Job 05 – Virtue Signalling with Eliphaz

Go through life like a dog: If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.

“Call if you will, but who will answer you?
    To which of the holy ones will you turn?
Resentment kills a fool,
    and envy slays the simple.
I myself have seen a fool taking root,
    but suddenly his house was cursed.
His children are far from safety,
    crushed in court without a defender.
The hungry consume his harvest,
    taking it even from among thorns,
    and the thirsty pant after his wealth.
For hardship does not spring from the soil,
    nor does trouble sprout from the ground.
Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

“But if I were you, I would appeal to God;
    I would lay my cause before him.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
    miracles that cannot be counted.
10 He provides rain for the earth;
    he sends water on the countryside.
11 The lowly he sets on high,
    and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
12 He thwarts the plans of the crafty,
    so that their hands achieve no success.
13 He catches the wise in their craftiness,
    and the schemes of the wily are swept away.
14 Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;
    at noon they grope as in the night.
15 He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;
    he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.
16 So the poor have hope,
    and injustice shuts its mouth.

17 “Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
    so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.[a]
18 For he wounds, but he also binds up;
    he injures, but his hands also heal.
19 From six calamities he will rescue you;
    in seven no harm will touch you.
20 In famine he will deliver you from death,
    and in battle from the stroke of the sword.
21 You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,
    and need not fear when destruction comes.
22 You will laugh at destruction and famine,
    and need not fear the wild animals.
23 For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,
    and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
24 You will know that your tent is secure;
    you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.
25 You will know that your children will be many,
    and your descendants like the grass of the earth.
26 You will come to the grave in full vigor,
    like sheaves gathered in season.

27 “We have examined this, and it is true.
    So hear it and apply it to yourself.”

It looks like there’s a lot of wisdom here, right? As my NIV text notes so wonderfully put it, “The problem is not so much with what the friends knew but with what they did not know.”   Poor Eliphaz is being made to look quite the pompous fool, a little reminiscent of Hamlet’s Polonius.  Polonius is the character with the famous one-liner “to thine own self be true,” which is, indeed, great advice.  He’s also a scheming, overbearing windbag and generally crap father.  Basically, Polonius was virtue signalling, and Eliphaz is kind of doing the same thing.

What I love about this passage though is that Eliphaz doesn’t even know how right he is.  God will indeed save Job from seven calamities (a figurative number just meaning “a lot” not necessarily seven exactly), his property and health will be restored, and his children will, indeed, be many.  Even his parables are spot on without realizing it.  Eliphaz talks about his a fool’s children being “crushed in court without a defender.”  (v. 4)  Well, with Satan as “the Accuser” in the heavenly court, that is basically what happened to Job’s children.  The only difference is that Job isn’t a fool, and has God as his defender.  And through all his long laments in this chapter, Job is “laying his cause before Him,” as Eliphaz counsels him to in v. 8.  If Eliphaz weren’t so busy pontificating then maybe he could see that Job is already doing exactly what he said to do.

One of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve received from my MIL is, “go through life like a dog: if you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.”  It’s silly on the surface, but good advice at it’s core – kind of the opposite of Eliphaz self-righteous “if it were I” talk of this first speech.  And that, I think, it what we can learn from this little Biblical episode:  We are going to come across trying people.  But, as Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata says, “even the dull and ignorant, they too have their stories.”  Let us glean what truths and good we can from people, even if we aren’t in full agreement with them.  I know it’s not always easy, but we don’t have to take their foolishness to heart.  In fact, in the next chapter Job is about to call Eliphaz out on his bullshit.  So yes, listen to what people have to say, but then weigh it against your own life, your own conscious; talk it over with God.  If it doesn’t hold water, then leave it.  You’ll be better off.

Job 04 – Things Get Complicated

Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied:

“If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?
    But who can keep from speaking?
Think how you have instructed many,
    how you have strengthened feeble hands.
Your words have supported those who stumbled;
    you have strengthened faltering knees.
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
    it strikes you, and you are dismayed.
Should not your piety be your confidence
    and your blameless ways your hope?

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
At the breath of God they perish;
    at the blast of his anger they are no more.
10 The lions may roar and growl,
    yet the teeth of the great lions are broken.
11 The lion perishes for lack of prey,
    and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.

12 “A word was secretly brought to me,
    my ears caught a whisper of it.
13 Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people,
14 fear and trembling seized me
    and made all my bones shake.
15 A spirit glided past my face,
    and the hair on my body stood on end.
16 It stopped,
    but I could not tell what it was.
A form stood before my eyes,
    and I heard a hushed voice:
17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
    Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?
18 If God places no trust in his servants,
    if he charges his angels with error,
19 how much more those who live in houses of clay,
    whose foundations are in the dust,
    who are crushed more readily than a moth!
20 Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces;
    unnoticed, they perish forever.
21 Are not the cords of their tent pulled up,
    so that they die without wisdom?’

I have a feeling that I may have alternating short and long blog posts through the book of Job, as some of Job and his friends’ speeches last for more than one chapter – example A right here. Eliphaz only speaks the first part of his speech in this chapter, the rest comes in chapter five, which I will read for Sunday, and hopefully will have a better grasp of this first exchange.  But, I can share a few interesting things I’ve learned in reading and reading about this text so far:

Remember how I said that Job is apparently very hard to translate?  Well, we’re getting into that here.  One article I found on Jstor focuses, for ten pages, solely on the opening question of 4:2: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking?”  In the original text, this sentence is grammatical gibberish, stretching even the artifice of poetry in its composition.  Or at least, so I am told, I definitely don’t read Hebrew.  Depending upon your interpretation, Eliphaz is either trying to gently moderate the tone of the conversation to follow, being solicitous as possible of a suffering Job and reminding Bildad and Zophar to do the same; or, Eliphaz is saying he is simply unable to keep from speaking anymore, and can’t help but disregard Job’s weariness in order to share his own counsel.  Depending how we interpret it really changes how we view Eliphaz and his character, wouldn’t you agree? (All of this from “A Friend’s First Words in Job 4:2” by Aron Pinker in the 2013 edition of Vetus Testamentum.)

Then there is the tantalizing passage of Eliphaz’s vision, in vv. 12-21.  At first blush it looks like a vision from God, but after pondering it for a moment I thought perhaps it was a false vision sent by Satan to help ensure Job’s friends would provide false or unhelpful counsel.  But then, Jstor threw even another possibility out:  Eliphaz may not have had the vision at all, but it quoting a vision of Job’s.  We already know that Job can get no rest, but later we learn more specifically he has been having nightmares and visions.  The break between chapter 4, which ends with this vision, and chapter 5, which starts with Eliphaz asking, “Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” (Job 5:1), leads some to believe that vv. 4:12-21 are Eliphaz quoting Job’s vision back at him. With difficulties in translations and apparently several different ways for ancient Hebrew to render quotations, this vision not even belonging ot Eliphaz is a possibility.  (all of this from “Job IV 12-21: Is It Eliphaz’s Vision?” by Gary Smith, in the 1990 edition of Vetus Testamentum – can you tell that’s my favorite OT study guide yet???)

Finally, the Book of Job is a very “self-aware” text, if you will – or it plays to the audience.  Again, I’m jumping ahead for the best example:  Eliphaz says to Job in 15:8, “Do you listen to God’s council?”  Of course Job hasn’t, but if this were a Shakespeare play the actor playing Eliphaz would at least wink at the audience, if not turn fully towards them to address this question.  I’m working my way through a fascinating essay about Job, about it’s use of dramatic irony (see the above example), and double-edged words.  (“Whose Job is this? Dramatic Irony and Double Entendre” by Naphtali Meshel, from the collection Book of Job: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Hermeneutics published in 2015, also available on Jstor, in case you want to read it, too).  In 4:6 we see one of the first uses of double entendre in the phrase “your hope.”  Again, I’m no Hebrew scholar, but Meshel says that the word here used for “hope” is also translated as “folly” in other parts of the OT.  So, Eliphaz can be saying “your piety is your hope” OR “your piety is your folly.”  

As you can see, my studies of Job just got a whole lot murkier.  My Sunday-school understanding of Job was “God tested Job, Job was patient and was rewarded.”  But there is so much more here!  It can be a little overwhelming, but I, for one, am glad that Job can’t be reduced to “God is good and the good are always rewarded.”  I wholeheartedly believe God is good, but to ignore the bad things in life, or even to ignore that life is complicated, like the book of Job, is an act of unhealthy denial.  I am excited to see what more I can learn in the second half of Eliphaz’s speech, and I hope you’ll continue reading with me on Sunday.