(We return to the series on Job to follow his anguishes with his three friends)
Meditations in Job : 39. Do we condemn ourselves?
Job 15:6 Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.
We come to the next round of the three ‘friends’ making further comment about Job. Eliphaz was the first one to have spoken and had, first time round, been fairly diplomatic in the way he brought out his assessment of Job’s situation. This time round he seems not so circumspect and speaks more directly. Our verse at the top today really sums up his initial strike: you condemn yourself. It’s like he says, I don’t need to pull you down; you do it yourself by what you say. Let’s see exactly what he says and then see it in a wider context.
He says Job condemns himself in four ways; first with empty words. “Would a wise man answer with empty notions or fill his belly with the hot east wind” (v.2) Empty notions? Ideas that have no meaning! That’s not kind! A “hot east wind”? Words that come from an arid desert that have no effect except wear out the listeners. Job is like an arid desert? That’s not kind! How do you think you might feel if you had been trying to explain something and then eventually they turn round, exasperated, and say you were just an empty wind bag? We must not forget in all this how Job is physically. Nothing has changed. This is almost the equivalent of three philosophers coming in and sitting next to you when you are in a critical condition in a hospital bed. This is an unfair competition; they are feeling fine but he is feeling like he’s at death’s door!
Eliphaz continues: “Would he argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value?” (v.3) There is that same put-down: “useless words”! This is not nice. This is the equivalent of the parent or teacher who says to the child who already feels a failure, “You are stupid!” This is not what they need to hear. At such times we need gentle words of encouragement – even when we are wrong. Low self esteem is not helped by words of condemnation that are just plain unkind!
The second way he condemns himself, according to Eliphaz, is to undermine his relationship with the Lord. Previously he had said, “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (4:6). In other words, be confident in your piety, in the way you express your relationship with the Lord, but now he is saying that Job’s words even undermine that previous experience of the Lord: “But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God.” (v.4). You might have started out well, he suggests, but now, “Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty.” (v.5). In other words, you’ve tried to argue from cleverness, appearing crafty and trying to twist God around your little finger, we might say. Thus he concludes, “Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.” (v.6) i.e. just listening to what you say, I realize I don’t need to say anything; you are tearing yourself down.
But then comes the third put-down or third way he says Job’s words condemn him. Now he says Job’s youthful arrogance ignores the aged wisdom that is before him. Listen: “Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills?” (v.7) i.e. have you lived longer than anyone else so that your wisdom is greater than anyone else’s (implied)? He goes on, “Do you listen in on God’s council? Do you limit wisdom to yourself” (v.8) i.e. do you claim to have been in the courts of heaven and overheard God so you know what He thinks? Are you the only wise person around? Really, come on, “What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have?” (v.9). Why are you cleverer than we are? The obvious inference is that, of course none of this is true so he appeals to age and aged-wisdom to overcome Job: “The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father.” (v.10) He appeals to Job as coming from the older generation who demands respect. Whether Job is a lot younger is unclear, but at least Eliphaz is older and claims the wisdom of age.
Then we come to the fourth of these put down’s or ways that Job condemns himself through his words. He claims Job is even refusing God’s correction: “Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you?” (v.11). This infers that the words the three friends have spoken have been God’s words, correcting Job. Instead of receiving their words, Job has responded in anger: “Why has your heart carried you away, and why do your eyes flash,” (v.12). What this therefore means is that Job has actually railed against God. Look – “so that you vent your rage against God and pour out such words from your mouth?” (v.13). By implying that they, with their aged wisdom, were speaking as from God, it means that Job’s responses were responses against God.
In each way these put down’s really demean Job and are designed to take away any grounds he might have to respond. Recap: Job’s words are empty, they undermine his previous relationship with the Lord, they ignore the wisdom of his aged counselors who speak for God and thus he rejects the correction of God. Where do you go with all that? Well, what is the truth?
First of all simply deriding what someone says in their argument as empty wind, is the worst form of arguing. Abuse is not arguing! Modern atheistic crusaders use this tactic to seek to demean their believing opponents. It is, we say again, the worst form of arguing. Second, to challenge the spirituality of another person and challenge the way they work out their relationship with the Lord is a dangerous thing to do. It puts your own quality of relationship with the Lord under the spotlight because it infers that by comparison to yours, their relationship is less. Taking the words that come from another and implying it reveals a shaky relationship is similarly a dangerous thing to do. Merely because someone’s understanding of certain aspects of religious doctrine is a little faulty, it doesn’t mean their relationship with the Lord is defective. A relationship with the Lord is better measured by the obedience of that person to what they have heard from the Lord than the amount they know.
This leads us on to question the wisdom of the aged. Hopefully the aged have learnt a lot through their years of experience, but sadly that is often not true. The aged may not be obedient to the Lord and that counts a lot more with Him than how many sermons we have heard or how many Bible Studies we have attended. We also need to challenge a person’s right to claim to have spoken from the Lord. They may have done but there is no presumption that comes with age that that is so! Jesus was full of grace and truth, which meant that whenever the down trodden (such as Job) came to him, he treated them with gracious, gentle acceptance. That is not how Eliphaz has been treating Job. These are all significant issues that we should be thinking about in the way we treat other people.