Eliphaz gives his final argument against Job, betraying a misunderstanding of total depravity and his own envy.
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Eliphaz’s last counter-argument is desperate. In order to preserve a false view of God’s justice in light of Job’s observations of the wicked not always being punished, he essentially settles with the idea that God does not even care if man does right or wrong. We shall see that Bildad also resorts to the same desperate argument in order to preserve the idea that suffering is at all times the result of divine retribution.
Eliphaz begins: “Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous” (Job 22:3)? His answer is “no.” However, God’s answer is “yes!”
“For the Lord loves justice and does not forsake His godly ones” (Ps 37:28). Further, “it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord, You surround him with favor as with a shield” (Ps 5:12).
God loves righteousness and looks upon it favorably. How do we square this with the idea that no man is righteous, not one (Rom 3:10)? We must remember, that we are righteous in Christ, so God loves our righteousness because we are imputed His righteousness.
It says of Christ: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy above Your fellows” (Ps 45:7). Christ has perfectly loved righteousness and hated evil. Those of us in Christ are in union with Him: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Yes, Christ literally abides in the believer and He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. So, when He is in us, God the Father sees us as perfectly loving righteousness and hating wickedness. This shows in the life of believers because they cannot help but bear the fruit of the Spirit, visible in good works, thanks be to Christ.
Because the Father finds pleasure in His Son, so it must be true He takes pleasure in His people. They are imputed the righteousness of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit, so that Christ and the Church (all believers) are one flesh (Eph 5:31-32).
Another observation we can make is that Eliphaz is responding to Job in Job 22:3. In verse three, he asks if God “profit[s] (בּצע, i.e. “plunder,” this has a negative connotation) if you make your ways perfect?” The answer of the rhetorical question is “no.” This appears to be a response to Job when he asked (quoting the wicked), “Who is the Almighty that we should serve Him and what would we gain (יעל, “profit,” this has a positive connotation) if we entreat Him” (Job 21:15)?
What is striking here is that Job looks down upon the wicked for not seeing any gain in being obedient to God by asking his rhetorical question. Yet, Eliphaz betrays a mindset similar to the wicked himself in his question to Job! He is essentially saying, “Sure, the wicked think it gains them nothing to be just, but even if they were righteous it is not like God gets anything from it.”
Being that if God benefited at all from man’s righteousness it would be “plunder,” we are to conclude that God can never be impressed or happy in man. Following Eliphaz’s reasoning that man’s righteousness adds nothing to God, God would be correct in viewing man as “unredeemable” and worthy of arbitrary punishment.
What we can conclude is that Eliphaz is being sophistic in his argument here. For the rest of the chapter, in his satanic ignorance, he completely contradicts his assertion that man cannot be pure (Job 15:14) and asserts that if Job repents he will be fully restored.
How do we make sense of ELiphaz contradicting himself? We can only conclude that he is trying to have it both ways. God is just, despite of Job’s suffering, because he is merely punishing wickedness. If Job really wasn’t as wicked as he claims, then that does not matter, Eliphaz reasons. Not even the heavens are clean in His sight, so how could God take pleasure in man?
Of course, we know this to be untrue in light of the first two chapters of the book where God clearly took pleasure in Job and his faithfulness. But, we do not need to take Eliphaz’s demon-inspired argument about the depravity of man very seriously. He has obviously not taken into account the righteousness believers have in Christ, nor does he seem to even keep his argument consistent. In the end, he is no different than the other friends. He simply thinks Job is being punished for doing evil acts.
What sort of evil is Job supposedly guilty of that such a drastic punishment has been thrust upon him? Now there are no more insinuations. Instead, we have specific accusations. He was supposedly irreverent to God (Job 22:4, see also Job 15:4), showed favoritism to the rich when acting as a judge (Job 22:8, “honorable” in the Hebrew connotes favoritism), and exploited the poor (Job 22:6-7, 9).
We already know from the first chapter that Job was not irreverent, not even in his heart. Further, in Job 31:16-21, with some hyperbole, Job defends his record of being good to those in dire straits.
Why does Eliphaz make such specific false accusations? An interesting speculation we can make is that he is jealous Job’s piety and wealth, so he takes solace in that Job’s wealth was ill-gained. What other reason can there be for such accusations which cannot be substantiated and clearly contradicted? Envy can certainly drive people to leap to such conclusions. Perhaps, Job’s friends’ conviction of their own envy is the reason they were silenced after Job’s final speech where he debunked their assertions and proved himself blameless (Job 32:1).
Envy also seems to explain why Eliphaz can so vividly imagine Job’s motives behind his imaginary crimes. For example, he speculates that Job believes that God is uninvolved with what goes on in Earth (Job 22:12-14). Perhaps, he asserts, Job thought God simply was not paying attention or is too far away from the action to know what is going on.
Eliphaz warns Job that he has built his foundation on sand like the wicked and not a rock (Job 22:16, Matt 7:24-27). He also states that the righteous look upon the destruction of the wicked joyfully (Job 22:19), which has some pretty unsettling implications. Are Job’s friends, at least subconsciously, happy to see the high and mighty Job fall? Perhaps, Job has suspected this all along and has for this reason responded so sternly to them.
While much of what Eliphaz has been saying is easy to follow, verse 18 presents us some difficulty: “Yet He filled their houses with good things; but the counsel of the wicked is far from me.” What is Eliphaz talking about?
The simplest explanation is the God did not punish the wicked right away and even permits them to continue to prosper in order to give time to repent. To emphasize that he would not desire such ill-got gains, even if God permits it for a time, Eliphaz makes clear that he would not do such a thing.
Further, Eliphaz is quoting Job 21:16 (“Behold, their [the wicked’s] prosperity is not in their hand; the counsel of the wicked is far from me”) perhaps to accuse Job. While Job was making an observation that the wicked die as do the righteous (see Ecc 9:2-3), Eliphaz concurs that God fills the houses of the wicked with good things for a time. He also agrees that God controls their destinies.
However, is agreement with Job probably does not show approval. Rather, he is pointing out that Job had good things, but God reserved the right to take them away as punishment. By pointing this out in light of his preceding accusations, Eliphaz is trying to make clear that Job’s counsel is the wicked one and he is reaping what he sowed.
The remainder of Eliphaz’s speech implores Job to repent of his grievous sin: “If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored” (Job 22:23). If Job puts aside his love of money and treasures God in his own heart (Job 22:24-25), he will have “treasure in heaven” (Matt 6:20). God will then hear his prayers (Job 22:27) and Job’s fortunes will be returned (Job 22:28).
Eliphaz’s promises in the last two verses are striking:
When you are cast down, you will speak with confidence, and the humble person He will save. He will deliver one who is not innocent and he will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands (Job 22:29-30).
God indeed opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). God does not save those who are self-righteous (“the innocent,”) but rather the broken and contrite–for the healthy are in no need of a doctor, but the sick are (Luke 5:31)!
However, little does Eliphaz know it is he who is sick and it is Job’s prayers and holy hands (1 Tim 2:8) that will deliver him! Henry observed that Eliphaz “insinuated that Job’s prayers were not prevailing, nor his hands pure (for then he would have relieved others, much more himself).”
This makes Eliphaz’s closing statement quite fitting. It is ironically prophetic and contains the mixture of truth and falsehood typical of Job’s friends’ attempts at Theodicy.