Job’s Friends

One of the perennial problems of Old Testament preaching is how to preach Job’s friends. God’s evaluation of them at the end of the book is not exactly complimentary. He says (speaking to Eliphaz), “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). So does this mean that we have to throw out all the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar? This, of course, is quite a distinct question from what to do about Elihu’s speeches. I believe that Joseph Caryl has got this one pegged. By the way, it would be sheer arrogance (and I am only slightly exaggerating here for rhetorical effect) for anyone to preach on Job without reading Joseph Caryl’s commentary. Every pastor ought to own it and read it. Here is what he says on the subject:

The counsels of Eliphaz, are to be considered, either in the doctrine, or in the use. His counsels, in the doctrine of them, were good and savoury, he spake wholesome food; but as to Job’s case, he was quite mistaken in their use, and so instead of easing, troubled him. A physician may give his sick patient that which is good in itself, very cordial and sovereign, and yet it may kill him instead of curing him, if it be not proper for his body, and his disease…That which is good counsel to a man at one time, may be, or might have been, ill, to the same man at another…his (Eliphaz’s, LK) was good searching physic for the soule stomach, and gross spirit of a hypocrite: but it is enough to kill the heart of an upright heart…That not only words untrue, but words misapplied, are unsavoury, and may be dangerous. They are no food, and they may be poison. Prudence in applying, is the salt and seasoning of what is spoken…Speech must be seasoned, not only with the salt of truth, but with the salt of wisdom and discretion…This shows the holy skill of managing the word of God, when we make a difference of our patients, by our different medicines, and not serve all out of the same box (volume 2, pp. 448-449).

So a preacher can and should preach all the wisdom of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu, but must be careful to create exceptions for the Jobs of this world. I found Caryl to be enormously helpful here in understanding how to preach Job.