Then Eliphaz the Temanite speaks up. Eliphaz points out that in the past, Job has taught and encouraged many people. But now that suffering has touched his life, Job is impatient. Shouldn’t he keep fearing God and maintaining his integrity? Eliphaz says that no innocent person has ever been afflicted by God. Rather, those who “plow iniquity / and sow trouble” reap iniquity and trouble. God’s anger destroys them.
This chapter begins Job’s dialogue with his three friends, which alternates between speeches by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and Job’s responses—two full cycles of such speeches, followed by a shortened third cycle. Though Eliphaz opens his first speech by complimenting Job, he moves quickly into criticism, using an argument that will recur again and again throughout the book: that God doesn’t make innocent people suffer (therefore, since he’s suffering, Job must be guilty somehow). Eliphaz also implies that his proverb—that if a person “[sows] trouble,” that person will reap trouble, too—straightforwardly applies to every situation without exception. With this, he implies that just looking at a person’s situation reveals the full story about their good or bad fortune.
Eliphaz goes on to describe a frightening “spirit” he saw in a nighttime vision. The vision spoke and asked if human beings can ever be perfect before God. In answer, the spirit said that even angels are imperfect; therefore, those “who live in houses of clay, / whose foundation is in the dust,” must be all the more imperfect. Day by day, foolish mortals perish forever.
Eliphaz appeals to some sort of heavenly vision as if to give his views divine support. The vision, which upholds the idea that no created being (least of all humans, whom the Bible elsewhere describes as having been made by God from “dust”) is perfect in God’s sight. It’s essentially a rebuke of Job for arguing his innocence before God; no mortal is justified in doing that, Eliphaz counters.