By Randy Dillon
Job 2:30 “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.’”
The Old Testament book of Job has fascinated many people both Jewish, Christian and even non-believers. It is possibly the oldest book in the Bible, but the author is unknown. The timeline is likely during the age of the Patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It portrays man’s quest for meaning in suffering, but it gives no definitive answer except faith in a good and just God. This examination does not deal with such weighty matters as these, but rather on Job’s three friends and their reasoning and advice.
As readers, we are often critical of Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite while less so for the fourth advisor Elilhu the young Buzite. The three friends come to Job when they are made aware of the tragedies and afflictions which beset him. They know that he has lost his wealth in livestock and servants, that he has lost his sons and daughters and that he has been afflicted with sores over his body. They sit with him for seven silent days until Job breaks the silence by talking. This was an ancient custom when consoling a friend in grief.
When Job does speak about his calamities the friends offer their perspectives on his various sufferings from their individual vantage points. What becomes a consistent refrain is that Job has evidently committed a terrible sin which has offended God such that He has punished Job.
What we as readers know is that Job has committed no such offense but rather that God is testing his faith in the face of adversity, and He has allowed Satan to afflict Job in any manner short of death. With this brief background let us turn to Job’s three friends.
Eliphaz the Trmanite probably lived in an Edomite region somewhere between Damascus and Mecca. Bildat the Shuhite derived from the son of Abraham and Keturah and was likely an Aramean or Arab tribe member and also an Edomite. Zopher the Naamathite was probably from northwest Arabia. Where they originated is perhaps less important than the fact that they were Job’s friends and that they held to a belief that human suffering was a result of unconfessed sin. This was a common belief among ancient peoples and was one part of how they envisioned the orderly process of God’s interaction with humanity.
There follow three rounds of discussion between the friends and Job (1 in chapters 3-14, 2 in chapters 15-21 and 3 in chapters 22-31) in which the friends present various facets of the same argument. Job has incurred the wrath of God because he has sinned in some egregious manner. Job responds that he has not sinned and that his misery is not due to an unrepentant sinful aspect of his life. A fourth participant in these conversations enters as Elihu, the young Buzite, probably of Arabian origin, decides to challenge the positions taken by the three friends and Job. Elihu chides both the three friends for their inability to rightly determine the cause of Job’s suffering and Job’s defense of his innocence.
It is at this point we may ask: are these friends really friends or are they simply being judgmental? While often criticized as insensitive to Job’s troubles and lacking in mercy at his plight, at least they came to console Job and to bring their understanding to his situation (although they did not at all understand God’s purpose) and to offer the best advise they could come up with to resolve his suffering (although wholly shy of the solution.)
The practical application to be made here is that while we may often refer negatively to Job’s friends as if they are not friends, perhaps we should more generously see that they did spend time trying to make sense of Job’s travails with the limited reasoning and understanding that they possessed. We should likewise be mindful of our own inadequacies when faced with attempting to explain life’s catastrophic events since we too do not always understand God’s purpose. Recall that when Jesus healed the blind man recorder in John 9, His disciples first ask whether it was the man or his parents who were responsible for the sin that caused his condition. Jesus answered neither had sinned to cause the blindness but rather that the condition was to manifest the works of God.
If we can likewise appreciate that sometimes God is performing His perfect will in our lives, then we may be slower to blame God for our loss and grief and seek only to understand God’s purpose in our strife. Like Job’s friends, we may also question our behavior to determine if our troubles have been our own fault, but since we do not always know God’s purposes, if we are certain that there is no known and unconfessed sin in our life, we must simply trust that God is in control and working in and through us to achieve His ultimate plan.
While Job’s friends often are represented as false friends because of their insistence of sin as the cause of Job’s travail, we should perhaps instead see them as seeking truth even if they do fall short of it. Their appeal to Job actually causes him to search his soul where he finds no hidden sin and therefore claims his innocence, likewise we should be cautious not to be too quick to judge others who are undergoing trials in life and to cast blame on them when it may be that God is testing and perfecting them through such trials and circumstances. It behooves us to similarly note that not all tribulations are due to sin, but sometimes God is working his plan in our lives and/or testing our faith in His goodness and love for us as we mature in His grace.