Job’s speech in Chapter 3 is composed in poetry. It is usually considered a part of the poetic dialogues that compose almost the entire book of Job. Some scholars, however, consider Job’s speech in Chapter 3 as simply an introductory comment with the dialogues proper beginning with Job 4. In either case as we enter chapter 4 we enter a significant part of the structural design of the book. Job 4-7 consists of three cycles of speeches in which Job’s friends speak and he responds.
The First Cycles of Speeches - Job 4:1-14:22
As is true in each cycle Job’s friend Eliphaz speaks first. Job 4-5 contains his opening speech. In chapters 6-7 Job responds and Bildad addresses him in Job 8. Job’s response to Bildad appears in Job 9-10. The final speech by a friend in the first cycle is that of Zophar who speaks in chapter 11. Job’s closing response in the first cycle appears in chapters 12-14.
Eliphaz’z First Speech – Job 4:1-5:27
Eliphaz is the most prominent of Job’s comforters. This can be seen by the fact his speech comes first in all three cycles, the fact that his speeches are all longer than those of his co-comforters, and the fact that he is best speech maker of the friends. There is more evidence of rhetorical skill in the speeches of Eliphaz than in those of any other speaker in Job except God and Job.
We know nothing historical about Eliphaz. We can deduce from his speeches that he was kind and wise, but his purpose in the book of Job is to present the ideas of his speeches for our consideration. Eliphaz argues for the position that suffering is God’s punishment for sin. His basic presupposition is that everyone is guilty of error. He boldly states that the righteous prosper and hardship befalls the wicked. He also praises God for his gracious blessings on those who are righteous.
Eliphaz begins his speech with an attempt to "connect" to Job in verses 1-6 of chapter 4. Verse 2 shows the dilemma in which Eliphaz finds himself. He knows if he speaks Job may be irritated or offended (NIV has impatient and the KJV has grieved). The Hebrew expression suggests that Job may be weary with the subject of his suffering already and "fed up with" having to deal with it. Whatever Eliphaz may say could make Job angry simply because Job will not want to be reminded of his pain. However, as the second line of verse 2 notes, Eliphaz must speak. Job’s bitter words in chapter 3 offended Eliphaz’s sense of the rightness and so he feels compelled to correct his friend.
Eliphaz begins the painful correction with compliments. He notes in verses 3-4 that Job has been a fine example of Old Testament spiritual leadership. He (Job) has instructed many. The Hebrew verb "instructed" implies moral and religious teaching. Isaiah 35:3-4 uses almost identical language to describe those in need of help. Job has helped others in affliction and enabled them to move on even when life had tripped them up.
However, in verse 5 Eliphaz points out that though Job had previously instructed others about how to overcome suffering, he himself is now the one who is suffering. The criticism of Eliphaz is that Job responds with impatience and dismay to the same suffering he had told others to endure. In fact, the Hebrew word in verse 5 translated "troubled" in the KJV, "discouraged" in the NIV, and "impatient" in the NRSV is the same word used back in verse 2 meaning wearied or fed up with. Thus verse 5 charges Job with failing to live up to his own teaching.
Many of us have discovered that our own advice is hard to follow when we are the ones standing in need of it. Good advice always seems more appropriate for someone else. Eliphaz accuses Job of failing to recognize this basic human inconsistency in his own life. He questions the reality of Job’s faith in verse 6. Job’s fear of God (the beginning of wisdom) should be a source of confidence and strength for him – it should not motivate him to curse the day of his birth. His uprightness (or integrity – the Hebrew literally has "perfection") should be the basis of hope. Eliphaz did not like Job speaking so bitterly as he had done in chapter 3. He feared that such bitterness either was the result of a loss of faith or would lead to the destruction of Job’s righteousness.
Job 4:7-11 expresses the popular opinion among many people in Old Testament times that suffering was the result of sin. This is often called the doctrine of retribution. It arose from the teachings of Deuteronomy and Proverbs that God blesses obedience and punishes disobedience. Proverbs and Deuteronomy did not go on to say that all suffering is punishment for disobedience, but the doctrine of retribution made that claim. In verse 7 Eliphaz calls on Job to think. The Hebrew is literally a command to remember. He asks Job to come up with an example of anybody righteous who has suffered God’s punishment. Verse 8 states the doctrine of retribution with the illustration of farming. Those who plow sin and sow trouble reap a harvest of suffering. This figure of speech is important for it shows that Eliphaz is thinking of a life that is intentionally sinful. To plow and to plant implies a purposeful choice of life’s direction.
In verse 9 Eliphaz claims that the losses suffered by the wicked are the results of God’s punishing work. He speaks of the breath of God and the blast of his anger. Though he does not directly claim that God sent the wind that destroyed the house in which Job’s children were feasting (Job 1:9) it is clear that Eliphaz believed that to have been true.
Verses 10-11 seem to be designed to highlight the argument. Even ferocious lions cannot withstand the power of God’s judgment. Perhaps Eliphaz intended to compare Job’s outburst of anger against God in chapter 3 with the roaring of the lion in verse 10. Unfortunately, however, Job’s complaint in chapter 3 and Job’s case do not fit into the picture being painted by Eliphaz. Job has not plowed and planted intentional sin and there is no evidence that his losses were some form of punishment from God.
Eliphaz had appealed to his (and Job’s) experience in verses 7-11. In Job 4:12-21 he appeals to another authority – that of a vision. Verses 12-16 are devoted to explaining the way (s) in which Eliphaz received the revelation he claimed from God. Anderson (p. 113) wisely describes this section as "evocative rather than photographic." There is always a mysterious element to direct contact with God and that mystery cannot be described with the same objectivity and precision we use for daily events.
The actual content of what God showed Eliphaz appears in verse 17. It is not clear whether the revelation is only verse 17 and verses 18-21 are Eliphaz’s explanatory remarks or the revelation is all of verses 17-21. Verse 17 is expressed in the form of two rhetorical questions – both expecting "no" for an answer. The first question asks whether human beings can be righteous [or pure] before their Maker. The very construction of the sentence shows Eliphaz’s assumptions. Since one’s "Maker" is superior to the creature, there is no way the creature can stand against that Maker arguing for his or her own rightness and God’s wrong-ness. Eliphaz is convinced that every human being – no matter how thoroughly faithful they may be to God – cannot claim the right to question God.
Verses 18-21 enforce the argument by a technique the rabbis would later call from greater to lesser. Eliphaz points out that God does not fully trust even his heavenly servants and angels. If God treats heavenly beings as his inferiors how much more will he consider earthly beings inferior to himself. The evidence Eliphaz sees of this is the way human life is so easily disrupted and destroyed.
Eliphaz moves his argument to the next stage in Job 5:1-7. He asks where Job might turn to gain a hearing with God. In verse 1 he asks if any of the holy ones will be available to help Job? Here the question of a spiritual mediator who could get God’s attention for a human being is raised. Eliphaz asks the question rhetorically and assumes that none of the holy ones would help Job. From our later, Christian viewpoint we know of the one mediator who is able to bridge the gulf beyond God and ourselves, Jesus Christ. However, that kind of mediator was not available to Job and Eliphaz urges him to be careful not to ask for more than he can have.
Verse 2 is formulated like a proverb – it is a general observation about life. It warns against impatience and envy, though a variety of English words are used to translate the Hebrew, vexation, resentment, passion, and jealousy. Hartley (p. 117) points out that both words describe "burning, angry emotions" that lead to "erratic behavior and the desire for revenge." Such uncontrolled emotion kills the fool and slays the simpleton. While it is true in a figurative sense (as the proverb intends) modern society has illustrated that such out-of-control emotions are also literally fatal. Eliphaz’s point is that Job must get his emotions under control and stop ranting against God. Verses 3-5 describe the consequences suffered by fools who do not control their emotions. Their children are in danger, they are crushed, they lose their harvest and their wealth. These are obviously aimed at Job and the losses he has suffered. Eliphaz points out that Job’s losses are consistent with the losses of those who foolishly lash out against God.
Verses 6-7 come back to Eliphaz’s basic assumptions. Misery and trouble do not grow on trees – they are the product of human behavior according to verse 6. Verse 7 then affirms that such human behavior is intrinsically wicked. Human beings are destined for trouble because of their sinful nature and complaining against God about trouble is foolishness according to Eliphaz. From this perspective Job should silently accept the suffering of his life as just punishment for his sins whether he was aware of sinning or not. As chapter 6 will show, Job does not agree.
Eliphaz moves to advice in Job 5:8-16. If he were in Job’s shoes he would seek God and commit his cause to the Lord. The opening word of verse 8 in the Hebrew text is a strong adversative showing the great contrast between what Eliphaz thinks he would do and what he believes Job was doing. Obviously Eliphaz does not believe Job has been seeking God or submitting his cause to God. Van Selms (p. 35) paraphrases Eliphaz in this way, "If I were in your shoes, I would not go to God with a complaint, which always implies some kind of accusation, but I would go to him with a request for advice and lay my cause before him: so do not indict him but await his…decision. You can trust God not only to give a verdict but also to put it into effect."
Verses 9-16 then tell why a person can trust God with the verdict. Anderson (p. 120) describes these verses are one of the most beautiful creedal hymns on the Bible. Verse 9 affirms God’s marvelous ways in creation. Romans 11:33 reflects the same understanding. Verse 10 affirms God’s goodness in supplying rain and water. Jesus seems to draw on this verse in Matthew 5:45. Verse 11 declares God’s concern for the poor in spirit. Verses 12-13 describe the way God overcomes those who are wise in their own understanding. Paul draws from these verses in 1 Corinthians 1-3 and verse 13 is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:19. This hymn of praise to God comes to its climax in verses 15-16 where God’s salvation of the needy and hope for the poor overcome the devastation of injustice.
The final section of Eliphaz’s first speech is found in Job 5:17-27. Here he continues his advice for Job. He begins with a beatitude. Blessed is the man whom God reproves. Eliphaz appeals to the fatherhood of God. As father God disciplines and corrects those who stand in need of such correction. The appropriate (and blessed) response is to accept such discipline rather than rejecting it. In this Eliphaz echoes Proverbs 3:10-12 and Hebrews 12:5-11.
Verses 18-26 then list a series of blessings that one can count on from the hand of God. Verse 18 points out that while God disciplines he also brings healing. This verse echoes Deuteronomy 32:39 where God declares, "See now that I, even I, am he; there is not god beside me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand." Verse 19 uses the numerical patterns of some proverbs by speaking of six troubles and seven. Then a series of troubles are listed: famine, war, scourge of the tongue, and destruction. Eliphaz is confident that God graciously provides a way of escape and success.
Verses 24-26 then contain a series of promises available to the person who accepts God’s discipline. Security, plenty of children and grand children, and successful old age await Job if he will stop complaining and start accepting God’s punishment.
Eliphaz’s advice would be quite correct if his original assumption was true – that God was punishing Job for his sins. But the author has already told up repeatedly that Job has not sinned. What can we make of Eliphaz’s advice then? Perhaps it was inadvertent since Eliphaz was not present when the satan challenged Yahweh. But Eliphaz is suggesting to Job that God should be served for the blessings that he offers the righteous.
Job’s First Response to Eliphaz – Job 6-7
Job does not back down in the face of Eliphaz’s advice. He affirms that his complaint against God does not undermine his righteousness. He charges his friend with insensitivity and lack of insight. Since he is still keenly aware that he has not sinned none of Eliphaz’s remarks apply to him. As a result he continues his complaint against God.
Job begins his response by declaring the painful reality of his suffering in Job 6:1-7. He wishes for a huge scale or balance upon which he could place his pain so his friends could see how heavy the burden of his suffering was. He uses the same word, "vexation," that Eliphaz had used in Job 5:2. If such a scale were available his friends would understand his rash sounding words. Verse 3 allows Job to admit that his words were rash but the suffering he was enduring made them justifiable. Eliphaz had declared that vexation would kill a fool. Job responds that he is indeed vexed, but it is no fool.
Verse 4 repeats the complaint that God has turned against him. Poisonous arrows from God are sapping his spirit; the terrors of God are terrifying him. In such circumstances should his friends expect him meekly to accept God’s torment silently? In verse 5 Job appeals to nature. The ox and ass do not bellow when they have food. Their noise is a complaint when they have nothing to eat. The losses of his life have ruined Job’s appetite for life. Therefore his complaint is to be expected not criticized.
Job returns to the complaints of chapter 3 in job 6:8-13. Though he will not curse God and die, he asks God to curse him so he could die. If God would only strike him dead Job knows that he could die in the confidence that he had not sinned.
Verse 10 is a powerful testimony to Job’ confidence that he has not fallen short of God’s expectations for him. He specifically declares that he has not denied God’s words. The KJV most literally translates the Hebrew word as "concealed" but the modern versions correctly interpret Job’s meaning with the word "denied." He meant that he had not hidden God’s words by making them a private matter of relationship between himself and God. Rather Job had lived out the instructions and word of God publicly in his life. Put another way, Job was affirming that his life had not contradicted God’s words, but had exemplified them.
This is a moving and important testimony for several reasons. First, it is spiritually uplifting to see a person whose life embodies the will of God. All of us need to see human beings living out the will of God so that his will is not abstract theory but realistic and understandable life. Job’s testimony calls us to a life of integrity in which we can be an example of the way God intends life to be lived. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for us, Job shows us here that right relationship with God cannot be kept in the private dimensions of our lives. There is such an over emphasis on personal and individual relationship with God that faith is made a private matter. While it is personal, faith is not private if it is biblical faith. Biblical faith is persistently public. What one believes privately is of no interest to Biblical people unless it is demonstrated by the way one lives publicly.
In verses 11-13 Job again attempts to justify his complaint against God. He knows that he is not strong enough to bear such pain forever. There is nothing to be gained by suffering in silence from Job’s perspective. The end of his life is near; he must cry out to God.
The remainder of chapter 6, verses 14-30, contain Job’s accusation against his friends. The tone of these verses is less violently emotional and more reasoned. Job acknowledges that these are his friends and brothers. He begins by accusing them of failing to keep their obligations of friendship to him. But he concludes the section by inviting them to try again to instruct him.
Verse 14 begins the section with a powerful criticism. Job speaks of those who withhold kindness as the NRSV translates it. The word "kindness" ("pity" in the KJV and "devotion" in the NIV) translates the Hebrew word hesed. This word speaks of covenant loyalty and faithfulness. Job believes that friendship involves an actual covenant of mutual commitment and support. Failure to live up to that covenant of friendship is to abandon "the fear of the Almighty."
This expression is important for two reasons. First, it is another way of referring to the fear of the Lord, which the wisdom tradition defines as the source of wisdom. Thus failure to observe the covenant of friendship is to reject the wisdom taught in Proverbs. Second, Job specifically calls God the Almighty in this verse. Eliphaz had used the same name for God in Job 5:17. Job’s response to Eliphaz is that the fear of the Almighty is more important than the discipline of the Almighty.
In verses 15-17 accuse the friends of being unreliable. They are like run-off water in the desert. They wanted to be close friends when Job had plenty, but when life turned dry for him, they had nothing (no water) to offer. Using the water in the desert imagery Job continues in verses 18-20. Ancient caravans depended on certain oases or water holes, but when they arrive at a water hole and it is dry they panic as they look frantically for another.
Verse 21 makes the application. Job’s friends had all the answers they and he needed when life was going well for him. Their theology was adequate as long as the water held out. But when they came to him and found him so devastated their familiar answers went dry. Their words of comfort were no more to Job than the panicked repeating of old water hole formulas. Forcefully Job has declared that his friends do not understand his pain and they do not know what they are talking about.
But in Job 6:24-30 he opens the door for them to try again. Job invites his friends to teach him and promises that he will be silent long enough to listen. Verse 25 declares that honest words are powerful. This is an important truth. The Hebrew literally speaks of "straight" words. Words of integrity will be effective. Job was willing to submit his life and his words to examination in the confidence that straight talk will lead to the truth. In verse 28 he appeals to his friends to look him in the eye and he promises an honest response to them.
Chapter 7 changes directions. Job is no longer responding to Eliphaz and his friends. Rather, he renews his complaint against God. All 21 verses are part of the lament form (see Patterns for Life: Lament). Hartley (p. 142) comments that the fact that Job begins to speak realistically of his pain in this chapter instead of simply cursing the day of his birth as he did in chapter 3 shows that he is beginning to cope with the reality of his pain. This is the first step toward making peace with God over the losses he has sustained.
The first six verses describe the great pain of Job. He laments the hard life that all human beings suffer and then graphically describes the worms, scabs, crusts, and oozing that accompanied the disease afflicting his body. In verses 7-10 Job asks God to remember his frail condition. He is convinced he is about to die – to descend to Sheol as verse 9 puts it. Job was sure that God did not realize how far gone he was. He is also sure that if God would only understand how precarious his condition was that he (God) would respond in compassion. These verses reveal Job’s continuing confidence in God’s goodness.
Verses 11-16 return to the lament. Since God has treated him so badly Job must respond forcefully. He will not keep silent nor restrain himself from words others might consider disrespectful. They are not the ones suffering. Finally, Job concludes his speech in verses 17-21 with a plea for God to come to his rescue before it is too late.
Bildad’s First Speech – Job 8:1-22
Job 7 echoed many of the themes of Job 3 and so a friend speaks to correct Job’s foolish words. As was true of Eliphaz, we know nothing historically about Bildad. He is simply the second speaker in each of the cycles. This implies that he had lower status than Eliphaz and the author of Job presents him as less eloquent also. Bildad, however, is more direct. He plainly compares Job’s words to "wind" in Job 8:2. Verses 4-7 bluntly speak of Job’s children and Job himself. Bildad does not speak in generalities. If Job’s children sinned, that sin was fatal to them. If Job were pure then God would restore him. Bildad is sure that God is just and that the universe runs like clock-work in the carrying out of God’s justice.
Job 8:8-19 provide Bildad’s evidence for God’s justice. Verses 8-10 appeal to tradition and experience. Everyone who has ever dealt with God experienced his justice. The fathers of the faith can teach us that. Verses 11-19 provide a series of illustrations from nature that argue the justice of God. Papyrus, reeds, spider webs, root systems, and rocks provide Bildad with examples of his basic premise. Those who sin will be punished severely.
Verses 20-22 state the other side of the coin in Bildad’s mind. If those who sin are punished, then God will not punish a person of integrity or a blameless person. If Job is as innocent as he claims God will soon restore to him joy and laughter. Wickedness will be shamed and righteousness will be vindicated.
Bildad is painful reminder of a certain kind of religious person. Hartley (p. 164) describes him as "a prisoner of tradition." His theology is set; he knows all the answers. Job’s experience must be forced into Bildad’s theology. There is no room to learn from Job’s experience. The only thing Bildad does not know is whether Job is guilty or not. So he must wait and see. The tragedy is that his concern is Job’s guilt, not Job’s pain. He is more concerned to be proved right than to really bring comfort.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through his word. Ask the Holy Spirit to make the word come alive to you for that day.
First Day: Read the notes on Job 4:1-8:22. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new thoughts that were important to you in this lesson. Why were they important?
2. Select one or two spiritual insights that apply to your own life. How is the Holy Spirit applying them in your life?
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to make you more sensitive to the suffering of others than you are to the question of whether they are right or wrong.
Second Day: Read Job 9:1-10:22. Now focus attention on Job 9:1-35.
1. Job describes God’s greatness in creation in verses 4-10. Using your own words and aspects of nature that are most impressive to you, offer to God a paraphrase of Job’s point in these verses using your own illustrations.
2. What points does Job make about God in verses 13-24 that seem important to you. Why are those points so important for a right understanding of God?
3. The NRSV translates verse 33, "there is no umpire between us." In Colossians 3:15 Paul calls on believers to let the peace of Christ act as umpire in our hearts. Had Job lived after the coming of Christ, how do you think the peace of Christ might have helped him face the sufferings of his life?
Third Day: Read Job 9:1-10:22. Focus your attention on Job 10:1-22.
1. In verses 1-10 Job cries out that God is trying to destroy him. Have you ever felt that God had turned away from you? Based on your experience or on Psalm 22 describe how Job must have felt.
2. Verse 12 affirms God’s gift of life and covenant loyalty. Write a prayer of thanksgiving to God mentioning the good things he has granted you. How does thanksgiving affect your sense of hope?
3. In verse 14 Job asks God to hold him accountable for any sin in his life and verse 15 pronounces woe on him if he is guilty. Write a brief prayer asking God to examine your heart and to hold you accountable for your obedience and disobedience to him. Confess any sin that he might reveal to you.
Fourth Day: Read Job 11:1-12:25. Focus in on Job 11:1-20.
1. Zophar tells Job in verse 6 that God is punishing Job less than Job’s guilt deserves. In other words, Job should be suffering worse than he is. Do you agree with Zophar or disagree? Why?
2. Compare Zophar’s comments in verses 7-12 with I Corinthians 2:6-13. How does one discover the deep things of God? Do you want to know those deep things of God? Why or why not?
3. What promises of God does Zophar speak in verses 13-19. Which of them especially speak words of comfort to you? Why?
Fifth Day: Read Job 12:1-13:28. Focus your attention on Job 12:1-25.
1. Why do you think Job described himself as a laughingstock to his friends? Was he correct or was he overreacting?
2. What is Job’s point about God in verses 14-16? How could you re-state his point in your own words? Does this view of God make you comfortable or uncomfortable? Why?
3. In verses 17-25 Job describes God as one who turns around or reverses the way we perceive reality. What are some of the significant reversals of so-called reality that we find in Christ and the New Testament?
Sixth Day: Read Job 12:1-14:22. Now focus in on Job 13:1-28.
1. Why does Job want to speak directly to God instead of with his friends? What are the reasons that would cause you to want to speak with God more than with your friends? What conclusions about your prayer life can you draw from your answer above?
2. Why does Job tell his friends that silence would be a demonstration of wisdom from them? When is silence golden and when is it yellow? What do Job and his friends teach you about comfort?
3. In verse 20 Job asks that God grant him two things, which are then listed in verses 21-22. If you were to ask God for just two things what would they be? Why would you choose those two things from God?