Job 15-21

Frank Binford Hole

The second speech of Eliphaz is recorded in Job 15, and in it we can detect an increased tone of severity. The friends had come intending to comfort, but their efforts in that direction soon got diverted into argument; their tempers rose and bitterness spoiled their spirits, as each argued to establish his own point of view. How often through the centuries has this tragedy, ending in dissension and division, marred the testimony of God-fearing folk, even down to our own day.

This discourse of Eliphaz is short for he felt that he was a wise man reasoning with unprofitable talk, and listening to speeches that were of no worth. Job, he considered was casting off fear; or as another version has it, making "piety of none effect," and thus restraining prayer. In his view piety had the profitable effect of bringing upon one the favour of God, expressed in earthly prosperity. If it did not, where then was the practical gain of piety? Therefore the terrible afflictions of Job could only have one explanation, so he thought, though Job so insisted on maintaining his integrity.

This idea of Eliphaz and his friends is a very common one. It was to be found when Paul wrote his First Epistle to Timothy in very much worse form than in the days of Job, for he speaks of "men of corrupt minds" who indulge in "perverse disputings," because they suppose that "gain is godliness" (1 Tim. 6: 6). The New Translation slightly paraphrases it as, "holding gain to be the end of piety." Now this was pretty much the opinion of Eliphaz, and there are not a few people today who would agree with him. They would say, What is the use of being pious if it does not guarantee things of profit in this life? Ideas of that sort were less to be blamed in the days of Job, since things of eternity and heaven were then but dimly known.

Eliphaz now denounced Job in vigorous terms and rather unjustly, as we see in verse 6. To him Job's arguments were crafty and self-condemnatory. He met them by a series of six questions, recorded in verses 7-9, all of them having the sting of sarcasm in them. In verse 10, he claimed that the position, advanced by himself and his friends, had the sanction and support of very aged and venerable men. No doubt it was so. The three friends of Job were advancing the idea generally held, based perhaps on God's deliverance of Noah and his family when the flood came. Then the godly were favoured and the wicked destroyed, and thus, they felt, it must always be.

Further questions follow in verses 11-16. His assertions as to the holiness of God are quite right. The lower heavens, defiled by the presence of Satan, are indeed "not clean in His sight." His assertions as to the filthiness of man are equally true; but the inference that Job must be guilty of secret evils, which he "winked at" instead of acknowledging, were wide of the mark.

From verse 17 to the end of the chapter we find a vivid description of the governmental judgment of God against the wicked. He assured Job that he had actually seen God acting in this way. It was the fruit of his own observation that he declared; and as he closed he did not fail to make further indirect charges against Job, speaking of men who were "deceived," of "hypocrites," of "tabernacles of bribery," and of "deceit."

This moved Job to the reply recorded in Job 16 and 17. We can all sympathize with his opening words. His friends had been simply repeating the same basic idea in a variety of ways; namely, that the disasters that had overwhelmed him could have but one explanation. He must have been a hypocrite with evils lying beneath his pious exterior. If this was the comfort they had to offer him, it was of a very miserable kind. He told them at once that if the position were reversed and he visited them in their disasters, he could speak as they had spoken but he would not, but rather aim at assuaging their grief.

But it is noticeable that, after his opening reply to Eliphaz, Job's words passed into prayer and complaint, poured into the ear of God. It looks as if verses 9, 10 and 11 are a reference to what he had suffered by the speeches of his friends, and if so, even this he took as chastisement from the hands of God as well as all the losses and disaster that had come upon him. That he did take it all from the hands of God was indeed good, but we still perceive that note of self-righteousness and self-vindication marring his prayer, especially in verse 17. This being so, his prayer did pass into a complaint that he was being hardly dealt with by God, and this especially because he felt he could speak of God as being on high the Witness to his integrity, even though his friends scorned him.

The opening words of verse 21 have been translated, "Oh that there were arbitration for a man with God!" Thus his mind reverted to his desire for the "Daysman," recorded at the end of Job 9. A man might plead for his neighbour or friend but he felt there was no one to step in between God and himself, and he could only anticipate a short time before his end. His breath was corrupt and the grave ready for him, as he stated in the first verse of Job 17. We have probably but little conception of the state of extreme and prolonged bodily corruption and misery that he had been enduring.

Yet some further insight as to it is granted to us in Job 17. So extreme was it that the statements of his friends seemed to him but mockery. Among the people generally he had become a "byword," or a "proverb," and the second clause of that 6th verse is elsewhere translated, "I am become one to be spit on in the face." This however would astonish upright men, and Job seems to turn the tables on his critics by inferring that they might prove to be the hypocrites, whilst the righteous would hold on his way, and the one who had the clean hands would increase in strength. As for these "friends," there was not one wise man among them.

The closing words of this speech of Job are a very mournful complaint as to the hopelessness of his outlook. As to his poor body, only corruption and the worm were before him, when his soul would be in the unseen world. The word translated "grave" in verse 13, and that translated "pit" in verse 16, is the Hebrew, sheol, the equivalent of the Greek, hades, used in the New Testament. This pathetic lament might well have touched the hearts of his friends.

Yet Bildad begins his second speech, recorded in Job 18, on a very harsh note. Job certainly had not yet come to the end of himself, and in his friends' arguments there was nothing to cause him to "make an end of words." The second part of verse 2 has been translated, "Be intelligent, and then we will speak." He evidently regarded Job's repudiation of their position and the assertions they advanced, as degrading to themselves as though they had been beasts, and so he indulged in an insulting repartee. All four men who feared God, Job especially so, but see how the spirit animating their words had deteriorated!

And let us learn a serious lesson from this. There have been innumerable discussions among Christians, developing into controversies, and ending in recrimination. Such is the flesh in every one of us. Even Paul and Barnabas were not exempt, as Acts 15: 39 shows. So, let us be warned.

The rest of Bildad's speech follows the pattern that the friends had established. In a variety of ways, displaying a mind very fertile in its observation and in its use of figures, he reiterated the main theme; that God always judges and destroys the wicked. The inference being, of course, that Job must be after all a wicked man.

Job 19. Job's reply to these rather cruel words was on an altogether higher level. They were indeed vexing him with words, and breaking him in pieces, but he did not claim to be perfect-far from it, as we saw in Job 9. Here, in verse 4, he admits to erring, but he claimed that his errors had only affected himself and not other people. What had befallen him he took from the hand of God, as verse 6 shows, yet he felt that His dealings were unnecessarily severe.

So, in verses 7-20, we have a graphic description of the miseries he was enduring. He complained that God had stripped him, fenced up his way, destroyed him on every side, kindled His wrath against him as though he was one of His enemies. As a result of this, he was an object of contempt and forsaken by all. Even his servants and his wife would have nothing to do with him. The words with which he closed this description of his sorrows in verse 20, alluding to his physical state, have passed into a proverbial saying amongst us.

Having thus spoken, he appealed to his friends for pity rather than argument and reproach, which almost amounted to persecution. It was the hand of God that had touched him-God, who was more merciful than they. Hence he longed that his words might be preserved in a book, or even permanently be engraved upon the rock, as was a custom in those days on the part of kings and great men. Such rock records have been discovered and deciphered, yet his desire was granted in a more wonderful way than he imagined; for they have been recorded in the inspired Scriptures, which out-live and out-distance all else.

But why did he desire this? It was because he knew that his Redeemer was the living One, and that as "the Last," He would stand upon the earth. The New Translation renders it thus, as being really a name of God, referring us to Isaiah 48: 12. Thus again, and quite clearly, did Job reveal that he knew that death was not the end of everything for man, and that he expected a resurrection which would touch his body. What was not then revealed was that state of incorruption into which resurrection introduces us, for life and incorruptibility came to light by the Gospel, as 2 Timothy 1: 10, rightly translated, reads.

Though truth has been progressively revealed, certain great facts of a prophetic sort came to light in very early days. There was, for instance, the prophecy of Enoch, uttered before the flood, though not put on record in Scripture until the last epistle of the New Testament. Without a doubt Job would have known this prediction of Enoch, and it is remarkable that nothing he says here is out of harmony with what is revealed in later ages. When the glorious Christ raises the saints, Job amongst them, he will indeed "see God," and see Him, as he said, "in my flesh," though he did not know he would be raised with a spiritual body like unto the resurrection body of our Lord.

Job's discourse in this chapter ends with a warning to his friends. He claimed that "the root of the matter" was found in himself, and that the judgment of God is impartial, so that they themselves should be afraid of it.

This moved Zophar to speak once more, and this time he revealed quite clearly the base on which his argument rested. He said, "Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer;" and again, "the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer." Eliphaz had based his remarks mainly upon what he had seen, and Bildad mainly upon what he had heard, handed down from times of old. Zophar based his words upon what he had arrived at in his own inward cogitations, and he was not in the least behind the others in self-confident dogmatism, indeed, he seems to have excelled them.

In 1 Corinthians 2: 9, the Apostle Paul refers to Isaiah 64: 4, and he shows that the things of God are only known by us as the fruit of revelation. In this connection he mentions the three faculties by which mankind obtains its knowledge of things and affairs in this world. The eye sees them; the ear hears them; they enter into the heart by an intuitive process. But for the things of God we need another faculty-that which springs from the Spirit of God.

Now it is very striking that, as we have seen, Eliphaz relied upon his powers of observation, and Bildad upon tradition from ancient days. Zophar now came in, very sure that his powers of intuition in this matter must be correct and beyond contradiction. All three were wrong, and it was not until there was a revelation of the power and wisdom of God, in the later chapters of the book, that the truth of the situation came out with clearness. We are provided with an interesting illustration of what Paul lays down in 1 Corinthians 2.

As in the other cases so here, a number of true things are stated. It is certainly a fact that, "the triumphing of the wicked is short," and "the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment." What was not true was the application made of the fact, as supplying the explanation of all Job's sorrows. The "pleasures of sin" are only "for a season," as we read in Hebrews 11, but it is also a fact that saints may be "for a season" involved in "heaviness through manifold temptations," as we read in 1 Peter 1. Now the thought of a godly man being under severe trial and sorrow for a season never seems to have entered the minds of the three friends. They assumed that Job was getting what all along he had deserved.

Zophar claimed that what he intuitively knew was supported by what had taken place from "of old, since man was placed upon earth." Reading Job 20 we can see how underlying his statements, as to various acts of wickedness, was the insinuation that Job had been guilty of them. He it was who had laboured to swallow down the substance of others, to oppress the poor; who had violently taken away a house which he had not built, and so on. The fact is that the man who bases his argument on his own intuition is always very dogmatic and cocksure. He has to be, to make up for the lack of outward evidence, which would corroborate his assertions.

His final conclusion was that heaven was revealing Job's iniquity, and the earth was rising up against him, and all this was appointed to him from God.

Job's reply is chronicled in Job 21, and a trenchant one it proved to be. Naturally he was provoked to retaliate with equal dogmatism, and to begin on a note of sarcasm. Verse 2 has been translated, "Hear attentively my speech, and let this replace your consolations." Summing up the speeches of the three friends as "consolations," was of course a piece of sarcasm. How he really viewed their words is plain at the end of the next verse, when he told them that after he had spoken they might "mock on!" He fully realized the force of their words, implying that he must have been guilty of grievous unrighteousness and sin, while all the time outwardly appearing to be a man of great piety.

His first point is this: his complaint was not to man but to God. Had it been to man, well might his spirit have been troubled, or "impatient." He reminded them that it was with God both he and they had to do. In view of this fact, and marking God's dealings with him, they might well lay their hands upon their mouths and cease to condemn him. For himself he was afraid and trembled in the remembrance of it.

Commencing with verse 5, we find the counter-assertions to which he committed himself. It was not the case, he affirmed, that the wicked were always overwhelmed with disaster. On the contrary, they often lived, became old, mighty in power and prosperous, with their seed established in their sight. They had times of merriment and pleasure and at the end had no long drawn out misery such as he was enduring, but "in a moment go down to the grave [or, Sheol]." And all the time their attitude to God was, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways."

Let us note two things. First, Job here correctly diagnosed the attitude of the natural man to God, about two thousand years before Paul was inspired to write his Epistle to the Romans. There, in the first chapter, we read that men, "when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful;" and again that, "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge." This is the tremendous fact that we have to face. Sin has so completely alienated man from God that he has not the least desire for Him. "There is none that seeketh after God," as Romans 3 states.

Job's statements in verses 14 and 15, agree with this, and they explain the state of heathenism and barbarism into which men sank at an early stage of the world's history-a state that has persisted to our own days. In earliest ages men had some knowledge of God, from which they wilfully departed.

And it is obvious that if men have to do with God, they will have to serve Him. So, in the second place, they view the whole matter from the standpoint of earthly profit. This is just what multitudes do today, when they ask, What is the good of being religious; what do we get out of it? They are but echoing the words we have here, "What profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?" We know that, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4: 8). But that kind of profit the world has no eyes to see.

In the rest of the chapter Job speaks of the end of those who aim at shutting God out of their thoughts and lives. Ultimately disaster comes upon them and their "candle" is put out. Some may die in apparent ease and prosperity and others in bitterness; but into the dust and among the worms all of them go. In saying these things Job seems to be agreeing with what Psalm 73 tells us, as a matter of the writer's experience. The wicked may depart from God and appear to prosper, for their judgment from God lies beyond this life.

So once more Job counters the arguments of his friends, declaring that he found falsehood in them. Consequently, though they had come to comfort him, he found that the "comfort" that they had offered was empty and vain.

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