We can all identify with loss and grief, but few of us to the extent of Job. Job experienced a series of devastating losses that hit him literally from every direction. The Sabeans would have come from the South when they struck down his oxen, donkeys and several of his servants. (Job 1:15) The fire that burned up his sheep and more servants came down from heaven. (Job 1:16) The Chaldeans would have come from the North to take his camels and kill more of his servants. (Job 1:17) And the wind that took the lives of his children came from the East. (Job 1:18) Each tragedy came right after the previous one. As Job would later say about God, “he will not let me get my breath”. (Job 9:18) And yet, in the midst of such breathtaking losses, Job never said a word against God. He even rebuked his own wife when she told him to “curse God and die” in Job 2:9 (really bad advice, by the way), by saying “shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) Notice that he does attribute his suffering to the hand of God, since he correctly understands that God could have prevented it. Still, knowing that the hand of God has allowed this suffering, he received it and “did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10)
Job has been sitting silently, maybe even unable to speak without falling apart, for seven days. I have been there. I remember when my dad died, friends coming over and hanging out and just not saying much, if anything. I have been to the homes of those who have lost loved ones and just sat there and cried with them without saying anything.
But we all know that the venting is coming, and it comes in full force in Job 3. What interrupts the silence and starts the dialogue with his friends, is Job’s outburst: “Let the day perish on which I was born” (Job 3:3). The weeks of pain had taken their toll on Job. He now questions God for the first time. “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?” (Job 3:11-12) “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not?” (Job 3:20-21) Job cannot see any reason now for why he should have ever been given life or why his life should be preserved if there is going to be so much misery. And so he protests that the day of his birth should never have been. And of course this is a protest against God, because the Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). God can take our honest doubts and questions when we face difficult struggles and inexplicable suffering. It is okay to have questions and doubts, but if we impugn the character of God, He will set us straight.
For the next 29 chapters, Job will be responding to what these three friends have to say about his suffering. There are three cycles in the dialogue. In each cycle, Eliphaz will speak and then Job will respond, Bildad will speak and Job will respond, Zophar will speak and Job will respond. You will notice that, in general, as the conversation progresses, Job’s friends’ speeches will get shorter, as Job’s responses will leave them with progressively less to say.
After this extended conversation comes a long speech by a young man named Elihu (Job 32-37). After Elihu speaks, the Lord Himself will weigh-in (Job 38-41). Finally, Job repents and the Lord rebukes Job’s friends and restores Job (Job 42).