When we are in misery we dearly want friends to confide in, and we want them to empathize or at least sympathize with us. Sometimes we'll settle for just having others in the same predicament so we don't have to suffer alone.
When Job, a rich and godly patriarch in the Bible was suddenly hit by one calamity after another, including the sudden death of all ten of his children, four of his friends showed up to sit with him in the ash heap, where he was scraping his painful boils with pieces of broken pottery. (Ashes were considered clean and useful for healing at some point in the past, so this might have been a medical procedure).
Somewhat like when you are in the Intensive Care Ward in a hospital, people come to stare and whisper to each other about your chances of surviving, I suspect Job's friends sat in awe and silence. They were speechless for seven days and seven nights. The Bible says they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. All but the death wail, it would appear, so they must have really thought he was dying.
But then Job spoke up and wished he had never been born, expressing his great grief.
At that his friend Eliphaz, the Temanite, spoke up, saying in effect, "Wow! How the mighty have fallen. You must have sinned big! If I were in your sandals I'd confess it to God."
These were very wordy conversations, I'm paraphrasing, but in essence Job replied, "Don't you see my anguish, and NO, I have not denied God. Can you prove I have sinned?"
Then Bildad jumps in with, "You're blustering. Where there is smoke there is a fire. Confess your sin to God, and soon you'll be laughing again."
Job replied, "I know all that, but consider how great and awesome God is; who can really do frank business with Him?"
Then he turns to God and does ask a lot of frank questions about things he can't understand. In all of this Job shows that he grasped the greatness, the mystery and the power of God.
Now Zophar the Naamanthite can't resist accusing Job of mocking God. "You are talking way-way too intimately with God. Get back into your submissive role, and get rid of the sin in your life. Then you can forget all your troubles and lie down secure and unafraid."
Joe retorts sarcastically, "Sure, all wisdom is going to die with you! Well, I have a mind too, and eyes to see how people are laughing at me. Just look at nature though. There's all kinds of evidence that God is a wise and thoughtful Being, besides being powerful. I'd rather dwell on His sovereignty."
He addresses God again, "I know You are profoundly great. I just wish I could talk things over with You and find out what's going on here in my life, and why! I do believe there is no point in life aside from Your intervention and authority. Is there life after death? I think so . . . ."
Friend Eliphaz the Temanite cuts Job off with, "Oh, you think you are so smart! You're condemning yourself with your own words. Stop venting your rage against God. Listen, I'll tell you how it really is--"
Again Job bemoans his feeling that God has attacked him in anger, everyone is starring at him, and he has nothing to look forward to but the grave.
Bildad, the Shuhite speaks now; "Do you think we're stupid? It is the wicked that suffer and die and are forgotten."
"How long are you going to torment me with your words?" Job cries out. "I've been humiliated and wronged. Even my wife can't stand my breath any more! But I know my Redeemer lives, and one day He is going to stand here on earth. I'm going to see God face to face."
Zophar speaks once more, "Life is short. Man craves evil, and God will surely punish them."
"Just listen to me a minute!" exclaimed Job. "The wicked appear to have prosperity, but in the end God deals with them, or their children. Can you teach God anything about consequences? How is all this suppose to console me?"
Eliphaz listed a number of ways he thought Job might have sinned, thus bringing on all this calamity. He advised, "Submit to God and things will turn around for you."
"Oh if I could just talk one on one with God!" Job cried. "I would like to understand what's going on, but He seems to be hiding from me."
Bildad replied, "God is so high and lofty; man is a worm before Him."
"Your advice is all worthless," retorted Job. "God is great and powerful and all the universe stands in awe of Him." He goes on for several chapters describing the beauty and majesty and tremendous power of God throughout all creation, even giving examples from the animal world to show God as very intelligent and wise and caring. Job includes his own personal testimony of how he set up guards in his own life so he would not so easily drift into sin. He has a clear conscience in one area of his life after another. "If I have sinned," he cried out, "I wish God would prove it!"
For a while all three friends stopped arguing with Job. They were angry with him for refusing to admit he had sinned, but they couldn't refute him either. Finally Elihu couldn't restrain his anger any longer. "I've been keeping quiet because I'm the youngest here, but now I've got to speak. Job, I'm made of clay just like you, and I know you can't stand before God without a mediator. You've been disrespectful before a holy God."
Elihu does a pretty good job of describing God. I like a lot of the shorter poetic passages in his speech. He catches his breath and continues, describing how God punishes people by afflicting them to bring them to their senses. His conclusion, God is awesomely holy and powerful and wise, but He is approachable.
At this point the Lord God Himself, who has been present although not recognized, speaks up, addressing Job first. "Who are you to speak for me without full knowledge? Let me quiz you." God describes a number of fascinating features of nature and science, and asks Job if he knows how those are done. (The questions can be studied for some tremendous clues as to God's activity as Creator).
Then God says, "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who accuses God answer him!"
Job claps his hand over his mouth and repents, "I am unworthy - how can I reply to You? I've said too much!"
"Would you discredit my justice?" asks God, "Would you condemn Me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's...?" Again God asks Job a number of questions to show that God's knowledge and wisdom is far above man's. (In His questions about the leviathan, God gives away some great clues about the creatures we call dinosaurs).
Job's reply is simply, "I know You can do all things, and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. I didn't know what I was talking about, but now I've had a much better glimpse of You, and I repent in dust and ashes!"
God turned to Job's three friends and told them He was angry with them, and that they should sacrifice offerings to Him, and ask Job to pray for them, and then He would answer Job's prayers.
After Job had done that, God blessed and prospered him with another family and twice as much as he'd had before. He lived to a ripe old age, being able to see his descendants down to the fourth generation.
In my own personal life I've learned this lesson, to grasp the sovereignty of God, and to worship Him no matter what happens. He really does know what He is doing and I can trust Him with an utter abandon of my life and times in His hands.
Like Job I now see less trials and less severe ones, and even unusual blessings while I have this mindset of trust and worship of God. Sometimes we have to ignore friends who misunderstand us - or rather we should pray for them.
[Note: if you missed any articles in this series of article on Friendships in the Bible, and want to read them, you'll find them all linked from this index which is about Friendship]
My novel, Ruthe's Secret Roses, and this related site have a Friendship theme. By getting to know and follow around the heroine, Ruthe, you can learn a lot about friendships, and that there is one that is the golden key to enriching all your other friendships and making them more satisfying. The site is more like a perfumed poupouri of articles and pages on that theme, and I've started a series on the friendships we observe in the Bible and what practical insights we can gain for our own friendships by thinking about them
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Ruth Marlene Friesen
The Responsible One
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Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada