Tag Archives: Job

9 Observations for How NOT to Counsel like Job’s Friends

 

Having summarized the dialogues and diatribes that took place in chapters 4-27 of the Book of Job, we observed extensive evidence of poor counseling, applied by Job’s friends to his case of heart-wrenching affliction.  We’ve already seen how everything they had to say was not necessarily bad or even incorrect, yet the way they offered counsel and the misapplications that they made leave them open to criticism.  Fortunately, we can take this criticism of their counsel and use it as a guide, negatively, for our own counseling opportunities.

With that, below is a summation, though certainly not exhaustive, of 9 examples of poor counseling or how not to counsel those going through a period of affliction, primarily collated from the speeches of Job’s friends.

  1. Do not immediately equate affliction with a specific sin
  2. Insensitivity; lacking compassion and pity.
  3. Focusing on emotion filled words, rather than the condition of the afflicted; Failure to allow grace-filled latitude.
  4. Looking to win a debate, rather than comfort the afflicted.
  5. Using theology as a club, particularly the sovereignty of God.
  6. Twisting or abusing Scripture to support your point or undermine the views of the afflicted.
  7. Failing to allow room for grace when the afflicted are emotionally overwhelmed.
  8. Attacking the character of the afflicted for the sake of proving a theological point.
  9. Doubting or denying the faith of the afflicted in their emotionally fragile state.

Rather than taking the path that Job’s friends took by focusing on his words and attempting to verbally beat him into submission and admission of guilt, it is often best to comfort the afflicted and to weep with those who weep, as we read in Job 2:12.

Speaking to the deficiencies of Job’s counselors, Calvin writes,

By this we are admonished, when we wish to comfort neighbors in their sorrows and trials, not to jump to conclusions; as there are many who are forever harping on the same string and they do not consider the person to whom they speak, for we must treat one person differently from another.  For if there is someone who is obstinate against God, we must speak in a style and language different than we would toward a poor creature who innocently wandered.  And then according to what the evil is, there is also need to be warned how to proceed against it.  For example, if men are stupid, we must cry out and rebuke their indifference, in order that they may learn about the hand of God, in order to humble themselves under it.  There is, then, need of great prudence when we wish to properly comfort those who God afflicts.  This is what we have to remember from the passage (Job 16:2), when it is said that those who attempted to comfort Job were tiresome, since they did not bring to him anything from which he could profit.  This, then, is what we have to remember especially.

The book of Job is not primarily a counseling handbook, as we’ve seen.  However, once we work through our interpretation of the book, a clear application is how to properly deal with affliction and how to counsel those who are being afflicted. Here, with Calvin, we are reminded that a one-size fit all solution to the numerous sorrows that we as a fallen humanity face is simply inadequate and is indeed the failed strategy of the poor counselors of Job.

Without detailing proper counseling techniques, which could be numerous and case-specific, it would seem then that it is more prudent to disciple in prosperity than to counsel in adversity.  Let us teach our brothers and sisters how to handle adversity and how to remain faithful in the face of affliction before that time comes, and it will come.  In this way, discipleship is always preparatory for the next affliction. Generally speaking it would seem that too often we have gone to great lengths in our counseling because we have not done the necessary work of discipleship.

Affliction is the theological training ground of God.  Allow Him to have His good work in refining His people and removing the dross from their (our) lives.  The principle role of a friend in these trials should be that of a loving arm of compassion, intercessory prayer on their behalf, and consistently pointing those who suffer to the Word of Almighty God.

You have heard of the Patience of Job

 

The Epistle of James has the only other mention of the man Job outside of the book that bears his name, the other reference being Ezekiel 14.

“Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” James 5:11 KJV

Here we see a commendation of Job and an example held up by James for us to imitate in our times of suffering.  It’s not all too uncommon to hear of the patience of Job, as seen in the passage purposefully cited from the King James Version above.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a colloquial saying to apply towards a patient person, “he’s got the patience of Job.”  However, if one takes the time to read carefully through the Book of Job, we actually see that Job was not patient…at all (Consider Job 4:2,5; 6:11; 21:4).  How then can we reconcile James’ declaration of Job’s patience with the perceived impatience that he displayed in the midst of his very tumultuous trials and afflictions?

The answer is to simply slowdown in our reading of James’ epistle and hold off on applying our traditional understanding to this passage.  In doing so, we may ask a few questions of the context, focusing particularly on the meaning of the word being used here, translated as patience in the KJV above and as steadfastness in the ESV, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

First, let’s note the flow of the argument being made in James.  In the opening of chapter 5, which of course is an interpretive division, the author introduces a reproof against the rich, which were already in the cross-hairs earlier in the letter (James 1:10-11).  In 5:6 we read, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”

Here we begin to see the upcoming focus for our verses of interest, namely the persecution of the righteous.  Therefore, when we arrive at verse 7, we may better understand the upcoming context of patience in suffering, Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord”, “See how the farmer waits for the previous fruit of the earth, being patient about it”, “You also be patient.”

James’ epistle is introduced with a discussion on patience in suffering and he picks it up here again in chapter 5.  Immediately seeing the call for patience might tip us towards understanding that Job is the prime example for patience in suffering, as seen in verses 10-11, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

In this passage, we first see a general reference to the prophets, who are an example of suffering and patience, or better, “patience in the face of suffering.”  This may refer most notably to those prophets for whom books of the Old Testament have been named, i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea,etc. who suffered for the sake of the Lord’s name and the proclamation of His Word.  We might also cross-reference Hebrews 11 to see are more rounded out list.

The word “patience” (makrothu) used here in reference to the prophets is the same word used throughout James 5 up to this point and can additionally mean forebearance or longsuffering, so patience is a fitting translation.

Next, we arrive at the example of Job in verse 11, but note that in the phrase used in reference to him, “the steadfastness of Job” we have a different word than what was used in first example, the prophets.  Even the ESV recognizes this by choosing to translate the word as steadfastness rather than patience, signifying a different word is likely being translated.  Here we have the word hupomone, already introduced in James 1:3, and there is some semantic overlap between the two.  However, the latter use seems to carry a stronger meaning and in nearly every other New Testament use it implies perseverance in the face of trials or affliction (see Luke 8:15; 21:19; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:6; 2 Cor. 6:4; 2 Thess. 1:4; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; James 1:3-4; Rev. 1:9; 2:2-3; 2:19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12) .

If the author wished to continue maintaining the same point, he could have just as easily used the same word here.  But he didn’t.  In my humble opinion, I think this is because Job is seen as a different case, set apart from those others who suffered, even unto death.  Job’s perseverance was markedly different because the depth of his suffering was markedly greater.  To this point, one commentator has remarked, “patience can be described as passive endurance; by contrast, perseverance is the active determination of a believer whose faith triumphs in the midst of afflictions.”  With the prophets, we certainly see endurance in the face of many trials, even unto death.  However, with Job, we see this active determination of triumphant faith in the face of the harshest afflictions.

In this section of James we read of a strong exhortation for the righteous to bear with suffering in patience.  However, this is taken a step further when we read of Job’s perseverance, recalling to mind for us the severe affliction that he endured through faith by the Grace of God.  No, perhaps rather than praising someone for the patience of Job, we may more accurately honor those who display the perseverance of Job, triumphant faith active in the midst of trials.

Sola Gratia!

Digesting Dialogues and Diatribes

 

The majority of Job consists of speeches and attempted dialogue between Job and his three friends that arrive at the end of chapter 2, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Each offer counsel to Job in their respective turns followed by a retort by Job.  This section essentially stretches from chapter 3, beginning with Job’s lament, to chapter 27 where Job concludes the dialogues with an interlude (ch. 28) before preparing for his closing remarks in chapters 29-31.  The speeches can most easily be digested by separating them into three cycles with introductory and concluding remarks by Job.

Historically, the focus of studies on the book of Job have centered on the prologue (chs. 1-2) and the epilogue (ch. 42) with little emphasis on the dialogues.  Reasons for this may abound, but are likely due to the complexity of the language and the lack of desire to dive into the weeds, so to speak.  However, as with any good Bible study, the diamonds are beneath the surface.

Cycle one begins in chapter 4 with Eliphaz’s response to Job’s lament and runs through the entirety of chapters 14.  Following Eliphaz is Bildad in chapter 7 and Zophar in chapter 9.  This order is repeated in cycle two with the counseling speeches occurring in chapter 15, 18, and 20 respectively, while Job’s response and commentary again intermingled between them.  Cycle three again opens with a word from Eliphaz in chapter 22 followed yet again by Bildad in chapter 25.  However, this time in the cycle Zophar is mysteriously absent and is instead replaced by an additional speech by Job (chs. 27-28).  Of the three cycles, the first is arguably the most critical as it outlines each participants main argument.  The subsequent cycles contribute to the overall sweep of the book but add a lot of repetitious argumentation.

As mentioned above, the lament of Job in chapter 3 opens the section of speeches.  Here we find the faith of Job and his confidence in God rattled as emotion and grief begins to overwhelm the stalwartness that was so evident in chapters 1 and 2

“’21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:21-22

10 But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Job 2:10

Job’s lament can be broken down into three strophes or divisions the first of which is his desire that he would’ve never been conceived (vs. 1-10).    In the next division he desires that he would’ve died at birth (vs. 11-19).  In the third and final division, Job wishes that death would be immanent for those suffering (20-23), particularly as it is applied to his case.  Though Job did not sin with his lips in chapters 1 and 2, one is left wondering if cursing the day he was born is shortsighted in its failure to recognize that God had ordained his birth and may have plans beyond what Job can see, a theme which will permeate Job.

A helpful tool for understanding chapters 4-27, and really the rest of the book of Job, is to breakdown the speeches into digestible bites.  The chapter breaks, though a fallible interpretation, offer some help in recognizing where natural pauses or changes of direction might occur.  Next, four principle observations may be asked of each speech, the main theme, key verse or verses, and key error(s) and truth(s).

Attempting to identify the main theme in these chapters of Job can prove to be difficult.  The language is often that of similitudes and the structure archaic Hebrew poetry.  However, that doesn’t mean that the task is impossible.  Generally speaking the speeches either identify a main point early on or devote the majority of the content towards the main idea.  So for instance, though Bildad has much to say in rebuking Job in chapter 8, verse 3 would seem to establish a major theme for him, namely the justice of God, “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?

Second, and more pointedly, identifying the main verse or verses of the speech can help weed out some of the supporting verses and aid  in clarifying the main theme.  Here you are looking for a key statement that either expresses a critical truth concerning the character of the speaker, audience, or God, a detail about a change in the situation, or a doctrinal proposition being put forth, just to name a few.

Third, as has been previously mentioned in these speeches we need to take the good and leave the bad.  Remember that in stating this, it is a recognition that both parties in the debate have good things to say, though many times it is wrongly applied, particularly by Job’s friends.  However, having said that, there are also many errors or inconsistencies that are stated as well, sometimes simply in the form of inflammatory or unhelpful counsel.  By identifying these key errors and key truths it will provide guardrails for correctly interpreting the content and meaning of the dialogues.

Thankfully for the sake of interpretation, the cycle of speeches get shorter as the book progresses and the content of the speeches begins to become repetitive.  In the opening cycle, the focus is upon the character of God by means of the affliction of Job.  In cycle two, the focus is much more on the character of the wicked and the justice of God meted out against them.  By the time we reach cycle three, we get much of the same with the addition of Job expressing in clear terms the suffering AND prosperity of the wicked, along with the divine prerogative of God to delay His justice as He sees fit.

Understanding the central portion of Job is foundational for understanding the role of Elihu and the purpose and meaning of God’s reply in chapters 38-41.  As such, there’s no reason to rush through or even skip this section as many have tried to do in the past.  Sometimes the treasures and gems are hidden away in locations for those willing to put forth the effort to find them.