Job's Friends Speak.

If after a short time of great calamity such as Job experienced – his children killed, his lifestyle and position in the region taken away, and his body suffering like never before – would we be able to say like Job, "Blessed be the name of the Lord"? Could it be said of us that we did not sin with our lips? Job experienced supernatural grace in an hour of agony for those two verses to be written about him (Job 1:21, Job 2:10).

We can be in agony and still be godly at the same time. Beginning in chapter 4, Job reveals what is inside his soul, his mind, and his heart. His three friends, who have come to comfort him and have sat silently with him for a week, are provoked to speak. In chapters 4-37, twelve thousand words of their debate are recorded for us.

J.R.R. Tolkien writes in The Fellowship of the Ring, "Where there are so many, all speech becomes a debate without end. But two together may perhaps find wisdom." Tolkien’s first statement reminds us of Job’s debate with his friends. Tolkien’s second statement reminds us of Job’s relationship with God at the end of the book of Job.

In God’s wisdom, we are asked to consider the debate among the friends before we conclude with the profound simplicity of God’s conversation with Job that brings peace and final resolution to our hearts. These long, middle chapters of debate, encompassing two-thirds of the book of Job, are likened unto Christian stepping through the Slough of Despond as described by John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Several stepping stones help the reader negotiate the seemingly endless and circular debates with understanding and profit.

By finding those steps, we can work our way through Job’s Slough of Dispute and learn from it. The author of Job supplies for us some interpretive tools and concrete clues in the text that will govern our conclusions. These twelve thousand words of debate are given to us in three cycles, volleying between Job and his friends. Job speaks three times, and his friends respond three times.

The First Cycle of Debate

The first cycle of the three debates is found in chapters 4-14. An age-old belief which has caused division among many families and church families is that righteousness brings prosperity and suffering must be caused by wickedness. This wisdom book of Job has been long misunderstood and misapplied. Many have missed the central teaching of the larger part of the writing: there is no connection in life between righteous people being rich and healthy and unrighteous people being poor and sick.

Job’s friends believe he is suffering because he is ungodly, that God brought calamity upon him because of ungodliness. The friends believe that if Job would repent of his sin and live righteously, then God would restore his wealth, position, and possessions.

However, remember how wonderful these friends really were. They came with compassion and sat for a week in silence and mourned with him. They had mercy on him. While everyone else was departing from him because of his diseased, unclean condition, his friends remained with him while he suffered (Job 2:11-13).

A conclusion we can draw from Job’s friends is that we can be sincere in our love for another believer but can be sincerely wrong in how we apply God’s Word.

Job 7:1-3 gives us context for Job’s suffering. How long was Job suffering in a rubbish heap of human mess, enduring the darkness of his agony? Months? These discussions with his friends happened while Job persevered through this painful calamity.

Be amazed at how powerful God’s grace is to bring any of us through anything, regardless of the degree of difficulty! God is faithful to His children as they by grace strive to value God above all and to be formed into His likeness.

Suffering or prosperity are not doled out by God because we are bad or good. This two-thirds of the book of Job teaches us that we are not to profile someone’s spiritual integrity by what they have or do not have. We need to guard against judging that a believer is good with God based on wealth while another is out of fellowship with God based on a lack of wealth.

Job’s friends arrived and did good things yet may have arrived with wrong assumptions. It would be easy to come to the wrong conclusions since they did not have the whole word of God as we have. God expressed disappointment in Job’s friends in Job 42:7, saying that they had not spoken of Him what is right as Job had. Their applications of God to Job’s life were wrong, while Job’s conclusions about God were correct (Job 40:2).

The best of spirit-governed believers, if not careful, can be well intentioned in expressions of love and care for the flock and still be quite disruptive to hurting souls by unwise, inappropriate application and explanation of God in His Word to his people in difficult circumstances.

Eliphaz Speaks: Repent and Seek God

The first two speeches by Eliphaz and Bildad are received by Job with sincerity. In his pain, Job seeks to give his misguided friends some slack because he knows their concern for him. Job’s words and the words of his friends reveal a mutual compassion. However, by the time Zophar speaks, Job has had enough. Job 12:2-3, 13:4-12 records Job’s scathing response.

Eliphaz is not a legalist, and his words to Job are sincere. His words are quoted in scripture as valuable words (1 Cor. 3:19, Psalm 94:12, Proverbs 3:11-13, Hebrews 12:5-6). God uses Eliphaz to encourage Job to seek Him (Job 5:8-9). During this time period, revelation was sometimes given through a dream. In Job 4:12, Eliphaz has a dream with a message true of God: even though a man knows God, he can still sin.

Job’s three friends assume he is under God’s judgement for some sin in his life, and their assumptions lead to a chief defect in their thoughts and their words. They were unable to understand that Job’s suffering by God’s grace had allowed Job to unlock the door of his own heart to a much larger world of thoughtfulness during this time of suffering.

Often, a suffering believer experiences God the Spirit expanding their ability to think properly, well beyond the thinking of those not suffering. There is much for us to learn from the agony we endure as God the Spirit teaches us how to remain faithful to God and consider Him the most valuable portion of our lives.

Eliphaz’s speech is one of misguided sympathy and misapplied warning to Job (Job 4:12-5:7). Eliphaz is a reminder to us all to be growing in our understanding of God and His Word so our theology continues to grow in depth and breadth.

Job’s response to Eliphaz in chapters 6 and 7 gives no indication that he believed Eliphaz to be sinful in his motive. Job wants his friends to be loyal (Job 6:15-16). Job hears Eliphaz, but the calamity he is experiencing is heavier than the sands of the sea (Job 6:2-3) and deeper than just punishment for sin. God has done something with Job that is far too painful to describe. Job says, "the terrors of God are arrayed against me" (Job 6:4). Job wants death (Job 6:8-13), but God does not give him what he wants.

Bildad Speaks: Repent, Job

Bildad speaks more passionately with a little deeper theology than Eliphaz. Bildad increases Job’s pain when he asks, "Does God pervert justice?" (Job 8:3). He challenges Job’s theology about God’s fairness. Bildad believes Job’s children are dead because of their sin and Job’s sin (Job 8:4). Does God sometimes judge people with death because of sin? Yes, several New Testament passages point to this truth. (See Hebrews 12, 1 Corinthians 11, and 1 John 5.) However, Bildad has misunderstood Job’s situation.

In Job 8:6, Bildad takes good theology about God and turns it into a prosperity gospel; if Job would do right things, then God would make him rich. Bildad implies Job had forgotten God amidst all God had given him. Bildad is saying the same thing Satan believed: that Job valued his family, position, and possessions more than he valued God. Unlike Satan, Bildad was giving Job a chance to repent.

Job, understanding more about the sovereignty of God, responds in agony that his suffering has nothing to do with his sin but with how God oversees both the righteous and the wicked (Job 9:22).

Job knew he was not guilty (Job 10:7) and trusted the sovereignty of God, yet there was no deliverance from the hand of the Lord (Job 10:18). He understands that God created him and blessed him (Job 8:8-12), and Job is pressed to submit to sovereignty while being content if the Lord should decide to take his life.

Zophar Speaks: Hear Wisdom and Repent

Zophar may be a little angered by this point. His speech is the shortest of all three and to the point. In Job 11, Zophar tells Job to quiet his mouth and to listen to wisdom. Zophar accuses Job, as a finite man, of understanding the fullness of infinity.

In physical and emotional agony, Job is at the end of himself, telling his disloyal friends to stop talking, because this calamity has nothing to do with him and his sin (Job 12-14).

With some sarcasm in Job 12:2, Job states that his friends are all self-proclaimed world-class wisemen. Job says they have told him nothing new or relevant to his situation (Job 12:3) but have mocked him (Job 12:4).

Job explains in Job 12:7-10 that he knows God is behind his calamity, but he was not suffering because of his sin. He launches into a hymn of God’s complete and utter sovereignty (Job 12:13-25). Job states his convictions are just as sound as his friends' (Job 13:1-2). He accuses them of speaking wickedly of God (Job 13:7) and warns that God will judge those who wrongly apply God to Job’s situation (Job 13:10-11). Those who do not apply the impartiality of God to one’s calamity are unwise.

Job is growing increasingly into his right mind from chapter 3 to the end of this first volley of debate (Job 14:12-15). Physical life is not the end of all life. Spiritually there must be something more after death for someone of true, genuine saving faith. Job is recognizing that yes, all men sin, and all men die because of sin (as is repeated in Romans 6). God is pressing Job from calamity into proper conclusions: God has the sovereign right to bring calamity and even take Job’s life, but Job will live again.

Conclusions for the Believer

We are not well off because we are godly, and we are not poor because we are wicked. Allow God to be God. Regardless of our socio-economic status, we need to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, having peace in our hearts, persevering by His grace no matter what calamity He allows. Knowing the Lord Jesus Christ is the first step in being prepared to endure calamity in a faithful way.

Application Points

  • Have you found yourself profiling your own or other believers’ spiritual integrity using the metrics of wealth, position, and possessions?
  • Are you growing in your understanding of God’s sovereignty in your life, or are you struggling with things being seemingly unfair?
  • Are you studying God’s Word with care so you may accurately apply His truth with compassion to another’s situation?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Daniel 4:25, 35, Romans 9:15-23, 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 4:11 – the Sovereignty of God
A Hymn to Encourage: "This is My Father’s World"

This is my Father's world:
O let me ne'er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad!