Job and his Bible-Believing Friends

On another site someone was studying Job and had some understandable questions about Job and his “So-Called Friends.”

If you’re not familiar with the story of Job, it goes like this. Job is a godly man. Satan (one of the “sons of God”) has an audience with God, and says the only reason Job is faithful is because God has blessed him abundantly, and that if Job’s prosperous life were taken from him, he would turn away from God in a minute. God gives Satan permission to destroy Job’s life, and Satan takes his property and wealth, his children, and eventually his good health. Job is devastated, broken, covered with horrific boils. Then his friends come to sit with him in silence. After a week, Job speaks, complains, and his friends are disturbed by what he says. “Gee, Job, are you sure? You must have done something wrong.”

The first thing I would note is that Job’s companions really were his friends. They sat in total silence for an entire week, to keep him company in his mourning. They really did mourn for him and with him. There was nothing fake about their concern and compassion for their friend Job.

The second thing to notice about Job’s friends is that they truly believed the Bible. Everything they believed was based on scripture. God promised only blessings for the upright, and curses and calamities only for the wicked. Job must have done something wicked.

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction;
he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. (Deut 7:9-10)

Deuteronomy 28 is divided unevenly in half. The first 14 verses are filled with promises: “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.” But the last 53 verses is a long list of the curses and terrors that God will bring on the disobedient. In that chapter there are nearly 4x as many verses describing the calamity of the wicked. (Check it out here.)

The book of Proverbs echoes what is found in Deuteronomy.

Trouble pursues the sinner,
but the righteous are rewarded with good things. (Prov 13:21)

Whoever leads the upright along an evil path will fall into their own trap, but the blameless will receive a good inheritance. (Prov 28:10)

Eliphaz even refers back to the “good things” promised to the faithful:

Yet it was he who filled their houses with good things,
so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked. (Job 22:18)

So you see, Job’s friends were intelligent Bible-believers. They took the scripture seriously.

When experience (Job’s disasters) conflicted with what the Bible taught, they sided with the Bible. Job had to be wrong.

According to the Bible, God only brought the kinds of disastrous calamities that befell Job on people who were disobedient, hated God, were wicked sinners, and set evil plans for their neighbors. Job’s friends had two choices: believe Job, or believe the scripture.

So, his friends really were friends, it’s just that what was happening to Job contradicted their theology, it contradicted what the Bible taught them, and their theology was more important than the truth of what was happening to their friend. Job’s friends eventually turned on him with a vengeance, accusing him of all sorts of wickedness.

This is one reason why some anti-homosexual Christians get so angry. This is why some people get so upset if you talk about being gay and Christian, and they call the phrase “gay Christian” an oxymoron. Otherwise pleasant people can get really intense when you–just who you are–threatens their theology.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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7 Responses to Job and his Bible-Believing Friends

  1. macdoodle says:

    Some facts to consider:
    1. Bad things happen to good people.
    2. Fighting bad and powerful things or people can get you burned.
    3. Extremists of any religious or other belief system will pick and choose specific verse to support denial and bigotry and punishment and the word as control, as moderates choose verses which support the overall theme of goodness and cooperation and peaceful interactions.


    • Ron Goetz says:


      Re: #3: I believe it is a good thing, the breadth of perspectives in the Bible, the large number of competing, even contradictory, voices in scripture. Whether we’re facing a Hitler in our own country (Bonhoeffer) or the imperial British (Gandhi); whether we are part of an army invading the middle east (Moses), the king of a rich empire (Solomon), or a leader in an explosive and dangerous movement (Paul); “there is a time for every purpose under heaven.”

      If all we had were “cooperation verses,” then people who needed support for necessary dissent and conflict would have no place to turn. If all we had were “tear-it-down verses” then people who needed support for community-building wouldn’t have “a leg” to stand on.

      Extremists and moderates are all necessary, it just depends on what the time and place require, and whether or not you can find a place to be who you are.


  2. rjwalker says:

    Nice discussion of Job – most people stop at the “if you just stay faithful God will reward” idea from the opening and closing.

    What I find interesting about Job is, at the end, God stands up and tells Job and his friends “”even with all your scriptural learning, you really don’t know me.”

    That is a lesson I’d love to hear a preacher get into – “God tells us ‘don’t get too big fpr your theological britches, folks.”


  3. Ed Rogosky says:

    Once more, while I read and understand what you say, there is one vital part that Job’s friends and even Job are missing. This inclusion of the Book of Job into the canon of Scripture as Wisdom literature really deserves special notice.

    It is difficult to say that Job’s three friends really understand the Wisdom aspect of the book of Job. They do not know the back story, so to speak. Their ignorance betrays this, as they comment upon Job’s suffering, because without the knowledge of the back story, that God and Satan (acting as general prosecutor) are growing Job,by making him the subject of a growth opportunity..Their responses are based upon a cultural understanding (or perhaps I should say, a cultural misunderstanding) of Scripture and of God. Much as some conservative and liberal folks do today, Job’s friends look at Job’s suffering as something that will happen to another, while feeling safely superior, as they do what is “right”. The heart of the message is that they too are vulnerable. Sometimes bad things do happen to good people, merely because this is how life functions. However, the real question is do we need to continously see them as bad? Must we play the eternal victim?

    The most important message to me in the Book of Job is that nobody is ever truly alone. God is neither dead or mocked, but alive and well and walking aside the oppressed. Sometimes the opressed need to learn new ways of adaptng to their situation. This is not blaming the victim but really is a strengthening process. Basic questions that nag at all people can be answered in this intential process of growth: Am I of worth? Do I have value? Where is God in the midst of my distress? are all answered as faith is strengtened.

    Ed Rogosky


    • Ron Goetz says:

      I agree with you about this: “Job’s friends look at Job’s suffering as something that will happen to another, while feeling safely superior, as they do what is ‘right’.”

      The author of Job portrays God as capricious and uncaring, totally random. No one is safe. Because God has total confidence in Job’s uprightness, Satan is allowed to kill his seven sons and three daughters. Lose your ten kids because God trusts your character? It would not be unreasonable for readers to not want God to be proud of them. It’s not safe for God and heavenly beings to take notice of you.


  4. Sam Deetz says:

    I like it and posted it on my wall! Thanks again!


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