In our last article, we established the background upon which we can now appreciate the story of Job. It began when the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh. Amongst those who came together that day, there was a certain adversary of Job’s, a cynical, bitter, envious protagonist, and as a result of the discussion that took place between him and that angel, Job is plunged into a level of suffering that few of us can understand, much less relate to.
Things go from bad to worse in chapters 1 and 2 so that by the end of Ch 3 all that Job wants to do is die – and it seems from reading that chapter that it is very likely that he didn’t have long to wait. But before the expected end, three very dear friends made their way across the country to come and see him.
So the second major section of the Book of Job now begins – the long debate between Job and his three friends.
Eliphaz, who is the first of Job’s friends to speak, begins the debate, in chapter 4.
Bildad, who is last to speak, concludes the debate in Ch 25.
So this debate is 22 chapters long. Back and forth they go, round and round, as the four of them try to come to terms with the reason for Job’s sufferings.
About Job’s Three Friends Who Came to Comfort Him
When Job’s three friends heard of all the evil that had come upon him, they came every one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, where they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.
The Septuagint has a rather interesting translation of Job 2:11. It calls Eliphaz the King of the Temanites, Bildad, the Sovereign of the Shoshaines, Zophah the king of the Namaines. Regarding the sons of Esau, Genesis 36 tells us that there were kings in Edom long before there was a king in Israel. Also, the land of Uz is in the region of Edom, and so it appears likely, certainly in the case of perhaps, Eliphaz and Zophar, that these men were some of the Dukes of Edom, from Genesis 36.
Be that as it may, these were men of some status, probably successful men, eloquent enough men as it appears, men of means, perhaps not so dissimilar to Job himself. There is no question God was the most important thing in the lives of all three of them. They spent a lot of time thinking about the character of God and man’s relationship to him and even though they didn’t get the right answers, as far as Job’s situation is concerned, there can be no question about their sincerity.
There is another thing to appreciate here. This section of the book is a Divinely inspired record of the debate. So although the spirit records what those men say, it does not mean that everything they say is correct. So if we need to quote the book of Job to prove a point, particularly if we are quoting Job’s friends, we should be aware that many things they say include false ideas. Though their intentions were good, in reality, they were “miserable comforters” (16:2).
But there is no doubt that they were true friends. They traveled some distance to see Job. They were still friends to Job when many other people weren’t. In Job 19:13 this is what Job says of his friends:
“God has removed my brothers far from me, And my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have failed, And my close friends have forgotten me. Those who dwell in my house, and my maidservants, Count me as a stranger; I am an alien in their sight. I call my servant, but he gives no answer; I beg him with my mouth. My breath is offensive to my wife, And I am repulsive to the children of my own body. Even young children despise me; I arise, and they speak against me. All my close friends abhor me, And those whom I love have turned against me” (Job 19:13-19).
Everybody has deserted Job. At the end of the story, in Ch 42:11 it tells us, “Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him.” This is his family, even his extended family has deserted him.
But these three friends came in the midst of Job’s distress when no one else did. They came to help him to mourn with him, to comfort him in his troubles when he was completely alone. He was an outcast, estranged from society. It doesn’t worry them, they are not concerned at the stigma that now might have attached itself to Job. They were real friends.
Job has lost his children. If they were married, the in-laws have lost their children too. He’s lost his business empire. Among his servants, there are many families now without a husband, without a father, and without an income, after the Sabeans attacked them. Imagine if this happened to someone you looked up to and relied upon. Job’s family is dead, everyone associated with him in business is dead, and their spouses are dead. Only Job and his wife are left.
So you go to the funeral of Job’s children. How much more time would you now spend with Job? Are you going to go and visit him now? You might be supportive for the first month, but perhaps you are suffering too, perhaps you have lost a family member too – and if you saw this in real life, would there be any part of you that might say, ‘He’s been punished by God?’ I mean how many things can happen to someone before you start asking the question?
If you were to believe that God punishes people immediately for things they do in their life, which is what the friends believed, then the only conclusion you could draw about Job’s circumstances would be that the most prominent and upstanding person in your world has just fallen, greatly fallen. He’s been punished by God. Many others among your friends and acquaintances have become casualties because of this situation.
There is a lot more at stake here than just the life of Job. You need answers for the community because everybody knew who Job was. If there were vacancies in Job’s business empire, would you apply for a Job there now? Think a little while about the immediate circumstances of the story. But these three friends, they come and see Job.
They sat down with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights. None spoke a word to him for they saw that his grief was very great. No need for conversation, it is far too early for any answers. They sit there with Job with tears in their eyes for a week, clothing rent, dust on their heads and they wait, because until Job is ready to speak none of them will say a word.
How Job’s Three Friends Interpreted His Sufferings
But there is a problem. It is the theory of “exact retribution” – that God rewards or punishes you immediately, for the things you do in this life whether they are good or bad. So if you are blessed in this life, God must be very pleased with you. If things are going downhill for you then God is punishing you for some evil. That’s what Job’s friends believed – that righteous people were blessed and unrighteous people are cursed in an immediate sense by God in this life.
So they had this perception of God’s ways that “all suffering is a punishment for sin”. Job believed it too, by the way. Job was suffering greatly, no question there, therefore the conclusion is that Job must be a great sinner. But nobody knew what the sin was that Job had done.
The fact was, he hadn’t done anything worthy of this. His affliction was a result of the conversation between Yahweh and Satan, nothing to do with Job’s form of life at all, but nobody knew that. So they drew an incorrect conclusion about what was happening to Job because of this misconception.
So as Job’s friends looked on, seeing that he is about to die, being so sick that he must very shortly plunge into the grave, there is now a sense of urgency to get Job to repent of this sin, to confess and repent of it before it is too late. So these friends are going to take a pretty aggressive approach with Job because they think that this is an issue of salvation.
The Doctrine of Exact Retribution
Now the doctrine of exact retribution might sound like a pretty unlikely one, but in fact, it is extremely common. In John 9:2 for example, the disciples came to Jesus and they said, “Teacher, this blind man, who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” They thought that the consequence in someone’s life is an immediate consequence of some sin that has been done to somebody.
Jesus says, “No man has sinned, not this man nor his parents, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. That’s why he was born blind.” Or again, Luke 13:4, the Tower that fell upon those people and killed 18 of them. Jesus says, “Were they any greater sinners than everyone else?” No, they were not. They were unlucky people who happened to be in the way of the tower.
So you see it is a very easy thing in life to feel that everything that happens to us is a blessing or a punishment from God. It is just not that simple. Job was in fact, suffering for the sake of other people. It may be, that someone among us who is suffering the most, rather than being the least righteous person among us may in fact be the most righteous person, and if that degree of suffering were to come upon us, it may be that it would have destroyed us and therefore they are the one that bears it for the sake of others, for their example to others in enduring it faithfully.
So after seven days, Job began to speak.
Job 3:1. “After this Job opened his mouth and he cursed his day.” When it says “He cursed his day,” it means he cursed his very existence,
- He laments his birth in verse 3
- His infancy in verse 12
- His manhood in verse 25
He just wants to die.
3:20, “Why is light given to him that is in misery and life to the bitter in soul.”
“What’s the point of living”, he says, if it is only to suffer like this?”
Job says this because his conscience is clear, as far as sin is concerned. But he’s in affliction and he can’t understand it, and it doesn’t seem fair. If you believe that suffering only comes as a punishment for sin, then the righteous shouldn’t suffer. God has already called Job a righteous man in 1:1 so you can see the implication of Ch 3:20. Job believes the doctrine of exact retribution himself. He doesn’t think that what has happened to him is fair.
Who Was Eliaphaz The Temanite
In Chapter 4, Eliphaz is the first one to answer Job. His name means “God is gold” and he’s the eldest of the three friends, probably 30 or 40 years older than Job because in 15:10 we are told that he was a friend of Job’s father. So in that capacity, he approaches Job with a certain degree of seniority. He was a Temanite and historically, the city of Teman was a university city. It was known for its wisdom.
Many hundreds of years later when God brought judgment on Edom for persecuting Israel, he said in Jer. 49:7, “Is wisdom no more in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished?” Eliphaz is very, very conscious of his own wisdom. For example in 8:4, “Even as I have seen,” and verse 12, “A thing was secretly brought to me.” Ch. 5:3, “I have seen,” 5:8 “I would seek unto God,” 5:27, “Job we have searched it, so it is, hear it and know that it is for your good.”
So in summary, “I’ve seen a lot of life, Job. You ought to listen to what I say”. He’s pretty confident, Eliphaz, the most courteous no doubt, of the three, the most polite, and the most sympathetic. That was Eliphaz – a man of experience, a man of observation, a man of wisdom. But he’s going to try and get a confession out of Job. He intends to try to get Job to repent. The problem is, that Job is not going to do that. Job is going to deny any wrongdoing, and he’s going to reject the need for repentance.
So you can see straight away, that it is going to go like this they are not going to agree. Patience is going to wear thin and things are going to flare. But despite that, by the time we get to the end of the debate and Eliphaz makes his third and final speech in Ch 22, when he frankly thinks that Job is an obstinate and blasphemous sinner, he moderates his language, he calms himself down, he pleads to Job to return to God and be healed.
Eliaphaz’s First Speech
Now remember, Eliaphaz has been thinking about this problem for seven days and seven nights, before speaking. “Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said, Job if we attempt to commune with you, will you become weary?” (4:1).
Job, will you be offended if we speak? You see, the friends are sympathetic to Job’s situation. They didn’t want to intrude without permission. You can see their dilemma – they think he is in imminent danger of losing eternal life. “Look Job,” he says, “We’ve got to talk.”
“Behold you have instructed many and you have strengthened the weak hands, your words have upheld him that was falling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees. But now it hast come upon you, and you are weary. It touches you and you are troubled.”
Job, when other people suffered, you counseled them and you gave them advice. Now you’re suffering Job, and you’ve gone to pieces. How is it that you can give advice but you can’t take it? Why can’t you even take your own advice Job?. This is a most important verse – “Should not your piety be your confidence, and your blameless ways your hope?” (NIV). With your conduct, Job, what have you to worry about? Unless, of course, there’s something we don’t know?’
So you can see what he is angling at here:-
- Job, you’ve been exemplary (v4),
- Job, you were the example that everyone looked to (v5),
- Job, you’re suffering, God’s touching you, you are not going too well (v6),
- Job, you’ve been caught.
- What was the real motive behind your uprightness?
- Job, maybe it was because it paid you to live like that?
So the very accusation that Satan made against Job at the beginning is now picked up by the three friends. Job’s friends are going to advance all the arguments that Satan would have done personally if he had been there. They’ve latched onto exactly the same points. They knew Job was superior to them, just like Satan did.
So there is no need for Satan anymore. Every question that Satan might have been going to ask, the friends are going to ask. Every allegation that Satan could have made, they will make. And in Ch 42 God is not happy with these three friends.
And here’s the punchline: “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent, or where were the righteous cut off?”
So here is the first false premise of Eliphaz. “Whoever perished being innocent?” Well, we could start with Abel and we could follow him with a long list of prophets. It is not true that the righteous never suffer and only the wicked suffer.
Here’s the wisdom of Eliphaz. “Even as I have seen, Job, they that plow iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same.” ‘I don’t know Job, I’ve been around a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things happen to people, in my life, you are not the first one. I tell you this is how God deals with sin. The wicked are punished and are punished quickly (v8).
A thing, Job, a thing was secretly brought to me and my ear received a little bit of it. In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. Then a spirit passed before my face, the hair of my flesh stood up, it stood still and I couldn’t quite make it out, an image was before my eyes. There was silence, then I heard a voice. Shall mortal man be more just than God?’(v12)
He’s claiming to have visions of spirits giving him revelations. Be careful when you quote Eliphaz. He’s lying in his bed at night, Whoosh! Something runs across the room and his hair stands on end, and then a voice comes to him.
Behold! The Revelation tells me, “God puts no trust in his servants and his angels he charges with folly.” God doesn’t even trust the angels? Problem!
“Men are like little moths,” he says in v19, “and God crushes them every day”.
“And do you want to know something about the wicked, Job? Ch 5:3, “I’ve seen the foolish taking root, but suddenly I cursed his habitation”.
The wicked, well their household is cursed, that’s how it begins, and they lose their children, they lose their income and robbers come and swallow up their substance. Can you see yourself in that, Job?
So what’s the answer? “Behold, happy is the man,” says Eliphaz, “whom God corrects, therefore despise not the chastening of the Almighty.”
“He shall deliver you in six troubles, yea in seven shall no evil touch you. In famine, he shall redeem you from death, in wars from the power of the sword. You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue, neither will you be afraid of destruction when it comes.”
Repent Job! Then all your blessings will return. That’s how God is. I ought to know, he says in v27, that’s my observation in life. Trust me, I know what I am talking about.
So what has he said, he makes three simple points:
- No one is righteous before God.
- Only the wicked suffer, with some very pointed examples.
- Repent and all your blessings will return.
This is round one! This is the first speech, of three who came as friends to Job.
Job’s Reaction to Eliaphaz’s Speech
Well, you can imagine that Job is pretty upset by this. His reply is in chapters 6-7.
6:5 “Does the wild ass bray when he has grass, or does the ox low when he has fodder?” Do you think I am complaining about nothing? You say, “Happy is the man that God corrects”.
Eliphaz, even wild animals complain when they suffer. Is there no pity? Is there none at all?’ he says.
6:24 “Teach me Eliphaz and I will hold my tongue, cause me to understand wherein I have erred. You tell me the sin that I am being punished for and I will listen to you. Thanks for coming.
NEXT UP: Bildad the Shuhite