One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, tries to comfort him with a speech. Eliphaz asserts that God only punishes those who are guilty of sin; the innocent do not suffer.
Eliphaz uses a metaphor to explain the fate of the wicked, “The lion may roar, the cub may howl, but the teeth of the king of beasts are broken. The lion perishes for lack of prey, and its whelps are scattered.” (vv. 10-11)
III. Important Verses
vv. 4-5: Your words have kept him who stumbled from falling; You have braced knees that gave way. But now that it overtakes you, it is too much; It reaches you, and you are unnerved.
v. 7: Think now, what innocent man ever perished? Where have the upright been destroyed?
vv. 8-9: As I have seen, those who plow evil And sow mischief reap them. They perish by a blast from God, Are gone at the breath of His nostrils.
vv. 17-19: Can mortals be acquitted by God? Can man be cleared by his Maker? If He cannot trust His own servants, And casts reproach on His angels, How much less those who dwell in houses of clay, Whose origin is dust, Who are crushed like the moth.
2. Opening statement
3-6. Job’s hypocrisy
7-11. Wicked people perish
12-21. God punishes people for their sins
Job 4 is the first part of Eliphaz’s speech, and it will continue until the end of chapter 5. In regards to the mood and purpose of the speech, Clines writes (p. 121), “The hesitant opening (4:2), the positive assessment of Job’s former life (4:3–4), the affirmation of his present piety and integrity (4:6), and the concluding note of advice (5:27), all show Eliphaz as well-disposed and consolatory toward Job.” Thus, while one might view Eliphaz’s speech to be a diatribe, the aforementioned verses imply that it is an attempt to assuage Job’s awful state.
It is interesting that Eliphaz begins his speech with a reference to “words” in v. 2, “If one ventures a word with you, will it be too much? But who can hold back his words?” Most of the speeches in the book also begin with a reference to words/speaking (cf. 8:2; 9:2; 11:2–3; 15:2–3; 16:2–3; 18:2; 20:2; 21:2; 32:6–33:3; 34:2; 36:2; 38:2). It is also interesting that Eliphaz describes the fate of the wicked in a highly stylized way; this type of description is a common occurrence in the book (cf. 5:2–5; 8:13–19; 15:20–35; 18:5–21; 20:5–29; 27:13–23).
Eliphaz asserts that people suffer on account of their sins, “Can mortals be acquitted by God? Can man be cleared by his Maker? If He cannot trust His own servants, And casts reproach on His angels, How much less those who dwell in houses of clay, Whose origin is dust, Who are crushed like the moth.” (vv. 17-19) Yet, Eliphaz makes the point that only the wicked perish (vv. 7-9), “Think now, what innocent man ever perished (‘avad)? Where have the upright been destroyed (nikhchadu)? As I have seen, those who plow evil And sow mischief reap them. They perish by a blast from God, Are gone at the breath of His nostrils.” Thus, Eliphaz is implicitly telling Job, “You are suffering because you are a sinner. But, on the brighter side, you are still alive because you are not entirely evil.” The notion that God does not forsake the righteous, which will be taken up again by Eliphaz in chapter 5, also occurs in Ps. 37:23-25, “The steps of a man are made firm by the LORD, when He delights in his way. Though he stumbles, he does not fall down, for the LORD gives him support. I have been young and am now old, but I have never seen a righteous man abandoned, or his children seeking bread.” Also see Ben Sira 2:10, “Look at the generations of old, and see; did ever any trust in the Lord, and was confounded? Or did any abide in his fear, and was forsaken? Or whom did he ever despise, that called upon him?”
Clines makes two important points about Eliphaz’s speech. The first has to do with the validity of the argument itself (p. 124): “It may appear quite improbable that Eliphaz’s opinion, that the righteous are never ‘cut off’ in the midst of their days, could ever have been seriously maintained. Yet, however cruel such a doctrine may be, its strength lies in the fact that it is unfalsifiable. If one already believes the doctrine, every instance of premature death is proof of the wickedness (however secret) of the victim, and serves only to support the validity of the original premise.”
The second point is about the speech’s recipient (p. 124-125): “However crude or cruel Eliphaz’s view may be in the abstract, in the present circumstances it is doubly hurtful. In the first place, it is no consolation to Job to be reminded that as a righteous man he need have no fear of being cut off before his time; for Job not only has no wish to live out his appointed days but numbers himself among those “who long for death . . . who rejoice exceedingly . . . when they find the grave” (3:21–22). In the second place, Eliphaz’s theology implicitly attributes the death of Job’s seven sons and three daughters (1:2) to some sinfulness of theirs. That is hard enough for any father to have to listen to, but is even worse in Job’s case since he had constantly gone out of his way to ensure that any shortcomings on their part had been adequately atoned for by sacrifice (1:5). Job has therefore failed his children as much as they have failed him.”
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Clines, Proverbs 1-20 (Word Biblical Commentary)
Murphy, Wisdom Literature: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Esther (FOTL)
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