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Job 4:15 New International Version

A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end.

Did Eliphaz see a good or a bad angel here?

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Here is how I see the Hebrew of Job 4:15-16,

15Then, a spirit passed before my face;
The hair of my flesh stood up;
16It paused, but I could not discern its appearance;
The form before my eyes was silent... then, I heard a voice:

Details: (click to enlarge) enter image description here

If verse 15 stood alone, Eliphaz would likely be using רוּחַ (rûach) to describe a wind. However, in verse 16 the narrative records him saying, יַעֲמֹ֤ד, i.e. "HE/IT stood still/paused", and וְֽלֹא אַכִּ֬יר מַרְאֵ֗הוּ, i.e. "but I could not discern HIS/ITS appearance". Eliphaz is "personifying something" that he could not clearly make out.

Further, the narrative continues with Eliphaz adding, תְּ֭מוּנָה (temûnâh), the "form", לְנֶ֣גֶד עֵינָ֑י, "to before (before-ward) of my eyes", was "silent", i.e. Eliphaz could see a shape in front of him that made no sound.

There can be no doubt that Eliphaz was witness to "an obscure form" that would be better described as "a spirit" rather than "a wind". Whether he was awake when the encounter took place is not certain, but since he prefaces it with,

12Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof. 13In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,
Job 4:12-13 (KJV)

... it can safely be assumed that Eliphaz thought it was a dream.

In regard to "who" it was that visited him, the words that Eliphaz hears indicate to me that it was none other than Satan himself:

17Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? 18Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: 19How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay...
Job 4:17-19 (KJV)

What other angel is likely to say of God, "he put no trust in his servants" and "his angels he charged with folly"? That this visitor is proud and considers man as inferior, is testified to by his view that, if God were to put no trust in his servants and charge his angels with error, "HOW MUCH LESS in them that dwell in houses of clay."

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The passage is deliberately vague. It is impossible to know whether:

  • Eliphaz is simply experiencing a vivid dream/vision, or,
  • Eliphaz is actually being visited by an angel or spirit being

Ellicott notes that:

It is vain to argue from this passage that spiritual essences are capable of being seen by the bodily eye, because, first of all, the language is highly figurative and poetical, and because, secondly, every one understands that a spiritual manifestation can be made only to the spirit. The notion, therefore, of seeing a spirit is absurd in itself, because it involves the idea of seeing the invisible; but it is conceivable that the perceptions of the inner spirit may be so vivid as to assume the character of outward manifestations.

Barnes has a similar idea:

Then a spirit passed before my face - He does not intimate whether it was the spirit of a man, or an angel who thus appeared. The belief in such apparitions was common in the early ages, and indeed has prevailed at all times. No one can demonstrate that God could not communicate his will in such a manner as this, or by a messenger deputed from his immediate presence to impart valuable truth to people.

The Pulpit commentary gives more detail:

Then a spirit passed before my face. It has been argued (Rosenmuller) that "a breath of air," and not "a spirit," is intended; but, in that ease, how are we to understand the expressions in the following verse: "it stood still," "the form thereof," "an image"? A breath of air, the very essence of which is to be in motion, cannot stand still, nor has it any "form," "appearance," or "imago." Granted that the Hebrew ruakh (רוח) may mean - like the Greek πνεῦμα, and the Latin spiritus - either an actual spirit, or a breath, a wind, it follows that, in every place where it occurs, we must judge by the context which is meant. Here certainly the context points to an actual living spirit, as what Eliphaz intended. Whether a spirit really appeared to him is a separate question. The whole may have been a vision; but certainly the impression left on Eliphaz was that he had had a communication from the spirit-world. The hair of my flesh stood up. Not the hair of his head only, but every hair on his whole body, stiffened, bristled, and rose up on end in horror (see the comment on ver. 14).

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He "saw a ghost". In other words he saw someone that was reported to be dead but was very much alive.

He is hinting to Job (Jacob) that his son (Joseph) is still alive and in Egypt.

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