Troublesome Topic: Job’s Friends Did Not Understand the Nature of God

Contrary to popular opinion, the book of Job is not primarily about how Job endured suffering—that is a secondary theme. The true theme of Job is the nature of God. There are many similarities between what Job says and what his friends say in their discourses, other than the obvious “Your guilty,” “No I’m not,” “Yes, you are,” “No, I’m not.” The difference, which forms the real theme and real story of the book of Job, will amaze you.

What Was the Real Difference between Job and His Friends?

Some of what Job’s “friends” say in their discourses makes sense. But they are only partially right, and God tells them at the end that what they have spoken about Him is not right. A partial truth is still an untruth. In their speeches they revealed their worldview’s perspective about God, life and suffering. It is their view of God that is most skewed.

Today we also have many skewed ideas about God. Job’s friends were off base in their ideas about God, but our culture is even further from the truth.

His Friends Had a Skewed View of God

All of Job’s friends assumed suffering is a direct result of doing evil. To them it is simple and clear. Suffering this severely must be the result of terrible deeds.

Elihu sums up their philosophy well when he assumes God’s actions are directly caused by men’s actions, i.e. that God only responds to us, God’s actions are basically governed by our choices and actions; that God is not able, nor inclined, to give us mercy and grace we do not deserve. There is no room in this philosophy for a God that feels our pain, that hurts with us; only a God who sends pain as judgment. There was no room for a God who initiates actions toward us out of grace.

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When God rebuked Job’s friends, He did not even acknowledge the presence of Elihu, the youngest one who was more arrogant than the rest. He spoke to Eliphaz and his two friends. Eliphaz must have been the oldest one, for he was the first one to speak and he is the one God spoke to directly. YHVH said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger has become burning hot against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has”(42:7). In verse 8 He repeats the part, “you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has” (emphasis added). Job’s understanding of God was basically right. He understood God’s nature and how He acts. God is both a God of punishment and a God of mercy. Job perceived himself as righteous, which was not totally correct, but he was accepted by God because He had a relationship with God and lived out his convictions.

Job’s friends understood life as a game of survival which resulted in either reward or punishment. There was no room for true mercy.

Job’s friends did mention repentance for sin, but at the same time they didn’t seem to fully understand the loving, gracious and merciful nature of God. They thought God was not inclined to show unmerited mercy and grace.

In Job’s day everyone assumed there was a God and they also assumed there was punishment for evil and reward for righteous living. It is also obvious that they assumed the link between the deed and the punishment or reward was direct and usually immediate; nothing else could intervene (like grace).

In the story of Job, God was also showing His grace to Job. God was merciful to him even though Job did not totally deserve it. Job was not able to be righteous on his own. God could indeed find fault with Job, as He can with all of us. But God chose instead to focus on Job’s heart which was in a right relationship with the Creator.

He shows us grace and mercy all the time; but He does not make life easy for us. Therefore we interpret that lack of comfort as an absence of grace. What spoiled children we are! Our self-centeredness has caused us to miss the demonstrations of God’s grace.

Job was right, he was not being punished for doing evil. But neither was he perfectly pure before God. By letting this largely righteous man suffer for a while, rather than just killing him for the wrongs he had committed, God was showing mercy, not punishment.

In the midst of all that suffering, this is a book about Grace! Is God a gracious God, or not? That is the key question that this story addresses, and it answers it with an emphatic “Yes!” Even when it appears that He has turned His back on us, or that God is not so good after all, God remains full of grace; it is our perspective that needs to change.

We have totally missed this all along – this is a story of God’s grace, not just a story of a man’s suffering. God’s grace is the primary element that distinguishes what Job says from what his four friends say.

Now that I understand this, the book of Job reminds me of the parable of the lost son, we call him the “prodigal son.” The son did not deserve his father’s forgiveness and grace, yet his father was more than willing to extend such grace to him. The parable of the prodigal son is a perfect picture of the kind of gracious God we have, as is the story of Job.

It is only by God’s grace that we, like Job, are not totally consumed. And like Job and his friends, we all need to seek God.

The next lesson is: A Misunderstanding of Sin



Admittedly, Elihu says something in Job 33:29 that sounds like God shows mercy to the fictitious person in Elihu’s example. There is a dispute about how to translate the last phrase in this sentence; The KJV and some older versions render it as “it did not profit me,” while several of the newer versions render it something like, “I did not get what I deserved.” The verb is one that means “to make smooth or even,” by extension it means “to requit, to become equal.” The verb is a 3rd person singular, meaning that he (the fictitious person) is doing or receiving the action. This makes the rendering “I did not get what I deserve” (which is 1st person) a paraphrase, not a translation. I think the best translation is probably that of the ESV, “and it was not repaid to me (i.e. equal to what I had done.)” This makes it sound like Elihu is saying God showed mercy and did not give him what he “deserved” – which is the idea communicated in the paraphrases. The KJV and others that say “and it did not profit me,” are also a long reach for a translator because it is not a natural way to interpret the phrase. So in the end, it sounds like Elihu was trying to say that the person in question did not get the punishment he deserved. Did that mean Elihu agreed with the teaching of the Bible about God’s mercy? No, not fully. From everything Elihu says, it sounds like he was confused and contradicted himself. He said once that God did not punish as was deserved, but he said several times that God gives us only what we deserve. Therefore, only Job’s view of God’s mercy is consistent and correct, even though Job could not adequately explain why God does what He does.