The book of Job is laid out in “conversations.” Job has three friends come visit: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They hear about his suffering and come to comfort him. When they get there, Job is in such bad shape they hardly recognize him! This strong, healthy, bold, outgoing man has been changed into a depressed and weak individual sitting alone in a pile of ashes, scraping his boils with a broken piece of pottery. He is in such a bad state that his own wife has encouraged him to curse God and die. His friends are shocked, so much so that they can’t speak, but simply sit on the ground with him for seven days and nights.
Finally, Job breaks the silence, and the discourse we will follow throughout this book begins. It follows a pattern. Job speaks his mind, then one of his friends’ answers, then Job argues his case again. Then another friend picks up the conversation. And so it goes, back and forth for the majority of the book! Since we’ve read the end of the story, we know that throughout all their many words, God is listening, and in the end, will speak His mind, and then we’ll know the truth of the matter! You have to keep that in mind when reading…not everything Job’s friends tell him is good advice. It might sound reasonable, but is it true? We have to wait to the end to find out.
In chapter 4-5, Eliphaz answers Job’s first complaint that he wishes he had never been born (3:1-26). He reminds Job that he has often given others encouragement and help, and now he needs to “practice what he preached.” The words that came so easily to strengthen others should encourage him in his time of need. We also see right away the core belief that Eliphaz and his friends will defend: “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (4:7-8). In other words, Job must have sinned, because trouble comes to the wicked, not the righteous.
Job responds to Eliphaz in chapters 6-7. He agrees that this trouble has come to him from the hand of God (7:17-21) but does not acknowledge he has sinned. In fact, he asks God to show him if he’s sinned, revealing a willingness to accept it and asks God to let him die before he says something to deny Him. That shows Job’s heart is humble – he realizes that pain and suffering can cause a man to say and do things he would not normally do. He recognizes he is weak in his flesh and would rather God took his life than leave him to suffer so greatly that he denies the One he loves.
Have you ever suffered so much you were tempted to be angry at God? That you wanted to blame Him and turn your back on Him? Job’s honesty teaches us to recognize that in our flesh we are weak, and only by the power of God’s Spirit in us can we accept suffering with the right heart and attitude. God allows suffering so that we will run toward Him, not away.