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151. Job 15:1-6, You Convict Yourself By Your Words, Job

1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite responded,

2 “Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge

    And fill himself with the east wind?

3 Should he argue with useless talk,

    Or with words which are not profitable?

4 Indeed, you do away with reverence

    And hinder meditation before God.

5 For your guilt teaches your mouth,

    And you choose the language of the crafty.

6 Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;

    And your own lips testify against you.

 

Perhaps emboldened by Job’s mocking of God (e.g., 7:19) and his ridicule of the friends (12:2; 13:2), Eliphaz tries his hand at ridicule in verse 2. One can render it,

 

     “Should a wise man answer with knowledge of wind/windy knowledge; should the east wind fill        his belly?”

 

The obvious answer to the question is “No.” The wise man doesn’t speak with “windy knowledge.” The equally obvious speaker of “windy knowledge” in Eliphaz’s mind Job. The central word of the verse is ruach (word 4 out of 7), often translated “spirit” but also “wind.” Job is just nothing but a windbag, spewing out empty knowledge instead of true wisdom.  

 

More specifically, the word qadim (usually translated as the “east wind” here) can either be the direction itself (east) or the wind that comes from that direction. Its 69 appearances in the Bible are really a somewhat inflated number; 20 of these, signifying the direction only (east) appear in the temple narrative of Ezekiel 40-48. But it clearly refers to the east wind in Genesis 41:6, 23, 27; Ps 48:8; 48:26 and several other passages. The windy words that come a-belching from Job’s belly are fueled by the stiflingly hot wind of the east. Job is, in our way of talking, full of nothing but “hot air.” For the prophet Hosea, the east wind can also be symbolic of vanity and an occasion for lies and emptiness (Hosea 12:2).

 

Yet the central location of the word ruach  in verse 2 also has a more sinister dimension to it. Ruach was the word used to describe the great wind that destroyed the house in which Job’s ten children were celebrating, bringing them to their premature deaths (1:20).  Bildad picked up on the notion of a “great wind” in 8:2; Eliphaz continues that line of thought. The way Eliphaz phrases his question adds to the cutting irony of the verse. Eliphaz’s first word was chakam, “wisdom/wise person.” At first we might have thought Eliphaz would treat us to some cogent or even pungent reflections on that virtue. Maybe he would define it or apply it to this case. Rather, “wisdom” is now presented as an elusive virtue. At the least, it eludes Job.   

 

Lest we think that Eliphaz’s reference to Job’s worthless and windy words was a one-off remark, we are treated to a similar thought in verse 3. Whereas “wisdom” began verse 2, another important word for Job, yakach, begins verse 3.

 

     “Should he reason with words, unprofitable words at that, with speeches that have no good in          them?”

 

As mentioned previously, the verb yakach can refer to any stage of a legal proceeding, from the argument (“reasoning”) to the act of proving something, to the final verdict of rebuking or reproving. Though used by Job a few times in Chapter 6 with the meaning of “argue” or “prove” (6:25, 26), it came front and center in Job 13 when Job was preparing his case against God. All nine previous appearances of yakach in the Book of Job are on Job’s lips. It quickly has become Job’s favorite “legal” word.

 

Eliphaz rubs his nose in it here. He suggests in verse 3 that all of Job’s reasoning (yakach) is really nothing but useless (literally “not profitable”) talk. Sakan (12x/6x in Job) is the word for “profitable.” Whereas words of reason/proving seem to be Job’s speciality, or to be most "profitable" for Job, Eliphaz and Elihu are the only ones who use the word sakan in Job. Ultimately they are interested in what is of “benefit” or “profit” to faith, while Job wraps himself up in legal procedures. Verse 3 has a neatly balanced parallelism, with the verb yaal (23x) in the second half expressing the similar idea of benefit or profit. Job’s unprofitable words of verse 3 are the same as the windy words of verse 2. They are useless; excessive; empty. That is how Eliphaz characterizes Job’s speech.

 

Eliphaz may truly believe that Job has spoken nothing but empty words and thus is unwise, but he also is on good theological ground in making his statement. For the wisdom tradition, the wise person is a person of few words. Proverbs 17:27-28 suggests the thought: 

 

            “The one that holds back words has deep knowledge; and the one who has a cool spirit                     (ruach) is a person of discernment.  Even a fool who is silent is perceived as wise (chakam);                 one who shuts his lips is esteemed as a person of understanding.”

 

If anyone is counting verses, Job has just come off his longest speech to date in the book (75 verses); apart from his peroration of Job 29-31, it is his longest in the book. While we were being mesmerized by the defiant as well as hopeless words of Job 12-14, Eliphaz might have been counting words and thinking of a thought like that of Proverbs 17:27-28.

 

Eliphaz believes that Job’s words are not simply vain or worthless; they are also dangerous. That thought comes out in verses 4-5. He takes his argument right to Job in verse 4:

 

       “Certainly you shatter/thwart the fear (of God); and you diminish meditation/prayer before God.”

 

The opening conjunction is the common aph (“indeed, also”). We sometime rush ahead to the “meaning” of the sentences without pausing to notice the conjuctions. The Book of Job is presented as a vivid and vigorous conversation; conversations are full not only of non sequiturs but also of strange and interesting linking words. Aph plays that role here.

 

The language of 15:4 is provocative. Eliphaz really says that Job shatters/thwarts fear, though the “fear of God” is no doubt to be understood. I note, however, that I didn’t add the phrase “of God” when Eliphaz earlier used the same construction in 4:6. I think the situation here is a bit different because of the presence of “of God” in the second part of 15:4. We can easily argue that the “of God” is to be read distributively, i.e., it applies to both parts of the sentence. The verb for “shattering” is parar (50x, 4x in Job) a word used in Deuteronomy 31:16, 20 and Judges 2:1 with the sense of breaking (parar) the covenant with Yahweh. It can also mean to thwart someone’s counsel or break a treaty (I Kings 15:19). It has a special usage of “annual” a vow in Numbers 30 (seven appearances). But its covenantal connection is most suggestive here. Eliphaz would not simply be accusing Job of discouraging people from fearing God but of actually breaking the covenant treasured by the people.

 

Job’s fault thus grows, in Eliphaz's mind, from a mere personal mistake to a mistake of massive proportions, undermining the very foundations of the covenant with God itself.  The language of 


“restraining prayer”/“hindering meditation” (gara is verb; sichah is noun) is unusual. Gara appears 22x in the Bible, four times in Job, and can be rendered as “reduce, diminish, restrain, limit, take away, withdraw.” It is noteworthy that the verb also appears four verses later (15:8), where Eliphaz accuses Job of limiting wisdom to himself. Something about Eliphaz’s speech breaths the air of confinement, of limitation. Or, at least, that is the allegation of Job. Job is confining or restricting faith. In this case, specifically, Job is limiting “mediation/prayer.” Sichah only appears here and two places in Psalm 119 (vv 97, 99) and in those instances it clearly means “prayer” or “meditation.” Yet, sichah is simply the feminine form of the noun siach, which we have already seen on Job’s lips in 9:27 and 10:1, where it was best rendered “complaint.” We probably best see it here related to the Psalm 119 usages; Eliphaz would be accusing Job, then, of hindering others in their spiritual lives by his approach to God. Such an allegation is frequently made by self-styled representatives of “orthodoxy” when another person too eagerly, or persistently, raises questions about some of the fundamental doctrines of that tradition.


We don’t know if a specific assertion of Job led Eliphaz to make this statement, but Job’s tone, as has frequently been pointed out, is combative, defiant, and even mocking of God. If one wanted to point to a likely culprit that enraged Eliphaz, it would be Job’s words in 9:22-24, where Job accuses God of upended and reversing basic moral categories in the universe. Certainly, Eliphaz thinks, Job is setting a pretty bad example of faith. That is precisely the point of verse 5. Rather than wisdom teaching Job’s mouth, we have Job’s iniquity/sin (avon, a common term) teaching him. We could also read the verse as the opposite, where the mouth teaches iniquity, and perhaps Eliphaz has deliberately left that ambiguous so that we can stew on it. Rather than a familiar term for teaching, Eliphaz draws on the rare alaph, which only appears outside the Book of Job in one passage.  

 

Verse 5 closes with Eliphaz’s statement that Job “chooses the tongue of the crafty (arum). Arum is a negative term for Eliphaz here and in 5:12, though I argued  that in 5:12 Eliphaz has not clearly distinguished very different terms in the wisdom tradition. The result, for Eliphaz, is stated in verse 6,

 

     “Your own mouth condemns (rasha, “to do evil”) you/makes you guilty, not I; your lips testify              against you.”

 

In verses 5-6 Eliphaz makes references to the mouth, tongue, and lips—all of which condemn Job. It is as if, for Eliphaz, Job’s words are a poison pouring out from him, tainting everything they touch. But Eliphaz is just getting warmed up, as the next passage indicates.