The Anguish of Job – Meditation 14
Job 5:8 But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him.
Perhaps it is important that we remind ourselves of Job’s state of mind before we consider Eliphaz’s counsel. Remember that, after all his possessions and family were taken, Job’s response was, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (1:21) That was a marvellous illustration of someone who just submits themselves to God’s sovereign will because God knows best and we have no claim on any possessions. Then came the bodily affliction and when his wife provokes him, his reply was simply, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10) and the record states, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10b) Yes, after that Job had rued the day he had been born and the fact that he continues to live while in such pain, discomfort and anguish, but in no way is he chiding God and he has very little over which to repent.
Now all that needed saying if we are to see the import of our verse today: I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. In itself, on its own, it looks quite simple and acceptable. It is going to lead into talk about God’s discipline and it follows talk that infers Job has blown it, so in fact it is actually a suggestion that Job should repent and call on God for forgiveness but, as we’ve just seen, that’s not what is needed and the bigger picture shows than this was not all about Job’s sin, but simply about testing Job’s faithfulness.
Does Job need to appeal to God? Does he need to lay his cause before Him? Job has already declared his acceptance of God’s will in the opening chapters. He has accepted that for whatever reason this has come from God and God’s will is supreme so there is nothing more to be said. Eliphaz doesn’t agree. He thinks Job needs to be crying out to God. This is a crucial point here. Job is most unusual in that the Scriptural record declares a) he was an upright man, and b) he rested in God’s sovereign will. Now perhaps we might concede that it is natural in such circumstances to want relief (which chapter 3 shows Job clearly wants) and to ask God for mercy to relieve him of this affliction, but that is the most that can be said with what we know about him and the origins of this situation. Yet those don’t seem to be the grounds that are in Eliphaz’s mind when he talks about appealing to God. He is still on the ‘sin-judgment-discipline’ train of thought which is clearly not a right path.
His approach here also needs comment: But if it were I, I would….. What he is saying is, “You are doing this, but I would do that,” which is another way of gently saying, “I think you are wrong. I think you are in the wrong and I think you need to change and do something about that.” However you look at it, it is a subtle challenge to Job’s position and Job’s beliefs. It is saying, “From my standpoint I see it like this…. and I realise that that isn’t how you see it.” That’s what this sort of language says. It is the language of gentle conflict rather than loving acceptance. It is the language of one who wants to put another straight, bring correction to his wrong way of thinking and wrong beliefs. It may be gentle but it is still that.
Now it would be unfair not to mention the verses that follow, where Eliphaz speaks of the faithfulness of the Lord. He is using it as a means of persuading Job to face up to his errors and confess and repent. God is good, so you can trust him to respond well to your repentance, is really what he is saying in the following verses. There are some subtle implications behind it all though, which bear considering.
• “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. He bestows rain on the earth; he sends water upon the countryside.” (v.9,10) i.e. God is great and all powerful and a wonderful provider. It’s all right, Job, He’s a good God.
• “The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.” (v.11,12) i.e. He cares for the lowly and those who mourn but is not fooled by the crafty who He deals with and sorts out. If you are lowly, Job, He will lift you, but if you play crafty with Him, He will deal with you.
• “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away. Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night.” (v.13,14) Hmmmm! He will deal with those who are not straight forward with Him, so you’d better be upfront with God now, Job.
• “He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth .” (v.15,16) Hmmm again! Yes, He does look after the needy and the poor. Is this an implication that, because He doesn’t appear to be looking after you Job, you aren’t the poor and needy and this is judgment on your affluence?
It is difficult to assess the truth of what Eliphaz is getting at here (which is why commentators vary) but it does seem that he is speaking truth about God in such a way that it could possibly condemn Job. How much better to have said, “Job, I don’t understand all that is happening to you, but one thing I do know, and that is that God does love you,” but Eliphaz hasn’t had that revelation yet (as many of us still haven’t!), and so all he is left with is truths applied in a negative way. May we be those who can pick one another up with an acknowledgement of our own frailty and the simple reminder that God does love us, even if we can’t see how the present circumstances reveal that.