Seeing Ourselves in Job’s Friends

In the book of Job, three friends approach him in whom we might find ourselves. It is a book about an individual who is referenced by God, along with Noah and Daniel, in Ezekiel 14:13-14 as righteous. James 5:10-11 refers to the patience of Job alongside that of God’s prophets. We know him to be an exemplary individual who undergoes tremendous trials, never once defiling God with his lips. His friends, though, do not see him as such. When they come to him, he has lost everything – his children, his possessions, even his health.

In Job 2:11, his friends come – Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They come to comfort him, but they do not even recognize him when they arrive. They mourn him as if dead, and words fail them. They sit with Job for seven days without speaking. They see his grief and comfort him with no more than their presence. Unfortunately, their predispositions eventually lead them into error.

Seeking Truth Versus Proving Assumptions

Can we see ourselves in these individuals? These friends are believers in God. They know God’s attitude toward and judgement of sin. We would call them religious, and, when they speak, they touch on some truths. Zophar, in Job 11:7-9, demonstrates a good perception of God. However, he and his friends ultimately draw the wrong conclusions regarding Job. In contrast, Job’s attitude and perception changes as the book progresses. He seeks truth where his friends seek to prove their theological positions, unchanging to a fault.

These friends believe that faithfulness results in wealth. They are preaching an ancient gospel of prosperity, and they are unwilling to challenge their own assumptions in the face of the evidence before them. They also believe that illness results from sin. In Luke 13 and John 9, Jesus rebukes those who believe tragedy necessitates sin. In Job 42:7-9, God rebukes the friends for their steadfast misconceptions and tells them to ask His servant Job to sacrifice on behalf of their sins. Again, the distinction is that Job has been seeking truth where Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have been trying to prove a point.

In Job 4:7, Eliphaz is basically saying Job is getting what he deserves, and Job 5:8 records this friend saying Job needs to seek God and accept His chastening. In verses 17-19, he calls on Job to repent, assuming sin in Job’s life, defending his position based on a dream. Bildad, in Job 8:1, offers the same theory: Job must repent and be pure to remove his troubles, appealing to their forefathers for justification. Zophar, in Job 11:1-6, goes as far as saying that God hasn’t made Job suffer enough. Again, these comforters have begun heatedly attacking Job. Because they feel the need to prove their points, they attack the one they came to comfort.

Miserable Comforters

In Job 6:14 records Job saying one that withholds kindness forsakes the Almighty, and, in Job 12:4-5, he expresses how easy it is to look down on those less fortunate. We fail to appreciate the difficulties of others. In Job 16:1-6, Job calls his friends miserable comforters, and he draws a contrast between them and himself. When we see others suffering, do we catch ourselves saying things like, “It’s their own fault?” “They got what they deserved?” “They have no one to blame but themselves?”

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus is moved with compassion when he is faces with the multitudes. Matthew 20:24 sees sickness and disease, healing those who come to Him. We should be more like Jesus’ and less like Job’s friends. We should be sympathetic to those around us. We should look on misfortune in kindness as Job encourages in chapter 6:14 of his book. Like Job’s friends, we can get the facts right while failing to bring others closer to God. We can be better friends, better comforters, and better representatives of God if we can remember to show kindness to those around us.

lesson by Jim Smelser