Alfred Place Baptist Church

22–24 Eliphaz’s third counsel and Job’s reply

We read, “Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: ‘Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?’” and so on, in those three chapters.

The most cruel and fearful providences had come crashing into Job’s life. He loses his possessions; he loses his family; he loses his health; he loses the affection and support of his wife. Then the men who came, allegedly to help him, made things far worse. They believed that in this world it’s the wicked whom the sovereign God punishes in these ways; he spares good people from such pain. Job, therefore, in their eyes, appeared to be one of the most wicked men ever to have walked the face of this planet, and their counsels to him were relentless: “Confess your sin, justify the righteousness of God in punishing you as he has. Vindicate God by acknowledging the terrible secret sins that you’ve committed.” We don’t need friends to come to us, to whisper such things in our ears, because all of us have an imperfect conscience and that conscience can come and speak to us in the middle of the night It could parade before us the follies of the past and can charge us with our guilt and they can tell us that the troubles that are happening to us are a judgment on us for our misdeeds.

Now Job refuses to listen to his friends. He can think of no wickedness that he has done which justly merits this degree of pain. He protests at them that God is not punishing him for any great acts of sin, but they’re outraged at his stubbornness. So the three men make their speeches one by one. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar. And again, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar. Six speeches so far and six comprehensive responses by Job, rebutting their accusations. Today, we come to the third and final speech of Eliphaz in chapter 22. So, let’s begin by looking at what he says.

1. ELIPHAZ’ SPEECH.

Remember, twice before Eliphaz has spoken to Job, and each time Job has rejected his counsels. What is more, Eliphaz has had to listen to his friends being rebutted four or five other times by Job. Eliphaz is not going to speak again. This is his last shot and he is clearly irritated by all that he has heard from Job.

i] He attacks Job’s convictions.

So, in the first three verses then, he responds to Job’s lifelong beliefs that he has heard when Job and he had met together as men of some stature and wisdom and property in the world of their day. He’s responding to Job’s gospel, and you’ll remember that Job’s gospel is the gospel of the righteousness of God. Job is always telling people, “You know, God requires one hundred percent righteousness, that’s what God requires. Be as holy as God is holy” while Job’s friends had a very different message. They said, “Ah no, God commands us to be sincere and do our best and say sorry when we’re wrong. God can’t ask anything more from anyone.” Job says, “No way. The righteous God loves righteousness. Our hope is not that God sets lower standards for us, or that God says ‘I’ll accept anything above sixty-six percent.’ Our only hope is to go to the place of sacrifice, make an offering there for our sins. Without the shedding of blood there’s no remission.” Those are Job’s beliefs and that was Job’s practice for himself, for his family. He went and made sacrifice for himself, and he made sacrifice for his children too, that their sins could be covered and God’s righteousness could be imputed to them. Unto us and upon us all by faith in the Lamb, a divine righteousness becomes ours. That was Job’s great gospel. It wasn’t that God will accept our best efforts. Why should the Son of God have to come from heaven and die to save us on Golgotha if God were saying, “Do your best folks.”

Now, Job’s comforters deplored his teaching and Job’s obsession (as they think), with the righteousness and the perfection of God. For them that was a message of despair. For Job it was a message of grace; it was a message of salvation. If God says to us, “Well, have a go and do your best!” We are lost men because from the fall of Adam until today nobody has ever done his best. Nobody has achieved his best, but if someone should, then still that best wouldn’t be good enough for God. So, Job’s message to all men and women is: “Go to the place of sacrifice where God imputes our sins to the blameless One, the spotless One! Put your hand on the head of the sacrifice and look to God for mercy and the righteousness of the Lamb will be imputed to you!”

So, Eliphaz begins in verses 2 & 3 with his introduction. “What can we give to God?” he says. What good is the wisdom of Albert Einstein to God? Would God say, ‘Now, Albert, can you help me in this matter?’ God has no need of the wisdom of men. God is high in heaven. God is uninvolved. “What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?” (v.3). “So,” he says, “God doesn’t need our wisdom. God doesn’t need our righteousness.” We can see how pathetically inadequate Eliphaz’s theology is. Eliphaz doesn’t understand that sinners are justified when, by faith, they come and they entrust themselves to the blood and the righteousness of the One that God has sent, and God imputes his righteousness to us. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). That’s the heart of the Gospel, but Eliphaz thinks, “As it’s impossible for anyone to do anything perfectly, we do what we can, and God will, like a teacher who always knows far more than his children, accept the best efforts that his children can provide.” That was his understanding of religion. So he says that. He sets out, then, his theology.

ii] He tells Job to confess his sin.

Then, in verses 4–11 he turns on Job, and his theme is now, “Job, you’ve got to own up. You’ve got to confess that you’re a thoroughly wicked man.” So, let’s go through this section. “It’s not for the good things that you’ve done, that God has rebuked you as he has (v.4). It’s for your great wickedness Job, your endless sinning (v.5). I’ll tell you the sort of things you must have been doing: you’ve demanded protection money from your brothers, you’ve stolen the clothes off men’s backs (v.6). You’ve let the hungry and the thirsty die (v.7). You’ve not used all the riches that you have to help the needy (vv.8–9). That’s the sort of thing you’ve been doing, and that’s why all these terrible actions have come into your life and worse things to come. I can see,” Eliphaz says, “that there are snares all around you. You’re facing a dark future, like the people who wouldn’t listen to Noah and the flood came, that’s going to happen to you.” And so that’s what he says in the second part. There’s this introduction, and then he accuses him.

iii] He tells Job to turn back to God.

The last part of his speech, is from verses12 to 30. Those are his final words recorded for us in the Bible and he tries to be as plain as possible. Now if Job were a wicked unbeliever then this might be a helpful statement of what Job would have to do, but Job is not a wicked unbeliever. He loves God with all his heart. His chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him. He’s presenting his body a living sacrifice to God day by day. He’s filled with the Holy Spirit, but this is what Eliphaz says to him: “God is the Almighty one (v.12). He’s far, far greater than all his vast creation, but he’s veiled from us. He’s the invisible one who inhabits eternity and he doesn’t reveal to us why he deals with us as he does, why he lets bad health come into our lives and poverty and heartache. They are secret matters that belong to him. We’re utterly baffled (vv.13–14), but he judges evil men (vv.15–16). They wanted nothing at all to do with God (v.17), but he’s good to them, these criminals (v.18). He causes the sun to shine upon them. He sends the rain on their flocks and on their fields, but when destruction comes upon them, then we rejoice (vv.19–20). So what you must do, Job, is this: submit to him (v.21); learn from him (v.22); return to him and turn from your evil (v.23). If you have a covetous heart that loves money, give it all away like Jesus said to the rich, young ruler, ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor’ (Matthew 19:21). God must be your riches from now on (vv.24–25). Delight yourself in having him (v.26). Pray to him and he’ll hear you. Fulfil your vows to him (v.27). Then God will be good to you (v.28). God will answer your prayers and those you pray for will be lifted up (v.29) and God will even deliver sinners through your toil, through your efforts (v.30).” All right, that’s what he says. That’s a summary of Eliphaz’ sermon.

That’s Eliphaz’s world view and there are many, many wise things that he says there – just like all his companions – but he has a very thin grasp of the grace of God. He doesn’t understand that Job is being sovereignly tested by God to show to the world that God can keep his own people through the most terrible trials that they pass through. Here is the best of his servants and he is being treated in the worst way. But if God can keep him then God can keep any people in trouble. So, we look at Job and we say, “Well, I’m not anywhere like Job. I’m not as godly and as generous and as thoughtless and as self-denying as Job. And my sufferings? Well, my sufferings can’t compare to the loss of all my children, my health, all my property gone, and my wife turning against me. Oh, thank God that my sufferings, my troubles, are nowhere near godly Job’s.” And Job trusted God. God kept him, and God will keep me too and so that’s the reason it’s here in Scripture. But Eliphaz doesn’t see that. He’s got a totally wrong view, and he’s dealing very morally in his sermon with Job.

2. JOB’S REPLY.

Now we come to Job’s answer in chapters 23 and 24. And Job says in the opening verse that he understands that this is not God speaking to him via Eliphaz. He does not recognise the word of God coming to him. “My God is still silent,” he says. So, he’s been listening to the words of Eliphaz but they’ve not been the Lord drawing near. The Holy Ghost, the Comforter, hasn’t come now and lifted him up by saying, “I’ll explain to you, Job, just why all these things have happened.” Where is he? Where is God? Why doesn’t God do that? Why is he silent? Why doesn’t he explain to me why he’s dealt with me as he has? Not one word of explanation, and all this grief.

That, then, is the beginning, and that’s the foundation on which this great reply of Job’s is to be found. “I feel so bitter. His hand is just pressing down on me (v.2). If I knew where God was I’d go to him and I’d ask him to explain what he’s doing to me. (v.3) I’d argue with him (v.4). I’d listen to his replies (v.5). Would he thunder at me? No, I’m blameless. There are no charges that he could bring against me (v.6). I could stand before him as the righteous man I am, not this wretched, needy sinner that Eliphaz has been describing (v.7), but, I can’t find him. I go to the north; I go to the south; I go to the east; I go to the west. Where is he? (vv.8–9). My consolation is merely this. He knows me. I can’t find him, but he knows me at this moment. He knows I’ve not done wrong. He knows what’s happening to me, and this is a kind of testing, and I’ll come through it a stronger man,” (v.10) Job says to Eliphaz, to Bildad and to Zophar. “I’m going to keep following God closely. I’m going to treasure his words (vv.11–12). He’s an absolutely sovereign God. He sits in the Heavens and he does whatever he pleases (v.13). So I acknowledge that; I don’t question that. All this has happened to me, not through the Devil, not through chance, not through sinful men, but through God who decrees and plans everything, and he has many more plans for me. He’s not given up on me (v.14). That’s why I’m absolutely scared (vv.15–16). If this is how God deals with people, if this is how he’s dealt with me, I’m so frightened of what he might do to me again, but I know one thing: I’m going to keep on talking and talking and talking about him. Though I can’t see him, I’m going to speak to him. I won’t be silent (v.17).

That’s chapter 23, and now consider chapter 24. “Why can’t there be special occasions like Mount Sinai when God came down and Moses went up and talked eyeball to eyeball with God. Why can’t there be such places, such times today? You look in vain for them (v.1),” Job says. “You can’t see God, but I’ll tell you what you can see, you can see man’s depravity. You just look around you: men encroaching on their neighbour’s land, men in the night moving boundary stones, getting land that doesn’t belong to them and stealing flocks of sheep (v.2). They’d steal an orphan’s donkey. They’d steal a widow’s ox (v.3). They’d push a beggar out of the way as they strutted down the street – the poor themselves are not safe from their greed (v.4). There’s terrible poverty everywhere. People are scavenging for food (vv.5–6). They’ve no clothes in the night, they’re drenched by rain. There’s no shelter at all for them (vv.7–8). These evil men, they’d take a widow’s baby from her into slavery. They’d sell children (v.9). You see people hungry and thirsty all around (vv.10–11). The cries of these groaning people can be heard everywhere, but God is not judging those wicked men, is he, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar (v.12)? Look! Consider! See the rich, the corrupt, the criminals, everywhere – how fit, healthy and prosperous they are! God’s not judging them, is he? But I am being judged while I’ve loved God and served God all my days,” Job says. “I’ll tell you about wicked men who love darkness rather than light (v.13). They murder in the dark, even the poorest people. They murder a pauper. They steal, and they commit adultery. They wait for the night to fall, and then they wrap up in a garment – they put the garment around their faces so people can’t see who they are, and they slink through the darkness to a woman’s house to continue some illicit affair. They will break into people’s homes. Then at day . . . they just stay indoors. They pull the shutters closed, and they stay indoors. They hate the light (vv.14–16). They make friends with the terrors of darkness” (v.17). They make friends with the terrors of darkness, a lovely phrase – it shows the sinner. Jesus says, “Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

So, here’s Job grief. You understand his grief now, don’t you? “I can’t see God, the God I love, the God whose power and glory is evident in his creation, but I can’t talk to God and get an answer from God as to why in particular I’ve been hurt in these ways, but what I am seeing is evil men in abundance all around. They’re like scum on polluted waters. The land is cursed with people like that wandering around. Farmers are afraid to go to their vineyards,” (v.18), so Job says, “but the grave is going to be their end. They’ll disappear from the earth like snowmen, and there’ll be a puddle. Then that’s their end (v.19). They left the womb ultimately to be eaten by worms. What worthless lives, from the womb to worms! That’s their epitaph. They’ll be forgotten. God will break them,” he says, “like a tree that’s been just cleft by lightening (v.20). What pathetic, cruel sinners they are, preying on lonely women, cruel to widows (v.21), but God will pull down the mighty (v.22). He pulled down Hitler and Stalin and Mao. Down they’re gone to their graves, to the judgement that lies that before them. They boasted, ‘We’ll live forever,’ but God was watching them (v.23). It was just a brief life, lifted high like Herod, and when Herod speaks his flunkies shout, ‘The voice of a god and not the voice of a man,’ but an angel smites him, disease comes to him, worms eat him and he’s dead. Like King Charles I, cut off like heads of grain (v.24). Isn’t this all true? Isn’t it all true, what I’ve been saying (v.25)?” he asks. He looks at Eliphaz and Zophar and Bildad. He challenges them, “Isn’t this all true? If it’s false, who can prove it?” he says, “and reduce my words to nothings?” And that is how it ends. Nothings.

Now, are you getting to understand Job? Are you getting into his mind, into his thinking? Do you see what makes him tick, what keeps him going? God decrees that these trials and troubles shall come to him and the Lord gives him no explanation, but we’ve got insight because we’ve got chapters 1 and 2. So we know about this debate between Satan and God. We know why God has allowed Satan to come like this into his life. Job didn’t know, so how can Job keep going? What energy, six great speeches, and now this seventh one, and he hasn’t finished yet. What confidence in God! What eloquence! What keeps him going? What’s going to keep you going? Well, three things, all there in chapter 23, verses 10–12. Let’s look at them in closing.

3. WHAT KEEPS JOB, AND THE CHRISTIAN GOING?

i] Remember that God knows us and is testing us.

In chapter 23, verse 10, Job tells us he was always confident that God knew all about him; God had not forgotten him. All that he was suffering, God knew. He knew the exact limits of Job’s endurance. God would not let him be tested above his ability to bear it, his trust still to look to God and cling to him by his fingertips. God wouldn’t stamp on those fingertips and let him fall into the bottomless pit. God knew Job’s capacity. He knew his breaking point, and so Job says, “God knows the way that I take.” Every one of you has to personalise that great phrase, “God knows the way that I take.” God knows when the burdens will be too heavy; he knows when the temptation will be too strong; he knows when the pressure on you is too great; he knows when the stress and the sadness will simply overwhelm you, and he’ll say, “Desist.” He’s put a wall around you. Remember, the devil could come so far and then God ssoke up, “No further! I’m the sovereign protector of Job, you can’t come any nearer.” Job could say, “He knows everything about me” and he knows everything about my future, my way, my failures, my unanswered prayer, my loneliness, my times of loss, my bereavement. Yet at the end what’s going to happen at the end? When I have that last final illness and I get weaker and weaker and I’m one step from the grave when I begin to breathe my last? God knows. God knows me then. He knows the way that I take. I don’t, but he does, and all my life then is a strengthening for glory. It’s a testing. It’s a preparing for glory. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2–3). As you’re tested and exercised, you get endurance. You get more vigour; you get stronger. Trials can give us strength. When you’ve got a weak muscle, your coach doesn’t wrap it up in cotton wool and put it in a sling. He gets you on those exercise machines. So too God, in order to make our faith stronger, brings tests into our lives. Do you trust me now when your health has gone? Do you believe in me when you’ve lost your job? Do you have faith in me now? Do you know that I’m going to work all those things together for your good? So Peter says, “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:7). So your faith, your own trust, is being purified, being made a stronger faith. Then other faith – in your feelings, in the world, in providences that actually stops you looking to God only and casting yourself on him and his word – God is taking those things, the sediments and impurities, from you.

It’s crucial to be tested. I mean, would you fly in an untested plane? There are test pilots and they tests it. They put it through dives, and climbs, and banks. He tests the plane, and then he says, “Yes, this plane is utterly safe; I’d trust my own mother in it.” You all can get on it – it’s tested. Machines are also tested. They have stamps and seals on them authenticating their reliability. One day you too will be in trouble, but you are a tested person. An old Christian called Job comes into your life and he listens to your anguish. He says, “Well, maybe I could tell you what happened to me, but I’ll just skim over the surface of it. I want to tell you what I learned. How God kept me; how he gave me strength through it all!” You see what happens? How we are tested, and then we’re able to help, comfort and encourage others. These three fat cats, Zophar and Bildad and Eliphaz who thought the mark of God, the blessing of God, was on them because they’d never had any trouble in their lives, oh how mistaken they were! You’d never go to them for counsel, but Job, a tried man, a tested man, you would go to him. That’s the first thing then, God knows me and he’s testing me. That’s the first thing that kept Job going, and the second thing is in the following verse.

ii] Follow the Lord closely.

In chapter 23 and verse 11, Job says, “Well, I’m going to walk closely with you to heaven. I’m going to keep much closer to you than before.” You remember Adam before the fall, how God would come into the Garden and there would be that theophany? There would be the pre-incarnate Christ there and you would hear him stepping on a twig and brushing through the branches. Adam and Eve would go and they’d walk with him in the garden. Then there was Enoch, after the Fall, and God in grace visited him. Enoch and God walked together. Then the prophet Amos says, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3). So end your sinful estrangement from God today! Be reconciled to God because God has been reconciled to us through Jesus Christ! So put your hand in the outstretched hand of Jesus Christ and from now on walk with him! Never let go of him for a moment! Or Paul says like this to the Galatians, “Keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). As the Spirit of truth and holiness teaches you and leads you, walk with him. Job says, “My feet have closely followed his steps.” That’s what he says for that is his determination. Remember we sang Good King Wenceslas as a Yuletide song – it is not a hymn – and the snow was getting thicker and the King’s page was worried that he would get lost. So Wenceslas said to his page, “Well, you put your feet where I have first trod.”

“In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted” (John Mason Neale).

The Lord Jesus has also left us an example. As we go through life, we follow the Lord Jesus Christ. We follow the Lord; he doesn’t follow us. We are a rebel race as we say, “I want this husband; I want this wife; I want to live in this place; I want to have this kind of job; I want to live this length of time; I want to have this number of children,” and we spell it all out. Then we want God to follow in our steps, but God says, “No, it’s the reverse order. I spell my will out to you, and you follow me.” All of us have to make that commitment; what I want in my entire future is to follow my Saviour, that’s what I want. That’s what I desire for my whole life, and it will be an appallingly unhappy future for you if you’re not going to follow God for the rest of your days.

iii] Study God’s Word.

Thirdly, Job says, “I’m going to keep studying God’s word. I’ll meditate on his word: “I’ve not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” (23:12). How do we keep trusting him? We keep trusting him by hearing sermons and then saying, “I’m going to do that.” Read the Word of God and then say, “I’m going to do what it says.” Where do you meet with God? You meet him by the Word of God. Remember the two on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus joining them? They were discouraged – just like some of you reading this. The Lord Jesus doesn’t say, like Captain Marvel, “Shazam! Here I am!” Or whatever. Rather the Lord opens up our hearts, and he also opens up in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. He mediated his living risen presence to the men on the road to Emmaus, with all his promises, his commands, his encouragements, by the word of God. That is how God speaks to us today; that’s where we meet him. Not on Mount Sinai, not on Mount Olivet, not on Mount Calvary, but we meet him here in the great hills and mountains of the Word of God. God comes and speaks to us. We meet him there.

I’ve been reading a book that was sent to me – I wrote a little blurb for it – by a woman called Julia Boroxo. She’s a pastor’s wife in Mexico and I met her in a family conference I have taken in Arizona several times. She has just finished a biography of Christians who were famous scientists, people like Faraday and Morse and others. Her father began the book. Her father was a humble Christian called George Newfinger and he was a professor in a university town in Greenville in South Carolina. He hadn’t been raised in a Christian home. He had no interest in Christianity, but one day he was in university and a friend said to him, “There goes a fundamentalist,” pointing to a fellow going to a Christian Union meeting. He said, “What’s a fundamentalist?” “Oh, someone who believes the Bible literally.” [You know, they always put that adverb in, don’t they, ‘literally’? They think that we believe that the mountains actually danced for joy! Snowdon and Cnicht and Cader Idris doing a sort of waltz together, and all the trees of the field clapping their hands, they think we understand that ‘literally.’ They think that we are rather stupid, that we don’t know figures of speech when we see them.] “He believes the Bible literally” he was told, and George shook his head, and then God brought a friend into his life and he spoke to Julia’s father very often. He told him about Jesus Christ and what struck him about Christ. You know there are different ways that men come to the Saviour, we all come to faith uniquely. The thing that struck George Newfinger more than anything else was the way that the prophecies about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament were fulfilled with such extraordinary accuracy in the New Testament. His friend was pointing out these prophecies to him and he responded, “Couldn’t he have read them in the Old Testament and then acted them out in his life?” “Being born in Bethlehem?” his friend asked raising his eyebrows. “Rising from the dead?” he asked. More and more, the Word of God started to influence him, and one night in 1955, he got out of bed and he kneeled by its side and gave his life to Jesus Christ. Then after that first definitive trust in God, for the rest of his days, he studied the Bible. He meditated on the Bible. He was just like Job in the chapter before us. He treasured it. He delighted in it. He felt he’d been the worst of sinners for being a confessedly outspoken atheist, and so he marvelled at the grace that could have saved him, changed him and made him a real Christian. Now I never met him. I met his wife and most of his eleven children and they all played musical instruments in their little orchestra and one night they put a concert on for us and that’s where I first met Julia. Her book is published by Ambassador Books in Northern Ireland. It’s just a super read, and I am saying all this in order for you to see that you can be a scientist of the stature of a Faraday, and have your picture on a £10 note, and still be a simple believer in the God of the Bible and trust in the Word of God. So, what kept Job going? These three things; God knows the way I take; I’m being tested by him; study God’s word for the rest of your days. “My feet have closely followed his steps.” I’ve kept to his way. I’ve treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.

3rd February 2002 Geoff Thomas