Introduction: God calls upon believers to help others in their times of loss. Job’s friends tried to counsel Job. Their efforts were sincere. But their efforts were sincerely misguided. Chapters 4 through 27 of Job describe in detail the friends’ advice and their failures in helping Job. Many believers make similar mistakes in trying to help others in their times of grief. Thus, believers can learn from Job’s friends on mistakes to avoid when seeking to help others during their times of loss. Eliphaz was the first of Job’s friends to offer misguided advice. From Eliphaz’s mistakes, God reveals seven lessons on counseling. Spirit-led counseling requires: (1) empathy, (2) assistance, (3) encouragement, (4) God’s Word, (5) prayer, (6) humility, and (7) love.
First, instead of showing empathy for Job’s loss, Eliphaz sought to immediately diagnose Job’s presumed problems. This is a mistake that many believers make when trying to help others. Spirit-led grief counseling instead requires empathy and patience. Second, Eliphaz recognized that Job had helped others in their times of need. But he made no effort to offer Job help or offer assistance. He only wanted to diagnose Job’s problems. Spirit-led grief counseling also requires offering help to those in need. Third, Eliphaz also offered hurtful advice to Job in his moment of desperation. Spirit-led grief counseling should instead encourage the broken-hearted. Fourth, Eliphaz then gave advice that misrepresented God’s Word by using his worldly understandings. Spirit-led grief counseling must accurately represent God’s Word. Fifth, Eliphaz offered advice based upon his own dreams that he failed to test. Spirit-led grief counsel instead requires prayer and obedience to the Holy Spirit. Sixth, Eliphaz spoke presumptuously about sin when he was also a sinner. Spirit-led grief counsel also requires humility. Finally, Eliphaz misrepresented God’s love for His people, and his advice was not rooted in love. Spirit-led grief counseling must also not misrepresent God, and effective Spirit-led counseling should be rooted in love.
Eliphaz sought to offer Job advice at the worst time. After Job cried out in distress that he wished that he had never been born, Eliphaz requested permission to offer him advice: “1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite responded, 2 “If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient? But who can refrain from speaking?”’ (Job 4:1-2). Eliphaz was from Teman (Edom or southern Jordan), and he was likely a descendant of Esau (Gen. 36:11; 1 Chron. 1:36; Jer. 49:7). Like his patriarch Esau, his name reflected a worldly set of values: “My god is gold.” He appeared diplomatic in requesting permission to offer a word of advice to Job. Yet, his later comments reflected an agenda to accuse Job of sin. In addition to being flawed in his assumptions, Eliphaz picked the worst possible moment to offer advice to Job. In his time of tragedy, Job mostly needed his friends’ empathy.
Ilya Repin (1844-1930) “Job and His Friends” (oil painting 1869)1
Job needed compassion, not a lecture. Job experienced a tragedy that few could imagine. Evil men first stole his animals and then murdered his servants (Job 1:13-15, 17). A fire then burned his remaining animals (Job 1:16). A storm then killed his ten children (Job 1:18-19). Job then suffered from a host of debilitation illnesses. These included: (1) painful, itchy sores from head to toe (Job 2:7-8), (2) decaying, blackened, maggot-ridden flesh (Job 30:30a; 7:5a), (3) hardened, dead flesh with oozing scars (Job 7:5b), (4) burning bone pains (Job 30:30b), (5) difficulty breathing (Job 9:18), (4) sleeplessness from intense pains (Job 30:17; 7:3-4), (5) misery and sorrow (Job 17:7; 30:27-28), (6) intense crying (Job 16:16; 16:20b), (7) ongoing fatigue and anxiety (Job 16:7a; 3:26), (8) nightmares (Job 7:14), (9) severe emaciation from an inability to eat (Job 17:7b; 19:20; 33:21), (10) a repulsive appearance and breath (Job 19:17), (11) public scorn and abandonment (Job 16:20a; 19:13), and (12) depression and suicidal thoughts (Job 6:9; 7:15-16; 9:21; 10:1). After seven days of silent mourning, Job cursed his birth (Job 3:1-10). He lamented that he did not die at birth (Job 3:11-19). He then cried out for God to let him die (Job 3:20-26). Job’s comments were certainly theologically incorrect. But he was entitled to mercy and grace as he grieved. This was not the time for a lecture.
A true friend weeps and mourns with their friends. Job had a right to mourn. The Bible declares that there is “A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.” (Ecc. 3:4-5). You also should be prepared to weep with a friend who weeps in sorrow: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Ro. 12:15). When a friend is consumed with grief and sorrow and you feel tempted to offer advice, will you hold your tongue? Compassion sometimes requires silence.
Show the same compassion and comfort that God offers you to others. God offers you His comfort when you are feeling pain or sadness: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4; 7:6). God in turn asks you to be kind and compassionate toward others: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;” (Col. 3:12; Eph. 4:32). When someone around you is hurting, offer them the same compassion and comfort that God offers you.
Eliphaz observed Job’s encouragement and generosity without offering him either. As part of his diplomatic prelude to accusing Job of hidden sins, Eliphaz complimented him as a generous man who both encouraged and helped others in their times of need: “3 Behold, you have taught many, and you have strengthened weak hands. 4 Your words have helped the stumbling to stand, and you have strengthened feeble knees. 5 But now it comes to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are horrified.” (Job 4:3-5). Although Job had just lost everything, Eliphaz saw no need to offer Job support. “Would not true friends offer material assistance? Would they not share of their flocks to begin a new herd? Would they not contribute to the rebuilding of his houses and barns? Now Job had ‘stumbled.’ . . . It was their turn to strengthen and support him.”2
Job showed that true compassion includes more than just words. When later forced to defend himself from his friends’ attacks, Job observed that he always helped the poor and those in need: “I was eyes to those who were blind, and feet to those who could not walk. I was a father to the poor, and I investigated the case which I did not know.” (Job 29:15-16). Job also gave Spirit-led counseling that others appreciated: “To me they listened and waited, and they kept silent for my advice.” (Job 29:21). Eliphaz recognized Job’s generosity as a virtue. But he did not follow Job’s example.
If you love Jesus, show it by helping the poor and the disadvantaged. God created you for His “good works.” (Eph. 2:10). This includes compassion and charity for those who are in need: “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.” (Prov. 19:17; Dt. 15:11; Matt. 5:42). “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”’ (Matt. 25:40, 35). Conversely, Jesus warns: ‘“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”’ (Matt. 25:45). “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” (Prov. 14:31). “But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jo. 3:17). “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” (Prov. 21:13). If you are not giving to those who are in need, how much love and gratitude can you say you have for Jesus?
Instead of showing compassion, Eliphaz questioned Job’s faith. After hearing Job’s bitter cries of agony about his life, Eliphaz questioned what had happened to Job’s confidence and hope in God: “6 Is your fear of God not your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?” (Job 4:6). Eliphaz subtly observed that Job would not be in such distress if the foundations of his faith were as secure as he alleged. Although indirect, this was the beginning of his attacks on Job. He believed that Job would have had confidence and hope if he feared God and walked with integrity. Eliphaz implied that Job did not do the very things that Job believed to be the foundations of his faith in God.
Be God’s hands and feet to encourage others with His love3
Encourage one another with love in times of distress. Even if Eliphaz were correct in his belief that Job was a sinner (and he wasn’t), this was neither the right time or manner to confront Job. Even if Job had sinned, Eliphaz should have employed love and encouragement to bring Job to a better place. God wants you to be a source of encouragement to others. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” (Heb. 13:22). Will you encourage others the way God is there for you?
Eliphaz offered Job theological advice that confused the ultimate with the immediate. After questioning the foundations of Job’s faith, Eliphaz offered a theologically correct but contextually inaccurate statement to Job that persons reap what they sow in life: “7 ‘Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? 8 According to what I have seen, those who plow wrongdoing and those who sow trouble harvest it. 9 By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they come to an end. 10 The roaring of the lion and the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions are broken out. 11 The lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.” (Job 4:7-11). What Eliphaz stated was partially true in the ultimate sense. Because God is just, each person will be one day rewarded according to their deeds. But God’s timing is not our timing. God’s plans may require the righteous to suffer on Earth and the wicked to prosper on Earth before their eternal judgment. When Eliphaz compared God to a fierce lion, he was suggesting that God had brought His mighty anger against Job: “Eliphaz painted the picture of how strong the anger of God is, that it is strong enough to humble and defeat even strong young lions. The idea is that the anger of God has also brought Job low.” (David Guzik on Job 4).4
Eliphaz implied that Job had received God’s just punishment for his hidden sins5
The unsaved will be repaid according to their deeds. Eliphaz’s statement that “ . . .those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it” (Job 4:8) is a foundational statement in the Bible. The Apostle Paul quoted in the New Testament: “ . . . for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:7-8). “Who will render to each person according to his deeds” (Ro. 2:6). Solomon also quoted a variation on this statement in Proverbs: “He who sows iniquity will reap vanity, and the rod of his fury will perish.” (Prov. 22:8). The prophet Hosea also quoted a variation of this statement as well: “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.” (Hos. 8:7). Even Jesus quoted a variation of Eliphaz’s statement: “For the Son of Man . . . will then repay every man according to his deeds.” (Matt. 16:27). Eliphaz’s error was in confusing the ultimate with the immediate. He also arrogantly attempted to read God’s mind and reduce Him to a mathematical equation.
God sometimes allows evil people to prosper. Even Jesus observed that God the Father “ . . .causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45). Although God may also allow sinners to face judgment on Earth for their sins, that is within His discretion and subject to His greater plans for good (Ro. 8:28). God will one day judge each person according to their deeds. But this will happen in heaven. For believers in Christ Jesus, He has taken the penalty for our sins. If we were all judged by our deeds, none would be found worthy (Ro. 3:10).
God also can allow the innocent to suffer. Eliphaz’s claim that the innocent do not suffer suggests that he had lived a very sheltered life. God may allow the innocent to suffer when it is necessary as part of His greater plan. The best example of this was Jesus. He died without sin so that mankind’s sins could be cast upon Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
Be careful to never misrepresent God’s Word when you counsel others. God later rejected the advice that Job’s friends offered (Job 42:7-8). They misrepresented God’s holy character. When you give advice, you must also be careful not to misrepresent God’s Word. Are you studying God’s Word to ensure you will correctly teach it?
Eliphaz offered Job theological advice based upon a dream that he failed to test. Eliphaz claimed to have words of wisdom based upon a dream and his own personal experience: “12 ‘Now a word was brought to me secretly, and my ear received a whisper of it. 13 Amid disquieting thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people, 14 dread came upon me, and trembling, and made all my bones shake. 15 Then a spirit passed by my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. 16 Something was standing still, but I could not recognize its appearance; a form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice:”’ (Job 4:12-16). Eliphaz made no effort to discern if these visions were from God or from an evil source. He failed to realize that the devil can also use dreams to deceive.
William Blake (1757-1827) “The Book of Job - 09” (engraving 1826)6
Eliphaz falsely called Job a sinner. We don’t need to wonder if Eliphaz was correct in calling Job a sinner. God twice declared to Satan that Job to be a righteous man: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:1) “The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:8; 2:3). Although Eliphaz was sincere in his belief that Job was a sinner, he was sincerely misguided.
Test all things before you offer advice. Eliphaz received a demonic dream, and he did nothing to test it. To avoid making the same mistake as Eliphaz, believers are called to “. . . examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good,” (1 Thess. 5:21). This includes testing both your dreams and any worldly advice that friends or others may offer you. You can also reject out of hand someone who claims to have received a private revelation: “But know this first of all, that no prophesy of Scripture becomes a matter of someone’s own interpretation.” (2 Pet. 1:20). God’s Word is complete and completed.
Pray for wisdom and read God’s Word before you offer advice. If you wish to avoid making Eliphaz’s mistake, pray for wisdom and read God’s Word: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in secret You will make wisdom known to me.” (Ps. 51:6). “For to a person who is good in His sight, He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, . ..” (Ecc. 2:26). Are you praying for wisdom when others are in need of help?
Let the Holy Spirit guide your words of advice for others. When you pray and submit to God, the Holy Spirit will guide your words of advice for others in need: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (Jo. 16:13). “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:16). God wants you to seek His guidance through prayer and the Word. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). Do you pray and read God’s Word before offering advice to others?
Eliphaz also offered arrogant theological advice to Job. Eliphaz next gave Job advice about the holiness of God as if only Job needed to concern himself with God’s holiness: “17 ‘Can mankind be righteous before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?”’ (Job 4:17-21). Eliphaz had just as much of a need to concern himself about facing God as Job. Eliphaz’s tone with Job reflected an arrogance that he was without sin.
Be humble in counsel because no one is without sin. One of the most common mistakes people make in counseling is to lecture or speak down to the other person. Yet, no one is without sin: “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, or no person living is righteous in Your sight.” (Ps. 143:2). “Indeed, there is not a righteous person on earth who always does good and does not ever sin.” (Ecc. 7:20). “When they sin against You (for there is no person who does not sin) and You are angry with them and turn them over to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, distant or near;” (1 Kgs. 8:46). “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Ro. 3:23). Thus, counseling another person should always be done in a spirit of gentleness: “Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; . . .” (Gal. 6:1).
Eliphaz incorrectly portrayed God as unloving and distant. Finally, Eliphaz sought to frighten Job into repenting of his allegedly hidden sins by portraying God as unloving: ‘“18 He puts no trust even in His servants; and He accuses His angels of error. 19 How much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth! 20 Between morning and evening they are broken in pieces; unregarded, they perish forever. 21 Is their tent-cord not pulled out within them? They die, yet without wisdom.’” (Job 4:18-21). Satan will always use lies and half-truths to deceive God’s people. It was true that God expelled Satan and his angels from heaven. But that does not mean that He doesn't love His people or His creation.
Eliphaz sought to frighten Job into repenting7
God created each person out of love. God created every person as an act of love: “I will give thanks to You, because I am awesomely and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.” (Ps. 139:14). When someone like Eliphaz portrays God as cold or unloving, remember that God created you out of love.
Out of love for mankind, God sacrificed His only begotten son. Eliphaz is not alone in seeing God as a cold and distant Creator who merely set the universe in motion. Many people today have the same view of God. But God so loved mankind that He sent His only begotten son Jesus to die on the cross so that any who believe might be saved: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jo. 3:16). Whenever you question God’s love for you, remember that Jesus died for you. If you are grateful for the love that Jesus showed you, you can show His love to those who are struggling or in need around you.
Jesus can relate to any pain you experience because He suffered for you. Jesus suffered for mankind and was tempted without sinning (Heb. 2:18). Through His suffering, Jesus can sympathize with your suffering: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15). There is no pain or burden that Jesus cannot relate to. You can show your appreciation by showing love and empathy to those who are in pain.
Robert Alden, The New American Commentary, Vol. 11, Job (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 84.↩︎
Image credit: William Blake: The Book of Job - 09 (artbible.info)↩︎