|When Friends Fail (Job 6:24-30)
When Friends Fail
Central Thought: Sometimes silence is better than speaking; listening better than advice; and sympathy better than instruction.
Job's three friends--Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar--had sat with him on the ash-heap for seven days in silence (2:11-13). Job broke that silence with a heart-breaking lament where he cursed the day of his birth (3:1). Eliphaz, displeased with Job's lament, counseled him to confess his sin before God because trouble does not come to people for no reason (5:3-7). Indeed, the wicked suffer the kind of trouble that Job has experienced, and God has judged Job (4:5-8). Job's house had been cursed due to his sin (5:3), and Job must now submit to God's discipline (5:17). Job must humble himself, confess his sin and seek God's mercy so that God might redeem him (5:11). Though God has wounded Job, God may yet heal him if Job repents (5:18). Only when Job humbles himself before God will God restore to him his wealth, children and security (5:24-26). Eliphaz is confident about his advice. "So hear it," he says to Job, "and apply it to yourself" (5:27).
Job is discouraged by Eliphaz's advice. Eliphaz had not eased Job's burden, but increased it. Job is struggling to persevere in faith, but Eliphaz accuses him of faithlessness. Job cries out to God for relief through death. Job wants his life to end without denying "the words of the Holy One" (6:9-10). Job is still faithful, but his pain is tempts him to deny God. Eliphaz offers no sympathy. On the contrary, he assails Job's integrity and tells him to repent of his hidden sins. Job hoped for comfort from his friends--even "a despairing man should have the devotion of his friends" (6:14). Instead, his friends are like dried up streams (6:15-17) which Caravans anticipate and hope for, but are only disappointed when they reach them (6:18-20). His friends are "no help" (6:21), and instead of easing his burdens they increase them.
Verses 24-26. Job is willing to listen, though he may be a bit sarcastic here. Job will be silent if his friends will say something useful. Eliphaz's descriptions of the plight of the wicked were insinuations that Job himself was one of them. Consequently, Job is willing to listen to any accusations or charges that the friends know. But he wants proof, not just accusations. Job complains that his friends had not really listened to him. His words were honest (or, sweet). They were the words of a person in great distress and despair. But Eliphaz had treated them as if they were nothing but hot air ("wind"). Eliphaz listened to Job's lament in order to critique rather than suffer with him. Job gets no sympathy from Eliphaz.
Verse 27. Eliphaz's callous response evokes an assessment of his heart by Job. Eliphaz is the kind of person who would gamble over fatherless children or barter away a friendship. Eliphaz is the sort of person who turns every situation to his own advantage. Rather than help a friend, Eliphaz becomes defensive of his own traditions and beliefs. Eliphaz's rebuke is more concerned about his traditions and values than it is about Job's troubles and spiritual health.
Verses 28-30. Job gets to the point. The kindness he expects from Eliphaz and his other friends is trust. Job simply wants his friends to believe him. Job is not a liar, and wants to be treated justly and compassionately. What is really at stake in this dialogue is not the traditions of the friends, but the integrity (literally, righteousness) of Job. God affirmed Job's righteousness or integrity both before and after trouble enveloped him (1:1; 2:3). Job does not belong among the wicked. He is a righteous sufferer. He does not deceive nor does he speak evil. As the narrator commented after Job's second trial, "In all this, Job did not sin in what he said" (2:10; cf. 42:7).
How do we approach a sufferer? First, we should approach them in silence. We are often too quick to speak to a sufferer. We are uncomfortable with silence, and so we feel like we must say something. "Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Proverbs 29:20). A lengthy silence is better than a hasty sentence.
Second, we should approach them as listeners. We should give them permission to speak. We should sit with them in their lament, offer our sympathy and share their tears. Eliphaz was shocked by Job's words. He did not hear Job's anguish. He did not give Job permission to speak his heart and to cry out to his God. We must be willing to sit with sufferers and give them permission to speak to God in deep lament with all the doubts, fears and questions those laments contain. Too often we divert the conversation to mundane topics because we are uncomfortable listening to the griefs and pains of another. God listens to our laments, and we should listen to each other's.
Third, we should approach them in sympathy. The context of tragedy is no place for theological diatribes. It is not a place for interpreting what has happened. It is not a time for bombastic and pity platitudes. "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions" (Proverbs 18:2). We should suffer with our friends rather than attempting to restructure their theology or probe their life circumstances so we can give them a correct understanding of their situation. We should weep with them rather than offer an explanation for what has happened.
Job's friends made the mistake of correcting Job rather than sharing his suffering. They thought they could explain his suffering, but all Job wanted was someone to share it with him. Instead of helping him, his friends became "miserable comforters" (Job 16:2).
1. Why did Job react the way he did to his friend's speech in chapter 5?
2. What are some well-meaning but hasty words you have heard spoken to a sufferer?
3. Why do we feel like we need to say anything to sufferers?
4. Why is it difficult to listen to a sufferer? Why are we uncomfortable with lament?
5. What sort of things can we say to sufferers that will not increase their pain?
6. Why is it hard to believe that there are such people as "righteous sufferers" in the world? Why did Eliphaz find that hard to believe?
7. Read some lament Psalms (6, 10, 13, 22, 55, 88). What are some characteristic questions we ask God in lament? What do we want God to do or say?
First published as "When Friends Fail (Job 6:24-30)," Adult Bible Quarterly (Spring 1998), 21st Century Christian, pp. 13-6.