Friendships are important to us. We have been created as social beings and developing good friendships enhances our lives. However, given our human weakness we are not always good friends to others and sometimes they are not good friends to us.
The conversations between Job and his friends are Hebrew poetry, so we read of growling lions, the swiftness of a weaver’s shuttle, monsters of the deep and of eagles swooping on their prey. Poetry isn’t tethered to reality and seeks to lift us to new heights so we see things from a new perspective. Job’s three friends represent a gathering of wise men from around the known world. They bring with them the wisdom of the ages, the accepted understanding of God, sin and punishment.
Eliphaz begins gently as if reluctant to speak, If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But then he just jumps off the deep end in the same breath saying, But who can keep from speaking?” (Job 4:2) Eliphaz soon turns up the heat, as he accuses, Job you are quick to give advice, but can you take it. You are quick to speak, but will you listen to others. The difficulty with Eliphaz is he does not give good advice. He assumes Job is guilty of sin, when in fact we already know God has declared Job to be blameless.
Bildad is even more blunt than Eliphaz, saying of Job, “‘How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. … When your children sinned against God, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” (Job 8:2–4) Imagine telling a man who has just buried his children, they deserved to die. Job was very careful with regard to his children; he was a godly man and concerned with their spiritual purity. Bildad is misguided in his advice and lacks wisdom.
Zophar is the most brash of the friends, almost claiming to speak for God. He is offended by Job’s speeches, asking “‘Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated?” (Job 11:2) He states, … true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.” (Job 11:5–6) He was accusing Job of seeing only his own side of the story and was sure if God’s side was revealed Job would be seen to be a sinner. Charles Swindoll summarises Zophar’s arguments as abrasive legalism: Job you are guilty, ignorant, and sinful.
But Job stands his ground defending his innocence. “So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” (Job 32:1) In their view Job was dangerously wrong in his attitude but they had no more to say. Job's friends failed him miserably and added to his suffering. In the end God rebuked them saying, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)
While our earthly friends may fail us, the bible reminds us … there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) Jesus said to his disciples … I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13–15) God comes to us inviting us into his family and extending his friendship towards us. The quality of God’s friendship with us is greater than that of any earthly friend.
Looking at Job’s friends challenges us to consider the friendship we offer to others. I invite us to reflect on our friendships and the kind of friends we are to others. Will you and I be the friends people need as they struggle? Will we bring peace, hope, spiritual comfort, rather than the ill-informed judgement of Job’s comforters? I encourage you to deepen your friendship with God and draw strength from that to be a good friend to others.
Rev John Malcolm