Job and his tale of woe have become synonymous with suffering. While the majority of the book that bears his name is a philosophical dialogue, the prologue relays how his vast holdings, children and good health are systematically eradicated (Job 1:1-2:13). When tragedy strikes one of their core group, Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, spring into action and plot to console their friend (Job 2:11).
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11 NASB)The friends opt to make the visit together; such awkward visits are always more pleasant when conducted in groups. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar assemble around Job in much the same way as God’s council gathers around Yahweh in the preceding chapter (Job 1:6).
The text does not indicate how the group learns of Job’s plight. The Targum relays that the friends are alerted by the sight of garden trees withering, meat regressing into raw meat while being eaten, and their wine transmuting to blood.
Unlike the four messengers who appear in hurried procession to inform Job of his catastrophic losses (Job 1:14, 16, 17, 18), Job’s friends’ trip is planned and lengthy (Job 2:11-13). As it took time for the news to reach them, they had to make long-distance arrangements to meet and then had to travel a considerable distance to reach Job’s side, it was possibly months between Job’s trials and his friends’ arrival.
Stephen M. Hooks (b. 1947) speculates:
The fact that these men met by appointment suggests that they know one another as well as Job. How they have learned of Job’s misfortune we are not told. News of Job must have spread far and wide. These developments imply the passing of some time, and information gleaned from the dialogues confirms this. In Job 7:3, for example, Job speaks of “months” of pain he has already endured. (Hooks, Job (College Press NIV Commentary), 79)Job’s friends will serve as major players for the remainder of the book. Aside from their names and places of residence, little is revealed about them.
Eliphaz (whose name means “God is fine gold” or “God conquers”) has been identified with Edom as both his name and nationality (Teman) appear in Edomite genealogies (Genesis 36:4, 15). Some have speculated that Eliphaz is the oldest of Job’s counselors as he is listed first (Job 2:11, 42:9), speaks first, gives longer and more mature speeches and perhaps most tellingly God addresses him as representative of the group (Job 42:7).
Of Job’s counselors’ hometowns, only Eliphaz’s can be definitively located. Teman was a principle sight in the northern region of Edom (Ezekiel 25:13; Genesis 36:34). The location was known for its wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7; Obadiah 1:8).
The name Bildad (possibly meaning “son of Hadad”) does not appear elsewhere in the Bible. Bildad is a Shuhite which some associate with Shuah, a son born to Abraham by Keturah (Genesis 25:2). Others connect Bildad’s region to Sūhu, a site referenced in Akkadian documents located on the Middle Euphrates River below the mouth of the Khabur River.
Zophar (“young bird”) hails from Naamah. Naamah is both the name of a female descendant of Cain (Genesis 4:22) and an Ammonite princess who marries Solomon (I Kings 14:21). A site known as ‘Ain Sopar on the road between Beiruit and Damascus has been identified as a possible location of Naamah.
While the geography involving Job’s friends cannot be pinpointed with any certainty, it can be determined that ,like Job himself, his friends live outside of Israel and they descend upon him from diverse places. Job has international connections.
Job’s friends are literally three wise men. All three are old (Job 32:6), possibly older than Job (Job 15:10) and presumably all are eastern patriarchs.
Samuel E. Balentine (b. 1950) comments:
Three “wise” friends journey toward Uz, where Job’s life had exemplified Edenic harmony. Now, “evil” (Job 2:11: rā‘āh, NRSV: “troubles”) has fallen upon this once paradisiacal world, and the one who had always “turned away from evil (rā‘; Job 1:8, 2:3) is “sitting among the ashes.” With such a scenario, the prologue suggests that a world like Job’s requires the best insights wisdom can offer. (Balentine, Job (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 66-67)The theology presented in Job will not come from anonymous voices; each of Job’s friends has a distinct personality. It has even been suggested that they represent varying strands of philosophy.
In addition to their social standing, these men are well intentioned friends (Job 2:11), not detached messengers (Job 1:14, 16, 17, 18). They have been described as comforters, companions, counselors and friends. The Hebrew rea’ is a very common word and in this context is universally translated “friends” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). James L. Crenshaw (b. 1934) defines, “The noun re‘a indicates an intimate, a companion from whom one accepts advice (Crenshaw, Reading Job: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 45).”
Norman C. Habel (b. 1932) analyzes:
These visitors have come to perform a traditional role of the friend in ancient society, namely, to “console” (nwd) and “comfort” (nhm). A “friend” (rēa‘) is characterized by deep loyalty and close bonds of faithfulness (hesed; cf. Proverbs 18:24; II Samuel 16:17)...It is precisely this loyalty which Job later accuses his friends of violating, thereby not fulfilling their true role as “friends”. (Habel , The Book of Job: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library), 97)John E. Hartley (b. 1940) expounds:
The term for friends has a wide range of meanings, including an intimate counselor (I Chronicles 27:33), a close friend (Deuteronomy 13:6), a party in a legal dispute (Exodus 22:9). Friends often solemnized their relationship with a covenant, promising to care for each other under all kinds of circumstances. The relationship between Job and his three friends gives every evidence of being based on a covenant (Job 6:14-15, 21-23, 27). Such a relationship was characterized by loyal love (hesed; e.g., Jonathan and David, I Samuel 20:14-15)...With the noblest intentions, these three earnestly desired to help Job bear his sorrow. (Hartley, The Book of Job (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 85)Their visit constitutes a grand gesture. Job’s companions take great efforts to see him and risk contagion and public censure to be with their friend in his time of need.
Mike Mason (b. 1952) observes:
What a blessing it would be to have just one friend like this in time of need—one friend who would drop everything at a moment’s notice, travel any distance, and stick by one’s bedside night and day for an entire week! Job, apparently, had not just one such friend-in-need, but three. Even in the Bible we do not often hear of people having this many close friends. One memorable exception is the paralytic of Mark 2:3-4, who had no less than four friends who loved him so much that they actually went to all the trouble and embarrassment of carrying him through a large crowd and then digging down through a roof in order to get him to Jesus. In the New Testament, understandably, heart-to-heart friendship becomes an increasingly common phenomenon, and the long genealogical lists of the Old Testament gradually give way to a very different sort of list, such as the one in the last chapter of Romans in which Paul gives us just a glimpse into the vast network of people who, far more than being mere friends, were his true family, his brothers and sisters in the Lord. These are blood ties indeed, for here the family tree is the cross. (Mason, The Gospel According to Job: An Honest Look at Pain and Doubt from the Life of One Who Lost Everything, 49)
What makes a person a friend? Who are your best friends? Who would travel to meet you during your darkest hour? When have friends come to your rescue during a time of need? When have you seen someone suffer? What did you do? Why do Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar visit Job? What can they possibly do to ameliorate Job’s situation?
Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s visit has a two-fold objective (Job 2:11). Gerald H. Wilson (1945-2005) appraises:
The purpose of the friends’ visit is to sympathize with him and comfort him. The Hebrew verb for “sympathize” is nud, which denotes shaking the head or body back and forth as an indication of taking on the pain or grief of another. The Hebrew for “comfort” is nkhm, which normally means (in the Piel stem as here) to comfort with words—in contrast to the silent waiting that ultimately characterizes the friends’ vigil. (Wilson, Job (New International Biblical Commentary), 33)Though they plan to bring words of comfort and have a long trip in which to gather their thoughts, when they arrive, they realize that they have no words for this occasion. Sometimes there is nothing that can be said. In these instances, silence is golden.
In a touching scene, Job’s friends bind themselves to Job even in his suffering. They simply sit with him, saying nothing, for an entire week (Job 2:13). James A. Wharton (b. 1927) analyzes:
Like God’s servant in Isaiah 52:14, Job is so ravaged by suffering that he is “marred...beyond human semblance,” so that his friends cannot recognize in him the Job they had known before. Rather than turning away from this horror, however, they join Job in the signs of ritual mourning (compare Job 1:20 and Job 2:12), indicating that Job’s distress is their distress, to be lamented before God. The high-water mark of their compassion comes during these seven days when they found grace just to be there with Job—and to keep their mouths shut, “for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Consoling words rarely improve on the silent comfort of a friend’s presence. (Wharton, Job (Westminster Bible Companion), 23)
Charles R. Swindoll (b. 1934) imagines:
As he sits there covered with skin ulcers that have begun erupting with pus, swelling his body with fever and giving him a maddening itch that will not cease, he looks up into the faces of three friends who arrive on the scene. They sit and stare at the man for seven days and nights without uttering a word. Just imagine. First, they don’t recognize him, which tells you something of the extent of his swelling and the sores that covered his body. The sight causes them to be at a loss for words for a full week. (Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance, 5)Beth Lueders (b. 1959) commends:
Now, that’s a ministry of presence and a ministry of waiting. These guys don’t check Job and themselves into a luxurious hotel room with a wide-screen TV. They don’t pull up overstuffed couches or recliners. They don’t hit the hot tub, shoot some hoops, or go off-roading in their souped up-chariots...The four men just hunkered down on the ground...in silence...for nearly 170 hours. (Sorry, gals, but I know of no woman who’d even attempt that!) And this no-talk gathering around Job is no feat to set a Guinness World Record or to win Survivor: The Land of Uz. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are three amigos who just want to comfort their hurting friend. (Lueders, Two Days Longer: Discovering More of God as You Wait For Him, 146)
Simply by their very presence Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar convey compassion and sympathy, enter into Job’s sorrow and demonstrate that they are in this together with him.
Despite being Gentiles, Job’s friends follow Jewish tradition. Harold S. Kushner (b. 1935) notes, “In accordance with the custom followed by observant Jews to this day, Job’s comforters sit quietly until Job breaks the silence in an outburst of pain and grief (Kushner, The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, 49).”
Sitting seven days in silence demonstrates true compassion. Unfortunately, in time, silence gives way to speech (Job 3:1) and a debate ensues. As soon as the friends speak, their sympathy is replaced by professional pride and the need to defend God (Job 13:8). Eliphaz (Job 4:1-5:27, 15:1-35, 22:1-30) and Bildad (Job 8:1-22, 18:1-21, 25:1:5) address Job three times each while Zophar speaks twice (Job 11:1-20, 20:1-29). They follow conventional wisdom, concluding that Job’s suffering must be the result of some deep rooted personal sin. In doing so they become disputants, each time confronting Job with the sin that they perceive he has committed.
Job’s own friends prove to be the biggest challenge the Accuser throws at him. Their arrival symbolizes bringing in the big guns. What could not have been predicted was who they would be firing upon.
Steven J. Lawson (b. 1951) determines:
Next came the greatest assault Satan would hurl at Job—the counsel that came from his friends. What the devil spoke through Job’s wife [Job 2:9], he would speak even more convincingly through his three friends. Satan’s lies can be spoken through another person, even from the lips of another believer (Matthew 16:22-23). (Lawson, Job (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 27)The fact that Job’s friends account for his greatest assault is evidence by the results. His companions do what the calamities could not: they break Job. Instead of friends, they function more as the requisite three witnesses needed to convict by Hebrew law (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; II Corinthians 13:1). Job will eventually question their friendship (Job 6:14) and God, when finally intervening, expresses divine displeasure with his “defenders” (Job 42:7). Throughout the dialogue, Job wants God to start talking (Job 13:22) and his friends to stop. Unfortunately for most of the book, he experiences just the opposite.
Even so, Job’s friends, at one time, model true friendship at its finest. Ewan R. Kelly reminds:
When Job’s friends were willing in the face of his suffering to be with him and say nothing, not offering him advice, sharing their worldview, not judging him or asking about his feelings, at this time they were truly his comforters. (Kelly, Marking Short Lives: Constructing and Sharing Rituals Following Pregnancy Loss, 87)This “ministry of presence” exhibited by Job’s friends is often what is most needed in crisis. Frank G. Honeycutt (b. 1957) advises:
Shared silence (see Job 2:13) is better than quick Hallmark-like pastoral sound bites. There will be times, says Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932), when we won’t feel like doing this ministry and even the church will lure clergy to mouth theological nonsense that goes down easily. However, pastors “are not the minister[s] of our changing desires, or our-time conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of word and sacrament so that you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.” (Honeycutt, The Truth Shall Make You Odd: Speaking with Pastoral Integrity in Awkward Situations, 98)Richard J. Foster (b. 1942) and Julia L. Roller (b. 1976) conclude:
Job has lost his children, all that he owns, and is now covered head to foot with “loathsome sores” (Job 2:7). The friends come to Job in his need. They weep with him and sit quietly with him. Their quiet ministry of presence speaks loudly to those who think that only words heal. (Foster and Roller, A Year with God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines, 322)What would you have said to Job? How would you characterize Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar? Do you think that Job still considered them friends at the end of his story? How could they have best achieved their goals of providing sympathy and comfort (Job 2:11)? When in your life has a true friend not acted like one? When have you thought you were acting for God when in reality you were aiding the opposition? Have you ever experienced the “ministry of presence”?
“It is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” - Mahatma Ganhdi (1869-1948)