Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Job 4

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-11

Eliphaz Speaks (4:1-5:27)

You Know the Answer to Your Problems (4:1-11)

Although it becomes more pronounced as the discussion develops, already in the first speech of Eliphaz there is evident a tendency to talk beside the point. The impression throughout is that the friends, as they talk, are not really considering either Job or his contention. This is certainly no argument or debate in the modern sense of the terms. The friends are like men who close their eyes to the real facts, rock back on their heels, and speak of general principles, every one of which is being called into serious question by the indisputable facts before them. Job is like a man crying out, "Look at me! I am the evidence in this dispute." To his cry, however, the friends remain deaf.

Eliphaz begins with some gentleness and consideration. Never a fully sympathetic figure, here at least he is less harsh than later. His opening words may be taken as a kind of half apology for the fact that he must speak at all; that he speaks is due only to the extremes of Job’s preceding statements. Eliphaz has been a quiet sympathizer as long as Job has kept patient silence. But now that Job has expressed his violent longing for death, such impiety and implicit blasphemy cannot be ignored.

Moreover, as verses 4-6 show, Eliphaz needs only, in his view, to remind Job of the principles which operate in his case. They are the very principles which Job himself has used many times to strengthen others who were in danger of falling into skeptical despair. Job is forgetting the bedrock principle upon which he has always stood and to which he has pointed others. That principle, of course, is the fact that faith and integrity of life are, in the long run, rewarded by happiness and peace. The "fear of God" mentioned in verse 6 is literally "fear" and may be understood as a synonym for "religion" or "faith." Job’s future is not uncertain, and he can face it with confidence and hope.

Eliphaz obviously recognizes that some sort of disaster has actually come upon Job (in verse 5 the thing that has happened is neither named nor described), but he also obviously believes that it is a temporary matter and only a seeming exception to the general rule.

In verses 7-11 considerably more attention is given to the negative side of the principle which Eliphaz holds out for Job’s comfort. His question in verse 7 is evidence again of his utter disregard of Job’s actual situation. Eliphaz reassures Job that he will not die in untimely fashion; Job wants nothing more than to die now! Death, to Eliphaz, would be confirmation of wickedness; to Job it would be a mercy.

Eliphaz’ position is clear: Trouble is the harvest of iniquity. Wicked men are destroyed in the wrath (breath) of God. They are like dangerous lions (there are four separate Hebrew words for "lion" in verses 10 and 11), but they are deprived of their power and they come to ruin.

Only the Wicked Man Is Insecure (4:12-5:7)

After confidently citing the facts of life as he sees them, Eliphaz next makes appeal to a kind of private revelation which he has been permitted to receive. Verses 12 through 21 are unique in the Bible in that they speak of a ghostly communication of a divine message. It must be remembered that the friends, although they often speak true words, are not the vehicle of all truth, and some of their views are definitely wrong. Normally in the Bible the word of God came to his spokesmen in a much more straight-forward fashion, and their descriptions of its coming are usually clear and uncomplicated. Eliphaz’ account is suited to the experience it describes; it is involved and mysterious, promising a great deal more than it actually delivers.

The speaker represents special knowledge as coming to him at night, when most men are asleep, although he apparently was fully awake. He was seized with a great dread as a wind passed before him. ("Wind" is a better translation in verse 15 than "spirit.") The apparition which accompanied the wind is not clearly described or seen, being called "it" and "a form." But through the silence a voice spoke, and although quiet and whispering (vs. 12) it was clear.

Its message, it must be admitted, was not startlingly profound. Nor, given the Old Testament revelation, was it necessary that such a message be delivered privately to Eliphaz. It is the basic truth that in comparison with God himself no man can be accounted righteous or morally clean (vs. 17). Relatively speaking, man is not as righteous as God. This truism, for so it is, does not speak at all to the fact of Job’s case, where the questions have to do not with man’s absolute righteousness before God but with man’s "integrity" and his faithful performance of the commands of God. Moreover, as Eliphaz develops the thought, or as the ghostly appearance continues, the immediate effect of such a view, if it is allowed to dominate theology and life, is to remove God farther and farther from man, and to set a complete, impassable gulf between an almighty divine Perfection, and frail, finite man.

In verses 18 and 19 the argument proceeds in this very direction, as the point is made that if God is more righteous than angels (his spiritual servants), how much more righteous he is than man. From here on, there follows a series of tragic word pictures of the transience and frailty of men who dwell in "houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust." Man’s life is crushed out like a moth’s (rather than "before the moth"); it is so short that it is spent between one morning and the same evening; and, worst of all, the end comes "without any regarding it." Is God included in this "any"? If so, then Eliphaz’ strict and orthodox monotheism has led him into deism, with a god so remote from man that he neither cares nor notices. If the "any" refers only to man, it is still profoundly pessimistic. The words of Eliphaz run counter to the whole movement of the Old Testament, where both life and death are determined by the will of God and where both take place in his presence. If the Revised Standard Version translation of verse 21 is correct, the image is shifted from the frail house of clay which is man’s dwelling, to the tent of a nomad which is never permanent. More probably the word for "tent-cord" should be translated "excellence." The meaning of the verse then would be that whatever advantage or superiority man has is terminated at death, and when man dies his claim to wisdom dies with him.

In close connection with his private vision Eliphaz goes on to describe in some detail the unhappy and ephemeral life of wicked men. His concentration on evil man, in close connection with his view of God’s transcendent righteousness and man’s frailty, suggests that verses 19-21 also concern the wicked, rather than man in general.

The opening verse of chapter 5 is abrupt. The "holy ones" are angels; Eliphaz thus is inquiring whether Job intends to rely on such beings as intermediaries in his dispute with God. If so, Eliphaz implies, it will be futile, for the angels themselves will not answer him. In verse 2 the word "vexation" applies to Job; it means literally "impatience," an attitude which Eliphaz can detect in him. Such impatience and passion ("jealousy") will bring down on Job the righteous judgment of God. Eliphaz has seen things work out this way; he has seen the "fool" apparently prospering but soon being destroyed. "I cursed his dwelling" is an elliptical way of saying "I saw that his dwelling was cursed" or "I regarded his dwelling as cursed."

From this point on Eliphaz is concerned with drawing a picture of God’s judgment on the "fool," or wicked man, with primary emphasis on the tragic results for the rising generation. The words have a barbed reference to Job’s own case, for his own sons were "crushed," and there was "no one to deliver them." The last part of verse 5 is difficult to translate; but the thought deals with the failure of the wicked to keep their possessions.

Eliphaz repeats his basic contention (from 4:8) that affliction and trouble are not accidental. They do not just happen, springing up, as it were, from the dust. Man himself "begets" trouble. This translation, following the Greek version, is better than "is born to trouble." It is inevitable that man makes his own distresses, as inevitable as that sparks fly upward. Job’s tragedy, then, must have its root cause in himself.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 4". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/job-4.html.
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