Job’s friends got it initially. They got the news and they got the shock and seriousness of it all. When they heard of his plight and suffering, they dropped everything and journeyed to be with him. Leaving their responsibilities and schedules behind, they came and gave days to him.
At first, his suffering was so overwhelming to them that they sat with him in silence for seven days and nights. Nothing said–only sadness, emotions and tears. What could they say? It was too much, too deep, too painful to see and too much to take in.
Job is the first to speak. He breaks the silence in chapter 3 by pouring out his regret that he was ever born, and he curses his birthday, wishing it was not even on the calendar. “WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY?”, Job cries out in his complaint (vss. 11-23) and goes on to pour out his pain, fear, dread and misery.
Finally, one of the friends can’t take their own silence any more and has to speak. Eliphaz breaks their silence in ch. 4:1-2 by saying, “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?” Here’s a soft plowing of the mental ground, a gentle nudge toward communication to see if they can support and comfort Job somehow, and try to begin to make sense of the insanity of Job’s mysterious providence.
In essence, Eliphaz sums up his perspective of the situation by telling Job that previously he had helped many, but now he is failing the test, becoming impatient and self-righteous–“Who can be right with God? Even the angels aren’t pure in his sight, so surely fallen and wicked men are going to suffer and perish.”
Thus begins the dialogue and discussion (chapters 3-37) which turns into a debate, an argument, and a war of words, leaving all exasperated, frustrated, and verbally foaming at the mouth toward one another. This is the main content of the entire book–Job affirming to them that he knows he did not sin to cause his suffering and the 4 friends, including the younger Elihu, affirming Job’s sinfulness and pride.
He HAD to have caused it, they presume–they KNOW–he had to have caused it. Such a curse comes not causeless (Prov. 26:2), meaning where there is smoke, there must be fire; where there is such suffering and calamity in a person’s life, something must have caused it that is rooted in sin. If Job will only be honest, admit, confess it, and repent, then it will all go away and good times will roll in again. “Come on, Job, just get right with God and He will end this.”
The Essence of Job’s Reply
“Really,” Job says; “Seriously? Is this your comfort, your counsel and help? You don’t have a clue what you are talking about. You guys are nothing but physicians of no value, miserable comforters, and you are so wise, that when you die, all wisdom will die with you. I don’t know why God has brought this and I would sure like for Him to give me answers. But this I know–I did not sin to cause this!”
For over 30 chapters, Job’s friends say, “You’ve sinned” and Job’s reply is always, “Then show me the sins that caused it because I did not cause this to happen because of my sins.” “YES, you did!” ‘NO, I didn’t.” Thus is the sum of their entire dialogue.
In essence, this was Job’s response during the entire 30+ chapters of their verbal ping-pong match. But no one wins the match. It ends in a tie, with Job’s friends believing he is only self-righteous and that he will not admit his sin. And Job has answered them in such a way that they can’t reply anymore to him because they have nothing more to say.
Stalemate and Deadlock with discussion over— UNTIL . . .
Until God shows up supernaturally and ends their seminar on the philosophy of human suffering. God shuts down their seminary classroom and He speaks to Job, not to the friends. And the glory and grandeur of what unfolds between God and Job is astounding, marvelous and redemptive. The end of the book is as glorious and encouraging as the beginning is grievous.
Job’s friends were all wrong. Job was humbled and changed, and God was perfect, just, right, and gracious. All is well at the end and Job gets another empire, 10 new children, and 140 more years.
Imagine him sitting on his porch one evening then, with grandchildren on his knees, and at sunset one of them says, “Papa, tell us the story of what happen to you.” He tears up and slowly talks to listening ears–
“How good is the God we adore; how faithful, true, right, and perfect in all His purposes; His ways are past finding out–who has known the mind of the Lord and who has been his counselor? When we don’t understand His ways, we can trust His heart–we can put our hand over our mouth and not emotionally spill out foolish words we will later regret–we can humble ourselves under His might hand and we will receive grace to help in time of need–just in time, not sooner than we need it, not when we think we have to have it–just in time He will come to our aide. Jehovah is good and perfect in all His ways. As for God, His way is perfect.”
I can picture Job sharing such truth, as his grown children and grandchildren, possibly looking out on the hill where stand the graves of his first ten children, as they now listen to his wisdom and glean from his experience. What God had done for Job was beyond comprehension. But they reaped the fruit of it. And so did Job. He could have written the words that William Cowper penned so many years later–
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
How bitter the bud tastes, but how sweet the flower smells in the end.
– to be continued