Job 4-27: Words, Words, Words 

Few comforters are as notorious as Job’s friends. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had come to comfort him at the end of chapter 2. After hearing him curse the day of his birth, they find that they can no longer keep their thoughts to themselves. Job 4–27 is essentially a battle of words. Each friend speaks, and Job replies to each. This cycle continues three times until (apparently) they all wear themselves out.

The main point that Job’s friends make is that the wicked suffer for their wickedness. Eliphaz, who seems to be the leader, makes this claim explicit in 4:7–8; both Bildad (8:11–19) and Zophar follow suit (8:11–19, 20:2–29). They conclude that since the wicked suffer and Job is suffering, Job must be wicked. Although Eliphaz’s first speech seems well intentioned, his claims, along with the claims of Bildad and Zophar, become more forceful after Job opposes them. Bildad claims that Job’s children died because of their sin (8:1–4). Zophar says that Job really deserves more pain (11:6). Eliphaz implies that Job is “revolting and corrupt, who drinks injustice like water” (15:16, CSB). Job’s friends are so confident that he has sinned that they give lengthy invitations for him to repent of his wickedness (5:17–27, 11:13–20, 22:21–30).

Job calls his friends “worthless healers” and “miserable comforters” (13:4, 16:1). The wicked, Job says, often thrive in life and die in peace (21:7–13). He firmly maintains his integrity (27:5). As Job speaks, it becomes clear that his ultimate issue is not with his friends but with God. His speeches often turn into prayers, and he goes back and forth between wanting God to leave him alone (7:17–21) and desperately longing to be with God (19:26–27). God’s poisonous arrows are within him (6:4), but he wants to make his case before God (13:3). It’s almost as if Job is saying, “Go away, Lord, but don’t leave me!”

What lessons do we learn from these passionate, painful, often disjointed interchanges? First, Job’s friends show us what not to do. Some claim that the wisest action Job’s friends took is to remain silent for seven days. Both Job and his friends, however, recognize the power of words to console (4:3–4, 16:5). Moreover, Job’s friends are not entirely wrong in what they say. Eliphaz’s beautiful meditation on God’s transcendence in 5:8–17 includes one of the only verses from Job in the New Testament (1 Cor. 3:19).

A major problem is that Job’s friends showed no humility in these dialogues. They generally knew God and His ways, but their overconfidence — their smugness with God — led them to a gross distortion of reality. In our dealings with people, we must remember that “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12, KJV). We need not waver on the core truths of the gospel, but God’s specific purpose for this brother or that sister is most often far beyond what we can know. Job begs his friends to have mercy on him (Job 19:21), but their pride prevents them from giving the mercy Job needs. Our own pride can keep us from giving compassion others need.

A second lesson we learn is that words can only do so much. Hundreds of verses lead them all no closer to the truth. Are verbal answers what we most deeply need? Would Job really be “fixed” if his friends could have provided more accurate answers? In two speeches, as he was longing to come before God, Job noted that he needed a go-between. God was too much for him. He needed a “mediator” (9:33) or “Redeemer” (19:25). What those who suffer need more than words is the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Whether that of ours or others, suffering must drive us to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

This entry was posted in .