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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Job 15

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-35



Job 15:1-35


THE first colloquy has made clear severance between the old Theology and the facts of human life. No positive reconciliation is effected as yet between reality and faith, no new reading of Divine providence has been offered. The author allows the friends on the one hand, Job on the other, to seek the end of controversy just as men in their circumstances would in real life have sought it. Unable to penetrate behind the veil the one side clings obstinately to the ancestral faith, on the other side the persecuted sufferer strains after a hope of vindication apart from any return of health and prosperity, which he dares not expect. One of the conditions of the problem is the certainty of death. Before death, repentance and restoration, - say the friends. Death immediate, therefore should God hear me, vindicate me, -says Job. In desperation he breaks through to the hope that God’s wrath will pass even though his scared and harrowed life be driven into Sheol. For a moment he sees the light; then it seems to expire. To the orthodox friends any such thought is a kind of blasphemy. They believe in the nullity of the state beyond death. There is no wisdom nor hope in the grave. "The dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten"-even by God. "As well their love, as their hatred and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun." {Ecclesiastes 9:5-6} On the mind of Job this dark shadow falls and hides the star of his hope. To pass away under the reprobation of men and of God, to suffer the final stroke and be lost forever in the deep darkness; - anticipating this, how can he do otherwise than make a desperate fight for his own consciousness of right and for God’s intervention while yet any breath is left in him? He persists in this. The friends do not approach him one step in thought; instead of being moved by his pathetic entreaties they draw back into more bigoted judgment.

In opening the new circle of debate Eliphaz might be expected to yield a little, to admit something in the claim of the sufferer, granting at least for the sake of argument that his case is hard. But the writer wishes to show the rigour and determination of the old creed, or rather of the men who preach it. He will not allow them one sign of rapprochement. In the same order as before the three advance their theory, making no attempt to explain the facts of human existence to which their attention has been called. Between the first and the second round there is, indeed, a change of position, but in the line of greater hardness. The change is thus marked. Each of the three, differing toto coelo from Job’s view of his case, had introduced an encouraging promise. Eliphaz had spoken of six troubles, yea seven, from which one should be delivered if he accepted the chastening of the Lord. Bildad affirmed

"Behold, God will not east away the perfect:

He will yet fill thy mouth with laughter

And thy lips with shouting."

Zophar had said that if Job would put away iniquity he should be led into fearless calm.

"Thou shalt be steadfast and not fear,

For thou shalt forget thy misery

Remember it as waters that are passed by."

That is a note of the first series of arguments; we hear nothing of it in the second. One after another drives home a stern, uncompromising judgment.

The dramatic art of the author has introduced several touches into the second speech of Eliphaz which maintain the personality. For example, the formula "I have seen" is carried on from the former address where it repeatedly occurs, and is now used quite incidentally, therefore with all the more effect. Again the "crafty" are spoken of in both addresses with contempt and aversion, neither of the other interlocutors of Job nor Job himself using the word. The thought of Job 15:15 is also the same as that ventured upon in Job 4:18, a return to the oracle which gave Eliphaz his claim to be a prophet. Meanwhile he adopts from Bildad the appeal to ancient belief in support of his position; but he has an original way of enforcing this appeal. As a pure Temanite he is animated by the pride of race and claims more for his progenitors than could be allowed to a Shuchite or Naamathite, more, certainly, than could be allowed to one who dwelt among worshippers of the sun and moon. As a whole the thought of Eliphaz remains what it was, but more closely brought to a point. He does not wander now in search of possible explanations. He fancies that Job has convicted himself and that little remains but to show most definitely the fate he seems bent on provoking. It will be a kindness to impress this on his mind.

The first part of the address, extending to Job 15:13, is an expostulation with Job, whom in irony he calls "wise." Should a wise man use empty unprofitable talk, filling his bosom, as it were, with the east wind, peculiarly blustering and arid? Yet what Job says is not only unprofitable, it is profane.

"Thou doest away with piety

And hinderest devotion before God.

For thine iniquity instructs thy mouth,

And thou choosest the tongue of the crafty.

Thine own mouth condemneth thee: not I;

Thine own lips testify against thee."

Eliphaz is thoroughly sincere. Some of the expressions used by his friend must have seemed to him to strike at the root of reverence. Which were they? One was the affirmation that tents of robbers prosper and they that provoke God are secure; another the daring statement that the deceived and the deceiver are both God’s; again the confident defence of his own life: "Behold now I have ordered my cause, I know that I am righteous; who is he that will contend with me?" and once more his demand why God harassed him, a driven leaf, treating him with oppressive cruelty. Things like these were very offensive to a mind surcharged with veneration and occupied with a single idea of Divine government. From the first convinced that gross fault or arrogant self-will had brought down the malediction of God, Eliphaz could not but think that Job’s iniquity was "teaching his mouth" (coming out in his speech, forcing him to profane expressions), and that he was choosing the tongue of the crafty. It seemed that he was trying to throw dust in their eyes. With the cunning and shiftiness of a man who hoped to carry off his evil doing, he had talked of maintaining his ways before God and being vindicated in that region where, as every one knew, recovery was impossible. The ground of all certainty and belief was shaken by those vehement words. Eliphaz felt that piety was done away and devotion hindered, he could scarcely breathe a prayer in this atmosphere foul with scepticism and blasphemy.

The writer means us to enter into the feelings of this man, to think with him, for the time, sympathetically. It is no moral fault to be over jealous for the Almighty, although it is a misconception of man’s place and duty, as Elijah learned in the wilderness, when, having claimed to be the only believer left, he was told there were seven thousand that never bowed the knee to Baal. The speaker has this justification, that he does not assume office as advocate for God. His religion is part of him, his feeling of shock and disturbance quite natural. Blind to the unfairness of the situation, he does not consider the incivility of joining with two others to break down one sick bereaved man, to scare a driven leaf. This is accidental. Controversy begun, a pious man is bound to carry on, as long as may be necessary, the argument which is to save a soul.

Nevertheless, being human, he mingles a tone of sarcasm as he proceeds.

"The first man wast thou born?

Or wast thou made before the hills?

Did’st thou hearken in the conclave of God?

And dost thou keep the wisdom to thyself?"

Job had accused his friends of speaking unrighteously for God and respecting His person. This pricked. Instead of replying in soft words as he claims to have been doing hitherto ("Are the consolations of God too small for thee and a word that dealt tenderly with thee?"), Eliphaz takes to the sarcastic proverb. The author reserves dramatic gravity and passion for Job, as a rule, and marks the others by varying tones of intellectual hardness, of current raillery. Eliphaz now is permitted to show more of the self-defender than the defender of faith. The result is a loss of dignity.

"What knowest thou that we know not?

What understandest thou that is not in us?"

After all it is man’s reason against man’s reason. The answer will only come in the judgment of the Highest.

"With us is he who is both grey-haired and very old,

Older in days than thy father."

Not Eliphaz himself surely. That would be to claim too great antiquity. Besides, it seems a little wanting in sense. More probably there is reference to some aged rabbi, such as every community loved to boast of, the Nestor of the clan, full of ancient wisdom. Eliphaz really believes that to be old is to be near the fountain of truth. There was an origin of faith and pure life. The fathers were nearer that holy source; and wisdom meant going back as far as possible up the stream. To insist on this was to place a real barrier in the way of Job’s self defence. He would scarcely deny it as the theory of religion. What then of his individual protest, his philosophy of the hour and of his own wishes? The conflict is presented here with much subtlety, a standing controversy in human thought. Fixed principles there must be; personal research, experience and passion there are, new with every new age. How settle the antithesis? The Catholic doctrine has not yet been struck out that will fuse in one commanding law the immemorial convictions of the race and the widening visions of the living soul. The agitation of the church today is caused by the presence within her of Eliphaz and Job-Eliphaz standing for the fathers and their faith, Job passing through a fever crisis of experience and finding no remedy in the old interpretations. The church is apt to say, Here is moral disease, sin; we have nothing for that but rebuke and aversion. Is it wonderful that the tried life, conscious of integrity, rises in indignant revolt? The taunt of sin, scepticism, rationalism or self-will is too ready a weapon, a sword worn always by the side or carried in the hand. Within the House of God men should not go armed, as if brethren in Christ might be expected to prove traitors.

The question of the eleventh verse-"Are the consolations of God too small for thee?"-is intended to cover the whole of the arguments already used by the friends and is arrogant enough as implying a Divine commission exercised by them. "The word that dealt tenderly with thee," says Eliphaz; but Job has his own idea of the tenderness and seems to convey it by an expressive gesture or glance which provokes a retort almost angry from the speaker, -

"Why doth thine heart carry thee away,

And why do thine eyes wink,

That thou turnest thy breathing against God,

And sendest words out of thy mouth?"

We may understand a brief emphatic word of repudiation not unmixed with contempt and, at the same time, not easy to lay hold of. Eliphaz now feels that he may properly insist on the wickedness of man-painfully illustrated in Job himself-and depict the certain fate of him who defies the Almighty and trusts in his own "vanity." The passage is from first to last repetition, but has new colour of the quasi-prophetic kind and a certain force and eloquence that give it fresh interest.

Formerly Eliphaz had said, "Shall man be just beside God? Behold He putteth no trust in His servants, and His angels He chargeth with folly." Now, with a keener emphasis, and adopting Job’s own confession that man born of woman is impure, he asserts the doctrine of creaturely imperfection and human corruption.

"Eloah trusteth not in His holy ones,

And the heavens are not pure in His sight;

How much less the abominable and corrupt,

Man, who drinketh iniquity as water?"

First is set forth the refusal of God to put confidence in the holiest creature, -a touch, as it were, of suspicion in the Divine rule. A statement of the holiness of God otherwise very impressive is marred by this too anthropomorphic suggestion. Why, is not the opposite true, that the Creator puts wonderful trust not only in saints but in sinners? He trusts men with life, with the care of the little children whom He loves, with the use in no small degree of His creation, the powers and resources of a world. True, there is a reservation. At no point is the creature allowed to rule. Saint and sinner, man and angel are alike under law and observation. None of them can be other than servants, none of them can ever speak the final word or do the last thing in any cause. Eliphaz therefore is dealing with a large truth, one never to be forgotten or disallowed. Yet he fails to make right use of it, for his second point, that of the total corruption of human nature, ought to imply that God does not trust man at all. The logic is bad and the doctrine will hardly square with the reference to human wisdom and to wise persons holding the secret of God of whom Eliphaz goes on to speak. Against him two lines of reasoning are evident, abominable, gone sour or putrid, to whom evil is a necessary of existence like water-if man be that, his Creator ought surely to sweep him away and be done with him. But since, on the other hand, God maintains the life of human beings and honours them with no small confidence, it would seem that man, sinful as he is, bad as he often is, does not lie under the contempt of his Maker, is not set beyond a service of hope. In short, Eliphaz sees only what he chooses to see. His statements are devout and striking, but too rigid for the manifoldness of life. He makes it felt, even while he speaks, that he himself in some way stands apart from the race he judges so hardly. So far as the inspiration of this book goes, it is against the doctrine of total corruption as put into the mouth of Eliphaz. He intends a final and crushing assault on the position taken up by Job; but his mind is prejudiced, and the man he condemns is God’s approved servant, who, in the end, will have to pray for Eliphaz that he may not be dealt with after his folly. Quotation of the words of Eliphaz in proof of total depravity is a grave error. The race is sinful; all men sin, inherit sinful tendencies and yield to them: who does not confess it? But, -all men abominable and corrupt, drinking iniquity as water, -that is untrue at any rate of the very person Eliphaz engages to convict.

It is remarkable that there is not a single word of personal confession in any speech made by the friends. They are concerned merely to state a creed supposed to be honouring to God, a full justification from their point of view of His dealings with men. The sovereignty of God must be vindicated by attributing this entire vileness to man, stripping the creature of every claim on the consideration of his Maker. The great evangelical, teachers have not so driven home their reasoning. Augustine began with the evil in his own heart and reasoned to the world, and Jonathan Edwards in the same way began with himself. "My wickedness," he says, "has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable and, swallowing up all thought and imagination, like an infinite deluge or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be than by heaping infinite on infinite and multiplying infinite by infinite." Here is no Eliphaz arguing from misfortune to sinfulness; and indeed by that line it is impossible ever to arrive at evangelical poverty of spirit.

Passing to his final contention here the speaker introduces it with a special claim to attention. Again it is what "he has seen" he will declare, what indeed all wise men have seen from time immemorial.

"I will inform thee: hear me;

And what I have seen I will declare:

Things which wise men have told,

From their fathers, and have not hid,

To whom alone the land was given,

And no stranger passed in their midst."

There is the pride. He has a peculiar inheritance of unsophisticated wisdom. The pure Temanite race has dwelt always in the same land, and foreigners have not mixed with it. With it, therefore, is a religion not perverted by alien elements or the adoption of sceptical ideas from passing strangers. The plea is distinctively Arabic and may be illustrated by the self-complacent dogmatism of the Wahhabees of Ri’ad, whom Mr. Palgrave found enjoying their own uncorrupted orthodoxy. In central Nejed society presents an element pervading it from its highest to its lowest grades. Not only as a Wahhabee but equally as a Nejdean the native of ‘Aared and Yemamah differs, and that widely, from his fellow Arab of Shomer and Kaseem, nay, of Woshem and Sedeyr. The cause of this difference is much more ancient than the epoch of the great Wahhabee, and must be sought first and foremost in the pedigree itself. The descent claimed by the indigenous Arabs of this region is from the family of Tameen, a name peculiar to these lands Now Benoo-Tameem have been in all ages distinguished from other Arabs by strongly drawn lines of character, the object of the exaggerated praise and of the biting satire of native poets. Good or bad, these characteristics, described some thousand years ago, are identical with the portrait of their real or pretended descendants. Simplicity is natural to the men of "Aared and Yemamah, independent of Wahhabee puritanism and the vigour of its code" ("Central Arabia," pp. 272, 273). To this people Nejed is holy, Damascus through which Christians and other infidels go is a lax disreputable place. They maintain a strict Mohammedanism from age to age. In their view, as in that of Eliphaz, the land belongs to the wise people who have the heavenly treasure and do not entertain strangers as guides of thought. Infallibility is a very old and very abiding cult.

Eliphaz drags back his hearers to the penal visitation of the wicked, his favourite dogma. Once more it is affirmed that for one who transgresses the law of God there is nothing but misery, fear, and pain. Though he has a great following he lives in terror of the destroyer; he knows that calamity will one day overtake him, and from it there will be no deliverance. Then he will have to wander in search of bread, his eyes perhaps put out by his enemy. So trouble and anguish make him afraid even in his great day. There is here not a suggestion that conscience troubles him. His whole agitation is from fear of pain and loss. No single touch in the picture gives the idea that this man has any sense of sin.

How does Eliphaz distinguish or imagine the Almighty distinguishing between men in general, who are all bad and offensive in their badness, and this particular "wicked man"? Distinction there must be. What is it? One must assume, for the reasoner is no fool, that the settled temper and habit of a life are meant. Revolt against God, proud opposition to His will and law, these are the wickedness. It is no mere stagnant pool of corruption, but a force running against the Almighty. Very well: Eliphaz has not only made a true distinction, but apparently stated for once a true conclusion. Such a man will indeed be likely to suffer for his arrogance in this life, although it does not hold that he will be haunted by fears of coming doom. But analysing the details of the wicked life in Job 15:25-28, we find incoherency. The question is why he suffers and is afraid.

Because he stretched out his hand against God

And bade defiance to the Almighty;

He ran upon Him with a neck

Upon the thick bosses of His bucklers;

Because he covered his face with his fatness

And made collops of fat on his flanks;

And he dwelt in tabooed cities,

In houses which no man ought to inhabit,

Destined to become heaps.

Eliphaz has narrowed down the whole contention, so that he may carry it triumphantly and bring Job to admit, at least in this case, the law of sin and retribution. It is fair to suppose that he is not presenting Job’s case, but an argument, rather, in abstract theology, designed to strengthen his own general position. The author, however, by side lights on the reasoning shows where it fails. The account of calamity and judgment, true as it might be in the main of God-defiant lives running headlong against the laws of heaven and earth, is confused by the other element of wickedness-"Because he hath covered his face with his fatness," etc. The recoil of a refined man of pure race from one of gross sensual appetite is scarcely a fit parallel to the aversion of God from man stubbornly and insolently rebellious. Further, the superstitious belief that one was unpardonable who made his dwelling in cities under the curse of God (literally, cities cut off or tabooed), while it might be sincerely put forward by Eliphaz, made another flaw in his reasoning. Any one in constant terror of judgment would have been the last to take up his abode in such accursed habitations. The argument is strong only in picturesque assertion.

The latter end of the wicked man and his futile attempts to found a family or clan are presented at the close of the address. He shall not become rich: that felicity is reserved for the servants of God. No plentiful produce shall weigh down the branches of his olives and vines, nor shall he ever rid himself of misfortune. As by a flame or hot breath from the mouth of God his harvest and himself shall be carried away. The vanity or mischief he sows shall return to him in vanity or trouble; and before his time, while life should be still fresh, the full measure of his reward shall be paid to him. The branch withered and dry, unripe grapes and the infertile flowers of the olive falling to the ground point to the want of children or their early death; for "the company of the godless shall be barren." The tents of injustice or bribery, left desolate, shall be burned. The only fruit of the doomed life shall be iniquity.

One hesitates to accuse Eliphaz of inaccuracy. Yet the shedding of the petals of the olive is not in itself a sign of infertility; and although this tree, like others, often blossoms without producing fruit, yet it is the constant emblem of productiveness. The vine, again, may have shed its unripe grapes in Teman; but usually they wither. It may be feared that Eliphaz has fallen into the popular speaker’s trick of snatching at illustrations from "something supposed to be science." His contention is partly sound in its foundation, but fails like his analogies; and the controversy, when he leaves off, is advanced not a single step.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 15". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/job-15.html.
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