Friday, April 22, 2011

Introduction to Job's Friends

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

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 what 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 obligated 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 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. He appeals to experience ( I have learned… I have observed… I have seen… and then to mystical visions… “a word was secretly brought to me… can a man be more righteous than God?” “Happy is the man whom God disciplines” was Job happy? If you repent and return to the Almighty you will be restored… but Job had not done anything wrong

Bildad the Shuhite – name means “son of contention” or “son of shouting” - 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. Evokes human tradition and philosophy; “Inquire of past generations… Look at how things have always been… “Does God pervert justice?” Rhetorical questions don’t always get the answers we are looking for… Job might have answered him “yes, God IS perverting justice.”

Zophar the Naamanite – name means “hairy” or “expanse” or “pleasant abode” - descendant (or follower) of Naaman, probably also from the deserts of Arabia. Promoted Human Merit and Moral Law… Legalistic pronouncements… recites the fate of the wicked; focuses on rebuking Job for his words instead of understanding the pain behind them, so he generalizes and condemns

The 3 Cycle of Speeches
Cycle 1 – Job 3 / Eliphaz 4-5 / Job 6-7 / Bildad 8 / Job 9-10 / Zophar 11
Cycle 2 – Job 12-14 / Eliphaz 15 / Job 16-17 / Bildad 18 / Job 19 / Zophar 20
Cycle 3 – Job 21 / Eliphaz 22 / Job 23-24 / Bildad 25 / Job 26-27
Poem about Wisdom – 28 / Job 29-31
Elihu – 32-37
God 38-41 – Three Rounds of Speeches

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