Friends like Job’s

Recently I heard a theologian talking about Job and was not surprised to hear him refer to Job’s “so-called friends”. Not surprised perhaps, but as usual when I hear this common sentiment, I was uncomfortable with it. Were Job’s friends there to give him a hard time? Were they there just so they could make him feel worse? Did they offer him their dire diagnosis of the cause for Job’s travail through condescending self-righteousness?

I’m not going to say that there was none of that attitude in what they said. I do think, however, that we can make the following observations:

  1. The text plainly calls Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar Job’s “friends”.
  2. They sat with him and shared his grief for a week’s time.
  3. They didn’t simply tell him why they thought God had it in for him, but offered a solution (repentance) to extract him from further judgement. When Job was insistent that he had done nothing to repent for, they became even more determined that he do what they felt was necessary to avoid more of God’s judgment.
  4. Job thought enough of them to pray for God to forgive them their incorrect counsel.


God told the friends that He should punish them because they didn’t speak as accurately about Him as Job did. They certainly had a high view of God’s justice; given the option of whether God’s character (as One Who rewards justly) or their righteous friend Job’s character was deficient, they ruled in favor of God’s character. Where exactly they were wrong in their analysis has never been clearly understood. But interestingly, God reprimanded them and held them accountable for their erroneous beliefs despite their good intentions and high view of His character. Regardless of the fact that they were wrong in their counsel to Job, I think it’s clear that they were not “so-called” friends, and that their comfort wasn’t false comfort. One of the reasons so many people think of Job’s friends as sorry company is because they don’t understand the importance of this type of comfort. We tend to think of comfort as nodding with pained looks on our faces, as affirmation of the emotions felt by the sufferer. We might add a little advice with sugar on top, but we definitely tend to make a wide berth around making them feel worse, even at the expense of offering solutions. In our grief, we don’t want to hear advice, we want our loved ones to just be there; here again, Job’s friends pass this test of friendship with flying colors. But there comes a time when solutions are requested and needed. And when this time came, Job’s friends didn’t mess around. See, true friends pull no punches. In fact, I wish I had a few more friends like Job’s. This goes for more than just times of sorrow. I value above all the type of friend who doesn’t just smile and nod when he thinks I’m wrong in some belief of mine, but cares enough about me and the truth (since both these things are concerns of God, too) that he tries to correct my thinking. I need friends I can open and honestly disagree with and who will do the same with me. It’s not hard to get along with friends you agree with on most things; it’s easy enough to avoid or deny areas of conflicting beliefs. Yet as I grow older, I crave the kind of friend to whom I can pour out my deepest thoughts and emotions and who can tell me when he thinks I’m full of crap. Because, you know, I am sometimes. As I learn how wrong I can really be, I have found that I am less likely than I used to be to get upset that someone thinks I’m wrong or making wrong choices. The inimitable Mark Heard expressed a similar ideal in his song, “What Kind of Friend”:

What kind of friend would tell you lies

To spare you from the bitter truth?

What kind of friend could stoop so low

As to shield your eyes from the mirror’s gaze?

What kind of friends do friends become

When a blind eye turns on the damage done?

What kind of friend could I become?

What kind of friend am I?

Friends, keep me honest. Don’t be afraid to argue with me, especially when I am the most adamant. And if I do so with you, please recognize that I am only doing as I would be done by and it doesn’t mean that I think less of you.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” — Proverbs 27:6

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  • I think more of us would argue with you if we understood better what you were talking about. Your posts come across as so intellectual that it is hard to mount an effective rebuttal. Most people have the tendency to associate academia with being correct. Not that this is true, but as children our teachers were so often all-knowing that we’ve become accustomed to assuming that big words = right.

  • I think more of us would argue with you if we understood better what you were talking about. Your posts come across as so intellectual that it is hard to mount an effective rebuttal. Most people have the tendency to associate academia with being correct. Not that this is true, but as children our teachers were so often all-knowing that we’ve become accustomed to assuming that big words = right.

  • I really don’t try to talk above anybody’s head, and hope I don’t come across that way. It’s really a major defect in my writing that I cannot be clear.

    Something else that just occurred to me in reading your comment, Heather, is that I was perhaps unclear with the above post (big surprise). I certainly didn’t mean to give the impression that you can’t be a good friend unless you argue with me. I do think that friends who are afraid to argue/debate cannot be as close as those that do in many ways. I love all my friends and only want to grow closer with them. What I fear is that my expression of strange or esoteric ideas can be off-putting and act as a wedge, and I really only want to express to my friends that their hesitation or refusal to accept these ideas, for my part, has no bearing on our friendship and should never come between us.

  • I really don’t try to talk above anybody’s head, and hope I don’t come across that way. It’s really a major defect in my writing that I cannot be clear.

    Something else that just occurred to me in reading your comment, Heather, is that I was perhaps unclear with the above post (big surprise). I certainly didn’t mean to give the impression that you can’t be a good friend unless you argue with me. I do think that friends who are afraid to argue/debate cannot be as close as those that do in many ways. I love all my friends and only want to grow closer with them. What I fear is that my expression of strange or esoteric ideas can be off-putting and act as a wedge, and I really only want to express to my friends that their hesitation or refusal to accept these ideas, for my part, has no bearing on our friendship and should never come between us.

  • If Job had 3 friends, who is Elihu?

    Whatever clarity or depth of study on Job I may have had in the past is now co-opted by the vagaries of time and fading recollections. While there was and is too many variant themes to study in any one sitting, I have previously noted Elihu’s Exemption from Propitiation as warranted in God’s rebuke of Job’s three “other” friends.

    Then lo and behold, I start reading here* and get a slap-on-forehead, well-duh, light-bulb-moment that Elihu is not only exempt from censure, he is also not counted as one of Job’s “friends”. Thanks to modern word search, we can see that Elihu just enters the scene with brief introduction and lecture that encompasses chapters 32-37 followed abruptly by the ch 38 upbraiding directed at Job. There is no more mention of Elihu good or bad and he is noticeably absent from the account of propitiatory resolution at Job 42:7-10.

    Well, there is probably some literary or ANE cultural given that can explain the insertion of Elihu and his proclamation into the storyline. It is not a compelling priority but I may encounter some good research in my erratic eclectic browsing and studies. Now that I have gotten back to comment, I can continue reading in sequence.
    ============

    *There was a recent news bit about a copy of issue #1 of Action Comics selling for $1M. I have an unrequited fetish for 1st editions and complete sets. I would like to be able to read complete works of various authors but find shear volume and human limits a bit of a mismatch. And that is even before mind wandering and distractions accomplished with assisted livening by clicks and URLs. I bookmarked this back in November ’09 to follow-up reading after filling out my thoughts. It is hard enough for some of us to think and type at the same time even before the intrusions of real life, readings, or TV watchings and dubbings. OK. I will try to get back to the archival reading here, but it don’t look like there will be any catching up considering all the current proliferation. Sigh. 🙂

    …………………..
    .-= Windpressor´s last blog ..Not So Much Dust; Mostly Water =-.

  • If Job had 3 friends, who is Elihu?

    Whatever clarity or depth of study on Job I may have had in the past is now co-opted by the vagaries of time and fading recollections. While there was and is too many variant themes to study in any one sitting, I have previously noted Elihu’s Exemption from Propitiation as warranted in God’s rebuke of Job’s three “other” friends.

    Then lo and behold, I start reading here* and get a slap-on-forehead, well-duh, light-bulb-moment that Elihu is not only exempt from censure, he is also not counted as one of Job’s “friends”. Thanks to modern word search, we can see that Elihu just enters the scene with brief introduction and lecture that encompasses chapters 32-37 followed abruptly by the ch 38 upbraiding directed at Job. There is no more mention of Elihu good or bad and he is noticeably absent from the account of propitiatory resolution at Job 42:7-10.

    Well, there is probably some literary or ANE cultural given that can explain the insertion of Elihu and his proclamation into the storyline. It is not a compelling priority but I may encounter some good research in my erratic eclectic browsing and studies. Now that I have gotten back to comment, I can continue reading in sequence.
    ============

    *There was a recent news bit about a copy of issue #1 of Action Comics selling for $1M. I have an unrequited fetish for 1st editions and complete sets. I would like to be able to read complete works of various authors but find shear volume and human limits a bit of a mismatch. And that is even before mind wandering and distractions accomplished with assisted livening by clicks and URLs. I bookmarked this back in November ’09 to follow-up reading after filling out my thoughts. It is hard enough for some of us to think and type at the same time even before the intrusions of real life, readings, or TV watchings and dubbings. OK. I will try to get back to the archival reading here, but it don’t look like there will be any catching up considering all the current proliferation. Sigh. 🙂

    …………………..
    .-= Windpressor´s last blog ..Not So Much Dust; Mostly Water =-.