When people try to comfort those who are suffering deeply, they may wonder if there is anything worthwhile that they can say. There is, of course, the danger that a person may mean well and still say some regrettable comment that is not well received. Sometimes in life, less is more, and nothing may be best of all. There is a difference between heaven and earth. Earth can be very murky and cloudy, and situations of deep confusion may require silence as we wait for an age of clearer skies.
The three friends of Job have listened to a somewhat lengthy speech from the Lord’s suffering servant. It is their turn to say something. That can be almost irresistible. Eliphaz begins by accusing this great man of doing away with the fear of God. He has not been listening carefully enough. Job does fear God. Listen to his speech with a sympathetic ear. Do not accuse him. He is a broken man.
Once you make a mistake of speaking when you should be silent, it seems all the more difficult to stop. The words that flow from the lips of Eliphaz are like stray rocks tossed in every direction. They may miss the mark, but they still may cause damage. Iniquity, crafty, condemned… Are these words that you really want to use when you are speaking to a bruised man of eminent godliness? Most of all, Eliphaz seems to have decided that Job is an arrogant and self-righteous man who has spoken as if he were God. He has decided that it is time to take Job down a notch, rather than to come alongside him in an attempt to lift him up. He makes his points with question after question that might be right for God to ask Job. For Eliphaz to speak this way seems inappropriate.
Eliphaz wants Job to admit that the great man has not had appropriate deference before the Almighty. He makes one other point: Job is actually no better than many of them. They have perhaps felt something of Job’s great wisdom in the past, but now the events of his life have brought the mighty man low, and one wonders whether some are too ready to admit that this providential humbling is perhaps well-deserved.
“What do you know that we do not know?” They see their own words as the comforts of God, words that deal gently with Job, and they are apparently stung by Job’s rejection of what they see as apples of gold in settings of silver, words fitly spoken. They seem to have concluded that the kind of lament that Job has been expressing is obviously out of place, and that it needs correction. Job has thought too highly of himself, they want him to see, since he is just a man, and a man cannot be pure.
Eliphaz repeats here his earlier insights about how God does not trust in the beings that populate the heavens, and that man is certainly below any one of those angels. There is an unseemly derision of humanity in his words, as if he were offended by his own species. Who has convinced Eliphaz that he should think so little about those who have been created in God’s image, beings who will one day judge angels?
The problem here is that Eliphaz has decided to take offense on account of the words of a man more righteous than he, a man who is almost overwhelmed in grief, pain, and trouble. In allowing himself to become offended by Job’s unwillingness to acknowledge sin as the root issue behind his trials, Eliphaz has somehow thrown off all restraint and self-control. Abominable, corrupt, unjust, wicked . . . Can there be any doubt that Eliphaz is suggesting that these words are accurately applied to Job? He follows this all up with his own graphic conclusion that the end of Job will be much worse than the beginning. Job is marked for the sword. Why? Because he is actually a godless man, although no one suspected it in earlier days when he was doing so well.
It is something for us to consider that at the very center of God’s plan for His own glory was the Trinitarian determination that God would become man. This would no doubt have been a shock to Eliphaz. It is certain that the words of Jesus of Nazareth were deeply offensive to many who heard Him. Their response against Him eventually showed an unbridled lack of self-control. Here was a man who was far more righteous than Job, and they hated Him so much that they wanted to see Him brought down and taken out. In the midst of this suffering, the response of the spotless Lamb of God was one of perfect restraint. Here was the divine Son of Man doing what had to be done to save us. He is the one who calls us to come alongside the suffering with lovingkindness, and not with undue censure.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Merciful Lord, in a day of trouble suffering people say things that they should not. When we hear such words, teach us to let love cover a multitude of sin. Keep self-righteous corrections far from our lips. Send us away from those in trouble if we will only be miserable comforters. We cannot fix everything today. The sum of justice is not here on this earth and in this age. There is another day ahead. You will speak at just the right time.