Miserable Comforters

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Job

Job 15-17, “Miserable Comforters”

When we think of Job, we often (rightly) think that we’d never want to be in the same spot – he faced a truly terrible & terrifying situation.  All of his family has been killed, all of his wealth has been taken, and all of his health is gone (save, his life).  Obviously no one would want to fill those shoes!  Though to a far lesser extent, at the same time his friends are also in an unenviable position.  Job is looking to them to provide answers to questions that simply cannot be answered.  Obviously they don’t handle things well as they turn to half-truths & trite answers for the questions they actually think they can address & they turn to utter sarcasm regarding the things they know nothing about.  Even so – what SHOULD they have said?  They weren’t exactly in a good spot, either.

Sometimes we don’t know what to say to someone who is in obvious spiritual agony…sometimes we’re not sure how to respond to someone in deep emotional pain.  Job’s friends obviously didn’t know how to respond rightly – and thus they serve as a great object lesson of what NOT to do & NOT to say.  Job properly labeled them as “miserable comforters,” and it’s an exhortation to the rest of us not to fall into the same category.  We’re not supposed to be miserable comforters – we’re supposed to be the hands & feet of Jesus!  We’re supposed to be the ambassadors of Christ & ministers of reconciliation.

So how do we do it? How do we end up being loving comforters instead of miserable ones?  What Job needed was someone to show compassion to him & to pray for/with him by going to the True Comforter of Jesus Christ on his behalf.  As it is, Job is left to fend for himself – and ends up falling further into despondency as a result.  What not to do?  Look at Eliphaz…

Job 15 (NKJV)
1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:  2 “Should a wise man answer with empty knowledge, And fill himself with the east wind? 3 Should he reason with unprofitable talk, Or by speeches with which he can do no good?

  1. In essence, Eliphaz accuses Job of being stubborn.  Job had stuck to his claim that he had done nothing to deserve suffering & punishment – and none of his friends could agree with him.  Because Job didn’t give into their argument, Eliphaz accuses him of being unreasonable & unprofitable.
  2. If this seems familiar, it’s because Job’s last friend (Zophar) started out much the same way by basically saying Job was full of hot air.  He called Job “full of talk” & called his arguments “empty talk” (Job 11:2-3).  Suffice to say that this is not being very helpful.  When someone is pouring out their complaint unto God, the last thing we ought to tell them is that they’re just wasting their time & they really should just shut up & get over it all.  The apostle Paul describes true godly agape love as being “long-suffering & kind,” (1 Cor 13:4), yet the attitude displayed by Job’s friends is anything but that.

4 Yes, you cast off fear, And restrain prayer before God. 5 For your iniquity teaches your mouth, And you choose the tongue of the crafty. 6 Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; Yes, your own lips testify against you.

  1. In his last speech, Job appealed to God on a legal basis (Job 13) – with the thought of if he could at least appeal to God in court that Job would be able to prove his case.  (Bad theology in itself, but understandable due to the distress Job endured.)  Eliphaz turns the language around on him by saying that Job was his own worst witness.  If Job were to be placed under oath & put on the witness stand, he would be condemned by his own words because Job had claimed to be pure.
  2. What Eliphaz refused to realize is that Job was right!  Job HAD been pure & done nothing to deserve the suffering that he had received.  What seemed to be self-righteousness in Eliphaz’s hearing was actually the truth.  Granted, Job didn’t have the best ways of expressing himself in the midst of all of this – but his expression is understandable considering what he was enduring.

7 “Are you the first man who was born? Or were you made before the hills? 8 Have you heard the counsel of God? Do you limit wisdom to yourself? 9 What do you know that we do not know? What do you understand that is not in us? 10 Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us, Much older than your father. 11 Are the consolations of God too small for you, And the word spoken gently with you?

  1. At this point, Eliphaz just gets childish in his response & sarcasm.  Obviously Job was not the 1st person ever born…Job was not the sole possessor of wisdom.  Yet at the same time, Eliphaz & the others hadn’t exactly shown themselves to be full of wisdom either!  Beyond that, they sure didn’t speak “gently” with Job regarding the things of God.  On the contrary, they had been downright rude with Job & full of either half-truths or outright falsehoods regarding the character of God.
  2. With age often comes wisdom, but that’s not always the case.  David showed himself to be far wiser than Saul, even though Saul was many years his elder.  Peter & John showed themselves to be wiser than the Jerusalem Sanhedrin – and they were amazed to have been spoken to in the way they had by “unlearned men.” (Acts 4:13)  What makes a person wise is not their physical age, but their maturity in the things of God.  Sometimes that comes with grey hair; sometimes not.
  3. As an aside, if someone feels like he/she needs to brag about his wisdom, it probably means that he/she doesn’t have much.  True godly wisdom will be evident to those around us; it doesn’t have need of self-promotion.

12 Why does your heart carry you away, And what do your eyes wink at, 13 That you turn your spirit against God, And let such words go out of your mouth?

  1. Another false accusation.  Job had NOT turned away from God.  Granted, he was attempting to bring a defense before the Lord, but Job certainly didn’t turn away in rebellion.
  2. To bring a question to God is not the same thing as questioning God.  We can bring our doubts, confusions, and anger to Him without rebelling against God in sin.  The Psalms are very open with the emotions of the authors – we can feel just as free to be honest with God in our prayers.  Think of it: we’ve been given the spirit of adoption – we’ve been given the right to be called the children of God – we’ve been given access to come boldly to the throne of grace…we certainly don’t need to think we need to walk on eggshells in our prayers!  Sometimes people get the idea that unless their prayers are so eloquent & perfect (as if they could be written in a book for generations to come) that they don’t have the right to pray.  As if we need to use “King James” language or have every word come out of our mouth exactly correct – otherwise, we shouldn’t pray.  Not true!  God knows our heart – He knows our mind.  He knows what we mean to say when we pray, even if we ourselves don’t know how to express it!  For those who have trusted Christ as Savior & Lord, the Holy Spirit is our intercessor & the Lord Jesus is our mediator.  When we come to God humbly in faith through Jesus Christ, we can be sure that God isn’t going to be disappointed in us just because we said something the wrong way…  He certainly isn’t going to accuse of rebellion against Him when we have not rebelled.  God knows the difference!

14 “What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous? 15 If God puts no trust in His saints, And the heavens are not pure in His sight, 16 How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!

  1. On the face of it, this is true.  Man has inherited a sin nature from Adam & cannot be truly pure apart from Christ…
  2. BUT – this completely ignores Job’s situation.  What Eliphaz stated was theologically correct, but Job’s situation is a crucial context that cannot be ignored.  Job had never claimed to be sinless from birth; his whole claim (validated by God in Ch 1-2) is that he had lived his life in purity.  Job offered sacrifices when needed & loved & feared the Lord God.  He had done nothing to deserve the suffering he was enduring; yet that’s exactly Eliphaz’s implication.  Eliphaz was simultaneously correct & incorrect at the same time.
    1. We see a similar situation when the Pharisees attempted to trip Jesus up with the woman caught in adultery.  There was no question that she had broken the law of God; but they ignored the entire context of what was going on.  [BIBLE: John 8:1-11] Keep in mind that Jesus doesn’t ignore the woman’s sin; but He deals with the heart of the issue rather than just glossing over things in an attempt to prove a point.
    2. Be careful about prattling off a general theological truth while ignoring the personal situation. … We deal with people; not debates.

17 “I will tell you, hear me; What I have seen I will declare, 18 What wise men have told, Not hiding anything received from their fathers,

  1. Going to stick to his limited false theology.  Instead of truly seeking God in humility & truth, Eliphaz is just going to parrot back the answers that everyone had parroted to him over the years.  Because they were wrong, Eliphaz was going to be wrong.
  2. This isn’t to say that those who have gone before us have nothing to offer.  On the contrary; we have over 2000 years of Christian theology & answers as the people of God have sought God’s truth through the Scriptures.  To ignore our history is to do ourselves a disservice & basically claim that the Church didn’t really matter until we came along (which is rather egotistical, to say the least!).  BUT the writings & wisdom of man MUST be kept subservient to the writings & wisdom of God.  The Biblical writers were inspired by God to write what they did; the Church fathers & those who followed (including us) are not.  God’s word has the pre-eminency.

19 To whom alone the land was given, And no alien passed among them: 20 The wicked man writhes with pain all his days, And the number of years is hidden from the oppressor. 21 Dreadful sounds are in his ears; In prosperity the destroyer comes upon him. 22 He does not believe that he will return from darkness, For a sword is waiting for him. 23 He wanders about for bread, saying, ‘Where is it?’ He knows that a day of darkness is ready at his hand. 24 Trouble and anguish make him afraid; They overpower him, like a king ready for battle.

  1. All of this sounds good, but the plain fact is that it’s not always true.  Sometimes on earth we see immediate justice; other times we don’t.  Sometimes the wicked prosper – and it’s always been a confusing thing.  [BIBLE: Psalm 73]  God IS the Righteous Judge & His righteousness WILL be known by all the world.  But sometimes we need to wait until eternity to see the fullness of His justice.  In the meantime, it will seem as if sometimes the wicked prosper & the righteous suffer.  Indeed, there are many times the righteous of God DO suffer for no reason other than their righteousness in Christ – that’s the whole plight of the persecuted church!
  2. We need to broaden our theology beyond simplistic answers!  Eliphaz was basically accusing Job of sin simply because he could see no other reason for Job’s suffering.  In Eliphaz’s theology, that was the only option he had – thus Job had to have deserved his pain, no matter what Job’s arguments were to the contrary.  Instead of providing simplistic answers, Eliphaz would have done far better to simply seek God on Job’s behalf.  It’s ok to pray, “Lord, I don’t understand what’s going on, but I thank You that You do understand.  Help us!”  Praise God that we have a simple faith, but our God is anything but simple.  He is infinite & sometimes we need to acknowledge our own limitations when it comes to understanding Him.

25 For he stretches out his hand against God, And acts defiantly against the Almighty, 26 Running stubbornly against Him With his strong, embossed shield.

  1. This is actually a great description of what sin is.  Simply put (pun intended J), sin is rebellion.  The wicked person acts in defiance of God’s rightful rule in his/her life.  Anytime we worship something other than God – anytime we put ourselves on the throne rather than God – anytime we disregard what God wants for what we want – it’s sin.  It’s running stubbornly against the God who has the inherent right to rule & reign.  (Of course, this is the reason Jesus came to die on the cross!)

27 “Though he has covered his face with his fatness, And made his waist heavy with fat, 28 He dwells in desolate cities, In houses which no one inhabits, Which are destined to become ruins. 29 He will not be rich, Nor will his wealth continue, Nor will his possessions overspread the earth. 30 He will not depart from darkness; The flame will dry out his branches, And by the breath of His mouth he will go away.

  1. Again, Eliphaz gives a description of the wicked’s failure.  Even when it seems as if the wicked does well (“fatness”), he really isn’t.  His cities are desolate ruins.  And again, this just isn’t always true.  We can point to whole corporations, cities, and even countries in which men who hate God sit in power & enjoy wealth.  The justice that Eliphaz was looking for is an eternal justice; not a temporary one.  That kind of justice won’t be known upon the earth until the Millennial Kingdom of Christ when Jesus rules in righteousness from Jerusalem.

31 Let him not trust in futile things, deceiving himself, For futility will be his reward. 32 It will be accomplished before his time, And his branch will not be green. 33 He will shake off his unripe grape like a vine, And cast off his blossom like an olive tree. 34 For the company of hypocrites will be barren, And fire will consume the tents of bribery. 35 They conceive trouble and bring forth futility; Their womb prepares deceit.”

  1. Eternally speaking, this is absolutely true.  In this life, however, the best we can say is that this is proverbially true – this is what would be happens when justice is known.  Obviously, justice doesn’t always occur in every-day life.
  2. Keep in mind that beyond a general philosophical discussion, Eliphaz is actually accusing Job of all of this wickedness.  In his mind, only the wicked suffer physically – and because Job is suffering more than anyone he’s ever known, he absolutely must be wicked in ways beyond Eliphaz has ever seen.  Job must be the deceitful one, etc.  What a terrible viewpoint for a supposed “friend” to have!  Eliphaz assumes the absolute worst of Job – which is the opposite of what love is supposed to do.  1 Corinthians 13:5–7, "(5) does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; (6) does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; (7) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." []  Eliphaz likely believed he was truly loving his friend by telling him the truth…yet Eliphaz wasn’t telling the truth at all & he certainly wasn’t loving in the way he went about it.  When Job most needed a friend, Eliphaz failed miserably.
    1. May we be quick to believe the best about other people!  When we’re forced to assume something, we ought to assume the best & not the worst of them…

Job 16 (NKJV)
1 Then Job answered and said: 2 “I have heard many such things; Miserable comforters are you all! 3 Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer?

  1. Job responds to all of their criticism of his “empty words” by saying their words were empty in themselves.  Their counsel were like “words of wind” that were useless to him in his situation.  The so-called “friends” were absolutely miserable comforters that ended up making things worse for Job, rather than better.  Instead of providing emotional balm & compassionate prayers, they heaped criticism & false accusations upon him.  At this point, it would have been better if they had never come.
  2. May God help us from becoming miserable comforters!  This is absolutely the opposite of what we’ve been called to do as believers in Jesus Christ.  2 Corinthians 1:3–4, "(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, (4) who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." []  THAT is the ministry to which God has called us!  As brothers & sisters in Christ Jesus, we should be able to come alongside one another when someone is hurting & offer them the Balm of Gilead – Jesus Christ.  We had been comforted by Christ in our sorrow & sin, and we ought to extend that same comfort to others.
    1. That’s not to say that we turn a blind eye to sin, when sin exists.  Paul certainly didn’t!  (Especially with the Corinthians!)  Yet to read Paul’s letter, there’s no doubt of his deep concern & compassion for the churches & he always strove to take them back to the feet of Jesus Christ, who Himself is our Wonderful Counselor.  That’s the same attitude all of us should take.

4 I also could speak as you do, If your soul were in my soul’s place. I could heap up words against you, And shake my head at you; 5 But I would strengthen you with my mouth, And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.

  1. Basically saying that the friends’ counsel is awfully easy to give from the cheap seats.  They weren’t the ones suffering as Job was – they weren’t the ones in deep distress, wondering what had happened & wondering why God had allowed this to happen to him.  They had not walked a mile in Job’s sandals – which was demonstrated by their sheer lack of compassion for him.
  2. On the contrary, Job claims that he himself wouldn’t have acted that way.  He would have been one to strengthen his brother, rather than tear him down.  Of course, Job doesn’t really know how he would respond – but at the least, this was his desire.  What Job claims for himself ought to be our response to one another – we’re called to edify each other & build one another up in the faith (1 Ths 5:11).

6 “Though I speak, my grief is not relieved; And if I remain silent, how am I eased?

  1. Feels as if he’s in a no-win situation…

7 But now He has worn me out; You have made desolate all my company. 8 You have shriveled me up, And it is a witness against me; My leanness rises up against me And bears witness to my face.

  1. Turns his attention to the Lord.  As before, Job accuses God of his suffering.  Obviously Job doesn’t know what had happened back in Ch 1-2 & thus doesn’t understand the distinction between God allowing this suffering & God actually causing the suffering.
  2. Objection: “Is there really a difference?  After all, if God could stop the suffering at any moment, isn’t that basically the same thing as God making it all happen to Job?”  No – there’s a huge difference between allowance & causation.  God is not the author of evil – as the judge of all the earth, God will always do what is right.  The very reason evil exists at all in this world is due to the fact that Mankind sinned & creation fell with Adam.  God certainly did not cause evil to occur.  Yet the fall of creation does not mean that God is no longer sovereign.  He is still absolutely sovereign over all the universe – He’s just as omnipotent today as He was prior to Adam’s temptation in the Garden of Eden.  Because of Mankind’s sin, God allows evil to exist – but He did not cause it to exist in the 1st place.  Thus with Job, we have to remember that because evil is allowed to exist, Satan is temporarily allowed to have a limited amount of power in this world.  It was Satan that caused Job’s suffering; not God (this was made abundantly clear in Ch 1-2).
    1. That all said, God does have the perfect answer to evil & suffering in the world: the cross & resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The 1st Adam brought sin & death into the world; the last Adam brings forgiveness & life to those who trust Him.  God didn’t cause our mess, but He certainly has the solution – which He had planned from before the foundations of the world!

9 He tears me in His wrath, and hates me; He gnashes at me with His teeth; My adversary sharpens His gaze on me. 10 They gape at me with their mouth, They strike me reproachfully on the cheek, They gather together against me. 11 God has delivered me to the ungodly, And turned me over to the hands of the wicked.

  1. Obviously God did not “tear” at Job in wrath, although it surely felt that way.  Job felt attacked by God & he felt attached by his friends.  As if God had delivered him to his adversaries to be mocked & shamed.

12 I was at ease, but He has shattered me; He also has taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces; He has set me up for His target, 13 His archers surround me. He pierces my heart and does not pity; He pours out my gall on the ground. 14 He breaks me with wound upon wound; He runs at me like a warrior.

  1. Again, these are simply the honest feelings of Job.  He is not being theologically accurate here, but it’s an accurate recording of how he felt.  He felt that God was warring against him unrelentingly & the attack was absolutely unstoppable.  Granted, if God DID war against Job, how could Job possibly stand against Him?  We’re talking about Almighty God here…  But God was not attacking Job; God loved Job.  Job understandably had a rough time knowing this.

15 “I have sewn sackcloth over my skin, And laid my head in the dust. 16 My face is flushed from weeping, And on my eyelids is the shadow of death;

  1. Job’s sorrow.  If few of us can relate to the physical suffering, many of us can relate to his emotional suffering.  There are times it feels as if the only reason we’ve stopped weeping is because we’re dehydrated.
  2. Christians always have a reason to rejoice in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that our days will always be filled with happiness.  There are times in each of our lives that we weep & sorrow.  That’s ok & normal.  The proper response from other believers is not condemnation (“Why don’t you have the joy of the Lord, brother?!”), but rather to weep with those who weep & to offer the comfort of Christ.

17 Although no violence is in my hands, And my prayer is pure.

  1. Again, Job reiterates his claim to purity – and it’s true.

18 “O earth, do not cover my blood, And let my cry have no resting place! 19 Surely even now my witness is in heaven, And my evidence is on high. 20 My friends scorn me; My eyes pour out tears to God.

  1. Job’s crying out for justice here – ironically so against God.  God would be the 1st to agree with Job as a witness, only Job doesn’t know it. 
  2. Interestingly enough, Job makes the same error against God as his friends did against him.  Instead of assuming the best of God, Job assumed the worst – thinking that he needed justice against God, rather than justice from God (who alone is just).  His confusion is understandable, but his theology is still incorrect here.

21 Oh, that one might plead for a man with God, As a man pleads for his neighbor! 22 For when a few years are finished, I shall go the way of no return.

  1. Ultimately, what is Job looking for?  An intercessor – an advocate.  He needs someone to plead his case before Almighty God.  That’s exactly what we have in Jesus Christ!  Jesus is our Mediator (1 Tim 2:5); when we sin, Jesus is our Advocate (1 Jn 2:21).  We have a High Priest we can seek counsel of – we have a Friend to whom we can turn for comfort.  Whom Job longs for is found in the person of Christ.
  2. Are you turning to Him?  Or do you seek some other way to interact with God?  Even Christians can fall into the trap of thinking that we need to interact with God apart from Jesus.  We think that it’s our own efforts – or our giving – or our legalism – or our spiritual giftings…it’s none of those things!  Some of those things are important (not legalism); but none of them give us access to God.  That alone comes through the grace of Jesus Christ!  We are just as dependent upon the grace of Jesus as believers, as we were the moment we were first born again!

Job 17 (NKJV)
1 “My spirit is broken, My days are extinguished, The grave is ready for me. 2 Are not mockers with me? And does not my eye dwell on their provocation? 3 “Now put down a pledge for me with Yourself. Who is he who will shake hands with me?

  1. This is the extent of Job’s depression & sorrow.  He’s just ready for the grave & has a broken spirit at this point.  He’s all but given up.  He feels utterly alone without an intercessor & without even a friend.  The only people who are around him mock him & his pain & blame him for what he’s enduring.

4 For You have hidden their heart from understanding; Therefore You will not exalt them. 5 He who speaks flattery to his friends, Even the eyes of his children will fail.

  1. Acknowledges that God knows better than his friends.  They didn’t understand – their wisdom won’t be exalted by God.

6 “But He has made me a byword of the people, And I have become one in whose face men spit. 7 My eye has also grown dim because of sorrow, And all my members are like shadows.

  1. The extent to which he feels cursed.  He used to be respected by the community; now he’s ridiculed & reviled by them.  He’s wasted away to almost nothing physically and emotionally.
  2. Notice that in all of this, he’s sharing in the sufferings of Jesus – even though the incarnation won’t yet occur for centuries.  Jesus was reviled & rejected by the Jews – He was spat upon – He was beaten & tortured in His members.  Jesus can identify with us in our suffering because He IS the Suffering Servant.  He took our sin upon Himself & suffered the wrath of God in our place.  Obviously that doesn’t mean that we will be forever free of suffering – we share in the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ & in the process that’s how we learn more of Christ & the power of His resurrection (Phil 3:10).  Job doesn’t yet realize this – but ultimately it’s still true.

8 Upright men are astonished at this, And the innocent stirs himself up against the hypocrite. 9 Yet the righteous will hold to his way, And he who has clean hands will be stronger and stronger.

  1. Maintaining his innocence.  The friends are the hypocrites, but Job will be proven right.  He’s mostly hopeless, but he trusts that at some point, he will be made strong again.

10 “But please, come back again, all of you, For I shall not find one wise man among you.

  1. Can you hear the sarcasm?  They boast in their wisdom, but Job doesn’t find any wise men among the three of them.

11 My days are past, My purposes are broken off, Even the thoughts of my heart. 12 They change the night into day; ‘The light is near,’ they say, in the face of darkness. 13 If I wait for the grave as my house, If I make my bed in the darkness, 14 If I say to corruption, ‘You are my father,’ And to the worm, ‘You are my mother and my sister,’

  1. Waiting for death.

15 Where then is my hope? As for my hope, who can see it? 16 Will they go down to the gates of Sheol? Shall we have rest together in the dust?”

  1. Can no longer find hope in this life – the only hope he has is in death.
  2. We have hope in the One who died for us!

Conclusion:
Job is left in his depression & despondency (and will be so for quite a while).  His friends should have helped – but they didn’t.  They were miserable comforters, rubbing salt in open wounds & compounding the pain that Job was already enduring. 

Part of God’s commission to us is to bring the comfort of Christ to one another… If you are in need of comfort tonight – go to the foot of the Cross.  Jesus knows what it is like to suffer – He suffered for you.

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