Part 23: Chapter 4, Verses 11-21
Verse 11. "The old lion perishes for lack of prey, and the lion's whelps are
Verse 12. "Now a word came stealthily to me, and my ear took
fright at it."
Verse 13. "In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep
Verse 14. "Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones
Verse 15. "Then a spirit passed before my face; it made the hair of my
flesh to bristle up:"
Verse 16. "It stood still, but I could not discern its form:
a shape was before my eyes: there was silence, and I heard a voice
Verse 17. "Shall mortal man be more just than G-d? Shall a man be more
pure than his maker?"
Verse 18. "Behold, he puts no trust in his servants; and his
angels he charges with folly:"
Verse 19. "How much more those who dwell in houses
of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth?"
Verse 20. "Between morning and evening they are destroyed: they perish for ever
without anyone paying heed."
Verse 21. "Is not their excellency which was in them
gone away? They die; for they are with wisdom."
In verse 11 Elifaz figuratively describes how the wicked perish. When the
old lion looses its teeth it perishes quickly. So too the wicked are
punished with speed and intensity. Just as 'the lion's whelps are scattered
abroad' i.e. nothing remains of the lion's former might, so too the wicked
are condemned to total destruction.
When this happens they are likely to
lose all of their possessions; disappearing like the lost whelps of the
lion. In Psalms 92:10 King David the psalmist tells us that when G-d
destroys the wicked they fall apart. For those of you with some Hebrew
background the Hebrew word used to describe this process is 'yitpardu'
which means to become separated, meaning that they are seperated from all
that they have.
The Ramban explains that until verse 12 Elifaz is giving his own response to
Iyov's tragedy and subsequent rejection of a G-d of justice. We can
summarize Iyov's viewpoint as follows: The righteous suffer in the same way
as the wicked. There can be no justification for this. Since G-d must be a
righteous judge we cannot attribute the suffering of the righteous to a
Divine decree. Rather, it must be attributed to some predetermined cosmic
plan. The inevitable conclusion of this approach is that man does not have
free will and therefore cannot be held accountable for his deeds.
Elifaz's response is that the wicked suffer far more than the righteous.
Furthermore, the nature of their suffering is altogether different from the
suffering of the righteous. Whereas the wicked are destroyed in this world
and eradicated from the world to-come; the pain of the righteous is only
temporal in nature since they are ensured a portion in the world to-come.
The fact that the righteous suffer, and the idea of a G-d of justice are
not incongruous. There are no compelling observations that demonstrate that
man does not have free will.
The Ramban continues to explain that Elifaz concedes to Iyov that human
observation does not always confirm his view point. Indeed, at times the
righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. For this phenomenon Elifaz has no
reasonable explanation. But at the point where reason fails prophecy is
not excluded. This is alluded to in verse 12 "a word came stealthily to
me". According to the Ramban this means that the 'word' that he received
was something beyond his own abilities to ascertain. The Malbim also
interprets this verse to mean that Elifaz did not receive a complete answer
to this problem.
In verses 12-16 Elifaz describes in great detail the nature of his
prophetic experience; e.g. "a word came stealthily", "from visions of the
night", "I could not discern its form", "there was silence, and I heard a
voice saying". Many of the commentators explain that these phenomena have a
strikingly similarity to the ones that are described in the later prophets
in the Bible. This seems to validate the claim of Elifaz that his message
was an authentic prophecy.
As was already mentioned the Malbim agrees with this approach but points
out that Elifaz's message was a low-level prophecy as is indicated by the
fact that the message came stealthily, in the night, without clear
discernment etc. This is an important insight because it means that Elifaz
may have some inaccuracies with the interpretation of what he saw and
Furthermore, the Malbim explains that the reason that the prophecy
was given in such a nubilous fashion is because not even Moses, the
greatest of all prophets, was given a full understanding of the painful
paradox that the righteous sometimes suffer while the wicked prosper.
Elifaz claims that he has only a partial understanding of this phenomenon,
only a 'word' and even that only 'stealthily'.
In verses 17-21 the actual prophecy is recorded. In verse 17 the prophecy
raises a crucial question; can man be more righteous than G-d? These are
words of prophecy and it is unreasonable to interpret them as a facetious
provocation. Is man capable of reaching a higher level of morality and
justice than his creator? Intuitive reasoning dictates that no creation can
be greater than the force that created it.
No computer can know more than
the sum-total of information put into it buy its human creators. Similarly
no human can possibly know more than its Creator. Based on this we can
interpret verse 17 like this: Since man cannot have greater knowledge than
his Creator, how is it possible for him to be the judge of G-d?
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of
Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.