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224. Job 22:1-5, Introduction
Then Eliphaz the Temanite responded,
2 “Can a vigorous man be of use to God,
Or a wise man be useful to himself?
3 “Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous,
Or profit if you make your ways perfect?
4 “Is it because of your reverence that He reproves you,
That He enters into judgment against you?
5 “Is not your wickedness great,
And your iniquities without end?
We may divide this chapter as follows:
Job 22:1-5, Introduction
Job 22:6-11, Job’s Moral Lapses
Job 22:12-20, God is Truly in Charge
Job 22:21-30, One Last Chance to Repent
Job might have given the impression in the previous chapter that God, as well as Job’s companions, could benefit from his new form of theological thinking—what one might call “theological empiricism.” If so, then Eliphaz's words of introduction here might be seen as a sardonic rejoinder to Job’s words. He asks, in verse 2, whether a person (geber, rather than ish or adam) can be of use to or be profitable to God (verb is sakan, 12x). Half of the biblical appearances of sakan are in Job, and almost all of them in Job are best translated “profit/profitable.” For example, Eliphaz had used the word previously in 15:3, “Should one argue/reason with words not profitable?” That Eliphaz loves the word sakan, and the concept of benefit or profit, can be seen by noting that the word appears three times in this speech (22:2 (twice), 21).
Whereas in Job 15 Eliphaz just spoke about Job’s unprofitable talk, here he says that Job himself is unprofitable to God. But not just Job—no human can bring a benefit to God. Eliphaz has picked up on part of a biblical theme (“God is in the heavens, and He does what he pleases,” Psalm 115:3; 135:6), and extended its meaning to suggest that God is sufficient in Himself, needing no one and nothing, to become more sufficient. It is an argument worthy of a Greek philosopher.
Believing that he may have hit on a novel approach, Eliphaz continues by using sakan a second time in the same verse: “Can a wise person (maskil) be profitable to him?” Several different ways of reading this part of the verse have emerged, and they hinge on whether the “to him” is really “to him” (God) or “to himself” (the person who is wise) and whether the intervening conjunction is a “surely” or an “or.” Rather than going through a catalogue of possibilities for rendering verse 2b, I would argue that Eliphaz is maintaining parallelism of language here. A person, even a wise person, is of little benefit to God.
After trying to bring Job down a peg in verse 2, then, Eliphaz looks at Job’s action from the perspective of God in verse 3. He plunges right in with language of desire or delight. The word he uses is chaphets, 39x, translated “delight” in Proverbs 31:13 and “desire” in Proverbs 3:15, though a clear parallel to its usage here is in Psalm 1:2, where the righteous person “delights” in the law of the Lord. Eliphaz asks whether God takes delight in Job’s righteousness. The second half of verse 3 continues that theme, though with more elegant language. Eliphaz asks Job whether it is gain (betsa, 22x) to God if Job’s ways are blameless (using the verb form of the adjective tam, used repeatedly to describe Job’s blamelessness). Betsa often means “unjust gain” (e.g., Exodus 18:21), but here it just means profit or gain without a moral connotation.
Job’s blamelessness brings God no pleasure. The point Eliphaz makes is one that is often made by religious people in our day. Your wealth doesn’t make God richer. Your wisdom doesn’t make God wiser. Nothing you add to the mix of life will affect God. The implication is clear—Job, you need to get over yourself and your arguments, get over your pride in your new data-gathering theological method, and just realize that God doesn’t really need little old you, much less need to respond to your questions.
We never know if Eliphaz thinks these argument are telling or whether Job is impressed by them, because Eliphaz quickly shifts to a new subject in verses 4-5. Verse 4 has perplexed scholars for years. Literally it is,
“Is it because of your fear that he reproves/corrects/judges you, that God enters into judgment with you?”
The phrase “your fear” might mean “your piety” (i.e., “fear of God”), which is how the majority of translators render it, or it can mean the awe God feels towards Job—perhaps at his righteousness or Job’s persistence. But even if we read it along with the majority of scholars, what is the answer expected to the question?
The question, once again, is whether God corrects or judges Job because of Job’s piety. On the one hand, the answer seems to be “NO!” According to Eliphaz and the friends, God would be correcting or reproving Job because of his sin and not his piety. This meaning, then, would provide a nice bridge to verse 5, where Eliphaz suggests to Job that his sin is very great. But, from the perspective of Job and the theological problematic of the Book of Job the answer to the question has to be “YES!”—that is, God is actually entering into judgment with Job because of Job’s righteousness and blamelessness. Isn’t that the entire reason for the conversation with the Satan in Job 1 and 2? Job is a blameless person who turns away from evil, and that blamelessness provides the stimulus for the Satan’s challenge to God to let him take everything away from Job. So, 22:4 must remain a bit of a cipher for us. Eliphaz might mean it one way—that Job is being punished not for his piety but for his wickedness, but Job might “hear” it another way—to confirm what he has felt all along, that he is being punished despite his righteousness.
Verse 5, then, picks up on Eliphaz’s probable interpretation of verse 4. It is clear and to the point,
“Isn’t your evil great? (Isn’t it true that) there is no end to your sin?”
Eliphaz will now use that thought to launch his unprecedented attack on Job’s moral character.