The bulk of this book consists of conversations between Job and his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and later, Elihu. From chapter four through chapter thirty-one, there are three cycles of conversations: Each of the first three friends will speak and Job will reply to each of them. Then, then, the cycle will repeat twice more.
In today’s reading we begin the first cycle. Job’s anguish is so great he wishes he had never been born and blames his misfortune on God. Eliphaz is the first to speak. Basically, his point is one we all might make: In times of misfortune, one should call on God for help. There’s nothing wrong with this advice. The problem is, it doesn’t help.
Hard times don’t just happen, Eliphaz says. There must be a reason for them. But whatever the reason, Job should trust in God. God helps the helpless and the repentant and everything will be ok.
Eliphaz is full of human wisdom, couched in the religious. “Soldier on.” “Chin up.” “Take it to God; he will come to your aid.” But what do you do when none of that works? Job has not been “helpless.” Nor is he in need of repentance. He suffers without obvious cause. God is silent, and has left him in his misery. The words of Eliphaz are much like those spoken to the cold and hungry: “God go with you. May he clothe you and may you be warm.” Words don’t help, as Job himself affirms (6:14ff). James will say the same thing in the New Testament: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).
When ministering to the miserable, they don’t need a pep talk or lessons in theology. They need comfort.