Notes on Job 15-17

Job 15‑17  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Second Discourse of Eliphaz
The second series of discussion now opens with the appeal of Eliphaz, who lets out with less reserve the increasing sense his soul had that Job must lack integrity. As before, there is weighty truth in what he urges, and it is urged with great force; but the application to the sufferer was groundless, and therefore unjust in the last degree.
And Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
Will a wise man answer with windy knowledge,
And fill his belly with the east wind,
Arguing with speech that availeth not,
And with words in which is no profit?
Yea, thou makest void the fear of God,
And diminishest devotion before God.
For thine iniquity teacheth thy mouth,
And thou choosest the tongue of the crafty;
Thy mouth condemneth thee, and not I,
And thine own lips testify against thee.
[Wast] thou born the first man,
And wast thou brought forth before the hills?
Didst thou listen in the councils of God,
And dost thou reserve wisdom to thyself?
What knowest thou that we know not?
[What] understandest thou that [is] not with us?
Also among us is the hoary, and the aged,
Richer in days than thy father.
[Are] the consolations of God too small for thee,
And a word in gentleness with thee?
Why doth thine heart carry thee away,
And why do thine eyes wink,
That thou turnest thy spirit against God,
And lettest words go out of thy mouth?
What [is] man that he should be clean,
And one born of woman that he should be righteous?
Behold, in His holy ones He trusteth not,
And the heavens are not clean in His eyes;
How much less the abominable and corrupt,
Man, that drinketh iniquity like water
I will show thee: hear me;
And what I have seen I will relate,
Which wise men have declared
And have not hid, from their fathers,
To whom alone the land was given,
And through the midst of whom no stranger passed.
All the days of the wicked he is in torment,
And the number of years is laid up for the oppressor.
The voice of terrors [is] in his ears;
In peace the destroyer falleth on him.
He despaireth of returning from the darkness,
And he is marked out for the sword.
He wandereth for bread: where [is it]?
He knoweth that ready at his hand is a day of darkness.
Trouble and anguish make him afraid,
They overpower him, as a king ready for the onset.
For against God he stretched out his hand,
And against the Almighty played the hero,
Ran against Him with neck (proudly),
With the thick bosses of his shields.
For he covereth his face with his fatness,
And gathereth fat on [his] loins:
And he inhabiteth desolate cities,
Houses that no man dwelleth in,
Which are destined for heaps.
He becometh not rich, and his wealth endureth not,
Nor doth his substance extend in the earth.
He escapeth not from darkness:
A flame withereth his shoots,
And he passeth away by the breath of his month.
Let him not trust in vanity; he is deceived;
For vanity shall be his recompense;
Before his day1 it is fulfilled,
And his branch is not green;
He shaketh off like a vine his grapes,
And casteth down like an olive his blossoms.
For the company of the polluted [is] barrenness,
And fire devoureth the tents of bribery;
They conceive misery, and bring forth vanity,
And their womb prepareth deceit.
Thus we see that Eliphaz arraigns Job of that moral folly which forgets the presence and light of God, by haughty words blinding others to what God was judging, underneath the fair appearance of his life. He charges his language with worse than bluster, for he sees in it that which was calculated to turn souls aside from the fear of God; and thus Job, in his opinion, was self-condemned. To deny God's present retribution, Eliphaz thought, was to undermine confidence in His ways, and to encourage men to all lawlessness. It was not only conscious guilt talking with the air of offended innocence, but in this venturing to shake the foundations of God's government. (Vers. 1-6)
Then he proceeds to tax Job with the grossest assumption of superiority in wisdom, without the least ground for it. To allow himself in such contempt of others, Job ought to be the first man, yea, born before the hills, and an assessor in the council of Eloah, conscious of secrets which were confined to his own heart. This Eliphaz gravely doubts, and challenges Job to prove the reality of his claim, putting in a plea for himself and his friends as unworthily set at naught, instead of having the honor due to age and experience. Indeed it was not of this merely that he complained; for if it was wrong to despise elders, how much more to speak of God as they had just heard! and this from a man who should remember his own corrupt nature and ways, and the holy majesty of God, before whom the heavens are not clean, and the holy ones beneath His confidence.
Finally Eliphaz proceeds to set upon Job what mature and incorrupt wisdom had found true from the beginning, before the voice of strangers had imported those sophistications of which they had heard too much. The wicked man has an internal tormenter in his own conscience even now, which does not fail to embitter his brief allotted time. He is ever foreboding death in life, want in abundance. The voice of alarm never deserts his ears. In peace the destroyer is invading him; and, if darkness encompass him, he has no hope of emerging, he knows that the day of darkness is ready at his hand, full of anguish and distress, even though he plays the hero against God, and rushes on Him as if he could fight it out. But God is not mocked, and the end, if it tarry, comes; so he who thus braved God inhabits places given over to desolation, and his possessions vanish away, and darkness envelopes him, and flame devours his suckers, and himself departs by a blast from God's mouth.
Thus awfully does Eliphaz describe the hollow prosperity, the actual wretchedness, and the inevitable destruction of the godless. As God was not feared, vanity is the impress stamped on all. A man's life consists not in the abundance of his possessions, and they that set their mind on them must learn their vanity in the day of trial. They may promise like the palm, or the vine, or the olive; but all is vain. Barrenness shall be the portion of him and his, and judgment consumes the tabernacles greedy after evil gain. It is but to conceive misery, and bring forth vanity, and frame deception.
Chapters 16, 17
The Answer of Job
And Job answered and said,
I have heard many such things,
And comforters of distress [are] ye all.
Are windy words at an end?
Or what vexeth2 thee that thou answerest?
I also could speak like you,
If your soul were instead of my soul,
I could weave words against you,
And shake my head at you;
With my mouth I could strengthen you,
And the commiseration of my life could assuage.
If I speak my pain is not assuaged,
And if I forbear, what departeth from me?
Surely now He hath exhausted me,
Thou hast desolated all my company, and bound me;
It became a witness, and rose up against me,
My leanness accuseth me to the face;
His wrath hath torn and warred on me;
He hath gnashed on me with his teeth;
Mine enemy whetteth his eyes on me.
They gaped at me with their month,
With reproach they smote my cheeks.
They strengthen themselves together against me.
God hath shut me up to the unrighteous,
And thrown me over into the hand of the wicked.
I sat at ease, and He smashed me,
And seized me by the neck, and dashed me,
And set me as a mark for Himself;
His arrows3 compassed me about;
He cleaveth my reins, and spareth not.
He poureth out my gall on the ground.
He breaketh me breach upon breach,
He runneth upon me like a warrior.
I have sewed sackcloth on my skin,
And stuck my horn into the dust.
My face is red with weeping,
And on mine eyelids [is] death shade,
Though no violence [is] in my hands,
And my prayer [is] pure.
O earth, cover thou not my blood,
And let my cry have no place.
Even now, behold, my witness [is] in the heavens,
And my testifier in the heights.
My mockers [are] my friends;
Mine eye poureth out to God,
That He would decide for the man with God,
As a son of man for his friend;
My years of number come,4
And I go the way I shall not return.
Chapter 17
My spirit is broken, my days are extinct,
For me the graves!
Truly5 mockeries [are] with me,
And mine eye dwelleth on their contention.
Deposit, I pray Thee, be surety for me with Thyself:
Who else would strike hands with me?
For their heart Thou hast hid to understanding,
Therefore Thou wilt not exalt [them].
He that delivereth friends for a spoil,
The eyes of his children shall waste away.
And He hath set me as a bye-word of people,
And I am one to be spit on in the face.
Mine eye also is dim with sorrow,
And all my frame a shadow.
Upright [men] will be amazed at this,
And the guiltless stirred up against the ungodly.
But the righteous shall hold on his way,
And the clean of hands increase in strength.
But as for you all, return now, and come on;
Yet I find not a wise one among you.
My days are gone, my plans are broken—
The possessions of my heart.
Night they put for day, light near
Out of the face of darkness!
If I wait, sheol [is] my house,
I have spread my bed in the darkness,
To corruption I have cried, Thou art my father,
To the worm, My mother and my sister.
Where then now [is] my hope?
Yea, my hope, who beholdeth it?
To the bars of sheol it goeth down,
When at the same time is rest on the dust.
Patient as Job proved, he does not spare the obstinacy of his friends, who could not make good, and who would not retract, their uncharitable inferences. Hence he begins his second reply to Eliphaz with a sharp complaint at their threadbare comments. Consolation there was none, only trouble extreme, in the words of them all. Hence he longed for an end of words of no more weight than the wind. It would be better to answer calmly, if they must speak, and not with the sharpness of vexation. Were it possible for them to stand in his stead, he could say at least as cutting words, and shake his head quite as tryingly. With his mouth he could strengthen them and assuage with lip-consolation.
But here he arrests himself; his pain was none the less if he spoke; and if he forbore, what left him He recurs to his deepest grief. If he could only look up, and find Him all brightness and love. But it was not so. He had fairly tired him out with afflictions, desolated all his circle, and tied himself up. His bodily state, his emaciation, testified against him openly. He was torn as by a wild beast with every mark of cruel unsparing wrath, teeth gnashing, eyes sharpened, mouth gaping. Thus did his enemies smite his cheeks with reproach, and muster in full force against him. God, he says plainly, had shut him up to the perverse man, and turned him over into the hand of the wicked. Nothing can exceed the graphic power with which he describes his troubles: out of ease seized by the neck, and smashed and broken in pieces, and set up as a mark to smite, with arrows whirring round, and his reins split unsparingly, and his gall poured to the earth, broken by breach upon breach, as could not but be if such a warrior ran upon him; so that he was brought down to the last degree of misery, as well as degradation, grief upon grief, and with nothing save the shadow of death before his eyelids, though no violence stained his hand, and his prayer was pure.
Job therefore calls on the earth not to hide his blood, his life then, as it were, poured out, that it might stand forth to open vision), and to the same end that his cry should find no place to rest in here below, but go straight on high. Therefore his eye turned upward, and he speaks in confident faith that spite of his inexplicable, or rather as yet unexplained, calamities, his witness is in heaven, even God Himself, to testify on his behalf in those high places. From his friends, who were but mockers, through total misapprehension of the case and haste to judge him, rather than own their ignorance, he can but weep out his sorrow and supplication to God. Such seems to be the simplest way of translating and understanding the language, which is far from easy; instead of taking [Hebrew word] as a plural of excellency in the sense of “interpreter,” and thus rendering it, “My interpreter is my friend,” &c., and applying all throughout to God, who knows all, and will not distort or misconceive anything, whatever the present may convey to those who look at the surface. There is certainly in any rendering the looking for God to plead as well as judge: which it is strange that any Christian should think said by Job “with melancholy quaintness,” instead of seeing in it a singular longing after that which was more fully realized in the mediation of Christ with God, a man for men, and God with God. But truth, to be prized and really known, must first be learned in the soul's guilt and need, not by the flickering lamp of a scholar. It was so assuredly that Job was uttering this striking anticipation of what every believer learns through the Holy Spirit, but in his own deep wants, as laid bare humblingly before God. Vindication in this life Job did not expect; but grace was yet to give, as it gives us too, more than faith looks for. For faith is in us, though of God and has its measure; grace is in Him, free, unmixed, and unlimited!
In chapter 17, which of course carries on the same line as the close of chapter 16, Job speaks of what he could not but expect naturally under such a pressure of overwhelming blows and piercing stabs. His spirit was broken, the light of his days gone out, the graves before him. There is obscurity in the next clause, mainly from the opening words, which, taken as “if not,” imply that, unless he were mistaken, he was subject to the strangest illusions, and these so pertinaciously present, that his eye could dwell on nothing else. But others understand the sense to be a form of asseveration. Truly mockery is with me (that is, speaking of the effort to make him, a dying man, confess what he knew was unfounded, and only existing in their evil surmisings), and on their quarreling, or pertinacity, mine eye dwelleth. Job therefore entreats of God to engage and be surety for him with Himself; who else would strike hands with him? His friends had proved themselves morally incompetent, and He who had closed their heart to understanding would not exalt them. If one betrays his friends to be spoiled, the eyes of his children shall pine away. But however he himself might now be a bye-word, and openly an object of insult, his eye dim through grief and his whole frame a shadow, upright men should yet be amazed at this, and the guiltless roused against the ungodly, but the righteous should hold fast on their way, and the man of clean hands increase in strength.
Finally, Job bids them come on again, though satisfied of their total lack of spiritual understanding. He had made up his mind for death, as well as the utter dissolution of his every cherished plan. His friends might hold out fresh and bright anticipations on his repentance, putting night for day, and light near out of very darkness; whereas, if he was to hope, the grave was his house, and his bed spread in darkness, corruption and the worm his nearest of kin. Where, then, was his hope? Yea, his hope, who sees it? He sees none other than descending to the grave, where they should rest together on the dust. How blessedly in contrast with such gloomy words of a saint is the strong encouragement we possess, having fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us, which we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and entering into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, Jesus, made an high priest for over according to the order of Melchisedec.
1. Literally, in his not day
2. Hence, perhaps, “to embolden."
3. Or, archers.
4. 'That is, a few years.
5. Or, if not.