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Job’s Friends and Their Contributions to the Message of Job Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2019

Introduction

The Book of Job has been one of the most controversial parts of Bible. Many preachers find it difficult to talk about Job’s message with their congregation as the book touches upon some of the most serious and difficult issues concerning the faith.

Some regard The Book of Job as a literary masterpiece where wisdom of the nation was revealed.1 Admittedly, the book is seen as one of the brightest examples of the “book of wisdom”.2 The book contains the eternal questions of people concerning suffering.

The story of Job is a didactic illustration of God’s almightiness. However, it is possible to note that the story itself is an axiom to be taken for granted whereas the dialogues of Job’s friends can be and should be considered in detail.

The dialogues manifest people’s eternal hesitations and quest for the reason. Notably, speeches of Job’s friends can be regarded as an example of the discourse that has not finished yet.

The discourse is confined to questions raised (which are revealed in speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) and answers provided (these answers can be found in Elihu’s speech).

The Two Views

First, it is necessary to note that Job as well as his friends remains unaware of the reason of Job’s sufferings. They never knew why Job had to suffer.3 This is a very important point as it perfectly reveals the concept of faith. People cannot be sure in anything concerning faith.

They have not found the reason yet. Likewise, Job’s friends and Job do not know why Job has to suffer. Noteworthy, they try to find a particular reason.

Job’s friends and even Job himself “all shared a basic traditional sense of divine justice without which the whole moral nature of the universe would be upended”.4 However, there is no particular answer to their major question at the end of the book.

Even though Elihu and Job are praised for their rightfulness, it is not explicitly stated that they were right in their views on the universal justice. God does not reveal the reason of Job’s suffering to Job and his friends.

The book simply depicts a particular example, i.e. Job’s sufferings which can hardly be justified. The book also contains a dominating view on suffering, i.e. suffering can only be certain punishment for misdeeds.5 The book also contains another view on the matter.

It is suggested that people should not think about reasons and causes and just to accept anything the universe has to offer. Importantly, God supports one of these views as revealed in the book.

However, The Book of Job does not contain a precise answer but just reveals people’s views on suffering and universal justice.

One (Dominating) Opinion

Eliphaz

As has been mentioned above, Job’s friends have a very specific and important role in the book as they represent two opposing views on faith.

First, the role of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar should be considered. The three friends are sure that the basic law is based on moral principles which are persistent in the society, i.e. any wrongdoing should be punished and righteous deeds should be rewarded.

Therefore, the three friends deem that Job sinned since he is punished.6 Eliphaz exclaims, “Who ever perished being innocent? / Or where the upright destroyed”7. Eliphaz believes that people cannot be sinless as everyone sins.

Bildad

The three friends are sure there must be some hidden sins. Thus, Bildad notes that Job’s children died because they were sinful, and their death is their punishment.

Bildad also rebukes Job for being too verbose, “How long until you make an end of words? / Be sensible and then we can speak”8. Bildad claims that his verbosity can be nothing but evidence of Job’s guilt.9

Therefore, the three friends try to convince Job to confess and tell about his hidden sin. Noteworthy, the three friends cannot understand what sin Job committed as his life does seem rightful.

Zophar

It is important to note that the three friends appear from the start of the book. Their speeches make up a considerable part of the book. Thus, Eliphaz and Bildad speak three times and Zophar speaks twice.10

The role the three friends play in the book is a certain reflection of the dominating view on the nature of suffering. Most people still think that suffering is certain punishment for some sins. Most people (just like the three friends) think that there is supreme justice.

It is also noteworthy that Zophar wishes that God “would… open [God’s] lips to” Job to tell him “the secrets of wisdom”.11 The three friends strive to know the major secret.

They want to have a specific explanation and justification of suffering. Again, this is a reflection of people’s quest for the reason.

Elihu’s Opinion

As far as the fourth friend of Job is concerned, he appears at the end of the book. Elihu is not introduced with other friends at the beginning of the book. He stands out, just like his opinion does. Elihu supports the viewpoint of Job’s friends as for the universal justice.

He stresses that God is always just in every of his deeds.12 However, Elihu’s idea of suffering differs greatly from Job’s friends’ opinions. Elihu claims that suffering is not only a form of punishment, but it can be preventive in nature.

Thus, Elihu states that Job’s suffering is certain kind of precautions to keep him from sins. Elihu notes that the suffering helps people to remain rightful.13 Elihu claims that God “opens their [people’s] ears, / and terrifies them with warnings, /… to spare their souls from the Pit”.14

Therefore, the man notes that people cannot understand the secrets of God’s wisdom even if God explicitly reveals the secrets.

According to Elihu, people should accept anything God prepares for them. People should never even consider their destiny or fate. They should live their lives and accept everything: joy and suffering.

Notably, Elihu reveals another opinion which has never been popular among people. It is necessary to take a closer look at Elihu as a character. He is the youngest. This can be a symbol of the ‘age’ of the idea. Apparently, the idea was quite new when the book was being written.

At that, Elihu appears at the end of the book and he only speaks once.15 This can be a symbol of unpopularity of the idea.

Admittedly, there have always been a few people who share such an opinion. A few people have been ready to accept everything the life has to suggest without any questions or complaints.

Noteworthy, Elihu is a humble speaker as he listens to Job and Job’s friends without interrupting, “I am young in years, / and you are aged; / therefore I was timid and afraid / to declare my opinion to you”.16

Elihu’s opinion is not very popular and it is presented in a very humble way. At the same time, this opinion is presented as the right one as God praises Elihu for being so rightful.

Conclusion

It is possible to note that Job’s friends play a significant role in the book as Job is only an example to consider while the friends analyze the example. This analysis is a reflection of major opinions on suffering and God’s justice.

Thus, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar represent the dominating viewpoint on the matter. These men claim that suffering is certain punishment for people’s sins.

They also strive to understand the secrets of God’s wisdom. Admittedly, all people want to understand the reason for everything happens to them.

At the same time, Elihu also thinks that there is universal justice. However, Elihu’s concept of justice is somewhat different as he thinks that suffering should not be necessarily a form of punishment as it can be certain prevention.

Elihu also claims that people should not try to understand why something is happening as people are not capable of understanding God’s wisdom. This viewpoint does exist, but it is not widespread.

Therefore, Job’s friends’ discussion is a reflection of the views that have existed in the Christian world. The discussion of Job’s friends is what provides theological background to consider Job’s sufferings as a particular example of God’s justice and wisdom.

Bibliography

Dell, Katharine Julia. The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature. New York, NY: Walter de Gruyter, 1991.

Hartley, John E. The Book of Job. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988.

La Sor, William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, Leslie C. Allen. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996.

Parsons, Gregory W. “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job.” Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (1994): 393-413.

Parsons, Gregory W. “The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job.” Bibliotheca Sacra 138, no. 550 (1981): 139-157.

Phillips, Elaine A. “Speaking Truthfully: Job’s Friends and Job.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 18, no.1 (2008): 31-43.

Rhodes, Arnold B. & W. Eugene March. The Mighty Acts of God. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.

Waters, Larry J. “The Authenticity of the Elihu Speeches in Job.” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (1999): 28-41.

Waters, Larry J. “Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job.” Bibliotheca Sacra 154 (1997): 436-451.

Wharton, James A. Job. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Footnotes

  1. Gregory W. Parsons, The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job, Bibliotheca Sacra 138 no. 550(1981): 139.
  2. Katharine Julia Dell, The Book of Job as Sceptical Literature. (New York, NY: Walter de Gruyter, 1991), 58.
  3. Arnold B. Rhodes and W. Eugene March, The Mighty Acts of God. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 204.
  4. Elaine A. Phillips, Speaking Truthfully: Job’s Friends and Job, Bulletin for Biblical Research 18 no. 1(2008): 31.
  5. Ibid., 31.
  6. Gregory W. Parsons, Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job, Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (1994): 403.
  7. Cited in Larry J. Waters, Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job, Bibliotheca Sacra 154 (1997): 442-443.
  8. Cited in John E. Hartley, The Book of Job. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), 273.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Elaine A. Phillips, Speaking Truthfully: Job’s Friends and Job, Bulletin for Biblical Research 18 no. 1(2008): 34.
  11. Cited in James A. Wharton, Job. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 179.
  12. William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, Leslie C. Allen, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 481.
  13. William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, Leslie C. Allen, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 481.
  14. Cited in James A. Wharton, Job. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 143.
  15. Larry J. Waters, The Authenticity of the Elihu Speeches in Job, Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (1999): 39-39.
  16. Cited in James A. Wharton, Job. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 141.
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