Job – Be Patient (Waiting on God in Difficult Times)
Dialogue with his 3 friends
In the Book of Job, the discourse between Job and his four friends takes up the largest part of the book spanning 34 chapters from chapter 4 to chapter 37.
In chapter 2 it was recorded that when his friends heard of Job’s suffering, they came to see Job from their own homes to mourn with him.
“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.”
When they saw him, they did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept, tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads, as though Job was dead and they were mourning his death. They mourned with him and kept silent with him for seven days before Job himself broke the silence and cursed the day he was born.
“After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.”
What followed were three rounds of conversations between Job and his friends. In the first round, Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar all chip in to offer Job advice in an attempt to comfort him with Job replying to each of them:
The discussion does not end there and his friends attempt a second time to convince Job of their views. In the second round, the pattern is repeated with Eliphaz starting the discussion followed by Bildad and then Zophar. Each time Job replies to them:
Following Job’s reply Eliphaz starts a third round of discourse followed by Bildad. Job replied to both of them and in fact gives a lengthy reply to further argue his case. But after Job had finished his lengthy reply Elihu, who had not spoken all along, felt compelled to speak and admonishes Job and his three friends. When Elihu has completed his lengthy discourse, Job does not reply. Perhaps exhausted by the arguments of his friends or perhaps silenced by Elihu’s final words:
At the end of these three rounds, it is God that has the final say. Although God had remained silent throughout the discourse between Job and his friends, God’s final words settles all matters between Job and his friends.
In our presentation, we will attempt to examine more closely Job’s friends, namely Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and finally Elihu. We will examine the characteristic of each of them, outline their arguments and Job’s response. We will also highlight flaws in their arguments where possible:
Without further delay, we shall look at the first of Job’s friends, Eliphaz:
Eliphaz the termanite was probably the oldest of Job’s friends as he spoke first on each occasion. He was also probably the kindest to Job. His character was that of a theologian although he was not truly a theologian because he only saw one side of the picture, which was the side he wanted to see. To substantiate his arguments he relied on his experience and observations:
Job 4 : 7 – 8
“Consider now : Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed ? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.“
It is from his own experience he starts his discourse. His argument was that only if you sin would you suffer. He accused Job of being a sinner and that he was hiding from his sin and therefore must confess his sins before God and repent before God is able to help him. From his own experience, he assessed that Job must be suffering because Job had sinned. His advice to Job is that only the wicked suffer and therefore he should go to God to lay his cause before God.
He argued that no man can be more pure or righteous than God and therefore since he has sin – which was evident from the suffering that Job had to endure, he had to repent for his sins:
Job 5 : 17
“Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”
In response, Job pleaded his innocence and asked that Eliphaz take back his accusations.
While Eliphaz was trying to help Job, he had wrongly assessed that Job’s suffering was brought about by his sin. The flaw in Eliphaz’s argument was that suffering could only be brought about by sin and in so doing argued that if there was no sin there would not be suffering.
The second of Job’s friends was Bildad the Shuhite:
While Eliphaz appeared considerate and tried to help Job, Bildad was legalistic and harsh in his approach to Job. His arguments made him sound like a historian and he relied heavily on a historical perspective. Bildad made it clear that his arguments stem from the ancients and was drawn from the accumulated wisdom of ages. He argued that this wisdom was worth more than any wisdom they collectively knew:
Job 8: 8-10
“Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you?…”
Whenever Bildad spoke, he was argumentative and concerned with defending the justice of God. He wanted to strike fear in Job so that he may repent. He accused Job of hot air when Job defended his innocence and reasoned that it was his sin that has caused the suffering that Job had to endure.
Bildad’s argued that Job must be sinning since God only rewarded the good and that sin would only result in suffering. He attacked Job by accusing him of sinning and further insisted that he should stop complaining of his suffering and be sensible. Bildad further argued that God was the immovable lawgiver. God was sovereign and is able to see everything. Since God is holy and wise, then Job’s suffering can only be explained as God’s exercise of that wisdom. Job agreed with Bildad that God was holy and wise but Job also began to question if God was fair as he proclaimed his innocence in reply to Bildad’s accusations.
Bildad’s discourse caused Job further despair and questioning. While Bildad’s view of God being holy and wise was correct, he only saw one side of God which was that of holiness and justice but failed to see God’s other nature of love, mercy and goodness. Bildad’s erroneous view of God’s sovereignty did not have God’s love and mercy only justice and punishment.
Job’s next friend was Zophar the Naamathite:
He was a moralist and dogmatist. He insisted that God only punished the wicked and since Job was suffering, he must be wicked. He further pleaded with Job that he should repent to receive God’s blessing. It is this assumption that is the cornerstone of his arguments. Zophar’s approach was blunt and sometimes rude. In fact, he opened his discourse by accusing Job of being a liar and almost wishing that God punishes him for his words.
He accused Job of sinning. He stated that Job was ignorant of God, that he was guilty of sinning and yet too stubborn to admit it. He firmly instructed Job to repent failing which his life would not continue for very long. Zophar’s advice to Job was that the wicked are short-lived and that God will punish those who have sinned in their lifetime:
“that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment”
Job however did not respond as Zophar would have liked. Job acknowledged God sovereignty and wisdom was clear for all to see but he maintained his innocence:
Job 25: 2-6
“Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven. …. How then can a man be righteous before God? …If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot – son of man, who is only a worm!”
Zophar was even less of a friend that Job’s other two friends. His argument that God punished sinners in their lifetimes was incorrect even in Old testament times. His other argument that God’s punishment was related to the wickedness of Job failed to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over matters of suffering and punishment.
The last of Job’s friends was Elihu, the Buzite:
He was the youngest of the four friends and when he spoke, he openly declared that he had withheld his speech because he wanted to allow the older (and presumably wiser) speak and therefore counsel Job. However he felt outraged by what he heard and felt compelled to speak:
“But 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.”
He was a young theologian and was evidently intellectual. He relied on his education and was perceptive in many ways. However with his youth he had on many occasions came across as conceited and arrogant saying that Job should listen to him because he had wisdom given to him by God.
Elihu defended God stating that God is sovereign and therefore God purifies and teaches. For the first time, one of Job’s friends argues that perhaps Job’s suffering was not because of sin but because God wanted to teach Job. That the suffering Job endured was for his benefit so that he would not sin.
He therefore argued that Job should learn this lesson that God had given him and he should humble himself so that he may hear God:
“The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.”
Elihu’s concept of God was that God was a teacher and disciplinarian. The suffering that Job endured was God’s way of teaching Job and ensuring that Job stay away from sin.
While Elihu’s discourse was the longest, Job did not respond to him at all. There is no record of whether Job had accepted Elihu’s arguments but after Elihu spoke, God intervened.
With Elihu, that was the end of the discourse between Job and his four friends.