The Sovereignty of God in the Suffering of His People part 6 – Eliphaz’s Diatribe

by Mike Ratliff

Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” (Genesis 18:20-26)

When I was about six or seven years old my mother agreed to watch the son of a friend of hers after school. This boy was the same age as my sister who was two years older than me. Well, he and I played together because what seven or eight year old boy wants to play with girls? :-)

My very first concept of eternity and God’s judgment came from this relationship. I came home from school one day and he and my sister were arguing about something. She got angry with him and stomped off somewhere. I asked what was going on. He then told me that when people die God sends them to Hell if they have done more bad things than good things and to Heaven if they have done more good things than bad things. Made sense to me! Obviously, my sister didn’t agree. After all, she had been going to Sunday School and Church a lot longer than me.

In 1986, about a year after God saved me, I became convicted that my daughter needed to hear the Gospel. The very first question I asked her was something like, “Do you know how people can go to Heaven?” Now, I know that is not the best way to share the Gospel, but I was a baby Christian myself then. She was about eight years old then and we had been going to church for about two or three years. I was shocked by her answer. She said, “God sends people to Hell if they have done more bad things than good things and to Heaven if they have done more good things than bad things.” That former conversation with my friend back when I was my daughter’s age came thundering back into my consciousness. I had a Good News paperback Bible which I used to take her through the Gospel. I had a good friend at our church who worked in child evangelism talk with her. She took her aside for about an hour. She came back to us and told us that she was pretty certain that our daughter was saved. That means that my daughter and I are almost the same age spiritually. :-)

Did you catch how the natural man views eternity and God’s ways? It’s all based on performance. If we do good God blesses us. If we do bad God condemns us. If we do both, then God must check to see which outweighs the other. This view also is not entirely convinced that man is inherently evil. The concept of the depravity of man is not universally accepted by people. Even some Christians are not convinced. However, the Bible tells us that all men are utterly depraved and lost outside of the grace of God.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-18)

Salvation is by grace through faith. It is a gift of God. It is a miracle of regeneration of those whom He calls followed by their justification. Justification is a legal term in which God declares the new believer in right standing with Him by imputing Christ’s righteousness to him or her. God then adopts this new Christian into His family. When He sees His children He sees them through the Righteousness of Christ. Remember how God called Job righteous and upstanding? Job was a man. He was human. He was not perfect, yet in God’s plenary view, He is just as righteous as Christ.

With this understanding, would God be in Heaven counting all the bad things Christians do and the all the good things they do to see which outweighs the other? Instead of this humanistic view, God is working out His plan of each person’s salvation in them. This plan may include much suffering. It may include very little. Some Christians suffer persecution even unto death while others are never persecuted physically. Some suffer as God chastises them for unrepentant behavior. However, all suffering comes to Christians through God’s hands to work out His plan of sanctification in their lives. Therefore, we must understand that if a Christian is suffering that does not always mean they “have sin in their life.” In fact, we all sin. Failure to repent of sins, however, will bring chastisement from God.

As we reenter our study of Job, we will look at the arguments each of Job’s friends used to try to get him to admit he was “in sin” and needed to repent. It was obvious to them that believers suffer only because of their sin. To these guys, blessings come to those who sin not, but descend upon those who do sin.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? Yet who can keep from speaking? Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the 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? “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, the teeth of the young lions are broken. The strong lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered. “Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it. Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice: ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth. Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?’ (Job 4:1-21)

What is Eliphaz saying here? First he tells Job that he is being impatient. Well, If I had been in Job’s skin I think I know I would have been crying out to God before this. Eliphaz is a bit self-righteous. In v12-21 Eliphaz gives a testimony of an encounter with a “spirit.” He says this “spirit” came to him in the night causing great fear in him. It is so dramtic! I mean this, surely, got all of these men’s attention. What was the dramatic message from this messenger from God? “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is the dust, who are crushed like the moth…” You get the idea. He lead into this “supposed” message from God very dramatically. However, what was the message? All men are evil and God judges. Okay, we know this. Do you think that Job understands that all born of Adam are born in sin? Sure he does. He knows where his righteousness comes from. Eliphaz, on the other hand, seems to be assuming that this is new information for Job and his other friends. For some reason, I think Eliphaz embellished his story a little to make a point. Then Eliphaz continued:

“Call now; is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple. I have seen the fool taking root, but suddenly I cursed his dwelling. His children are far from safety; they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them. The hungry eat his harvest, and he takes it even out of thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth. For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night. But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine he will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword. You shall be hidden from the lash of the tongue, and shall not fear destruction when it comes. At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth. For you shall be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you. You shall know that your tent is at peace, and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing. You shall know also that your offspring shall be many, and your descendants as the grass of the earth. You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season. Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. Hear, and know it for your good.” (Job 5:1-27)

Even though this dissertation on the depravity of man is correct, he makes the mistake of concluding that since Job was suffering he must still be in his sins or at least have committed some horrible sin before God. Isn’t this the natural man’s concept of sin and redemption? All doctrine that place getting and retaining salvation on man’s shoulders think along these lines. However, they overlook the fact that salvation is God’s work. He saves His people and changes them. They are new creations saved unto good works. Do they still sin? Yes! Are they condemned when they do? No! What if they are unrepentant? God will chastise them until they do. I would have thought Eliphaz would take this tact, but instead he assumes Job is a sinner outside of God’s grace and that is why he is suffering.

This is where Eliphaz goes wrong. He is right about the depravity of man, but He is wrong about his view of God and his view of the saved. He leaves out God’s grace. To Eliphaz God’s goodwill is earned by not sinning. Don’t we fall into this trap ourselves? Don’t we think God is just waiting to condemn us if we make a false step into sin? Praise God, He has not left our salvation nor our sanctification in our weak hands. Our salvation requires our believing and repenting, but that comes by God regenerating our hearts enabling us to do so. Our sanctification is also a synergistic work in that we cooperate with God in working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Remaining faithful in the fires of tribulation would qualify for that.

What should we take from this diatribe from Eliphaz? I think we should examine ourselves to see if we are holding any of these false views of God and Man. If so, then we should seek God’s face and repent of them. Also, when we are close to those in the fire we should not come in self-righteously as Eliphaz did, proclaiming that Job is suffering for a theological reason when we have absolutely no evidence that that is the case. This is hypocrisy.

Job needed prayer and comfort from his friends. He did not need their self-righteous judgmental declarations about his character. We must examine ourselves to make sure we are not harboring any of this hypocrisy in us.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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4 thoughts on “The Sovereignty of God in the Suffering of His People part 6 – Eliphaz’s Diatribe

  1. Mike,

    Great post. I’m sad to say, I am guilty of this way of thinking. Back before, I had a decent understanding of Romans 8, I often wondered whether someone’s suffering, including my own, was due to sin. It certainly caused me to be quite introspective.

    It wasn’t until I dug into that popular verse 28 that I realized how I had been using it out of context and that it really only has meaning in the full context of God’s refinement of his children.

    Now, I do recall in Fundamentalist circles that they would relate such refinement to the removal of sin, or dross as they would often call it. But there is much more than sin that God must purge us from. And it’s erroneus to think we’ll attain sinlessness in this life, contrary to the higher lifers. Paul certainly recognized this too.

    Anyway, I do have a better appreciation for when others go through suffering and I am not so quick to attribute it to judgement.

  2. Eliphaz is quick to judge in two ways. Firstly, he is so prideful that he thinks he can judge or figure out what God’s motives are (I find myself trying to do this all the time :( ). Second, he uses this as an opportunity to deride Job for certain sins.

    Eliphaz would have done better to encourage Job and remind him that God is faithful. We should do the same for a suffering person. We like to know all the whys and hows – but how the suffering began is not what is important. That is in the past. We should be concerned with how it will end.

    Just my thoughts. I know I’m guilty of Eliphaz-style judgements. It’s tough to override those thoughts, but we must to be truly humble before God – coram deo.

    In Christ,

    A. Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian

  3. Mike,

    Me too. I have also struggled with this for most of my time as a Christian. I think getting past this hypocrisy and seeing things clearly, as you discribed in your own walk, is a tremendous blessing. We can rest in Christ while suffering. He will sustain us. He will comfort us. We just must be ready to repent of whatever he shows us. The opposite is nothing but bondage to legalism.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  4. Albert,

    You’ve got it! Yes, I think we all tend to do this. I believe that when we observe Christians who do it right then we should look upon them as our mature Christian role models. Sounds like you are on the right track because you know what is right.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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