Job Pt 3 (Chapters 4–14)

by Glenn on September 14, 2014

The reading of Job continues, in which Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite respond in this first round to Job’s lament with words meant to … well, I’m not sure yet what the words are meant to do. I think it’s kind of a tough love thing—from their perspective telling the hardest truth in the hardest way?

What do you say to someone who is grieving? For two summers, now, I have volunteered with Camp Erin, a grief camp supporting children who have endured a significant loss. As part of our training this year, we were shown this video:

As I watched, I had no idea that “I’m so sorry” was offensive—at least to this one young lady. (I turned to one of the other volunteers at the training and said, “I always say ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ I thought it was good manners.” It turns out she said it too.

I thought about this video as I thought about Job’s friends. Initially, they seemed like great friends. When tragedy struck Job, they sat with him silently for seven days and nights. What a gift of friendship.

Then Job lamented. He said he wished he had never been born or that he could die because then he would be at peace.

How should they respond? I’m pretty sure it’s not how they actually respond.

Eliphaz

Eliphaz speaks first and will go on for two chapters. He begins (my paraphrase), “Job, you’ve been great. You’ve helped so many people. Now you’re experiencing some trouble and you’re discouraged.” And then in verse 6 he says, “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” In other words, what you do matters. If you are good, life will be good.

In verse 7 Eliphaz offers this leading question: “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” There’s an implication in that question. When have good people suffered? Ergo, “Job your situation is the way it is because of something you have done. If you were blameless none of this would have happened. Your life is bad, you are at fault.”

I wonder if Eliphaz was intimidated by Job. To make his point, he appeals to a kind of super-spirituality. He describes a vision beginning in verse 12: “A word was secretly brought to me … A spirit glided past my face … I heard a hushed voice: ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?’”

Eliphaz’ conclusion is that what Job is experiencing is God’s discipline: “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” (Job 5:17)

Job has something to say back to Eliphaz: “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends … But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams.” (6:14a, 15a) Ouch. Job must feel as though he is on trial for he demands evidence of the sin that would lead to his punishment: “Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.” (Job 6:24)

I find I get caught up with how beautifully and poetically Job is able to describe his situation. But after an extended passage describing his agony, then this punchline: “I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning.” (Job 7:16) You shouldn’t lost sight of the fact that Job is in deep agony.

Bildad

When Bildad takes his turn, wow, he is on message and even more direct: “When your children sinned against [God], he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” (Job 8:4) Bildad must be unaware of Job’s practice of sacrificing on behalf of his children (see Job 1:4–5) Bildad seems a little more poetic than Eliphaz. He has a lovely parable about papyrus in Job 8:11–19, but he, too, points to Job’s circumstances as evidence that Job has forgotten God.

In responding, Job describes the ways of God. And, again at the risk of trivializing by reducing, Job makes three things clear:
1. “I am blameless.” (Job 9:21)
2. “[God] destroys both the blameless and the wicked.” (Job 9:21)*
3. I have no way to work any of this out with God. “He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court.” (Job 9:32)

In chapter 10, Job unloads on God: “Does it please you to oppress me …? (Job 10:3)

Zophar

All three of Job’s friends read from the same hymnal. Zophar encourages Job to “devote your heart to [God]” and “put away the sin that is in your hand” so that “Life will be brighter than noonday.” (Job 11:13a, 14a, 17a)

Zophar introduces some foreshadowing. In Job 11:5 he says, “Oh, how I wish that God would speak …” Be careful what you wish for, Zophar.

Job has a sharp tongue. His reply to Zophar and his friends is “Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!” (Job 12:2a) We know this is sarcastic because of what Job says later: “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes.” (Job 13:12a) Clearly Job doesn’t find much substance in what EB&Z say.

***

My thought after reading the text is that Job’s friends don’t have a listening problem, they have a context problem. As they listen to Job, they have an operational principle in the back of their heads: “Good people are blessed, bad people are punished. If you are blessed you must be good. If things aren’t going well, you must have done something wrong. This is how wisdom works. This is how God works.” As they look at Job, they know that he must be bad. After hearing him out, they noticed there was something that Job didn’t say. There was no confession of any sins. He didn’t say, “I’ve been unjust (or unfaithful or whatever), which is why this calamity has struck me.” They decide (independently as the text doesn’t suggest a conference) that Job’s sins need to be addressed.

What is clear to the reader is how unclear things are for the characters in the drama. If reality is a little fuzzy for Job, who has no idea of the machinations that have gone on in heaven, at least he understands himself. But Job’s friends are one step removed. They don’t understand the situation. It appears they are trying to defend the way of wisdom, but the way of wisdom is out of joint. To defend the way of wisdom, they attack Job who is blameless.

If you are one of Job’s friends, what do you say to him? We will all be Job’s friend at some point. We will know someone for whom life is not going well. And one problem will be that those people are not “blameless.” I can’t assume any direct connection between circumstances and morality, although I have done more than my fair share of assuming.

 ***

There are two verses in these chapters that speak to me above all the others. The first one is just tragic: “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us …” (Job 9:33) How lucky we are to be this side of the cross—to have Jesus. The second verse is so inspiring: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him …” (Job 13:15a)

 

 

*There are some questions I am accumulating as I read through this story. This verse seems to call into question the validity of the book of Proverbs. What do we do with the contradictions that we find in the poetry books?

Add to that other questions:
Who is Job? Was he a real person? Was he a type of Christ? Is this an allegory?

Since Job makes sacrifices for his children, is there a way to secure atonement on behalf of other people?

What do we do with the fact that Job was blameless? What does that mean? Was Job perfect? How is that possible in light of the rest of scripture?

I don’t think there are easy answers to any of these questions. I’m in no hurry to answer any of them at this point. I just don’t want to lose track of them.