Job 4 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Ch. 4 31. The debate between Job and his friends on the question of his sufferings and on the meaning of evil in general

This Debate occupies the whole body of the Book. It attaches itself to Job’s passionate cry for death and his impatient allusions to Heaven in ch. 3. The tone of this speech the friends cannot refrain from reprobating they must speak (ch. Job 4:2); and thus the warfare of words commences. The subject to begin with is Job’s sufferings, but naturally the discussion widens out, so as to embrace the whole question of the meaning and purposes of calamity or evil in general. As the debate on the meaning of suffering occupies so large a portion of the Book, we must assume that one of the main intentions of the Author in writing his poem was to let light in upon this question from various sides and present ancient and current as well as new views regarding it. And as he allows the three friends to be brought to silence by Job, we may be sure that it was his purpose to discredit the theories which they represented and to teach that they could not any longer be maintained. Job in his speeches has no theory, he contributes nothing positive. The part he plays is merely negative and destructive. But in confuting the friends he clears the ground of the old encumbrances, and in their place the Author himself brings forward his new truth regarding the meaning of suffering, which he exhibits in a highly dramatic form in the Prologue. Both Job and his friends debate the question ignorant of the real cause of Job’s calamities, and neither they nor he approach the true solution. The Author allows us who watch the debate to know that Job’s sufferings were a trial of his righteousness. Thus the Prologue serves the same purpose as the prologue in the Greek drama, it introduces the actors, and supplies the spectators with the information needful to understand the action.

The Author allows three persons to confront Job and maintain against him the traditional beliefs. It is possible that the number as well as the names of Job’s friends may belong to the tradition upon which the Author worked. If not, he may mean to indicate by the number three the widespread currency and general acceptance of the views they advocate. The friends have each a well-marked individuality, and represent distinct aspects of religious conviction among mankind. Eliphaz, who on each occasion opens the debate, is the most dignified, the calmest and most considerate, and perhaps the oldest of Job’s friends. He is a man almost of Prophetic rank, who speaks with the composure and authority and clear eye of a seer, as one to whom revelations by vision have been granted from Heaven (Job 4:12 seq.). Bildad, a man of less consideration, is a representative of the class of the Wise (Jer 18:18; Pro 1:6); an observer of life, one who generalizes on the ways of God to man, whose mind is stored with the priceless moral precedents of past ages, and who reposes upon the conclusions of thoughtful men of all times (ch. 8). While Zophar is the private religious man of strong personal conviction, who doubtless lives by the truth he believes, and cannot imagine how any one should question it; who gets irritated and indulges in unworthy imputations against any one who disputes the truth of his principles. All three were sincere men, though their sincerity had never perhaps been put to the proof as Job’s had been.

The three friends come to the contemplation of Job’s sufferings, and to the discussion of the meaning of them, with a principle which they all agree in holding. Like all Shemitic thinkers they have no idea of what we call second causes. In their view God is in immediate relation to the world and the lives of men, and does all directly that happens. Evil and Good come immediately from His hand; and being a righteous ruler every event of His providence must be either a reward of good or a retribution on evil. It is invariably well with the righteous and ill with the wicked, or perhaps more strictly, it is invariably well with righteousness and ill with wickedness. For even the righteous may do evil, for what man is he that sinneth not? and his evil will bring down punishment upon it. But God is far from being an impersonal moral balance, weighing out happiness and adversity according to the deserts of men, with no interest in their fate. On the contrary, His eyes are on the righteous, and though He chastens them for their sin, His chastisement is not in order that they may perish (Job 4:7), it is correction, meant to wean them from their evil and turn them again in humility and repentance unto righteousness. Therefore “happy is the man whom God correcteth” (ch. Job 5:17); such correction is an arrest laid upon him in his way of evil. Calamity therefore is not in itself decisive of the character of a man, though it is decisive of the fact that he has sinned. The issue of calamity only can shew what a man really is. If he is a righteous man, he accepts it as the warning of God and turns from his evil, and his future life is filled with blessings from God, and he shall enjoy length of days and all prosperity (Job 4:19-21). If he is evil he murmurs and rejects the divine correction, and brings wrath upon himself and perishes (Job 4:2). These principles explain the course pursued by the three friends towards Job. However strange it might seem to them they had no help but to conclude that Job, though a righteous man as they had always thought him, and continued to think him, had been guilty of acts of sin very displeasing unto God. And the temper he displayed under his afflictions alarmed them: it was the very temper of the ungodly (Job 4:2). Hence one after another they earnestly warn and exhort him to turn in humility and repentance unto God; and they draw bright pictures of the happy future which he shall yet enjoy.

As for Job he agreed with his three friends in believing that all events occurred through the immediate agency of God; good and evil came directly from His hand. Further he agreed with them that evil or suffering was inflicted by God on those whom He held guilty of having sinned. But Job’s consciousness of his own innocence forbad his drawing the conclusion with his friends that he had been guilty of great and specific offences. He knew he had not. He was driven therefore to the conclusion that, though he was not guilty, God had resolved to hold him guilty (Job 9:29 and often), and treat him as if he were so. Hence he is led to charge God with injustice. This feeling shines dimly through his words in ch. 3, and his friends detected it, but under their provocations and insinuations of his guilt he boldly avows his conviction of God’s injustice, and throws it out with a passionate fury appalling to a reverent mind. This however is but one side of the conflict going on in his mind. There are other currents of feeling that run side by side with this one. The action of the drama is nothing else than the progress of feeling in Job’s mind under his sufferings and the views regarding them presented by his friends. This progress, however, will be better understood when the chapters are read.

It is evident that the alienation of Job’s mind from God was increased and his feelings embittered by the insinuations and the misdirected advice of his friends. We should be deviating, however, from the line of the Author’s conception if we were to regard the provocations of the friends as a third or separate temptation. Job’s trial was merely his afflictions, narrated in the prologue. This trial continued. The friends only set it in a particular light. Before they arrived, or at least before they spoke, Job’s mind had already drifted away from the attitude of reverent submission which he took up when his afflictions newly befell him. The friends add to his perplexity, but they are little else than voices that give body to the thoughts that must have risen and struggled in his own mind. It is to be noticed that the Satan no more appears. With the infliction of Job’s calamities his part is ended. The supernatural agencies of the Prologue are no more called into requisition. It is plain indeed that the scenes in the Prologue are nothing but a splendidly dramatic form adopted by the Author for putting before us his new truth that calamities may befall the righteous not for any evil they have done but in order to try their righteousness and through the trial to perfect it.

The great debate is divided into three circles of speeches: (1) ch. 4 14; (2) ch. 15 21; (3) ch. 22 31. Each of these three circles contains six speeches, one by each of the three friends in succession, with a reply from Job. In the last round, however, the third speaker, Zophar, fails to come forward. This is a confession of defeat; and Job, resuming the thread of his reply to Bildad, carries it through a series of chapters, in which, with a profound pathos, he contrasts his former greatness with his present misery, protests his innocence before Heaven, and adjures God to reveal to him the cause of his afflictions.


Ch. 4 14. The first circle of speeches

Ch. 4, 5. The speech of Eliphaz

Eliphaz attaches his speech to Job’s despairing cry in ch. 3. The tone of Job’s words and his state of mind seem to him strange and very far from right. And though he would gladly be silent and spare one in Job’s condition, yet he is constrained to speak (Job 4:2). Proceeding to speak, Eliphaz gives expression to three thoughts, each of which bears on the tone and temper displayed by Job in his cry of despair (ch. 3).

Consult other comments:

Job 4:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Job 4:0 - College Press Bible Study Textbook Series

Job 4:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Job 4:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Job 4:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Job 4:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges