Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 3: Thursday
When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?”
Last week we read Job’s lament of anguish in chapter 3, and began reading Eliphaz’ reply in chapter 4. Today’s Bible reading is Job 5–6. Eliphaz finishes speaking in chapter 5, and Job begins his rejoinder in chapter 6.
Eliphaz’ reply to Job could serve as the ultimate illustration of rubbing salt in a wound. In chapter 4, he begins by saying, “If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient?” and then he lectures Job: you’ve helped many with your words, but now trouble has come to you. Why does someone say a thing like that? Did he resent Job because people turned to Job for help and not himself? Was he jealous of Job’s wisdom and therefore ready to find fault with Job? We don’t know his motivations, but we can recognize these are not the words of someone trying to help Job and understand him.
Eliphaz goes on to say:
And the integrity of your ways your hope?
Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?”
Eliphaz presumes Job’s sin, and ends his speech by admonishing him, “Behold this; we have investigated it, and so it is. Hear it, and know for yourself.” What a cold, hard thing to say to a friend in anguish. E. S. P. Heavenor says,
There is no acknowledgment of the extraordinary submission to God Job has already shown (e.g. in 1:21 and 2:10). There is no clear word of sympathy in all his words. Strahan refers to him as ‘a theologian chilled by his creed’. He resembles a commander urging soldiers who have been exhausted by struggling against fearful odds to still more resolute endeavor, without a word of praise of what has already been accomplished.1
In chapter 6, Job begins by answering Eliphaz’ charges. He knows he has spoken rashly, but his grief and calamity are crushing him with their weight. He asserts his integrity, while his protest in his suffering expresses feelings shared by all who have felt pushed beyond their ability to endure.
Or is my flesh bronze?”
Meredith Kline writes,
Beginning on the defensive, Job justifies his original outburst (6:1–13). Then, taking the offensive, he reproves his friends for their pitiless attitude (6:14–30)…
As the plural forms indicate, this chapter is addressed to all his friends. For they all concurred in the views of Eliphaz, and by glance and gesture had no doubt signified the “Amen” which would presently become vocal in their own speeches.2
Lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
As I wrote in Job 3–4: A Lament & A Lecture, his friends will search for a defect and sin in Job to explain his suffering, not to alleviate his anguish, but to relieve their own fears of enduring incomprehensible adversity. Job astutely diagnoses their motivation in 6:21, “You see a terror and are afraid.” He has not been heard with compassion or with understanding. Derek Kidner comments,
So his friends, like a cloud of flies, are an irritation, and his exchanges with them are indignant. He is hurt by their fault-finding: their failure to allow for his agony as they react to his desperate words:4
When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?”
His friends have made the mistake of dealing with the wild, whirling speeches of a desperate man as if every word was cool and calculated.5
I’ve had friends who knew me, loved me, and in my own times of despair sorted through any rash words I might have said, recognizing those that belonged to the wind. I also remember one encounter when I was trying to explain what I had learned during a long ordeal, and my words were more maladroit than rash, but they were barely out of my mouth before the other person said, “I want to challenge you on that.” I was taken aback, didn’t want to say any more lest I be further misunderstood and lectured, and the conversation dried up.
There are rebukes that are rightly discerned and said, and should be heard. There are also rebukes that are harsh and uncalled for. We all need to learn humility in speaking and listening, but when someone feels bludgeoned by life, we must especially be quick to hear and slow to speak.
It can be a difficult task to learn to listen and discern whether or not we are hearing words for the wind. Our own suffering and knowledge of our own weakness and dependence on God’s grace help us to do this. You have to get to know someone, listen with love, and pray for wisdom as you are listening. You have to be willing to go into someone’s valley and walk together, lending an arm over the rough rocks in the dark.
When the daughter of friends had been through a difficult surgery, she wrote:
…while comparison is the enemy of contentment, (it leads either to envy or pride), community is the friend of comfort.
Community is the friend of comfort. Sometimes we find others who have been in the community of suffering, but sometimes we need those who have not been through deep suffering who will love us enough to enter ours. While pious words present a façade of spirituality, there is no comfort there for pain.
Listen with love for God and for the one who is speaking. Listen with prayer, asking God for wisdom not to break the battered reed. Let words of despair go with the wind, and with love, give words of care and consolation.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Cherry tree moving in the wind 2.gif, W.carter: Public Domain (CC0 1.0).
1,5E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 426, 426.
2Meredith Kline, “Job,” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (The Southwestern Company, Nashville TN: 1962) 467.
3Commentators I’ve read remark on the difficulty of translating portions of Job. Various English versions of the Bible translate Job 6:14 differently. If you’re interested, there’s a discussion of Job 6:14 at What is the best translation of Job 6:14? on some of the reasoning behind translation decisions. I’ve chosen to go with the NASB 95. I would caution you on general use of Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange as answers are given by people with a wide variety of beliefs. In this discussion I do recognize some of the sources used.
4Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1985) 63.
I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.
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