There is a profound lesson to be learned from the first 22 chapters of Job's diary and it is simply this: when God is silent, don't speak for Him!
“Saints in the Hands of Angry Counselors”
Last Sunday I poked fun of people from the south with their strong southern accent. I said nobody can hardly understand them. I really didn’t mean to make anybody upset. I want to apologize for bothering people in our church who are native North Carolinians . . . all 7 of you.
But I want to get back on friendly terms with the southerners in here . . . this is where I pastor and I love this place and I love the south.
One of the men in our church sent me this story I thought I could use to get back on friendly terms with the south.
A Texan, a New Yorker and a North Carolina resident were drinking their favorite beverage one afternoon in a North Carolina saloon. The Texan drained his glass of tequila, threw the half-empty bottle up in the air, drew and fired his pistol, shattering the bottle. The other two were shocked – the Texan simply announced, “Where I come from, we have plenty of that stuff.”
The New Yorker, not to be outdone, finished his glass of wine and threw his bottle of wine into the air, drew and fired his pistol, also shattering his bottle. Looking over at the other two with an air of superiority, he announced, “Back in Manhattan, we have plenty of the finest wines available.”
The North Carolina resident drained his mug of sweet ice tea – which is the only drink in this story I’m recommending. He threw his empty mug up into the air, drew his pistol and shot the New Yorker dead. He then caught the glass on the way down and said to the Texan, “Where I come from we recycle glass and we also have too many people from New York.”
The score is even.
Now what I said was in fun . . . no, it really was.
What would you do if I was really serious. What would you say to someone who really didn’t like people from New York, or North Carolina or Canada or Mexico.
Suppose someone had prejudices towards Hispanics or the Chinese or the British and you just happened to be Hispanic or Chinese or from the UK.
Ever run into someone who disliked rich people . . . or people in authority? You ever have to listen to someone go on and on about those people on welfare. They ride their hobby horses into the ground.
What if they took it out on you?
What if they didn’t like you? And it was no laughing matter?
How do you respond to hateful words?
How do you react to personal criticism?
I’m not talking about the constructive kind – I’m talking about the kind that’s demeaning . . . discrediting . . . down-right dirty.
I’m talking about the gossip mill and you discover you’re the latest topic. Your words have been twisted and your actions have been given the worst possible light – and frankly it’s ugly.
How do you react when the intention of the critic is to harm rather than help? And before you know it, the damage is done.
As we enter the third and final round of speeches from Job’s counselors, that’s exactly where we find Job.
He has been enduring for some time the hush of heaven – the heavens have been silent . . . God has not spoken, but these counselors sure have.
And frankly, it’s getting ugly . . . and mean-spirited.
By the time you reach chapter 22, you discover that his counselors don’t want to help him as much as they want to condemn him.
And at this point forward, Job will become a saint, in the hands of an angry counselor.
But I want you to know that one of the most important things about this next encounter with Eliphaz, the wise counselor, who missed it by a mile, is how Job responds to unfair, untrue, unkind criticism and condemnation.
Maybe your there right now.
Your actions have been misinterpreted;
Your words have been misquoted;
You heart has been misunderstood.
And some critic is having a field day at your place of work, or inside your family circle or perhaps even your church. And you’re wondering what to do.
This chapter in Job’s life is especially for you.
In Chuck Swindoll’s commentary on the Book of Job, he entitles his chapter that expounds on Job chapters 22-24 with this title, “How to Handle Criticism With Class.”
Swindoll opened his chapter with an illustration that I want to repeat.
He writes, “Our nation’s 16th president was a magnificent model of handling personal assaults on his character. Public criticism against him intensified. One of his biographers said that Abraham Lincoln was slandered, libeled, and hated perhaps more intensely than any man ever to run for the nation’s highest office. He was publicly called just about every name imaginable by the press of his day, including a baboon, a third-rate country lawyer; a vulgar jokester; a dictator; an ape; a buffoon, etc. Severe and unjust criticism did not subside . . . and as his enemies increased, so did the criticism against him. But Lincoln, his biographer wrote, handled it all with a patience, forbearance and determination uncommon of most men.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Job: Man of Heroic Endurance (W Publishing, 2004), p. 181
Lincoln survived and was later vindicated by history as one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had. He was grace under pressure.
Perhaps nowhere in the biography of Job will you see grace under pressure more than in these next few chapters.
Not only will we discover how to respond to unjust and harmful criticism, we are going to get another good lesson on how to be a bad counselor.
In fact, Eliphaz will commit 5 blunders . . . 5 miss-steps that can be our own as we attempt to counsel others.
I want to use these 5 blunders to serve as an outline as we look at Eliphaz’s angry speech to Job.
If you’re not there already, turn to Job chapter 22.
As you’re turning, I find it ironic that this will be the last time Eliphaz speaks before he is ultimately chastised by God and told to ask go and Job to pray for him so that he will be forgiven.
God himself, in just a few chapters ahead will vindicate the character of Job.
Here’s how to counsel the wrong way:
Number 1: Condemn someone without taking the time to identify the context.
Notice verse 1. Then Eliphaz the Temanite responded, 2. Can a vigorous man be of use to God, or a wise man be useful to himself? 3. Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect.
These words are dripping with condescension and sarcasm. “Job, do you think you are any benefit to God? Do you think God cares about your claim to be righteous . . . look around you. Where is God’s reassurance that you matter.
What Eliphaz doesn’t know is that Job is under the watch care of God like he couldn’t imagine.
God and Satan and no doubt the hosts of heaven were directly attentive to what was happening . . . in fact, God is about to intervene with incredible assurance on Job’s behalf.
Eliphaz didn’t know the context from which Job’s suffering had come . . . nor did Job for that matter.
The point for a counselor is to admit you don’t know everything. You could speak too quickly . . . you could deliver a verdict too soon.
Most of the problem stems from the fact that Eliphaz is convinced that Job has hidden sin and that sinners get punishment from God as evidence that He knows.
Which reveals all over again the utter callousness of Eliphaz to the condition of this grieving man who has lost nearly everything.
The truth is, Eliphaz really doesn’t care about Job.
Job no longer matters. What matters is that Job’s counselor has to be right. And the fact that Job won’t admit that Eliphaz is right has made Eliphaz seethe with anger and resentment.
That leads me to the second blunder Eliphaz will continue to make.
2. The counsel of Eliphaz is based entirely on outward appearances.
Notice verse 5. Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquities without end.
Job, the list of your sins is endless. How do I know? Because the obvious judgment of God is endless. Look at you! Your hidden sins are great because the punishment of God is great.
It’s clear from your diseases and losses you are not the wisest man in the east, you are the greatest sinner in the east.
How often people view your losses and diseases as proof of God’s discipline. However, we know what Eliphaz and even Job do not know. Back in chapter 1, God said to Satan, “Do you want to test a blameless and upright man who fears me and refuses to do evil things . . . test my servant Job.”
The trials of Job were not produced because he was a sinner, but because he was not. He wasn’t perfect, but he passionately hated sin and loved God. “He feared God and turned away continually from evil.”
His trials weren’t proof that he was in trouble with God, his trials were proof that he could be trusted by God.
Eliphaz is drawing his angry and condemning verdict from the outward evidences of what looked like God’s displeasure, when there were in fact, evidences of God’s delight in Job.
God has chosen to hold Job forth as a living testimony to Satan and the hosts of heaven and hell and all of humanity since who have read these words, that it is possible in the midst of great suffering to not only bring God praise but be an object that fulfills God’s purpose.
People who only look on the surface of things will never seize that deeper truth.
Their view of God depends on the weather . . . the stock market . . . the job promotion . . . health and smooth sailing.
That’s Eliphaz the Temanite. He appears to be wise, but in the end he is shallow and fleshly.
But he doesn’t stop blundering with that. In fact, he’s already done all this before. But at this point, Eliphaz goes even further down the wrong path.
His third blunder, which can be made by all who counsel after the flesh, was this.
3. Number 3: He took on the role of omniscient God. Or you could say, in our vernacular, he took on the role of the Holy Spirit.
He’s literally gonna start making up sins. He’s gonna literally start accusing Job of stuff Job has never done.
Eliphaz is so convinced that Job is guilty of hidden sins and things that haven’t been brought by witnesses or reports, that he now starts offering what he thinks they are.
He’s so angry he can’t keep it in any longer. He will prove Job an unrepentant sinner, even though, remember, chapter 1 let us know that Job’s reputation was impeccable and upright in the community.
- Eliphaz accuses Job in verse 6 of unbridled greed.
Notice, 6. For you have taken pledges of your brothers without cause and stripped men naked.
This was a serious accusation. In Job’s day, common decency dictated that if a man were forced to give his outer garment as a pledge that he’ll pay his debt to a creditor, the creditor would normally return it to him for the cold night when their cloak also served as their blanket.
Adapted from Steven Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Job (Holman, 2004), p. 195
Eliphaz effectively says to Job, “Not only do you not return the coat, you take the rest of the man’s clothes so that he is stripped naked and left to the harsh elements without covering or warmth.
Job, you are a heartless, crass, greedy man – that’s your problem.
Job stood up and said, in verse 6, “You’re lying - I did no such thing.” Oh . . . there’s no such verse. Job doesn’t interrupt.
- Eliphaz next condemns Job for heartless unconcern for the needy.
Verse 7. To the weary you have given no water to drink, and from the hungry you have withheld bread. Job, you’ve let people starve when you could have helped.
What he means in verse 8, which drips with sarcasm, is that even though the whole earth belongs to you – you who are supposedly honorable – you’re really heartless and selfish and bereft of any modicum of concern for anybody.
Again, in verse 9, Job says, “That’s not true – I’ve got plenty of people who can testify to my generosity.”
Oh . . . no word again from this saint in the hands of an angry accusing, unkind . . . self-centered, accusing, condemning counselor.
- Next, Eliphaz condemns Job for committing the lowest crime of all – the epitome of false religion – refusing to care for widows and orphans.
Verse 9. You have sent widows away empty, and the strength of the orphans has been crushed.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Job’s entire life had been showing concern to those around him. God himself characterized Job in chapter 1 as a man who was the prime example of godly living on the earth.
Where’d Eliphaz come up with this stuff? Had he heard s it from others? Were enemies of Job delivering little bits and pieces of rumors from people who had always envied Job – or resented his purity or felt convicted by his close walk with God.
Eliphaz seems convinced . . . Job, there’s no need hiding it any longer. Fess up!
This was the 4th blunder of Eliphaz: and it remains a temptation to all who will counsel another.
- Eliphaz tried to pressure out of Job a quick confession.
These charges are trumped up. They are entirely fabricate. They’re not true.
Eliphaz is actually working for the Enemy, not for God.
Revelation chapter 12 tells us that Satan is the accuser of our brethren” . . . he delights in bringing the believer under the cloud of guilt and a sense of displeasure from God.
He wants us to throw in the towel.
Steven Lawson wrote these perceptive words regarding this scene between Eliphaz and Job. Listen carefully;
We must carefully distinguish between the conviction of the Spirit and the accusation of Satan. There is a difference. The Holy Spirit convicts us of specific sin. He will do so until we confess it. Then He will no longer convict us about that specific sin because it is forgiven.
On the other hand, Satan is a grave digger. He uncovers all kinds of dirt from our past and throws a barrage of sins at us. Sins we have committed but not confessed (to be sure). But sins we have committed but already confessed. Even sins we haven’t committed. Anything to heap guilt upon our heads. He majors on sin that does not need our attention. After we confess our sin, Satan still haunts us with guilt. He’s like a dishonest car mechanic. Even if he can’t find something that needs fixing, he’ll tell us something does. So we end up paying for things to be fixed in our lives that aren’t even broken.
Learn this. The difference between Holy Spirit conviction and Satanic accusation is the difference between a rifle and a shotgun. The Spirit directly targets areas that need confessing; He is clear, specific and true. Satan uses a shotgun approach, firing buckshot at anything and everything. He is vague, generic, and false.
The truth is, we all have Eliphaz in our lives. Either the unseen enemy . . . or someone that we can see who reminds us of everything we’re not but should be . . . how piles on the guilt and buries us under the law.
As spouses, we can play that role. As parents we can refuse to add grace to our leadership. As teachers and colleagues; business partners and classmates, we can refuse to dispense approval and commendation and praise.
Like Eliphaz, we can be more concerned about being right than we are in bringing hope.
These are the blunders of Eliphaz:
He condemned without identifying the context of suffering
He based his counsel on outward evidences
Third, he played the role of the Holy Spirit – he acted as if he were omniscient and he knew Job’s life and heart.
Fourth, he tried to pressure Job into a quick confession.
The fifth blunder of Eliphaz follows through the rest of the chapter – primarily verses 23 to the end of chapter 22.
It’s this: Promise quick solutions to the problem and ignore the deeper issues related to the problem.
You’d think a switch had been thrown somehow in Eliphaz’s demeanor . . . suddenly he’s nice – although his pleasantness drips with condescension.
Job, he says in verse 23, If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored; if you remove unrighteousness far from your tent.
Job, he says in verse 24, Get rid of whatever gold you’ve got hiding somewhere (implication – you greedy little man), and guess what, verse 25, “The Almighty will be your gold and choice silver to you. For then you will delight in the Almighty and lift up your face to God.
Job, just do as I say and all your problems will vanish. Look at verse 28. You will decree a thing, and it will be established for you and light will shine on your ways.”
Job – you can have anything you want – just name it – and you can claim it. Sound familiar? Hey, Job, this amazing light is just gonna bathe your path from here on out – you’ll never be in the dark again.
Isn’t that great?!
There’s an ancient Hebrew word for these kinds of promises – it’s pronounced ba-lon-ey. Now you know some Hebrew.
Never mind 10 graves. Never mind physical affects that Job will carry to the grave. Never mind rebuilding your business and your home from scratch. Never mind the memories. Never mind the questions. Never mind the tears.
Just follow my counsel Job and you’ll get a brand new life.
Job didn’t want a brand new life – he wanted his old life back. That one was just fine. But he couldn’t have it back. There was no return to yesterday. Only tomorrow, which looked bleak, and lonely and confusing.
Unwise counsel is filled with superficial promises. It doesn’t provide the steel of truth to brace yourself with – it doesn’t provide the strength of the Spirit of God that you’ll need to rebuild . . . to start over again . . . to walk with your head up into challenges of tomorrow.
Oh the pain of these unfounded accusations . . . and now the trivialization of his pain with these unreasonable promises.
But not once has Job interrupted Eliphaz with angry words or condemnation. Not once does Job say, “Who do you think you are?!” In fact, Job never even attempts to set the record straight and justify his character or even defend himself against these new, sensational accusations.
Not once does Job strike back at his angry accuser. That’s a lesson for all of us.
One revered Scottish author who wrote a number of commentaries that are in my library, died in the middle of the last century. In his spiritual autobiography, he told the tragedy of losing his 21-year-old daughter and her fiancée who were drowned in a boating accident. It was a tragedy heard around the civilized world. He received an anonymous letter a few weeks later and it said, if you can imagine it, “I know why God killed your daughter – it was to keep her from the corruption of your heresies.” This is the counsel of Eliphaz. He would later write, “God did not stop that accident at sea, but he did still the storm in my own heart so that somehow my wife and I came through that terrible time still standing on our own two feet.”
Marlin Vis, “The Blame Game” citation: preachingtoday.com
I have always admired men like the Apostle Paul who stayed the course, even though near the end of his ministry his accusers had largely won the day and Paul was virtually alone. They accused him of false motives, of ineffective ministry, of lacking skill, of manufacturing his office as an Apostle; of loafing and living off handouts from others; all of these untrue.
Listen, up until this past week, I would have said that Paul was a leading model for staying the course in the face of ridicule and accusation and innuendo and rumor; with Nehemiah coming in a close second place.
Until I studied this text in Job.
I have a brand new hero for us all.
Job has endured the most horrific suffering and agony. He is now virtually deserted . . . he doesn’t even know what he’s building anymore. He doesn’t even know what his purpose is any more. And his friends turn against him and now, in this encounter, he is accused of lacking integrity and character and purity that he had lived his whole life pursuing.
And yet he pressed on in faith, as we’ll see in a moment.
For most of us who’ve read the biographies of Abraham Lincoln, perhaps, more than anything else, it was his refusal to retaliate and his willingness to bear up under the strain of his role, which ultimately led history to rewrite its opinion with respect and admiration.
His biographers said that Lincoln had developed four ways of responding to the criticism of his enemies:
- First and foremost, he would simply ignore it and consider much of it to petty to deserve a response;
- Second – he answered back only when it would truly make a difference;
- Third – he formed the habit of sitting down and writing lengthy letters in defense of his integrity and reputation, venting all his anger and emotions, but then he would tear the letters up and never mail them;
- Fourth – he chose to focus on the brighter side of life and kept a good sense of humor . . . he was indeed grace under pressure.
Swindoll, Job, p. 182
One of the things that mark me about Job is that as his biography unfolds, is how he responds to his counselors.
Here, in the hands of an angry counselor, this saint of God has endured accusations we cannot imagine, all within sight of 10 fresh graves.
What makes him even more heroic to me was not that he was slandered, but that he refused to retaliate.
In the next 2 chapters Job will respond to angry Eliphaz the Temanite. My first words would have been to call him Eliphaz the Termite.
Now that that’s out of the way, maybe something more spiritual.
The remarkable thing is that Job never really responds to Eliphaz at all; at least not directly. He ignores the insults and innuendo. He evidently thought it too petty to even deserve a response.
What he does do is just sort of begin to deliver this open air prayer. We won’t take time to read it, but let me summarize it with two categorical statements:
- First, Job effectively says, “The Heaven’s are silent, but I will trust the heart of God.”
Job laments in verse 3, “Oh that I knew where I might find God, that I might come to His seat.” 4. (I want to) present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments – this is legal jargon for evidence.
I look ahead of me (verse 8) and He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when he acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
You ever feel like that? When the pressure’s on and the trials are falling thick and fast, you’d like a sign from heaven, or some message in the clouds . . . some proof that God knows what’s happening and that He cares, right?
This is exactly what Job is saying. The heaven’s are silent!
However, notice this profound statement of trust in verse 10. But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
I don’t know which way to turn and I don’t know which way to take and I don’t know which way He’s going either, but I do know that He knows where I’m going.
You can’t miss the irony between Job’s statement and the trivial promise of Eliphaz.
Eliphaz had promised, “Job, if you submit to God, He will be gold to you.”
Job says, “Oh, no . . . because I have surrendered to God, when He’s finished with me, I will be gold to Him.”
He is purifying me for His own pleasure and purpose.
There is the other subtle thought that even though Job has lost all his possessions – all his gold – Job is declaring his faith when he says, “God isn’t necessarily going to give me more gold, but He is making me like unto fine gold.”
Refined by the furnace. Purified by the heat.
Job delivers a great statement of faith:
God knows what’s happening to me!
He knows the way that I take
God has planned what’s happening to me
When He has tried me
God has a purpose for what’s happening to me
I shall come forth as gold.
This text was the inspiration behind John Rippon’s great hymn:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design,
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
John Rippon, How Firm a Foundation, 1787
The heaven’s are silent, but I will trust the heart of God.
The second statement is this:
- Evil surrounds me, but I will trust the hand of God.
That God is sovereign, not matter what.
Chapter 24 is simply the cataloguing of sins and evils that plague mankind. A culture that doesn’t seem to punish everything listed:
Greed and theft v. 2
Oppression v. 3
Murder v. 14
Adultery v. 15
This is actually a subtle answer to Eliphaz who had said that Job was obviously guilty of great sin because he was being punished. So Job says, in effect here, if God always punishes people because of their great sin, then how come so many sinners aren’t being punished?
Even though it seems God is not in control – He is. Sin will be judged.
The sinner who refuses to repent takes heart that God doesn’t seem to be anywhere near – but He is.
The saint can lose heart because God doesn’t seem to be anywhere near – but He is!
No matter what happens . . . no matter how difficult . . . God hasn’t abandoned His sovereign post . . . Beloved, God has not abandoned you.
William Frey was an undergraduate at the University of Colorado in 1951. He spent a couple of hours a week reading to a fellow student whose name was John. John was blind. One day, William writes, I asked him how he lost his sight. He told me of an accident that happened when he was a teenager and how, at that point, he had simply given up on life. “When the accident happened and I knew that I would never see again, I felt that life had ended, as far as I was concerned. I was bitter and angry with God for letting this happen, and I took my anger out on everyone around me. I felt that since I had no future, I wouldn’t lift a finger on my own behalf. Let others wait on me. I shut my bedroom door and refused to come out except for meals.” William Frey writes, “the (young) man I knew was an eager student, so I had to ask what had changed his attitude. He told me this story. “One day, my father came into my room and started giving me a lecture. He said he was tired of my feeling sorry for myself. He said that winter was coming, and it was always my job to put up the storm windows, and that I was to got those windows up by suppertime tonight, or else! He slammed the door on the way out. “Well,” said John, “that made me so angry that I resolved to do it. Muttering to myself, I groped my way out to the garage, found the windows, a stepladder, all the necessary tools, and I went to work. “They’ll be sorry when I fall off the ladder and break my neck, I thought; but little by little, groping my way around the house, I got the job done.” Then he stopped, and his sightless eyes misted up as he told me, “I later discovered that at no time during that afternoon had my father ever been more than five feet from my side. I didn’t know it until later, but all the while I was climbing up and down that ladder, muttering to myself . . . fumbling with the tools and sweating my way through that horrendous project – in the dark – my father had been beside me all the way.”
Adapted from Charles Swindoll, Getting Through the Tough Stuff (W Publishing, 2004), p. 224
John Rippon wrote further in his hymn text:
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cuase thee to stand,
Upheld by my gracious omnipotent hand.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, tho all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never –no, never – no, never forsake.
- Even when the heaven’s are silent, you can trust the heart of God.
- Even when the earth is filled with evil, you can trust the hand of God.
Even when you’re in the dark.
Even when you don’t know which way to turn.
Even when you’re in the hands of an unwise counselor – you are still in the hands of your all-wise, ever near, gracious God.