a fraud. This "balance out the scales" religion seems logical in a way, but stop and think about it, isn't this what the crowd said to Christ years later, "Physician, heal yourself!" or "Have God take you off that cross right now, if you really are His son!" I believe that is why Christ can be such a comfort to us today, especially when we fail to comfort each other. He knows the sting of not just poor comfort, but no comfort at all and ridicule.
Eliphaz will end now by forgetting all about Job and coming right out and comforting himself. Somehow old Job must have missed the boat (he implies). But there is still hope for Eliphaz (in his mind) that his righteousness can save his earthly blessings forever. I find it sad to listen as he worships those blessings, but it's probably because I have done the same thing too often:
Verses 17-26: " Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee. In famine he shall redeem thee from death: and in war from the power of the sword. Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh. At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh: neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth. For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee. And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt not sin. Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth. Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season."
Finally he wraps this package up and presents it to Job as comfort. It must have been like salt on Job's wounds. Again, I'm not out to demean Eliphaz. He was very wrong. But it's an easy mistake to make for any of us. And we in and of the Church are offering this same empty philosophy to the hurting among us today. A Gospel stripped of any deep or lasting suffering for the believer. A Gospel of constant prosperity and happiness that is out of touch with it's own basic Biblical covenants:
Romans 8, Verses 16-17:
"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
How can we ignore the prominence of suffering in our Christian faith? And also the comfort that only Christ can offer? He knows about human joy and suffering more so than any other man. More than any angel, too. He has experienced all our pain (for He, Himself, has been to the hospital, the court, the prison, the tomb). Suffering is our opportunity to draw closer to Him. But we are being taught to squander it. No wonder multitudes are disillusioned with the mask that we have put on Jesus today. It ought never to be taught. It's a gospel of error found only in the Bible as a bad example. But it IS taught today, and with as much confidence as Eliphaz originally had:
Verse 27: "Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good."
Friend, we need to refute this error. Yet we don't welcome or seek to suffer as believers in Christ any more than anyone else does in this life. And I want to close by saying that there is victory in real Christian living, and joy, and celebration and ultimate victory. But, beloved, there will be suffering also. It doesn't mean your faith is broken or that you're a fool. Maybe some of it will relate to our own mistakes and sins, but sometimes it's just beyond our control. And, of course, this is when we need God most of all. May His pure comfort strengthen us and in His timing overflow that we may be a true comfort to others.