“Yet who can keep from speaking?” (Job 4:2) Apparently not Eliphaz, one of Job’s “friends” who tries to step in and speak for God as to the reasons that Job’s life has come crashing in around him. Eliphaz believes that he has the answer to Job’s problem. To Eliphaz (and the rest of Job’s friends), Job’s suffering is clearly the result of sin in his life:
“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?Or where were the upright cut off?As I have seen, those who plow iniquityand sow trouble reap the same.By the breath of God they perish,and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.”
There is a great danger with taking a little truth and applying it without discernment to all situations. The Bible does make it clear that God disciplines those He loves. In fact, the writer of Hebrews, writing to Christians who are being persecuted, makes that exact point in Hebrews 12:3-11. But you and I know, because we were able to read the conversation between God and Satan in Job 1-2, what Job’s friends (and, in fact, Job himself) do not know. Job’s suffering is not a result of his sin, but rather a result of his righteousness. Jesus tells us that the righteous will also suffer for their righteousness. (John 15:18-21, John 16:33)
Job’s friends do not know his God. Throughout Job, the terms most commonly used for God are the Hebrew words Eloah (“God”) and Shadday (“the Almighty”). Believers would use these terms to refer to God, and so would unbelievers. These are just the general terms for God, like just saying “God” or like saying “the man upstairs” or something like that. Both Job and his friends use these words for God, however Job also refers to God as his Redeemer (Job 19:25) and as the Lord in Job 12:9 (the personal name that God gave himself in the Old Testament, “Yahweh”, is always translated “the Lord”). Job knows the Lord personally, so he understands things about God’s character that his friends do not understand. Job does not understand why this is happening to him, but he knows enough to know that his friends don’t know what they are talking about:
“Teach me, and I will be silent;make me understand how I have gone astray.How forceful are upright words!But what does reproof from you reprove?Do you think that you can reprove words,when the speech of a despairing man is wind?You would even cast lots over the fatherless,and bargain over your friend.”
He rebukes his friends, saying that, “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” (Job 6:14) They have misunderstood Job. He needs their presence, not their answers. Job is wise enough to know that only the Lord has the answers to his questions.
Job is clearly depressed. He has moved from wishing he had not been born (Job 3:3) to asking God to kill him. (Job 6:8-9) Job needs friends who will just listen to him pour out his case to God, but instead they will continue to reveal their lack of wisdom by offering empty answers and poor theology.
Bildad is up next with two arguments:
Job will question the truth of both arguments:
Zophar tells Job that the knowledge of God eludes Him because of his sin. He also tells Job that he deserves worse. (Job 11:2-6) Of course, these are both true statements. Scripture is absolutely clear that God’s ways are higher than ours and that it is impossible for us to fully understand Him. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Scripture is also clear that we all deserve death as the just penalty for our sins. (Genesis 2:15-17, Romans 6:23) The problem with Zophar’s understanding of God is that it is still (like with Job’s other friends) based on moralism. If Job would just repent, then everything would go well for him. We are all moralists at heart. We want to behave our way into God’s good graces. We want to know that if we live good lives things will go well for us, because then we are in control.
Job closes out this first round of debate:
- His friends’ understanding of God lacks depth because it ignores the reality that sometimes God’s people suffer and sometimes the wicked do not. (Job 12:4-6)
- His friends do not have any greater understanding than he does – because Job knows God and has walked with Him and his friends do not know God (Job 13:2)
- Job wants to have this discussion with God, because his friends are “worthless physicians.” (Job 13:3-4)
- Even if God kills him, Job will hope in God. (Job 13:15)
- Job then stops talking to his friends and turns directly to God in prayer asking for answers and some vindication (Job 13:20-14:22)
Job recognizes the emptiness of his friends’ answers, and knows that the only helpful answers he will get must come from the Lord. He understands that it is impossible to be completely blameless before a holy God and he also understands that rain falls on the just as well as the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) Although Job is questioning God’s action (or lack of action) in his life, his hope remains firmly in Him. The Lord is a safe place to keep your hope.