Monday, August 04, 2003

Job: Three Friends

This is an ongoing series of essays on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each essay you will find a link to the next.

Job lost his livelihood and his health in a very short amount of time. The loss of his health, through an excruciating skin disease, banished him to the trash heap outside the city. His wife, eager to move on to a new life of her own, has encouraged him to "curse God and die." It is at this point, that the final characters appear before the dialog cycle begins::

When Job’s three friends heard about all this evil that had happened to him, each of them came from his own country—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to come to show grief for him and to console him. But when they gazed intently from a distance but could not recognize him, they began to weep loudly. Each of them tore his robes, and they threw dust into the air over their heads. Then they sat down with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, yet no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. (Job 2:11-13, The Net Bible)

Some time has obviously occurred. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar must first have heard about Job's calamity. Then they had to write among themselves to arrange this rendezvous. We could even suppose that they waited for some time to see if things improved. By the time that they arrived, Job had been suffering a long time.

Their purpose was noble. They wanted to show grief for him and to console him. It is tragic, that they never did. At least they never ever consoled him. When they saw him from a distance, sitting among the ashes and covered with scabs and boils, they did weep and show grief. All this is easy to understand, but their next action is a bit of a puzzle, "Then they sat down with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, yet no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great." What exactly was going on here?

  • The first possibility is culture. We can infer from much of Job that age bestowed strict status. Indeed, the reader of Job eventually learns that there was at least one other person in the company. His name was Elihu, but he remained anonymous and silent until all the others had no more to say. So, perhaps Job was the oldest, and none could speak until he did.
  • The second possibility is their being overwhelmed. Satan, we must gather, had been brutal on Job. The Lord had said, "Only spare his life." and I imagine that is all that Satan had spared. What these three men saw was perhaps beyond comprehension. There were no words to speak. The situation was new.

In either case, seven days was a long time. If we assume the first, then the three men were culturally trapped. They could not speak, nor could they leave. One can imagine that when the seven days completed and Job finally spoke, that they might just be a little put out. If we assume the second, then the three must have pondered, "What did Job do to deserve this?"

Can you imagine seven days of waiting, doing nothing, saying nothing, swishing flies, smelling burning trash, smelling Job, wishing you had stayed home, not quite able to cope? What humor would you be in? On the other hand, there is no evidence that anyone brought to Job so much as a cup of water, or sought among others what they could do for him. No one seems to have even said so much as, "I am so sorry. Is there anything that I can do?" As noted above, perhaps they could not for cultural reasons. But if they were overwhelmed, what was Job to think from their seven days of silence?

By the end of seven days, I think that a bad situation had developed. The conversations that came next deteriorated very quickly.

Looking Forward a Bit

Since I will soon be in the midst of the dialog cycles, I thought that it would be good to cover some things that will help you read and follow along. The conversations move slowly, but they are nonetheless dramatic. Job will grow strong in argument, and his friends will increasingly rise against him. I want to give you my analysis why his friends turned:

The first was faulty logic. Consider the following syllogisms:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates is mortal. 
All men are mortal.
Aristotle died.
Aristotle was a man. 
The wicked will suffer.
Haman is wicked.
Haman will suffer. 
The wicked will suffer.
Job suffered horribly.
Job was an evil-doer

The syllogisms on the left are properly formed and correct. Given the truth of the first two conditions, the third follows. The same can not be said about the ones on the right. Aristotle was a pet fish, who die as well as men. Job was pure, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil. The bottom right conditional is a fancy way of asking the question, "What did Job do to deserve this?"

The second was a challenged world view. Each of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had developed their view of the world in different ways:

  • Eliphaz was the observer and intellect. As he says in Job 4:8, "Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same." He also relied on dreams and visions.
  • Bildad was the purveyor of ancient wisdom. Whatever was taught in the past applied to the present. He was apt to say things like, "For inquire now of the former generation, and pay attention to the findings of their ancestors; For we are recent and do not have knowledge, since our days on earth are but a shadow." (Job 8:8-9)
  • Zophar was a parrot. He appealed to no sources or ways of knowledge. He just spoke his mind according to the moment, "But an empty man will become wise, when a wild donkey colt is born a human being." (Job 11:12) Zophar had seen where his two companions had taken the conversation and took to another level. It was no accident that he ran out of words first.

Eliphaz represents self-constrained scholarship, Bildad represents orthodoxy, and Zophar fundamentalism.

With Job before them, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar saw something new, but they could not acknowledge it as new. Before them was the righteous man suffering--and that was not possible. The more Job proclaimed his integrity and countered their world views with other facts of life, the more firmly they resisted the message. Take Eliphaz, for example. In his first speech, he said to Job, "Is not your piety your confidence, and your blameless ways your hope?" (Job 4:6). In his last speech, he said, "Is not your wickedness great and is there no end to your iniquity?" (Job 22:5) Clearly something changed.

Here then is a second lesson that Job must teach us. When new uncontestable facts challenge our world view, one of two things must happen. Either our view of the world will change to accommodate the new facts or we will falsify reality to keep our world view intact. Consider the leadership in Jesus' day who saw His miracles, but could not accept Sabbath healings and His forgiving sins. They had the evidence to change their world view and accept Him as Messiah and the Son of God. Instead they ascribed His miracles to the powers of darkness. We can push against true truth only so far before we either accept it or take on falsehood. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar chose a falsehood by concluding that Job was wicked rather than seek a new understanding of God's dealings with men.

Job on the other hand, faced the situation head on. That is why the Lord at the end of the book would speak to the three friends and say to them "After the Lord had spoken these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has.'" (Job 42:7)

So Let Us Begin

With Job sitting among the ashes and his three friends appalled at what they see, the seven days and seven nights come to an end. Job is about to speak. I hope that these five lessons have captured your imagination and have created an interest about the middle section that few read and fewer understand. There is much to challenge and learn ahead. Please join me.

Tuesday: Job's Lament

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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