Has someone ever asked you for spiritual advice and you weren't sure what advice to give them? It isn't a good feeling, is it? But as we look at the advice that Job's closest friends gave him during his most difficult trial, we'll learn that not having an answer is sometimes better than giving the wrong answer.
“Avoiding the Error of Eliphaz”
Job 4 & 5
There is something wonderful about well timed, well delivered, encouraging words.
I thought it was so kind of one of our 3rd grad Sunday School classes to write me little notes a few months ago. Evidently they were studying the book of Acts and specifically focused on serving God.
The teachers of this class, who will remain nameless, wrote a note saying, “We talked about how God is using you as a pastor in many ways.” They ended by saying, “We hope you enjoy these brief thank you notes.”
And I did! Let me read you two or three of them.
Stacy wrote, “Thank you for preaching the gospel . . . I see you at 8:00 almost every Sunday morning and you do a great job. It must take a long time to think of everything God wants you to say. I’ll be praying for you.” Love Stacy with three kisses and three hugs and a picture of a heart with a cross inside it.
A very mature Angelica wrote, “I am the one who had open heart surgery. I want to thank you for everything you have done for the church, my family and I wanted to just thank you for everything. You, the Lord and the church have given me a blessing. If you want to talk to me I will be in church and maybe I’ll see you in the hallway. So anyway, I just wanted to tell you I love the work you’ve done – conferences; studies; meetings; emails, you get the point. Your friend, Angelica
Here’s one that I didn’t quite know what to do with. These are my thank you notes, right?
Katie writes, “I am 9 ½ almost 10. I like the people you picked out for preaching in the summer. I like your idea of the new church. I like it when you play your guitar.”
Guess I’m gonna have to share this one with David.
I love this kid who wrote, “In Sunday School they asked us to write you a thank you note so here it is. I want to thank you. (He goes on to introduce all his family members by name and then writes,) I really don’t have anything to say so bye. Sincerely David
I can just see him in class . . . “who’s idea was this…” Pastor Davey . . . Pastor Shmavey.
This was one of my favorites from another bold child who wrote, “Thank you for helping the church and preaching to my Mom. (I guess she needs it!) My name is Valerie and I’m sure you’ve heard about me. I hope you get this building done. I will be praying for you. Love, Valerie.
So let’s get this building done! I don’t wanna have to face her!
What encouraging words from kids.
Solomon was right when he wrote, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
He also wrote, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25)
How delightful is a timely word, he adds in chapter 15 verse 23.
Solomon also warned us of the deadly power of words in Proverbs 15:4, when he wrote, “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.
In the New Testament book of James, the tongue is compared to a forest fire, “setting on fire the course of our life and is set on fire by hell . . . it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” (James 3:5-8)
There isn’t anything more refreshing, timely, encouraging, uplifting or instructive than words.
At the same time, there isn’t anything more destructive, defeating, discouraging, deflating or depressing than ill-timed, unwise, uncaring, unfeeling, self-centered, self-promoting, words.
After 7 days of silence, there on the ash heap in intense pain and grief, sits one of the greatest and godliest men of the East. His name would become synonymous with suffering.
For one week, his three esteemed friends who traveled from afar to be with him, sat there in silence.
Then finally, after 7 days, Job breaks the silence and pours out his pain and grief. While he doesn’t curse God, Job curses the day he was born.
In Job chapter 3 he says, “Why did I not die at birth?” (v. 11); “Why wasn’t I miscarried?” (v. 16) At least those who are dead are at rest. But no, I had to be born so that I could grow up and experience the worst of any man’s fears, the terrors that I dreaded beyond my wildest nightmare have happened to me (v. 25).
It was an explosive, lamenting, depressed and despairing cry of a man who just wanted to die.
And now, following that eruption of bitter emotion the oldest of Job’s three friends delivers a speech.
Eliphaz will speak. His words are fairly easy to outline with four different characteristics.
In his opening words, He pretends to care.
Number 1: Eliphaz pretended concern.
Look at Job chapter 4.
- Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered,
- If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient? (In other words, “Are you gonna get mad at me if I say something. By the way, Job will actually control his anger and hurt and not interrupt Eliphaz, even though the words of Eliphaz are arrogant and uncaring and arrogant. You’ll see what I mean as we go along.
- 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.
If I could summarize what he means in these opening remarks, it’s basically this, “Job, you done a wonderful job in the past helping people who are discouraged; you’ve admonished them to walk the right way; you’ve strengthened people who were defeated and filled with despair . . . and . . . and . . . this isn’t a bad start . . .”
What you would want to read next is, “And now Job, it’s time for someone to come along and strengthen your hands – to put wind into your sails . . . we’re here to reassure you and comfort you.”
That’s what Job probably hungered to hear . . . notice the next word in verse 5, “But . . .”
But, now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you and you are dismayed.
In other words, “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it. You can tell others what to do to get back up on their feet, but now you won’t do it yourself.”
You are dismayed – literally, “you are in a panic.”
The heartless words of Eliphaz ignore something very obvious; even though someone has encouraged others in pain, they cannot easily encourage themselves.
Our words are powerfully encouraging to others, but when did you ever look in the mirror on Monday morning, give yourself a speech and then say, “Wow, was that uplifting or what . . . I’ll get back to you same time tomorrow morning.”
At this point, it should be Eliphaz who is saying, “It’s my turn now, Job, to encourage you!”
He begins by pretending to care, but he isn’t really concerned and he really doesn’t care that much.
Because he doesn’t think Job needs encouragement – he is already convinced that Job needs discipline.
2. And so he moves on from pretending concern to personal condemnation.
Notice verse 7. Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? 8. According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it.
This is the classic theory of human suffering – millions of Christians believe it to this day: the innocent do not suffer and the upright are not destroyed.
In other words, “The good guys always win and the bad guys always lose.”
Roy B. Zuck, Job (Moody Press, 1978), p. 32
You could summarize everything Eliphaz will say to Job with these words, “Job . . . it’s all your fault!”
Can you imagine? Even if it’s true, the time to tell someone that is not when they’re covered with boils, mourning over the fresh graves of his 10 kids.
Even if Eliphaz is right, he wins the gold medal in tactless, heartless, unfeeling, uncaring, unsympathetic counsel.
Later on in chapter 5 verse 4 he implies that Job’s sons all died because of his foolish sin, evidently covered up and hidden away.
What makes it even more devastating is that Job is likely to believe him. What parent hasn’t suffered the loss of a child and wondered if they weren’t worthy of him. Maybe they didn’t deserve that child . . . maybe it was their fault.
I’ve had parents weep in my arms, asking, “Did God take my son or daughter because of something I did?”
That’s a common response of a parent who would have gladly taken their child’s place!
Instead of words of comfort, Eliphaz goes right for the jugular with words of condemnation.
And here’s his basic premise: sin = suffering; suffering = judgment;
Job is suffering, therefore Job is sinning; and since Job is sinning, his suffering is ultimately the judgment of God.
What Eliphaz failed to consider was that Job was not sinless – no one is – but Job was innocent.
Eliphaz also overlooked the fact that while sinners will be ultimately judged by God, they are not all immediately judged.
Some live a long life of wickedness and ease and die at an old age with plenty of money in the bank and plenty of children to fight over the inheritance.
That’s was Asaph’s quandary when he wrote in Psalm 73, “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Tor there are no pains in their death and their body is fat . . . they are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure . . . for I have been chastened every morning.
It isn’t true that sinners are judged immediately, what is true is that sinners are judged ultimately . . . finally.
Likewise, contrary to the advice of Eliphaz, the righteous do not always prosper immediately, but they will prosper ultimately . . . finally.
So what kind of evidence does Eliphaz bring to the table to prove that all sinners are judged on earth and Job, therefore must be sinning.
3. We’ll call this section of his speech proud condescension.
From verse 12 of chapter 4 all the way through verse 16 of chapter 5, you could summarize his words with this statement to Job, “Fortunately for you, I have the answer and plenty of evidence!”
It’s ironic, but this original prosperity preacher’s first evidence given to Job is that he had seen a vision.
Verse 12,“A word was brought to me quietly . . . my ear received a whisper of it amid disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night . . . skip to verse 15. Then a spirit passed by my face; the hair of my flesh bristled up; 16. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance; a form was before my eyes; There was silence, then I heard a voice; 17. Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his maker?”
These are rhetorical questions, applied to Job and the answer is obvious – “Job, you’re not just and blameless before your God.”
I had a vision from God . . . I know the truth about you.
How do you argue with that?
Once God has spoken, who can wiggle out from underneath that?
Christians use this angle all the time!
Anytime a letter or conversation begins with the sentence, “God has spoken to me,” there is no room for discussion.
David McKenna, Mastering the Old Testament: Job (Word, 1986), p. 60
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have heard from people who have heard from God. Turn on your television and listen to the preacher and teacher who will spend more time telling you what God has told him or her, rather than what God has already said in His word.
And when anybody says, “God told me.” there’s nothin’ you can tell them!
There’s no chance to correct their thoughts or challenge their decisions.
What makes it doubly hard for Job here is that this supposed vision is theologically correct.
It is true that no man is justified before God (v. 17); it is true that men and angel’s err; (v. 18) it is true that we live in bodies made of dust (v. 19); it is true that life is short (v. 20-21).
That’s all theologically correct; but Eliphaz absolutely wrong in the application of his vision to Job.
How do we know? Because of what God SAID!
Earlier in chapter 1 God made it clear that Job was not being punished for being unrighteous, he was about to severely tested because he was righteous!
Eliphaz, the proud arrogant, block of ice for a heart, counselor had it absolutely turned around.
Job wasn’t suffering because he was a sinner; he was suffering because he was a saint.
But you see, because Eliphaz was so caught up with his own little system – his own opinion – his own self-deceived arrogance with his personal dreams and visions and experiences which he goes on to chronicle in chapter 5, he now perverts his counsel and reverses godly wisdom and utters what Solomon warned, “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)
He moves from pretended concern to personal condemnation to proud condescension and now fourthly, Eliphaz offers,
4. Perverted Counsel
We could summarize his words with this arrogant statement that was in his heart - “I understand God best and you’ve gotten on His wrong side.”
Notice verse 8 of chapter 5. But as for me, I would seek God, and I would place my cause before God.
In other words, if I were you, I’d confess before God my sin and repent.
Listen Job, you do that and, v. 11, God will set on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn will be lifted to safety.
You’ll get your hope back, v. 16.
Then you can be happy again, v. 17,
Because God has disciplined you and He inflicted pain on you;
But He will give you relief (v. 18); He wounds, but His hands also heal.
Listen Job, if you’ll just admit your sin and repent, you’ll be saved from seven things that God never allows to touch the righteous:
Don’t miss this: Godly Christians do not suffer!
v. 19, “Six troubles He will deliver you, even seven evil things will not touch you.”
- Famine (v. 20)
- Defeat in war, (v. 20)
- Physical abuse or violence (v. 21)
- Harm from wild beasts (v. 22)
- Financial loss (24)
- Barrenness (25)
- And an early death (26)
Job, if you lay out your cause before God and walk with Him, you will have everything you’ve ever dreamed of and you will never need to fear anything . . . notice v. 26. You will come to the grave in full vigor . . . that is, you’re not even gonna get sick before you die.
You’re gonna cross the tape without disease or any aching joints or weary limbs . . . you’ll die in the saddle.
Listen Job, verse 27, “we have investigated this and we’re telling you the truth . . . hear it, and know for yourself.”
Instead of offering words of comfort, Eliphaz has only added to the agony of Job’s suffering.
Eliphaz has based everything he has said on a wrong assumption. Job was not suffering because he lacked holy living; he was suffering because he was the leading example of holy living on planet earth.
Eliphaz meant well . . . but his effect as we will see in our next session, was devastating.
His words did not help, they only deepened the hurt.
How can we avoid the error of Eliphaz?
Let me make some observations for those who would offer counsel:
For Those Who Would Offer Counsel:
- Acknowledge the sufferers pain before you challenge their perspective.
They need your ear and your heart before they will listen to the words of your mouth.
- I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for you to be a single mother.
- It must be agonizing to be facing a 10 year sentence.
- I’m so sorry that you lost your family in that car accident when you were driving under the influence of alcohol.
- I’m so grieved with you that you lost your family over your adulterous lifestyle.
- Listen, I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with AIDS – I’m sorry that your sinful decisions brought this disease you’re your life.
Listen, even when it’s their fault, and all the suffering is the consequences of their own sinful behavior, you will not be viewed by them as condoning their sin if you sympathize with their consequences.
Acknowledge their pain before you challenge their perspective.
- Don’t dissect someone’s speech . . . deal with their spirit.
One author called him Eliphaz the Exterminator
Steven Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose (Navpress, 1993), p. 74
Eliphaz listened to the despair of Job’s grief and pain and criticized what he said, rather than deal with Job’s crushed spirit which brought such words of despair to his lips.
Listen to what is being felt, and not just to what is being said.
Warren Wiersbe put it this way, “A wise counselor and comforter must listen with his heart and respond to feelings as well as to words. You do not heal a broken heart with logic; you heal a broken heart with love.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Patient: Job (Victor Books, 1991), p. 27
- Make sure the content of your counsel is biblical truth, not personal experience.
You can illustrate truth with personal experience, whenever helpful; but the basis of true hope and true healing is not what you’ve experienced but what God has revealed.
It is not what you’ve seen, but what God said.
If someone tells you how they’re hurting and you hear yourself responding by telling them what happened to you, you may miss the mark as badly as Eliphaz.
Every time you hear the name of Eliphaz, think of an elephant – because when he got through with Job, Job felt like he’d been stepped on by an elephant.
People who are in pain don’t mind hearing a sermon, but they’d really like some sympathy too.
Put some sugar in your medicine.
As you’ve gone through this speech, perhaps you haven’t identified and been challenged by Eliphaz . . . perhaps, you’ve identified with Job.
You don’t want to give counsel, you want to receive counsel.
As you’ve climbed into this passage, you find yourself, not standing before Job with answers . . . you’re sitting alongside of Job with questions.
After studying this revered man’s counsel; sound theology, but absolutely wrong conclusions along with his arrogant spirit, I believe I need to warn you –those of you who identify right now with Job:
- Be prepared . . . well meaning people may only add to your pain.
One book calls them “well intentioned dragons.” They intend well . . . they’re just unable to walk in your sandals.” They can’t grasp the depth of your pain. In fact, they really don’t wanna hear about it!
Truth is they’ve got God all figured out . . . and your life too.
You bare you’re soul to them and the first thing they do is rebuke you and then correct you . . . or worse, ignore what you even said because they don’t want to hear it or deal with it.
I read one ladies personal testimony of how she discovered she had cancer and when she shared it with her mom, her mom sat there for a few moments and then said, “What do you think we ought have for dinner.”
I’d rather not have to handle your pain . . . they change the subject as quickly as they can change the channel.
You’re as crushed as if an elephant had stepped on you.
The disregard and unkindness of Eliphaz will pin Job to the ground rather than lift him up on his feet.
Adapted from Steven Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Job (Holman, 2004), p. 48
Well meaning . . . yes. In fact, Eliphaz is the most compassionate of the counselors who will address Job. If you can imagine it, he will give Job the most sympathy of all of these men who traveled great distances to help Job get back on track.
Which gets back to my point – be prepared; well meaning people may only add to your pain.
Let me give you a second warning:
- Be cautious . . . wrong counsel is often more readily available than wise counsel.
Since bad counsel didn’t stop with Eliphaz, make sure you don’t give equal weight to everyone’s advice.
Charles Swindoll, Job: Man of Heroic Endurance (W Publishing, 2004), p. 88
Having trouble with your marriage? They guy next to your cubicle might be ready with advice, but he might be out to lunch; that woman who lives next door might be full of advice – but she might be biased by her own experience and failure.
I have had couples in my office who were advised to divorce and to remain unmarried and yet live together.
One pastor told me recently that a couple in his church who were faithful workers and committed church members and had been for years had actually gotten a divorce years 15 years earlier and were living together – with their young children. When asked why, they responded that an earlier pastor had recommended it to keep their bankruptcy from taking their home and possessions so they followed his advice, transferred everything into her name and got a divorce in Las Vegas. For the next 15 years they kept their secret, until their grown children said, “This is wrong.” According to the Bible you are living in immorality – you are not married. They repented of their secret lifestyle and were remarried and reconciled to their family.
Not only should you choose your counselors carefully, even if they wear a collar or have a cross hanging on the wall or a television program on Star Angel; you should filter their advice through the word of God, prayer and common sense. Which isn’t really all that common any more.
Adapted from Swindoll, p. 88
- Be aware . . . the path of pain often runs parallel with the mystery of God’s plan.
Pain and the mystery of God are often traveling companions.
And it doesn’t make any sense to us.
The path of pain often runs parallel with the mystery of God’s plans.
Oh, but listen, your path of pain is no mystery to God. Job will say it in chapter 23:10, “But He knows the way I take.”
God knows how long you’ll be on that path . . . where it will take you . . . how deeply it will lead you and why.
A young theological student came one afternoon to the great preacher C. H. Spurgeon for counsel. Spurgeon was himself a sufferer with so many pressures and so many physical ailments. This student was struggling with his lack of understanding concerning some matters that were very troubling to him. To this Spurgeon replied, “Young man, allow me to give you this word of advice. You must expect to let God know some things which you do not understand.”
J. Allen Blair, Living Patiently (Loizeaux Brothers, 1966), p. 39
Sometimes the wisest thing to say is, “God knows . . . He knows . . . He understands.”
Eliphaz, you don’t know . . . Eliphaz, you elephant . . . crushing spirits with your words, you think you know everything but you don’t know anything about this.
But God knows! And in the end, that’s all that matters.