In Chapter 5, Eliphaz interprets the demonic vision he received and tries to encourage Job to repent so that God may turn away His judgement.
In chapter five Eliphaz gives his incorrect interpretation of his Romans 3:10-styled revelation. Instead of concluding that all men stand condemned and need a Redeemer, he conveniently glosses over the fact that he himself would also be condemned by his own words.
Between Job 5:1-7, it is not immediately obvious who is talking (the revelation or Elpihaz giving his interpretation.) We should remember that the Scripture did not originally have periods, quotations marks, or chapter divisions.
However, the context appears to show us at this point Eliphaz is giving his opinion on the matter. It would not seem that the spirit from chapter four would say, “I have seen the foolish taking root and I cursed his abode immediately” (Job 5:3).
Right off the bat, Eliphaz’s response begins in an insulting manner, insinuating Job’s guilt. Who can Job turn to, according to Eliphaz? No one, until he corrects his sin. Not even “the holy ones” (Job 5:1) (i.e. angels) can be turned to, but perhaps for Eliphaz he should be turning to them less…
He then implies that Job is being punished for anger (Job 5:2) and it is God’s retribution that his sons would be killed as a result (Job 5:4). Among his lies is that there is “no deliverer” from evil, though he was almost certainly not thinking about God’s grace in any way. Grace may have been a foreign concept to him anyhow.
An interesting observation Eliphaz makes is that the wealth of the wicked will be devoured by the “schemer” (Job 5:5). He appears to be saying the entire process repeats itself over and over, like a Law of Physics. He is definitely wedded to retribution theology, because he is arguing that it is like clockwork.
Eliphaz then asserts another patent untruth: all evil is the fault of man’s free will. “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground,” he says in Job 5:6, meaning that evil just doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes from man, as sure as “sparks fly upwards” (Job 5:7).
This assertion not only ignores the obvious things Eliphaz can see such as droughts and famine that kill the supposedly good and bad side by side, but also the scene from heaven early in the book. God himself said that Job held fast his integrity even though He “ruin[ed] him without cause” (Job 2:3).
Hence, evil befalls man not always as a result of what he has done. In Job’s case, there was no specific reason pertaining to why he deserved it. Plainly, Eliphaz is wrong. Further, any sort of theodicy that attributes all evil as the result purely of man’s own actions, or man’s punishment for specific sins, is also wrong.
Again, as we have stated previously, this does not mean that everything Eliphaz says is incorrect. For example, though he is wrong in saying that Job simply needs to repent in order to be restored (as Job was not being punished for any specific sin anyhow), he is correct in saying we should seek God in our suffering (Job 5:8).
The meek will inherit the Earth some day and the high are indeed raised low (Job 5:11-16), but probably in not the way he sees it. Further, we should not “despise the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 5:17), after all James says such trials should bring us “joy” (James 1:2).
This should remind us that we should not read Job and presume that absolutely everything his friends say is false. After all, Paul quotes Eliphaz in saying “God frustrates the planning of the shrewd” (Job 5:12) in the affirmative in 1 Cor 3:19.
Eliphaz also speaks the truth when he asserts that, “For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal” (Job 5:18). We already know that God can afflict pain, because He just did so to Job. He can also heal His people spiritually and literally. It is possible that what Eliphaz was getting at, however, was the necessity of personal righteousness in order to be healed:
And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer” (Ex 15:26).
See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand (Deut 32:39).
In this, we want to be very careful not to say that righteousness is not a requirement for healing. The Scripture never states that God will heal disobedient people. Even Christ healed as a response to faith. It is something, if Eliphaz wanted to out of the context of soteriology, he could make a good argument for.
When it pertains to faith, the Lord’s initiative is necessary before there is any repentance and subsequent healing. A curious case exists in the Book of Isaiah where in an oracle addressed to Egypt, God promises that He will bring calamity upon them in order so that they may repent and then worship Him:
Thus the Lord will make Himself known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day. They will even worship with sacrifice and offering, and will make a vow to the Lord and perform it. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking but healing; so they will return to the Lord, and He will respond to them and will heal them. (Is 19:20-21).
So, if Job was in sin and the calamities that have fallen upon Job were indeed judgment, then Eliphaz’s point would make sense. After all, even in the New Testament God makes ill and strikes dead confessing believers for sinning against Him because they had the wrong attitude during the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:29).
However, where Eliphaz is incorrect is that every single instance where someone is sick or has experienced misfortune that such things are indeed punishment. In Job 5:19-26 he leaves no room for doubt. Trouble never befalls the righteous man. This would have been news to Stephen the Martyr. However, Eliphaz’s theology leaves no wiggle room. God is a god strictly of retribution, not of mercy.
It is important to note that there are other parts of Scripture that speak in the same way, using absolute terms. For example, we have Psalm 15:4-5 that states concerning the righteous man:
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; he swears to his own hurt and does not change; he does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.He who does these things will never be shaken.
R.C. Sproul made the observation that the Scripture often speaks in generalities where we are supposed to extrapolate simple, but greater points than a literal rendering would lend us. For example:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes (Prov 26:4-5).
The literal rendering is obviously not true, as they would contradict one another. But, in practice, both make sense. Don’t “drag yourself down to his level,” but also “don’t let him get away with ‘it.’” And so, the same would be true with Eliphaz’s advice, though it is apparent that he doesn’t understand that what he said is only true if he were to be speaking in generalities.
In fact, the intentionality behind his comments is to bring Job to repentance and the way he goes about it is quite insensitive. He declares that God will deliver Job “from the power of the sword” (Job 5:20), but we must remember this in light of the traveling marauders that killed all of Job’s servants and robbed his fortune of animals. Eliphaz asserts that the righteous man’s descendants are many, knowing full well Job just lost his many descendants. He says that, “You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue” (Job 5:21), yet he is at this moment scourging Job with his tongue! “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire” (James 3:5)!
The only confusing reference that Eliphaz makes here pertains to his reference to man being in league with stones and at peace with animals (Job 5:23). It is obviously a promise of peace that is the reward from God for righteousness. The stones may be in reference to “boundary stones” referenced in texts such as Deut 19:14 and Prov 15:25. If so, the point is clear. God protects the righteous one’s property from beasts that can kill their flocks (Hos 2:18) and from those who may encroach upon borders that have been established by their ancestors.
Matthew Henry references Psalm 91:12 where it says, “They [angels] will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.” Hence, being “in league with the stones” pertains to God preventing us from tripping and running into trial. While, this interpretation isn’t untrue, it isn’t typical of the point Eliphaz was getting at in his other assertions: Job must repent of sin, so that God will restore his servants, property, and family. Eliphaz is insinuating Job’s wickedness by directly referencing that the righteous will be secure in the things that Job has just lost all of. For this reason, it is better to read Job 5:23 strictly as an agricultural metaphor referencing security in one’s property.
Eliphaz ends his speech saying that “we have investigated it…Hear it, and know for yourself” (Job 5:27). Who is the “we?” Eliphaz and his friends? Is he invoking a time when Job taught many similar things? We don’t know. Either way, he is asserting an argumentum ad populum and leveling it against Job.
Indeed, the “what goes around come around” theory on evil is still popular to this day.