The book of Job deals with the suffering of a righteous man. Job was a man who feared God. He was a man of integrity, an honest man, and a man who stayed away from evil (Job 1:1). When Job was afflicted with a severe skin disease, his friends came to comfort him. However, instead of providing comfort, his friends made Job’s life more miserable.
Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sat in judgment of Job. In his dialogue with his friends, Job tried to provide a rebuttal to their criticism, but most of his words were addressed to God. Job complained about his misfortunes and questioned both the justice and mercy of God.
The Laments of Job
In the book of Job, Job addressed his lament to God. A lament is a journey of wrestling with God, a journey in which a person prays to God expressing his anguish, his pain, his disappointment, and his frustrations with his situation.
The laments of individuals and the laments of the community are found throughout the Old Testament. Many of the psalms in the Book of Psalms, about one-third of them, are psalms of lament. The book of Lamentations describes the horrors the community suffered because of the destruction of the temple. After King Josiah died, Jeremiah composed a lament to honor him (2 Chronicles 35:25).
Job’s laments are similar to the psalms of lament in the Book of Psalms. In the psalms of lament, the psalmist complained about his suffering. The psalmist expressed his hope in God and gave glory to God believing that God would intervene and deliver him from his suffering.
In the lamentations of Job, several lessons can be learned about lament. The journey of lament takes a long time. From his first trial in Chapter 1 to his second trial in Chapter 2, Job’s trials probably lasted more than one year.
When Job’s friends came to console and comfort him, much had already happened to Job. Job had already lost his wealth, and all of his ten children had died. Job was afflicted with a painful skin disease that had affected his whole body. Job said, “I am nothing but skin and bones” (Job 19:20).
Because of his illness, Job had faced social rejection, “I am a laughingstock to my friends” (Job 12:4). “He has put my family far from me, and my acquaintances are wholly estranged from me. My relatives and my close friends have failed me; the guests in my house have forgotten me; my serving girls count me as a stranger” (Job 19:13–15).
In the dialogue with his friends, Job displayed his mental anguish caused by his pain and by his suffering. His emotional distress turned into spiritual confusion. Job’s spiritual condition aggravated his struggle with God.
The journey of lament creates different responses in the life of the person in crisis. Because of his many ups and downs of wrestling with God over his great suffering, Job acted in various different ways during his ordeal. At times, Job expressed his trust in the Lord’s goodness. At other times, Job imploded. This implosion was caused by the intensive emotional pressure derived from his pain and suffering and from the criticism of his friends. Job cursed the day he was born and accused God of setting him apart for a target (Job 7:20) and for treating him as an enemy.
When confronted by suffering, the journey of lament can be rewarding. While facing trials, a person grows closer to God. When facing trials, people deepen their friendship with God through prayer and trust. When people are in fellowship with God, they find healing for the great hurt that causes them to doubt the goodness of God.
Job had three friends who left their homes and came to Job to console him: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When the three friends learned of Job’s misfortune, they “met together to go and console and comfort” him (Job 2:11). Another person appears in the book of Job. Elihu, the son of Barachel (Job 32:2) was a bystander who listened to Job and his friends. Elihu was a brash young man who was very angry with Job “because Job thought he was more righteous than God” (Job 32:2).
When the friends came to where Job was, they were amazed at his condition. They did not even recognize him. Job’s friends “cried out loud and wept, and each of them tore his own clothes in grief. They threw dust on their heads. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw that he was in such great pain” (Job 2:12–13).
After seven days of silence, the friends tried to comfort Job, but Job did not like what they said. What they said to Job was based on a popular view of how God dealt with wicked people. But Job’s case was different; they misdiagnosed Job’s condition because they believed that, since God was just, Job’s suffering came upon him because he had greatly sinned against God.
The first friend to speak was Eliphaz. Eliphaz came from Teman, an Edomite tribe from the family of Esau (Genesis 36:4, 11).
Eliphaz said to Job, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (Job 4:8 ). Eliphaz was using the law of retribution to explain Job’s suffering. Eliphaz was assuming that Job was the cause of his own misfortune; he did what was bad and now he was paying for what he had done.
Eliphaz said to Job, “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you” (Job 22:21). After declaring that Job had sinned against God, now Eliphaz exhorted Job to repent: “submit to God and be at peace.”
The second friend to speak was Bildad, the Shuhite. The location of Shuah is unknown. Bildad said to Job, “Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers” (Job 8:20). Bildad was telling Job that God never perverts justice. Job was being punished by God because he was an evildoer.
Bildad said to Job, “The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out; the flame of his fire stops burning” (Job 18:5). Bildad was telling Job that he was suffering because he was a wicked person.
Zophar the Naamathite, Job’s third friend, was the last one to speak. The location of Naamah is unknown. Zophar said to Job, “Though evil is sweet in his [the wicked] mouth and he hides it under his tongue” (Job 20:12). Zophar was telling Job that evil was like a sweet treat to the wicked and that even though he hides his wickedness, eventually he will have to give an account to God.
Finally, the bystander Elihu speaks. After Job’s friends had spoken to Job, they stopped talking to him because Job believed he was a righteous man (Job 32:1). Elihu was incensed at Job because Job had strongly defended his innocence. Elihu was also angry at Job’s friends because they were unable to convince Job that he was a sinner.
Elihu said to Job, “He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (Job 34:11–12).
Elihu defends the doctrine of retribution. He told Job that God repays a man according to what he has done by bringing back upon him the results of his conduct. The reason Job was suffering was because God does not pervert justice. Job was receiving what he deserved.
Job Responds to His Friends
Job rejected the accusations his friends made against him. Job insisted that he was a righteous man and that his suffering was undeserved. He told them that many wicked people do not suffer as he was suffering. Job said that many times the wicked prosper and are not punished for their wickedness. Job told his friends, “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2).
In his response to his friends, Job provided four important keys for effective lament, four effective actions on how to handle the problem of suffering.
The first way to handle the problem of suffering is by going to God in prayer. When Job discussed his problems with his friends, he began by addressing his friends and then he went to God in prayer. In his dialogue with Zophar, Job said, “Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die. Only grant me these two things . . . .” Job was ready to hear the charges against him, but then he went to God in prayer, “Only grant me these two things.”
In his dialogue with Eliphaz, Job said, “He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes. I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer” (Job 30:19–20). Job accused God of throwing him in the mud to disgrace him and then he prayed to God, protesting that God did not answer his prayers.
The second way to handle suffering is to complain to God about the situation. In the dialogue with his friends, Job was complaining to God while his friends were defending God’s justice.
After Bildad spoke to him, Job uttered a lament. He said, “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me” (Job 10:1–2). In his lament, Job accused God of having made his soul bitter. He told God either to declare him not guilty or to present the charges against him, “tell me what charges you have against me.”
In his lament Job wondered why God was treating him as an enemy, “Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a windblown leaf?” (Job 13:24–25). Job brought his case to God. Job believed that God had hidden his face from him as a sign of disfavor, and Job wanted to know why. To Job, losing favor with God was worse than the physical pain he was experiencing on his body.
Another way of dealing with suffering is by asking God’s help. In his prayer to God, Job presented his request to God: “Only grant me these two things: Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. . . . How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?” (Job 13:20–24).
In his prayer, Job presented his request to God: stop the pain and stop frightening me. Then Job asked for understanding. He wanted to know what he had done to suffer so much at the hands of God.
Job was determined to present his case before God, “he may kill me; I have no hope; but I will present my case to his face” (Job 13:15). But Job’s case before God would be presented by a Mediator.
Another way of dealing with suffering is to know that believers have a Mediator who can bring their case before God. This Messianic figure was Job’s hope that his case would come before God and that the Mediator would intercede for him. Three times Job expressed his hope for a Mediator.
Job said, “If only there were someone to mediate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more” (Job 9:33–34).
Job said, “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend” (Job 16:19–21).
Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:25–27).
Job’s Mediator would come to his defense and present his case before God. Job did not reveal who his Mediator was. It was not God because God was his enemy and because Job had challenged God to present his case against him. Job needed to be vindicated while he was still alive, before his community, so that his friends and relatives could know that he was innocent. It is possible that Job desired a heavenly being who would be the counterpart of Satan, one who would come before God and act on Job’s behalf. Dead or alive, Job knew that he was innocent and that, in the end, he would be vindicated.
On June 12, 2022, my pastor Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church, preached a sermon titled “Job: How Can I Handle This?”, a sermon based on the dialogue between Job and his friends, Job chapters 3–37. Many of the ideas and words in the post above are based on Jeff’s sermon.
In his sermon, Jeff emphasized that when people lament, they come to a point where they realize they have a Redeemer, a Redeemer who will provide the answers to the basic questions of life. Job’s journey of lament led him to hope for his Redeemer. Lament is not the end of darkness; it is the burst forth of the glorious hope of God’s forgiveness and love.
“How Can I Handle This?” – A Sermon by Jeff Griffin
You can watch next sermon on Job live by visiting The Compass Church online.
To access the third sermon on Job, “Why Is This Happening?”, on June 19th, you can go to https://live.thecompass.net. The sermon will be presented at 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 11:00 a.m.
NOTE: For other studies on the Book of Job and the problem of suffering, read my post, An Introduction to the Book of Job.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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