Job No. 9: Back & Forth

The bulk of Job’s story unfolds in a section of speeches that last from chapter 4 to 31. Those speeches come from Job himself and his aforementioned friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The speeches are long, winding, and unfortunately, not very helpful. Job stubbornly defended his innocence (rightfully so) while his friends slowly but belligerently accused him of sin (foolishly). The conversation goes round-and-round until they essentially agree to disagree.

I personally believe the conversation between Job and his three friends looks a lot like a Nascar race. As these men argue back and forth, they put a lot of miles on their thoughts. Sometimes, it even looks like they’re pulling ahead of one another, but quit frankly, they never really go anywhere. They finish the conversation in the very same place it began – at a loggerhead. Job knew he was innocent, his friends knew he was guilty, yet only God truly knew the answer was much more complicated than that. As the debate raged between these men, we see something that is all too common in our day and age. We see a bunch of arrogant men defending an answer that’s completely unjustified because they know they are right despite all the evidence to the contrary.

First off, let me say something that needs to be said. Job’s friends aren’t idiots. They are men of their time and they were keenly aware of what’s true in their world. Their biggest flaw was the myopic view of life that preceded them into a room. That worldview means they never even considered for one moment that Job could be an exception to the truth of their time. If we look closely, we can see they actually start their conversations with some semblance of care for his soul. They aren’t totally worthless, just mostly worthless. Notice Eliphaz in 5:17-18 saying:

Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects;
Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.
For He bruises, but He binds up;
He wounds, but His hands make whole.

The real problem with their advice is a deeply-flawed understanding of the world. Because they hold to the Doctrine of Retribution (for a refresher, click here), they know Job is a sinner. If that were not true, he wouldn’t suffer. While they’ve come to mourn and comfort him, they also have to validate their preconceived ideas. Otherwise, their world is wrong.

Throughout the conversation, we watch them grow more and more bold in their accusations and assumptions. They go as far to accuse Job of being a sinner who hid his true self from everyone, including those who know him best. He continually proclaimed his innocence, as an innocent man should. However, he became fixated on that innocence instead of constantly searching for the justice of God. Not surprisingly, his plea of innocence fell on deaf ears and Job eventually turned his attention to another “opponent,” God Himself. 

Throughout his public defense, Job cried out to God asking for a fair trial. He wants God to defend His actions. Job knows he is innocent, yet God has punished him. For our hero, that’s not right and he feels a trial will exonerate him. The world has condemned him and eagerly labeled a sinner, he longs for the day to prove them wrong. Notice the legal metaphor of his statements in 7:17-20:

What is man, that You should exalt him,
That You should set Your heart on him,
That You should attend to him every morning,
And test him every moment?
How long?
Will You not look away from me,
And let me alone till I swallow my saliva?
Have I sinned?
What have I done to You, O watcher of men?
Why have You set me as Your target,
So that I am a burden to myself?
Why then do You not pardon my transgression,
And take away my iniquity?
For now I will lie down in the dust,
And You will seek me diligently,
But I will no longer be.”

There is a hint of self-righteousness in his pleas, but nothing that we should use to diminish his innocence or desire for validation. Proclaiming his innocence wasn’t a mockery to God’s goodness. He simply wanted the fair shake his circumstances had not brought. I don’t want you to think ill of Job, rather, I want you to appreciate his desire to be tried by God. He was willing to put his life (and innocence) in the hands of God, because God and God only was the judge He trusted.

While It’s hard to cover everything the men said, he’s a brief breakdown. 

Eliphaz

In chapters 4 and 5, Eliphaz boldly pointed Job’s suffering to God Himself. While he didn’t accuse Job of sin that was greater than anyone else, he acknowledged that all people sin, even the blameless and upright Job. It was that unseen sin that brought about this suffering, and nothing else. See what he said in 4:7-8:

Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright ever cut off?
Even as I have seen,
Those who plow iniquity
And sow trouble reap the same.

In chapter 15, he tried to convince Job that his fate was the outcome of any wicked person and their ways, nothing else. Eliphaz held to the doctrine of retribution and would not consider for a single moment that Job was a special exception to the rule. Quite frankly, I don’t think most of us would have under their worldview either.

Eliphaz was the poster boy for the stubbornness of God’s faithful. He was rigid, unwilling to compromise or show grace because either would have rocked his view of God, man, and righteousness for a loop.

In chapter 22, he accused Job of sin. He didn’t prance around the idea, he jumped in head-first. He went so far as to compare him to those who perished in a flood (could it be reference to Noah?). The length of his accustations is actually quite impressive. He attributes to our hero a designation that is both unflattering and unbelievable. 22:5-11 are nothing short of a verbal assault.

Is not your wickedness great,
And your iniquity without end?
For you have taken pledges from your brother for no reason,
And stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have not given the weary water to drink,
And you have withheld bread from the hungry.
But the mighty man possessed the land,
And the honorable man dwelt in it.
You have sent widows away empty,
And the strength of the fatherless was crushed.
Therefore snares are all around you,
And sudden fear troubles you,
Or darkness so that you cannot see;
And an abundance of water covers you.

After attack upon attack, he finally got around to demanding Job repent. This was the key to bringing about the end of his suffering. When Job didn’t, I believe Eliphaz was dumbfounded and still unable or unwilling comprehend the uniqueness of this situation and Job’s righteousness.

Bildad

In chapter 8, Bildad said Job’s suffering must be fair because God is fair. He rebuked Job for misrepresenting God, but not for questioning God. For Bildad, life was simple: the blameless are rewarded and the sinful are punished. There are no exceptions. 8:5-6 are the epitome of his message to Job:

If you would earnestly seek God
And make your supplication to the Almighty,
If you were pure and upright,
Surely now He would awake for you,
And prosper your rightful dwelling place.

In chapter 18, Bildad made a complaint against Job and then delivered a discourse on the fate of the wicked. By this time, his tone has changed. His first speech contained a ray of hope if Job would just repent, now he simply states the obvious, Job is an evildoer and being rightfully punished.

Bildad is the man who can’t see the beam in his own eye but gladly goes around declaring the speck in your eye is the worst thing he’s ever seen. He is the epitome of those who judge quickly, harshly, and without remorse.

Nothing demonstrates that better than his own words. Notice how cruel and petty he sounds when he pulls no punches in 8:2-4:

How long till you put an end to words?
Gain understanding, and afterward we will speak.
Why are we counted as beasts,
And regarded as stupid in your sight?
You who tear yourself in anger,
Shall the earth be forsaken for you?
Or shall the rock be removed from its place?

Bildad’s final statement to Job was essentially a hymn of praise to God. Bildad was emphatically rebuking Job for placing himself in a position that was not his to be. His parting words reflect the low opinion he has developed for Job and those he deemed sinners. 25:4-6 says:

How then can man be righteous before God?
Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?
If even the moon does not shine,
And the stars are not pure in His sight,
How much less man, who is a maggot,
And a son of man, who is a worm?

Like Eliphaz, Bildad still didn’t understand the uniqueness of this situation. He couldn’t see past his own prejudice and he wouldn’t believe Job could be an exception. Simply put, Job was a sinner and this was the comeuppance he had earned and deserved.

Zophar

In chapter 11, Zophar said that Job demonstrated his guilt by denying it in the first place. He believed that Job was punished because his sinfulness was hidden to everyone but God. In a scathing rebuke, he said in 11:4-5:

For you have said,
“My doctrine is pure,
And I am clean in your eyes.”
But oh, that God would speak,
And open His lips against you.

In chapter 20, he told Job, “you must repent.” He was so caught up in the doctrine of retribution that he saw only one explanation, Job was a sinner and he must repent. To Zophar, the fate of all evildoers is what Job is facing. That begs the question, who does Job think he is to challenge God’s judgment? Zophar had no answer for the questions Job raised and even went so far as to accuse him of blatantly mistreating the most vulnerable of society. In 20:19, he attributed the following actions of Job:

He has oppressed and forsaken the poor,
He has violently seized a house which he did not build.

Zophar, like his friends before was unwilling or unable to find any sort to sympathy for Job. Their view of the world was immovable and harsh. They had figured out exactly who God is and exactly who we are and there was no room for any exception whatsoever.

Zophar was the ancient day equivalent of our cancel culture. He saw something he believed to be true and rather than investigate it, he just condemned it and moved on.

Like a lot of people, they were myopic. They couldn’t see past their own experience to “walk a mile in Job’s shoes.” That sort of thinking often precedes accusation, pettiness, and harsh judgment.

Job

Throughout the section, he continually proclaimed his innocence. In chapters 9 and 10, he said “my suffering isn’t fair, but how can I prove it?” Job believed God was the source of his punishment and the one who must be put to the test. Job made it clear that he was innocent and this was all a mistake.

Job complained that God has weighed him down with an unbearable burden. If God would simply grant him a reprieve then he would gladly present his case. In chapter 21, Job took time to challenge the friends’ belief in the doctrine of retribution. He went upon a lengthy discourse vividly describing the evil of their world who do not suffer, but instead prospered. He was motivated to prove that a person’s prosperity did not necessarily reflect his or her righteousness. Verses 7-14 are actually quite profound and noticeably unanswered by his friends. They can’t explain it, so Job pleads with God. Why did this happen to them and why did this happen to me. His words:

Why do the wicked live and become old,
Yes, become mighty in power?
Their descendants are established with them in their sight,
And their offspring before their eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear,
Neither is the rod of God upon them.
Their bull breeds without failure;
Their cow calves without miscarriage.
They send forth their little ones like a flock,
And their children dance.
They sing to the tambourine and harp,
And rejoice to the sound of the flute.
They spend their days in wealth,
And in a moment go down to the grave.
Yet they say to God, ‘Depart from us,
For we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways.

His questions here harmonize with many of the questions we still ask today. When we wonder why bad things happen to good people we should also wonder why do good things happen to bad people? Job was struggling to fit the doctrine of retribution into the world just like we should today as well. It’s never been right, not then and certainly not today. Job finished this chapter with an all-out rejection of the doctrine of retribution and a conviction thrown against his friends for their lack of comfort and concern.

He never gave in, they never give up. They are deadlocked. They can’t both be right. Thankfully, God hears their discussion and comes down in a whirlwind to straighten them out. While there are elements of truth in every speech, all of them miss the point. This is above their pay grade. This is above their ability to reason and explain. This is God’s work, they just don’t know it.

The great lesson we should learn from this confounding and repetitive section is simple – be careful who you accuse, condemn, and vilify without evidence. We can’t read hearts, we can’t see the true person underneath everything, and we aren’t in a position to cast the first stone. 

I personally get the feeling that God sat back and let them have their say, knowing that He’d step in at the end and clarify everything. I have a strong feeling that He was frustrated with them in a way we as we watch our children learn to tie their shoe, ride their bike, or even drive a car. We want to step-in and do it for them, but at the end of the day, letting them mess up just might be the best thing for them.

Then, and only then, can we step in a show them how wrong they were all-along. If we’re the type of parents made in God’s image, we don’t belittle their efforts, but we do correct their assumptions, mistakes, and bad habits.

Notes

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.