First Cycle of Arguments Between Job and His Friends (Part A)
First Cycle of Arguments (A)
Shocked by Job’s response to his suffering, his three friends began to speak. They tried to reason with Job, and to instruct him in the ways of God. There are three cycles of arguments, which form the largest section of the Book of Job (Chapters 4:1—31:40)
At times, Job’s friends try to encourage and console him. At other times, they accuse him. In the beginning, they all offer hope, but at the end they only accuse him and attack him. But we must remember, they are not Job’s enemies; they are his good friends who came to comfort him. The problem is that they had no solution. As we study these three cycles of his dialogue with his friends, try to put yourself in the position of each person speaking, perhaps even imagining how you would comfort Job if you had been there.
Eliphaz spoke first. He was the oldest of the friends. In chapter 42, when God speaks to the friends, He calls only Eliphaz by name; so he was clearly the leader.
Things to notice about Eliphaz
- Eliphaz begins with a gentle reproof of Job, reminding Job that his fear of the Lord should give him confidence. He tried to teach Job that man is born to trouble, and that we must accept it. He is speaking like a wise counselor. But even while he is encouraging Job, he begins to accuse Job of lack of trust in God.
- He begins to mildly rebuke Job by reminding him that no one who is innocent perishes. (4:7-8) He is no longer a counselor, but decides to speak as a wise theologian. Eliphaz is very orthodox in his belief. Of course his orthodoxy was a strict adherence to the law. Consider how Job must have felt as he listened to Eliphaz. He is in complete agony. He has lost everything, all of his children; he is in great physical pain. Even worse, he now feels that the God whom he had faithfully served has now turned against him.
- Eliphaz then says (4:12), “Now a word was secretly brought to me.” He said that a deep vision came to him while he slept. Ch. 4:15-16 describes it: “A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up.” Then he heard a voice: “Can a mortal be more righteous than God?” He believed that he was so important that God would whisper a secret to him about Job.
- Beginning in chapter 5, Eliphaz begins to be judgmental of Job. He is now insensitive towards Job. At the same time, he tries to empathize: “If it were me, I would seek God and commit my cause to Him.” (5:8) He even goes so far as to say that happy is the man whom God chastens. But he is clearly judgmental. He speaks like an orthodox legal theologian. He reminds Job of orthodox doctrine – that is, the orthodox teaching of the law. And he lectures him on the benefit of God’s chastisement.
- Summary of Eliphaz’s speech: Since Job has lived a faithful life, none of these calamities should have happened to him. But since they did happen, Job should seek God and ask for forgiveness. He assures Job that many blessings will follow God’s chastisement. In 5:27, he speaks for all 3 friends and says, “we have searched it out; it is true. Hear, and know it is for your good.”
Eliphaz is very shallow in his theology. He does not understand the ways of God, and he cannot believe that Job is a godly man.
Job responds (6:1) that his life is nothing more than a breath, and that he will speak in the anguish of his spirit, that he will complain in the bitterness of his soul. He admits that he has spoken recklessly to God, and that he may have been irreverent in his speech. But he insists that he has not spoken anything evil. He only asks that God would either crush him and destroy him, or teach him about why these terrible things are happening. Job insinuates that all three friends are afraid of these terrible things because they cannot explain them in their neat orthodox framework (6:21).
Job is at the same time broken before God but also defiant. He says, in 7:11, “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” He calls God the “watcher of mankind.” (7:20) Job twists Scripture when he uses Psalm 8 — “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” In Psalm 8, the psalmist marvels at God’s lowering Himself to speak so highly of man. But Job misuses the psalm and asks God why He visits man every morning and tests him every moment. Job ends his response by ask God why He does not forgive whatever sin he may have.
Bildad (8:1) now speaks.
Things to notice about Bildad
- Bildad believes that suffering is God’s punishment for sin, and that Job’s children’s deaths were proof that they had sinned.
- Since Job has not died, his sin must not be as serious. So all he has to do is repent, and he will be restored. “After all,” he said, “if you were pure and right, God would prosper you.” (8:6) Bildad’s remarks in 8:4-6 are filled with irony.
- Bildad is insensitive to Job and his situation. He is shockingly blunt when he speaks. Everything he says is straightforward – “You reap what you sow.”
- He agrees with Eliphaz that no man can be righteous before God; but then he tells him that he should be pure and righteous.
- But Bildad closes with hope. “God will not reject you if you repent. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter.” (v. 21)
- Bildad’s three speeches in this book reveal that he has only a shallow knowledge of God and how He works. He is trying to help Job, but he judges him because he cannot believe that Job is a godly man.
Job responds. (9:1—35)
Job responds with his strongest questions yet. He is overwhelmed with a feeling of powerlessness. He feels trapped. He even begins to accuse God of wanting to destroy him.
He responds first to Bildad (9:1—35). His opening remarks to Bildad are filled with irony. “But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with Him, one could not answer Him once in a thousand times.” ((9:2-3) He reveals to Bildad his intense frustration that “God has passed me by, and I see Him not. (9:11) This is Job’s big question to Bildad: “How can a man be righteous before God?”
He knows that Bildad cannot answer his question, because he believes that God is not here to bless him, but rather to accuse him. He says that even if he were in the right and God was wrong, he could not answer God, because God is too powerful for a human to answer Him. God is in complete control. He concludes by saying, “I must appeal for mercy to my accuser, or judge. (The Hebrew word carries both meanings). (9:15) He even said, “If I called and He answered me, I would not believe that He was listening to my voice.” (9:16)
Job’s agony is that he believes God is accusing him, even though he is righteous. He cannot call to God and expect an answer, because God is not a man that he could reason with Him. Job’s greatest longing was for a mediator between him and God. “Would that there was an arbiter/mediator between us, who might lay his hand on us both!” (9:32-33)
The Hebrew word for “mediator” [mokiakh] does not mean a judge, but rather one who settles a dispute by reconciliation, done by laying his hands on both parties as a mutual friend. [This is a foreshadowing of Jesus, the one Mediator between God and man.]
This is the first time Job mentions a mediator, and we will see later that he develops this theme, and actually comes to believe that there is a mediator.
Some things to consider
1. How would you describe Eliphaz? As a friend? As a counselor? As a theologian? How do you understand Job’s response to Eliphaz?
2. How would you evaluate Bildad’s argument? What was his difficulty in relating to Job? Can you identify with Job in his response to Bildad?
3. Have you ever felt somewhat like Job, about your own sufferings, or those of the world? Have you seen the incredible suffering in North Korea, or the horrible persecution of Christians in nations around the world today, and asked the question, “Where is God? Why does He not intervene for the sake of the righteous?”
4. How have you responded to the intense suffering of so many righteous people in the world today? How do you think Job understood the concept of “mediator” in regard to his own suffering?