Eliphaz Speaks Again--Job 15:1-16
Bill Long 1/30/05
Most scholars and students who get this far in the Book of Job tend to write off the friends from here on out. That is, they think that the friends have nothing more to say. Attitudes have hardened and speakers no longer appear to address each other's concerns. Vengeance is the one consistent theme that appears to run through the 2nd round of friends' speeches. The friends seem increasingly to be foils for Job--who has not nearly finished all his words.
But I think the scholars who so argue have spoken too quickly. Indeed, in many ways the friends may have already "given their best shot" in the first round of speeches. They will have some things to say in the second cycle, but they often simply repeat tiresome phrases that really don't advance the discussion. However, some of their points are telling, especially those by Eliphaz in this chapter.
Job, too, has so much more to say after his beautiful poem in 14. Pain eventually will outlast tradition. The one who has been dislocated in agony always has much more to say than those who uphold the tradition can say. Yet, those who uphold the tradition, in the midst attack, dismissal and reviling those who want to keep on talking and questioning that same tradition, are not yet done speaking. Let's turn to Eliphaz's second speech.
"1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: 2 'Should the wise answer with windy knowledge, and fill themselves with the east wind? 3 Should they argue in unprofitable talk, or in words with which they can do no good? 4 But you are doing away with the fear of God, and hindering meditation before God. 5 For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty. 6 Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; your own lips testify against you.'"
A. How would you say that Eliphaz addresses Job this time? Is it similar or different to his words in Job 4?
B. Might the dual references to "wind" in v. 2 bring back Job's memories of how his children died? They died as a result of a "great wind (1:19)" that collapsed the house. If so, is Eliphaz using this painful reference knowingly or innocently? Have you ever had the experience of people referring to other people's loss obliquely when they were present? That may be what is happening here. If so, what might that mean?
C. The East Wind is the desert scirocco, the blast of devastatingly hot wind that sears and dries everything in sight. How does this help us understand what Eliphaz is saying?
D. Eliphaz's complaint with Job is in vv. 3-4. Job's talk is "unprofitable." Job is, by saying his words, "doing away with the fear of God." Is there any irony in the use of the word "unprofitable?" If Job is the greatest man in the East, we can assume his friends had some money too. Thus, is the importation of an economic metaphor here profitable, so to speak?
E. How might what Job have said so far do away with the fear of God? The Hebrew word for "do away" with is really "break" or "frustrate." Is the image any clearer now?
F. What is meant by Eliphaz's stinging criticism in v. 6? Do you think he may be right?
"7 Are you the firstborn of the human race? Were you brought forth before the hills? 8 Have you listened in the council of God? And do you limit wisdom to yourself? 9 What do you know that we do not know? What do you understand that is not clear to us? 10 The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, those older than your father. 11 Are the consolations of God too small for you, or the word that deals gently with you? 12 Why does your heart carry you away, and why do your eyes flash, 13 so that you turn your spirit against God, and let such words go out of your mouth? 14 What are mortals, that they can be clean? Or those born of woman, that they can be righteous? 15 God puts no trust even in his holy ones, and the heavens are not clean in his sight; 16 how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, one who drinks iniquity like water!"
A. Eliphaz is filled with questions. Might one also say that he, too, is filled with the East Wind? What are these questions meant to get at?
B. Often we ask a series of questions, without taking a breath, if we are terribly offended by something that someone has said. Is that what you see happening here?
C. When traditionalists attack those who question the tradition, their first strategy is to argue is that the questioners are arrogant. How do you see this argument working here?
D. I like verse 10. What is Eliphaz trying to impress on Job through this verse?
E. His ultimate criticism seems to be captured in vv. 14-16, however. What is it?
F. Why doesn't it dawn on Eliphaz (or does it) that tradition is nothing else than a consensus that has developed over time by mortals anyway? If God doesn't trust those who are "abominable and corrupt," why should God trust tradition-makers to articulate the true essence of faith?
In his first speech, Eliphaz seemed more interested in trying to comfort and encourage Job to maintain faith. He was quite confident that Job's current problem was only a temporary speed bump on the highway of life. But now he takes a different tack. He seems increasingly offended by Job's intransigence. But does he have a point? Isn't tradition a positive good in our lives? Don't we follow it, not simply because it gives us some guidance and rules along the way but because we feel that it is "tried and true?" Are you ready to be as harshly dismissive of the friends as Job seems to be?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long