Quoting Eliphaz

Too much of the time, we content ourselves with the frame-tale version of the book of Job.  We focus on Job losing everything at the beginning of the book and having his possessions restored at the end.  Even though Job contains about three chapters of prose (the frame tale) and 39 chapters of poetry, we summarize the poetry as “Job’s three friends argued with him, and they were wrong.”  From there, we move on.

However, the frame tale isn’t the point of the book.  The poetic discussion is.  Ultimately, God does rebuke Job’s three friends and confirm Job, but he isn’t completely right about everything, and they aren’t completely wrong.

As evidence for this point, consider the intriguing fact that Job himself is never quoted in the New Testament, but one of Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, is.  In Job 5:13, Eliphaz observes of God, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.”  Paul quotes this text approvingly in 1 Corinthians 3:19.

From this, there are three points that we ought to draw.  The first is that we need to pay more attention to the middle parts of Job, and even there, not only to what Job and God say, but to what Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad, and Elihu say.  Much of the time, Job’s friends correctly state spiritual principles and fail only in their application.  As we seek to work our way through suffering in our own lives, their thoughts too can be valuable.

Second, we ought to remember that those who are wrong about some things aren’t necessarily wrong about everything.  A religious writer who is dead wrong about baptism and the sinner’s prayer can be completely right about hospitality and caring for the poor.  The falsity of some of their positions does not negate the accuracy of the others.  Our standard for determining the merit of some statement is the word, not the source of the statement.

Third, we should consider Job’s friends and remember the importance of humility in our own judgments.  Like them, we too can get the principle right and blow the application.  Before we get too upset about somebody else’s mistaken understanding of the word, we should pause to consider whether the mistake in question is our own.

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