“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same. —Job 4:7-8 ESV
Having heard of the disaster that had befallen their friend, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar set out from their homes to comfort their friend. Between the time Job lost everything and the time his three friends arrive, Job’s emotional state deteriorated greatly. He has reached the point where he curses the day of his own birth. In the lament of Job 3, Job repeatedly asks the question “why did all of these horrible things come to pass?” Yet, the trigger which sets Job off is the arrival of his three friends, who, out of their deep respect for Job, sat silently with him throughout a week of mourning. Knowing that his friends must be thinking that he must have committed some secret sin which brought about God’s judgment, Job knows that he has done nothing wrong. This is why Job’s inner turmoil is so great and the story so compelling.
As we turn to the dialogue which follows, we need to be aware that Job’s suffering is viewed from two completely different perspectives. From the fact of his suffering, Job’s friends all infer that Job has committed some great sin. In this, they are completely orthodox in their theology. They know that God is holy and must punish sin. In their minds, Job’s ordeal is evidence that Job is being punished. The conclusion is obvious. Job has sinned. But from Job’s perspective the issue is completely different. Since Job is innocent–despite the opinion of his friends–the fact that he is suffering calls into question God’s justice. How can God be just if he’s punishing the innocent? This dilemma explains why Job is not focused on the loss of his possessions and family, nearly as much as he is focused upon the loss of his relationship with God. How can God treat Job like an enemy when Job has done nothing wrong? Job’s lament (Job 3) ends the silence of the period of mourning and provokes the three cycles of speeches from his three friends, to which Job responds. The three opening speeches (cycle one) are the longest and most carefully reasoned. The second cycle of speeches in Job 15-21 are somewhat shorter, while the third cycle of speeches in Job 22-26 are the shortest and most intense. As the debates and speeches become more heated, the four men seem to run out of steam. The dialogue begins with Job’s three friends offering him pastoral advice, but the speeches quickly take on the air of a courtroom drama, as though Job were on trial and his friends take on the role of a council of elders who pass judgment on Job. Job refuses to agree with their verdict. Yet his friends will not budge from their view that God is holy and must punish all sin. Therefore, Job’s plight is indicative that he has sinned.