By Sam E. Stone
This is the first of three lessons highlighting key passages from the book of Job. The best way to get an overall picture of this important piece of Old Testament literature is to read the entire book.
After Job’s tragic experiences, three of his friends came to see him (Job 2:11-13). Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar agreed “to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (v. 11). They joined in silent mourning with him for seven days, “because they saw how great his suffering was” (v. 13).
When they began to speak, however, they said quite a lot! Too much, in fact. Scripture records speeches by Job and the three friends. Job began by cursing the day of his birth (3:1). After hearing his extended lament, the visitors started in. Three cycles of speeches followed: chapters 4–14, 5–21, and 22–26.
Job asked, “Why did I not perish at birth?” (v. 11). Death would be more desirable than what he had experienced in life (vv. 21, 22). Eliphaz the Temanite was the first to respond. He advised Job to appeal to God and lay his cause before him (5:8). To Eliphaz, Job’s hardships seemed caused by the Lord (vv. 17-26). Job was understandably disappointed. He needed sympathy, not condemnation. A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends—“But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,” Job replied (6:14, 15).
Then Bildad the Shuhite started in. “Does God pervert justice?” he demanded. Job’s troubles proved to Bildad that Job obviously had been wicked. Job needed to return to God (8:5, 20). Of course Job’s friends had no way of knowing about Satan’s challenge to God. The Lord had commended Job for his righteous life (1:8). He permitted Satan to test Job in order to refute the devil’s claim that the only reason Job followed God was because he had a blessed and protected life.
Through 18 chapters both Job and his friends debated their positions. They continued to assume his guilt (4:7, 8). Shamelessly you attack me, Job declared. He refused to acknowledge that he had done some terrible, sinful thing. If he had, it was his problem, not theirs.
Elmer B. Smick wrote, “Job’s friends have no right to interfere or to behave as if they were God (see 19:22).” Later, in his final words to his friends, Job affirmed, “I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it” (27:6). No one came to his defense.
Job continued to ask only for a fair hearing. His request that his words be written on a scroll was granted when the story of his life was included in Scripture. Job’s friends continued their criticism and accusation. Finally Job told them, “Miserable comforters are you all” (16:2). He described how others had turned their backs on him. Though he had cried to God for justice, nothing had happened (19:7).
But Job had faith! One day he would have an advocate, a defender in Heaven. Of that he was sure. I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. G. F. Handel took this ringing truth and aptly applied it to the resurrected Christ in the beautiful music of his composition, Messiah.
Job declared, After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. He clearly affirmed life after death. While we read these words today in light of Jesus’ resurrection, it is important to remember that Job stated his faith long before that event took place.
To the ancient Israelites, a redeemer had a special role; he was known as the “kinsman redeemer” (see Leviticus 25:25, 48; Ruth 4:4-6). This person came to the defense of one in need. Though Job did not foresee vindication coming in his lifetime, he maintained that God could and would still exonerate him, even after his death.
Job 19:28, 29
Job’s response to Bildad concluded with a warning to the three friends. James E. Smith explained: “God’s future appearance which will bring joy to Job, will be terror to those who persecute him and charge him falsely. The three kept asserting that . . . the real cause of Job’s afflictions was found in himself, in his transgressions. For such unfounded accusations these friends should fear the ‘wrath’ of God and the ‘sword’ of divine judgment.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.