Then answered Eliphaz the Temanite, and said,
Three up, three down, and so begins the second inning. I love Job’s plaintive wail as translated by the NIV:
“Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing?” Don’t these guys ever get tired of repeating themselves? At least today’s section marks the halfway point in the three-on-one debate, so the end is in sight.
Having said, there are a few salient points that struck my eye. Eliphaz opens with a new charge:
Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God.
Rather than arguing about Job’s initial suffering, they’ve now switched to arguing about his argument (I hate it when that happens). Understandably — especially given Eliphaz’s refined view of God — he sees Job as promoting impiety, by de-motivating fear (parar yir’ah) and discouraging devotion (gara` siychah). Shades of Socrates!
Is Eliphaz right? Well, at face value his attack certainly seems plausible: if God punishes the righteous as well as the wicked, why bother being good? Sure, there’s plenty of fear, but not such as to motivate reverence or holiness.
Yet, somehow there’s more going on, and it is rather insidious. Eliphaz is wedded to a particular view of God, and anything which attacks that is by definition evil. But, how we do that his is the right view of God? Well, he tells us:
With us [are] both the grayheaded and very aged men, much elder than thy father.
Tradition! Who are you, Job, to disagree with the gray (siyb) and the aged (yashiysh)? While the critique sounds quaint to modern ears, it is still a valid point: why should we believe one man rather than hundreds? Tradition is just democracy of the dead, after all.
Yet, even democracy can be wrong. A beautiful consensus theory can still be slain by an ugly fact. For Job, the two critical facts are (a), God has turned against him:
God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked.
and (b), he has done nothing to deserve it:
Not for [any] injustice in mine hands: also my prayer [is] pure.
Strong words! I suspect its critics and defenders alike rarely reflect on how subversive the Bible really is. Job acutely feels his dilemma; no wonder he wishes for an advocate (yakach again, a prominent word in Job):
O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man [pleadeth] for his neighbour!
Yet, Job still see his interpretation of the situation promoting piety, rather than impiety:
Upright [men] shall be astonied at this, and the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite. The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.
That’s seem a bit incredible under the circumstances; of course, looking back with four thousand years of context, Job appears to have been borne out: his story still has the power to stun (shamem) yet strengthen (‘omets) the upright (yashar). Why? And how does he justify that statement?
Well, he doesn’t, at least not here, as far as I can tell. But again, we get a hint that there is more going on than meets the eye.
Which reminds me, I was really struck by a phrase at the beginning of this speech, which I passed over then:
I have heard many such things: miserable comforters [are] ye all.
[But] I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should asswage [your grief].
Job makes no secret of his contempt for his so-called comforters (nacham). Yet he goes beyond that to claim that the right response — the one he would make — is to encourage (‘amats) and spare (chasak).
I wonder if there’s a connection. Job apparently interprets his situation, not as a sign of God’s punishment, but as something that should a) call forth sympathy, and b) strengthen other’s resolve to do good. Why? Sure, emotionally we feel sorry for Job; but how can we encourage Him if he’s a recipient of God’s wrath? Or, is there another way of looking at it?
Hmm. And Hmm again.
God, save me from being a miserable comforter. Deliver me from rigid ideas of you that make me insensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Grant me the honesty to face the ugly facts of life, but also the hope and strength to turn that into comfort. Thank you that I have an advocate, that I need never feel alone and abandoned. In Jesus name, Amen.