Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself?
In this last “at-bat”, Eliphaz apparently decides to let Job have it with both barrels . This question seems to imply that Job believed human goodness could impress God:
[Is it] any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or [is it] gain [to him], that thou makest thy ways perfect? Will he reprove thee for fear of thee? will he enter with thee into judgment?
On the one hand, I have trouble seeing what Job might have said to provoke this. On the other, I actually think this is perhaps Eliphaz’s most valid and insightful complaint. I do think Job is feeling that his rigorous obedience to the law gave him some protection, or at least the right to call on God. The former clearly wasn’t the case, but the latter still might be. If Eliphaz pursues this line of inquiry, he might actually connect with Job’s emotions and help them both reach a deeper level of understanding.
Alas, the questions are merely rhetorical, and he just uses this to launch into a tirade against Job:
[Is] not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite?
I don’t know whether Eliphaz:
a) had always considered Job evil (ra`)
b) assumed Job was guilty (`avon) when he saw the misery that befell him
c) became suspicious when Job refused to heed his advice.
I’d like to think it was (c), and that Eliphaz was a true friend who had tried to give Job the benefit of the doubt, but had finally reached the end of his rope. He appears to have been confused by Job’ earlier comments:
And thou sayest, How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud?
I actually think Job’s point was the opposite: that God does see, and yet does nothing.
Yet he filled their houses with good [things]: but the counsel of the wicked is far from me.
Perhaps it was a common idiom back then, but I still find it ironic that Eliphaz repeats Job in claiming the council of the wicked is far (`etsah rasha` rachaq) from him. At any rate, this certainly explains Eliphaz’s recommendation:
If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles.
Well, not quite. First, Job reiterates his desire to see God, though as far as I can tell he doesn’t assert his right to do so:
Oh that I knew where I might find him! [that] I might come [even] to his seat!
He also seems to feel that God would be more sympathetic than his current friends:
Will he plead against me with [his] great power? No; but he would put [strength] in me.
There the righteous might dispute with him; so should I be delivered for ever from my judge.
But he knoweth the way that I take: [when] he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined.
Job — contrary to what his friends claim — does seems to believe that God is just, and all-knowing, and all-powerful. Yet, if I had to reduce it to one word, Job does not consider God “sympathetic.” He doesn’t see God understanding Job’s suffering. Like a hard but wise tyrant, Job’s God appears a cold distant monarch, aware of yet untroubled by the sufferings of his subject. At least, that is how it looks to me.
Why, seeing times are not hidden from the Almighty, do they that know him not see his days?
The idea here seems to be “times alloted” (`eth tsaphan), what the NIV refers to as “times of judgment .” As I understand it, kings of old would set aside regular days to hear petitions directly from the ordinary people, that they might learn of — and address — injustice in the land. Why doesn’t God do that?
Men groan from out of the city, and the soul of the wounded crieth out: yet God layeth not folly [to them].
Job laments that the wicked seem to prosper, and God does nothing. Yet, Job appears to reverse his perspective at the end:
Drought and heat consume the snow waters: [so doth] the grave [those which] have sinned.
He draweth also the mighty with his power: he riseth up, and no [man] is sure of life.
So, what’s going on? Which is it, Job? Does God punish the wicked, or doesn’t he? Can’t you make up your mind?!?
Or maybe that’s the point. Maybe Job is trying to tell us, to show us, that our human categories and absolutes just don’t, or can’t, capture all of whom God is. Do justice to him, if you will.
It is tempting to say “sometimes the wicked prosper, and sometimes God judges.” Yet even that doesn’t seem to do justice to Job. He seems to be saying, “Yes, the wicked prosper, but yes, God judges.” Both are completely true, though at different levels. Or something like that, in a Zen sort of way.
I wonder if that might be a better way to look at Job — as a sort of koan or puzzle, rather than a traditional Western debate. Certainly Job and Eliphaz don’t appear to providing arguments and rebuttals in any conventional sense. Rather they are citing examples, which serve mostly to demonstrate falsity than to affirm truth, in a semi-Socratic way. Maybe the reason Job is hard to understand is that we are trying to understand in the wrong way. Or, as C.S. Lewis might say, the reason Job can’t meet God face-to-face is that Job doesn’t yet have a face .
God, I just want to confess my smallness and finitude. I don’t understand you; I don’t even understand Job. Teach me humility, that I never fall into the trap of judging based on my limited understanding, as Eliphaz does. Yet, give me the courage of Job to affirm the truth as best I understand it, no matter how contradictory it is. Or I become. Perhaps there are many facts which can never be understood, but are still useful to lead us to worship. Lord, I worship you this Sunday, and bow my knee before you. You are good, and your mercy endures forever. May I find grace to shelter beneath the shadow of your wings. Amen.