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31. Job 4-5, Eliphaz Responds, An Overview

 

Eliphaz’s first speech may be outlined as follows:

 

4:1-6, Time to Listen, Job!

4:7-11, The “Rule” of Life

4:12-21, A Vision in the Night

5:1-7, Life’s Pain

5:8-16, Commit Yourself to God—that is the Answer

5:17-27, Better Days are yet to Come!

 

Crucial for understanding the speeches that follow is something that is unavailable to us today: the tone of the speakers. Many times we don’t know whether they speak with calmness and patience, with scorn, with irony, with humor, with anger or intolerance. We don’t often know, in addition, whether the speakers speak to each other or past one another. Making the arguments even more difficult to understand at times is their circuitous nature. Whereas we are trained in the West to make a case through a neat outline, clearly defined points and proofs for the points, this may not be the best way to understand argument in Job. Often it seems that the speaker will drop in allusions to nature or people that leave the reader scratching his/her head. ‘Why are you doing this?’ we ask. Often the words themselves are not clear, as if we are listening in to a phone conversation with frequent “dead spots.” And, to make things even worse, occasionally we have perfectly clear sentences that leave us wondering. . .'So what?'  

 

Thus, as we enter into the debate/discussion with Job and his friends, we do so with many liabilities. What we know is that Job is suffering terribly, that the suffering was because of a divine authorization to the Satan to torment Job, and that Job, after a period of calm acceptance of his situation, erupted in Chapter 3 in a torrent of emotions. He cursed the day of his birth, wished he had never been born, engaged in an extended daydream and then returned to the grinding nature of his own tormented reality. He has not yet posited the cause of his suffering, nor placed blame at the door of anyone human or divine for it. He has not yet put together a “case” that he might bring in his own defense. At this point, he has just exploded in pain. Yet, to be noted is that the pain is expressed with exquisite literary care, both in the structure of the expression as well as the choice of rhythmic phrases and alliterations. We take off our shoes, so to speak, because we know we are on the holy ground of elegant treatment of a heart-rending problem.

 

Job’s first friend responds to him In Chapters 4-5. All we know is that he is Eliphaz the Temanite, a man from “the East.” Because this is wisdom literature, we can assume that there probably is a seniority system at work here—the oldest speaks first. In his three speeches, Eliphaz has the most verses of any of the friends (more than 150), though it pales in comparison to Job’s 485 verses in the three cycles of speeches. If we want to advance a thesis regarding the tone of Eliphaz’ words it would be “apparently conciliatory but uncompromisingly firm.” He gives the impression of wanting to build a bridge between Job and himself, though often the words chosen seem to drive a deeper wedge between them rather than fill the gap between the parties.