Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak

17 “I will show you; hear me,
    and what I have seen I will declare
18 (what wise men have told,
    without hiding it from their fathers,
19 to whom alone the land was given,
    and no stranger passed among them).
20 The wicked man writhes in pain all his days,
    through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless.
21 Dreadful sounds are in his ears;
    in prosperity the destroyer will come upon him.
22 He does not believe that he will return out of darkness,
    and he is marked for the sword.
23 He wanders abroad for bread, saying, ‘Where is it?’
    He knows that a day of darkness is ready at his hand;
24 distress and anguish terrify him;
    they prevail against him, like a king ready for battle.
25 Because he has stretched out his hand against God
    and defies the Almighty,
26 running stubbornly against him
    with a thickly bossed shield;
27 because he has covered his face with his fat
    and gathered fat upon his waist
28 and has lived in desolate cities,
    in houses that none should inhabit,
    which were ready to become heaps of ruins;
29 he will not be rich, and his wealth will not endure,
    nor will his possessions spread over the earth;
30 he will not depart from darkness;
    the flame will dry up his shoots,
    and by the breath of his mouth he will depart.
31 Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself,
    for emptiness will be his payment.
32 It will be paid in full before his time,
    and his branch will not be green.
33 He will shake off his unripe grape like the vine,
    and cast off his blossom like the olive tree.
34 For the company of the godless is barren,
    and fire consumes the tents of bribery.
35 They conceive trouble and give birth to evil,
    and their womb prepares deceit.” – Job 15:17-35 ESV

Eliphaz has a way with words but it would be difficult to describe him as an encourager. He has a gift for crafting well-worded sentences that paint vivid images in the mind, yet do little to lift up the spirits of the one to whom they’re directed. This guy is a veritable factory of one-liners and memorable word pictures. His vocabulary is impressive, as is his ability to string together powerfully worded indictments that masquerade as well-intended counsel to his afflicted friend.

His gift of persuasion is hard to argue with and one can almost find themselves nodding their head in agreement as he waxes eloquent about Job’s guilt and his need for repentance. After all, he seems to know what he’s talking about and even claims to have plenty of hard-earned personal experience that lends him credibility and authority in the matter.

“If you will listen, I will show you.
    I will answer you from my own experience.
And it is confirmed by the reports of wise men
    who have heard the same thing from their fathers—
from those to whom the land was given
    long before any foreigners arrived. – Job 15:17-19 NLT

He claims to be backed by the wisdom of the ages, so his advice should be heeded and his words should go unchallenged. For Job to try and refute Eliphaz’s counsel would be to reject generations of proven insight into the human experience. He would be standing opposed to centuries worth of collective knowledge and stubbornly rejecting the tried-and-true insights of the sages.

How is Job supposed to withstand that kind of withering assault on his innocence? If he continues to hold his ground and stubbornly cling to his blamelessness, he will only add fuel to the fire and validate Eliphaz’s claims. After all, Eliphaz has carefully constructed his prosecution of Job, using any claims of innocence as proof of guilt. In his estimation, only the wicked would dare to lash out at God. A truly innocent man would show honor and respect by confessing his guilt and placing himself in the hands of the Almighty. And Eliphaz strengthens his case by comparing Job’s actions with those of the wicked and godless.

“The wicked writhe in pain throughout their lives.
    Years of trouble are stored up for the ruthless.
The sound of terror rings in their ears,
    and even on good days they fear the attack of the destroyer. – Job 15:20-21 NLT

Eliphaz is anything but subtle. He claims that Job is only getting what he deserves for a life of hidden wickedness. Job may have fooled his family and friends but he couldn’t pull the wool over God’s eyes. Now, he was getting his just desserts. At least, that’s how Eliphaz saw it.

He compares Job to a king who knows he is facing defeat at the hands of a more powerful foe but stubbornly clings to his false hope of victory. These kinds of fools “shake their fists at God, defying the Almighty. Holding their strong shields, they defiantly charge against him” (Job 15:25-26 NLT).

Don’t miss what Eliphaz is doing. He is setting Job up by turning every attempt at self-justification into proof of guilt. If Job even dares to question his circumstances, he is “shaking his fist at God” and “defying the Almighty.” This assertion virtually eliminates all options for Job. He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. His persistent pleas of innocence will only confirm his guilt but so will a vow of silence. Eliphaz has painted Job into a corner and left him with no way out.

Sensing that he has Job on the ropes, Eliphaz increases the intensity of his attacks, painting his hapless friend as being overweight from a life of over-indulgence. He is fat and bloated from decades of excess and extreme wickedness.

“These wicked people are heavy and prosperous;
    their waists bulge with fat. – Job 15:27 NLT

Subtlety is not Eliphaz’s strong suit. He wields words like a sledgehammer, obliterating any semblance of hope that may remain in Job’s already fractured heart. Eliphaz has gotten personal by attacking Job’s physical appearance along with his integrity. Once again, Eliphaz is attempting to portray Job as a hypocrite and a fraud. He is not what he appears to be. Eliphaz has deduced that the pity-producing cries of his suffering friend are nothing but a cleverly orchestrated facade designed to distract and deceive. The more vociferously Job demands his guiltlessness, the more condemned he stands.

It’s quite clear that Eliphaz has no doubts regarding Job’s guilt. In his mind, Job is wicked and godless, and his losses are all the proof he needs to elicit a guilty verdict from the Judge of the universe. He believes he has God on his side and one can almost see the smirk on his face as he confidently asserts that the riches of the wicked “will not last, and their wealth will not endure” (Job 15:29 NLT). Job has seen his wealth evaporate before his eyes. He has nothing left. And, for Eliphaz, this is further proof of his friend’s culpability. With Job’s finances in shambles, he has no resources on which to rely, and Eliphaz knows it. In fact, he coldly states that Job’s poverty has left him with nothing to look forward to than a life of emptiness. It will be Job’s only reward. 

This man is relentless and compassionless. He has become so determined to prove himself right that he has become blind to the wrongs he has inflicted on his helpless and hopeless friend. Eliphaz has lost all capacity to see Job’s pain and provide solace. His words have become pain-inducing, not peace-producing.

The apostle James points out the danger of an unbridled tongue.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. – James 1:26-27 NLT

Job was not a widow or an orphan but he was a man in great distress, and Eliphaz and his friends, in their self-righteousness, were using their tongues to burden him with a heavy weight of unnecessary pain and suffering. James went on to describe the damaging influence of an unbridled tongue.

…the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. – James 3:6 NLT

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were all adept at wielding their tongues but the byproduct of their efforts was anything but uplifting. Job had not been comforted or cared for. Their religious speech had not produced righteousness. And James would have called them out for using the same tongue with which they praised God to curse one who had been made in the image of God (James 3:9). In doing so, these men had put themselves in the place of God. Each of them viewed himself as Job’s judge, jury, and executioner.

I believe James would have counseled Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to back off and reconsider how they were using their tongues. He would have asked them to examine their motives. He would have questioned the health of their own hearts and encouraged them to do a bit of personal soul-searching to see if their wisdom was really from God or not.

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. – James 3:13-16 NLT

Each of us could stand to learn from the not-so-flattering examples of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. We would do well to consider our own tendency to give out unsolicited advice and, in doing so, to do immeasurable damage to those who desperately need a word of encouragement in their time of need. Each of us would be wise to consider the words of James.

You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. – James 1:19-20 NLT

May we not forget the words Jesus spoke to the self-righteous and quick-to-judge Pharisees: “…let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7 NLT)

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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