Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
Now begins the great cycle of dialogues which make up the bulk of this book. The eloquence and imagery are astounding — but I will for the most part ignore them in an attempt to understand the characters and their motivations. Take Eliphaz (‘Eilyphaz). The lexicon translates that as “my God is (fine) gold”, from god (‘el ) and refined/pure gold (paz) — from pazaz, refine. And his speech certainly emphasizes God as pure and as refiner:
Remember, I pray thee, who [ever] perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off? Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.
This seems to me the gist of his argument: the evil suffer, the righteous do not. Or, more actively, God punishes the wicked, always and only. He emphasizes that with a dramatic ghost story, saying:
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?
That much seems plausible, if a bit harsh. But what is he saying? If God punishes the wicked, but all are wicked, what’s the point? Or is he rather inveighing against Job’s whininess? If so, what alternative does he propose:
I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause:
Eliphaz seems to be saying if i were in your shoes, I wouldn’t complain about the injustice of it all, I would simply ask God to stop it, because:
But he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor hath hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth.
So what attitude is he commending Job?
Behold, happy [is] the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.
Ouch! He’s gone from shaky theology to rude psychology. Be happy (‘esher), from ‘walk straight’ (‘ashar). Pull your chin up, Job, don’t despair or despise (ma’ac) what is happening to you. The Almighty (Shadday) who chastened you (muwcar) is sore-binding (ka’ab chabash ) and wound-hand-healing (machats yad rapha’).
He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.
I have to admit, I find Eliphaz disturbing. One might say he paints an idealized picture of God. A God who punishes evil, and rewards the good. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that how God describes Himself? Isn’t that one of the main reasons we worship Him?
Yet, somehow, those lofty beliefs lead to the wrong behavior. His attitude is condescending, unsympathetic. Don’t complain, just ask God for deliverance (natsal). Totally de-validating of Job’s struggles. What’s going on?
I am reminded of my wife’s quest for healthier eating (for which I am profoundly grateful, I should add). A big part of that is the use of less-refined items. Whole wheat instead of white bread. Brown rice vs. polished. Whole fruits instead of fruit juice. Potatoes with the peel. Why? The unrefined food is often less palatable, coarser, and sometimes more effort to prepare, eat, and digest.
Why? Because its healthier. Because the refining process makes it easier for us to manage, but at a price: the loss of vital nutrients. The “brownness” which seems an annoying little detail is actually most of the benefit. The fiber to cleanse our systems, or the vitamins to strengthen our body. If we try to refine everything into its purest, simplest form we end up throwing out most of what’s good.
I think that is Eliphaz’s problem. He’s focused on a particular attribute of God, and milled away everything incompatible with that. Thus, he has a nice, clean, simple, logical — and wrong — answer for everything.
Ouch. I resemble that remark. Lord, be merciful to me, a fool.
God, forgive me for reshaping you in my image. For seeing you as I want you to be, and trying to put you into a form compatible with my human imagining. For throwing away those parts of you I find unpalatable. Have mercy on me, O my God. Help me to see you as you are, and experience your fullness. Grant me patience and humility when dealing with those whom I feel see you not, lest I fall into the trap of Eliphaz. Let me always be compassionate and gentle with those who are suffering, that I may receive comfort even as I comfort others. May you refine me, but let me not refine you. Amen.