Utility knife. Utility tool-belt. Utility blanket. Utility bill. One of the foundational pillars of our culture is a focus on utility … on usefulness. We’re geared toward doing, making progress, accomplishing things. Take a look at the More Saving / More Doing folks of Home Depot commercials, some that employ the hashtag #LetsDoThis. They’ve captured the essence of our age. They understand we want the knowledge, the skills, the tools – sometimes even multi-purpose tools – to help us complete one task before moving onto the next.
There’s a downside to this focus on usefulness though. If an object isn’t perceived as useful, we’re trained to think of it as worthless. On an even more disturbing level, aging individuals are sometimes viewed as useless. Retirees may feel useless because they’re no longer doing the things they once did. They feel unproductive.
In The Book of Job, chapter 22, Job’s comforter Eliphaz begins his third treatise by querying Job about his usefulness. Verse 2 says: “Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise person benefit him?” Once again, Eliphaz asserts his view of God … demonstrating once again an incomplete understanding of the Creator. (As purposeful as ever, Eliphaz primarily seeks to prove Job’s suffering is due to his sin.)
ASIDE: Other than to acknowledge the general philosophy of utilitarianism, I’ll defer any discussion of it here. It’s not a rabbit trail I care to follow now.
From the context of Job 22, it’s difficult to determine whether or not Eliphaz intended the questions to be rhetorical. However, I think verse 2 needs a reply. Can a man be of benefit to God? Can a man be useful to God? If that man is wise, does his wisdom mean he’s more valuable to God perhaps? The passage goes on to suppose one’s piety or righteousness might even ingratiate a man to God, as if He could then owe the wise man.
My sense is that Eliphaz poses there might be a co-dependent kind of interaction between God and man. This shouldn’t surprise us. Whether it’s by our good works or our piety or our great wisdom, we humans often believe our feeble efforts have the ability to enhance our standing in God’s sight. I’ve been there. Hey, God, if you’d do this for me, I’ll do that for you. (As my four-year-old grandson says, Sounds like a plan!)
But Eliphaz forgets God created man simply to reflect His glory. (As the Westminster Shorter Catechism notes, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.) Can a man be of benefit to God? Eliphaz seems to be saying, No, Job, you’re of no benefit to God! You’re useless!
Eliphaz continues his monologue by reciting a litany of Job’s obvious sins. When one man borrowed money from another, the outer garment might be taken as a pledge (for repayment). There were regulations on this practice (Exodus 22:25-27) and one proviso was the garment should be returned “by sunset.” Eliphaz accuses Job of taking pledges but failing to return the garments and thus leaving his brothers naked in the night. He levels multiple accusations to say Job has abused almost every possible demographic of their society.
As the chapter concludes, Eliphaz clearly believes he’s being useful by presuming to speak on behalf of Almighty God. He urges Job to repent, to return to God’s grace, to be delivered from his gross uncleanness. Reminding Job of God’s great capacity to forgive, Eliphaz stops just short of asking his companions to join him in a rousing rendition of Just As I Am.
My sonnet for chapter 22 sums up the accusations Eliphaz leveled at Job. (Fourteen lines are hardly enough for the condemnation Job’s friend spewed out!) In a figurative sense, Eliphaz grabbed the utility knife from his utility tool-belt and plunged it into Job’s heart while (with a fervor that seems almost evangelical) he branded Job: #NoLongerUseful.