I believe it is the latter. The word they use for God is a generic one, used for describing a pagan god or any other kind of deity. “Yahweh” or “Adonai” or other Jewish names for God are not used by them.
So this encounter is not much different than a modern one in a school or office, where a believer in the God of the Bible is stricken with serious illness and an elitist philosopher thinks he or she knows God best and offers counsel that turns into judgment.
And the worst kind of counsel is using words from the Bible out of context.
What makes me say this?
Eliphaz feels insulted by Job’s disgust with his friends:
“I hear censure that insults me, and out of my understanding a spirit answers me” (20:3, ESV).
He does not even use the general word for a god here; it is a spirit of his own understanding, that is, his worldly philosophy!
While Eliphaz is entitled to his own opinion, he makes it much worse by pouring scalding words onto Job that are cleverly paraphrased from the Hebrew Bible to trap, confuse, and humiliate the desperately ill Job.
The humanist attack begins in 20:4 with a general statement (paraphrased by me to reflect silky debate techniques): “Look, are you denying what everybody has known since the dawn of man (you idiot),…”
“…that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment?” (20:5)
So the godless one is accusing the God-fearer of being godless. And to make matters worse, notice the parallel to Psalm 37:35-36 (ESV):
“I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him he could not be found.”
According to the Commentary Critical (or any other respected biblical commentary), this occurs an astonishing 28 more times in Chapter 20 alone! Job is literally assaulted with shadowy Hebrew Bible references to convince him of his sin against “god.”
Every single reference is taken entirely out of context from the stories of David, Isaiah, Obadiah, Jeremiah, and the Law of Moses itself in Exodus.
Job’s initial reply in Chapter 21 almost seems to agree with Eliphaz? Yes, the wicked seem to thrive on the earth and live to ripe old age with no judgment from God at all, while a righteous man is sorely afflicted all his life.
But Job is setting up an argument that Eliphaz does not see coming. Job concludes, almost weakly:
“Behold, I know your thoughts and your schemes to wrong me…” (21:27).
There is a second act to this play in Chapters 22 – 24, so please come back next week.
But root for Job (and for yourself) during the coming week! He knows they are playing God and using the word of God against him. Remember, Job and you and I know that our Redeemer lives with never-ending love!
Beware, though! How many of us have done the same thing to a Christian brother or sister – quoting Scripture out of context in a well-intentioned but misguided manner that actually increased the wound rather than salving it? I know I have been guilty in the past as an immature Christian.
Pray God, don’t play God.
For Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and all who intentionally or accidentally play God, attacking a hurting believer is as easy as:
EBZ, not ABC!