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Of Job’s three friends, Eliphaz had approached his first speech the most gently. To be sure, he had misdiagnosed the situation, but he had done so in a gentle manner. Bildad and Zophar had expressed far greater frustration and had been far blunter in their approaches.

But Eliphaz’s gentleness disappears in his second speech. He had listened to Job’s replies to all three friends and was now over his former gentle approach. In chapter 15, Eliphaz delivers a second speech far more forcefully than the first time he spoke.

Eliphaz had heard Job claim undeserved suffering and found the claim deeply offensive. In vv. 1–16, he offered his assessment of that claim. Job’s responses were disgraceful. The claim of undeserved suffering was, in his opinion, meaningless (vv. 2–3), irreverent (v. 4), self-condemning (vv. 5–6), arrogant (vv. 7–10), offensive (vv. 11–13), and impossible to substantiate (vv. 14–16).

The eighteenth-century English writer, Samuel Johnson, loved to discuss any topic at length with anyone who would listen. He was a man who always had to win any debate, whether he was right or wrong. The Irish novelist, Oliver Goldsmith, once said, “There is no arguing with Johnson; for if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it.” Eliphaz was much like that. He could not argue with the substance of Job’s speeches and so he mocked his words.

Eliphaz then employed a second tactic. Having mocked Job’s words, he moved on to paint a portrait of an “anonymous” wicked person (vv. 17–35). Though the wicked man remains anonymous in the speech, one cannot miss the fact that he was throwing barbs at Job himself.

Eliphaz first took the time to show that the portrait he was about to paint was accurate (vv. 17–19). It was based on pure tradition, before any “stranger” came through the land with heterodox teaching. Job must be sure that what he was about to hear was the unadulterated truth. But rather than focusing on any specific sins, Eliphaz pointed more generally to the wicked person’s guilty conscience (vv. 20–24) and the fate he would experience (vv. 25–35). He hoped to guilt or scare Job into confession.

The poetry in vv. 20–24 may be confusing at points, and Bible translators admit that some idioms are of uncertain meaning. The overriding point, however, seems to be that guilty people lead lives of dread, distress, and anguish. In his first speech, he had highlighted the blessings of the godly, hoping that that portrait would move Job to repentance (5:17–26). Since it had not, he now argued that only guilty people experience the kind of anguish that Job was facing. His guilt was evident in his circumstances.

The description of the wicked person’s end in vv. 25–35 clearly shows that Eliphaz had Job in mind. The wicked one “will not be rich, and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the earth” (v. 29). Job, who had lost his wealth, needed to pay attention. In his guilt, Job must “not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself, for emptiness will be his payment” (v. 31). The wicked “conceive trouble” (v. 35) because that’s what they have sowed. No one reaps what they do not sow. If Job was reaping trouble, it was surely because he had sowed the same.

Job’s friends had all the time in the world to build neat, systematic theologies and no time to extend grace to one whom their theology could not explain. The thought of undeserved suffering was offensive to them, and so the notion of undeserved grace was foreign. Job had earned his affliction by his sin and must now work hard to earn favour by his righteousness.  In truth, they were guilty of the very emptiness in which they accused him to be trusting (v. 31).

We need to learn from Eliphaz’s second speech that undeserved suffering and undeserved grace are sisters. If we find the notion of undeserved suffering offensive, we will similarly be nauseated at the thought of extending grace. We must pray for the ability to see through our theological systems so that we freely extend grace to those who don’t deserve it—for none of us deserve grace.

As you meditate on Job 15 this morning, make that your prayer. Ask God to help you compassionately see where people are so that you can extend to them the grace that they need.