The Message of the Three Friends
Job 4:1-21
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,…

When Job opened his mouth and spoke, their sympathy was dashed with pious horror. They had never in all their lives heard such words. He seemed to prove himself far worse than they could have imagined. He ought to have been meek and submissive. Some flaw there must have been: what was it? He should have confessed his sin, instead of cursing life, and reflecting upon God. Their own silent suspicion, indeed, is the chief cause of his despair; but this they do not understand. Amazed, they hear him; outraged, they take up the challenge he offers. One after another the three men reason with Job, from almost the same point of view, suggesting first, and then insisting that he should acknowledge fault, and humble himself under the hand of a just and holy God. Now, here is the motive of the long controversy which is the main subject of the poem. And, in tracing it, we are to see Job, although racked by pain and distraught by grief — sadly at disadvantage, because he seems to be a living example of the truth of their ideas — rousing himself to the defence of his integrity and contending for that as the only grip he has of God. Advance after advance is made by the three, who gradually become more dogmatic as the controversy proceeds. Defence after defence is made by Job, who is driven to think himself challenged not only by his friends, but sometimes also by God Himself through them. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar agree in the opinion that Job has done evil and is suffering for it. The language they use, and the arguments they bring forward are much alike. Yet a difference will be found in their way of speaking, and a vaguely suggested difference of character. Eliphaz gives us an impression of age and authority. When Job has ended his complaint, Eliphaz regards him with a disturbed and offended look. "How pitiful!" he seems to say but also, "How dreadful, how unaccountable!" He desires to win Job to a right view of things by kindly counsel; but he talks pompously, and preaches too much from the high moral bench. Bildad, again, is a dry and composed person. He is less the man of experience than of tradition. He does not speak of discoveries made in the course of his own observation; but he has stored the sayings of the wise and reflected upon them. When a thing is cleverly said he is satisfied, and he cannot understand why his impressive statements should fail to convince and convert. He is a gentleman. like Eliphaz, and uses courtesy. At first he refrains from wounding Job's feelings. Yet behind his politeness is the sense of superior wisdom — and wisdom of ages and his own. He is certainly a harder man than Eliphaz. Lastly, Zophar is a blunt man with a decidedly rough, dictatorial style. He is impatient of the waste of words on a matter so plain, and prides himself on coming to the point. It is he who ventures to say definitely, "Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth," — a cruel speech from any point of view. He is not so eloquent as Eliphaz, he has no air of a prophet. Compared with Bildad, he is less argumentative. With all his sympathy — and he too is a friend — he shows an exasperation which he justifies by his zeal for the honour of God. The differences are delicate, but real, and evident even to our late criticism. In the author's day the characters would probably seem more distinctly contrasted than they appear to us. Still, it must be owned, each holds virtually the same position. One prevailing school of thought is represented, and in each figure attacked. It is not difficult to imagine three speakers differing far more from each other. One hears the breathings of the same dogmatism in the three voices. The dramatising is vague, not at all of our sharp, modern kind, like that of Ibsen, throwing each figure into vivid contrast with every other.

(Robert A. Watson, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,

WEB: Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered,

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