A Time to Listen and Love

1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:

“Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge,
    and fill his belly with the east wind?
Should he argue in unprofitable talk,
    or in words with which he can do no good?
But you are doing away with the fear of God
    and hindering meditation before God.
For your iniquity teaches your mouth,
    and you choose the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;
    your own lips testify against you.

“Are you the first man who was born?
    Or were you brought forth before the hills?
Have you listened in the council of God?
    And do you limit wisdom to yourself?
What do you know that we do not know?
    What do you understand that is not clear to us?
10 Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us,
    older than your father.
11 Are the comforts of God too small for you,
    or the word that deals gently with you?
12 Why does your heart carry you away,
    and why do your eyes flash,
13 that you turn your spirit against God
    and bring such words out of your mouth?
14 What is man, that he can be pure?
    Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?
15 Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones,
    and the heavens are not pure in his sight;
16 how much less one who is abominable and corrupt,
    a man who drinks injustice like water!” – Job 15:1-16 ESV

Eliphaz has heard enough. Having listened to Job’s lengthy diatribe, Eliphaz decides to speak up again and delivers a second speech aimed at exposing his friend’s pride and arrogance. He can’t believe the cockiness and overconfidence that Job displays. How can any man declare himself to be innocent in the eyes of God?

While Eliphaz tries to come across as defending the integrity of God, he seems more concerned about his own reputation. He has taken Job’s words personally and determined that his own integrity as a friend and a counselor has come under attack. How dare Job reject the advice of such learned men as Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar? He is so upset that he describes Job as a veritable blowhard who spews mindless rhetoric and rejects the wise counsel of his betters.

You are nothing but a windbag.
The wise don’t engage in empty chatter.
    What good are such words? – Job 15:2-3 NLT

Eliphaz is careful to keep God at the center of his argument, accusing Job of having no fear or reverence for the Lord. He wants to paint Job as an angry apostate whose very words condemn and convict him. The very fact that Job can so easily rail against the Almighty is ample proof that he is guilty as charged.

Your sins are telling your mouth what to say.
    Your words are based on clever deception.
Your own mouth condemns you, not I.
    Your own lips testify against you. – Job 15:5-6 NLT

But it becomes readily apparent that Eliphaz’s real point of contention is Job’s refusal to take his advice. This has become a personal matter.

“What do you know that we don’t?
    What do you understand that we do not?
On our side are aged, gray-haired men
    much older than your father!” – Job 15:9-10 NLT

Eliphaz pulls out the wisdom-is-the-purview-of-the-elderly card. Evidently, either he or one of his companions is older and, therefore, wiser. than Job. Or else he may be suggesting that he’s shared the facts surrounding Job’s case with other sages and received their endorsement of his conclusions. Either way, Eliphaz seems to believe that he has the upper hand in the debate over Job’s guilt or innocence.

He doesn’t believe that Job has some kind of special knowledge or direct access to God’s divine will. So, Job has no right to reject the counsel of his more learned and experienced peers. Eliphaz can’t understand the flippancy and callousness with which Job addresses God. How can this obvious sinner talk to God in the way that he does? As far as Eliphaz can tell, Job’s words provide all the proof necessary to reach a verdict of guilt.

“Is God’s comfort too little for you?
    Is his gentle word not enough?
What has taken away your reason?
    What has weakened your vision,
that you turn against God
    and say all these evil things? – Job 15:11-13 NLT

Eliphaz is totally convinced of Job’s guilt and refuses to consider any other option. He views his friend as “a corrupt and sinful person with a thirst for wickedness” (Job 15:16 NLT), and nothing is going to change his mind.

But where is the compassion? Why can’t Eliphaz manage to muster up any empathy or sympathy for his suffering friend? In Proverbs 15:4, the words of Solomon seem to have been written with Eliphaz and his friends in mind.

Gentle words are a tree of life;
    a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

The Message puts it this way: Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.

In one of his psalms, David described wicked people as those who “plot evil in their hearts and stir up trouble all day long. Their tongues sting like a snake; the venom of a viper drips from their lips” (Psalm 140:2-3 NLT). How is it that Job’s friends have become so caustic and condescending? Why have they chosen to dial up the rhetoric and intensify their attacks on Job’s integrity?

Eliphaz has transformed from a well-meaning friend to a full-fledged adversary. He is on the attack and seems frustrated at Job’s continued claims of innocence.

Eliphaz and his companions are now on a mission to convince Job of his guilt and they will stop at nothing to accomplish that objective. Any concern they may have had for Job’s feelings is long gone. This has gotten personal. They know they are right, which means Job is wrong. He just refuses to admit it. But they are not going to give up easily. They tell Job he is wicked, deceived, defiant, stubborn, and doomed if he doesn’t confess his guilt. They will even go so far as to blame the deaths of Job’s children on his sinfulness. They will attempt to soften their words by using farming metaphors (shriveled weeds, a vine whose grapes are harvested before they are ripe, an olive tree that sheds its blossoms so the fruit cannot form, etc.), but the pain hurts just as bad. Now Job not only has to mourn the loss of all his children, he must listen to accusations that he is the one responsible for their deaths.

What can we learn from this? What lessons are there in this passage for us? The simple one seems to be the destructive power of our tongues. We can use them to encourage and heal or to discourage and do lasting harm. Sometimes we may not mean to hurt others with our words, but when we fail to think before we speak, we can end up doing lasting damage. Job’s friends could have used the advice of James.

My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19 NASB

They weren’t willing to listen to Job and they didn’t seem interested in what God might have to say about the situation. They had already reached their conclusion, and when Job refused to agree with their assessment, they became angry. And their anger led to even harsher words for their suffering friend.

These exchanges between Job and his friends remind me of the remarkable power contained in my own words. With them, I can bring about blessing or cursing. I can use them to build up or tear down. I can speak words of kindness and compassion, or I can speak words of criticism and accusation. Job needed true friends who cared more for his heart than for their need to be right. He needed compassion, not correction.

I am reminded of that famous passage from the pen of Solomon:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NLT

There’s a right time for everything, and the time was right for Job’s friends to shut up, listen up, and lift up. May each of us learn to know the difference.

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.

2 thoughts on “A Time to Listen and Love

  1. You know Ken, I really understand and relate to this quote about your speech “These exchanges between Job and his friends remind me of the remarkable power contained in my own words. With them, I can bring about blessing or cursing. I can use them to build up or tear down. I can speak words of kindness and compassion, or I can speak words of criticism and accusation.” But I also recall a time that you were convicted that your quick wit and sarcasm was harmful. Frankly, thereafter I missed it. Can’t tell you how much I enjoy your ministry in Devotionary.

    • Thanks Kent. And just so you know, I have not yet been delivered from my sarcasm. But it has been somewhat tempered by God’s grace and a much older brain!

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