Still Eliphaz--Job 15:17-35
Bill Long 1/31/05
A Tirade Against the Wicked
We now know that Eliphaz, like Bildad before him, is utterly committed to the tradition--i.e., a way of interpreting life that has been handed down from generation to generation. The wisdom teachers stand in an unbroken chain of continuity from ancient days, and their words are tried and true. Eliphaz seems offended that Job, by talking as he does, is "doing away with the fear of God (15:4)." Indeed he asks, "Are you (Job) the firstborn of the human race (15:7)?" Of course not! Job, therefore, should humbly submit to the counsel of the wise teachers, who really have insight into his plight. That is Eliphaz's position in a nutshell.
But something else is going on. When you take offense at a person you also are angry at him/her and even if you try to conceal your disgust, your negative feelings against them tend to "slip out" when you are talking to them. Your "real concern" about the other person bursts through the layers of civility.
This is what I see happening in the second half of ch. 15. Eliphaz simply cannot conceal his anger with Job. Though he speaks at length on the ultimate fate of the wicked (15:17-35), and though, as many commentators point out, he doesn't expressly included Job in the number of the wicked, he lets slip so many inappropriate words that the reader knows that this long soliloquy on the fate of the wicked is really meant to repay Job for his insults to the tradition. Let's examine the language of Eliphaz.
"17 I will show you; listen to me; what I have seen I will declare-- 18 what sages have told, and their ancestors have not hidden, 19 to whom alone the land was given, and no stranger passed among them."
A. We have phrase in English--"I'll show you!" This seems to be Eliphaz's tone in the long speech to come. How, if at all, does what Eliphaz has seen relate to what the sages have told? Maybe he can only see what he has been told. Have you ever had or known of the experience of only seeing things that are consistent with your way of looking at the world until one day, when life changes, you see things in a different way?
B. Verse 19 is deeply suggestive. Eliphaz is saying not only that the wisdom he has comes from the ancestors but that these wisdom-ancestors were alone in the land at first, and that no stranger sullied the pristine purity of the land. The implication is that wisdom developed purely from the beginning (and the assumption is that Eliphaz has drunk deeply of this pure and refreshing water). Is that how you conceive of history? That there was a time of primitive innocence and purity, either in The Garden, or in Early America or in your life or elsewhere, where all the complexity of life had not yet entered? What time or place would that be? What does thinking about that time of innocence/purity do for you?
"20 The wicked writhe in pain all their days, through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless. 21 Terrifying sounds are in their ears; in prosperity the destroyer will come upon them. 22 They despair of returning from darkness, and they are destined for the sword. 23 They wander abroad for bread, saying, 'Where is it?' They know that a day of darkness is ready at hand; 24 distress and anguish terrify them; they prevail against them, like a king prepared for battle."
A. What is striking to me in this section is how Job might take so many of Eliphaz's words as implicit judgments against him. When Eliphaz says that the "wicked write in pain all their days," could Job hear an implicit criticism of his words in 7:3,6? He said: "so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me;" and "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to their end without hope."
B. A few other examples of Eliphaz's technique are evident. He says, "Terrifying sounds are in their ears (15:21)." Has not Job said, "When I say, 'My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complain,' then you scare me with dreams and terrify me wiht visions (7:13-14)." Granted, Eliphaz speaks of terrifying words and Job of scary visions, but is it similar?
C. Note again, Eliphaz's words: "in prosperity the destroyer will come upon them" (15:21). What better description could there be of Job's situation in ch. 1-2? Or, again, "They despair of returning from darkness (15:22)," along with Job's journey to darkness in 3:1-10, and his desire to return to darkness in 10:21-22. Finally, in this section, "distress and anguish terrify them; they prevail against them... (15:24)." Isn't that exactly what happened to Job? With all these examples in mind, how to you "hear" Eliphaz's speech?
"25 Because they stretched out their hands against God, and bid defiance to the Almighty, 26 running stubbornly against him with a thick-bossed shield; 27 because they have covered their faces with their fat, and gathered fat upon their loins, 28 they will live in desolate cities, in houses that no one should inhabit, houses destined to become heaps of ruins; 29 they will not be rich, and their wealth will not endure, nor will they strike root in the earth; 30 they will not escape from darkness; the flame will dry up their shoots, and their blossom will be swept away by the wind. 31 Let them not trust in emptiness, deceiving themselves; for emptiness will be their recompense. 32 It will be paid in full before their time, and their branch will not be green. 33 They will shake off their unripe grape, like the vine, and cast off their blossoms, like the olive tree. 34 For the company of the godless is barren, and fire consumes the tents of bribery. 35 They conceive mischief and bring forth evil and their heart prepares deceit."
A. With the previous section as a guide, see if you can recognize any "accusations" against Job in Eliphaz's final words of the chapter.
B. Do you believe in the theology of retribution that Eliphaz articulates?
There is a bit of the "I hate you for what you have said, Job" in Eliphaz's second speech. Possibly he is just afraid (6:24) and lashes out at Job as a cover for his own fears. Perhaps he realizes that if what Job says is correct then the entire traditional explanation of distress might come crashing down. In any case, I see this second speech of Eliphaz as a pretty direct attack on Job and a solemn warning that he ought to "straighten up" quickly. What is your perspective?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long