On the day before the last, our attention was directed to the circumstances attending the visit of the three friends of Job. Today we may consider the character and temper of the men, so far as these can be collected from the language they employ in their discussions with Job.
Eliphaz the Temanite seems to have been the principal man among the three friends, and the oldest among them. Hence, perhaps, arises that air of dignity and self-restraint which distinguishes this person from those who come after him in the argument. He at first enters into the subject with address and mildness, and evinces considerable respect for the integrity of his friend. The appearance of cordial friendship with which he begins, is, however, lost as the debate proceeds, in consequence of Job’s strenuous vindication of himself from the consequences of the conclusion which they all in common asserted—that Job’s afflictions were the punishment of guilt. Thus, in his second address, he rebukes his presumption; but it is not until the third that he kindles into almost ferocious harshness. He expatiates with vehemence on the conduct of Job, describes his sins as if he had witnessed them with his own eyes, and exhorts him to repentance and conversion as the only means of deliverance open to him. Then, in his references to Job’s loss of property, and the melancholy loss of his children, there are severities approaching to the unfeeling, the force and injustice of which wrung the soul of the afflicted patriarch, who complains sadly of them in his reply. Eliphaz was one of a class of men not infrequently met with: naturally mild, gentle, considerate, and right-minded, but dragged almost against their will into harshness and injustice by an unwarranted theory or system of belief. The most vehement moral persecutors in all ages have been men of this class and character.
The second of Job’s friends, Bildad the Shuhite, is more harsh towards the sufferer, and assails him with more keenness than Eliphaz, though less bitterly than Zophar. It is he who distinctly broaches the theory that calamities are chastisements for sin, and which they all, even Eliphaz, who had only glanced at it in his initiatory address, subsequently maintain. His language is less eloquent than that of Eliphaz, and his treatment of his afflicted friend less delicate. He plainly tells Job, that after the death of his children, taken from the world on account of their guilt, the judgment of sin had come home to himself. His second address is full of imagery, and is wrought up to a high pitch of terror, in tracing the end reserved for the wicked the traits of which he most invidiously borrows from the condition of his friend, whom he sharply rebukes for the uselessness of his complaints, and against whom he manifests much anger for vindicating himself from their criminations, and uses taunting and provoking expressions against him. In his third address, however, Bildad acknowledges that sinners are sometimes prosperous, and is led to maintain that it is vain to dispute against God, before whom no one is pure. Upon the whole, the character evinced by his speeches is bitter, high, haughty, intolerant, and satirical. His denunciations are furious and awful, and he is more elevated than sublime, and more passionate than energetic.
Zophar the Naamathite, shows a more rude and less cultivated, and proportionately a more heated, character than the other two. He is the most inveterate of Job’s accusers, and he speaks wholly without feeling or pity. In one place he has the gross cruelty of alluding to the effects of Job’s disease upon his countenance (Job_11:15). In substantial argument, he does little more than repeat what Bildad has already said; indeed, his speeches are made up rather of invectives and reproaches than of new ideas and reasoning. In his second speech—and he has one speech less than the others, probably because (as is intimated) he could find nothing more to say—he betrays manifest signs of exhaustion of matter, without any abatement of wrathfulness; he again repeats with exaggeration what had already been said; and he certainly does himself justice in being the first to give over speaking, for it was his turn to answer Job, when, it is stated, in Job_32:1, that “these three men ceased to answer Job.”
With all his faults, Zophar speaks nobly of the Divine attributes, showing that any adequate inquiry into them is far beyond the grasp of the human mind. The hortatory part of the first of his discourses does bear some resemblance to that of Eliphaz, yet it is enlivened and diversified by the fine imagery which he employs.
Zophar seems to have had a full conviction of the Providence of God in regulating and controlling the actions of men; but he limits all his reasoning to the present life, and makes no reference to a future world. This circumstance alone accounts for the weakness and fallacy of these men’s judgments. In his second discourse there is much poetical beauty in the selection of images, and the general doctrine is founded on truth; its fallacy lies in its application to Job’s particular case. The whole indicates great warmth of temper, inflamed by misapprehension of its object and by mistaken zeal.