Job was in horrible trouble, and some of the things that he said probably seemed extreme to his friends. This is not unusual. Our listening ears and open hearts are normally the best gifts that can be given to our suffering friends when no words will help.
Much of this Old Testament book of wisdom is taken up with the cycle of speeches that begin in the previous chapter of the book, when Job spoke against the day of his own birth. His words needed no response. They come from a man brought low. But now in the fourth chapter, Eliphaz the Temanite does venture a reply. He cannot hold back his insights.
Eliphaz knows that Job has a record as a great man. He has instructed many people and strengthened those who were weak during their own days of difficulty. Now Job’s own time to suffer has come, and he seems to Eliphaz to be unduly impatient, as if he could be censured for having advice for others that he could not now heed for himself.
This friend directs Job to God in such a way that he hints at his true opinion of the great man’s trials. He asks, “Who that was innocent ever perished?” The suggestion is clear but will become even more obvious as the book continues. “Job, this must be about the sin of your children. Job, your pain must have something to do with your own secret failures.”
Eliphaz appeals to his own consideration of the lives he has observed among his people. He hints at what will be the conclusion of his theological reflections. People perish by the breath of God. Surely this must have something to do with God’s wise judgments. Surely it must have something to do with a man’s sin. Job and his family may have appeared righteous, but they must have hidden their sins from public view. This all sounds quite reasonable to those who have not been greatly humbled by afflictions that they simply cannot understand.
But Eliphaz has more to add beyond his own observations. Yes, Job was a lion among the people, and he has been brought low by the hand of God, but Eliphaz considers what he believes to be revelation on this matter that has come to him from the land of spirits. He says that a word was brought to him that he believes to be spiritual insight. He receives it as a sure word, a word that was given with some palpable sense of fear and trembling, a word from some unusual spirit-form that moved before his eyes from some unusual source that he decided to trust.
That strange spiritual revelation had two important components, both of which were false and destructive, though Eliphaz received them as gospel. The first was stated in the form of a question: “Can a mortal man be in the right before God?” This is a very important question. At first it appears that the answer must be “No.” We know that God is great and perfectly holy. We also know that there was only one Man who had no sin, and He lived long after Job’s death. We know that we need God in our lives. Yet this question of “Can a mortal man be right before God?” deserves some further consideration. Could it be that God Himself, with all of His holiness and love, could make a way for people to be judged as righteous in His sight? Stated this way, we now know that the answer is emphatically “Yes!” While no man except Jesus can be right before God in his own merit, Jesus has provided all the merit necessary for us to be seen as right before God on account of His righteousness and His death for us. The spirit that was leading Eliphaz toward a humble-sounding suggestion that no one can ever be right before God is actually bearing a horrible and deadly lie. God has made a very important way for us to be right before Him through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The lying spirit who instructed Eliphaz made another assertion: “If God finds fault in angels, and we know that He did find fault with the angels that fell, then surely He must have no real concern for His fleshly creature, mankind. They came from dust, and they return to dust. How could God actually be expected to care about such low beings?” In this second supposed revelation, we hear the over-reaching that often betrays evil. There is a rush to defend fallen angels and to express a disgust of humans, claiming that they die without wisdom and perish forever without anyone caring.
Once again, we must protest. Man is created in the image of God. Angels are ministering spirits who are destined to serve men, the heirs of salvation. There is no redemption for angels, but God shows that He loves mankind by this: God became a man in order to save men. Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection show forth the wonder of the Lord’s great love for His people. Christ did not die for angels. He died for men.
This experience of Eliphaz and the advice that proceeds from it is not spiritual in any good way, but is actually demonic. The truth is that the love of God for men has been supremely displayed in the cross of Christ. It is through this cross, and through all the excellencies of Christ offered up to the Father on our behalf, that we are rightly judged as justified in the sight of God. The suffering of one perfect man will ultimately be shown not to be a point of evidence in some claim that God considers men to be hopeless worms. Instead, it becomes the most important proof that God loves us and has made a way for us to be counted as right in His sight. He gave His only-begotten Son up to a life of the greatest suffering and a death that was the only way to defeat death, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but would have everlasting life.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
O God, the righteous man has withstood the loss of his possessions and his children. He has even faced bodily pain and trials that seem too much to bear. Now must he bear the rebuke of smaller men who presume to correct him? Surely any man loved by You would need the patience of Job to take this additional trial. Thank You for Your Word, by which all other messages must be tested. Will the righteous man be accused of impatience in the day of suffering? Must he face subtle accusations that his suffering is a result of his own sin? Keep lying spirits away from us, O Lord, or strengthen us in Your Word so that we may resist the devil, that he would flee from us. Can mortal man be in the right before You? Yes, but only in the Righteous One Jesus Christ. Can a man be pure before his Maker? Yes, but only in the One who is the purity of God from on High. Is it true that You who charged angels with error have no regard for the sufferings of righteous men? No, precious in Your sight is the death of Your saints. You love the righteous, and You are with us in every affliction.