Lessons in the Book of Job (2)
- What kind of friend does Job need?
When Job was in suffering, his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to comfort him. However, their appearance made Job disappointed and their speeches harmed him. Let us take a look at Job’s feeling and responses to the words of his friends.
Firstly, Job felt very bored in their advices because their words were nonsense. Job said,
“But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things” (12:3)? “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you” (13:2).
Secondly, Job felt that his friends judged him unfairly because their critics were not true. Job said, “So how can you console me with your nonsense? Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood” (21:34)!
Thirdly, Job felt that he was not comforted but rather humiliated because their speeches were ruthless. Job said, “I have become a laughingstock to my friends” (12:4).
“Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me. Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh” (19:21, 22)?
Finally, Job hoped that his friends would stop talking. Their silence would be better than their speeches. Job said, “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all” (16:2)! “How long will you torment me and crush me with words” (19:2)? “Listen carefully to my words; let this be the consolation you give me” (21:2).
Why were Job’s friends so unacceptable? What were the problems in their speeches? Let us try to take a brief look at them.
Eliphaz: His speeches are recorded in the chapter 4, 5, 15, and 22. He was the oldest of them and the first one to speak to Job. However an old man may not be a wise man. In the start of the speech, Eliphaz illustrated Job’s two kinds of situation in his life. In the past, Job was highly honored and respected by his people. But now in the present, Job, such a godly man, had fallen into his suffering. After his illustration, Eliphaz asked Job, “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope” (4:6)? How cruel were his words! It was more painful than piercing Job’s heart with a sword. In Eliphaz’s viewpoint, all wicked men should inevitably be punished by God. Therefore Job’s suffering was a consequence of his hidden sin. Listen to Eliphaz’s judgment, “Who being innocent has ever perished? Where the upright ever destroyed” (4:7)? In other words, Job once was a hypocrite. Eliphaz used a lot of words in his speeches to praise God’s justice; however, he did not really know God. In the eyes of Eliphaz, God is a cold judge and lacks mercy. God does not care for His people, nor trust His servants (4:18). On the contrary, the story of Job shows that God trusts Job and protects him (1:8, 2:3). Eliphaz’s wrong attitude was mostly based on his personal experience. One kind of his experience was vision (4:12-17); and another kind of his experience was his observation and education (4:8, 5:27, 15:17, 18). Eliphaz used the words of “I have seen” to defend his charge. It is possible for people to know something about God through their personal experience. But experience is far less than truth. Eliphaz knew something about God, but he knew little of God’s way with men.
Bildad: His speeches are recorded in the chapter 8, 18, and 25. Bildad’s main opinion is that sufferings are only for the wicked men, and the good men will not experience them. According to Bildad’s viewpoint, Job’s suffering is because of his own sin or the sins of his children (8:4). Biladad’s attitude, on the one hand, is based on the ancient tradition. His knowledge of God came from his fathers teachings. In his speeches, Biladad required Job to recall the principles of their ancients. He said, “Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned” (8:8). However the ancients’ false wisdom never truthfully explains the mystery of God. On the other hand, Biladad’s attitude comes from his own supposition. For example, he said to Job, “If you will look to God, and plead with the Almighty; if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place” (8:5, 6). Supposition is only the possibility of truth, but not the actual truth. Biladad’s supposition came from a wrong perspective; he believed that Job’s suffering was caused by his own or his children’s sin. Certainly, Job could not accept Bildad’s criticisms.
Zophar: His speeches are recorded in the chapter 11, and 20. Zophar was most likely the youngest of the three, and was also the most rigid of the three. In Zophar’s opinion, Job was undeniably a sinner and the punishment Job received was lighter than the punishment he should have received (11:6b). Zophar was a cold legalist and spoke with enraged anger. According to the sounds of Zophar, Job was no longer his friend but a spited enemy. Zophar was much younger than Job; however his argument with Job was full of pride. He condemned Job like a man condemning his little child. His voice surprises the listeners because this young man appears to be holier than the holy of God. If possible, Zophar would have punished Job more painfully than what Job is suffering right now. Although Zophar spoke as an agent of God, he did not have a correct sense of God’s character at all.
The speeches of Job’s three friends made no sense, but why did the Bible spend a lot of time and effort to record them? We are trying to find the reasons. First, the appearance of Job’s friends allowed the whole story to continue. The temptation of Job would not be finished at the beginning of the story. In the first two battles, Job endured the suffering from losing his property and his children. Then he even endured the suffering of his physical body. But now Job endured the misunderstanding from his close friends. How should he react? Second, the three friends’ speeches gave Job the opportunities to express his inner heart. What does Job think of his suffering? How does Job understand God? How does Job see himself? The conversations between Job and his friends provide the answers for these questions. Third, the false judgment of the three makes the declaration of the Lord an essential part of the chapter. The words of God allowed Job to know God and himself more. When Job humbled himself, he repented. Finally, the three friends of Job became the witnesses of Job’s repentance and restoration. Job prayed for them so God forgave them. Job himself was also forgiven and blessed by God.
Job’s three friends are three negative examples. They are called friends but their speeches are like enemies. They came to comfort Job but actually harmed him. Job did not need these kinds of friends, nor does anybody else need them. How precious is this lesson from the Bible! How can we be the friends of those who are in suffering, and become their real comforters? The story of Job warns us that we should not be like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. There is a positive example that the Lord Jesus sets for us in his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). When the Samaritan saw the “half dead” man lying on the ground, he immediately did something for him without any question or words. A friend is another self. The relationship of friends is based on love and trust. The Lord Jesus called his disciples “friends” (John 15:15), and he himself is the best friend to all of us. He saves us, he forgives us, he teaches us, he heals us, he comforts us, and he does everything for our goodness. There may be some kinds of Job surrounding our lives today. They are in their sufferings. They are helpless and hopeless. Are we their friends? If so, try to do something for them to show our love.