Good Bottom-Line Advice from a Miserable Comforter

I think for many years, when I read Job, I didn’t really read, or at least try to listen too closely, to chapters 4 thru 37. Influenced by the big idea that Job’s friends were “miserable comforters,” while Job himself kept stepping over the line before God, I think I tended to mostly skim until the part where God gets in on the conversation — thinking that there wasn’t much to be learned from miserable comforters. But over recent years, I’ve slowed down, paid more attention. If for no other reason than to learn how to avoid giving miserable comfort.

And part of the deal with the counsel Job received from his friends is that, within some of their more insensitive or misinformed advice, there are nuggets of gold to be mined — gems of truth worth chewing on. Such is the case in Eliphaz’s lead-off discourse in Job 4.

Eliphaz is responding to Job’s opening lament cursing the day he was born, wishing he had either been stillborn or had died at birth rather than endure the loss and pain of the recent devastation he’d known. And honestly, it was almost a laugh-out-loud moment when I read Eliphaz’s summary of Job’s situation.

“Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed.”

(Job 4:3-6a ESV)

Apparently Job had himself often been in the comforting counselor mode with others. Those with “weak hands,” those who stumbled, those with “feeble knees.” But now, says Eliphaz, shoe’s on the other foot and look at you! You’re weary and impatient. You’re dismayed, disturbed, and anxious. You wish you were dead. What’s wrong with you?

Give your head a shake, Eliphaz! . . . or at least your empathy generator. Loss of all material wealth? The sudden death of ten out of ten grown children? The imploding of your health with the exploding of painful boils? Top it off with a wife who says, “Curse God, and die”? Sounds like a bit more than “weak hands” and “feeble knees” to me.

Thinking that Eliphaz was a little too quick to respond to Job’s pity part by suggesting he knew the appropriate way Job should be viewing and reacting to his current situation. Note to self: don’t assume you know the extent of a person’s suffering. Don’t be too quick to judge them for “over-reacting.” Instead, quick to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19) seems like wise counsel for the would-be counselor. So, strike one for Eliphaz.

But like I said, it doesn’t mean he had nothing of value to say. The encouragement he gives with his very next breath carries a weight of truth that’s worth noodling on, I think.

“Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?”

(Job 4:6b ESV)

Though I react to how Eliphaz low-balls the severity of Job’s suffering, I am thinking his advice here is pretty good.

Regardless of the level of trial, testing, or suffering, the fear of God — awe-induced reverence of who our God is, and faith-fueled certainty in His sovereign ability to act — should always be our when-all-is-said-and-done confidence. Thus our hope, regardless of circumstance, can be found in continuing to walk in the ways of, and the shadow of, our caring, loving, all-powerful Father. Hard times aren’t the times to waiver from what we’ve known to be true. Suffering isn’t the signal that we should be trying something else, like leaning to our own understanding or taking over the reins and directing our own paths (Prov. 3:5-6).

God is our confidence in the crucible. Remaining faithful to Him who is always faithful is our hope.

Some pretty good bottom-line advice from a miserable comforter, I think.

This too, by God’s grace. This also, for God’s glory.

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