Bible Studies and Highlights in the Book of Job

Job Chapters 4-7: Job vs his friends – Round one, part one!

By I Gordon

 

Proverbs 17:3 the refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests hearts.

 

Introduction

 

Ding ding! And so starts the first of many rounds that Job will have to ‘fight’ against his so-called ‘friends’. And a fight it will be. Not a physical fight as such... Though, given some of the comments, I’m sure if Job wasn’t so weak that may have been tempting from time to time! No, this conflict will be one of words... a battle of thoughts and ideologies. What is interesting is that the same thoughts still surface and harass true believers today – and sometimes from those that are meant to be ‘friends’ as well!

 

So this study will look at the first round of insults, and arguments between Job and his friends found in chapters 4-7. So far we’ve seen Job’s trials, heard his cries and felt his pain. The question is, has this spoken to his friends and will they help?

 

Eliphaz enters the ring...

 

Job 4:1-6 Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied:  (2) If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking?  (3)  Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands.  (4)  Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.  (5)  But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed.  (6)  Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?

 

After seven days of silence, Eliphaz is the first to speak to Job. On the whole Eliphaz will prove to be the most gentle with Job but his conclusion over Job’s predicament is still consistent with the other friends nonetheless. But more on that later! Eliphaz starts by asking whether Job minds if he says a few words. And, before Job can answer, he proceeds to say that he is going to say it anyway! Eliphaz acknowledges that Job has helped many, but you get the feeling that this might just be the calm before the storm! His opening is a bit like someone saying ‘with all due respect...’ then kaboom! You know something is coming and the buttery beginning will soon expose the knife! The first point Eliphaz makes is that you have helped others, but now you can’t help yourself[1]. Sound familiar? It’s the same point that those mocking around the cross said to Jesus.[2]  

 

You reap what you sow, or do you?

 

Job 4:7-9 Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?  (8)  As I have observed, those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it.  (9)  At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish. 

 

We’ve had 6 verses so far. Eliphaz has only spoken roughly 70 words before getting to the heart of matter with Job. ‘Here is what has caused your suffering’ he says to Job. ‘YOU HAVE! You are reaping what you have sown. No innocent person has ever perished’ he says. Oh really? We need to remember that Job and his friends lived a long time ago, probably around the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, before the first books of the Bible had been written... but had he not heard about Abel? Did Abel deserve or cause his own death when slain by Cain? Eliphaz’s conclusion is one that many hold in all ages - If something goes wrong with a person then that person must have caused it.[3]

 

You had better listen because this is straight from the spirit!

 

Job 4:12-21 A word was secretly brought to me; my ears caught a whisper of it.  (13)  Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men.  (14)  Fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake.  (15)  A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end.  (16)  It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice:  (17) ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?  (18)  If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, (19) how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth!  (20)  Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces; unnoticed, they perish forever.  (21) Are not the cords of their tent pulled up, so that they die without wisdom?'

 

I love this little bit so I have quoted it in full. Eliphaz sees the need to back up what he is saying and what could be better than with a spiritual dream or vision where a spirit instructs him! Many today try and do the same thing[4]. And oh how he builds it up! ‘All my hair stood on end my bones did shake!’ You can actually imagine the first few verses of this passage being read by a narrator in hushed tones with eerie music at the start of a suspense movie! Now the message from this ‘spirit’ was that God finds fault with all, and mankind, being just dust, is easily broken and done away with. Thanks for that... I’m sure that really gave Job great comfort! Now the message is true in a general sense but isn’t exactly much use to Job now is it? He hasn’t done anything wrong!

 

Job 5:1-7 ‘call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?  (2)  Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.  (3)  I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed.  (4)  His children are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender.  (5)  The hungry consume his harvest, taking it even from among thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth.  (6)  For hardship does not spring from the soil, neither does trouble sprout from the ground.  (7) Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.’

 

To further back up his argument, Eliphaz asks Job to call on any saints or even angels that would disagree that sin is always followed up with judgement. He believes that he has the weight of history and heaven behind his arguments! Man is sinful and sin always leads to trouble... as surely as sparks fly upward! Well, that is true and this world is full of trouble. Just watch the evening news. A lot of it is from the work of fallen mankind. No doubt about it. But there is a bigger picture than all of Job’s friends miss and that is what is going on in the heavenlies and in the spiritual realm... a picture we were privy to in Chapters 1 and 2 of this book. Without such insight we would be no wiser than Job’s friends. Though hopefully more compassionate!  

 

Just turn to God and everything will be alright! But what if you hadn’t turned from Him?

 

Job 5:8-18 but if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him.  (9)  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.  (10)  He bestows rain on the earth; he sends water upon the countryside.  (11) the  lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.  (12)  He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.  (13)  He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away... (17)  Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.  (18)  For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.

 

Eliphaz instructs Job to turn to God and see the wonders that He performs. Good advice for a sinner but there are two problems with this in Job’s case. Firstly, as stated in the title, Job hasn’t actually turned from God. He feared God and was blameless in the sight of God. Secondly, this trial was from God Himself. Turning to God or pleading his case before God wasn’t going to change anything. God had specific reasons for this trial and it would last just as long as it had to last to accomplish those purposes. What about you? Are you going through a difficulty or having to endure a trial at the moment? If you have moved from God then it could be something from His hand to draw you back to Him because of His love for you.[5] But maybe you never moved from Him in the first place. If so all the advice in the world to repent and turn back to Him isn’t going to help. There are trials from the hand of God that are for our development, not discipline because of wrong doing. This is the type of trial Job was experiencing and of which Job’s friends had no concept of. Eliphaz ends the chapter by giving seven things that God will protect us from if we turn to Him (vs. 19-27) but again this is not helpful to Job for he hasn’t moved from Him! It’s time for Job to reply.

 

Job’s reply – There is a pretty obvious reason for my complaint! How about some compassion?

 

Job 6:1-5 Then Job replied:  (2) If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery placed on the scales!  (3)  It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas-- no wonder my words have been impetuous.  (4)  The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God's terrors are marshalled against me.  (5)  Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass, or an ox bellow when it has fodder?

 

I get the feeling that Job was a little surprised by the ‘help’ that he received from his ‘friend’ Eliphaz. So he starts his response by explaining how bad his sufferings actually are. And fair enough too! He hadn’t received a word of comfort or sympathy to help ease the pain. Job agrees that his outburst of heartache (as expressed in chapter 3) was ‘impetuous’ or ‘rash’ (NASB) but just wants them to see why he speaks as he does. Using an example from nature, Job reminds them that a wild donkey doesn’t bray for no reason and nor does an ox bellow if unprovoked. What about you? Have you spoken to someone in the midst of deep darkness and hardship? Did their words seem bleak? We need to understand that when people are going through a prolonged time of difficulty, it is often hard to see any light or a way out and thus the words from such a person can be very dark. Be patient and kind with such people and try to understand what they are going through! 

 

Job 6:8-18 (NASB) "Oh that my request might come to pass and that God would grant my longing!”  (9)  "Would that God were willing to crush me, That He would loose His hand and cut me off!”  (10)  "But it is still my consolation, and I rejoice in unsparing pain, that I have not denied the words of the Holy One.”  (11)  "What is my strength that I should wait? And what is my end that I should endure?”  (12)  "Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?”  (13)  "Is it that my help is not within me, and that deliverance is driven from me?”  (14)  "For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.”  (15)  "My brothers have acted deceitfully like a wadi, like the torrents of wadis which vanish, (16) which are turbid because of ice and into which the snow melts.””  (17)  "When they become waterless, they are silent, when it is hot, they vanish from their place.”  (18)  "The paths of their course wind along, they go up into nothing and perish.”

 

Job still wants to die as his pain is unending. Yet he still takes consolation in the fact that he has not denied the words of the Holy One. This will be tested even further as the time goes by. But he reminds his friends again of this one thing – ‘For the despairing man, there should be kindness from a friend! You guys have acted like a deceitful waterless wadi – you promise much and deliver nothing!  All I am after from you is some simple kindness!’ It is a reminder that we should all learn from. There are times when things are completely out of our control and we feel hopeless in the face of overwhelming problems. Sometimes people go through things that we seemingly have no answers for. Learn from Job in this! He was a man that was going through such a time and what did he want from his friends? Their friendship, that’s all! He carries this thought on in the next passage.

 

Job 6:22-30 have I ever said, 'Give something on my behalf, pay a ransom for me from your wealth, (23) deliver me from the hand of the enemy, ransom me from the clutches of the ruthless'?  (24)  Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.  (25)  How painful are honest words! But what do your arguments prove?  (26)  Do you mean to correct what I say, and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?  (27)  You would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend.  (28)  But now be so kind as to look at me. Would I lie to your face?  (29)  Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.  (30)  Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice?

 

Job says ‘I’m not asking you to perform miracles. I’m not asking you to get me out of this. You don’t need to solve all the problems I’m facing. But a little sympathy would be nice!’ So where does sympathy come from? Where does compassion come from? Why is it that some can identify with a troubled man and some, like Job’s friends here, seem so removed and cold to it all? I would say that a lack of true experience and theology both play a part in this. See the fine print for more info![6] So Job pleads with them not to be unjust – ‘Look at me’ he says. ‘Look me in the eyes. I am not lying to you!’

 

No God, no hope. Know God, know hope.

 

Job 7:4-11 When I lie down I think, 'How long before I get up? The night drags on, and I toss till dawn.  (5)  My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering.  (6)  My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and they come to an end without hope.  (7)  Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.  (8)  The eye that now sees me will see me no longer; you will look for me, but I will be no more.  (9)  As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return.  (10)  He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more.  (11)  Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.’

 

With nights filled with tossing and turning and days full of pain and hopelessness, Job sinks further into the darkness that has engulfed his existence. The valley of the shadow of death is all he can see and it seems to stretch out forever. As he contemplates his current state, and that he will soon be no more (in his words), Job becomes more and more agitated and angry. He will not remain silent... He must complain and speak out with an anguished and bitter soul! You know, if we think that this life is all there is and that we do not return from the grave, it is a pretty depressing thing! Especially if this life is not treating you very well! This is the lot of the atheist. With no faith in God or belief in a life to come, they place all their hope in a world filled with trials, hardship and despair. No wonder such a person is ultimately faced with only purposelessness and hopelessness.[7]

 

But Christianity changes things! So how does the hope of the gospel change our perspective concerning the difficulties of this life? And, while we are at it, how does it change things concerning the thought of death? Look at the hope of the Christian even in the midst of difficulty in this life... Firstly, all troubles and trials that we go through as Christians have eternal significance and an eternal purpose!

 

2Co 4:16-17 ‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’ 

 

Secondly, and importantly, death is not the end! There is a coming resurrection and a death, of death itself!

 

1Co 15:51-55 ‘Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--- (52) in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  (53)  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  (54)  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory."  (55)  Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

 

Are you being watched by the watcher of men?

 

Job 7:13-21 “ When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint,  (14)  even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions,  (15)  so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine.  (16)  I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning.  (17)  What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention,  (18)  that you examine him every morning and test him every moment?  (19)  Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?  (20)  If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?  (21)  Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more."

 

As Job’s thoughts slip into further darkness, so does his belief in the intentions of God. Have you doubted the thoughts and intentions of God towards you? Job begins to see God as one who watches constantly, always testing and always looking for something that is wrong. It seems to Job that God is out to get him. So does God watch us? Does God test us? The answer to both is of course, yes. And, it is fair to say, that others in the Bible have felt this same gaze of God and desired to be free from it. King David experienced when he wrote:

 

Psalm 39:10-13 ‘Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand.  (11)  You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like a moth-- each man is but a breath. Selah… Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.’

 

Yet the gaze and intentions of God towards his own children are never for harm! Any use of the rod is ultimately for our good. And I should also emphasise the positive aspect of this as well for primarily the ‘watcher of men’ looks for evidence of faith and dependence in His children.

 

Psalm 33:13-22 ‘From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;  (14)  from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth--  (15)  he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.  (16)  No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.  (17)  A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.  (18)  But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, (19) to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.  (20)  We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.  (21)  In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.  (22)  May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.’

 

But these thoughts have long slipped from Job’s mind and they have been replaced with accusations and doubt concerning the intentions of God. ‘God’, it seems to Job, ‘has got it in for me! He doesn’t like me and I don’t know why!  He is happy for me to slowly slip into the grave and be no more.’ Oh so far from the truth is our friend Job, though I suspect that we all have at one time had thoughts similar to this (and while being under less testing than Job.) Maybe Job’s next friend, Bildad, will help light this darkened scene with truth once more? Well, we shall see and we won’t have to wait long for Bildad nails his colours to the mast in the very first line of his reply!    

 

 



[1] This can be a valid point. Those that teach the word especially will end up being tested because you can’t just have words to teach others when you haven’t experienced putting those words into practice yourself (especially in difficulty). That was how it was for me anyway. As a young Christian I thought I knew a bit and could teach others. Shame! Then trials hit and I found I knew precious little about what really matters in the midst of difficulty! A couple of decades later that type of learning is still going on!

[2] Mat 27:41-42 in the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  He saved others, they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.

 

[3] In Hinduism and Buddhism and other related beliefs it is called Karma. In Christianity this is called ‘reaping what you have sown.’ Now it is true that you do reap what you sow... Eventually!  But it may not happen in this life and sin isn’t the ONLY reason for reaping something that we would consider to be bad. Job’s friends couldn’t get past this. They will probe and probe trying to get Job to ‘confess’ to some hidden sins that he is holding onto because they just cannot see any other reason for his suffering. Some churches hold a similar theology. Except if they can’t find something hidden by the actual person then they say it may have been something from past generations! Argh... That is about as helpful as Job’s friends were!

[4] Eliphaz tried to make his argument sound a whole lot more spiritual by bringing in this ‘spiritual’ experience that he had. Unfortunately it still didn’t make his general premise correct. People love to say ‘God told me this’ or ‘the Spirit told me He wants you to know or do this’… etc. Some people love to speak of dreams and visions and things that make it sound like they have a direct line to God, especially for instructing others. But often it is simply their own thoughts which they have tried to give added weight to by wrapping it up in a ‘thus says the Lord…’ Don’t get me wrong. God does still speak and I believe in God given vision and dreams. I just know that there is a lot baloney out there as well (whether it is intentional or not) so be on guard and test all things.    

 

[5] Eliphaz states ‘For He wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.’ This is true; God does. This verse reminds us of that which the nation of Israel will say at the end of the age when they look to the One they pierced. Hosea records for us the very words they will say:
Hosea 6:1-3  Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.  (2)  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us that we may live in his presence.  (3)  Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."

 

[6] It was certainly a ‘blinkered’ theology from Job’s friends that led them to attack him over his current situation. They could only see Job’s sin as an answer to the events that had befallen him. When we live by the law and not by grace, we get the same hardened view of people’s problems. It was such a view that led the Pharisees to be hard and removed from people’s hardships. The book of Colossians takes a whole different view. It tells us to be kind and compassionate with people – bear with them and forgive them. The basis of this is the way we have received these things from God. That is how you can treat people better. Remember how God has treated you! Of course, theology comes into this as well as some are not taught about the amazing grace that they have received in Christ Jesus!
Col 3:12-13  Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  (13)  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.


The second point is that compassion comes through our own experience of hardship and the comfort we received. Obviously Job’s friends, though old, had not experienced much of this. Such people can often look down on others.
2Co 1:3-5  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  (4)  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  (5)  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 

 

[7] Bertrand Russell was a famous atheistic philosopher who expressed the end result of atheism (that life is purposeless and unyielding despair). Why someone would subscribe to such a belief escapes me but that this is a true reflection of such a belief:

‘That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.