Good morning! Today we start our second day in the book of Job with chapters 4-7, and we read the first exchange between Job and his friends. Remember that yesterday, when calamity befell Job, these three friends showed up and sat with him in silence for seven days to console him. However, today “console” turns to “counsel”, and Job’s companion Eliphaz tries to persuade him that a secret sin is the cause for his calamity.
Eliphaz makes his case over two poetic chapters. He first argues that God does not punish the innocent. Sooner or later, those who are wicked get their comeuppance. That’s the form of divine justice and judgment. He describes a vision of a spirit at night which tells him that no human being—no matter how righteous—can second-guess God. Eliphaz then encourages Job to repent of any hidden or overlooked sin which might have led to this hardship. To deny God’s goodness (even in times of punishment) is to join the ranks of scoffers, and surely Job doesn’t want to be there. Instead, he ought to accept his troubles as God’s punishment of some secret sin, acknowledge the correction even if he can’t figure out the sin, and enjoy the blessings that come from serving a just God.
In chapters 6-7, Job will have none of this counsel. He believes what happens to him is God’s doing, but there is no explanation for God’s motives. Job repeats his desire to die, so as to be relieved of the agony that comes when God is not reliably be on the side of the righteous. He charges his friends with treachery, going a certain way with him but not being able to stay with him through the most bewildering parts of his spiritual pain. They are more loyal to their versions of God’s motives than to their friendship with him; they refuse to believe his affidavits of righteousness. The one thing Job refuses to do is surrender his integrity—accepting as true the hypothesis of his guilt, which he believes is false and which Eliphaz has given no proof of anyway. All that Job has is bewildering grief and pain, suffering that goes on without end. His only consolation (now that the companions have started to talk against him) is being able to give voice to his complaints, begging for the silent, ineffable God to respond with an answer or with death.
My two takeaways from reading this passage are, first, that it’s best to hold my tongue rather than try to argue theology with someone in grief and pain! Job seemed to get some comfort from his friends’ silent presence, but when they start to impose their theological understanding on his experience, they create a gulf of argument between sufferer and consolers. Second, this section (and more to come) reveals the dilemma of believing both that God is in control of everything and that God’s morality functions like our own. If I were forced to choose, I’d rather have God’s reliable goodness rather than God’s all-powerful control. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Job 8-10. Thanks for reading!