The Most Hurtful Comments of Job's Friends?
Each time I read through the drama of the Book of Job, some new theme seems to stick out to me. The limit of Satan's power. The majesty of God in his creation and rule. The incredible insights into the Lord's sovereignty. The depths to which human suffering can take us. Or, as James pointed out earlier this year which pertains to the theme I want to share, how the Lord restored Job's fortunes, including blessing him with children again.
For what has hit me in reading Job in my devotions recently are the hurtful comments his friends make with respect to children. Though Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar made many barbed remarks through the three cycles of their discourse with Job that impugned his character, questioned his faith, and mocked his knowledge, perhaps the ones that must have struck most deeply into the heart of Job were the ones they spoke regarding children?
Before I point these remarks out, remember the context. Job had seven sons and three daughters (1:2). The sons appeared to have been adult males at the time, each having their own homes. Apparently, during a season of the year much like the holiday time we are currently in, they had a week-long feast where each son took a day to invite the family into his home where they enjoyed a meal together (1:4). So they appear to have been close-knit siblings. As a father, Job clearly cared deeply for their spiritual well-being, as he ended the feast by having them join him for a consecration service where he offered sacrifices and prayers on their behalf (1:5). Not only did Job care for his own children, but for orphans as well (29:12; 31:18). In Job's chest beat the heart of a loving father.
As we know, on one fateful day not only was all of Job's wealth stolen and destroyed, but a strong wind came and struck a son's home where the children were all gathered and killed them (1:18-19). Of all that Job lost, the deaths of his children had to be the most painful. Some may argue that in Satan coming a second time before God and asking to harm Job himself that his own health was most dear to him. No, that was Satan's wicked, selfish logic (2:4) that any loving parent will tell you is untrue, for you would rather suffer yourself than see your own child suffer or die. Indeed, the gospel faith that Job had (19:25) is centered on the searing pain of the Father watching his own Son suffer and die. The loss of his children was Job's greatest sorrow. The boils on his flesh and the bitter curse of his now child-deprived wife merely represent the awful pain of his loss.
When his friends arrived, their best ministry to him was the first seven days when they mourned and said nothing (2:12-13). For, as we know, when they open their mouths they bring even further hurt to Job. Here then is where we see them only adding to Job's loss and suffering, especially with respect to his grief over his children.
Eliphaz starts it off. In a philosophizing voice, he makes the case that the one who sins suffers as do his offspring. In being the first to address Job, Eliphaz said of the wicked (which he is implying Job must secretly be),
His children are far from safety; they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them" (5:4).
Remember, it has only been days since Job learned he had lost all of his children. This statement shows a complete lack of regard for Job's testimony as a father who diligently sought the safety of his children before God. Having known the pain of accusations regarding the raising of children, I can only imagine the added heartache these words would have brought to him.
But at least Eliphaz spoke in the third person. Bildad, who speaks next, strikes directly at Job's training of his children and what he believes regarding their spiritual state in the opening words of his salvo.
If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression" (8:4).
In essence, Eliphaz is casting Job's children into hell with these words. We simply cannot comprehend how jarring and hate-filled these words would have been to Job's grief-stricken heart.
Zophar also got into the act, though his comment regarding children shows more of a complete insensitivity to the context than the direct accusation of Eliphaz. This is often true of those waxing philosophical when compassion is needed. In pursuing his angle that the wicked are short-lived, he says of the abandoned children of the evil man who has perished,
His children will seek the favor of the poor, and his hands will give back his wealth" (20:10).
Hello, Zophar! The man lying before you in boils and ashes lost all his children earlier this month. Have you forgotten that already?
Finally, it is worth noting the refrain of this trio's song was not being lost on Job. He sums up the point they are making, that the wicked (which they believe he is) has trouble with their children, by stating:
You say, ‘God stores up their iniquity for their children.’ Let him pay it out to them, that they may know it" (21:19).
Job must have spoken these words choking, sobbing, his voice cracking with pain.
In sharing this meditation on human ugliness, and remembering the Lord's indictment on these men (42:7-9), let it serve as a reminder in both directions. On the one hand, how careful we should be in offering commentary on God's hard providential dealings with his people. May others not hear us and say as Job did, "How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?" (19:2). On the other hand, if we receive hurtful words in the midst of life's pains, let us bear them with Christ's grace and guard against the vengeful spirit that would act in like manner. "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" (16:4).