As Sparks Fly Upward

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Job 4-7 begins the first round of discourses between Job and his friends. The friends have travelled to see Job “to show him sympathy and comfort him” (2:11). Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, first speaks to Job in poetic language.

Eliphaz begins by stating that Job is a good man (4:3-5). Job’s faith and blameless conduct should save him. Further, Eliphaz describes the fate of the wicked. You reap what you sow (4:7-9). This is a principle that is repeatedly taught in the scriptures (Galatians 6:7-9; Proverbs 22:8; 1 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:6). This is a key foundational truth for these three friends. You always reap what you sow. So Job should have confidence in his blamelessness. If you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. But Job needs to consider something according to Eliphaz: Who being innocent has ever perished and who has been destroyed who was upright? (4:7) Eliphaz then declares that he is giving Job godly advice. The message begins in 4:17: “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” Eliphaz says that Job should reconsider his position. Yes, Job is righteous but can anyone really be pure before God? If angels are faulty, how much more are humans found faulty before God (4:18-19)? Our existence is as fragile as a tent. It takes just one trip on the cord and the whole thing pulls up, going back to the dust from which we came (4:20-21). All deserve some sort of punishment for sin. No one is completely pure.

In chapter 5 Eliphaz shifts his advice. Now he warns Job to not be a fool because devastation certainly comes to fools. Vexation kills a fool. His dwelling is cursed, his children are far from safety and crushed, and no one delivers them. So do not show irritation and jealousy like a fool (cf. Proverbs 27:3). You cannot help but notice that Eliphaz’s description of the fool sounds like what has happened to Job. Eliphaz declares that evil is the root of trouble, suffering does not come from nowhere, everything happens for a reason, and you reap what you sow. Trouble has a cause (5:6-7). Just as sparks fly upward, so people are born to experience trouble because they are naturally foolish.

This leads Eliphaz to bring his full advice to Job (5:8-16). Eliphaz says what he would do is make his appeal to God. You will notice that this appeal to God is not to ask for help, but an admission of guilt. The Hebrew word translated “appeal” refers to seeking an oracle to find your offense or discover the pathway to appeasement. So admit your guilt and it will be all better. God can turn the tables if you would admit what you have done. You need to be humble, not clever, because God reaches down to help the humble (5:11-13). Eliphaz ends his speech with beautiful pictures of the restoration Job will receive if he will simply repent (5:17-27).

Thoughts about the arguments of Eliphaz

One difficulty with reading the advice of the three friends is that they will often declare biblical truths. Eliphaz says all kinds of truthful things in this discourse. In fact, Job 5:13 is quoted by Paul and used to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:19. So Eliphaz is not speaking unbiblical things. Eliphaz’s primary message is that God uses suffering to restore sinners to a proper relationship with him (5:17).

Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. (Job 5:17–18 ESV)

The scriptures confirm this in Proverbs 3:11-12 and Hebrews 12:5-6. Proverbs and Hebrews may even be quoting Eliphaz. Suffering is disciplinary. The scriptures do bear this out. Yet at the end of the book the Lord says that what the friends said about him was wrong (42:7). So where is error in Eliphaz’s teaching?

While God DOES use suffering to restore sinners, this principle does not mean that ALL suffering is because of sins. Eliphaz looks at what happened to Job and draws the conclusion that Job must have sinned. Further, Eliphaz suggests that repentance will stop the suffering and fix Job’s condition. The error is to look at the outcome and declare that Job must have sinned. The error is to assume that because a person is suffering that the person must have done something wrong. The error is also that repentance will cause all suffering to stop. This is why the first two chapters of this book were so important to the study. Job is not experiencing this suffering because of his sins. This was twice asserted by the Lord himself. So while what Eliphaz says is true as a general principle, it is not an absolute rule. It was not true in Job’s life, the lives of the apostles, or the life of Jesus. While all of us have sinned, this does not mean that every life difficulty is because God is punishing us, as Eliphaz insinuates.

I do not know of any person, including myself, who has not asked themselves, “What did I do wrong?” when severe trials strike. We can destroy ourselves attempting a “cause and effect” analysis to our suffering. Suffering does not mean that you MUST have done something wrong. We must be careful to never assume that the reason any person is suffering in life is because they have done something wrong. Not only could this not be true because the righteous do suffer, the scriptures teach that those who follow the Lord should expect suffering BECAUSE of their righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 2:20-24; 4:1-4; 4:12-17). We falsely represent God and how he runs the universe if we presume that suffering must mean that there is a lack of righteous living. Worse, we cannot make a presentation of the gospel as the elimination of all life problems when one becomes a Christian. This is not true. In fact, many suffer more because they became Christians. We have a false view of how God runs the world if we think that our repentance requires God to end our suffering. God does not have to keep us from suffering because we are living righteously nor does he have to end suffering if we turn to the Lord. Eliphaz has used biblical truths to misrepresent God and how he runs the world. We must make sure that we do not draw the same false conclusions when we suffer or when we see others suffer.

Brent Kercheville