Job 4:7, "Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?"
This morning, man continues to have misguided and skewed thoughts on his existence and the interaction of God with His people in the earth. Today, man suffers even moreso with a lack of understanding since he lightly esteems the source material for truth and uprightness: the written word of God. However, when reading the Bible, we need to always remember that the Book does record things that are not true. While they are falsehoods, the Bible faithfully and truthfully states the falsehood that was uttered by an unsavoury character. For example, in Genesis 3, we see the faithful recording of a lie uttered by the serpent to Eve when he said, "Ye shall not surely die." We understand from the tenor of Scripture that that statement is not true, but the Bible faithfully tells us what happened on that occasion. Therefore, when reading the material, we need to not only remember that the source material is true (these things really happened), but also that some things were spoken or done by untruthful people.
When reading the book of Job, one of the most difficult things to ascertain from the book is whether what we are reading is true or not. While the prolonged conversation between Job, his 3 miserable comforters, eventually Elihu, and finally God Himself, happened just as it reads on the page, not everything the men said during the exchange is true. This is especially true for Eliphaz and his two compatriots as they engage Job in conversation. From what I have gleaned over the years in reading this conversation over and over, it seems that the three miserable comforters – Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad – said things that fit into three different categories: 1. What they said is true, 2. What they said is false, or 3. What they said is true, but they misapplied it to Job. Admittedly, the third category is the hardest to detect, but our study verse above fits very comfortably into the second category: patently false.
Eliphaz asks a couple of – what he considers – rhetorical questions in his opening statements to Job. Following the context (before and after our verse), Eliphaz is trying to prove that only wicked people suffer the way Job has suffered, and therefore, from that logic, Job must have done something to merit this great condemnation. In the context, he also makes some statements that are true, but misapplied in the line of reasoning. For example, Verse 8 shows that wickedness in sowing will reap wickedness of the same. This statement is true and Galatians 6 proves it, but Eliphaz is trying to use this true statement to bolster his false argument in our verse against Job. Does wickedness get rewarded with destruction? Yes, it does, and quite often, it does to our perspective. Yet, the Bible tells us that the Lord shall avenge all that is rightly His. (Romans 12:19)
What about blessings in obedience? Do righteous people get rewarded for righteous lives and behavior? Indeed, the Bible also clearly and unequivocally states that premise as well. (Hebrews 11:6) So, now one might inquire, "If the point of all that was to show that righteousness is rewarded and iniquity is punished, what is the point or problem with what Eliphaz said?" Knowing the Biblical points of timely deliverance (time salvation) and righteous judgment of the Lord upon the wicked, it would be easy to fall into the same trap that Eliphaz is here in. That trap is that the righteous have no problems but are always delivered "from" their troubles by the Lord because of their righteous behavior. The Scriptures also teach a deliverance of the Lord "through" the trials and problems of life with sustaining and sufficient grace to bear up. (II Corinthians 12:9-10)
Many believe that Job is perhaps the oldest book of the Bible, and should the chronology be correct, Job occurs shortly after the flood and before God's dealings with Abraham. This would means that the accounts of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were still relatively "fresh.". Eliphaz's first question "who ever perished being righteous?" is clearly refuted in the story of Abel. His perishing at the hands of his wicked brother Cain had absolutely nothing to do with some "hidden" wickedness as Eliphaz is here attributing to Job. Rather, Abel perished because of Cain's jealousy over his righteous brother.
Eliphaz's second question "where were the righteous cut off?" is actually different from the first. At first reading, it appears to be almost a repeat of the first, but the term "cut off" does not necessarily carry connotations of death, perishing, or termination. The term "cut off" carries the implication of "hidden, concealed, or covered." In other words, Eliphaz is asking, "When were the righteous ever not known as righteous?" Again, this particular "rhetorical" question misses the mark even from historical perspective. While I realize that Lot had not yet come along, he is a prime example of a righteous man that many did not know he was righteous. Had I not read Peter's account of him in the New Testament, I will readily admit that the Genesis account of his life is far less than a declaration of righteous decorum.
So, Eliphaz is asking Job when the righteous ever innocently perished or were concealed. In other words, since Job is manifestly condemned in his tribulations and his whole world is perishing around him, Eliphaz concludes that Job is neither innocent nor righteous in this matter. As we know from Scriptural account, the very opposite is the case. Job's righteous character is being tested perhaps more sorely than any other character in Scripture. There is no hidden sin in his life that brought this on, nor is this a revealing of sinfulness to show others. The Lord will eventually rebuke Eliphaz for this presumptuous and false accusation of Job, but let us consider that a modern day Eliphaz mindset occurs.
For starters, what is one of the most popular "gospels" today? The "health and wealth" people really draw the masses due to the ear tickling fancies that they promote. In their theological framework, God will not allow the righteous to perish or lose everything, but rather will have the prosperous life that Job had before his awful day. So, if you have a day like Job, they make the same claim that Eliphaz here makes. Something must be amiss in your life to merit such dreadful circumstances. God simply would not allow you – or cause you – to perish if you are strong in your faith.
Another popular gospel today is the argument that every child of God will be manifest. This ideology claims that fruit will be borne, produced, and manifested that cannot conceal the righteous person for who he is. Again, this mindset not only misses the Scriptural mark that shows in many ways on different occasions that righteous people can be hidden (even Elijah had no knowledge of the 7,000 that God told him of) but it also breeds some of the highest forms of contempt, hypocrisy, and arrogance. People who believe that righteousness cannot be hidden generally always think well of their own conduct, but rarely find the same measure of aptitude in others.
Friends, while righteousness should be manifested, we should never equate bad circumstances to personal sinful causes in every occurrence. While some things may "feel" like there is a judgment aspect to them, we many times just do not know for sure. Eliphaz and his friends did not know for sure in Job's case, but they presumed to and badgered him about it. Righteous people can suffer some of the worst tribulations and perishings in this world, and some may not even be known as righteous by common perception. However, God can bless His children with the calm assurance and peace that He is with them, even if no one else knows or perceives it. He can also bless them with the strength to bear up during the trial(s) though no one else around them can tell. May we not look to outward circumstances to prove our position but rather prayerfully beseech God in all things. Since we are not in charge of determining who is innocent and righteous, we should commit these things to Him who is faithful in all things and pray He bless us with the wisdom and discernment to know how to handle the matters that He has left us to judge and discern about.