Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Friends of Job

"Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures"
 --from the introduction to Job in "The Message" bible translation

Eliphaz the Temanite -  name probably means either "My God is Strength" or "God is fine gold" or some derivation of that; thought to be descended from Teman who was the son of Eliphaz who was the son of Esau. Since he spoke first, Eliphaz was probably the eldest and most noteworthy of the three.

Bildad the Shuhite - A descendant (or follower) of Shuah, son of Abraham and Keturah, whose family lived in the deserts of Arabia, possibly a member of a nomadic tribe dwelling in southeastern Palestine.

Zophar the Naamanite - descendant (or follower) of Naaman, probably also from the deserts of Arabia.

In the story of Job we are told of Job's three friends who hear of his trials and come to comfort him. "When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him."
We are not given any indication that their honest and sincere intention was anything but exactly that... to sympathize and comfort. As we know from the story, however, their good intentions quickly deteriorated when they began talking to Job, so much so that "Friend of Job" has become a catch-phrase for one who is a false friend or one who only pretends to want to help.

The friends sit with Job for seven days and nights without saying a word. It should be noted that a custom at the time was for mourners to say nothing until the one they were mourning with spoke. Then they were free to speak as well. Job's friends honored this custom and allowed Job time to grieve. When Job finally did speak, his words were not was his friends thought they should be. That's when the discussions started and quickly became arguments about who was right.

The three friends are generally thought to represent three approaches of reasoning, but all come from the basic premise of "Torah Obedience" which is the belief that "if I keep the Torah, God will bless me and, in fact, is obliged to do so to keep his covenant." This simple formula gave shape and meaning to Israel's religion for centuries and is, in fact, still operative today even, unfortunately, in many Christian denominations. Many believe the purpose of the story of Job was to burst that particular bubble and return the shroud of mystery in which God so rightfully dwells.

Eliphaz - Experience is the best teacher: "I have learned... I have observed... I have seen..."
Bildad - we must adhere to Tradition and History: "Inquire of past generations; look at how things have always been..."
Zophar - Torah is the Law; legalistic pronouncements: He focused on rebutting Job's words rather than the feelings behind them, causing him to generalize and condemn.

What the friends teach us
  • When you go to see a friend in distress, the ONLY thing you should do is express sympathy and show compassion.
  • Do NOT offer philosophical or theological reasons or explanations; instead, bite your tongue or LEAVE!
  • There is always more to the story than you are able to know.

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