Eliphaz (Job)

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Fresco from the Cathedral of the Annunciation depicting Job and his friends.

Eliphaz (Hebrew: אֱלִיפָז’Ělîp̄āz, "El is pure gold")[1] is called a Temanite (Job 4:1). He appears in the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible.

Eliphaz appears mild and modest. In his first reply to Job's complaints, he argues that those who are truly good are never entirely forsaken by Providence, but that punishment may justly be inflicted for secret sins. He denies that any man is innocent and censures Job for asserting his freedom from guilt. Eliphaz exhorts Job to confess any concealed iniquities to alleviate his punishment. His arguments are well supported but God declares at the end of the book that Eliphaz has made a serious error in his speaking.[2] Job offers a sacrifice to God for Eliphaz's error.[3]

Eliphaz, the first of the three visitors of Job (Job 2:11), was supposed to have come from Teman, an important city of Edom (Amos 1:12; Obadiah 9; Jeremiah 44:20). Thus Eliphaz appears as the representative of the wisdom of the Edomites, which, according to Obadiah 8, Jeremiah 44:7, and Baruch 3:22, was famous in antiquity.

The name "Eliphaz" for the spokesman of Edomite wisdom may have been suggested to the author of Job by the tradition which gave this name to Esau's son, the father of Theman (Genesis 36:11; 1 Chronicles 1:35-36). In the arguments that pass between Job and his friends, it is Eliphaz who opens each of the three series of discussions.

His primary belief was that the righteous do not perish; the wicked alone suffer, and in measure as they have sinned (Job 4:7-9). This argument is, in part, rooted in what he believes to have been a personal revelation he received through a dream (Job 4:12-16): "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" (Job 4:17-19a).

After mulling it over, Job responds to this "revelation" of Eliphaz (9:2), "In truth I know that this is so; but how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to dispute with Him, he could not answer Him once in a thousand times." Eliphaz refers to his revelation again for emphasis in Job 15:14-16.

Bildad also refers to Eliphaz's revelation in chapter 25, although he presents the concept as his own. Job rebukes him for it: "What a help you are to the weak! How you have saved the arm without strength! What counsel you have given to one without wisdom! What helpful insight you have abundantly provided! To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit was expressed through you?"[4] Job pokes fun at Bildad asking him what spirit revealed it to him because he recognizes the argument as Eliphaz's spiritual revelation.

Although quick-witted, and quick to respond, Eliphaz loses his composure in chapter 22, accusing Job of oppressing widows and orphans, a far cry from how he had originally described Job: "Behold you have admonished many, and you have strengthened weak hands. Your words have helped the tottering to stand, and you have strengthened feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?"[5]

Eliphaz also misconstrues Job's message as he scrambles to summarize Job's thoughts from chapter 21. "You say, ‘What does God know? Can He judge through the thick darkness? Clouds are a hiding place for Him, so that He cannot see; And He walks on the vault of heaven.'"[6]

Job wasn't arguing that God could not prevent evil. Job was observing that in this life God often chooses not prevent evil. Conventional wisdom told Eliphaz that God should immediately punish the wicked as that would be the just thing to do. Job, however, saw it differently, and in 24:1, Job laments. "Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?"

Job yearns for the justice Eliphaz claims exists – an immediate punishment of the wicked. However, that simply didn't hold true according to Job's observations. Nevertheless, Job doesn't question God's ultimate justice. He knows justice will eventually be served. Job asks, "For what hope have the godless when they are cut off, when God takes away their life? Does God listen to their cry when distress comes upon them?"[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ As an alternative to the interpretation "El is pure gold," or "My God is pure gold," it has also been suggested that the name might mean something along the lines of "My God is separate" or "My God is remote." See Dunham, Kyle C. (7 April 2016). The Pious Sage in Job: Eliphaz in the Context of Wisdom Theodicy. Wipf and Stock. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-62564-980-5.
  2. ^ Job 42:7-8
  3. ^ Job 42:9
  4. ^ Job 26:2-4
  5. ^ Job 4:3-6
  6. ^ Job 22:13-14
  7. ^ Job 27:8-9