In Eliphaz’s advice to Job, we see that the argument that suffering is always the result of man’s sin, and that man can never be in a right standing before God, is a satanic deception.
Job’s friend Eliphaz the Temanite responds first in chapter four. Coming from a city renown for its wisdom (Jer 49:7), he is wise in his own eyes. For understandable reasons, Eliphaz is taken aback by Job wishing he was dead, because he believes Job is charging God with wrongdoing. He exclaims, “Who can refrain from speaking” (Job 4:2)?
Further, Eliphaz has heard exactly how Job used to console others in similar situations: “Behold you have admonished many and you have strengthened weak hands” (Job 4:3). He then accuses Job of hypocrisy, saying that Job is changing his tune simply because it is now him who is dealing with the consequences of sin (Job 4:5).
Just exactly did Job used to say? We suspect it’s what Eliphaz says in verse six: “Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?”
In many ways, Job 4:6 mirrors what Job himself later says in Job 28:28 (“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding”). Replace confidence with wisdom and hope with understanding, and we essentially have the same positive assertion. We may infer from this then that Eliphaz is literally quoting something Job used to say.
However, Eliphaz commits a crucial theological error and interprets Job’s advice all wrong. He essentially says the good are always rewarded and the evil are always punished, in absolutely all situations.
Granted the Scripture makes some pretty clear statements that during the Final Judgment “the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev 20:12). So, for those who are wicked (that’s everyone) and outside of Christ, they will be thrown into the lake of fire. Therefore, in an eschatological sense, it is true that God punishes everyone who has sinned against Him and he rewards those who have obeyed His Law, which would be the one’s whose sins are covered by Christ’s work on the cross.
However, Eliphaz is not talking eschatology. He is talking about the here in now. When we take this into consideration, his remarks about the good never being punished are extreme: “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed” (Job 4:7)?
By saying “remember,” we have reason to believe that he is reminding Job of something else he used to say.
So, did Job ever say that the innocent never perished? Maybe so. Perhaps, Eliphaz is exaggerating and twisting what Job used to say. Job may have been speaking in the eschatological sense, though this seems to be precluded by the fact that Job does not know how to rationalize the evil that has befallen him. Either way, Eliphaz takes what Job used to say seriously and then makes it part of his own theology.
Now, such a theology does not correspond with reality. The adherence to a “what goes around comes around”/”karma” theology is specifically what God punishes Job’s friends for later in the story.
Nowhere in Scripture does God confine Himself to be compelled by human effort as a requirement in order to bless His people. Salvation is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9). God, consistently in Scripture, forgives the undeserving because He is merciful.
However, it is a natural human inclination to feel wronged at the fact that “bad things happen to ‘good’ people.” Scripture challenges our thinking and asks us to accept that God does not always punish evil and reward good, at least not on planet Earth. Christian martyrs took to heart the blessings and difficulties that Christ promised believers: “He will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30).
It is apparent that “along with persecutions” is not something Job or his friends understood.
This is not to say that everything that comes out of Eliphaz’s, or his friends’, mouths is wrong. For example, “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they come to an end” (Job 4:8-9).
Man does indeed “reap what he sows” (Gal 6:7). Those who do evil, which is all men apart from God’s grace, will perish in His judgment.
Eliphaz’s error is in misapplying these truths, perhaps taught to him by Job (who was taught by God) to mean that because God punishes men for sin all suffering must therefore be evidence of retribution for wickedness. And if this be the case, it stands to reason in order to end suffering all one has to do is repent.
Because he adheres to this strict dogma, this leads him to insinuate several times that Job is being punished by God for an unconfessed sin.
Eliphaz’s first insinuation that Job should repent is in Job 4:10-11, which is a simple enough passage. The predators who set out to do evil are thwarted. This appears to be an obscure warning to Job that just as the lions are prevented from killing their prey, the same thing is occurring to Job. There are echos of the same idea in Psalm 34:10, which offers the same warning and promise that Eliphaz essentially does.
After this insulting insinuation, Eliphaz then appeals to revelation to make his case. During the time of Job, there was no recorded Scripture so man received revelation directly from God*, or presumably, extrapolated it from stories passed down since the days of Adam and then Noah. Hence, Eliphaz would have had at least some grounds, intellectually, to make his case that the “revelation” he received was worth listening to.
*We will cover in more detail this possibility later, but we should not allow this matter to affect our understanding of the book.
However, there is good reason to believe that Satan himself is the one working in the vision. The hint in the dialogue that the vision is satanic is that the “spirit” that “passed by my [Eliphaz’s] face” (4:15) makes no room for saving grace and obviously takes issue with God’s lack of acceptance of him. Satan said:
Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? He puts no trust even in His servants and against His angels He charges error. How much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth (Job 4:17-19)!
The vision starts with deceptive representation of the truth. “Can mankind be just before God?” The answer it anticipates is “no.” Of course, this is true and it is rpecisely because it is true we require an alien righteousness, that is Christ’s, to be just before God.
However, this is not where Satan is encouraging Eliphaz to think. Instead, the very idea leads Eliphaz to interpret the statement to mean that God is right to crush man and punish him at all times, for there is nothing good in him: “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, for man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (5:6-7).
This “Irenaean Theodicy,” that evil and misfortune is simply the result of man’s free will making bad decisions, flies in the face of the setting in heaven we know from chapters 1 and 2. If we interpret Job as deserving of punishment or self-righteous in some way, we essentially are in agreement with Eliphaz’s satanic vision. Job is being punished/taught a lesson because he is being charged with error.
In many ways, the idea that men are always open to divine punishment and “cannot be pure before his maker” is not totally without merit. Even the Apostle Paul wrote, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (Rom 7:18).
However, the deception is that there is no way out, a way out that Job later anticipates in knowing his “Redeemer lives” to mediate between him and God the Father. Those of us in Christ are pure in the eyes of God, because all of our sins have been nailed to the cross (Col 2:14), so even Paul who nothing good dwelt in can boast, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Hence, the deception of Satan is that suffering is always the result of our sin and so God is not seeking to ever forgive or have a relationship with us, but rather seeks to crush us continually. Now, outside of Christ, God would be in His every right to do so. Those whose “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5) deserve punishment continually. In fact, God lifting his hand and not punishing the sinner every moment is gracious.
However, this is not true of those who are in Christ. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). Further, the Scripture states, “It was given to her [the Church] to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8). The righteousness is not something we put on ourselves, but God puts on to us. These righteous acts are not works the saints do on their own, but that the Holy Spirit does through them, as Paul says, “ I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). As Christ makes clear, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Another picture of this is in Zech 3:3-5:
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the Lord was standing by.
Therefore, those who are righteous are so because God has made them so. How? Because those in Christ are righteous by virtue of their union with Christ. He viewed His faithful servant Job as blameless and with good reason: those who have faith in God have always had His approval because through faith comes forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness. “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5).
The fact that God smiles upon Job in heaven shows that he is not suffering as retribution for every bad inclination he has. We have every reason to believe that because of Job’s genuine faith, God views Job as completely righteous.
So, why does Satan teach this subtle error? For one, it takes our eyes away from Christ and leads us to blame God for our suffering, because we could never be in right relationship with Him anyhow. It would be like the song Every Breath You Take from the Police:
Every breath you take, and every move you make…Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching…
God would find no righteousness in man whose every thought is evil from his youth (Gen 8:21), and so after every breath and every step, as sure as sparks fly upwards, God is looking to crush man for each infraction. From such a god there is no deliverance and no possible means for reconciliation. It is exactly the sort of god Satan would like us to believe exists, because man would have no reason to worship such a god.
Further, in the vision we can see that Satan is mad that God “puts no trust even in His servants and against His angels He charges error.” Satan considers himself (at least once upon a time) a servant, but he is angry that he as one of God’s angels is charged with error regardless. In his arrogance he asserts that if he cannot be pure before God surely mortal man cannot be, “whose foundation is dust, who are crushed before the moth” (Job 4:19).
The vision is correct in saying, “There is no one righteous, not one” (Rom 3:10). But, it is incorrect in attributing all suffering a retribution for this fact, even though God would legally be in His right to because of the depravity of man. Nonetheless, it is not the destiny of all men to return to “dust” for good and these same men can be pure before God if they are washed clean in Christ’s blood. The faithful, like Job, then often do not suffer as punishment, but God has more mysterious reasons behind it. However, if we are confident in His love for us we can be confident that He will provide a way out in our suffering and that He works all things, including suffering, for good.
Another horrible Satanic deception in the vision is the nihilistic assertion that “Between morning and evening they are broken in pieces; unobserved, they perish forever. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them? They die, yet without wisdom” (Job 4:20-21).
What is the point of living if God merely crushes man into pieces day and night? Why go on if we perish forever, only to die and be gone for good? These horrible assertions of there being no afterlife are a twisted lie for more reason than one: there is a resurrection of the righteous and Satan is the one who, when the protective hedge around people is removed, prowls and destroys people day and night. The abominable beast is quick to accuse God of doing specifically what he does himself!
If there is no afterlife and if God finds fault in every single thought, word, or deed we commit we might as well live in open rebellion against God, perish the thought! “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:32).