Having sat in silence with him for seven days, and following Job’s initial speech, it seems that Job’s friends can contain themselves no longer. Surely he’s had long enough to grieve?! Surely that’s enough time to consider his situation? Surely now he can start to face up to what he’s done?!
The words that Eliphaz (initially) brings are less than encouraging. Consider vv.12-21: this is apparently a word (Eliphaz seems to assume) from God (although some commentators end the quote after v.17 rather than v.21). It is Eliphaz’s assumption that it comes from God (v.15), but I’m not sure it carries the kind of uplifting encouragement that would be the hallmark of such a discourse, even allowing for the possibility of it needing to be correctional. There’s more than a hint of accusatorial language – the source of which would be ‘the satan’ – literally, the accuser. We need to be very careful when bringing what we assume to be words from God to companions who are going through the mill! I suspect that, with the recipient in a vulnerable state, we have a greater responsibility to be careful. Sometimes the silence of the first seven days is the best course!
Eliphaz’s words continue to be less than helpful. Considering the events of chapter 1.13-15, how inappropriate are his comments in chapter 5.3-4? It represents, at best, shocking insensitivity. Silence again would seem to be more prudent.
Eliphaz seems really keen to push Job through a process that, in fact, sometimes needs to take its natural course. Job is going through grief – this cannot be rushed, however uncomfortable it might make those around us feel. The words of chapter 5.10-27 are potentially positive and encouraging – although we know from the following chapter (spoilers) that Job is not ready to hear them – but as Eliphaz has just called Job a fool (5.3-4) it’s understandable that they fall on stony ground!
The words we hear from Eliphaz may not teach us much about God – we need to wait for later in the book for that – but they do give us a template to avoid when journeying with someone through grief. Sometimes silence is the best course, and the ability to hear someone’s complaint without feeling the need instantly to provide a theological response can be a real gift.
Father God, please help me to notice those around me who are struggling. Help me to pray for them and to support them as you would. Amen.