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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Job 15

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

Verses 1-35

The Second Speech of Eliphaz

Job 15:0

Let us recall our position. Job had repelled the common theories of life and government which his three friends had elaborately argued. He said in effect: No, you have not touched the reality of the case; I have heard all your words, well selected as words, uttered clearly and sharply, now and again perhaps a little cruel, but you know nothing of my case: I do not know much about it myself; not one of us has yet come upon the mystery; all the commonplaces you have spoken, all the maxims you have set in order before me, I have known as long as I can remember anything, and in their own places, and at proper times, no fault is to be found with them, but oh that God himself would speak to me! I could understand him better than I understand you; you are trying to reach me, and cannot, and I am plagued and fretted by your inadequate effort; you are straining yourselves, but really doing nothing; you have told me of fate, and my conscience rejects it; you have preached the doctrine of sovereignty, a very noble doctrine, capable of majestic expression, but that is not it; you have not spared me in remarking upon the sure and certain law by which punishment follows sin, but I have done no sin; you are addressing the wrong man; I have served God, loved God, and lived for God and defied the devil: I decline your theories; you have not touched my wounded heart. Job, as we have seen, felt there was something more. Mark that word "felt" Who has dealt with it? How vigorous we have been about the word "know"! How we have turned it, and coloured it, and twisted, it, and lengthened it: but where is the tongue eloquent enough and gentle enough to touch the word "felt" feeling? We know many things because we "feel" them. And we know many lies in the same way. It would not be courteous always to tell a man bluntly that we feel how much he has missed the statement of truth in what he has said, but we feel that the man is false. A wonderful faculty, if we may so call it, is that of feeling! Christ was all feeling; he said, "Who touched me?" "Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?" the question is preposterous; people cannot help touching thee. They knew not there was touching and touching the masonic touch, the look full of meaning, the attitude that was a prayer. When Jesus went into the synagogue he knew at once there was a man there with a withered hand. How did he know? He "felt." He knew all harmonies, and proportions, and balances, and consistencies: he knew when this little earth staggered in its course; every motion seemed to send a vibration to his very heart. We know something of the mystery of this power. Job knew it well after he had listened to the vain eloquence of his comforters. He felt there was something more, and yet could not put it into words. "Words" what can they express? They may express a little when the man himself is present to give them vitality, complexion, accent, by his own personality; but when he has gone, and men are left to pronounce the words according to their own conception of their meaning, how often the meaning is gone, and we know not where they have laid it! Job was thus in a crisis. He represented a great intellectual and moral agony. He was between two lands: he had left the old land, and had not yet arrived at the new one; his mind was in a transition state; he said, Almost today the light may shine, and I may be able to tell you all about it; at any moment now the cloud may break, and the angel may descend. Yet that happy revelation had not come. When a man is waiting for the revelation, assured that it will come; when all circumstances and appearances are dead against him; when his own wife does not know him; when his children are dead; when his familiar acquaintances have abandoned him; and he still feels that the angel is nearer than ever but has not yet manifested himself, that is the agonistic point in life. We cannot tell all we know. Eliphaz said, "Is there any secret thing with thee?" Some secret with thee? There is with every man. How foolish are they who say, Tell all you know! Who can do that, if the word "know" is rightly interpreted? Who can empty an intellect? who can turn a heart upside down, and pour its contents before the gaze of the public? Blessed are those teachers who always know more than they say: what they do not say has an effect upon what they do say sends out upon it a singular ghostly colouring and hint of things unspeakable and infinite. Eliphaz could tell all he knew. Any man can repeat the alphabet, and make an end of it: but oh! when it combines itself, when it passes into marvellous permutations, and into poetry, philosophy, history, science, and then says: I want to say ten thousand other things, but ye cannot bear them now, then it is we find and feel the difference between the literary man and the seer, between talent and genius, between great knowledge and inexpressible emotion.

It will be interesting to see how Eliphaz approaches Job now that he has delivered himself in the manner which we have already analyzed and considered. First of all, Eliphaz says: Here is a great waste of mental energy, a great deal of unprofitable talk; here are speeches wherewith he can do no good. It is difficult to preach to such men, and it is still more difficult to hear them preach! They have such a conception of profitableness and edification; they are so final, so geometric; they begin, and they end; they have no apocalypse; they have a ceiling, not a sky, a ringed fence, not a horizon: so when they hear Job preach they say, This is a great waste of intellectual power; all this comes to nothingness and unprofitableness; these are words only, wherewith no good can be done: here is a man who wants to force the mystery of heaven: here is a poor creature of days battering with his fevered hand upon the door of the everlasting, as if any beating of his could ever elicit a reply: this is unprofitable, this is worthless; Job, this is vanity. Eliphaz spoke to the best of his ability. He was an Arab, by relation if not by direct descent, and he spoke all he knew by the book; but he had no book-producing power in his own mind and heart: he was a great reader; he was full of information, such as his day supplied, but he had not that mysterious touch, which every soul that is not dead can feel, but which no mind can fully explain.

Then Eliphaz accused Job of self-contradiction. That is the great weapon of the enemy. Hear him:

"For thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity... thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee" ( Job 15:5-6 ).

Some men are great in parallel columns: they put down upon one side what was said the day before yesterday, and on the other side what was said only yester-morning, and they say, Look on this picture and on that: here is a man who has blown hot and cold, sent forth sweet water and bitter; here is a man between whose utterances there is really no organic or vital consistency. They did not understand Job. His consistency was in his integrity, in his purpose, in his motive, in his character. Herein we do not altogether hold with those who say to preachers, Always be sure to agree with yourselves, so that the sermon preached twenty years ago shall exactly match in length and in colour the sermon you preach today. No: a man must take the day as he finds it; be the self of the passing day as to utterance, attitude, expression: but he must. be yesterday, today, and for ever the same in holy desire, in upward looking, in waiting upon God. That is consistency enough for any mortal man. Job acknowledged that he was talking roughly and with some measure of incoherence, because he was talking in the dark, he was groping at midnight, and he was almost trying to speak himself into the right kind of music, as a man who says, By-and-by I shall warm to my subject; by talking about it I shall presently talk the thing itself, by hovering above it I shall get a better aspect of it, and then at the end I shall proclaim the solid and tranquil truth.

But Eliphaz proceeded along a most natural line to accuse Job of downright presumption:

"Art thou the first man that was born? or wast thou made before the hills? Hast thou heard the secret of God? ... What knowest thou, that we know not? What understandest thou, which is not in us?" ( Job 15:7-9 ).

A most difficult position to occupy in life, namely, to know something which the next man does not know, and which he could not understand if he did hear all about it; to attempt his enlightenment would only be a contribution which would end in his regarding the speaker as even wilder and more presumptuous than he had originally supposed him to be. Hast thou been in the cabinet of God? Why this self-exaggeration? You are really setting yourself up above the whole age and manner of things, and this is a conspicuousness which is irreligious; fall down into the common level, and speak like other men. There is a Hindoo proverb which is barbed with the same sarcasm. We are told that the Hindoos say about a man who is well-informed, progressive, almost audacious in thinking, "Yes, this is the first man, and of course he knows everything!" A marvellous thing, however, that even sarcasm has not been able to put down truth; still the truth comes on, waving its white banner, speaking its gracious word, and promising its everlasting kingdoms: it is hunted, sneered at, contemned, spat upon, crucified; but say of resurrection what you may, we see it broadly and amply enough in all truth-forms, in all the aspects and energies of love "God is love": if sarcasm could have killed anything it would have killed God; who so laughed at, misunderstood, defied, blasphemed? But "God is love."

How difficult it was for Job to establish a new point of progress! If he had turned the three men into four and said, We must all walk step for step, we all know just the same, we must all speak precisely the same; then he would have been more comfortable: but he separated himself; he said I do not know you, and you do not know me; for long years we have understood one another, but there is a point of time at which you and I are no longer in fraternity as to moral conception, and as to our outlook upon the whole sphere and purpose of things. That is a funeral day; that is the churchyard in which we bury old companionships, theologies, conceptions, usages; there we lay our dead selves, and pray that there may be no resurrection. Still how can a man say good-bye to Eliphaz, and Bildad, and Zophar old friends without feeling a pang at his heart? Some there are who could not leave the old chapel, the old church, for the new academy, and the broader Lyceum, without feeling that they were giving up something which after all had a weird attraction for them. It cannot be easy to some natures to close the old Bible for the last time and lay it down for ever. It cannot be easy to give up all the old hymn-singing and all the old associations, and to write upon that which once was the very summer and heaven of life, "Farewell." Yet even this we have sometimes to do; here are martyrdoms which history does not record, surrenders and sacrifices that never can be expressed in words; but the man who makes them, with the full consent of judgment and heart, is known to have made them, by the radiance of his countenance, by the largeness of his charity, by the peacefulness of his whole soul.

Eliphaz held a doctrine which is sometimes misunderstood:

"What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?" ( Job 15:14 ).

As we have said, Eliphaz, as a Temanite, belonged to the Arabic race. The Arabs were always proud of purity of descent, even as to animals; they would have no intermixture; they would stand by the original line, and, be it horse or man, he must come down by the right genealogy. Eliphaz had got the idea that the race had somehow been guilty of intermixture, or apostacy, or uncleanness: he did not necessarily use the word in a theological sense, but in a genealogical sense, and therefore he said, How can this line that has been thrown out of course, mixed, twisted, and debased in every way, rectify itself?

"Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight." ( Job 15:15 ).

We do God injustice oftentimes by assigning to him an unimaginable holiness. There is a kind of adoration which if not carefully guarded separates God from man too widely. That God is ineffably holy no soul will deny, but there is a way of dwelling upon the holiness of God which may even discourage human penitence. We cannot reach God through the line of holiness. Is there no other word no softer, shorter, tenderer word? Yea, truly: "God is love." He will not cast out any that come to him upon their knees, their eyes blinded with tears, and their throats choked with sobs of emotion: then he opens heaven's door, and would send all the angels to bid the home-comer welcome to his father's house. We must not, therefore, work altogether along the higher intellectual line of pure reverence, and absolute adoration, and that awe which becomes oppressive, which hides from us the atmosphere in which it has pleased God himself to dwell an attempered atmosphere suited to human need and human weakness. Let God come as he himself pleases. We must not so drive the mind as to leave the heart in hopeless despair. Say, where you can, "God is love"; "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"; "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come"; and then there will gradually dawn upon the penitent heart and the subdued mind the idea of God's holiness; then questions will arise as to how that holiness is to be conceived, and in that hour of anxiety the sweet reply will be given "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."

Eliphaz said some beautiful things. He referred to the man who "dwelleth in desolate cities, and in houses which no man inhabiteth, which are ready to become heaps" ( Job 15:28 ). At this point he was dwelling upon the destiny of the wicked; he was delivering a general lecture upon that destiny in the hope that Job would apply the whole of it to himself. The Arabs and other Oriental tribes had a great horror of cities which they supposed to have been cursed by God. Call it superstition for so it was but still it had a most energetic effect upon their thought and action. When the caravans were driving through such cities the men never looked round, never said a word to one another, but went on in silence and in terror: for the ban of God lay right across the city. What of those, then, who "dwelt" in desolate cities, as Job was about to do? Job actually built himself a house there, or bought one, and decorated and enjoyed it! "Why," said Eliphaz, "the Arabs will cry out against thee; they go through the desolate place silently, fearsomely, what will they say if they hear of the patriarch building a house that he may there take up his permanent abode?"

Eliphaz said "Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity: for vanity shall be his recompense" ( Job 15:31 ). A Hebrew pun, a play upon words, not evident upon our English page: If you trust in vanity, you shall have vanity for your wages; if you trust in that which is wrong, you shall have calamity in the end. Vanity brings forth vanity, was the argument of Eliphaz. Then said he, "It shall be accomplished before his time": the man who works vainly shall have vanity for his recompense; and, according to the literal meaning of these words, the wages will be paid before the work is quite done; this is a master who does not wait until the last hour, and then say, There is your penalty. When a man serves the devil he often gets his wages in the early afternoon. They are bad wages: "The wages of sin is death." The devil, therefore, is a good paymaster; he pays fully, he withdraws nothing, he bates no jot or tittle: if he is in a pit, it is a bottomless pit: he pays men on the road. There is no waiting for perdition; we have it here and now, sharp enough and sad enough. Let us be wise in time, and understand the meaning of much pain and distress and bewilderment. If we search into the moral origin and causes of things, it may be that we shall find that at the beginning sin conceived and brought forth death.

Eliphaz compares the destiny of the wicked to an olive that casts off its flowers. Every age has its own metaphors. If we trace the whole poetry of the English tongue, we shall see how wonderfully it has changed with the change in the civilisation of the day, with the advance of learning, with the discoveries of science. So we go back to these old metaphors, and we do not despise them, notwithstanding our great intellectual advancement. The old Bible speakers turned what they themselves saw into the argument for the moment and for the use of the passing time. We have heard that the Syrian olive brings forth fruit in the first year, the third year, the fifth year, brings forth its fruit at the odd years, or odd numbers; on the second and fourth and sixth years the olive rests: but then it brings forth a good many blossoms; travellers say that they have seen those blossoms shed in the even years shed in millions. Eliphaz, who was a seer, who had that inner eye that wanders through eternity, so far as much interpretation is concerned, said That is the fate of the wicked: their blossoming comes to nothing; all their beauty ends in dust: the bad man lives to be lost. Amid all this metaphor and poetry and sentiment there is no beautiful thing said about the wicked! The righteous "shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water... the ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away." Poetry has never lent a figure to the use of the bad man by which he might represent wickedness as a great joy, and sweet secret blessing. Metaphors have refused to be hired for the purpose of representing unholiness as good and profitable in the largest sense of the word: all music, all beauty, all poetry, all things that belong to flower, or star, or silver stream, have come together in one sweet conspiracy to represent God, God's love, God's care, God's fatherhood, God's mercy. Eliphaz and his brethren had but one conception of God: they knew not that every man has his own God; that the more we grow in grace the more we change our whole conception of God: but it is always an advance, an accumulation, a widening, a still larger and intenser illumination. In this faith may we live and grow, and according to the abundance and complexity of our experience, sanctified and ennobled, we shall be able to sympathise with those who are bowed down, and to speak a word in season to him that is weary.


Many of the Scriptural associations of the olive-tree are singularly poetical. It has this remarkable interest, that its foliage is the earliest that is mentioned by name, when the waters of the flood began to retire ( Gen 8:11 ), as we find it the most prominent tree in the earliest allegory ( Jdg 9:8-9 ). With David it is the emblem of prosperity and the divine blessing ( Psa 52:8 ); and he compares the children of a righteous man to the "olive-branches round about his table" ( Psa 128:3 ). So with the later prophets it is the symbol of beauty, luxuriance, and strength; and hence the symbol of religious privileges: "His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree," are the words in the concluding promise of Hosea ( Hos 14:6 ). "The Lord called thy name a green olive-tree, fair, and of goodly fruit," is the expostulation of Jeremiah when he foretells retribution for advantages abused ( Jer 11:16 ). The olive was among the most abundant and characteristic vegetation of Judaea.... Nor must the flower be passed over without notice:

" Si bene floruerint oleae, nitidissimus annus ." Ov. Fast. v. 365.

The wind was dreaded by the cultivator of the olive; for the least ruffling of a breeze is apt to cause the flowers to fall:

" Florebant oleae: venti nocuere protervi ." Ov. Fast. v. 321.

Verse 7

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Art thou the first man that was born?" Job 15:7

The humbling questions which may be put to men! The very strongest man is thrown down from his high position by the force of a blow like this. How difficult it is to be an originator, the very first in the field, the man who had the earliest revelation and the first message to bring from heaven! We cannot get at that man; he is removed from us by a distance we cannot measure. So when the poet sings he accompanies himself upon a harp which other men made; when a book is published it is only an advance upon a book published long before: when a man puts down upon paper all the knowledge he has acquired, he is bound to say that it was an acquisition and not an origination on his part; he says, in effect, Other men have told me this; whether they are right or wrong, I cannot tell; I merely repeat what I have been told. We must distinguish between a voice and an echo. The application of an inquiry of this kind lies in the direction of modifying our infallibility. As I am not the first man that was born, I am obliged to consult some other man, so that we may come to a common opinion about beginnings, and operations, and issues: he may have seen more than I have seen: he may be better able to express himself than I am: he may have the very thing which I want. Here is the great principle of traditional knowledge and relative knowledge; and this principle must be recognised in the interpretation of the universe, and even in the interpretation of the Bible. God takes away from us all privileges which could be ruined into boasting, or he limits those privileges by showing how many other people have shared them, and have borne their elevation in a modest spirit and with a thankful heart. The question would admit of application in regard to all the worlds into which men are born: for example, a man is born into the world of literature, and there he finds himself crowded by ancestors; a man is born into the spiritual world, in which he sings and prays, and holds communion with God, and suddenly he feels himself surrounded by an infinite host of fellow-worshippers; he is born into a world of intellectual activity, and he is surprised at his own mental miracles, and scarcely has he plumed himself upon their originality or novelty when he finds that all he has looked upon as new are the commonplaces of ages forgotten. Thus there is a subtle action of encouragement, and a concurrent action of humiliation, so that between the two the man's mind may be established in modesty and reason. We should beware how we go about boasting of our originality, lest the man to whom we speak has given up our novelties as commonplaces he could no longer tolerate. Thus infallibility goes down; thus all papacy is overthrown; thus all priesthood is dispossessed of authority: we can only live healthfully by mental concession, by discussion, by acknowledgment of indebtedness one to another, and by preserving the fellowship which eventuates in common truths, and sentiments which are sustained by a large common practice. Never listen to any teacher who claims to be the first man that was born; be thankful for any wise man's word who is willing to regard it as but a contribution to the sum-total; and in proportion as the man refers to his authorities, and endeavours to found his claim upon his own gratitude, rather than upon his own inspiration, have confidence in the elevation of his intention.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 15". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/job-15.html. 1885-95.
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