“Call if you will, but who will answer you?
To which of the holy ones will you turn?
2 Resentment kills a fool,
and envy slays the simple.
3 I myself have seen a fool taking root,
but suddenly his house was cursed.
4 His children are far from safety,
crushed in court without a defender.
5 The hungry consume his harvest,
taking it even from among thorns,
and the thirsty pant after his wealth.
6 For hardship does not spring from the soil,
nor does trouble sprout from the ground.
7 Yet man is born to trouble
as surely as sparks fly upward.
8 “But if I were you, I would appeal to God;
I would lay my cause before him.
9 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.
10 He provides rain for the earth;
he sends water on the countryside.
11 The lowly he sets on high,
and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
12 He thwarts the plans of the crafty,
so that their hands achieve no success.
13 He catches the wise in their craftiness,
and the schemes of the wily are swept away.
14 Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;
at noon they grope as in the night.
15 He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;
he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.
16 So the poor have hope,
and injustice shuts its mouth.
17 “Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.[a]
18 For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.
19 From six calamities he will rescue you;
in seven no harm will touch you.
20 In famine he will deliver you from death,
and in battle from the stroke of the sword.
21 You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,
and need not fear when destruction comes.
22 You will laugh at destruction and famine,
and need not fear the wild animals.
23 For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,
and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
24 You will know that your tent is secure;
you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.
25 You will know that your children will be many,
and your descendants like the grass of the earth.
26 You will come to the grave in full vigor,
like sheaves gathered in season.
27 “We have examined this, and it is true.
So hear it and apply it to yourself.”
It looks like there’s a lot of wisdom here, right? As my NIV text notes so wonderfully put it, “The problem is not so much with what the friends knew but with what they did not know.” Poor Eliphaz is being made to look quite the pompous fool, a little reminiscent of Hamlet’s Polonius. Polonius is the character with the famous one-liner “to thine own self be true,” which is, indeed, great advice. He’s also a scheming, overbearing windbag and generally crap father. Basically, Polonius was virtue signalling, and Eliphaz is kind of doing the same thing.
What I love about this passage though is that Eliphaz doesn’t even know how right he is. God will indeed save Job from seven calamities (a figurative number just meaning “a lot” not necessarily seven exactly), his property and health will be restored, and his children will, indeed, be many. Even his parables are spot on without realizing it. Eliphaz talks about his a fool’s children being “crushed in court without a defender.” (v. 4) Well, with Satan as “the Accuser” in the heavenly court, that is basically what happened to Job’s children. The only difference is that Job isn’t a fool, and has God as his defender. And through all his long laments in this chapter, Job is “laying his cause before Him,” as Eliphaz counsels him to in v. 8. If Eliphaz weren’t so busy pontificating then maybe he could see that Job is already doing exactly what he said to do.
One of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve received from my MIL is, “go through life like a dog: if you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.” It’s silly on the surface, but good advice at it’s core – kind of the opposite of Eliphaz self-righteous “if it were I” talk of this first speech. And that, I think, it what we can learn from this little Biblical episode: We are going to come across trying people. But, as Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata says, “even the dull and ignorant, they too have their stories.” Let us glean what truths and good we can from people, even if we aren’t in full agreement with them. I know it’s not always easy, but we don’t have to take their foolishness to heart. In fact, in the next chapter Job is about to call Eliphaz out on his bullshit. So yes, listen to what people have to say, but then weigh it against your own life, your own conscious; talk it over with God. If it doesn’t hold water, then leave it. You’ll be better off.