The Book of Job

Question: Explain as thoroughly as possible, what the debate is, in the Book of Job, between Job and his three friends and how it came about. Then explain, as thoroughly as possible the significance of God’s speech, for the position taken by Job in his debate and for the position taken by Job’s three friends.

Conversation between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in chapter 4 to 31 revolves around what suffering means to them in the context of what God wants to show by bringing sufferings to His human beings. However the upshot of the whole conversation proves the theories of his friends as unsatisfactory.

The start of the conversation between Job and his friends has a very different background which is concerned with a debate between God and Satan over whether a righteous favored person will continue to hold his faith in God when things go wrong with him or when he suffers without knowing the reason for the suffering. God argues that a righteous person will indeed always stick to his faith in God and exemplifies a rich farmer named Job living somewhere near Palestine. God then allows Satan to torture Job with severe sufferings to test his faith. When Job holds his faith despite losing all his livestock, house and children, Satan troubles him with painful wounds on his body. He sticks to his strong belief in God even when his wife asks him to curse God and die. It’s at this point when three of his friends come in to comfort him by making him realize that all this is happening to him because of his sins as a punishment. However, Job still wonders like an innocent asking, why me? This question of Job, his friends’ answers and then Job’s justifications of his innocence and his interpretation of what God wants when he puts his human beings to sufferings comes out as an interesting debate. The main theme of the debate between Job and his friends is majorly surrounding the justification for suffering of human beings. His friends argued that all the sufferings come in response to the evils and all the good things happen to us as rewards for our obedience with no exceptions. Eliphaz claims that Job must have done something wrong which brought torment to his peaceful life and God has been punishing him only because of some wrong doing. However, Job due to his innocence and being righteous was of the opinion that there can be exceptions and that it is possible and has happened that righteous have suffered more than sinners. Moreover, many sinners have got more privileges and luxuries in this life compared to more righteous people.

The debate between Job and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, centers around the idea of whether or not a human can ever question a vastly superior and perfect being like God.  The debate comes about after God allows Satan to torment Job as a test of his faith, with Satan claiming that Job is only righteous and faithful to God because he has been blessed with happiness and prosperity.  God then allows Satan to kill Job’s children, animals, and servants and then to cover the man in painful boils as a test of this faith. Bildad and Zophar also make similar arguments for the suffering of Job. Job still claims innocence, and just complains to God for being unjust to him, however declares that he will still keep his faith. The debate also takes an interesting turn when Eliphaz blames Job that he is not fearing God and dares to claim that his punishment is unjust. Similarly, Bildad and Zophar repeat that it’s the wicked who are punished. Job is confident throughout the conversation that his innocence will be revealed in the heaven if not in this life. Job shows his wonder over why he cannot talk directly to God to prove his innocence and complain the unjust happening to him. Bildad in response explains that no humans on earth can be perfect and righteous enough to confront God and stand equal to argue with Him. Job concludes the conversation by saying that whatever happens to him, he will never lose faith in God and will always be doing the righteous things in life.

The God’s speech in The Book of Job, uses various examples to clarify that humans have no idea of the reasons why God does something. Humans are incapable of judging, confronting, and understanding the reasons for God’s actions. The speech from God informs Job about the superiority and wisdom associated with God’s decisions about creating and maintaining the universe. Job’s arguments with his friends show that although Job complained to God for his miseries but never challenged Him because he was a believer and knew that he does not have the power to argue. Job was justified his argument to his friends that he would believe God despite being ignorant and innocent to the reasons for his sufferings. Job’s friends on the other hand argued that they knew about the reasons for Job’s sufferings and it was because God was punishing him for his bad deeds. However, God’s speech proved that they can never know the motives behind what God does to someone whether that is suffering or blessing. Because God rewarded the same person with better and more. Hence, God’s speech weakened their argument that sufferings come to sinners and blessings come as rewards for good deeds only. God showed Job and his friends that all the blessings and sufferings always come for reasons out of the limit of understanding of humans and that they would never know the reasons. Hence God taught them that how to believe in Sovereignty and Power of God without claiming, complaining, and confronting God. A true belief does not look for reasons but a belief.

References

Hartley, J. E. (1988). The book of Job. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.