Bible Commentaries
Job 5

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Only the Wicked Man Is Insecure (4:12-5:7)

After confidently citing the facts of life as he sees them, Eliphaz next makes appeal to a kind of private revelation which he has been permitted to receive. Verses 12 through 21 are unique in the Bible in that they speak of a ghostly communication of a divine message. It must be remembered that the friends, although they often speak true words, are not the vehicle of all truth, and some of their views are definitely wrong. Normally in the Bible the word of God came to his spokesmen in a much more straight-forward fashion, and their descriptions of its coming are usually clear and uncomplicated. Eliphaz’ account is suited to the experience it describes; it is involved and mysterious, promising a great deal more than it actually delivers.

The speaker represents special knowledge as coming to him at night, when most men are asleep, although he apparently was fully awake. He was seized with a great dread as a wind passed before him. ("Wind" is a better translation in verse 15 than "spirit.") The apparition which accompanied the wind is not clearly described or seen, being called "it" and "a form." But through the silence a voice spoke, and although quiet and whispering (vs. 12) it was clear.

Its message, it must be admitted, was not startlingly profound. Nor, given the Old Testament revelation, was it necessary that such a message be delivered privately to Eliphaz. It is the basic truth that in comparison with God himself no man can be accounted righteous or morally clean (vs. 17). Relatively speaking, man is not as righteous as God. This truism, for so it is, does not speak at all to the fact of Job’s case, where the questions have to do not with man’s absolute righteousness before God but with man’s "integrity" and his faithful performance of the commands of God. Moreover, as Eliphaz develops the thought, or as the ghostly appearance continues, the immediate effect of such a view, if it is allowed to dominate theology and life, is to remove God farther and farther from man, and to set a complete, impassable gulf between an almighty divine Perfection, and frail, finite man.

In verses 18 and 19 the argument proceeds in this very direction, as the point is made that if God is more righteous than angels (his spiritual servants), how much more righteous he is than man. From here on, there follows a series of tragic word pictures of the transience and frailty of men who dwell in "houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust." Man’s life is crushed out like a moth’s (rather than "before the moth"); it is so short that it is spent between one morning and the same evening; and, worst of all, the end comes "without any regarding it." Is God included in this "any"? If so, then Eliphaz’ strict and orthodox monotheism has led him into deism, with a god so remote from man that he neither cares nor notices. If the "any" refers only to man, it is still profoundly pessimistic. The words of Eliphaz run counter to the whole movement of the Old Testament, where both life and death are determined by the will of God and where both take place in his presence. If the Revised Standard Version translation of verse 21 is correct, the image is shifted from the frail house of clay which is man’s dwelling, to the tent of a nomad which is never permanent. More probably the word for "tent-cord" should be translated "excellence." The meaning of the verse then would be that whatever advantage or superiority man has is terminated at death, and when man dies his claim to wisdom dies with him.

In close connection with his private vision Eliphaz goes on to describe in some detail the unhappy and ephemeral life of wicked men. His concentration on evil man, in close connection with his view of God’s transcendent righteousness and man’s frailty, suggests that verses 19-21 also concern the wicked, rather than man in general.

The opening verse of chapter 5 is abrupt. The "holy ones" are angels; Eliphaz thus is inquiring whether Job intends to rely on such beings as intermediaries in his dispute with God. If so, Eliphaz implies, it will be futile, for the angels themselves will not answer him. In verse 2 the word "vexation" applies to Job; it means literally "impatience," an attitude which Eliphaz can detect in him. Such impatience and passion ("jealousy") will bring down on Job the righteous judgment of God. Eliphaz has seen things work out this way; he has seen the "fool" apparently prospering but soon being destroyed. "I cursed his dwelling" is an elliptical way of saying "I saw that his dwelling was cursed" or "I regarded his dwelling as cursed."

From this point on Eliphaz is concerned with drawing a picture of God’s judgment on the "fool," or wicked man, with primary emphasis on the tragic results for the rising generation. The words have a barbed reference to Job’s own case, for his own sons were "crushed," and there was "no one to deliver them." The last part of verse 5 is difficult to translate; but the thought deals with the failure of the wicked to keep their possessions.

Eliphaz repeats his basic contention (from 4:8) that affliction and trouble are not accidental. They do not just happen, springing up, as it were, from the dust. Man himself "begets" trouble. This translation, following the Greek version, is better than "is born to trouble." It is inevitable that man makes his own distresses, as inevitable as that sparks fly upward. Job’s tragedy, then, must have its root cause in himself.

Verses 8-27

Your Own Future Is Secure (5:8-27)

The solution which Eliphaz proposes is indeed simple, but it has little bearing on Job’s particular situation. To "seek God" and to "commit" his cause to God is precisely what Job wanted to do. But to Eliphaz this would mean a kind of submissive, patient trustfulness which was impossible for Job, since it involved trust in a deity of whose benevolent character Job was by no means sure. Verses 9 and 10 are a kind of doxology, in praise of the power of God. Such doxologies appear frequently in the book (see, for example, 22:12-14; 26:7-13; 36:24-33). The power of God as described by Eliphaz operates in the realm of nature (vs. 10) and in the realm of morals (vss. 11-16). It is God who so moves human affairs that the lowly are exalted and the "crafty" are frustrated. The first part of verse 13 is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:19, the only direct quotation from the Book of Job in the New Testament. For Eliphaz it was a statement of God’s moral governance of the world; for Paul it applied especially to the futility of all human wisdom or "craftiness" in the light of the true wisdom in Jesus Christ. Eliphaz sees the wicked unable to achieve their plans (for a parallel to verse 14 see Isaiah 59:10), and he draws the dogmatic conclusion that the "poor [usually, the righteous] have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth."

In the conclusion of his speech Eliphaz turns to the contrasting side of God’s providential rule. Just as the wicked come to ruin and frustration, so the righteous must come to eventual prosperity and peace. Without making a pointed charge that Job has sinned, he counsels submission to the purpose of God in this personal tragedy. Eliphaz regards the experience as a corrective and purifying process, a point which Elihu later makes in greater detail (Job 33:19-28). Job is actually to be considered "happy," in line with the dogmatic assumption that all suffering was from the hand of God and designed for good purposes (see Proverbs 3:11-12, a part of which Eliphaz restates here). The truth in such a view was never more beautifully put than by Eliphaz in verses 18-26. The reference to "six troubles" and "seven" recalls a simular use of numbers in Proverbs 6:16; Proverbs 30:29; and in Amos 1:3.

By the time Eliphaz reaches his climax it is again evident that he has lost all sense of the actualities of Job’s case. To say that in the end Job would be able to inspect his sheepfold and find nothing missing, that his descendants would be many, and that he would come to his grave "in ripe old age" was to intensify the pain already felt by a man in the prime of life facing death, with his children destroyed and his possessions gone. That it did actually so work out does not alter the situation. Here as elsewhere Eliphaz was not speaking "what is right" (Job 42:7). His confident and indeed arrogant conclusion (vs. 27) does not comfort Job but increases his irritation.

What are we to make of this speech in view of its strange mixture of truth and error? The simplest thing is to say that it is true in general; its error lies in the attempt to deal with the practical case. Many of the things Eliphaz says can be substantiated else-, where in Scripture; upon this same position intelligent faith rests. But although his words are true, they do not fit every situation. Eliphaz’ theology was too small. It could not deal with a terrible calamity in any other terms than the most general assertions.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 5". "Layman's Bible Commentary".