Job’s Miserable Comforters
February 23, 2014 / No. 3712
Dear Radio Friends,
We return today to our study of the life of Job. In the first two chapters of this book we learned of the great calamities that came upon Job, and we heard him responding with beautiful confessions concerning the sovereign control of God. At the end of chapter 2, Job’s three friends come to visit him, and they sit down with him in silence for seven days. In chapter three, at the end of the seven days, Job speaks, cursing the day he was born, wishing he had died as a child, and asking why God wants him to continue living, when his life is so empty and miserable. He says that he is bitter in soul, that his way is hid, and that God has hedged him in. He’s in a dark pit of depression, and he sees no way out of it.
In response to Job’s words, his three friends, whose names are Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, begin a lengthy discussion with Job that goes on for 29 chapters. In these chapters there is a cycle of speeches. Each of the friends speaks in turn, and after each of their speeches Job responds. This happens three times over, except that in the last cycle, Zophar no longer speaks, but is replaced by another man, Elihu. Today we are going to look at the content of what these friends said to Job, but because it is impossible in one message to consider everything they say, I want to do this: first, summarize their words; second, evaluate their words; and then third, make some applications for ourselves.
All of us can think of friends that we have who, like Job, are hurting. One has physical/health problems, another has psychological problems and is depressed, another does not have steady employment, another has marriage problems, another has wayward children. How are we going to help these hurting friends? Or even this, how can we avoid hurting them more?
There’s a lot for us to learn from the friends of Job. Friendship is a wonderful thing. Having friends in time of trouble is very important. Having Christian friends who can counsel us from God’s Word and help us to maintain a proper perspective on life is priceless. But friendships also bring familiarity, and the possibility of hurt, and here Job’s friends fail. The modern saying, “Who needs enemies when I’ve got you for friends?” could well have been used by Job to refer to his friends.
In Job 16:2 Job declares, “Miserable comforters are ye all.” He tells them, there’s nothing new in your words, I could get this advice anywhere, and he asks them, When are your long-winded speeches going to end?
What did they say to make Job evaluate their friendship and their advice this way?
Let us go over a sampling of their words.
Eliphaz speaks first. He is probably the oldest of Job’s friends, and he appeals to his experience as an older man. Over and over he says, “I have seen.” In chapter 4:8 he says, “Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.”
In my experience, he is saying, “God always brings judgment on wicked men.” At first these words are an abstract observation, but later they become a specific accusation without any grounds, when he says to Job in chapter 22:6-9, “thou hast stripped the naked of their clothing, thou hast not given water to the weary to drink, thou hast withholden bread from the hungry, thou hast sent widows away empty.”
Bildad, Job’s second friend, joins the chorus. He again argues from human experience, not his own, but he makes an appeal to history and to the wisdom of forefathers. His assertion is that God is just, “Doth the Almighty pervert judgment? Or doth the Almighty pervert justice…. Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers” (Job 8:3, 20). His accusation is that Job, and especially Job’s children, had sinned. He says, “thy children have sinned against him, and he hath cast them away for their transgressions” (Job 8:4).
Zophar is the harshest of Job’s friends. He does not bother to argue from experience or history, but simply makes assumptions. His main assumption is that Job has sinned and therefore must repent, and that when he does, things will improve in his life. Zophar says, “Oh that God would speak and open his lips against thee. Know that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth” (Job 11:5-6). He then calls Job to put away his iniquity, and tells him that this is the only way he can possibly have peace.
So these are Job’s friends. What miserable comforters. What they say is not fair and is not true. We already know from the earlier chapters that God Himself viewed Job as an upright man, and that He had not brought any of this suffering on Job as punishment for particular sins. These friends are totally wrong.
But it raises an important question. Why, when Job is already going through such severe trials, seemingly without cause, why does God, instead of sending friends to comfort him, send friends who taunt him? In chapter 16, Job will say that they tear and gnash at him with their words. He will confess, “God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over to the hands of the wicked” (Job 16:9-10).
Why does God do this?
We remember the conversation between Satan and God. Satan is behind these friends, to persecute Job now with cruel words, and to press home even closer the temptation to curse God. If Job will believe what his friends say about God, he will become exasperated with God.
But God Himself is again sovereign here. Sometimes He will send people into our lives who are constant critics, who become a thorn in the flesh, whose words are never encouraging, to teach us some important lessons in patience, to keep us on our toes, and to help us see that we should not depend on the praise of men.
But now let us evaluate the words of Job’s three friends. We must do that, because God Himself passes judgment on them. At the end of their lengthy interaction with Job, God tells Job to pray for them and make sacrifices for them, because they need forgiveness. What they did and said was sinful.
So what is wrong with their comfort and advice? We can answer that question on two levels, first by addressing their behavior, and then second, looking at the underlying issues.
In one word, their behavior was cruel.
Apparently they had good intentions. Chapter 2:11 tells us that when they heard of Job’s situation, they “made an appointment together to come to mourn with Job and to comfort him.” That is a good thing.
To comfort others is to come along side them when they are weak and down, and to ease their grief and give them strength and hope. It is to console them and to cheer them up. We do that by bringing the promises of God’s Word, and helping fellow believers to look beyond their troubles, to the sovereign love of God for them.
But Job’s friends didn’t bring him an ounce of comfort. Instead of directing Job beyond his troubles, they focused on his troubles. Instead of bringing him the promises of God’s love, they said God was judging him.
In order to bring comfort, you must first sympathize. To be sympathetic means, literally, to feel with another person what they are feeling; it is to enter into their situation and to look at their world and their experiences through their eyes. To try to understand what they are going through.
Job’s friends had no sympathy. Instead of seeking to understand Job’s experience, they jump to conclusions. They bring accusations, but no compassion. Instead of showing pity, Job’s friends were brutal.
But bigger than the problem of their behavior was their wrong theology. They thought they knew God, when in fact they did not understand Him at all. God is angry with them, not simply because they have mistreated Job, but, He says in chapter 42:7, “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends, for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right.”
So what was wrong with their theology?
First, they had a very lopsided view of God. They understood the greatness, the exaltedness, and the transcendence of God; they affirmed very strongly the justice of God; but they did not see the love and tenderness of God.
Now, in some ways, what they say is a breath of fresh air. Today we hear the opposite, that God is a God of love and mercy, and the truth of God’s justice is overlooked. People believe that in love God simply overlooks sin, and that in the end there is no hell and eternal damnation. But, in fact, God is a God of justice, and even today the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18). The Bible teaches that “God is angry with the wicked every day. If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready” (Ps. 7:11-12). So, yes, God is a God of justice, and He will and does punish all sin.
But Job’s friends incorrectly apply this truth to Job, and they do not see the whole picture of who God is and of the satisfaction of His justice in Jesus Christ. They do not understand the mercy of God for all who put their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. They do not see that those whom God has chosen in eternity past, and on whom He has set His love, and who by a work of His grace have come to faith, are always the objects of God’s love. That there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God.
Now maybe you say, how were they supposed to see this, so early on in history? This was around the time of Abraham, and how could they even know of the promise of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus would come as the lamb to bear the sins of His people? How could they know this?
Well, I don’t know exactly how they could or would know this, but I do know that Job had a knowledge of these things. He understood the justice of God, but he also understood the mercy of God through the sacrifice of a Redeemer, and because of this he knew God closely, as his friend, and not just as a distant, austere, angry Deity.
You see this throughout the book of Job. When his children feasted, Job made sacrifices for them, to atone for their sins. At the end of the book, Job makes similar sacrifices for the sins of his three friends, and God forgives them. In chapter 19:25, he speaks of his Redeemer. All of this demonstrates that Job believed that Jesus would come to pay the price for sin; satisfy the justice of God in the place of His people; and redeem them from the power and guilt of sin. Job’s view of God was balanced and complete and mature.
And because of this, Job had a very close relationship with God. One of the most interesting things in this book is the use of names of God. Job refers to God by the name Jehovah, in the English KJV, Lord. In Job 1:21: “The Lord/Jehovah gave, and the Lord/Jehovah hath taken away.” See the same in chapter 2 and in chapter 12. This is the personal and covenant name of God, the name that speaks of God’s mercy and relationship to His people. Job knew God intimately, as his friend, and that was because Job came to Him through faith in the promised Messiah.
But the view that his three friends had of God was quite different. Over and over, they refer to God by the name El-Shaddai, God of Hosts, or in the English KJV, the Almighty. They viewed God only as austere, distant, and dreadful. Not once do they reference Him as Jehovah. Not once do they speak of sacrifice and satisfaction. These were men who had a lopsided view of God.
And because of this, they did not understand the grace of God, and how the grace of God works. They equated grace with material prosperity and health, and they equated the wrath of God with calamities and affliction. Their reasoning went like this. God sends calamities on wicked men. God has sent calamities on Job. Therefore Job must be a wicked man. They argued from their experience, from what they saw. We might say, they made their theology on the street corner, without reference to Divine revelation.
Many today do the same thing. They say that God sends good things, rain and sunshine, on both the just and the unjust, and that therefore God must be gracious towards all men. This is the teaching of common grace, which says that we determine who are the objects of God’s grace based on what He gives to a man. It goes against the whole teaching of Scripture, and here particularly against the story of Job.
Yes, God was gracious to Job when He prospered him, but God did not remove His grace when He took all that away from him. Job’s prosperity itself was not a sign of God’s grace, and Job’s calamity was not a sign of God’s wrath. No, always God was gracious to Job, and especially God sustained Job by His grace when Satan came against him. The grace of God is not tied to material things, but is the saving attitude that God has towards His chosen people in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the wicked will prosper and God’s people will be troubled. That does not mean God is being gracious to the wicked and is judging His people. No, the prosperity of the wicked is a part of God’s judgment on them. As Psalm 73 says, He puts them on slippery places that lead to destruction. And, at the same time, all the afflictions He brings on His people are a part of His grace toward them and are sovereignly sent for their eternal profit.
So these friends had a wrong view of God and a wrong view of grace, and these things led to an inflated and self-righteous view of themselves and a lack of mercy towards Job. Implied in their theology was this, God is not judging us, so we must be the righteous ones. That showed in their lack of humility and sympathy. Proper theology of God will always lead to humility, sympathy, and mercy. If you are lacking in mercy, it is usually because you have a lopsided view of God, and an inflated view of yourself. You do not show mercy because you do not understand your own sin and the great mercy of God towards you.
Job, as I said, understood this. He says to his friends in chapter 16:4-5, “I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief.” He genuinely means that. Job understood and experienced grace, he understood the mercy of God toward him. He looked in faith on Jesus Christ to come, and out of that mercy he was a man of mercy.
That is the application for us. We should and do see ourselves in Job’s friends. We are a lot like them, and we have a lot to learn about mercy and sympathy. We have a lot to learn about being comforters to others who are afflicted. So, let me close with these points.
1. Do be a comforter to others. Job’s friends were right to come. If you see a brother or sister in trouble, do not be standoffish, and think, well, I might mess it up, so I’m going to do nothing. No, sometimes we will get it wrong, but let us learn to be more compassionate, encouraging, and comforting to others. A simple word of encouragement or thanks. A thoughtful text, e-mail, or card. There needs to be more Christian fellowship between believers, and more spiritual conversation. We are put together as believers in order to help one another and to bear one another’s burdens.
2. Then, if someone is going through a hard time, do not jump to conclusions and come with solutions. That is our instinct, but it is sinful. We do not have the wisdom or the power to solve everyone else’s problems. We should not assume that we can see things as God sees them. No, there is always a mystery to the suffering of God’s people. Encouragement and comfort comes through pointing others to the unfailing love of God, the mercy and redemption that is ours in Jesus Christ, and the eternal hidden purposes of God. Too often we stand at a distance and pass judgments and have solutions, and it all sounds so good and looks so easy, when we really have no idea.
3. Pray that you may understand the grace and mercy of God yourself, that your view of God may be mature and balanced. You and I are sinners who have been redeemed and forgiven and are loved, and we do not deserve it. Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving, even as God in Christ has been kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving toward you. Good doctrine, which is experienced, will always lead to humility before God, gratitude for salvation, and mercy toward others. May God help us with this.
4. Do not equate grace with things or circumstances. Job’s friends were not the only ones who did this; Job did it too. He asked, what have I done to deserve this? Why is God angry with me? We do that very quickly too. We should not. When difficult times come, it does not mean that God is judging you, or that you have done something wrong to deserve it. No, if you are a child of God, He is dealing with you in love, and so pray for grace to persevere and to experience his unfailing love. He will never forsake His own.
Job was forsaken here, of his friends. They turned on him, they gaped on him. It reminds us of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. He was forsaken of all, and compassed by enemies who taunted him. Even God came against him in wrath, till He cried out, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” And all of it, so that we may have the confidence, even in difficult circumstances, that God will never forsake us, or withdraw His grace from us. That is our confidence.
Let us pray,
Father, we pray for softened hearts that understand and experience grace and mercy, so that we may be those who are tenderhearted and merciful to others, and not just to those who are brothers and sisters in the Lord, but also that we may have a mercy and love that displays itself to those outside who are not saved. It is of grace, totally undeserved, that we are redeemed, and we are thankful. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.