Speaking Truthfully: Job’s Friends and Job -- By: Elaine A. Phillips

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 18:1 (NA 2008)
Article: Speaking Truthfully: Job’s Friends and Job
Author: Elaine A. Phillips


Speaking Truthfully: Job’s Friends and Job

Elaine A. Phillips

Gordon College

One of the critical challenges of the book of Job lies in the apparent discord between the strident declarations of Job in the course of the poetic dialogues and God’s affirmation of Job’s words at the end of the book. Equally puzzling is the precise nature of God’s stinging rebuke of the three friends. A resolution to these conundrums might rest in an alternative interpretation of the Hebrew in Job 42:7,8.

Key Words: retributive justice, Job’s friends, Job, advocate, mediator, prayer

I. Introduction

Job’s friends are often summarily dismissed as having little concern for the depth of his suffering and as being far too quick to condemn him on the assumption that his afflictions were the result of sin. While it is true that their theological pronouncements did not fit Job’s circumstances, it is equally true that they all shared a basic traditional sense of divine justice without which the whole moral nature of the universe would be upended.1 The friends manifested an abiding concern to defend that system of divine retributive justice which, in their minds, was under attack with every utterance of Job. For his part, Job uttered such shocking words that numerous scholars have separated the poetic chapters from the narrative framework in which Job’s integrity and piety were noted by God himself.2

Nevertheless, God threatened to unleash his anger against the friends for the way they spoke. He commanded them to bring a sacrifice and seek prayer offered by Job, while declaring that Job had spoken correctly

(Job 42:7-8).3 The objective of this paper is briefly to explore the truths articulated both by the friends and by Job, and to suggest reasons for the strength of God’s rebuke of the friends as the narrative closes.

II. The Literary Context

It is important at the outset to lodge these issues within the wider context of Job studies. As noted above, there are a number of literary features that have caused a majority of scholars to see this work as a composite of some sort.4 Most notable is the aforementioned incongruity between the narrative framework and the poetry, some of the finest but most difficult in the Hebrew Bible. Job’s character as desc...

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