Job’s Counselors — the Odorless Poison in your Morphine Drip
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
Some guys have an answer for everything. If something is broken, they have to fix it. If you have a problem, they will insert themselves as the solution, whether you invite them or not. Do you know guys like this? Sometimes, their intentions are good and they genuinely want to help. They value wisdom and many times, because of their success as counselors, they have gained credibility and confidence. Guys like this are creative and can think outside the box to find solutions that the rest of us never would have dreamed. They are able to see what is wrong and why, then tell you how to make a fix that will last. Certainly you need men like this in your life, if they can give the right counsel, at the right time, with the right tact.
But these guys can have a dark side: If they are fleshly, they will help you as long as you honor them by doing what they say. If you become critical of their wisdom, they become critical of you. If you do not see them as wise, then you must be the fool. Once they tag you as the problem, because they are so good at problem-solving, you become their project, and they do not let up until you are fixed. Such was the miserable experience of Job at the hand of the four men who came to him in his darkest days of suffering.
The story of Job stands as the single greatest example of human suffering, next to the cross of Jesus Christ. But Job is hard because it raises a difficult question: If God is all-loving and all-powerful, then why is there suffering in the world? Job is a righteous man with a wonderful family, great influence, extensive wealth, a pristine reputation, a generous spirit, inspiring leadership, and proven wisdom. But with all of his wisdom, he cannot figure out what is happening to him or why, because he cannot see behind the curtain of divine providence. He never knew what we know about the purpose of his suffering, that God was making a point to Satan, that nothing hell unleashes can shake the man God holds. Job never heard the conversations between God and Satan so his ears never burned, but everything in his life was about to.
Job lost everything, literally. Within minutes of each other, reports of calamity reached his boxed ears with barely time to process what he had heard. All of his livestock was raided and stolen, or burned by something like sulfur balls that fell from heaven — the bearers of bad news were the sole survivors. Then the unimaginable tragedy of what he feared most: His ten children, for whose souls he daily prayed and offered sacrifice, while enjoying one another in a home, had their lives crushed out, when a hellish wind collapsed their house on top of them. The only thing that remained was a wife who had succumb to Satan’s temptations, who gnawed at her husband to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
With barely enough time to understand, let alone grieve these horrifying realities, the bell rang for “Round 2” and the devil pummeled Job again, until he took the old man within an inch of his life. Job’s hurricane of suffering turned into a universal flood, as his entire body broke out in boils, all of his skin cells bulging with infection from head to toe — a pressure that lessened only by rupturing the pustule with broken glass. His symptoms would worsen:
1. Painful boils from head to toe (2:7, 13; 30:17)
2. Severe itching/irritation (2:7,8)
3. Great grief (2:13)
4. Lost appetite (3:24; 6:6, 7)
5. Agonizing discomfort (3:24)
6. Insomnia (7:4)
7. Worm and dust infested flesh (7:5)
8. Continual oozing of boils (7:5)
9. Hallucinations (7:14)
10. Decaying skin (13:28)
11. Shriveled up (16:8; 17:7; 19:20)
12. Severe halitosis (19:17)
13. Teeth fell out (19:20)
14. Relentless pain (30:17)
15. Skin turned black (30:30)
16. Raging fever (30:30)
17. Dramatic weight loss (33:21)
Job was decomposing like a corpse while he was still alive. It was then, while throbbing at every extremity, his “friends” showed up, and were so astonished that for seven days and nights, they could not say a word. That was the best thing they ever did. Finally, his anguish reached the place where he spoke, and though he never cursed God, he did curse the day of his birth. Job thought his suffering could not get any worse — he was wrong. His pain was his counselors’ opportunity and for 34 chapters, they darkened counsel by words without knowledge.
At first, they went to work on the question: “Why is this happening to you?” Each of the men had an answer that eventually accused Job of a secret life of sin, for which he was being punished by God. Eliphaz counseled Job on the basis of his experience, from what he has seen and heard in life, that wicked people do not prosper. When Eliphaz can no longer contend with the wisdom of Job, Bildad tagged in and counseled Job from the wisdom in historical tradition, and the attempts made to answer these questions, which had been passed down from previous generations. When Bildad took a breath, Zophar cut in and reasoned with Job from a place of mystical religion, by offering a view of spirituality that was warped and hopeless. Finally, a fourth fellow came onto the scene, a neophyte named Elihu who told everyone they were all wrong, including Job, for having a wrong view of God. Elihu came the closest, but in his anger, presumption, and inexperience, he had no idea how to apply truth to the situation at hand. Job needed morphine and these guys gave him poison.
As a pastor, I do a lot of hospital visits. Unless it is a serious issue, I try to only stay about 15 minutes. I have learned from experience that even if I mean well, the longer I stay, the greater burden I place on the patient. If he is really hurting, he does not need a bunch of questions, unless I am his physician (which I am not). He does not need me to tell my horror stories of illnesses or injuries, nor to question the doctor’s orders. There is no need to sit on his bed side, tell jokes, or comment on his oxygen saturation. I am there to express concern, intervene with prayer, offer the comfort of God’s promises, and leave so he can heal.
Job’s counselors did everything wrong: They overstayed their welcome, asked all the wrong questions, suggested all the wrong answers, and offered all the wrong solutions. Their single line of reasoning was: 1) God punishes the wicked for their sin with suffering so they will repent; 2) Job was suffering and was a sinner; therefore 3) Job is wicked, and his sufferings were God’s punishment on his sins, which must be hidden. These posers dressed in lab-coats failed to comprehend the fact that sometimes wicked people flourish and righteous people suffer in a fallen world. Their folly led them to the conclusion that the loss of Job’s wealth, health, and children was caused by unrepentant sin. When he refused to accept their diagnosis, they accused him of being an unbeliever (Job 18:21). This also explains their strategy the rest of the book, which they certainly thought was wise: 1) Wicked Job was suffering because of hidden sin; 2) human comfort softens the consequences that God uses to drive someone to repentance; therefore 3) Job can receive no comfort or he will remain in his wickedness, and the suffering would only continue. No comfort for Job, only rebuke. And if they rebuked him hard enough, Job would repent, and the suffering would end — problem solved.
Their biggest misstep, however, was reaching into the realm of divine mystery and trying to pry out of God’s hands what God was unwilling to give up. They pushed Job past the breaking point, but when they did, they actually forced him into clarity about sin, suffering, and God, truths that have translated into timeless principles that each of us need in our suffering. Here are the three lessons that Job never would have learned without these “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2).
The Most Important Priority in Pain is Purity
Remember that Satan’s goal in this entire testing was that Job would curse God to His face (Job 1:11). Job’s wife urged him to just do it and get it over with so he could die. His counselors assured him that somewhere, he already had cursed God, in word or deed, or none of this would have happened. But as much as Job was accused of wrong doing, God’s affirmation on Job’s life was “that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). Job examined probed his ways, as suffering should urge us to do, to be sure it is not due to chastening, and it brought him to this conclusion:
My lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days (Job 27:4–6).
Job knew that he was a sinful man living in a sin-cursed world, but even in the midst of the worst pain, he would not let go of his integrity. Throughout his affliction, we see a repeated affirmation, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22; cf. 2:10). And yet, having integrity in the middle of a trial, does not mean we do not still have growing to do. Quite the opposite — some of our best and most fruitful growth happens in a trial. While Job did not cause his suffering by sinning, he still found areas in his life where he needed to repent. When face-to-face with his counselors, he had nothing to forsake; when face-to-face with his God, he said, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6). The most important priority in pain is purity.
Keep Your Mouth Shut and Let God Vindicate You
I feel for Job, I really do. How does someone suffer all that he lost, turn into a zombie, and then banter with fools for 34 chapters, as they practice hate speech on you, and maintain any sanity? Fools who pretend to be wise have an insidious way of drawing us into conflict with them. They hurl accusations and bait us to answer them, not so they can learn or help, but so they can find some new flaw to point out, only to mock us if we respond. Job’s counselors did this to a man who was one giant oozing sore, who simply wanted to heal. Yet, with every word, they picked and picked at the scab until it bled again, that is until Job finally had enough:
• As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom! Hear now my argument” (Job 13:4–6).
• Oh, that I knew where I might find [God], that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge” (Job 23:3–6).
Job went over the line. Yes, he was righteous, though not without sin, and his friends were definitely wrong, but he showed us that it is dangerous to insist that others see how godly you are, and then demand that God proclaim it to you! Job invoked God to come and take the witness stand on Job’s behalf, in order to silence his accusers. Then something unexpected happened — God came, but not to the witness stand; He came to the judgment seat. And God’s first words to Job were: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:2–4, NASB95).
Surprisingly, God didn’t start with Job’s accusers, though He eventually closed their cake-holes (Job 42:7-9). He started with His man, Job. What followed was a list of interrogating questions, not one of which received an answer, but each illustrating the distance between our wisdom and God’s wisdom. The humbling fact is: You might be blameless, but when you break the silence, it had better be to vindicate God’s right to be God, not to vindicate yourself. In Proverbs, Solomon said, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19, NASB95). Fewer words are better — less occasion to sin. Fools teach us to keep our mouths shut.
The Best Question to Ask is Not “Why?” but “Who?”
Our favorite question is, “Why?” Ever since we were little, we have asked that question. We want to know why things happen they way they do, because the better we understand the why behind things, the easier it will be to interact with them. In suffering, we want to know “Why?” even more, because if we could understand the pain and its purpose, we think we could endure it better or perhaps be rid of it. But this is the very answer God withheld from Job and his counselors, purposefully. “Why?” has always been the wrong question. God had a much better question for them — one that they needed to ask, but were not: “Who?” If they got the answer to the “Who?” question right, they would not need the answer to the “Why?” question anymore, because they could trust the One held that secret (Deuteronomy 29:29).
“Who?” turns our focus: Who is with me in this? Who is this God who uses suffering to accomplish His will? Who is the only One to whom I can look for hope and deliverance from this sin-sick earth? “Who” is the question that God decided to answer in Job 38-41, which gave Job hope and security in the midst of his calamity. At perhaps the greatest point of clarity in his suffering, Job expressed a yearning for the “Who?” in terms that revealed how Job’s compass, though its glass was broken, was still pointing north:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:25–27).
When we start asking the right questions, question marks turn into exclamation points. Who is with me in this! Who is this God who uses suffering to accomplish His will! Who is the only One to whom I can look for hope and deliverance from this sin-sick earth! Who is my Redeemer! Who will take His stand on the last day as Master and Commander of this earth! Who is going to raise me from the dead and give me a new body! Who is going to bring me into His presence! Who is going to end my suffering! Who is the One I long for more than anyone or anything else! Who is God!
C. S. Lewis, a man who knew a-thing-or-two about pain, famously wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Job was listening and looking. He could not see clearly before, but now that his puffy eyes had cried hard enough, the tears he shed cleansed his spiritual vision to help him see more clearly: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). Job’s tears had washed away the dirt that obstructed his vision, and while at first they added to his blurriness as he had to look through a wall of water, when the stream stopped, he saw God most visibly because he was looking for Him like never before. God was always there, but Job’s gaze was never quite so fixed. The book of Job teaches us that we see God best when we look for Him with swollen eyes.
The story of Job ends as the climactic relief of 41 chapters of hell on earth, where God restored Job, his health, a new family, and a fortune that was double the size of the one he had before. Job’s example is not a promise that God will exponentially multiply your reward proportionate to your losses, but it is an example of the promise that God will deliver us in His time. But note how the story of Job ends, and precisely when God chose to revisit Job with blessing: “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends” (Job 42:10, emphasis added). It was, not before, but when Job had prayed for his friends, after God thumped them for their harsh treatment of this man of God in his suffering. Only then did Job experience the fullness of God’s blessing on his life.
Perhaps this serves to instruct us, that while we never want to be a Job’s counselor — don’t be that guy — that guy just may force us to see what we might otherwise miss: the God of compassion who gives true wisdom. Such is God’s use for the fool on your behalf, to make you wise.
 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 704). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
 Lewis, C. S.. The Problem of Pain (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 92). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.