By David Faust
In the midst of his troubles, Job had three friends who came to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar cried with Job and sat on the ground with him for a full week without saying anything (2:12, 13). They listened as Job tried to find an explanation for his plight, and they offered some opinions of their own.
Giving Job a Piece of Their Mind
Eliphaz complimented Job for his good deeds, but suggested that Job’s own sins had brought about his misfortune. “If I were you,” Eliphaz said—and it’s easy to speculate about what we would do if we were in another’s shoes—”I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him” (5:8).
Bildad followed a similar line of reasoning, except with a more painful angle. He explained the death of Job’s children as God’s direct judgment upon them: “When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin” (8:4).
Job protested repeatedly and maintained his innocence, but his third friend, Zophar, rebuked Job for his wordiness and self-
righteousness, and for trying to “fathom the mysteries of God” (11:7).
The speeches of Job’s three friends pointed to one caustic conclusion: Job was simply getting what he deserved. There was logic in what they said, but not much compassion. Listening to his “comforters” may have been one of Job’s toughest trials!
Finally a fourth friend, Elihu, entered the conversation. He had listened to the other three men’s advice but hesitated to speak because he was younger than the others. Elihu “became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him” (32:2, 3). Elihu offered a different point of view, suggesting that God uses misfortune to teach, discipline, and improve individuals and nations. It’s a reasonable argument, but it still didn’t satisfy Job.
Henry H. Halley summarizes: “Job’s three friends seemed to think that all suffering is sent upon men as a punishment for their sins; and if we are great sufferers . . . we have been great sinners. . . . Elihu’s idea seemed to be that suffering is sent upon men, not so much as a punishment for sin, but rather to keep them from sinning; [it’s] corrective rather than punitive.”
These theories didn’t make Job feel a lot better. He exclaimed, “Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!” (12:2). He said,
“You are miserable comforters, all of you! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (16:2-5).
Job complained sarcastically, “How you have helped the powerless! . . . What advice you have offered to one without wisdom! And what great insight you have displayed!” (26:2, 3).
Job’s friends encouraged him when they showed up, but discouraged him when they spoke up. When friends suffer, often they need our presence more than they need our advice.
1. When your friends suffer, what is the best way you can comfort them?
2. What advice should you give to someone who asks, “Why did God let this happen to me?”
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
The Lookout.’s Bible Reading Plan for November 25, 2012
Daniel 7, 8