Job, Part 2: Job's Friends

After all these calamities, Job is visited by his friends , all righteous men like himself. They sat and mourned with him for seven days and nights, speaking not a word, because they saw that his grief was so great. But when they did speak, instead of comforting him, these friends ascribe his calamities to some great sin, for which he is now being punished. Job's friends affirm that great suffering is a proof of great guilt, and exhort him to repent and confess. He denies their claims that he is guilty of some hidden sin, but they continue to condemn him. The friends of Job seem noted for their rank, as well as for wisdom and piety. However, they are also unaware of the reason of Job’s sufferings. They never knew the “why” Job had to suffer, but they all shared a basic traditional belief of divine justice : the principle that wrongdoing would be punished and righteous deeds would be rewarded.

Before we condemn them too harshly, however, we must first examine our own views: We are often guilty of the same thoughts: that good will always be rewarded and evil will be punished, here and now. And as we all know, that doesn't always happen the way we think it should. Make no mistake about it: God is a just God, and good WILL be rewarded and evil WILL be punished – one day. It may not happen according to our timetable, however. God is not bound by time, as we are. He promises to one day make all things right (Rev. 21:5), to restore all that has been taken from us (Joel 2:25), to repay all evil (Deut. 32:35), and to reward our good works (I Cor. 3:11;15), but it may not happen on this earth. We have to learn, as Job said, to accept both good and bad that comes our way, with the complete assurance that God is Sovereign over it all, and He will someday bring it all together for some good purpose (Rom. 8:28). We must understand that God does not cause bad things to happen to us, but He often allows them, for purposes we may know nothing about.

Job's response to his trials and the response of his friends show two very different views of God. The predominate view, held by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, is that suffering must certainly be punishment for personal sins. And the opposing view, expressed by Job himself then later on in the book by another friend, Elihu, suggests that people should not think about reasons and causes and just to accept whatever happens to them as the will of God, and beyond our human understanding.

Eliphaz was a Temanite, who were descendants of Edom, who settled in Teman, a city known as a home of sages and wise men (see Jeremiah 49:7). Eliphaz accuses Job, saying, “Who ever perished being innocent? / Or where were the righteous cut off?” Eliphaz is religiously dogmatic, and believes that people cannot be sinless, since everyone sins; therefore he rebukes Job for claiming to be innocent.

Bildad is also very dogmatic and spouts common platitudes in all his discourses. His platitudes are true enough, as every one knew, but they did nothing to shed any light on Job's circumstances. He cruelly states that Job’s children died because they were sinful, and their death is their punishment. He also rebukes Job for talking too much, claiming that all Job's talk is evidence of his guilt.

Zophar is the most dogmatic of all: one who assumes he knows all about God and what God will do in any given circumstance. He wishes that God “would… open His lips to” Job to tell him “the secrets of wisdom”. Although Job's life appears to be righteous, his friends are convinced it is not truly, and therefore, they try to convince Job to confess his hidden sin. Their intent may have been to console Job, but instead they became accusers, asking Job what he has done to deserve God's wrath, and condemning his claims of righteousness.

Elihu is a fourth friend of Job, who does not appear until near the end of the book, (chapters 32-36) rather than at the beginning with Job's other friends. Elihu was younger than the other friends, and humbly remained silent and listened to all they had to say to Job. But when he finally does speak, he expresses anger with Job's three friends, because they had found no answer yet they condemned Job; and even with Job himself, because he justified himself rather than God.

Elihu has a higher conception of God, and a far more just conception of the problem. He shares the viewpoint of Job’s other friends that God is always just in all of his deeds; however, Elihu’s concept of justice is somewhat different. He thinks that suffering should not always be considered a form of punishment, as it can also be form of prevention. Elihu also says that people should not try to understand WHY something is happening as people are not capable of understanding God’s wisdom. Thus, they should live their lives and accept everything: joy and suffering. Job had said this same thing in 2:10: “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

Elihu's account of God is noble and true, and it is noteworthy that at the last Jehovah does not class him with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. In Job 42:7 the Lord condemns Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. but, significantly, Elihu is not rebuked by God. In fact, after God deals with Job, God rebukes them and tells them to offer up a burnt offering for themselves, and have Job pray for them:

And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends: for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has. Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that you have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job. So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did according as the LORD commanded them: the LORD also accepted Job(Job 42:7-9)

Eliphaz was the one God specifically named in this rebuke, because he was the foremost of the three friends; their speeches were merely echoes of his. They had all three condemned Job in his tribulations, rather than comforting him with God's tender love and mercies. Job's views of God were far more accurate than their own, and after he repented for questioning God and over-estimating his own righteousness, God accepted his prayers on their behalf. How humbling it must have been for them, after their reproaches to Job, to be told that it was they themselves who were guilty of sin, namely, a wrong view of God's complete Sovereignty and His mercies. They were instructed by God to bring a burnt offering of seven bulls and seven rams.

The burnt offering is one of the five types of offerings named in the Old Testament. The purpose of the burnt offering was general atonement for sin. It was a voluntary offering that signified the substitutionary atonement of sin through the shedding of blood, foreshadowing Christ's substitutionary atonement by His own death on the cross. The instructions for the burnt offering are given in Leviticus 1:1-17; it could consist of a bull, a sheep or goat, or a dove or pigeon, depending on the wealth of the person offering the sacrifice. Thus we can safely assume that, like Job before his trials, his friends were also wealthy men. They were told to sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams, with seven being the number of Divine perfection, wholeness, and completion.

Though, in the end, Job understood that he had overstated his righteousness (Job 42:1–6), the truth was, he had done nothing to deserve his suffering. Remember, Job had no idea of the battle going on in the heavens between God and Satan. The trials Job endured were not related to his behavior at all. Instead, God used the sufferings as a test, and as part of His sovereign plan in Job’s life. In the end, after Job’s time of suffering, God blessed Job with twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).

On this side of the cross, we have the advantage of seeing the whole picture. We know that Jesus took the punishment for our sins. We know that going through difficulties in life are all not necessarily due to our sin, and that we do not have to fear God's wrath and retribution. We know that our salvation does not rest on our being sinless or perfect. We do not have to despair, having no hope when the tragedies and trials of life hit us; we know of the resurrection of Jesus, and that for Christians, even death is not the end of the story.

The good news is that God does not allow us to suffer pointlessly. Yes, sometimes the innocent suffer, but God can and will redeem that suffering. Our loving and merciful God has a perfect plan to use that suffering to accomplish His purpose, and will only allow enough to accomplish His purpose, not one bit more. Joni Erickson Tada says: “God sometimes permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves”. God never wastes anything, including our suffering.

Some possible reasons why God may allow suffering, besides as punishment for sin:

  1. He uses pain and suffering to draw us to Himself so that we will cling to Him. How we respond to suffering, especially when we are innocent of wrongdoing, proves the genuineness of our faith. Our sufferings tend to make us either better or bitter, either drawing us closer to God, or showing our faith to be false and causing us to turn away from Him. Those with faith in Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), will not be crushed by suffering but will come through the trial with their faith intact, having been “tested by fire”.

  2. As we experience God’s comfort through our own trials, we are then able to comfort others in the same way (II Cor. 1:4). Only someone who has experienced the same thing can really understand what someone else is going through, so God allows some things to happen to us so that we are in a position to minister to others in their time of suffering.

  3. Truly faithful people do not question God's goodness, even when bad things happen to them; rather, they understand that "the trying of your faith works patience, (James 1:2) and will one day be rewarded: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

  4. Like the man born blind, our suffering may be to display God's works in us to others. (John 9:3) There is always someone watching how we respond to our troubles, and whether or not we honor God when things get really bad. A few years ago, when the Taliban beheaded 13 Christian men, one of them was a guard who had seen their faith and converted to Christianity, choosing to be killed with these believers because their faithfulness to their God had made such an impression on him.

  5. Finally, God uses suffering to take our eyes off this world and turn them to the next. The Bible continually warns us to not get caught up in the things of this world but to look forward to the world to come. The innocent suffer in this world, but one day there will be justice for the innocent; one day this world and all that is in it will pass away. However, the kingdom of God is eternal. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), and those who follow Him do not see the things of this life, neither good nor bad, as the end of the story. Even the sufferings we endure, as terrible as they can be, “are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Could God prevent suffering? Of course He could. But He assures us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) Suffering—even the suffering of the innocent—is part of the “all things” that God is using to accomplish His good purposes. Ultimately, His plan is perfect, His character is flawless, and those who trust Him will never be disappointed. Our hope is found in God's perfect character, even if we don't understand His reasons for allowing suffering in our lives. We can trust that He will work all things out, for our good, in His good and perfect timing.

Previous: Job, Part 1: Job's Suffering

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