A Bible study with Jeffrey J. Harrison
Last time we heard from Eliphaz, the first of Job’s friends to speak after Job’s sorrowful lament. What was Eliphaz’s conclusion? There had to be sin in Job’s life, plain and simple. Bad things don’t just happen. You reap what you sow. There had to be something in Job’s life to bring on the terrible events he had endured. So he should stop protesting his innocence and repent, and God would make things right.
Eliphaz’s simplistic analysis makes a lot of sense. But as we know from the first two chapters of the book, it’s entirely false. Job’s troubles did not come because of his sin, but because of his exceptional blamelessness before God.
We also noted some other problems with Eliphaz’s remarks. He relied heavily on personal experience to make his case, including a rather strange “ghost story,” in which a phantom of the night appeared and spoke to him. Personal experience may be vivid, but it’s not always the best measure of truth. What if it was a demon that woke him, and was lying to him?
We also noted a distasteful arrogance on Eliphaz’s part toward sinners. He thought that by cursing them, he was doing God a favor. This is the kind of attitude that gives religion a bad name. Even God hates it: through Isaiah he says that a ‘holier than thou’ attitude is
smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day (Isa. 65:5).
But we can’t fault everything Eliphaz said. A lot of it is true; a lot of it is Scriptural. But the question is whether he’s using these bits of Scripture accurately, or if he’s misapplying them, twisting them inappropriately to fit Job’s situation. Yes, it’s true that Job looks as if he’s despised and rejected by God. But appearances can be deceiving.
As you might already guess, Job is not the kind of individual to take this abuse quietly. So here, in chapters 6 and 7, we hear his answer to Eliphaz.
Job Responds to Eliphaz
Job 6:1: “And Job answered and said,
6:2: “‘If only my distress were indeed weighed, and with my calamity in the balances [of a scale] they were lifted up together.’”
The image here is of an old-fashioned balance scale with two pans, in one of which weights were put and on the other side the object to be weighed.
6:3: “‘For it would then be heavier than the sand of the seas; this is why my words have been rash.’”
His distress is heavier than all the sand of the seas put together. No wonder his words have been a little wild.
6:4: “‘For the arrows of Shaddai [the Almighty] are in me, my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of Eloah are arrayed against me.’”
God has shot him with poisoned arrows, and his terrors are aimed at him from every side.
6:5: “‘Does a wild donkey bray over grass? Or a cow low over its fodder?’”
No—they’re too busy eating. They only complain when they’re hungry, or something’s wrong. In the same way, Job says, he would not be complaining if everything were as easy as Eliphaz says it should be. Here Job shows that he, too, can use simple truisms to support his case.
6:6: “‘Is a tasteless thing eaten without salt? Or is there taste in the juice of the purslane?’”
Purslane is a weed commonly eaten in Europe, Asia, and in many areas around the Mediterranean, including Israel. But as Job indicates, it doesn’t have much flavor.
6:7: “‘My soul refuses to touch them; they are like mold in my bread.’”
Here Job continues the illustration of complaining over food. The animals do not complain (in vs. 5), because they have food that they like to eat. But he, by contrast, has received nothing good—and therefore has reason to complain.
6:8: “‘Who will grant that my request will come, and that Eloah will grant what I hope for:
6:9: That Eloah will be willing and will crush me, that he will loosen his hand and cut me off?’”
As in his first speech, Job continues to long for death.
6:10: “‘Yet it is still my comfort, and I rejoice in the anguish that he does not spare, that I have not denied the words of the Holy One.’”
Still Job hangs on to his integrity, in spite of his pain. But what are these “words of the Holy One” that Job does not deny? The many allusions in Job to the opening chapters of Genesis may refer to a body of tradition later written down as the first eleven chapters of Genesis. These traditions may also have included many wise sayings of which we hear the echo, or perhaps even the actual words in Job, and which later grew to become the “Wisdom Literature” of the Bible, also found especially in books such as Proverbs and Ecclesiates, as well as in the book of Job itself.
6:11: “‘What is my strength that I should wait? And what is my end that I should prolong the life of my soul?’”
What is the point of my staying alive?
6:12: “‘Is my strength the strength of a stone? Is my flesh bronze?’”
I’m not Superman, Job says. How much can a person be expected to endure?
6:13: “‘Is my help not in me and sound thinking driven from me?’”
Have I completely lost it? Or shouldn’t it be that...
6:14: “‘To the despairing, his friend should show lovingkindness, even if he forsakes the fear of Shaddai.’”
Even if someone abandons the fear of the Lord, which Job has not, lovingkindness should still be shown to the afflicted, and we should not play the blame game with them or be judgmental.
6:15: “‘My brothers have dealt deceitfully with me as a wadi, as the water channel of wadis they pass by,’”
Wadi is the Arabic name for a dry streambed, often with the appearance of a miniature or sometimes even a full-sized canyon. These can be found everywhere in the deserts in and around Israel. Although they hold a stream of water while it is actually raining, after the rain stops, the water is gone. The point is that these wadis cannot be counted on to bring refreshment, for when you want a drink they are most often dry. In the same way, Job’s friends have brought him no refreshment in his time of distress.
6:16: “‘Wadis darkened because of ice, in which snow hides itself.’”
In the winter, snow and ice accumulate in the bottoms of the wadis and remain there longer than on the raised land around them. This is an allusion to the chilly reception he’s gotten from his friends.
6:17: “In time they will be scorched, they will be annihilated [evaporate]; when it is warm, they will be extincted [vanish] from their place.’”
When the short winter is over, any trace of water will soon be gone from the wadis. The harsh language (“annihilated,” “extincted”) reflects Job’s deep disappointment with his friends: someday they, too, will find themselves in a difficult situation, and will in turn receive no refreshment, but will rather be destroyed.
6:18: “The ways of their paths turn [or twist] themselves, they ascend in the emptiness and perish.”
If you trace back a wadi, it twists and turns, becoming smaller and smaller until it suddenly disappears into nothing. There no dependable water source at its head. Then again, the ‘ascending in the emptiness’ may refer to the evaporation of the water of a wadi into the emptiness of the atmosphere. Either way, the point is that the wadis are not dependable, and are ultimately empty. In the same way, Job implies, the way of his friends is crooked, and they, too, will ultimately perish.
6:19: “‘The paths of Tema looked, the trails of Sheba hoped for them;
6:20: They were ashamed that he had trusted, they have come up to it and they are put to shame.’”
Tema was an important oasis in the Arabian desert, halfway between Damascus and Mecca. Because of this, it was an important center of trade. But otherwise, this is a completely flat and barren area of dirt and rock. Sheba we met with earlier, when a raiding party from Sheba stole Job’s oxen and donkeys. Known today as Yemen, this was the starting point for many caravans, another desert location.
For the “paths” of Tema and Sheba to hope for wadis is a poetic way of saying that these trails brought a traveler the hope of finding water in the wadis. But when the trusting traveler arrives and looks in them, he finds to their shame that the wadis are empty.
6:21: “‘Surely now so you# are to him! You# see a terror and you# are afraid.’”
So Job’s friends are to the weary traveler—that is, to Job himself. Job had hoped to find refreshment from them, but has found none. The terror they see and fear is Job in his affliction.
6:22: “‘Is it that I said, “Give# to me?” and “By your# strength bribe# for me?”
6:23: And “Deliver# me from the hand of an enemy?” and “From the hand of the ruthless ransom# me?”’”
Have I asked you for anything? Have I asked you to bribe someone, or to fight on my behalf, or to pay a ransom to rescue me? And if I have not asked you to do any such great thing, why are you treating me this way?
6:24: “‘Teach# me and I will be silent; and make# me understand how I have gone astray.’”
Tell me: I want to know what I have done wrong.
6:25: “‘How grievous are upright words. And what does your argument prove?’”
I’m sorry my words offend you, but they are true. Your argument, on the other hand, proves nothing.
6:26: “‘Do you# plan to reprove my statements and throw the words of one despairing to the wind?’”
Are you going to argue with someone who is hurting, and simply reject everything they say?
6:27: “‘Surely for an orphan you# throw lots and barter over your# friend.
You cruelly take advantage of one who is helpless—me!
6:28: “‘And now please look at me, will I lie to your# faces?
6:29: Relent# now, let there be no injustice; and again relent#, my righteousness is in it.’”
Lay off the attack, and stop accusing me falsely!
6:30: “‘Is there injustice on my tongue, or can my palate not discern destruction?’”
Don’t you think I can tell if I say something wrong?
7:1 : “‘Isn’t it a struggle for man on the earth, and his days like the days of a hired man?’”
This may be an allusion to the curse in Genesis:
By the sweat of your face you will eat bread... (Gen. 3:19).
7:2: “‘As a servant longs for a shadow, and as the hired man waits for his work,’”
A servant working in the hot desert sun longs for a small spot of shade to get out of its heat. So the day laborer waits eagerly for someone to hire him for the day (see Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard, Matt. 20:1-16). The common theme between the two is a longing for their current difficult condition to be over.
7:3: “‘So I have inherited months of vanity, and nights of trouble are appointed to me.’”
So Job, too, is longing to be out of his current condition of empty, useless months, and troubled nights.
7:4: “‘If I lie down, then I say, “When will I rise?” and when the evening continues on, then I have my fill of tossings until dawn.’”
Job gets no relief from sleep: in fact, he can’t sleep, but tosses all night long.
7:5: “‘My flesh is clothed with worms and lumps of dust, my skin has hardened and it runs with puss.’”
This grimly describes Job’s disease.
7:6: “‘My days are swifter than a loom and they are finished with no hope.’”
His days go by like a weaver sending his shuttle zooming back and forth in a loom. They bring him no hope for the next day.
7:7: “‘Remember* that my life is a wind [or spirit, ruach in Hebrew]; my eye will not again see good.’”
In switching to the “you” singular form (*), Job now addresses God directly. Life is fragile and goes past quickly, like a wind, he says. And he despairs of seeing anything good again in his life.
7:8: “‘The eye that sees me will not see me, your* eyes are on me, yet I will not be.’”
You see me now, but I will soon be gone.
7:9: “‘A cloud is finished and it is gone, so the one who descends to Sheol does not ascend again.’”
When a cloud is finished, it disappears completely. So the one who dies does not come back again. Sheol is the Hebrew name for the underworld of the dead, where the dead were understood to have a gray, shadowy existence.
7:10: “‘He does not return again to his house, and his place does not recognize him any more.’”
When you’re gone, you don’t come back, and your familiar haunts don’t know you anymore.
7:11: “‘I, too, will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the distress of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.’”
I, too, like Eliphaz, will not hold back what I have to say. I will speak out of the pain I am experiencing.
7:12: “‘Am I the sea or a dragon [or dinosaur, tannin], that you* set a guard over me?’”
This is an allusion to the limits placed by God on the sea after the Flood: as in Psa. 104:9,
You set a boundary that the waters may not pass over; that they may not return to cover the earth. This comes from Gen. 9:11, when God promised
there will not again be a flood to destroy the earth. The poetic parallel with dinosaurs implies that there was also some kind of divine limit set on the range of dinosaurs, perhaps indicating that they were not permitted to stray far from the sea after the Flood. (For more on this topic see our Dinosaurs in the Bible teaching.)
7:13: “‘For I say, “My bed will comfort me, my lying down will take away my complaint.’”
He hopes for comfort in his sleep at night.
7:14: “‘And you* frighten me with dreams and with visions you* terrify me.’”
Even in his sleep, he feels attacked by God.
7:15: “‘And my soul chooses strangling, death rather than these bones of mine.’”
Job would rather be strangled or suffocated than continue in his deteriorating physical body.
7:16: “‘I despise it—I don’t want to live forever; leave* me alone, for my days are a breath.’”
God, I don’t want to go on like this forever! Leave me alone, for my life would be short in any case.
7:17: “‘What is man (enosh) that you* make so much of him? And that you* set your* heart on him?
7:18: And you* inspect (paqad) him every morning, at every moment you* examine him.’”
What is man that God gives him so much attention? Why are we the subject of his continual examination? This is similar to Psa. 8:4:
What is man (enosh), that you take thought of him, and the son of man, that you inspect (paqad) him? (quoted in Heb. 2:6; see also Psalm 144:3). Though we are made a little lower than the angels, God crowns us with glory and majesty (Psa. 8:5). But right now Job sees all this attention from God in a negative light.
7:19: “‘For how long will you not turn your gaze away from me? Won’t you leave me alone while I swallow my spit?’”
Won’t you let me alone even long enough to swallow?
7:20: “‘Had I sinned, what have I done to you*, watcher of man? Why did you make me your target, that I have become a burden to myself*.’”
If I did sin, what difference would it make to you? Would it have hurt you in any way? So why did you attack me, and make my life so wearisome?
7:21: “‘And why do you* not forgive my transgression and take away* my iniquity? For now I will lie down in the dust, and you* will seek me and I will not be.’”
If I sinned, why don’t you forgive me? For I will soon die anyway. You’ll seek me, but I’ll be gone.
Can’t you forgive me, Job says, and remove these troubles from me? It’s a good question. Why doesn’t God just take all our troubles away? Why must we go through difficult times? Why must we encounter suffering in this life? If we listen hard enough, we can hear a distant echo in
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?, the words of Jesus as he hung on the cross. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22:1, which continues:
Far from my salvation are the words of my groaning. My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but I have no rest (Psa. 22:1-2). These heart-rending words are the suffering of the righteous. How much more difficult will the sufferings of the unrighteous be? (1 Peter 4:18).
We can take Job’s argument and extend it even further: is any sin, no matter how bad, really deserving of eternal punishment? Many have a problem with the idea of hell, an eternal punishment for a temporal sin. It strikes them as unfair. Why would God hold us to such a strict standard? As Jesus put it,
Be blameless as your heavenly Father is blameless (Matt. 5:48). How can we ever measure up?
But let’s look at it from God’s point of view. He’s looking for people to spend eternity with. Eternity is a long time. It’s a marriage extended to infinity. Don’t you think he’d want to know those he’s getting involved with before he makes that kind of commitment? Maybe our problem with sin is not so much the sins themselves, but the kind of person that sin shows us to be. God is selecting his bride. He wants one that is pure and perfect.
At the moment, we don’t measure up. But we can change; and God is faithful to change us (1 John 1:9). Now is the time to prepare the bride: a time to remove every spot and wrinkle (Eph. 5:26-27). James tells us to rejoice in our trials, for they produce endurance and endurance leads us on to spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4). Paul says that tribulations bring perseverance, and perseverance proven character, and proven character hope—the hope of eternity with God (Romans 5:3-4).
Maybe, just maybe, the Christian walk is not simply a way to get more blessings out of life, but a way for God to mold us and shape us, to change us to make us what he wants us to be. Maybe it’s more like an endurance race, to see who’s really serious about God—to see who is willing to hold out until the end. As Jesus said in Matthew 24:13:
The one who endures to the end, this one will be saved. What did he mean by that?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s not entering the race that is all-important, but finishing it. Paul said,
I press on toward the goal (Phil 3:14),
not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I pursue it that I may win that for which I was won by Messiah Jesus (Phil. 3:12). That doesn’t sound like a cake walk to me. It’s a challenge, the kind of race that’s going to wear you out and shake you down to see what you’re really made of. It’s going to test you beyond the pleasant formalities of church, and bring you to where the rubber meets the road, and your real inner self is revealed. Only then will God be able to reach in and change us, to remake us into his likeness. Messiah has won you. Now will you continue in Messiah until you reach the goal?