The reply to Job by Eliphaz occupies the fourth and fifth chapters of the book. It is not to be denied that his arguments are weighty, and are urged with much force of sentiment and beauty of language—wanting, indeed, nothing but correctness of application. It would appear as if one source of the silence maintained by the friends until Job had spoken, was that they had, in their charity, hesitated to suppose that a man of such high repute for integrity and goodness, could possibly be so great a sinner as the views in which they had been brought up required them to believe, that they might be able to account for the misery into which he had fallen. But the rash and intemperate language in which he had indulged, and his implied charges against God, seem to have removed all their doubts, to have convinced them that the theory usually entertained was true, and that their friend, with all his fair seeming, could not be really a good man. It devolves on Eliphaz to open this view, which, as we hinted, he does with much tact and considerable delicacy.
He points out the inconsistency of a good man repining under calamity; and since he now so outrageously complained, who had often exhorted others to fortitude, it might well raise a doubt whether he were the good man he seemed. He then advances the doctrine, maintained by the friends throughout the book—that misery implies guilt, and insinuates that the sins of Job are the true cause of his affliction. This view he enforces, not only by his own observation and experience, but by a remarkable vision with which he had been favored, but which is much less clearly applicable to his argument than he supposes. He admits that the wicked may seem for a time to be prosperous, but he contends that this is unstable and transitory, and that we had but to wait to see the end. It might well have been asked, on his own ground, why the afflictions of the apparently righteous might not also be transitory, and why not in their case also, wait to see the end, before finally deciding? He has enforced notions of the justice of God, which he cannot reconcile with the sufferings of the righteous, and therefore he argues that all who suffer are wicked. Yet God is not inexorable, and if the sufferer confess the hidden guilt, and humble himself under the hand that smites, prosperity may yet be restored to him.
Returning to the vision, which may be regarded as the most observable matter in the address of Eliphaz—the question has been raised, Was it a real occurrence—that is, did it actually so appear to him, or was it imagined by him to illustrate his argument? There are some who suppose it feigned for that purpose. But unless it were to be taken as a true vision, disclosing a truth, it could have had no weight whatever as coming from Eliphaz: he must, therefore, have intended it to be taken as true; and, in the case supposed, his vision would thus have amounted to a “pious fraud,” and a shockingly presumptuous one, which there is nothing in the character of this obviously sincere and pious, though in some points mistaken man, to warrant us in laying to his charge. Some allow the vision to have been a real one, but conceive that it was an illusion of Satan, who thus desired to make him more zealous in opposition to Job. But Eliphaz does not intimate that the vision was of recent date; and besides, it was not obviously suited to have this effect, for if he had understood it rightly, it was rather calculated to operate against his own vices of the case; and that he understood and applies it wrongly, would alone indicate it to have been a truth, for when a man invents, he produces something to suit his argument. Men often mistake in applying a fact to illustrate a theory, but an invention, being made for the purpose, seldom fails in its application. Besides, that the vision declares a positive truth, which all the friends were incapable of understanding, and which their argument did not in any way sustain, strongly testifies to its reality; and its truly divine character appears to be evinced by its containing an awful truth, far above the reach of Eliphaz, and which he could not grasp even when unveiled to him. It appears to us to be one of those intimations which are dispersed through the book, with the view of keeping our minds alive to the real truth of the question, amid the erroneous views and inconclusive arguments produced in the course of the discussion. One such intimation has passed under our notice in the indication that so far Job had not sinned with his lips. Another appears here. More are seen in the great umpire speech of Elihu; and the series is closed by the magnificent declaration from the Almighty which concludes the whole.
The vision asserts plainly enough, that all men are sinners—that even the purest are far from being clean—and affirms the absolute rectitude of God, and the impiety of arraigning his moral government of the world. The just deduction from this would have been, that, seeing all men were sinners, all were with equal justice open to punishment, without any imputation upon the justice of God; and hence, the ground for the special condemnation of Job as a sinner, because he was a sufferer, would be taken away. But Eliphaz, in eagerly availing himself of the statement that men were open to punishment for sin, as applicable to his argument against Job, puts out of view the correlative statement that all men were sinners. We need not be very severe upon Eliphaz for this, or suppose him to have been intentionally disingenuous. Men have not, even to this day, lost the habit of seeing only so much of an authoritative declaration as can be made to fall in with their pre-conceived opinions.
The vision itself—as the description of a supernatural visitation, and of its effects upon the witness, is the most remarkable in the languages of men. There is nothing like it, or that comes near it. The reason is, that this is the description of a true vision by the man to whom it came; whereas all other descriptions, the best of them, are ideal, painting from the imagination only, and describing what it is supposed that man ought to feel Eliphaz describes, in that simplicity of eloquence which thrills the deepest, because it is beyond the reach of art, what he himself saw—what he himself felt; and from the manner in which he speaks, we know that he did see, did feel, as he describes. We have numerous highly-wrought poetical descriptions of supernatural appearances, but they all fail in some point or other—all want “keeping” They are either obscure in the aim at a cloudy sublimity, or they are petty in the minuteness of their details. The vision of Eliphaz is in the highest degree sublime—unapproachably sublime, without being obscure, and circumstantial without being mean. “It is impossible,” says Barnes, “to conceive anything more sublime than the whole description. It was midnight. There was silence and solitude all around. At that fearful hour the vision came, and a sentiment was communicated to Eliphaz of the utmost importance, and suited to make the deepest possible impression. The time; the quiet; the form of the image, its passing along, and then suddenly standing still; the silence; and then the deep and solemn voice—all were fitted to produce the profoundest awe. So graphic and so powerful is this description, that it would be impossible to read it, and especially at midnight and alone, without something of the awe and horror which Eliphaz says it produced on his mind.” This and other writers quote various poetical descriptions of supernatural appearances, for the salve of comparison or contrast with that before us. The Ghost in “Hamlet” is well known. Barnes quotes Ossian’s description of the appearance of the spirit of Loda, but it seems to be a generation too late for quoting Ossian. Gilfillan, in a recent work, points out Southey’s description of Arvalan appearing to Kailyal, in that extraordinary poem, “The Curse of Kehama.” This had also attracted our own attention, and as it is, though far from satisfactory, really the best thing of the kind we know, we here introduce it—