What Should the Friends of Job Have Said? A Response from the Psalms

Job, it is commonly understood, had some rubbish friends. They basically ended up telling him that it was all his own fault, but by the end of the story, they get their comeuppance. God was not pleased with them, and said they’d been talking nonsense. Some comforters they turned out to be. But here are an uncanny number of similarities between the words of Job and one of the Psalms of David, to the degree that it almost seems as if it was written in response to Job’s story.

In 19:2-3 Job asks his companions, “How long will you torment my soul and crush me with words? Ten times now you have reproached me; you attack me shamelessly.”

Also at the beginning of chapter 16, Job expresses how much difference words can make: 

“I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Is there no end to your futile words? What compels you to answer? I too could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could compose words against you and shake my head at you.”

BUT, says Job,

“But I would strengthen you with my mouth and comfort from my lips would bring you relief.”

It's certainly true that our words have great power to build up or to tear down, to crush or to comfort. Job understood this well. So I wonder what words Job himself might have chosen to bring comfort, strength and relief to someone in his position? 

The pain of Job and the soothing balm of the Psalms

The text of the book of Job was thought to have originated around at the time of the Patriarchs, so King David would most probably have been able to read it, and give it a good chewing over. In my latest reading of Job I noticed many strong links between the words of Job and Psalm 139, to the degree that it almost seems as if it was written in response to Job’s story. Perhaps it was. Certainly we know that David loved to meditate on the scriptures, so maybe it inspired him?
Job laments,

My days have passed, my plans are torn apart. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day  in the face of darkness light is near. If I hope for Sheol as my home, if I make my bed in darkness, if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’  and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ where then is my hope?  And my hope, who sees it? Will it go down to the gates of Sheol? Will we descend together into the dust? (17:11-16)
…If I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is in the north, I cannot perceive Him; When He turns south, I do not see Him(23:8-10)

David writes these words in Psalm 139:7-10, as if in response:

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there, and if I make my bed in Sheol, look, You are there too.
If I take the wings of the dawn and settle on the other side of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.

Job wonders:

Your hands molded and fashioned me, will You now destroy me completely? Remember You fashioned me like clay; will You return me to dust? Did You not… clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? (10:7-12)

David reassures:

For You have created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am awesomely, wonderfully made! Wonderful are Your works—and my soul knows that very well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was unformed, and in Your book were written the days that were formed—when not one of them had come to be.

Job asks,

“Why then did You bring me out from the womb? I should have died so no eye would have seen me. If only I had never come into being, or been carried from womb to grave. Are not my days few? Then stop, leave me alone  so I might have a little joy, before I depart, and never return, to the land of … the deepest darkness and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.” (10:18-21)

David brings comforting words of truth about God's power and presence:

Even darkness is not dark for You, and night is as bright as day—darkness and light are alike  …I awake, and I am still with you.

Job confesses God's omniscience:

“For His eyes are on the ways of man; He sees all his steps. There is no gloom and no deep darkness, where evildoers can hide themselves. (34:21-22)

David sings with gratitude about it:

Adonai, You searched me and know me. Whenever I sit down or stand up, You know it. You discern my thinking from afar. You observe my journeying and my resting and You are familiar with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, Adonai, You know all about it.
…You hemmed me in behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.

Job grieves:

For to all of them [the wicked], morning is as thick darkness; they are familiar with the terrors of thick darkness. (24:17)

David agrees and brings hope in alignment with God:

Even darkness is not dark for You, and night is as bright as day—darkness and light are alike.

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

Job knows God sees his sin:

Are Your days like those of a mortal, or Your years like those of a strong man, that You should seek out my iniquity and search out my sin… (10:5-6)

So does David:

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Examine me, and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there be any offensive way within me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The power of God's presence

In contrast to quick fixes or pointing the accusing finger, David's words in this Psalm encourage us to dwell on the inescapable presence of God, and his sovereign, all-knowing, loving care. We just cannot escape him, even as we face the grave. God knows the future, and he is there too. At the end of the book of Job, God's words to his cherished servant were not words of explanation, but a powerful reminder of his sovereignty and presence. That is the comfort that we need to know in times of confusion and darkness. He did the same in Exodus 33 when Moses was feeling in need of some answers:

You say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My eyes.’ Now then, I pray, if I have found grace in Your eyes, show me Your ways, so that I may know You, so that I might find favor in Your sight.”

God doesn't give any answers, but he gives this magnificent promise instead:

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

When life gets frightening, it all starts to falls apart and nothing makes sense anymore, the truth that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and absolutely everywhere we could possibly go is like a healing balm to the hurting. Perhaps David wished he could have gone back in time to sing Job his song, and tenderly offer him the comfort he longed for.

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