Biblical Friendships Aren’t Perfect—Job and His Friends
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:11-13)
Job’s friends did not live in Uz; they would have heard about his troubles because Job was a man of influence and position. It took time for the news to reach them in the Arabia Desert, after which they met and traveled to Uz together to comfort Job. (Did they discuss Job’s “case” as they traveled?) By the time they reached him, Job’s sores were extensive and his suffering intense. (1) (2) He was so changed that they didn’t recognize him as they approached his spot on the ash heap. He had torn his robe, shaved his head, thrown ashes on his body that was covered in sores and was raw from scraping them. I can only imagine that they were relieved that they did not have to speak for seven days, following the strictest form of grief possible in the Near East. They allowed Job to speak first as the custom required the afflicted to break the silence. John Gill surmised reasons why Job’s friends may have been glad to be silent: “…partly through the loss they were at concerning it, hesitating in their minds, and having some suspicion of evil in Job; and partly through the grief of their own hearts, and the vehemence of their passions…they knew not well what comfort to administer, and were fearful lest they should add grief to grief…” (3)
One thing is sure, his friends’ silence was effective in allowing Job to vocalize what he was experiencing—he wished he were dead or stillborn rather than suffer his present misery (Job 3). If I heard my friend say such things I might remain speechless since his suffering and pain was so great as to wish for death. Today we have medications to ease physical pain, but most of us have been with those who have been in tremendous emotional pain or shame so great that they wish for death. Words come with great difficulty. However, after Job broke the silence, Eliphaz seems to have no such trouble and immediately answered Job’s rhetorical questions with boldness and a subtle accusation. “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? Yet who can keep from speaking?… Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?” (Job 4:2, 6) Eliphaz’s audacity escalated to the point where he wrongly declared, “Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities.” (Job 22:5) Which friends like this, who needs enemies—right? Job, sure of his innocence, said, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you.” (Job 16:1-4)
Have your friends hurt you with their good intentions? Have you done the same, just because you didn’t know what else to do? Forgiveness and patience are two critical characteristics of wise, godly friendships. Jesus, who suffered extraordinarily, exhibited both. The indwelling Holy Spirit gives us the ability to be compassionate and humble if we will only stop trying to fix our friends who need love, not a user’s manual. Pain requires sacrificial love and wisdom, the kind Job’s friends showed before they opened their mouths. We can learn so much from our friends who are suffering in God’s providence.
(1) The Reformation Study Bible, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Notes on Job 2:11-13, Sanford, Fl., 2015.
(2) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Reformed Study Bible, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/job-2.html