In our study of Job chapter four we examine the fact that even though we may have had many experiences it does not mean that we have all of the answers to the questions of life. In these days, debates were like the sport of the time as crowds would gather to watch an intellectual contest between great men. As we shall see, that is what was starting to happen here.
Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: 'If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking?'
The debate begins with Eliphaz and we are reminded that he would have been a grandson of Abraham through the line of Esau. The prophet Jeremiah refers to the fact that Teman was an Edomite town that was known for its wisdom (see Jeremiah 49:7). Eliphaz basically says that he has been listening to Job's words as he had cried out for his suffering to cease and he cannot wait to share his wisdom concerning the situation. Job had been wondering why this was all happening to him and Eliphaz was trying to say that he knew and would give him all the answers if he was patient. At this point, Job was desperate and so you can imagine how his hopes were up at the thought of a friend that had the answers to his questions.
'Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed.
You can almost feel Job's hopes being dashed by this opening part of his friend's speech. It starts off in what appears to be a complimentary way but quickly turns to accusation. Eliphaz basically tells Job that he has been a tower of strength in advising others about their trials and troubles but now, when he faces them, he is failing to follow his own advice. In a sense, Eliphaz is telling Job that he is a phony and that he talks a good game but doesn't listen to his own teaching.
'Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope? Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?'
Eliphaz reminds Job that he is a religious man and asks him why he does not take comfort in that fact during these trials. He is sure that Job has a "hidden sin" that God is punishing him for but he tries to assure Job that God will look at all of his religious works and have mercy on him. This same type of attitude is widespread even among Christians today as many think that, if their good works are more than their sins, then God will have mercy on them. We are reminded that God's demonstration of mercy to us is not based on how we follow religious rituals but flows from His very nature. He shows us mercy because He is merciful.
'As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more.'
Eliphaz basically tells Job that a man reaps what he sows and is asking him what he is hiding. This was probably a well known saying at the time based on the experiences of men. Although this is a very sound principle that even Paul referred to in the Bible (see Galatians 6:7 & 8), it does not explain everything. This is forgetting the fact that, as sons of God, we have an enemy that is at work in the world. As we see in Jesus' parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24 & 25), you can plant good seed and still have weeds among the crop as the devil does his thing. Many times, we can see bad things happening to people and we immediately assume, like Eliphaz, that it is because of some "hidden sin" in their lives. It could be just the opposite as it was in the case of Job where it was happening because of his righteousness. Eliphaz leans on his experience as he says "As I have observed" but he had not observed things that were happening in the spiritual realm. This is a reminder to us that we have to filter what we see in the physical with what we know of the spiritual and that is only possible through the Holy Spirit that lives in us as Christians.
'The lions may roar and growl, yet the teeth of the great lions are broken. The lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.'
Eliphaz continues to give his point of view based on his personal experience and, for some unknown reason, he speaks of an old lion that cannot hunt so it dies.
'A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on people, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end.'
Now, Eliphaz begins to sound all mysterious as he speaks of a dream in which he says that he was given secret knowledge about this situation. He builds it up with suspense as a great mystical experience and you can imagine the crowd hanging on his every word. There are people that make every dream that they have out to have some deep spiritual meaning. While God has, does, and will continue to use dreams, not every dream is from God. Some can just come from our own minds as we lay down with something specific troubling us while others can actually come from the devil himself. So, how do you tell the difference? The best way is through the power of the Holy Spirit and keeping in mind that everything that comes from God will be to build us up in our faith. Here, we see that Eliphaz was seized by fear and we are reminded that, as Christians, we are not to be afraid of anything because God is with us. Remember that fear is the opposite of faith.
'It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice: "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?"'
Eliphaz continues to build up this great experience but, in the end, there is nothing new contained in the words. Basically, he reminds Job that man is below God and makes it seem like Job was trying to elevate himself above God. As we have already seen, Job was not guilty of that and, in fact, he was repentant and crying out to God for answers.
'If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much worse those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth!'
Eliphaz reminds Job that even the most righteous of men are below the angels and God removed Satan and his followers from heaven for their sin.
'Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces; unnoticed, they perish forever. Are not the cords of their tent pulled up, so that they die without wisdom?'
Eliphaz reminds Job that life is short which is true but he also seems to say that the things a man does are unnoticed and insignificant. That may be partially true but it also misses out on the point that God has things for all people to do and that He is involved in our daily lives. This is the main difference between religion and saving faith. A saving faith is a daily walk with the Lord while religion is like trying to pay someone to be your friend. In the words of Eliphaz, we clearly see that he did not have a saving faith but instead was trapped in a religious way of thinking. We are also reminded of the fact that Job was not trying to elevate himself to a position above God but had simply been crying out for answers. Religion basically says that we cannot know the answers to the things of God while saving faith says we can ask God for answers and trust that His answer is always right and best.