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34. Job 4:7-11, Eliphaz’s “Rule” of Life

 

7 “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?

    Or where were the upright cut off?

8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity

    and sow trouble reap the same.

9 By the breath of God they perish,

    and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.

10 The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion,

    and the teeth of the young lions are broken.

11 The strong lion perishes for lack of prey,

    and the whelps of the lioness are scattered.

 

The next five verses present Eliphaz’s philosophy of life in a nutshell and cautiously suggest to Job that he ought to have a rosier picture about the future than he currently has. Eliphaz will develop this latter thought more extensively in Job 5. Two of the verses (vv 10-11) are a vocabulary-fest, with five different words for “lion,” introduced to illustrate the point in verse 8, that one reaps what one sows. Verses 10-11 appear, however, to be a digression. Through them we may be learning something important about ancient Middle Eastern argumentation. What begins with a clearly-stated point then continues with a detour, beautiful in and of itself, but somewhat distracting to modern Western modes of reasoning.  

 

Eliphaz’s philosophy of life is expressed in the well-worn but still strongly-appealing idea: “Those who plow misfortune (aven) and sow trouble (amal) shall reap/harvest it” (v 8).  But Eliphaz posits this as something that he has seen; he is not here just relying on the wisdom of past sages. He knows it is true because he has seen it: you reap what you sow. The Apostle Paul made the same point in Galatians 6:7, so Eliphaz is in with pretty good company on that one. In the culminating section of the book (42:7), God excoriates the friends because they have not spoken correctly about God, as has the servant Job. Yet, it appears here that Eliphaz is speaking “right” in describing the way God works in the world.

 

Preceding this expression of Eliphaz’s basic life principle is a verse that probably is intended to apply to Job’s situation. He asks Job in verse 7: “Remember, what innocent person has perished?  Where were the upright destroyed?” Eliphaz, following God’s lead, has just used the word tam to describe Job (4:6). Now he broadens the language of purity, cleanness, innocence by using naqiy,“innocent.” He then uses a word from 1:1, yashar (“upright”). The author of the Book of Job encourages us to see a wide variety of positive moral terms as capturing the same reality. That is, in 1:1, Job’s goodness is described with four separate words or phrases. None can easily be distinguished from each other. Then, as the book unfolds, we have other terms introduced. Naqiy, here, is one. Zophar will introduce zak and bar (both meaning “pure”) in 11:4.  Elihu brings us additional terms, such as “without transgression” (beli pasha), “innocent” (chaph) and “no iniquity” (lo avon) in 33:9. All of them try to capture to innocence, blamelessness or uprightness of Job.

 

Verse 7 functions as a kind of encouragement or fillip to Job. ‘Which innocent person has ever perished (abad, usingthe same verb Job used in 3:3 to describing his desire that everything perish)?’ The upright, according to Eliphaz, are never “cut off” (kachad). Kachad (32x) often carries with it the idea of “being hid” (especially in the Psalms—139:15; 78:4), but can mean, especially in the historical books or Exodus, “to be destroyed” (e.g., II Chronicles 32:21; Ex 9:15; 23:23). In Job 4:7 the meaning is probably “to be destroyed” rather than “hidden.” Eliphaz tries to inject a little confidence in Job by asking the rhetorical question of whether the innocent really perish. The answer:  Of course not. Eliphaz is neatly representing what one might call “traditional wisdom” as seen in Proverbs. He is standing on good theological and historical ground as he continues his speech. Since Job is innocent, and since an innocent person is never destroyed, there is reason for hope.

 

Elihpaz’s “Rule” of life, for which this section is titled, is found in verse 8.  A literal translation of verse 8 is, “As I have seen, the plowers of evil/iniquity and the sowers of trouble reap it.” This is a basic Scriptural rule, not only found here but also succinctly stated by Paul in Galatians 6:7. But here Eliphaz is giving an added dimension to the statement by saying that he has “seen” it. He has observed the workings of this law of nature. You reap what you sow. It’s true. In the final words for his first speech, Eliphaz will put an exclamation point on the value of experience in confirming theological doctrine: “Lo, this thing we have searched out; thus it is. Hear it, and know it for yourself” (5:27).  

 

Eliphaz is a confident transmitter of this tradition. When does confidence become smugness? Does Eliphaz also display that characteristic? Not here. In verse 8, he uses two words, meant to be understood as expressing parallel thoughts, to describe the evils or troubles of life.  Aven (78x) is the third word we have seen for these so far, in addition to amal and rogez. As is usual with terms of affliction or complaint, Job has more than his share of aven (13/78 appearances are in Job), and aven can elsewhere be translated “evil” (36:10) or “wicked” (34:36) or “iniquity” (15:35; 21:19; 34:8, 22), though “trouble” or “sorrow” may also be appropriate. We have already seen the verb charash (“plow”) already when the author described the activity of Job’s oxen (1:14); later it will be used in another of its meanings: to become/fall silent (6:24). Here undoubtedly the agricultural process is in view. The verb for “reap” is qatsar (49x), which is serendipitously pronounced similar to its English language meaning:  “cut.” Often the word is used in a participial form to describe “reapers” (e.g., Ruth 2:14).