The Silences of Job
Evolution of Satan
First Lesson --Intro
Fifth--To the End
Putting it Together
Putting it Together II
SONG of SOLOMON
The Lovers--ch. 5
Lovers VI--ch. 8
The Way of Friendship (Lesson III)
Bill Long 3/28/06
In this third (of five) lessons on the Book of Job, I want to probe the issue of how loss changes friendships. People intuitively know this is true--that loss brings you closer to some people but seems to create walls between you and other people. When we see the topic played out in great literature, we are forced back to our own experience of living and losing. That, to use educatorspeak, is the "objective" of this hour. I do so by excerpts from three early speeches in Job.
Excerpt One: From Job's Explosive Speech (Job 3)
Job has broken the seven-day silence (2:11-13) by cursing the day of his birth in ch. 3. I have a few study guides to Job 3 which you might find helpful for background preparation. For purposes of this lesson, however, I only want to use Job 3:24-26. This passage is a great "summary" of Job's mental state after he has effused in the previous 23 verses. It runs:
"24 For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. 25 Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. 26 I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes."
Use the questions from the study guide to help you work through this passage. One additional question arises, however. If you were a friend, and your friend had just said these words, how would you respond? Are you the type that wants to look on the bright side of things? Agree with your friend in his/her assessment of things? Challenge them? Our beginning with this passage helps set the tone for Eliphaz's remarks in chs. 4-5.
Excerpt Two: Two Passages From Eliphaz (Job 4-5)
And so Eliphaz, the first friend, responds to Job. Because he answers in more than 50 verses over two chapters, you won't have a chance to "cover" it all. I recommend an excerpt from the beginning and the end of the speech. The first, Job 4:1-7, sets the tone of the speech and introduces us to Eliphaz. What can be said about friendship in these seven verses?
I like first to focus on 4:2, "If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking?" I ask the class to tell me in what tone they think Eliphaz is saying these words. This question unlocks an issue that most people have not even considered with respect to the Bible--the tone or manner in which something is said. Most people have been brought up to see the Bible as a "flat" or "linear" book--it simply tells the "truth" in propositional form. But the Book of Job belies that approach to the Bible. It is full of conversation, and all conversation has a verbal and non-verbal character to it. Thus, we are plunged into the murky but exciting world of interpretation. I think that Eliphaz's "tone" is one of sympathy, but he recognizes how difficult a situation he is in. Job is "on the edge." Any words seemingly might send him "over the edge." Yet, who can keep silent in the face of Job's experience? This is the "dilemma" faced by Eliphaz in 4:2. Then, you can focus also on the "tone" of v. 5. How does he say the words, "But now it has come to you, and you are impatient"? Is this a sort of gentle chiding, or hidden judgmentalism? Is this the approach that you might take with your friends? Is there a "lesson" in suffering? Many people want to say things like, "God works everything for good" or "God will not let you be tested beyond your capacity to endure" when others have distress. Is Eliphaz leaning toward that approach here? Finally I like to look at verse 7. Eliphaz begins with a basic assertion of the wisdom theology--righteous people don't perish. It is like starting with the assertion that God loves you in Christian circles. Ask about Eliphaz's "method" here.
The second passage I like to introduce consists of the final 11 verses of Eliphaz's speech (5:17-27). I think this passage is so rich with so many images and unsaid things that it explodes with meaning. I ask several questions of this text in the study guide. The principal point I like to explore is why Eliphaz would use images of extreme happiness here and why some of the images seem to strike directly at the heart of Job's loss. That is, When he says, "At destruction and famine you shall laugh" (v. 22), what can Eliphaz be thinking? Isn't this about the most insensitive thing he could have said in the world? Then, when Eliphaz says in v. 24: "You shall know that your tent is safe," how could Job react other than through extreme anger or violence? Eliphaz seems to be wrapping the secure cloths of the wisdom theology around him. Why would a person do so?
Excerpt Three: Job's "Response" in 6:14-30
We can see from Eliphaz's words, especially the insensitive words in the final eleven verses, that communication is on the verge of breaking down. In 6:1-13 Job doesn't directly address Eliphaz and then in 14-30 he seems to do so. The final portion of class focuses on these 17 verses. There is so much that could be said, but I like to go directly to verses 15 and 21. In the former, Job says, "My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed, like freshets that pass away." What would that mean? Does he already perceive that Eliphaz and the others would be unsympathetic to him? Or, even more than unsympathetic, that they were treacherous? Would you characterize Eliphaz's speech as an example of treachery or is Job "overreading" the speech and "overreacting" to it? But, then again, Job is suffering the most painful and debilitating physical distress. Can't we cut him a little "slack" in his responses? Nevertheless, I think it is helpful to focus on the idea of treachery. Second, I like to look at 6:21: "Such you have now become to me; you see my calamity, and are afraid." Aha. Here is a very profound thought. Job is attributing Eliphaz's "retreat" into the safe confines of wisdom theology to his fear. Is Eliphaz afraid? Are the friends afraid? Of what would they be afraid?
As you can tell, what was at stake in this lesson is the probing of the psychological depths of friends responses to friends in distress. We see Job's narrowing of vision (ch. 3) and Eliphaz's warmth and sympathy (ch. 4). But we also see that Eliphaz, as he speaks longer and longer, seems to wrap the wisdom theology around him like a shawl to ward off the freezing and biting pain that Job has experienced. Is Job right, then, in his characterization of his friends? Who, really, is "responsible" for the miscommunication that follows? Is Job the "good guy" and the friends the "bad guys?" Or, is it more complex? Probably the latter. Enjoy Job...
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long