When Saying Nothing Is Sound Advice

17 “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
18 For he wounds, but he binds up;
    he shatters, but his hands heal.
19 He will deliver you from six troubles;
    in seven no evil shall touch you.
20 In famine he will redeem you from death,
    and in war from the power of the sword.
21 You shall be hidden from the lash of the tongue,
    and shall not fear destruction when it comes.
22 At destruction and famine you shall laugh,
    and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.
23 For you shall be in league with the stones of the field,
    and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.
24 You shall know that your tent is at peace,
    and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing.
25 You shall know also that your offspring shall be many,
    and your descendants as the grass of the earth.
26 You shall come to your grave in ripe old age,
    like a sheaf gathered up in its season.
27 Behold, this we have searched out; it is true.
    Hear, and know it for your good.” – Job 5:17-27 ESV

Much of what Eliphaz has to say is true but he is approaching Job’s situation from a point of ignorance. He is speaking about matters that are outside his realm of understanding. And while there is a hint of truth in his words and his efforts appear to come from a good place, his well-intended rhetoric paints God in a poor light and portrays faithful service to God as a means to an end. In other words, if you do good things for God, He will reward you.

His message to Job is less a call to repentance from sins committed as it is a call for Job to change his ways. In essence, he is advising Job to replace his bad behavior with good behavior. According to Eliphaz, that little formula is the key to reversing Job’s fate and restoring his fortunes.

At first glance, Eliphaz’s advice seems biblical and sound. He recommends that Job readily accept what can only be explained as the discipline of the Lord. In saying this, Eliphaz has drawn the conclusion that Job is guilty of something and his suffering is nothing more than a sign of God’s loving discipline. And this statement seems to resonate with the words of the author of Hebrews.

…have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

This passage is an almost verbatim quote from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, and when you see it in its immediate context, it appears to have been written with Job in mind.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Then you will have healing for your body
    and strength for your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
    and your vats will overflow with good wine.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:5-12 NLT

But having read the opening chapters of the book of Job, we know that Job is not being punished by God. His suffering has come at the hands of Satan. Yes, God is the one who gave the enemy permission to test Job’s integrity and loyalty, but none of the attacks were a form of discipline or judgment.

“Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” – Job 1:12 ESV

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” – Job 2:6 ESV

It is true that God lovingly disciplines His children but we cannot automatically assume that all suffering in this life is evidence of this truth. We live in a fallen world in which evil exists and sinful people commit heinous crimes against one another. Disease and sickness are a constant threat. Natural disasters are commonplace. And, as the Scriptures remind us, there is an ongoing spiritual taking place all around us, but invisible to our human eyes. The apostle Paul warns us about this in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV

And this is exactly the kind of counsel Eliphaz should have given Job. Rather than automatically assume that Job was guilty of sin and undergoing the discipline of God, Eliphaz should have encouraged his beleaguered friend to recognize the reality of spiritual warfare. Perhaps Eliphaz lacked a well-developed doctrine of the supernatural and was not well-versed in the ways of Satan. It seems apparent that his concept of God was not fully developed because he has a rather one-dimensional view of the Almighty. Eliphaz’s theology seems to portray God as either a rewarder or a punisher. If men do well, they get blessed by God. If they do poorly, they experience His judgment.

Once again, Eliphaz seems to be partially right. The author of Hebrews seems to corroborate Eliphaz’s view of God.

…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 ESV

But one must take this verse in its context, where the author is unpacking the definition of faith and illustrating it through the lives of the Old Testament saints. Nowhere in the chapter does the author describe God’s rewards as physical health or financial windfalls. In fact, he describes these people as having exhibited faith, but “all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39 ESV). In other words, their faith and faithfulness did not produce health, wealth, or prosperity. In fact, their lot in life was anything but easy or rewarding.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. – Hebrews 11:35-38 ESV

Eliphaz’s entire premise is built on a faulty foundation. His reasoning is simplistic and based solely on a cause-and-effect model. Job had done something bad, therefore he was being punished by God. If Job would start doing good, he would be blessed by God.

To Eliphaz, the circumstances surrounding Job’s life were clear. He had sinned and was reaping the just rewards of his folly. But if Job would simply alter his behavior, the nightmare would be over and God would put a hedge of protection around him.

“He will save you from death in time of famine,
    from the power of the sword in time of war.
You will be safe from slander
    and have no fear when destruction comes.
You will laugh at destruction and famine;
    wild animals will not terrify you. – Job 5:20-22 NLT

But again, this is a simplistic view of God and a less-than-helpful way to understand the nature of life in a fallen world. God does not promise His children a trouble-free existence. He does not exist to make our earthly life a walk in the park and even our best behavior cannot immunize us from suffering and pain.

Not long before His own death, Jesus warned His disciples:

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:32-33 ESV

Not long after having been stoned and left for dead, Paul entered the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV). It is likely that as Paul spoke these words, his body bore the visible signs of his stoning. He was like a walking illustration of his very words. The walk of faith is not easy and the children of God are not immune to suffering, sickness, persecution, or distress. It is as Jesus promised, a time marked by many trials and sorrows.

Eliphaz was promising Job a return to normalcy and a trouble-free life.

“You will know that your home is safe.
    When you survey your possessions, nothing will be missing.
You will have many children;
    your descendants will be as plentiful as grass!” – Job 5:24-25 NLT

Eliphaz believed that if Job changed his ways, God would restore everything back to the way it was. But this pollyanna outlook flies in the face of Job’s own words.

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” – Job 2:10 ESV

Job was not blaming God for his circumstances; he was simply acknowledging God’s sovereignty over all things. He knew that God was in control and he was willing to rest on the goodness of God. That is why he could say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 ESV).

Eliphaz would have done well to speak less and listen more. He could have learned a lot from Job but he was too busy giving out unsolicited and highly unhelpful advice

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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