Job, With Friends Like These

Job by Bonnat

Painting of Job by Bonnat

Reference: Job Chapter 1-5

Heart of the Story: Rather than comforting Job following his devastating losses, Job’s three friends told Job that he brought them on himself by sinning.

What Happened: The book of Job tells the story of a non-Israelite man who lived in Uz, an area now located in Jordan. He was the greatest and richest man in the East. Job’s lived in the second millennium (2,000-1,000) before Christ’s birth; some believe he was a contemporary of Abraham. Job worshiped and feared Yahweh; he was blameless and upright and shunned evil.

Satan hated Job and asked God’s permission to test him. Confident that Job would maintain his integrity, God allowed Satan to do anything to Job except kill him. The result was that Satan killed Job’s children, ruined his crops, robbed him of all livestock, destroyed his home, and afflicted Job’s body with severe sores and boils. Job was reduced from great wealth to abject poverty.

When Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar—heard of Job’s losses, they came to comfort him. They hardly recognized Job when they saw him sitting among an ash heap, boils and skin lesions covering every inch of his body. The men wept aloud, tore their robes, and sprinkled ashes on their head to demonstrate their grief and show solidarity with Job. For seven days, the three men sat on the ground with Job; none said a word because they saw how great Job suffered.

The seven days the friends sat with Job, as well as the silence itself, was important. Seven days is the traditional amount of time close friends and family grieve for an individual who died. Perhaps Job’s friends were acknowledging the death of his 10 children. On the other hand, perhaps they grieved the death of Job’s way of life including his health. Their silence could be interpreted in several ways. First, it could mean they were too stunned to speak when they saw Job’s devastated life.  Second, the silence implied they knew words were not much help in this situation. Third, their silence may have been the courtesy of the Near East where the host speaks first to guest.

Job’s discourse that he cursed the day he was born started three rounds of speeches between Job and his friends. The first to speak was Eliphaz, followed by Bildad, then Zophar. Because Eliphaz spoke first, he was probably the oldest and wisest of the three friends. Eliphaz offered the profoundest, gentlest, and perhaps kindest comments to Job, however, all three friends contend that Job sinned – in his heart, mind, or behavior — to warrant such divine punishment. Job’s friends agreed that the simultaneous nature of Job’s losses couldn’t have occurred through natural means.

Analysis of Job and Friends Discourse:The doctrine of rewards and punishment occurs in Near Eastern literature and the Bible. Today, some Christians believe unfavorable life events are a result of God’s punishment for sin. Often it is easier to blame God rather than accept that we made bad decisions and are reaping consequences, e.g., we drove 20 miles over the speed limit and had to pay an $80.00 speeding ticket; we cheated on our spouse resulting in a divorce and alienation of family members; we lost our job because of alcoholism.

The story of Job illustrated that what occurs in the physical world may reflect far greater conflicts in the spiritual world. The friend’s assertions that Job’s losses were due to his sin were erroneous. Quite the contrary – Job’s righteousness was the reason Satan attacked him. Job was an early Old Testament model of how Christians in the first century (1 Peter 1: 3-7) and now in the 21st century should endure persecution for righteous behavior.

The Epilogue of the book of Job described God rebuking the three friends because they didn’t correctly represent God to Job. The Bible didn’t identify how the friends erred in representing God. Perhaps their offense was speaking about God rather than to God or not having a true knowledge of the living God whose behavior they attempt to explain to Job. God required that the friends offer sacrifices to him for their own sins and have Job pray that God would forgive them and not deal with them according to their folly.

Conclusion: Job willing prayed to God for his three friends despite their Judgmental attitudes and severe criticisms. Job demonstrated how Christians should act toward individuals who persecute them. Further, Job showed how Christians need to talk to God when trials come into their lives rather than reject God in confusion and anger toward him.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14.

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