Job has three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who hear of his plight and come to offer sympathy and comfort. The sight of his suffering appalls them, and they barely recognize their friend.
They weep for his condition, tearing their clothes as a sign of mourning, and sprinkling dust on their heads to show their sorrow. They say nothing for several days.
These three men don’t appear elsewhere in the Bible, so we know little about them, except for what they say to their struggling friend.
Each takes their turn in offering a series of monologues to Job, but as we’ll see, they fall short in offering him sympathy and comfort.
Eliphaz the Temanite is the first to speak. He might go first because he is the oldest. Or the wealthiest. Or the wisest. Or perhaps he’s simply bolder than his two friends.
Eliphaz has had a long time to consider what he’ll say to Job. Though his words could have offered comfort to his suffering friend, instead they come out as an accusation, judging Job for presumed shortcomings.
Eliphaz doesn’t know Job’s heart, and he certainly lacks an understanding of God’s perspective, but Eliphaz speaks as though he knows both. We might wonder if his critical words are more directed to himself than to Job.
Then his two friends follow him with their own speeches. After hearing them speak, Eliphaz tries a second time. Instead of correcting the errors of his first diatribe, he doubles down.
He persists in the notion that the hardship Job endured stands as a confirmation of Job’s evil heart and a mark of God’s disapproval. But Eliphaz speaks through arrogance and ignorance.
His view of God is incomplete, so his conclusions fall short. And when he casts his flawed logic on Job, he inflicts unnecessary pain on his friend.
For his third and final speech, Eliphaz claims our relationship with God is transactional. He assumes that if we behave right, then God will bless us. And if we do what is wrong, God will punish us. Eliphaz sees Job’s situation as God’s punishment, concluding that Job suffers because of his sins.
Thankfully, this isn’t how God treats his people.
How can we make sure our words help others and don’t cause pain? When things go wrong, do we view it as God’s punishment, whether on ourselves or on others?
A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.