Reflections on Job and His Friends

Tory Hoff

Let me start by raising a question.  Is the Book of Job about actual events, a story, or what?  On this matter, considerable debate has occurred. Based on some of my readings, here is my present understanding.

It seems that Job was a prosperous, perhaps semi-nomadic Arab living somewhere around Edom where the descendants of Esau settled.  Living around 1700 B.C.,  and thus perhaps a contemporary of Joseph and his brothers, Job was known for his wisdom and virtue.  However, the Book of Job was probably written about 500 B.C., which means that among the books included in the Protestant version of the Old Testament, it is one of the last written.  The author was an Israelite making use of an oral tradition about Job spanning about a thousand years.  Based on this story, a series of dialogues was constructed.  We would now call this an example of historical fiction.  In my estimation, the outcome is a drama that contains a level of insight not found in other books of the Old Testament.  

The entire Book of Job is highly repetitive and meandering and is therefore difficult for the modern reader to remain interested.  For this reason, and because we do not have the time to read all forty-two chapters, I have greatly condensed the book down to three pages of text.  I believe, however, that the dialogues which you will hear today summarize the important features of the Book of Job.  I have primarily used the New Jerusalem Bible, which has Catholic roots, but also have taken liberty to re-interpret somewhat playfully, or re-arrange, some of the verses selected.  The story also has a narrator, and I will assume that role, plus share my thoughts when acting as a commentator.

The first dialogue is mostly between God and Satan, performed by                                and                               . The second dialogue is between Job and his three friends, whom I have condensed into the last one named Eliphaz, with                               as Job and                               as Eliphaz.  The third is mostly between God and Job.  At various stages in the dialogues, we pause, and I give my reflections on what transpired.  Placed between some of these dialogues are two old hymns for us to sing.  Toward the end, Jesus Christ, played by                              , makes a cameo appearance and offers his new kind of wisdom.

Let us now begin.


One day the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, and among them was that offspring, the Satan. Yahweh began to speak with the Satan.



So where have you been junior?



Oh, you know, roaming about the earth.



So have you noticed my servant Job lately?  There is no one like him on the earth.  He's a sound and honest man who honours God and shuns evil.



So you say boss, but Job finds it easy to honour you, right?  Have you not put some kind of protective aura round him, his house and all his domain?  Have you not blessed all that he undertakes? But, I tell you, stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions, and, just watch, he will then curse you to your face.



Very well, do your sinister deeds you squirmy worm, ss I now place in your power all that he has.  But your venom will not end his life.

[Chp. 1:6-9]











Narrator:    Seemingly as a result of this uneasy posturing and pact between God and the Satan, Job experiences a series of tragic catastrophes, one immediately after the other.  A messenger tells him that his oxen and donkeys were just stolen, then another reports that his flock of sheep was hit by fire from heaven, and yet another that his camels were stolen.  Worse yet, a final messenger tells him that his sons and daughters were all killed when a roof caved in during a banquet feast.

In response, Job rose and tore his gown and shaved his head.  Then, falling to the ground, he worshipped and said:


Naked I came from my mother's womb, naked I shall return.  Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken back.  Blessed be the name of Yahweh.



Despite this sudden series of misfortunes, Job committed no sin and spoke not one insult to God.

[Chp. 1:11-12]


Once again the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, and among them was that squirmy one, the Satan.  Yahweh again spoke to the Satan.



So where have you been junior?



Oh, you know, roaming about the earth.



Did you happen to notice my servant Job?  There is no one like him on the earth.  He's a sound and honest man who honours God and shuns evil. His life continues blameless as ever, even though I let you ruin him.



So you say boss.  But a man will let go of all he has just to save his life.  If you were to stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his own bones and flesh, well then, just watch.  Then he will curse you to your face.



Very well, I place in your power his flesh.  But I decree that you cannot take his life.

[Chp. 2:2-4]


Job then gets painful open sores from head to toe.  In response, his wife tells him to curse God and thereby die.  But Job rebuffs her, when saying,



That is foolish talk.  If we receive happiness from God's hand, must we not receive sorrow too?

[Chp. 2:7]














Commentator:    Time for some of my reflections.  The Satan claims that Job is virtuous only as a result of his good fortune and happiness.  In other words, the Satan wagers that Job is really self-serving and self-centred, and that he has been good only to get the goodies, so to speak.  The Satan also claims that God has allowed Job to lead a sheltered, seemingly problem-free life.  Therefore God accepts the Satan’s deal, and allows the Satan some kind of cosmic influence whereby tragic losses happen to Job.

In the following scene, Job is joined by three friends.  As a sign of camaraderie and act of sympathy and consolation, they tear their garments too. Highly upset themselves, they sit with him for seven days, no one speaking a word.  But then, one by one they dare speak and address Job’s suffering.

Narrator:    Sitting in their presence, Job begins to speak at length:


May the day perish when I was born, and the night that told of a boy conceived.  Why was I not a dead newborn?  Whatever I fear comes true, whatever I dread befalls me.  On every side God breaks through my defences, and I succumb.  Lying in bed I wonder, 'When will it be day?'  Risen I think, 'How slowly evening comes!'  Restlessly, I fret till twilight falls.  May it please God to crush me!  But have I the strength to wait for him to do it?

[Chps. 3:3-4,11,24-25; 19:10; 7:4; 6:9,11]





Commentator:    I won’t go into this matter of what cursing God entails, other than to say that it had very little to do with current ideas about swearing and similar.  In the case of Job and his wife, they know that cursing God would result in his death, either directly by God somehow or by execution according to Mosaic law.  Therefore, to curse God operated as an indirect method of suicide.  But Job objects to taking this course of action, a main reason being that, as defined by Jewish laws and commandments, he did nothing wrong, as least as far as he can determine.  Yet Job wishes to die.  Indeed, he wishes that God had never allowed him to exist.  So, Job’s profound dilemma is that he does not want to commit indirect suicide by cursing God, yet he is in so much anguish that he no longer wants to exist.  

I assume that some if not all of us here this morning can relate to what Job is going through.  Like many of us, including myself during especially difficult periods of my life, Job no longer wants to be here, which is somewhat different from being directly suicidal.  The pain and grief are too great.  As well, he feels unloved, abandoned, and rejected by God.  Who wouldn't?  Indeed, in terms of good things that life in this world offers, he has been abandoned.  But Job respects, or tries to respect, God's decision to let tragic loss and sorrow happen to him.

Narrator:    Then Eliphaz replied to Job.


I speak of what I know, Job.  Those who plough iniquity and sow the seeds of grief reap a harvest of the same kind.  A blast of God's angry breath will wipe them out.  If God would decide to speak, to open his lips and give you an answer, Job, then you would know it is for your sin that he calls you to account.  How evil you look when you let loose your anger on God.

[Chps. 4:8-9; 11:4-6; 15:12-13]





Commentator:    Eliphaz expresses the common belief that fortune is the result of living a holy life and that misfortune is due to sins and misdeeds.  In other words, bad things happen to bad people only.  Throughout Proverbs, in particular, is the belief that people are rewarded or punished depending on whether they are doing good or evil.  Misfortune and suffering were placed in the same general category as dying a violent or dishonourable death or being given an improper burial.  Each of these events suggests that the person was evil and destined for sheol, that watery, uneasy lowly place devoid of air-like spirit.  By contrast, fortune and good social status foretell an honourable death and a proper burial, all indicating that a godly person is destined to rest in peace in the netherworld with one's ancestors.  But, we will find, the Book of Job displays more sophistication and insight about the good, the bad, and the ugly in human experience than what we generally find in the pragmatic sayings of Proverbs.  

More than 2500 years later, the perspective of Eliphaz still lies deep within us.  If we do something bad, then we sense we will be punished, unless maybe we confess.  While true in some situations, any observer of human experience knows that this connection is not always the case.  Some psychopathic types do not really experience guilt, and some other people experience a neurotic kind of guilt.  Also, as children it is common for us to sense that when something goes wrong, like our parents getting a divorce, then we did something wrong and are therefore guilty.  Understanding this kind of psychological enmeshment during our times, I suspect, helps explain why in the Old Testament there are instances in which the head of the household did something bad, and thus the whole household or clan was executed.  In other words, if we have not acquired a more modern sense of individuality, privacy, and personal responsibility, then killing the whole enmeshed family makes some sense.  

It is not easy for us to grow out of this kind of thinking since the primitive and child-like aspects within us are still operative.  As adults, we supposedly know that we did not, for instance, cause that tree to fall on someone, but if prone to neurotic guilt, we later begin to wonder if somehow our misdeeds committed on earlier occasions had some kind of cosmic influence on an event.  Maybe, for instance, if we were not looking at the tree, it might not have fallen.  Maybe we or our family created some kind of bad karma in the past.  Some suffering people say, “This accident must be God’s way of punishing me.”  “Maybe,” I say in response, but I find that suffering people who emphasize this kind of guilt do not get better because they keep punishing themselves.  It seems more healthy to say that sometimes our suffering is the consequence of our bad judgement.  To summarize, my main point here is that we need to take seriously the things that Eliphaz said, one reason being that they are similar to arguments common among us centuries later.  And now back to their story.

Narrator:    And then Job again spoke.


Indeed, I know it is as you say, Eliphaz, for it is impossible for a person to be in the right against God.  Yet in my case I think myself right.  But maybe his mouth condemns me.  Am I innocent?  Not even I really know.  But I do know that I find my life hateful.  Why do the wicked still live on, their power increasing with their age?  What are we humans to you, God, that you do so much to us, subjecting us to your scrutiny, and at every instant testing us?  And what am I to you that you should make me your target?  But.... though he slays me, yet I will trust him.  For this I know, that you are my protector.  After my awaking, you will set me close to you.     Yes, from my flesh I shall look on God!

[Chps. 9:2,4,20-21; 21:7; 7:17,20; 13:15; 9:25,2]






And now time for that hymn, “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee”

Commentator:  Job goes through an amazing transformation.  First he rebuffs Eliphaz, but then he starts to reconsider what Eliphaz is saying.  After the initial shock of the catastrophes, Job tries to make sense out of his plight.  He thought himself blameless, but now he begins to wonder.  He is confused big time and questions himself.  Why me?  He wonders if he is guilty before God after all.  Perhaps Eliphaz is right.  

I assume we all know something about what Job is going through.  Tragedies come his way, and, among other things he is having, shall I say, self-esteem issues for the first time.  More seriously, he experiences his own nothingness in the universe.  Who am I anyway?

But he increasingly acquires confidence that Eliphaz and friends are wrong, not only because he, the blameless one, is facing hard times, but also because some of the godless do deserve punishment in the form of hard times, yet are enjoying life and having it easy.  Contrary to what Eliphaz and friends believe, bad people do sometimes get it good.  Job manages to transcend the common thinking of his day, and arrives at his own conclusions.

Job's initial anguish and despair evolve into intense questions, which are no longer just about himself.  He is looking for answers about why, but his “Why me?” turns into “Why us?”  No longer is he primarily absorbed in his own pain, as he becomes able to reflect on the plight of all godly people.  It is like he becomes their spokesperson before God.  

Job then proclaims his trust in his sovereign God and has some sense that he is still being cared for.  We find that Job practiced the lyrics in the hymn we just sang.  He became the soul that trusted God indeed.

Narrator:    And then Eliphaz replied.


Happy indeed is the man whom God corrects!  Do not refuse this lesson from Shaddai.  You, Job, if pure and honest, must now seek God, and must plead with Shaddai.  You will pray and he will hear.  Make peace with God, Job, be reconciled, and all your happiness will be restored to you.

[Chps. 5:17; 8:5-6; 22:21,27]




Commentator:    In the meantime, it seems, Eliphaz becomes more convinced that Job is not just guilty but also needs to be taught a lesson, by God.  Job needs to be corrected through chastisement.  If Job would only repent of his sins, stop questioning God, and learn his lesson, then fortune would return to him.  In my opinion, Eliphaz does make a point that merits consideration, but note that it certainly does not feel good to Job to hear it, nor to any of us in this room if we were the recipients.  I sense that Eliphaz made the mistake of giving advice that he thought was good, but without first acknowledging the depth of suffering going on for Job.

Narrator:    And then Job spoke yet again.


How often have I heard all this before!  What sorry comforters you are!  Is there never to be an end of airy words?  I too could overwhelm you with sermons and contempt!  Eliphaz, I tell you I have kept every commandment of his lips.  But he is in charge, so who can change his mind?  Far from admitting you to be in the right, Eliphaz, I will maintain my innocence to my dying day.  But I have lost all taste for life.  So I will let loose my bitter complaints.  I shall say to God, “Tell me the reason for your assault?”  I cry to you, God, and you give me no answer.  You know very well that I am innocent.  I take my stand on my integrity.  I will not stir.   My conscience gives me no cause to blush for my life.   That’s it.  Done. I have had my say, from A to Z; now let Shaddai answer me.

[Chps. 16:2-4; 23:12,15; 27:5-6; 10:1-2,6-7; 30:20; 31:35]







Commentator:    The more Eliphaz maintains that Job is guilty of sin, like has a “bad attitude” toward God, and needs to learn his lesson about life, the more Job reacts and becomes convinced of his innocence.  Parenthetically, I repeat, Job is operating within an Old Testament context in which deeds were determined to be good, or bad, or ugly, according to the ethics of his era in human history.  Job always did the right thing according to God’s rules for human behaviour.  He was not, therefore, operating in terms of the New Testament message that all of us fall short of doing good always, and that therefore none of us are blameless.  But within an Old Testament perspective, Job was blameless and innocent, it made sense for the writer of this book to say so.

Job becomes more polarized with Eliphaz over the reasons for his misfortune because Eliphaz and friends become accusers and take on the same role as Job’s behind-the-scenes adversary, the adversary, the Satan.  In response, Job is fed up with the advice from his so-called friends.  They have become his accusers like the Accuser.  He is upset and angry, and tells them off.  Good bye and good riddance!

I am thinking that the Book of Job might be the first great statement in recorded history about what I call the “friends problem.”  I am referring to those times when friends (and here I include family members and even professionals) are trying to help, but actually make it worse for the suffering person.  There are several ways to understand their misguided efforts.  One thing I emphasize is that these friends spoke as if they were outside the problem.  They were no longer “being with” the sufferer like they were at the start.  They sat like good friends while they said nothing, but when they spoke, it was at Job and with the misguided advice of the accusing observer.  Their approach emphasized the mistakes made by the sufferer and what should have been or should be done.  I am thinking these friends, if speaking English, would have used the phrase “should be” a lot.

Consistent with what Eliphaz did, another common response we have to sufferers today is to basically say “get over it,” however gently that might be done.  Of course, some kind of mental “kick in the butt” is helpful sometimes to get persons out of their funk, but too often it comes without first respecting the sufferer by acknowledging the tragedy.  Even Job’s three friends acknowledged the tragedies and, at first, joined Job and suffered with him.  But too often we are inclined to try to, as we say, talk suffering persons out of their feelings by saying things that we think will be encouraging and bring hope.  We, the friends, are not emotionally strong enough to participate and to let their suffering into our own being, as we are suffering too much ourselves.  So we block or push away their bad feelings, and then too quickly try to say something encouraging.  Fair enough, as sometimes we too are just trying to survive.  Nevertheless, it is one thing for us look down into a pit and coach our friend to jump out, like, rah, rah, jump, but it is more profound to get in the pit with that friend and be used as a ladder to get out.

I switch back to Job.  Please appreciate the courage and boldness that was required of him, in the presence of Eliphaz and company, to declare his innocence.  Persons of lesser personal fortitude and character would have continued to question themselves and to believe that they indeed are guilty.  Faced with this group pressure, Job could easily have continued to believe that he was guilty and deserved to be taught a lesson.  But he somehow attained some sense of self vindication.  That is, he was able to do what few of us humans attain, namely, self validation without input from other humans.  He thought, “I’m okay, but your words are not Eliphaz,” or better yet, “your words are not okay Eliphaz, but I am.”  He mustered the confidence to disagree with those who unwittingly became his human adversaries.  Somewhat ironically, Job, the sufferer, tried to teach his misguided adversaries a lesson about suffering.  He failed, but he nevertheless prayed for them.  Wow, I say.

Also, please appreciate the courage that it took for Job to not only argue his innocence to his friends, but also before God.  But he had nothing more to lose, he figured, and so he made his proclamation.  Or maybe, I am wondering, it was not courage per se but simply that he was feeling in such anguish that he could not refrain from going into a mega rant.  For sure, the more cJob was convinced of his innocence, the more Job became defiant before God, his maker.  He had the nerve to challenge the God to whom he was bonded.   He made his case known, and perhaps feeling a bit arrogant in the process.  But, then he shut up and was quiet again.

Narrator:    And then from out of the whirlwind God spoke to Job.


So who are you Job? You are obscuring my designs with your empty-headed words?  Brace yourself like a fighter; as now it is my turn to ask the questions.  After all, where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?  Just tell me, since you are the one supposedly so well-informed.



Uh-oh, my words have been frivolous.  How can I reply?  I had better lay my finger on my lips.



Do you really want to reverse my judgement, and put me in the wrong in order to put yourself in the right?



Uh-oh, I am the man who obscured your designs with empty-headed words.  I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand, on matters beyond me and my knowledge.  When I spoke earlier, I knew you only by hearsay; but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract my words, and in dust and ashes I repent.









Narrator:    God then turned to Eliphaz and spoke.


Eliphaz, I burn with anger against you and your friends for not speaking truthfully about me like my servant Job has done.  I will listen to him with favour.  I will also, however, excuse your folly when not speaking of me properly as my servant Job has done.

[Chps. 38:2-5; 40:2,7-8; 42:2-3, 5-6]




Narrator:    The Book of Job then ends with an epilogue in which fortune returns to Job, stating that it occurs because Job prayed for his so-called friends.  His extended family now begins to genuinely comfort him; he comes to possess much livestock again; he begets seven sons and three daughters; and eventually dies “full of age.”  And that is the story of Job.

And now let’s sing another old hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God”

Commentator:    So many commentaries have been written about the story of Job, and many more will appear.  Allow me to make a few more observations.

First of all, notice that Job does end up repenting, which is exactly what Eliphaz told him to do.  But he did not repent of the things that Eliphaz and company identified.  Rather, he did so in response to more profound things that God brought to his attention.

Notice, as well, that both Job and Eliphaz received a reprimand from God, but in the case of Job he also received a compliment when God defended him against the accusations of Eliphaz.  As such, I note, God proclaimed Job's words to be both empty-headed and truthful.  The empty-headed aspect, I imagine, is partly because he was clued out.  That is, Job was not well-informed about the agreement between God and Satan.  In fact he was not informed at all.  As well, being empty-headed perhaps had to do with that element of arrogance and maybe pride that entered into his personal validation and self vindication.  He spoke as if God owed him something.  To be clear, although Job was not feeling entitled about being owed good fortune or social status or the like, somewhat arrogantly and defiantly, he demanded an explanation as to why he suffered so much.  As such, he stepped out of his role as a creature and did not let his creator be God.  This, I suspect, made up his empty-headed mistake.

But once God spoke, then Job sensed his mistake and felt humbled.  He realized that he had been considering it his right and entitlement to understand the ultimate reasons for his tragic situation.  He repented of this.  He knew that Eliphaz spoke what amounted to “empty-headed words” but eventually he realized that he too was speaking the same.  The message that I get, is that it is fair to want an answer to our personal tragedies, but that as Job realized, the best answer is beyond our human ability to understand.  Nevertheless, once we connect and discover ourselves being cared for, loved, validated, and respected, then knowing the answers becomes less important.

The truthful aspect of Job’s stance, I believe, has to do with his eventual ability to maintain his own innocence and God’s innocence.  Also, Job ranted to God while sensing that God was not his enemy.  Perhaps God commended Job for an authentic rant coming from within him, perhaps one of the best in recorded history.  Perhaps God also commended Job for asking for an answer.  Nothing wrong with wanting answers, as Job was human like the rest of us.  

Something more important than answers occurred for Job.  God made contact with him, or perhaps better stated, Job made contact with God as a result of the dialogue between them.  Like for Job, our critical questions lose their urgency after we grieve (which is different than self-pity), and then somehow acquire the sense that we are of infinite worth to God despite also being a finite speck within the universe.  May we, therefore, seek and experience a humbling connection with our Creator when adversity and tragic loss happen and we are unable to understand why using our little-informed minds.

In the end, Job was the patient one.  Obviously, however, Job the ranter displayed little patience.  This apparent contradiction occurs because the phrase, “the patience of Job” comes from an older definition.  Probably as far back as the ancient Greeks, “patience” was aligned with active receiving and embracing, and the feminine, and was placed in contrast to initiating and doing.  As such, Job was God’s patient who in the end actively accepted the treatment and suffering that came his way.

Speaking personally, events during those difficult periods of my life were also ones seemingly orchestrated for my benefit.  They were totally upsetting and scary, yet in the meantime challenged me exactly where I needed sanctification in the form of getting over specific insecurities and fears still operative in my life.  These difficult events therefore had their purpose.  As well, I did learn a lesson but not the kind Eliphaz was proclaiming.

Next, and lastly, we ask Christ to give his input regarding these matters.  About five hundred years after the Book of Job was written, he spoke some famous words to the people during what we call the Sermon on the Mount.


I say to you all, Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, for they shall be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

[Matt. 5:3-8]


Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish?  If you people, who are not perfect, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.

[Matt 7: 9-11]







Commentator:     Job went through a period of being “poor in spirit,” that is, got his breath-wind-spirit knocked out of him.  Like the traumatized, depressed, and forlorn, Job was entirely spent, and had no life left within him.  But the more he objected to the arguments of Eliphaz and friends, and found the courage to disagree with them, and the more he expressed himself from the depth of his own being and realized that he has intrinsic worth and care through God, then the more he revitalized and regained his confidence.  He came to the conclusion that his Yahweh, his God, does truly want to give him good things like bread, rather than things that provide no sustenance, like stones.  He was indeed pure in heart.  Job was not being good in order to get the goodies, but being good because that is the natural response of those who connect with Yahweh.

By contrast, God reprimanded Eliphaz and his friends because, we are told, they did not speak truthfully about God.  I think I got it.  That is, they were misguided to hold that adversity is always a result of sins committed.  As a result, Eliphaz and company lost their initial empathy for Job, and gave simplistic answers to his probing questions.  As too often happens in our modern world, they ended up being lousy friends.  Many of those now going through profound suffering these days experience major changes regarding who are their true friends.  Some end up with an entirely different set of friends.

Interestingly, much of what Eliphaz claimed to be true is part of the truth.  He was right that Job had a lesson to learn, and was in need of repentance and correction.  Moreover, Eliphaz made the interesting point that Job needed to make peace with God before his fortune could be restored.  But Eliphaz had a superficial understanding of these truths and lacked insight into what was really Job’s mistake, which I think was to demand of God an answer.  For these reasons, I think, God reprimanded Eliphaz for not expressing the truth.  
Insights in the Book of Job are still a step away from tough New Testament news -- that the good may never obtain in this life their just reward or blessing, and may even get murdered or suffer some other horrible death.  Christ did, and so did some of his disciples.  We are only the creatures, and so, like children, it is not for us to know the big picture, at least not yet.  Clearly, we are not our own gods, yet it is also the case that we sometimes act like we are, in a narcissistic sort of way.  But we cannot wait around for God to show up.  Job did not.  Instead, he told his friends to buzz off, and he went directly to God.  

There are, however, some sufferers who are waiting to feel better before they try to start living again.  The glass remains half empty for them, and it takes a long time to become half full.  Their recovery is extended, I think, because there is some crude truth to Ben Franklin’s notion that God helps those who help themselves.  Therefore, like Job, we seek the bread that Christ tells us about, but without demanding it.  Although, like Job when ranting, and like Christ when dying, we enter into the despair and anguish of being poor in spirit and stuck with stones, we then come through that place of fear and darkness.  We learn to trust that process, and find ourselves connected and loved.  So, finally, let us practice what our hymnist wrote, “And trust his word, though undeserving, thou yet shall find it true for thee.”

Revised February 2023