Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 10 2019 - Job 4:1-7; 5:8-27 – The advice of Eliphaz

Job's friends sat with him in silence for seven days. Job had broken the silence with his lament, cursing the day when he was born. How will his friends react to Job's strongly worded lament? How might we have reacted?

Eliphaz is the first to speak and he starts sympathetically. He begins by commending the way Job had often encouraged and strengthened others when they were in need (4:3-4). Eliphaz seems to suggest that Job ought to be able to counsel himself in a similar manner – surely he could apply to himself what he had preached to others (4:5). His piety and godly life should be his confidence and hope, knowing that God would not leave the innocent to perish or destroy the upright (4:6-7).

But this is the problem. Job, an upright man of whom, if I might put it this way, even God is proud, has faced suffering on a scale few others have experienced. If what Eliphaz suggests is true, then Job's friends must conclude from his suffering that he has sinned – perhaps committed some secret sin. On the other hand, Job, knowing his own innocence must conclude that God is unjust.

We are not going to read chapter after chapter of the speeches of Job's friends and Job's responses during which his friends quickly become his accusers. But let us return to the words of Eliphaz. As he wrestles with the puzzle of why righteous Job is suffering he says in 4:17, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?" By this truism, Eliphaz suggests that even though others may consider him the most righteous of men, God's standards are very different. Perhaps God had seen sins in Job's life of which he and others are quite unaware.

Much of what Eliphaz has to say to his friend seems far from comforting, but in 5:8 he gives Job good advice. The best thing is for him to lay his cause before God. God is sovereign over all creation; he will save the needy and puts an end to injustice (5:9-16). Or maybe, suggests Eliphaz, Job should understand his suffering as God's discipline (5:17-18). Once Job has understood the lessons God is seeking to teach him, the discipline will cease and Job will again enjoy God's blessings (5:19-26).

Some of Eliphaz's examples seem particularly ill-chosen. To tell a man who has lost all his children that, when God has finished disciplining him, his descendants will be like the grass of the earth in number (5:25), was crassly insensitive to say the least. Eliphaz rounds off what he has to say by urging Job to apply these lessons to himself (5:27).

At the end of the book of Job, the Lord singles out Eliphaz for special criticism saying that he has not spoken truth about God (42:7). Eliphaz believes that he is able to understand the rules that must govern a moral universe and that must therefore bind the actions of God. Job is beginning to understand that God, as sovereign ruler of the universe, may give or take away as he pleases (1:21; 2:10). There is an unfathomable mystery about the ways of God. It is folly for us, as human beings to think that we can hold God accountable for what he does. God is not answerable to us – but he is unfailing in his grace and mercy towards us (see Romans 11:33-36).

We know that suffering and loss affect good and bad alike in this present world. Nevertheless, the Christian can receive suffering as discipline; not as punishment for some wrong we may have done but as discipline that drives us to Christ and trains us to be more like him. He suffered for us even though he had done no wrong. Suffering may help us to seek his face, to learn of him and to be strengthened by his presence with us in our loss and our distress.

Father God, your ways are beyond our understanding. But we understand and know that you love us for you gave your Son for us that we might have eternal life in him. Fill us with your Spirit that we might grow more like our precious Saviour and that we might always have fitting words of encouragement to those in need.

Peter Misselbrook