Part 20: Chapter 4, Verses 1-6
Verse 1. "Then Elifaz the Temanite answered and said,"
Verse 2. "If one ventures a word to
you, will you be grieved? But who can withhold himself from speaking?"
"Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands."
Verse 4. "Your words have upheld him that was falling, and you have strengthened
the feeble knees."
Verse 5. "But now it is come upon you, and you are weary; it
touches you, and you are troubled."
Verse 6. "Is not your fear of G-d your
confidence, and your hope and integrity of your ways?"
In our last lesson we pointed out that the standard English translation to
the second verse in this chapter does not follow the interpretations of the
classic Hebrew commentaries. For your convenience here is the pertinent
section from that lesson.
"Both Rashi and the Malbim chose the latter meaning. According to their
interpretation of the verse it should read something like this: "Were you
ever tested with a (bad) thing?" That is quite different from the
translators "If one ventures a word to thee..."! Of course I prefer Rashi's
and the Malbim's interpretation.
The Malbim and Rashi explain that Elifaz is rebuking Iyov for failing to
respond positively to the test that G-d is placing upon him. This is
especially incriminating since Iyov had such a blessed life previous to the
present tragedies that he is experiencing.
This is the first time that he
experienced acute pain and loss. Iyov's bitter response is more fitting for
one who has become worn out by extensive suffering than for one who has
enjoyed a life of excessive goodness. Therefore Elifaz finds it difficult
to hold back his words of rebuke."
There is another word in this verse that has a questionable translation-
"grieved." In the original Hebrew the word "tileh" appears. This word is
more correctly translated as tired or fatigued. In my opinion the verse
should be translated something like this: "Were you ever tested with a
(bad) thing? Has this one test tired you. Who can withhold himself from
The Hebrew word for "tested" is "nisah". This word also means to elevate
something. The purpose of a test is to elevate the one who is being tested.
Elifaz rebukes Iyov that instead of rising to the challenge he has failed
to pass the test and fallen from his previous level of spiritual strength.
His faith has become tired instead of uplifted.
Beginning with verse 3 Elifaz unleashes a brutal verbal attack on Iyov. It
was Iyov's custom to strengthen and comfort victims of tragedy whenever the
opportunity presented itself. For the weak and weary from pain and
suffering Iyov preached that Divine judgement may be harsh but it is always
fair. Now that Iyov himself is the victim of pain and tragedy he changes
his approach. He rejects the entire notion of Divine providence.
The Malbim has a very different and original interpretation for verses
3-6. According to his interpretation these verses are not dealing with the
past rather with the future. The people who previously may have held Iyov
in high esteem can now clearly see that his faith was not whole- hearted.
They will learn a lesson for the future from Iyov's negative behavior.
Iyov's hasty condemnation of G-d's judgement and abandonment of the belief
in Divine providence demonstrates his lack of spiritual integrity. People
will rightfully vindicate G-d and attribute the guilt to Iyov. The weak in
faith and those with feeble knees will exonerate G-d from any perversion of
justice. They will recognize that Iyov's exemplary service of G-d was not
without ulterior motives. Although he appeared to serve G-d with love and
devotion he was actually serving himself by trying to secure his wealth,
health and fame in exchange for Divine service.
According to the Malbim the verses should read something like this:
Verse 3. Now (that you opened your mouth with words of condemnation of G-d) your
behavior will instruct many, and you will strengthen the weak hands(the
weak in faith).
Verse 4. Your words will uphold him that is falling (in faith),
and you will strengthen the feeble knees.
Verse 5. (Since they will see that
after having been tested with tragedy only once in your life time) Now it
is come upon you, and you are weary; it touches you, and you are flustered
(you could not control your hasty anger for even the relative short time
since your troubles began). This shows that G-d's judgement of Iyov is just.
Verse 6. (They will say that) your fear of G-d was (to gain) confidence
(that your good lot would continue), and the perfection of your ways was in
order to achieve your hope (for a good future).
The Malbim goes on to say that had Iyov kept quiet the effect on others
would have been quite different. They would have continued to assume that
Iyov served G-d out of pure love. This would have raised some serious
questions in peoples minds about the fairness of G-d's judgement.
Eventually that could lead them to entirely reject the concept of Divine
providence. Now that Iyov hastily denounces G-d he himself will be
denounced and faith in a G-d of justice will be upheld. At best anger at
G-d accomplishes nothing.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of
Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.