Job 15:5-10,12-13;16:19-21; 19:25-26
American Journal of Biblical Theology
June 18, 2006
"Job and His Friends"
by Gustave Dore
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"It's not fair!!," my child once proclaimed. It would seem that his older sister was allowed to have or do something that he was still too young for. This could be a common declaration by impetuous children, so I taught my children early in their lives that, unfortunately, life does not always seem fair, and their complaints concerning perceived injustice tended to ebb. There is no referee that watches over our shoulder and blows his whistle, declaring a foul each time someone acts in a way that breaks our own rules of fairness. This world discriminates and separates based upon what are often capricious sets of rules of conduct. Self-centeredness and ignorance abound in this sinful world, and when these attributes are empowered, prejudice, bigotry, and injustice abound.
Human nature demands justice. Righteousness should bring reward, and wickedness should bring condemnation and suffering. Ancient Jews misunderstood the purpose of the Law of Moses and rather than using it as a measure of their faithfulness to God, they used it as a legalistic tool of personal judgment. Instead of placing their faith in God, they placed their trust in their ability to keep the Law, a task that is impossible, a task that leaves everyone who tries to do so either frustrated or hypocritical.
Believing that judgment comes to those who break the Law, the Jews were sharply prejudiced towards anyone who suffered in any way. They came to the conclusion that those who experienced the blessings of riches and power had received these from God because of their righteousness. They consequently believed that anyone who experienced suffering did so as punishment from God for their sins. This concept was pervasive even in Jesus' day (John 9:2). It is easy for us to still embrace this concept today, thinking that God will always shower blessings upon the faithful, and suffering upon the wicked. We want God to be the referee who vindicates our faithfulness.
However, any casual observation of real life proves the fallacy of this paradigm. Faithful Christians have suffered greatly over the years at the hands of evil and sinful persecutors. Faithful Christians suffer and die from the same illnesses that affect all people. At the same time we see the wicked prosper. The richest and most powerful people in the world are populated by few people of faith. By human nature, this seems woefully unfair.
The story of Job is an illustration of one who seems to have unjustly suffered. In the first five verses of the book, Job is described as the most faithful man that may be found anywhere on earth. By his current worldly standards, Job is rich both in family and in possessions. Owning the product of faithfulness and blessings, it would seem that Job would serve to illustrate that blessings come to the faithful. However, the book of Job serves one primary purpose: to illustrate the error of this view. The book illustrates that the faithfulness of Job is not the product of his blessings, or vice-versa. In the remainder of Chapter one we find a pair of scenes where satan declares that Job's faithfulness is predicated by his blessings, and that he would curse God if those blessings were removed. God allows the blessings to be dramatically removed from Job, not so much as a test of Job's faithfulness, but to prove the power of faith itself. Job is not being put to the test. It is satan's premise that is being proved wrong. After Job lost his family, his fortune, and his health, satan would sit back and watch, expecting that Job would lose his faith in God.
Three friends of Job came to him upon hearing of his tragic losses. They sat quietly with Job for seven days and nights while he mourned. At the end of the seven days they began to give him advice. Like acts in a play, scenes shift between the commentaries of Job's friends and Job's response. God's commendation of Job's faithfulness included the statement that there was "none like him." This is certainly true when Job's love for the LORD is compared with the character of the three friends. After the seven days of silence, Job's three friends started attacking him immediately, assuming what for them was obvious: Job was suffering because of his sin. Chapter 15 opens with one of these discourses.
For thy mouth uttereth thine iniquity, and thou choosest the tongue of the crafty. 6Thine own mouth condemneth thee, and not I: yea, thine own lips testify against thee.
These are the words of Eliphaz, the Temanite. By this time, Eliphaz is vehement in his attack on Job. As Job proclaims his innocence, Eliphaz interprets Job's claim as a challenge to his own world view. Eliphaz claims that Job's insistence on his innocence is motivated by nothing less than sin. He insists that even Job's profession is a lie, one that is meant to be "crafty" in the same way that the serpent of eden is described as "crafty." Eliphaz is attacking Job's motives. He is convinced that Job is suffering because of his unrepented sin, and cannot conceive that Job could possibly be telling the truth. Eliphaz is so convinced of Job's motives that he charges that Job's very profession of faith is a lie that condemns him. Eliphaz' words of condemnation are particularly harsh.
Eliphaz cannot see the true heart of Job, nor does he really understand Job's true character. He is projecting his own world view on Job in his condemnations. Likewise, we can never fully understand the heart of another person, and we can never fully appreciate their true character. Obviously, Eliphaz was too quick to judge Job and we can also be judge others too quickly and come up with inaccurate and inappropriate conclusions. When my wife and I were early in our ministry we shared an unusual common characteristic: we looked a lot alike. We had the same hair color, eye color, skin tone, and a similar general appearance. Because we were engaged in ministry in the church we were not particularly "huggy" or overtly amorous when we were with the community of faith. This led one woman to come to the conclusion that we were actually a brother and sister living in incest, and proclaimed her judgment to the congregation through a very effective rumor mill that characterized this body. Her attack was meant to damage our ministry, and was based on some quite wild assumptions, ignoring the simple fact that not only were we not from the same family, I was raised in a city that was located about 100 miles from the dairy farm that was my wife's childhood home.
Though this is an extreme example, we commonly come up with inaccurate conclusions when we choose to judge one another, and when we act upon those conclusions we can often hurt others. We were not hurt in any way by this woman's attack because her premise was so ludicrous. Perhaps we were protected by the "breastplate of righteousness" that Paul describes (Eph. 12.)
Often our own words may be used against us when they taken out of context. This is what Eliphaz declares in verse 6. We usually know the context from which we speak, but often the receiver may not accept it in the same context when they share a radically different world view. Job's proclamation of innocence is his only true response to this situation. However, because of Eliphaz' world view, he sees that proclamation as an overt and willful lie, simply because he cannot believe that the innocent suffer. We also need to be careful of how we respond to words spoken by others, as we seek to avoid misunderstanding and inaccurate conclusions.
One characteristic we see in Eliphaz' condemning words is an utter lack of agape love. Eliphaz, by the simple fact of his lack of suffering, thinks that he is righteous, and proudly proclaims Job's wickedness. When we treat others with condemnation, prejudice, and judgment, we are copying the hateful spirit of Eliphaz rather than engaging God's unconditional agape love.
Why doth thine heart carry thee away? and what do thy eyes wink at, 13That thou turnest thy spirit against God, and lettest such words go out of thy mouth?
After condemning Job of his arrogance for talking like he knows the heart of God, Eliphaz accuses Job of believing his own lie, being carried away by it, yet like one who winks an eye to reveal true deceit, Job's lie is motivated by a sinful and proud spirit that stands against God. How can Job proclaim his innocence when he should be confessing the litany of grievous sins that brought this calamity upon him?
Job is defenseless against Eliphaz' attack. Eliphaz and Job are simply not speaking the same language. I have often stated that it is literally impossible to have a successful, rational discussion with an individual who is irrational. We do not share a common ground of communication. Any attempt to illustrate a train of rational logic is totally lost on one who sees their world in a radically different way. Job cannot defend himself against the condemnation of his "friend."
Likewise, it may sometimes be very difficult to communicate with those who have a radically different world view. As Christians seek to share the gospel with the lost world, this conflict of paradigm commonly arises. This is why it is important that Christians always communicate on a foundation of agape love, and seek evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of one with whom we hope to share the news of God's wonderful grace.
Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. 20My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God. 21O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!
Eliphaz was not alone in his condemnation of Job. Zophar and Bildad, the other two of Job's three friends likewise condemned Job for his refusal to confess to the grievous sins that brought about his calamity. Even Job's own wife demanded that Job, "Curse God and die" (Job 2:9). Job would not find a witness who would vindicate his innocence among any of those around him. He suffered, not only through the losses of family and possessions, but he also found that he had no advocate among those who he loved and trusted. However, Job did not base his faith upon the godliness of those around him, he placed his faith in God. Keenly aware of his own faithfulness and of his love for God, Job never questioned his innocence of the charges brought against him by his wife and friends. He knew that his "record" in heaven could stand up to the witness of heaven itself. Though he is scorned by his friends, Job knows that God sees his tears. Job does not understand why this calamity has befallen him, yet he still trusts in God's true and perfect judgment.
Seeing the conflict between God's apparent judgment upon himself and his own knowledge of his innocence, Job seeks an advocate with God. "O that one might plead," refers to the practice of advocacy provided by a lawyer before the judge on the behalf of one who is under judgment. Of course, the Advocate with the Father was described in Old Testament prophesy and revealed in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus serves as that advocate for those who have placed their faith and trust in God. It may be easy for us to understand how Jesus serves as the Advocate for those who came to God in faith after His resurrection on Easter morning. However, the Messiah is eternal, and God's plan of salvation was always a plan of grace for those who place their faith and trust in Him. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, in chapter 11, of the power of faith to save on both sides of the cross.
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Job had an advocate with the Father, and that Advocate was the Messiah. Though the prophesied Messiah had not yet come to earth to proclaim the gospel in Job's time, He still lived. We may recall that the book of Job was written during the period of the Kings of Israel and Judah, Job is considered by the writer to have lived during the period of the patriarchs such as Noah and Enoch, a time prior to the writing of any prophesy. Job's profession of faith in God came from his relationship with God, not from the acceptance of some written religious doctrine.
Job knew in the depths of his heart, that despite the injustice he witnessed in his life, that the redeemer that he sought, the One who would plead his case before God, existed, and was testifying on his behalf. Though he could not make his case with man, Job fully understood that his case was being taken before God by the One, True Redeemer.
Then, in what can only be described as prophesy, Job declares that he also knows that this Redeemer will someday stand upon this earth. Finally, though Job knows that his stricken body will find only death and decay when his dead body is buried in the ground, that he will be raised again to see God. Job fully understood the gospel! Job understood that the Messiah would descend from the Glory of eternity and walk upon the earth, and that through Him salvation was to be found; that through Him he would someday see God face-to-face.
It is this profession of faith that kept Job through the calamity that came upon him. Satan had argued that Job would curse God when his blessings were taken away. Apparently, satan cannot understand the power of true faith. Job's faith in God was not based upon blessings: it was based upon Truth.
Likewise, as we experience suffering we can always know that, if our faith and trust is in God, that our redeemer lives! He did stand upon this earth, and though this world may destroy the flesh, the Messiah is faithful to His promise to deliver those who trust in God.
Why do good people suffer? One can first argue that there simply are no good people. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and all people deserve eternal condemnation, and according to the world's paradigm, all people deserve suffering. Consequently, we suffer when we experience the direct consequences of our own sinful actions, as well as those of others. We also suffer the ravages of illness since every person has an appointment with the grave, the one undeniable step into the realm of eternity.
Why do bad people prosper? Jesus said, "They have received their reward" (Matt. 6:16). These people place their trust in the things of this world, and by accumulating those trinkets, they think they have found what they are seeking. However, their appointment with the grave will find them faithless and devoid of the power of the Redeemer to save them.
Suffering and prosperity in this world is not related to faithfulness. However, eternal salvation is entirely predicated on faithfulness. Job understood this, and the writer of the biblical text understood this. Our Redeemer lives, and He will stand for us on that day of Judgment if we will simply place our faith and trust in Him.