The Sad Sage of Job’s Three Friends
The biblical story of Job is initially a difficult story to read because of the physical, emotional, and spiritual sufferings Job was destined by God to endure. Making his deplorable state more difficult were the friends of Job, who proved to be miserable comforters, all. The men who came to sit with Job in his hour of need, provide good examples of how not to be a miserable comforter.
The most attractive. A gentleman, sympathetic, and courteous. Totally orthodox. He had a profound realization of the sinfulness of man (note Job 4:12-21). Orthodoxy is a very precious thing until it becomes hard, cruel, and narrow. Orthodoxy can rob a soul of a continuous fellowship with the God of truth. It can also stop people from coming to the Lord in their hour of pain, if the only basis is a confession of sin—when there is no sin, as in the case of Job.
The most dogmatic of the three friends. Bildad is not as brutal as Zophar but he is the most pitiless. Bildad is the only one to refer to the fate of Job’s children (8:4). Bildad charges the dead children with unspecified sin, despite the fact that there is no objective evidence of wrongdoing. It was hard enough for Job to deal with the loss of his children. Now, he must endure someone slandering their memory. Bildad may have been a pillar of the Church and orthodoxy, but he is not the person to turn to in the hour of emotional need. The Church needs people of doctrinal purity, but also people of compassion.
Zophar is the most dangerous of the three friends because of the two weapons he uses with great skill to argue his case. His weapons of choice are anger and simplicity. Zophar has overheard Job stating his belief that God has not cast him off because of sin. Job longs for a days-man or an umpire to stand between him and God in order to argue his innocence and that enrages Zophar (Job 9:25-10:22). Zophar grows angry because Job has made the spiritual life complicated.
The Zophars of the Church always become angry when the simple gospel is proven to be not so simple. Even Peter said of Paul that he wrote things hard to understand. Perhaps you have met a Zophar. He is the person who says that Christians do not need to study. Christians do not need the wisdom of the ages. Christians do not need anyone or anything because the Bible and all of life is so simple. The Zophars of the Church are uneasy the moment intellectual discussion begins.
After considering the counsel of the three friends of Job, and what they were ultimately saying, is it any wonder that in the end, God was unhappy with those who had come to instruct His servant? They had come to give spiritual insight to Job, but really, they needed his prayers and intercession. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that we need friends who will not use orthodoxy to wound us more as Eliphaz did, who will not be pitiless as Bildad was, and who will not use anger and the disguise of simplicity to dismiss the very difficult situations of life, such as the mystery of suffering.
When you want to comfort someone, bring the oil of the balm of Gilead, and not the terror of the Law.
According to Hope Bolinger (Christianity.com), we encounter three instances of the balm of Gilead mentioned in the Bible.
Genesis 37:25 describes a caravan carrying balm on their way to Egypt,
As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
When Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 8, hears about how Babylon will lay siege to Israel, Jeremiah weeps and asks if there is a balm in Gilead.
Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? (Jeremiah 8:21-22).
In other words, he asks, “God, is there any way you can heal us?”
Once again, in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46:11), God tells the Israelites to get a balm in Gilead, because they have wounded themselves beyond repair. He does not literally mean get a physical balm to fix your problems. But they would have understood the imagery. No doubt, Gilead contained a balm of herbs and spices that served as a healing ointment.
When you want to comfort someone, keep in mind that Christian orthodoxy includes the balm of Gilead.
When you want to comfort someone, do not bring up the failures of others. The Bible says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is no reason to comment, or infer, what may, or may not be true, about the transgression others. It is good news the sick need, not speculative gossip, and mindless chatter.
When you want to comfort someone, put away the instruments of verbal cruelty, self-righteous anger, and simplicity. There are many reasons for pain and suffering in the plan of God. Only one reason is divine discipline.
The experiences of the Christian life are not simplistic, but complex in a fallen world.
The gospel is not as simple as an individual may think. Jesus said that salvation is rare and difficult (Matt. 7:14). Paul wrote of the wretched man he was as he struggled with sanctification (Rom. 7:24-25). Overcoming the fear of death is not easy (1 Cor. 15:55-57). In his 90’s evangelist Billy Graham confessed he was afraid of the dying process, and asked God to remove that fear. Avoid being a Zophar by being unwise.
When you want to comfort someone, do not add to their sorrows and sufferings by becoming a miserable comforter.