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Job's Friends' Error

The Book of Job

Oct 3, 2021

by: Jack Lash Series: The Book of Job | Category: Suffering | Scripture: Job 20:4–20:11, Job 42:7–42:9

I. Introduction
A. Review
1. Job us righteous and rich.
2. Then one day God boasted to Satan about Job. But Satan claimed that Job was only worshiping God because God was sheltering him troubles. So, God gave Satan permission to bring about severe calamities upon Job. His children were all killed, his wealth was lost, he was struck with painful sores all over his body.
3. But the last wave of Job’s suffering came through his three friends, who visited him to comfort him but ended up confronting him and criticizing him and even castigating him.
4. They did this because of an erroneous assumption they made as to the reason behind Job’s sufferings. Even though they had never seen Job act wickedly, nor heard any report of sun, they concluded that because he was suffering so intensely and for such an extended time, he must have acted wickedly.
B. Job 20:4–11 gives us a glimpse of their reasoning with Job:
1. “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, 5 that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment? 6 Though his height mount up to the heavens, and his head reach to the clouds, 7 he will perish forever like his own dung. Those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’ 8 He will fly away like a dream and not be found; he will be chased away like a vision of the night. 9 The eye that saw him will see him no more, nor will his place any more behold him. 10 His children will seek the favor of the poor, and his hands will give back his wealth. 11 His bones are full of his youthful vigor, but it will lie down with him in the dust.”
2. Here Zophar is saying that what has happened to Job is the kind of thing which happens to wicked, godless people. They may look high and lifted up for a little while, but they then come crashing down and become like nothing. They will be so low that their children will look up to the poor to ask for help.
C. Job, of course, disputed their insinuations that he was godless and wicked. And we know he was right because at the end of the story God vindicated Job and rebuked his three friends.
1. Job 42:7–9 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer (in 1-6).
D. Some people defend Job’s friends, saying that they had no way of knowing that even a righteous person could possibly suffer. But the fact is, God doesn’t just correct their theology, He is angry with the men:
1. Job 42:7 “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right.”
2. You see, even if they didn’t know, they acted like they did know. If they were ignorant, they sure didn’t act ignorant.
E. Seventeen chapters of the Bible are filled with the arguments of Job’s friends.
1. This is such a strange portion of Scripture. Because God chides them at the end for the things they’ve said to Job, we can’t have confidence in what they say, even though so much of it sounds very good – though misapplied to Job.
2. But many sermons have been preached on the passages where Job’s three friends are arguing against Job, sermons which begin with a qualification that these arguments were wrongly used against Job, but that doesn’t mean they are not true. And that is correct. But it also doesn’t mean that they ARE true.
3. I’ve never felt right about preaching a sermon like that— even though many of the things they say sound true to me— because I don’t have the confidence that what they said was inspired by God.
4. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps.14:1; 53:1)
II. This morning we are focusing on the theological error behind the friends’ false accusations.
A. Job’s friends basically claimed that affliction is the consequence and evidence of sin, while the righteous person always prospers: “If you just delight in the Lord and lift up your face to Him, then you will pray and He will hear you. You will decide on something, and it will be done for you.” (Job 22:26-27)
1. It’s sort of a form of superstition. You can control your world by doing certain things. Do this and that will happen. Live right and succeed; live wrong and fail.
2. Job 8:20 “Behold, God will not reject a blameless man, nor take the hand of evildoers.”
3. Job 8:6 “If you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.”
4. So, for them the devout soul is exempt from calamities which assail those around it, and therefore afflictions were proof that a person has been living a life of wickedness and godlessness.
5. Occasionally an entire book of the Bible is devoted to making one point very clear. Thus it is with Job. The idea that godliness will inevitably lead to earthly success is smashed to smithereens. The lie that more suffering implies more sin, the story of Job blows out of the water once and for all.
6. And so this is how they accused Job.
a. And when the facts didn’t fit with the theory, the facts were adjusted to make them fit.
b. Here is a man God Himself calls righteous, one how feared God and turned away from evil. And yet these friends, supposedly good and wise men, older men with much experience, who had personally known Job for years, not only began to suspect him, but accused him of the lowest forms of evil behavior – all in the absence of even one shred of factual evidence! And yet they embrace this conviction as if it was an undeniable fact.
c. “Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. Hear, and know it for your good.” Job 5:27
d. In other words, trust us. we know what we’re talking about.
7. The speech ends with this arrogant exhortation to the poor, tortured Job.
8. We wise men pledge our wisdom and our reputation that this is true.
9. When will well-meaning comforters learn not to rub salt into wounds while they seem to be dressing them?
10. And they urged him to change his ways, and assured him that if he did, his suffering would end.“If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. 15 Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear. 16 You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. 17 And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. – Job 11:14–17
B. But they were wrong. The righteous are not exempt from the curse.
C. Of course, there are certainly ways in which righteous living tends to increase earthly blessedness.
1. You have a God who is watching over you, providing for your needs.
2. You love your neighbor. You do good to others.
3. You are honest, hard-working, responsible.
D. But there are many righteous, loving, good, honest, hard-working, responsible people who suffer hardship because of persecution, sickness, natural disaster, or other reasons.
III. Application of theological error
A. So, it is wrong that earthly suffering is meted out according to the level of one’s sin. It is wrong to always think of a person’s sin as an adequate explanation of their suffering.
B. This is so important for us to understand – for a number of different reasons.
1. It disrupts the human tendency to be good merely so that things will go well for us.
a. You hear so many people complaining that they lived right and yet God allowed catastrophe.
b. The only reason people feel cheated in that circumstance is if they believed like Job’s friends: If you’re good, God will reward you and protect you; if you’re bad, God will bring hardship.
c. The idea that Christianity is a way to a life of earthly blessedness is a very popular and compelling concept for many. When someone gets blessed in some remarkable way, people often say, “He must be living right!”
d. Many Christians all over the world have swallowed this lie: “God wants you rich/healthy/ successful. And if you just have enough faith, all these will be yours. If you weren’t healed, it must be because you don’t have enough faith.”
e. Some even disagree with this interpretation of Job. They point to Job 3:25, which says, “The thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.”
f. You see, they say, Job wasn’t so righteous after all: he didn’t really trust the Lord; he entertained fears. He experienced all that suffering because he wasn’t righteous enough. Don’t ask me how they interpret God’s anger toward the three friends who told Job this same kind of thing.
g. Think about if these things were predictable. What would it be like if people got blessed in earthly ways consistent with their level of righteousness? Everybody would be trying so hard to be righteous, not because they actually love God, but because they are trying to posture themselves to receive earthly blessings. But God wants us to love Him because He is so loveable, not because He is our sugar-daddy.
h. As with almost all churches, we have had a number of people in our church over the years be diagnosed with some kind of terminal illness. And some of their Christian acquaintances bring them to a “healer” who prays for them and announces that they have been healed. But as it becomes evident that the disease is still there, there is often a crisis of faith – because they put their hope in their expectation of what God would do, instead of putting their hope in God Himself.
i. The fact is, much as we’d like to, we have no way to control what happens in life. God is in control and He will not relinquish that control no matter what we do. God is not controllable or even predictable. God is God and we are not.
j. The fact is, faith provides no umbrella to keep the rain off us.
k. But, faith does help us accept the fact that rain is for our good.
(1) Faith does help us accept the fact that the world is being controlled by a good and all-wise God who cares deeply about the welfare of His people.
(a) ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ (Rom.8:28)
(b) All things serve the one who serves God. All things are ours, if we are Christ’s.
(2) Faith does help us see that true happiness is not based on circumstances. True happiness doesn’t go away when troubles come, and true happiness isn’t established when things go well.
(a) Oh, tis not in grief to harm me While Thy love is left to me;
(b) Oh, t’were not in joy to charm me Were that joy unmixed with Thee
(3) As WCF XX:1 says, we’ve been liberated not from afflictions, but from the evil of afflictions.
(4) If by faith we understand what we’re here for, we’ll be very slow to call affliction evil, or success necessarily good.
2. This truth keeps us from pursuing God merely for earthly reasons, for He may well give us little with regard to earthly pleasures.
a. We’ve got to be willing to follow Jesus even if it brings an avalanche of difficulties into our lives. It’s not about ease! It’s not about success! It’s not about creature comforts!
b. God is not a big vending machine who provides us with the food we want. Rather, God is Himself the food in the vending machine. Ultimately, He is the thing we want.
c. The big question each of us has to face is this: Is God for me the One who gives me treasure, or is God the One who is my Treasure?
d. God does provide us with many good things to enjoy (1Tim.6:17). But there is a tricky relationship between enjoying God’s gifts and enjoying God Himself. It’s so easy for us to worship the created things instead of worshiping the Creator (Rom.1:25).
e. This was Satan’s whole claim regarding Job. “He only serves You because You bless him.”
f. And that fact is, there are many who serve God as long as He blesses them. But that’s not true faith, is it? True faith trusts God even in the storms, even in the famines, even in the dark nights of the soul. That’s what the story of Job is all about.
C. The idea that there is a direct correlation between sin and suffering may seem like a subtle error, but there is an enormous amount of damage which is done by those who teach what these three friends of Job taught.
1. As is often the case, theological error harms people because it spreads lies about God.
a. That’s why theology must be done with care. It cannot be based on what a person thinks is a brilliant idea. It cannot be based on intuition. It cannot be based on what is popular.
b. Presumption is a destructive force. The funny thing is how they clearly smelled arrogance on Job’s breath, but they completely missed the arrogance on their own breath.
c. In so doing, they inadvertently became Satan’s accomplices in this great drama.
2. How does this error cause damage?
a. It produces false guilt. People who haven’t done anything wrong think God is punishing them for something.
b. It misleads people into thinking that the earthly things are the things which are really important.
c. It ruins the good witness of righteous people by falsely assuming their wickedness.
d. But worst of all, it makes nonsense of the cross.
(1) At the cross, God turns the expected economic effects on their heads. He uses what the Chronicles of Narnia calls, The Deeper Magic.
(2) Suffering becomes His weapon of triumph. Defeat becomes His tool of victory. Failure is the way in which Jesus succeeds. Death is His path to life.
(3) And through the cross, God indicates the manner in which He will bring us to life & victory & success. It is through suffering; it is through failure; it is through defeat; it is through death.
(4) The role of suffering is very clear in the NT. But there is plenty in the OT which points us in the same direction, beginning with the book of Job.
D. The book of Job challenges us to transition from childish faith to mature faith.
1. Childish faith has easy answers as to why things happen. Childish faith allows no reason to be sad.
2. But it’s a lot more complicated than that, isn’t it? The Bible is full of the raw emotion of the struggle of faith. There is such a thing as a blue believer.
a. That was Job. And there was nothing wrong with Job being blue.
b. If Job went through what he went through without being blue, then we would have to conclude that Job was not an emotionally health person.
3. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
a. This may sound like childish faith.
b. But mature faith knows that God’s rewards are not primarily earthly.
c. And mature faith knows that God’s presence with His children in the midst of their trouble is one of the greatest earthly rewards which can be received.
IV. My friends, we must be careful about doing theology.
A. By their theological error, the friends of Job inadvertently became Satan’s accomplices. And so might we, if we’re not careful.
B. In my work in presbytery, I have seen many church conflicts, where both sides feel like the people on the other side are the accomplices of Satan, when it seems obvious to those who come objectively from the outside that both sides are.