DOGMATIC AND MORAL ERROR
THE second colloquy has practically exhausted the subject of debate between Job and his friends. The three have really nothing more to say in the way of argument or awful example. It is only Eliphaz who tries to clinch the matter by directly accusing Job of base and cowardly offences. Bildad recites what may be called a short ode, and Zophar, if he speaks at all, simply repeats himself as one determined if possible to have the last word.
And why this third round? While it has definite marks of its own and the closing speeches of Job are important as exhibiting his state of mind, another motive seems to be required. And the following may be suggested. A last indignity offered, last words of hard judgment spoken, Job enters upon a long review of his life, with the sense of being victorious in argument, yet with sorrow rather than exultation because his prayers are still unanswered: and during all this time the appearance of the Almighty is deferred. The impression of protracted delay deepens through the two hundred and twenty sentences of the third colloquy in which, one may say, all the resources of poetry are exhausted. A tragic sense of the silence God keeps is felt to hang over the drama, as it hangs over human life. A man vainly strives to repel the calumnies that almost break his heart. His accusers advance from innuendo to insolence. He seeks in the way of earnest thought escape from their false reasoning; he appeals from men to God, from God in nature and providence to God in supreme and glorious righteousness behind the veil of sense and time. Unheard apparently by the Almighty, he goes back upon his life and rehearses the proofs of his purity, generosity, and faith; but the shadow remains. It is the trial of human patience and the evidence that neither a man’s judgment of his own life nor the judgment expressed by other men can be final. God must decide, and for His decision men must wait. The author has felt in his own history this delay of heavenly judgment, and he brings it out in his drama. He has also seen that on this side death there can be no final reading of the judgment of God on a human life. We wait for God; He comes in a prophetic utterance which all must reverently accept; yet the declaration is in general terms. When at last the Almighty speaks from the storm the righteous man and his accusers alike have to acknowledge ignorance and error; there is an end of self defence and of condemnation by men, but no absolute determination of the controversy. "The vision is for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith." [Habakkuk 2:3-4]
Eliphaz begins with a singular question, which he is moved to state by the whole tenor of Job’s reasoning and particularly by his hope that God would become his Redeemer. "Can a man be profitable unto God?" Not quite knowing what he asks, meaning simply to check the boldness of Job’s hope, he advances to the brink of an abyss of doubt. You, Job, he seems to say, a mere mortal creature, afflicted enough surely to know your own insignificance, how can you build yourself up in the notion that God is interested in your righteousness? You think God believes in you and will justify you. How ignorant you must be if you really suppose your goodness of any consequence to the Almighty, if you imagine that by making your ways perfect, that is, claiming an integrity which man cannot possess, you will render any service to the Most High. Man is too small a creature to be of any advantage to God. Man’s respect, faithfulness, and devotion are essentially of no profit to Him.
One must say that Eliphaz opens a question of the greatest interest both in theology or the knowledge of God, and in religion or the right feelings of man toward God. If man as the highest energy, the finest blossoming, and most articulate voice of the creation, is of no consequence to his Creator, if it makes no difference to the perfection or complacency of God in Himself whether man serves the end of his being or not, whether man does or fails to do the right he was made to love; if it is for man’s sake only that the way of life is provided for him and the privilege of prayer given him, -then our glorifying of God is not a reality but a mere form of speech. The only conclusion possible would be that even when we serve God earnestly in love and sacrifice we are in point of fact serving ourselves. If one wrestles with evil, clings to the truth, renounces all for righteousness’ sake, it is well for him. If he is hard hearted and base, his life will decay and perish. But, in either case, the eternal calm, the ineffable completeness of the Divine nature are unaffected. Yea, though all men and all intelligent beings were overwhelmed in eternal ruin the Creator’s glory would remain the same, like a full-orbed sun shining over a desolate universe.
"We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded by a sleep."
Eliphaz thinks it is for man’s sake alone God has created him, surrounded him with means of enjoyment and progress, given him truth and religion, and laid on him the responsibilities that dignify his existence. But what comes then of the contention that, because Job has sinned, desolation and disease have come to him from the Almighty? If man’s righteousness is of no account to God, why should his transgressions be punished? Creating men for their own sake, a beneficent Maker would not lay upon them duties the neglect of which through ignorance must needs work their ruin. We know from the opening scenes of the book that the Almighty took pleasure in His servant. We see Him trying Job’s fidelity for the vindication of His own creative power and heavenly grace against the scepticism of such as the Adversary. Is a faithful servant not profitable to one whom he earnestly serves? Is it all the same to God whether we receive His truth or reject His covenant? Then the urgency of Christ’s redemptive work is a fiction. Satan is not only correct in regard to Job but has stated the sole philosophy of human life. We are to fear and serve God for what we get; and our notions of doing bravely in the great warfare on behalf of God’s kingdom are the fancies of men who dream.
"Can a man be profitable unto God?
Surely he that is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that thou art righteous?
Or is it gain to Him that thou makest thy ways perfect?
Is it for thy fear of Him that He reproveth thee,
That He entereth with thee into judgment?"
Regarding this what are we to say? That it is false, an ignorant attempt to exalt God at the expense of man, to depreciate righteousness in the human range for the sake of maintaining the perfection and self-sufficiency of God. But the virtues of man, love, fidelity, truth, purity, justice, are not his own. The power of them in human life is a portion of the Divine energy, for they are communicated and sustained by the Divine Spirit. Were the righteousness, love, and faith instilled into the human mind to fail of their result, were they, instead of growing and yielding fruit, to decay and die, it would be waste of Divine power; the moral cosmos would be relapsing into a chaotic state. If we affirm that the obedience and redemption of man do not profit the Most High, then this world and the inhabitants of it have been called into existence by the Creator in grim jest, and He is simply amusing Himself with our hazardous game.
With the same view of the absolute sovereignty of God in creation and providence on which Eliphaz founds in this passage, Jonathan Edwards sees the necessity of escaping the conclusion to which these verses point. He argues that God’s delight in the emanations of His fulness in the work of creation shows "His delight in the infinite fulness of good there is in Himself and the supreme respect and regard He has for Himself." An objector may say, he proceeds, "If it could be supposed that God needed anything; or that the goodness of His creatures could extend to Him; or that they could be profitable to Him, it might be fit that God should make Himself and His own interest His highest and last end in creating the world. But seeing that God is above all need and all capacity of being added to and advanced, made better and happier in any respect; to what purpose should God make Himself His end, or seek to advance Himself in any respect by any of His works?" The answer is-"God may delight with true and great pleasure in beholding that beauty which is an image and communication of His own beauty, an expression and manifestation of His own loveliness. And this is so far from being an instance of His happiness not being in and from Himself, that it is an evidence that He is happy in Himself, or delights and has pleasure in His own beauty." Nor does this argue any dependence of God on the creature for happiness. "Though He has real pleasure in the creature’s holiness and happiness; yet this is not properly any pleasure which He receives from the creature. For these things are what He gives the creature." Here to a certain extent the reasoning is cogent and meets the difficulty of Eliphaz; and at present it is not necessary to enter into the other difficulty which has to be faced when the Divine reprobation of sinful life needs explanation. It is sufficient to say that this is a question even more perplexing to those who hold with Eliphaz than to those who take the other view. If man for God’s glory has been allowed a real part in the service of eternal righteousness, his failure to do the part of which he is capable, to which he is called, must involve his condemnation. So far as his will enters into the matter he is rightly held accountable, and must suffer for neglect.
Passing to the next part of Eliphaz’s address we find it equally astray for another reason. He asks "Is not thy wickedness great?" and proceeds to recount a list of crimes which appear to have been charged against Job in the base gossip of ill-doing people.
Is not thy wickedness great,
And no limit to thy iniquities?
For thou hast taken pledges of thy brother for nought
And stripped the naked of their clothing.
Thou hast not given water to the weary.
And thou hast withholden bread from the famished.
The man of might-his is the earth;
And he that is in honour dwelt therein.
Thou hast sent widows away empty,
And the arms of the orphans have been broken.
The worst here affirmed against Job is that he has overborne the righteous claims of widows and orphans. Bildad and Zophar made a mistake in alleging that he had been a robber and a freebooter. Yet is it less unfriendly to give ear to the cruel slanders of those who in Job’s day of prosperity had not obtained from him all they desired and are now ready with their complaints? No doubt the offences specified are such as might have been committed by a man in Job’s position and excused as within his right. To take a pledge for debt was no uncommon thing. When water was scarce, to withhold it even from the weary was no extraordinary baseness. Vambery tells us that on the steppes he has seen father and son fighting almost to the death for the dregs of a skin of water. Eliphaz, however, a good man, counts it no more than duty to share this necessary of life with any fainting traveller, even if the wells are dry and the skins are nearly empty. He also makes it a crime to keep back corn in the year of famine. He says truly that the man of might, doing such things, acts disgracefully. But there was no proof that Job had been guilty of this kind of inhumanity, and the gross perversion of justice to which Eliphaz condescends recoils on himself. It does not always happen so within our knowledge. Pious slander gathered up and retailed frequently succeeds. And Eliphaz endeavours to make good his opinion by showing providence to be for it; he keeps the ear open to any report that will confirm what is already believed; and the circulating of such a report may destroy the usefulness of a life, the usefulness which is denied.
Take a broader view of the same controversy. Is there no exaggeration in the charges thundered sometimes against poor human nature? Is it not often thought a pious duty to extort confession of sins men never dreamed of committing, so that they may be driven to a repentance that shakes life to its centre and almost unhinges the reason? With conviction of error, unbelief, and disobedience the new life must begin. Yet religion is made unreal by the attempt to force on the conscience and to extort from the lips an acknowledgment of crimes which were never intended and are perhaps far apart from the whole drift of the character. The truthfulness of John the Baptist’s preaching was very marked. He did not deal with imaginary sins. And when our Lord spoke of the duties and errors of men either in discourse or parable, He never exaggerated. The sins He condemned were all intelligible to the reason of those addressed, such as the conscience was bound to own, must recognise as evil things, dishonouring to the Almighty.
Having declared Job’s imaginary crimes, Eliphaz exclaims, "Therefore snares are round about thee and sudden fear troubleth thee." With the whole weight of assumed moral superiority he bears down upon the sufferer. He takes upon him to interpret providence, and every word is false. Job has clung to God as his Friend. Eliphaz denies him the right, cuts him off as a rebel from the grace of the King. Truly, it may be said, religion is never in greater danger than when it is upheld by hard and ignorant zeal like this.
Then, in the passage beginning at the twelfth verse, the attempt is made to show Job how he had fallen into the sins he is alleged to have committed.
"Is not God in the height of heaven?
And behold the code of the stars how high they are
And thou saidst-What doth God know?
Can He judge through thick darkness?
Thick clouds are a covering to Him that He seeth not,
And He walketh on the round of heaven."
Job imagined that God whose dwelling place is beyond the clouds and the stars could not see what he did. To accuse him thus is to pile offence upon injustice, for the knowledge of God has been his continual desire.
Finally, before Eliphaz ends the accusation, be identifies Job’s frame of mind with the proud indifference of those whom the deluge swept away. Job had talked of the prosperity and happiness of men who had not God in all their thoughts. Was he forgetting that dreadful calamity?
Wilt thou keep the old way
Which wickedmen have trodden?
Who were snatched away before their time,
Whose foundation was poured out as a stream:
Who said to God, Depart from us;
And what can the Almighty do unto us?
Yet He filled their houses with good things:
But the counsel of the wicked is far from me!
One who chose to go on in the way of transgressors would share their fate; and in the day of his disaster as of theirs the righteous should be glad and the innocent break into scornful laughter.
So Eliphaz closes, finding it difficult to make out his case, yet bound as he supposes to do his utmost for religion by showing the law of the vengeance of God. And, this done, he pleads and promises once more in the finest passage that falls from his lips:-
Acquaint now thyself with Him and be at peace:
Thereby good shall come Unto thee.
Receive, I pray thee, instruction from His mouth,
And lay up His words in thy heart.
If thou return to Shaddai, thou shalt be built up;
If thou put iniquity far from thy tents:
And lay thy treasure in the dust,
And among the stones of the streams the gold of Ophir;
Then shall Shaddai be thy treasure
And silver in plenty unto thee.
At last there seems to be a strain of spirituality. "Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace." Reconciliation by faith and obedience is the theme. Eliphaz is ignorant of much; yet the greatness and majesty of God, the supreme power which must be propitiated occupy his thoughts, and he does what he can to lead his friend out of the storm into a harbour of safety. Though even in this strophe there, mingles a taint of sinister reflection, it is yet far in advance of anything Job has received in the way of consolation. Admirable in itself is the picture of the restoration of a reconciled life from which unrighteousness is put far away. He seems indeed to have learned something at last from Job. Now he speaks of one who in his desire for the favour and friendship of the Most High sacrifices earthly treasure, flings away silver and gold as worthless. No doubt it is ill-gotten wealth to which he refers, treasure that has a curse upon it. Nevertheless one is happy to find him separating so clearly between earthly riches and heavenly treasure, advising the sacrifice of the lower for what is infinitely higher. There is even yet hope of Eliphaz, that he may come to have a spiritual vision of the favour and friendship of. the Almighty. In all he says here by way of promise there is not a word of renewed temporal prosperity. Returning to Shaddai in obedience Job will pray and have his prayer answered. Vows he has made in the time of trouble shall be redeemed, for the desired aid shall come. Beyond this there shall be, in the daily life, a strength, decision, and freedom previously unknown. "Thou shalt decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee." The man who is at length in the right way of life, with God for his ally, shall form his plans and be able to carry them out.
"When they cast down, thou shalt say, Uplifting!
And the humble person He shall save.
He will deliver the man not innocent:
Yea he shall be delivered through the cleanness of thine hands."
True, in the future experience of Job there may be disappointment and trouble. Eliphaz cannot but see that the ill will of the rabble may continue long, and perhaps he is doubtful of the temper of his own friends. But God will help His servant who returns to humble obedience. And having been himself tried Job will intercede for those in distress, perhaps on account of their sin, and his intercession will prevail with God.
Put aside the thought that all this is said to Job, and it is surely a counsel of wisdom. To the proud and self-righteous it shows the way of renewal. Away with the treasures, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, that keep the soul from its salvation. Let the Divine love be precious to thee and the Divine statutes thy joy. Power to deal with life, to overcome difficulties, to Serve thy generation shall then be thine. Standing securely in God’s grace thou shalt help the weary and heavy laden. Yet Eliphaz cannot give the secret of spiritual peace. He does not really know the trouble at the heart of human life. We need for our Guide One who has borne the burden of a sorrow which had nothing to do with the loss of worldly treasure but with the unrest perpetually gnawing at the heart of humanity, who "bore our sin in His own body unto the tree" and led captivity captive. What the old world could not know is made clear to eyes that have seen the cross against the falling night, and a risen Christ in the fresh Easter morning.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 22". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany