So far, in our reading of Job, we have seen that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1) In chapters one and two, we have also seen how God allows Satan to test Job with various trials. C.S. Lewis once summarized Satan’s role this way: “Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and Satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.”
At the end of chapter two, we see Job’s friends (Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite) gathering to comfort and console Job. They act very wisely at first. “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:13) This is, I believe, most often, the best thing we can do for those who are suffering: not say anything, but simply be with them. The ministry of presence is far more important and valuable than the ministry of words in times of suffering.
In chapter three, we see Job cursing the day of his birth because of the extremity of his suffering. This leads, in chapters four and five, to a response from Eliphaz the Temanite. It is a very eloquent response. It contains an oft-quoted verse of Scripture, “But human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7) The problem with Eliphaz’s speech is that he assumes Job is suffering because of some wrongdoing. He says, “How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” (Job 5:17) However, this is a faulty assumption. The book of Job shows us that suffering does not always come as a punishment from God. Sometimes suffering is just suffering, with seemingly no rhyme or reason from the human perspective. One thing we know for certain in this case, because we are told so in chapter one: Job is righteous. Therefore, his suffering is not a punishment from God.
In chapter six, Job speaks in response to Eliphaz. Whereas Eliphaz has said, “Surely vexation kills the fool,” (Job 5:2), Job wishes that his vexation were weighed and all his calamity laid in the balance. (Job 6:2) In other words, Job believes his vexation is appropriate to the calamity he has endured. Job wishes that God would crush him, that God would end his life before he denies the words of the Lord. At least then, Job believes he will die with a righteous record. Job asks all those who hear him to check and see if there is any wrong on his tongue. (Job 6:30)
Another one of Job’s friends, Bildad the Shuhite (the shortest man in the Bible!) responds in chapter eight. Bildad clearly finds fault with Job’s words for he asks, “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” It does not seem exactly helpful or compassionate to call one who is suffering “a great windbag,” but there you have it. As has often been said, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?”
Bildad, like Eliphaz before him, expresses himself with great eloquence. Basically he says that we cannot know the ways of God “for we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow.” (Job 8:9) However, of this one thing Bildad is sure: “God will not reject the blameless person.”
The problem with the speeches of both Eliphaz and Bildad is that they speak general truths, in fact, they echo the psalms and proverbs of Scripture, but they do not speak truth appropriately applied to Job’s situation. We need to beware of doing the same thing as these two “friends,” especially when we seek to minister to those who are suffering.