Question: Why are the three comforters who pay Job a visit “afraid?”
As in: “For this is how you have become to me; You have seen the terror of my calamity, and you are afraid.” (Job 6:21)
Of course, we don’t know for sure that they were. It is what Job says of them after they traipse in from afar, put on a fantastic dust-throwing show, then watch him like vultures for 7 days before opening their mouths:
“Three companions of Job heard about all the calamities that had come upon him, and each came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. So they agreed to meet together to go and sympathize with Job and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. They began to weep loudly and to rip their garments apart, and they threw dust into the air and onto their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” (2:11-13)
But my money’s on Job—even though Eliphaz also makes the cut for words quoted in the New Testament. It is his “He catches the wise in their own cunning” (5:13) that is repeated verbatim at 1 Corinthians 3:19) So he can’t be a rotter through and through to have lines taken up by Paul. More on this later. Meantime, why is my money on Job and his assessment that these ones who look on his calamity are “afraid.” How is it they are afraid?
Isn’t it because they know, deep down, that what happened to Job could just as easily happen to them? Job, who reaches the point of cursing the day he was born, Job who says: “For what I have dreaded has come upon me . . . I have had no peace, no quiet, no rest” (3:25-26) —they know it could just as easily happen to them. They dread it, too.
That’s why they have to carry on with more and more assertion that God is punishing Job for past sins, even though nobody can point to any. It’s all a facade, though they don’t know it themselves. They have to maintain the facade, for they cannot bear the alternative—that they might be living fine and easy as you please one moment, doing nothing wrong, and then one day Job-like calamity falls upon them. They cannot bear to think it. So they must maintain Job is being punished for something or other.
When Job protests that he has not done anything wrong, at least not egregiously so, they double down, all of them do, building upon one another’s remarks, ultimately becoming truly vicious. Sometimes counselors do that—they double down. You hope they won’t; you hope when their words are resisted, they will at least consider that they may have missed the mark. Alas, there is a certain type of counselor that doesn’t like to be contradicted. That type doubles down.
So it is with these blunderbuss counselors of Job. They’re not bad guys, probably. Never mind my last post when I said they were—what was I smoking? No, they seem to have meant well—initially. They didn’t have to come visit Job at all, and yet they did. But Job’s calamity strikes unexpected terror into their own hearts, so they pursue a path that safeguards them, regardless of the effect it has on poor Job.
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