Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gleanings from Job #4

Continuing with my devotional series on the book of Job...

Eliphaz's Speech (Job 4-5)

We have been considering the book of Job and the trials he suffered.

At the direction of divine providence, Satan is allowed to touch Job. He began by destroying how Job made a living and then he kills his children. A bit later, Satan afflicts Job with serious physical maladies.

The last time we looked at Job, we saw how Job had sunk into an understandable despair. He broke his week long silence (Job 3) by first cursing his birth and then wishing he would just die. His comments were dark and foreboding; the sort of comments we are uncomfortable with hearing.

In response to his suicidal sounding remarks, his friends who had arrived to help him out and lend their comfort, begin a series of responses to address Job's plight.

There are three key individuals, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Each friend speaks three times in a cycle of three speeches directed toward Job. The only exception is Zophar, who doesn't present a third speech. Job, in turn, answers the accusations of each friend after his speech.

The three friends remain unmoved in their theological position they present to Job in answer to his trial:

Retribution Theology - The view that the righteous are rewarded for good deeds and the evil, unrighteous are punished for their sin.

From the perspective of his three friends, Job was suffering because he was being punished for being in sin, or sinning sometime in his immediate past.

The notion of retributive punishment is the common view among the quasi-religious through out all history even to this day. In fact, in John 9:1-5, the assumption of Christ's disciples when they encountered a man blind from birth was that his blindness was due to either his sin or his parents' sin. Jesus corrected them by pointing out that no one sinned for him to be born blind.

Sadly, even Christians think in the terms of retribution if they are suffering in trials. The reason a person thinks he is in a trial is because he is being punished for some sin he had committed. The sin can be either known, or unknown, and the trial, it is understood, is meant to reveal the sin and punish him for committing it.

Though it is true God will take retribution against sinners who rebel against Him and trials are a means by which God deals with sin in a person's life, a mentality of seeing all trials as being rooted in retribution is often blind to God's grace. Additionally, the whole of scripture teaches that not all trials are meant to be punishment, but are designed to forge Christian character and prove the reality of saving faith. In the case of Job, the idea of him suffering due to punishment contradicts God's earlier testimony of him in 1:1,8 and 2:3.

We will see that many of the speeches offered by Job's friends are similar in argument and are repetitious. Yet, as they move along they become more and more vitriolic as his accusers go from suggesting his is in sin to insinuating his sinfulness and making out-right accusations against him.

Beginning in chapter 4, Eliphaz spoke first, probably because he may had been the eldest or more prominent of the other two.

I) Eliphaz's compliment:

Eliphaz starts out by offering some niceties to Job.

> At one time, Job had supported many (vs. 3). He had "strengthened weak hands," meaning he was also a first responder when trials had visited others he knew.

> Job had encouraged many, offering his "instruction" to them as they suffered (vs. 3)

> And Job was quick to be the support to help bear the burden of one who "was stumbling" under the weight of the trial (vs. 4).

However, now, the tables had turned on Job and his friends came to offer their support to him (vs. 5, 6).

II) Eliphaz's accusations:

BUT what appears to be the beginning of supportive words quickly turns to insinuations.

Eliphaz says that Job should have confidence in the blamelessness of his ways if he were truly fearing God and was innocent of any sinful wrong doing (vs. 6,7), because God has never cut off the innocent to allow him to perish. He goes on to say that a person "reaps what he sows" (vs. 8), and if Job were truly not guilty of sinful behavior, then he would not be reaping these horrific trials. It is the sower of trouble who gets judged by God and blasted by His breath (vs. 9).

Eliphaz draws the picture of a prideful lion and his cubs suffering to illustrate what he means (vs. 10,11). Commentators are of the opinion that Eliphaz was using this illustration to suggest Job may not have protected his children from evil doing as he should have. Like the power of a lion who gets what he wants by preying on the weak, in similar fashion, Job had received his wealth and power by ill gotten means and was using his power to oppress others. Thus, God judged Job by taking away his physical wealth and his family as well.

III) Eliphaz's authority:

In order to add emphasis to his words, Eliphaz appeals to a supernatural vision he experienced that, according to him, affirms his convictions about God judging sinners. He claims he had a spirit visiting him in the middle of the night (vs. 12-21).

The spirit, states Eliphaz, gave him special revelation concerning men and how they are unable to be made right before God (vs. 17). If God, states the spirit, charges even His servants and angels with error, how exactly can a man, a creation dwelling in "houses of clay" (frail human flesh) even think he can have a hearing with God or stand before Him in any fashion? (vss. 18-21).

Similar to Eliphaz appealing to this experience with a special message granted to him by a visiting spirit, many Christians, even to this day, look to some unique sign or unusual dream or some other subjective experience in order to place their confidence when making a decision or offering advice to a friend.

This confidence in an experience, even if from a real spirit, is problematic as we can learn from Eliphaz's comments:

1) It is his personal experience so there is no way to test what he is saying is true.

2) The only thing to test it against is a sure Word from God, what we have now contained in our holy canon. The spirit never claimed to speak for God nor described his message as divine revelation.

3) The "revelation" given by the spirit describe men as worthless, but we know man, in spite of his depravity, is God's special creation and he bears the image of God.

4) Though there is truth about man's depravity, there is no mention of God's grace toward sinners to declare them right so as to stand before God.

These four items alone make Eliphaz's counsel suspicious.

IV) Eliphaz's advice:

Drawing his first speech to Job to a conclusion, Eliphaz offers two bits of advice:

1) First, confess your sin. Job's attitude suggest a man who is in secret sin (5:1-7). Job had allowed foolishness to take root in his life (vs. 3). He was one not thinking about God, nor allowing the beginning of wisdom to govern his life, and as a result his home and family had been put in jeopardy. These afflictions hadn't appeared for no reason (vs. 6), but he had brought trouble upon himself.

2) Then appeal to God. Eliphaz describes the majesty and sovereignty of God to Job (As if Job didn't know these truths, vss. 8-27) over the arrangement of His creation and the affairs of all men both poor and rich. He suggests that because there is no creature either earthly or heavenly who could intercede for Job concerning his trials, his only appeal will have to be directly to God Himself.

God is the one who ultimately punishes the wicked and vindicates the innocent and offers reproof to the sinner, and hence the reason it is wise to never despise God's discipline.

Of course it is always good to recognize our sinfulness and confess it to the Lord as we appeal to Him for mercy.

BUT Eliphaz is basing his counsel,

-- on misinformed observations. What he has supposedly seen or experienced in his own life.

-- upon the misguided visions he believes is from a spirit from the Lord.

-- upon the wrong-headed notion that ALL suffering is punishment for sin.

Eliphaz speaks out of ignorance of the true nature of Job's circumstances. He shows no graciousness with his words and merely speaks "matter of fact" with certain directness.



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7:13 AM, December 26, 2007  

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