6.1 Eliphaz the Temanite, a Child of Abraham
Expositors generally assume Eliphaz the Temanite is the eldest of the three friends;1 2 3 supported by the observation that he speaks first in a culture where the youngest evidently speaks last (Job 32:4).
Eliphaz the Temanite is a child of faithful Abraham and should therefore be a source of blessing to all nations of the Earth (Gen 12:3). But Eliphaz is a descendant of Esau (Edom); whose nation the Scriptures reveal as ill-disposed towards God’s children. Their legacy is recorded when Israel had escaped Egypt— i.e., the time of Job — and asked to pass through Edom’s country unmolested. This hospitality Edom harshly rejected, replaced instead with a threat of attack (Num20:14-18). I don’t want to attribute the sins of the fathers to the children (cf Deut 24:16), but maybe the Bible has left this exchange as prophetic for Eliphaz the Temanite, who tragically fulfills the measure of his forefathers. Far from comforting Job and easing his passage through his personal wilderness, Eliphaz, son ofEdom, ends up attacking him.
Initially he is kindly, reassuring Job of his (Job’s) specific good works and his confidence that God’s observation of them will lead to Job’s restoration (Job 4:3-6). Yet as the debate continues, his tone reverses and, in his final speech, he flatly contradicts his earlier comments (Job 22:5-11). As his Edomite forefathers, Eliphaz the Temanite ultimately displays no pity for the struggles of God’s disciple, adrift in a wilderness of pain and suffering.
6.2 Bildad the Shuhite, a child of Abraham
Bildad the Shuhite is also a child of Abraham, another invested as a blessing to all nations. Yet Bildad the Shuhite is arguably even less equipped to deliver that blessing to Job than Eliphaz.
We must take care how we describe these men, because ultimately they are brought to salvation and will take their places in theKingdom of God. That said, can we say Bildad’s arguments are tinted with viciousness? His attack on Job is implied, but the implications are unmistakably clear. Instead of criticizing Job directly, Bildad creates a hypothetical evil character and describes what would befall this character; taking pains to detail the specific calamities Job is suffering.
The conclusion of Bildad the Shuhite:
“Surely such [Job’s condition] is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who knows not God” (Job18:21).
Yet Job, who had to endure the above calamities, and not merely witness them, concludes:
“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job2:10).
How fascinating that, long before the revelations of the Lord Jesus or the apostle Paul, there is so powerful a Biblical lesson showing what it is to be a man of faith, and what it is to be merely a child of Abraham.
6.3 Zophar the Naamathite, a child of Abraham, an Israelite, a Jew
Zophar traces his ancestry through the tribe of Benjamin. He is not only an Israelite, but also a Jew; by bloodline the closest to ‘God’s people.’ Yet his commentary shows him as far from salvation as any of the friends. In fact where Eliphaz and Bildad begin with kind words that later sour, Zophar attacks Job from the moment he opens his mouth. He does not display the suavely eloquent, yet ultimately duplicitous, constructions of Eliphaz, nor (mercifully) the vicious streak of Bildad, but he does seem disappointingly pompous. He usurps the position of God to declare:
“Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin” (Job 11:6).
Any rational analysis of this statement must conclude Zophar has made various unsustainable assertions here, and hence our concern of pomposity. All three friends are firm advocates of the false doctrine of exact retribution, but Zophar the Naamathite gives the clearest expression of it: Job11:11-20.
6.4 The righteous man, Job
Finally the protagonist: the man Job. Perhaps the most important description of Job is that he is God’s servant (Job 1:8; 2:3). This portrayal should strike us as unusual, for other Scriptures intimate God has no servants (Acts 17:24,25). I suspect the description of Job is more glowing than we might imagine. Paul’s speech from the Areopagus says God has no servants because He Himself is the servant, providing everything for His children, even each breath by which we are sustained. So when God terms Job “my servant,” I believe He is saying that Job is in the image of God (as we are supposed to be — Gen1:26). Job appears as a servant of his fellow man, because God first was a servant and Job is a very godly man. Hence Job can be useful to serve his fellow man in God’s Will — which is precisely how God employs him.
Job has no stated genealogy. The other characters have their genealogy appended: Eliphaz the Temanite; Bildad the Shuhite; Zophar the Naamathite. But for Job, no history is listed. In fact, the contrast is absolute: the three friends are never referenced without their genealogy, and equally Job is never listed with a genealogy. In a later article I will attempt to suggest there is a spiritually important reason why this is.
6.4.1 The suffering of Job
We certainly cannot appropriately consider Job’s character without mentioning the extent of his suffering. The piercing cries Job emits reveal that the full five arenas of the human experience: physical, emotional, social, intimate and spiritual; have all been devastated.
- Physical suffering (Job 7:4-5)
- Emotional suffering (Job 6:2-4)
- Social suffering, from being ostracized, hated and ridiculed (Job 30:1,9,10)
- Intimate suffering: the loneliness of being distanced from spouse and family (Job19:17)
- Spiritual suffering: the most keenly felt of all by righteous Job, the spiritual loneliness of apparent abandonment by God Himself (Job 23:8-13; 30:19-22)
Perhaps what highlights the desperation of Job’s condition is his contradictory comments about desiring God’s presence. At some points, his most fervent desire is to be hidden from God, where he can be protected from the pain that he knows the Lord is bringing (Job7:16-19). Yet at other times, with equal but opposite intensity, he desires nothing more than to be reunited with the Father from whom he feels distanced (Job 29:2-6). Without doubt both contradictory desires are completely true. His pain thrusts him away from God, yet his faith propels him towards Him. This is how we find Job, roughly tugged in opposite directions; rent between his theology and his experience.
We are in no position to regard any shortcomings of Job that his ensuing struggle with Satan may reveal until we have taken good time to reflect on the magnitude and range of the assaults which the Satan has caused to be brought against him. These dire scenarios produced Job’s early wail of utter regret over his very existence and curses of the day he came into being.
“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’
That day — may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine upon it.
May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm its light.
That night — may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it.
May those who curse days curse that day,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan” (Job 3:3-8).
The last phrase is interesting. I don’t know what beast Job conceptualized as Leviathan, but it’s likely he referenced a mythical sea beast similar to Western culture’s land-based legendary dragon. Other Scriptures support this: Leviathan is recorded as a sea-beast (Psa 104:25-30) and is used as a symbol of Egypt(Psa 74:10-15) andBabylon(Isa 27:1). A signature feature of these two nations is that they enslaved God’s people and mistreated them. Leviathan is therefore an opponent of God and, as the fascinating tale of Job unfolds, God will speak particularly about him. Combating Leviathan will form a central feature of the Joban tale, even if, like the Satan, his name only surfaces infrequently. In fact, Job’s fateful call to rouse Leviathan will come back to haunt him because, as we shall see, his unwise wish is going to be granted.
One essential thing to conclude from the debate is that we should not desire to castigate the three friends. One of the most important outcomes of the book is that the suffering of Job results in their salvation. This forms just one of a few good answers to the eternal, often outraged, question: “What was God doing with poor Job?!” Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite will take their places in theKingdom ofGod at the return of Christ, precisely because of the work God performed through the suffering of His faithful servant Job. We would be very foolish, and equally very uncharitable, to pour scorn upon these three men. We don’t see these men in the finest hour of their discipleships, for sure, but in that God creates a plan to sculpt their salvation, through the office of His blameless servant Job, we must be acutely mindful of what we are seeing. We’re witnessing our stumbling brothers guided by the eternally gentle hand of the Father toward the very salvation they nearly, in their proud folly, abandoned. In short: we see ourselves! Maybe that allows us to humanize these three accusers somewhat.
Eliphaz the Temanite seems the kindest of the three speakers. I also see Eliphaz as the wisest of the three speakers, and the one who is acknowledged as wisest amongst them. But, from reading the declining progression of his manner, I speculate Eliphaz has grown accustomed to his reputation for sagacity and wisdom. He is, I theorize, familiar with praise and honor as a recognized elder. He is used to his advice being followed and his commentary being applauded; and this forms a danger for him. When he is not lauded by Job, as customarily occurs, but instead his reasoning is contradicted and criticized, his genteel manner disintegrates.
I sense that Bildad the Shuhite is not as well-educated as Eliphaz. With less acumen to fall back on in debate, therefore, Bildad may feel a little intellectually insecure and so, when he sees that his compatriots’ arguments are not convincing Job, or perhaps fears that Job’s rebuttals make good sense, he seems to lash out a little. Again, Bildad is not irrevocably wicked. But the relatively minor flaws of insisting on being seen as correct, combined with having insufficient mental resources to achieve that lofty goal, can have devastating consequences on both Bildad’s own discipleship and his ability to be a strength and comfort to his fellows.
Zophar the Naamathite seems to be the youngest of the three friends. I postulate this from his style of speech, from the fact he speaks last and from the rather more obvious flaws in his reasoning. Of the three friends, Zophar is the one who doesn’t show Job any apparent kindness — notwithstanding his commendable participation in the seven-day silent vigil. Zophar’s arguments, the least well constructed, begin immediately on the offensive. It’s even possible Zophar is sensing an opportunity for social advancement because of the presence of the renowned elder Eliphaz the Temanite; perhaps in his presence Zophar is keen to speak in a way he envisages as forthright and powerful.
All this makes Zophar a particularly easy target for our criticism. But again, it would prove a grave error for us to lambast this man. Zophar the Naamathite is not unrepentantly dedicated to wickedness, as Cain, or Jezebel. Nor is he a man whose failings are known to have led to oblivion, as Judas Iscariot. Zophar is a man for whom God has a plan of salvation — indeed we are reading about it in this very book! So, while Zophar may be one of the least impressive disciples we see in the scriptures, we should take care not to scorn and reject him. Ironically, to do so, to show a lack of sympathy with a brother we believe to have morally erred, would be to repeat the very error we will see him make with Job! Jesus reminds us of the great love the Father has for even those parts of His creation which seem insignificant:
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
Even the sparrows, whom Jesus states are worth much less than a human life, are all remembered and provided for by the loving care of our Father. This is especially striking when we realize the Hebrew for “sparrow” is “zophar.”4
In contrast to the above three stands the man Job. Faith is the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1), and could this principle be portrayed any clearer than in God’s faithful servant Job? Everything appearing before Job’s eyes, every event that has recently impacted his life, provides all the evidence he needs to conclude that God is either non-existent, indifferent, or cruel; the very conclusion reached by a host of expositors. Yet Job perseveres. He believes.
What is so compelling about the character of Job, what is such an inspiration for any disciple, is the nature of redemption Job earnestly desires from his critical condition. His condition is obviously dire; his desire for restoration keen indeed. But what is striking is the nature of the restoration he seeks.
“I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes — I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)
He yearns to be reunited with his God! That’s what he misses most.
I had the privilege to be in South Africa at the beginning of 2008, as the brethren launched efforts to redress the loss of members sustained from emigration in 1995, when the country’s economy and security was destabilized by the (otherwise much welcomed) dissolution of the apartheid regime. Brethren began reaching out into the formerly segregated townships, and at one point I found myself happily engaged with a prayer group with about 20 children aged between eight and fifteen, in the massive Umlazi township in south Durban. Though these Zulu children were not suffering as badly as Job, they certainly did not enjoy the life of relative luxury experienced by Western children — or even children (of necessarily different ethnicity) living just outside the township’s boundary. I saw nothing in the way of toys or possessions; even the church was only a slab of concrete under a canvas tent, with a ramshackle trailer alongside. I asked each child to choose one thing for which he or she would pray. One child said: “no more death,” one said: “that my friend can walk with his legs.” Several said: “a large family.” This was culturally strange to me; my instincts would have prompted me to conserve my number of dependents in their circumstances; but I learned dependents in that environment are potential sources of status and income, even defense. Some children said: “a home”: a chilling reminder of the lack of even basic stability many of these young ones coped with daily. One boy wanted “lots of money,” causing me to smile at his honesty. The very next child, perhaps thus prompted, said: “lots of fast cars,” another: “to be able to fly,” another: “to be the best soccer player.” The last child to speak said, in a startling facsimile of Job’s own desire: “Every man should be with his God.” I was caught completely unprepared for this response (“gobsmacked,” the irreplaceable British idiom), only recovering enough poise to commend the spiritual excellence of his comment. He was just ten years old.
So it is with Job. His disastrous physical condition is not his primary concern. He wants his God.
1. D. Atkinson, “The Message of Job,” 1991, Inter-Varsity Press,Leicester,UK, 41
2. R. Gordis, “The Temptation of Job- Tradition versus Experience in Religion,” 1955, in N. N. Glatzer, Ibid, 77
3. L. G. Sargent, “Ecclesiastes and Other Studies,” 1965, The Christadelphian,Birmingham,UK, 107
4. To be precise, the words “zophar” and “sparrow” are cousins. The primary Hebrew root “zaphar,” (J. Strong, “A Concise Dictionary of the words in the Hebrew Bible,” in “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance,” 1997, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 101) means “hopping about, departing early” and leads to the derivations: “zophar,” translated “departing early” (Ibid, 99) and “zippor,” translated “sparrow” (Ibid, 101).