ELIPHAZ’S SECOND COUNSEL AND JOB’S REPLY
Job 15, 16 & 17
Eliphaz the Temanite is the speaker: “Would a wise man answer with empty notions or fill his belly with the hot east wind?” (Job 15:1). He is speaking to Job who was a godly, blameless man but one day in his life he had lost everything. He lost his business, his workmen and his children; soon his health too goes. Job is left alone as his wife turns against him, and his old friends then show the resentment that they’ve built up over many years (had they been envious? It seems likely. They were certainly unwise and cruel men). We have seen how Job has been speaking to them and he’s told them about God requiring perfect righteousness and obedience that can only come if a man went under the old covenant provision constantly with the appropriate sacrifices for his sins, and confessed them, and cast himself on the mercy of God. Then he would be pardoned and receive the gift of righteousness which is bestowed by God on those who come and truly confess their sins, and acknowledge God to be great and holy.
Bildad and Eliphaz have not liked that message at all. They’ve one theme, one string on their banjos, and they turned on him and said, “Now look Job, you’ve obviously sinned a great sin and you’ve succeeded in hiding that sin from us and from everybody, but God has seen it. He’s punishing you for it. So, really acknowledge it. Confess it and then you can make a new start. So, stop all this arguing and these long speeches and confess your sin.” And so Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar, they’ve all spoken to Job, and not with a few judicious words. They have spoken at length and quite poetically; you get the impression that they like the sound of their own voices, and they haven’t finished yet with their reflective speeches of great eloquence. They have uttered words that will live for ever in the annals of the world’s literature. That is what Job was up against, and they’ve spoken with incredible self-confidence. They had to make a choice: either to support Job and his pleas of innocence – remember that they’ve never seen him do anything wrong. They have a detached respectful admiration for him. Or they’re going to dismiss his humble defence of his own innocence. They’re going to trust in their own works, religious views and philosophy. They’re going to take Satan’s side, and they’re going to sift Job like wheat. One after another they’re going to nail his unknown secret sins to him. They’re going to do this with all the intelligence and certainty of old age and rank and friendship. They’re going to beat down and down on Job. They greatly hurt the one who has lost his family, possessions and health, whose own wife has turned on him. Now it’s their turn to undermine him.
Job is still unaware of the conversation between God and Satan lying behind everything that has occurred. Job doesn’t know that the pain that his friends are inflicting upon him is actually going to work for his good and that consequently he’ll be a stronger, a holier man. As a result of all his trials he’s going to walk more closely with God than ever before. He is also in this process losing the friendship of four men who are actually forfeiting their lives. We clearly see this in the second round of speeches that begin then with this speech of Eliphaz (one was not enough). A needle comes into the conversation; an edge and anger enters the debate. They speak with increasing hostility to Job and torturing him with their words. Can’t they see they are right and he is sinfully rejecting their counsels. They are abusing a neighbour who is in deep mourning, physically very ill, psychologically utterly alone, this broken creature made in the image of God. They are tormenting him. Remember the Psalmist in Psalm 55 says, “If an enemy were doing this to me, well I could endure it. But it’s you,” he says, “it’s you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend.”
1. ELIPHAZ’S SPEECH.
So then, we come to Eliphaz’s speech in chapter 15. Job has been crying out to God in the previous chapter, and it’s a hopeless wail. He is facing death in his anguish. There’s a pause and it is then that Eliphaz speaks. Now we all know from I Corinthians 13 that love is patient, kind, that love is merciful; love isn’t boastful; love isn’t jealous; love doesn’t trample on anyone, but Eliphaz in his rude good health and total sense of conviction is standing in solidarity with healthy Zophar, and healthy Bildad in their condemnation of Job. They all bring the same pious language, the self-serving and moralistic theology that they think is true religion. None of these men know anything about a theology of grace. Alas that is Eliphaz’ pose. He stands and speaks saying four things to Job.
i] Eliphaz attacks Job’s words.
Firstly, he makes the crudest sort of attack in his opening words: “The belly is filled with hot east wind.” Oh dear. It’s the sort of remark boys make in the school yard. He is a less sophisticated man maybe priding himself in his blunt plain speaking. He attacks Job’s empty notions, useless words, valueless speeches. He sounds like a neo-communist back bencher in the House of Commons. “Job, you’ve undermined your own piety with your protestation,” he says. “It’s all hot air, Job, when you speak as you do, with your crafty mouth, and that condemns you” (vv.5&6). “You claim to know God as the Lord, your Lord, a Lord you trust in, a Lord you love. You think you have this intimate knowledge of God. Well, let me ask you some questions which you must answer with the word “No” on every occasion. Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills? Do you listen in on God’s counsel? Do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have? (vv.7–9). You’re just a man, not above us; we’re as good as you are.” That’s the sort of level of the debate launched by Eliphaz.
ii] Eliphaz appeals to tradition.
And then, secondly, he appeals to tradition. “Everybody agrees with us,” he says, “that trouble comes into your life because of your sin.” Verse 10: “The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father,” he says. “Everyone believes these things.” “Listen to me and I will explain to you; let me tell you what I have seen” (v.17). Well, what have you seen, Eliphaz? Verse 18: “What wise men have declared, hiding nothing received from their fathers (to whom alone the land was given when no alien passed among them).” I am simply a believer in the wise traditions of our fathers. They all say that God punishes men who do evil and that that is the explanation for our suffering. So he tells Job that it is Job’s heart, his own emotions, have carried him away, and he is now pouring out all his anger to God. “Who do you think you are, Job?” he says to him.
iii] Eliphaz declares that it is impossible for man to be a righteous man.
Man can’t be pure; you can’t expect that of anyone. “What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous? If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water!” (vv.14–16). What is Job doing pleading his utter integrity? “We can’t expect men to be pure,” he says, “because man is born of woman.” Well, that’s not the reason, of course. That’s not the reason why man is impure or sinful, but because before we were the children of our sinful mothers we were the children of Adam, born with a bias to go astray, doing what we choose in defiance of God. We do everything our own way because a woman had given birth to us. So, Eliphaz is introducing the sinner’s excuse and the Christian’s grief that no-one’s perfect. Let Job acknowledge this and be silent, “I am a sinner because I am like all mankind,” and be satisfied with that reason for God punishing him.
iv] Eliphaz quotes from ancient poets.
And then, fourthly, Eliphaz quotes from the ancients. “One expects the judgements that fall on the wicked,” he says. “All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him. Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him” (vv.20–21) and so on. “…because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield” (vv.25&26). “That’s what you’ve been doing, Job. You’ve been defying God. You’ve been attacking God with all these flowery speeches. Judgement has fallen on you because of your sin.” That’s what he says in verses 27, 28 and 29, to the end of the chapter. Did you think you would escape from our God?
So, it’s a familiar theme, that trouble and suffering is a result of sin. But you know yourself that this doesn’t happen, does it? You know that the most evil people are freely walking our streets. I am talking of the thieves of which this town of ours is full - if the robberies described with such frequency in our local paper are true. They watch football on a Saturdays on television. They play golf on Sundays. They go to work. They are criminals. They may abuse their children and their wives and they get away with it. They’re evil men. They live till they are 80 years of age; the police never find them. This isn’t a world where there is perfect righteousness and justice, is it? It’s not that kind of world, is it? When in Psalm 73 the writer, Asaph, is so troubled because he and the people of God are suffering so much. He looks at evil men and they’re growing fat and living a long time and their lands and their schemes are profiting in every way, Asaph is deeply troubled. His feet almost slipped until he remembers in due time judgement will come upon them. In due time their feet will slip and into the gave and into judgment they will fall. Sometimes that judgement isn’t evident in this world - it comes when we die.
Now we all are certain that Job was not a wicked man. We know that he was utterly righteous and blameless. We’ve read chapters 1 & 2 of the book of Job. We know that all his sufferings are the supreme and exemplary test of Job’s faith for the edification of future generations. Does he serve God for nothing at all? But for Eliphaz, there is total ignorance of those first two chapters and with his works’ religion he concludes that Job must have sinned. He must have sinned. If Job hasn’t sinned, all of Eliphaz’s religion, his basic convictions, his world view is destroyed, and Eliphaz is becoming a frightened man. He’s feeling threatened. His whole basis and outlook in life is being challenged by this man whom he has always considered blameless and godly, suffering so much, Yet Job is protesting his love for God and his own sinlessness. Job must be a doubly wicked man. He is wicked on hiding his secret sins from them for so long, and he is wicked in protesting his innocence now. Eliphaz’s text for this long sermon, in the second half of this chapter, then, is verse 20: “All his days the wicked man suffers torment.” That’s the theme, that all his days the wicked man suffers torment. It is obvious that Job is suffering torment, so Job must be a wicked man. That’s the logic of Eliphaz and the raison d’etre of his remarks. He is saying nothing more than that, and all with a head-shaking, blunt earnestness. Then in chapters 16 and 17 you get Job’s response.
2. JOB’S RESPONSE.
i] Job begins by protesting that Eliphaz has said nothing new, and that talk is easy. It is, in fact, the fourth time he’s heard these things. “I’ve heard many things like these; ‘Miserable comforters are you all!’” And he protests about the garrulousness of Eliphaz; “I could talk,” Job says, “like you do” (v.4). “It’s easy enough to talk, to string together long speeches and shake your head very gravely and pose your disapproval as you have, to show that you don’t agree with what Job has said. It’s easy,” he says, “to do as you three have done and pass judgment on me. But I wouldn’t do that,” godly Job says. “My mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (v.5). “That’s what I’d do,” he says. But Job is between a rock and a hard place. If he speaks his words don’t relieve him and they bring down a flood of condemnation from his ‘friends;’ if he doesn’t speak then the words are just bottled up inside him (v.6).
ii] Job turns to God.
So, Job is on a hiding to nothing, whether he speaks or whether he is silent. So he casts himself upon God, turning from these men. His eyes turn to God and he tells the Lord, “You know how much you’ve devastated me by everything you’ve done. My whole family is destroyed. See that I’m in chains now. I’m bound to illness and despair. Look at my own Belsen-like condition. He testifies, “I’m a dying man” (v.8) and then after that outburst to God, “See the state I’m in!” he turns back to his comforters.
iii] Job declares that his suffering is a sovereign action of God, not a result of his sin.
Job tells his comforters that it’s not his sin that has brought about the loss of his possessions, family, health and the love of his wife, it’s an action of God. “The rage of God has done this towards me and men, seeing what God has done, have seized this opportunity and they’re making fun of me, they’re mocking me and God does nothing to protect me, but God compounds my plight” (v.11). “God has crushed me and destroyed my possessions and my servants and my children, and the trust of my wife and my friends. God has made me a laughing stock without pity” (v.13). Job describes what the past weeks have been like, God the mighty warrior coming up to you and half-killing you; “Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior” (v.14). Job describes his condition, dressed in sackcloth, lying in the dust, deep shadows under each eye (v.16), but still protesting, “My hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure” (v.17). Job has this wonderful confidence in God. He has a pure conscience and he cries to the earth to witness that this is so. “May it never be silent,” he says, “earth, trees, hills, rocks, mountains, sky, air. You’ve seen me.”
iv] An Advocate in Heaven.
Then, in verse 19, he turns to this theme that he has raised before of having an advocate in heaven. Nobody on earth is speaking up for him at all. His wife is silent. His friends have turned against him. His children are dead, but God, oh the Lord is good, the Lord is fair! There’ll be a witness in heaven to his integrity. Maybe there’ll be a man like Enoch, who walked with God and then was not, and he now in heaven will speak up for him. Enoch is now before him, a great man of utter righteousness, and maybe he’ll be there and will speak up for him? Maybe one of the seraphim will speak up for him? Or could it be more than that? Could it be the Angel of the Covenant? Could it be . . . the Lord himself? So Job affirms his conviction to his frinds in verses 19–21 these wonderful words: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.” On behalf of a man this heavenly friend pleads with God with strong cryings and tears. So well we know the one whom Job is talking about, and we know it better than Job does for we flood his words with the light of the New Testament. The Spirit of Christ was in this prophet Job as he said these words. We read Job in the light of the teaching that we find, for example, in the letter to the Hebrews about our great High Priest, not of Aaron’s mortal line but of the line of Melchizedek, the one who ever lives and makes intercession for us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“In every pang that rends the heart
The Man of Sorrows had a part.
He sympathizes with our grief,
And to the sufferer sends relief.” (Michael Bruce)
Job, in the half light of the Old Covenant, back there probably before even the time of Abraham, he conceives faintly of this: one day there’ll be an intercessor, who will be a friend of all sinners who trust in God. He’ll be God’s right-hand man and there he’ll plead for men as a man in God’s presence. The dust of the earth is on the throne of the universe and he remembers that we are dust because he was dust himself. He says, “Father! Look now Father, there is brother Job. You promised you won’t break a bruised reed. Father, you promised you won’t quench a smoking flax. Well, look at Job. He’s almost a broken man, Father. The light that’s in Job is almost extinguished. I plead with you for my servant Job,” he says. That’s the Lord Jesus. If you can conceive now in your mind, by faith, that Great Session that’s taking place at the right hand of God at this moment where the Lord Jesus in saving to the uttermost those who come to God by him, is ever living and interceding for his people. This is the Jesus who said, “I don’t call them my servants, I call them my friends” (John 15:15). What a friend we have in Jesus! There he is, and he’s crying to God for us imperfect struggling Christians. Do you all know the Lord of glory as your friend? Do you have a Great High Priest? Do you? At the right hand of God. Is your name written on the palms of his hands in marks of indelible grace? Are you on his heart? You remember the high priest in the Old Testament had a breastplate and the names of the tribes of Israel were written on it. He carried it over his heart; they were precious to him. Our great High Priest carries on his heart the names of all that the Father has given to him and he ever lives for them; he prays for them because he loves them and he longs that where he is, there they will be also, and that they will see his glory. How can you survive without such a great High Priest? How can you face this week, the future, the bustle of the ending of the year, a dark uncertain world without knowing that your King, the one who works all things together for the good of his people, is protecting and shepherding you, interceding for you? What can preserve your sanity without this wonderful and glorious High Priest? Remember how there were people of this persuasion in the Old Testament. “The LORD is my shepherd,” they said. “He who watches over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps. The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob. He’s our refuge,” they said. Well, we know his name, don’t we? The Word has become flesh and dwelt amongst us and has ascended and has all authority in heaven and earth, this Great One. He who died for us pleads the merits of his sacrifice for us, he presents the merits of the blood he shed for us, the righteousness he effected and imputes to us, he pleads that before God. What do you have, if you don’t have that? What’s the alternative? Job spells it out here in chapter 16, verse 22. “Only a few years will pass before I go on the journey of no return.” My friends, you know that journey. One of our members went on it last week. You’ll go on it too, I’ll go on it one day. Much sooner, much much sooner than we plan, we all face this journey of no return. Here him; “My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me. Surely mockers surround me; my eyes must dwell on their hostility.” Here we are being presented with this alternative - an Advocate on high, a Great High Priest praying for you, and there his arms are outstretched in prayer and in welcome in that Great Day. Are mockers surrounding you, and do you have a broken spirit? You are certainly facing the grave. Do you lift up your eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh your help? Your help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. Do you have that help day by day? Or do your eyes, alas, dwell on the hostility of mockers (chapter 17:2)?
v] Job prays.
So, Job turns to prayer. He sees his enemies can’t triumph (v.4), their minds are closed to understand and in his prayer then, in these next verses, he does a very interesting thing - he asks God to give him a pledge (v.3). Now he has to ask God to give him a pledge because he is penniless. All his possessions have been destroyed, his servants have been killed, his children are dead, his wife has turned against him and he has these few clothes and a piece of potsherd in his hand to scrape his boils. That’s all he has, and he is yet defiant, pleading his innocence before the law. You might know that under the Old Covenant when there was a law case and a man was charged with some crime, then he, to show his seriousness and to show his integrity, would give something valuable. He would place it before the court as a sign, as a pledge of his truthfulness, of his willingness to forfeit something that was very costly. Job will do this now. He is pleading his innocence, but he has no pledge to give, because he has nothing. God has stripped everything from him. So what he does is to turn to God and he says, “Lord, you must be my pledge, you supply the pledge that you demand. You put in security for me.” Now, what can we bring to God? Toplady reminds us:
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
We’ve nothing in our hands. And so we say, “You must be my pledge. My pledge is at the right hand of God. That’s the pledge of my acceptance before Thee.” This is what God has done for us in Christ. God demands a righteousness, God provides a righteousness, God becomes our righteousness. God demands security, God provides security, God becomes our security. That’s the great hope, then, that the Christian has. Well, have you ever come to that stage yet, in realising that all your hope of God ever accepting you and taking you to be with himself forever lies in what the Lord Jesus Christ himself has done for us?
“Just as I am, without a plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me.” (Charlotte Elliott)
That’s a Christian. “What are you basing your hopes of eternal life upon?” we ask people who apply for membership and they all tell us, “Nothing in myself, nothing that I have done, but my faithful Saviour loved me and gave himself for me. He’s my forgiveness, he’s my acceptance before God. He’s my righteousness, he’s my pledge before God.” God demands it, God provides it, God becomes it. And that’s our hope - Jesus Christ, our all in all.
So, here is Job and his children are gone, his property and possessions are gone, his health is gone, his wife has turned against him, his friends are miserable comforters. What does he have? He has God, the living God, as his comfort. God is his pledge, he says. This man, listen to him, the state that he was in when he said these words in chapter 17, verse 6, “God has made me a byword to everyone, a man in whose face people spit. My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow. Upright men are appalled at this; the innocent are aroused against the ungodly.” Even men are appalled. But he is not suicidal; he is rational. He is bringing all his faith and he is arguing with God and he is pleading with God, “Why should it be like this?” He is still persuaded of a righteousness that God will impute to him and he says in v.9, “Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways.” There’s a hymn in our hymnal which we rarely sing which contains these verses;
“Ye pilgrims of Zion and chosen of God
Whose spirits are filled with dismay,
Since ye have eternal redemption through blood,
Ye cannot but hold on your way.
They may in the storms of temptation be tossed,
Their sorrows may swell as the sea,
But none of the ransomed shall ever be lost,
The righteous shall hold on his way.” (Henry Fowler)
That’s what he says: “The righteous will hold to their way.” That’s the great hope, that those for whom Christ intercedes shall never perish. He has them in the palm of his hand and none shall pluck them from that place. Job says, “As a sinful man I have no hope” (v.10), “I look in my heart, there’s no hope” (v.11), “Before me there lies the grave and death” (vv.12–16), “Where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?” (v.15). No-one at all. Men and women without God are without hope, so the Bible tells us, but there is a hope and our hope is in heaven, and our hope lives and our hope is with us this day. The God-man is our hope, our advocate on high. The intercessor who is our friend. The one who pleads with God on behalf of men. Is he pleading for you, is he whispering your worthless name in the ears of his Father in heaven, is he saying, “God have mercy on him now and keep him? He’s backsliding, he’s struggling, he’s doubting. Help him, deliver him from the plague he is in.”
9th December 2001 Geoff Thomas