Two on Friendship
Bill Long 1/13/05
The Conversation between Eliphaz and Job (Job 4-5; 6:14-30)
The purpose of this and the next study is to bore in closer on the idea of how friends respond to friends in distress. We have already seen that in 2:11-13 Job's three friends come from their homes to join him in his pain. The closing words of Job 2 say it all: "They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw taht his suffering was very great."
But, sooner or later, people are going to speak. In the words of Ecclesiastes, there is a "time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Ecc. 3:7). Now is the time to speak. In this case, Job spoke first (ch. 3). That most remarkable poem presents the "violence" of Job's emotions when the full weight of his loss begins to sink into him. Now (chs. 4-5) Eliphaz responds. This study will focus on Eliphaz's answer to Job; the next will finish with Eliphaz's answer and then show how Job dealt with Eliphaz's words.
What we will find, I hope, is that who is responsible for breaches of friendship after great loss is far more ambiguous than what we might like to think. My "big" question, then, is who is responsble for the fact that the friends and Job end up at such loggerheads with each other?
There is not time to go through every verse of Eliphaz's long speech in this study guide. Close attention to it in its entirety, however, will more than repay the effort.
In this text we get to know Eliphaz as he speaks his first words.
"1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: 2 "If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking? 3 See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak hands. 4 Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. 5 But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. 6 Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?"
A. I think 4:2 is extremely important for us to try to get a "take" on Eliphaz. How would you characterize the approach to Job or "tone" of Eliphaz in this verse? What is the dilemma that Eliphaz faces as he speaks?
B. Eliphaz uses words that are highly treasured in the Hebrew wisdom tradition. Job has "instructed" many, for example--not in an intellectual sense but a moral sense. Why does Eliphaz recount Job's past virtues? Do you like the imagery of 4:3-4?
C. In verse 5 Eliphaz gently chides Job. How does he do so? Would you or have you done the same to your friend in their distress?
D. What kind of message is Eliphaz trying to give to Job in this passage, especially v. 6?
"7 Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? 8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. 9 By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. 10 The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions are broken. 11 The strong lion perishes for lack of prey, and the whelps of the lioness are scattered."
A. Verses 7-9 are what we might call the "traditional wisdom theology." You reap what you sow. The innocent are not ultimately punished. What is the purpose of Eliphaz's reciting this traditional theology to Job in his distress?
B. Is it appropriate to do so, do you think? Would you do so? Do you believe this theology? If not, how would you give nuance to it?
C. Job is a difficult book, and we face a difficulty in vv. 10-11. I didn't want to cut out the verses and just give you the "fun stuff." Here is the problem. We go from the innocent and iniquitous to lions. No connection is drawn between the two. What do you do when you come upon an image like this? Some scholars point to lion as a metaphor for an opponent in the Psalms (7:2; 17:12, etc.). The meaning here then might be that the lions are like the evil people, who will perish. Content with that explanation?
We are skipping over several verses now in order to get to Eliphaz's "bottom line." This section considers what Job ought to do, now that he is in his situation and he knows Eliphaz's general approach to Job's situation.
"8 As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause. 9 He does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. 10 He gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; 11 he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. 12 He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. 13 He takes the wise in their own craftiness; and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. 14 They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noonday as in the night. 15 But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth, from the hand of the mighty. 16 So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth."
A. What does Eliphaz urge Job to do in his distress? How realistic or helpful is this advice? Read Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 37:5-6. See if this helps.
B. What do you think of Eliphaz's theology so far?
On a personal note....when I first began my serious study of Job several years ago, I was prepared to recognized Job as the "good guy" and the friends as the "bad guys." Perhaps it was a little more complex than that, but this was my general orientation. The more I look at Eliphaz in this passage, however, the more I wonder about this. It is almost as if "good guys" and "bad guys" are categories not particularly helpful when you are plunged into the maelstrom of distress. Do you see some as "good guys" and some as "bad guys" in your mind as you approach the Book of Job? Or, are would you say it differently?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long