When three of Job’s friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) hear of Job’s suffering, they come to comfort him. But when Job complains that God has punished him for no reason, Job’s friends take turns arguing with this point. They argue that God causes people to suffer because of their sins and that he rewards the righteous; to assert otherwise, they contend, is to accuse God of being unjust and so to attack God’s character. They also insist that Job must not be telling the truth—he must have committed some sin and should repent if he hopes for relief from his suffering. Meanwhile, Job accuses his companions of being “miserable comforters” and resists the “empty nothings” they offer him. Finally, near the end of the book, God himself addresses Job. He takes Job to task for presuming to question him, as it’s God’s place to question mortals and theirs to answer. God relentlessly interrogates Job, mocking him with questions about the mysteries of nature until both Job and his friends fall silent. God’s response to both Job and his companions suggests that even when people offer explanations that are technically accurate (after all, generally speaking, goodness often is rewarded and evil punished), such explanations are often applied to human situations in a simplistic way. This, in turn, shows the big difference between human wisdom and divine wisdom: while people see only a small part of a situation and make assumptions, God knows everything, and his wisdom is perfect.
Job’s friends initially argue that God always punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. First they take turns arguing that God only punishes people who are wicked—as Eliphaz proverbially puts it, the wicked “plow iniquity / and sow trouble,” and they accordingly reap the same. In other words, there’s a sort of cold logic to the way God treats people—if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you (and vice versa). Similarly, Zophar insists that if one just looks at the lives of the wicked, it’s obvious that they suffer misery in return for their misdeeds: their lives are short, and even their children suffer. The men argue that there’s empirical proof that wickedness is always punished (and, by implication, that goodness is always rewarded).
According to Job’s friends’ logic, it then follows that Job himself must have sinned. Bildad argues that people who forget God are like dried-up reeds which, without water, inevitably wither. Such an image suggests that the relationship between human action and reward is as automatic as the cycles of nature. Later, Eliphaz doubles down and directly accuses Job of being cruel to widows and orphans. Since God sees everything from heaven, God knows what Job has done, and it only makes sense that Job is suffering as a result. If Job turns from his sin, the friends conclude, God will once again bless Job. Eliphaz urges Job to turn from greed and instead make God his “gold,” presuming to know what’s in Job’s mind and telling him how to get back on track. Likewise, Elihu (a newcomer to the debate) argues that suffering is typically God’s way of pulling a person back from sin, “opening [their] ear by adversity,” implying that this must be Job’s situation, too.
Rejecting his friends’ arguments and assumptions, Job wishes he could argue with God directly and thereby vindicate himself. Job retorts that if he’s done something to earn God’s anger, then his friends should tell him what it is—implying that if the logic of reward and punishment is so straightforward, then it should be obvious why Job is suffering like this. Job also longs to speak to God directly instead of having to listen to his friends’ “worthless” arguments—recognizing that his friends’ supposed “wisdom” is lacking and that it doesn’t speak for God, whatever their claims. Job takes for granted that human and divine wisdom are totally different things.
God mocks Job’s pretensions to wisdom and doesn’t even deign to respond to Job’s friends, suggesting that limited human wisdom is incapable of grasping God’s omniscient (all-knowing) wisdom. Speaking out of the whirlwind, God demands to know who’s speaking “words without knowledge,” quickly dismissing Job’s laments and arguments (and implicitly his friends’ as well). He then directly attacks Job’s lack of wisdom about the creation and workings of the world. God implies that if Job doesn’t understand the first thing about how the world was made, then he can’t pretend to understand God’s reasons for allowing his suffering, either.
But God’s interrogation of Job also suggests a note of comfort. As the Book of Job progresses, Job and his companions basically go around and around on the same theme (why do the righteous suffer?) without resolving anything. God’s speech confronts Job and his friends with the fact that their wisdom will never measure up to divine wisdom—but this also breaks them out of their impasse, forcing them to acknowledge a far greater source of wisdom than themselves.
Human Wisdom vs. Divine Wisdom ThemeTracker
Human Wisdom vs. Divine Wisdom Quotes in Book of Job
There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another's houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
How happy is the one whom God reproves;
therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he binds up;
he strikes, but his hands heal.
See, we have searched this out; it is true.
Hear, and know it for yourself.
Those who withhold kindness from a friend
forsake the fear of the Almighty.
My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed,
like freshets that pass away,
that run dark with ice,
turbid with melting snow.
In time of heat they disappear;
when it is hot, they vanish from their place.
What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they do not know it,
when he overturns them in his anger;
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the Sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond understanding,
and marvelous things without number.
Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.
Only grant two things to me,
then I will not hide myself from your face:
withdraw your hand far from me,
and do not let dread of you terrify me.
Then call, and I will answer;
or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Why do you hide your face,
and count me as your enemy?
Will you frighten a windblown leaf
and pursue dry chaff?
Agree with God, and be at peace;
in this way good will come to you.
Receive instruction from his mouth,
and lay up his words in your heart.
If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored,
if you remove unrighteousness from your tents,
and if the Almighty is your gold
and your precious silver,
then you will delight yourself in the Almighty,
and lift up your face to God.
If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.
By his power he stilled the Sea;
by his understanding he struck down Rahab.
By his wind the heavens were made fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
These are indeed but the outskirts of his ways;
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?
God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth,
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight,
and apportioned out the waters by measure;
then he saw [wisdom] and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to humankind,
‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
and to depart from evil is understanding.’”
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job, because they were older than he. But when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouths of these three men, he became angry.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
or loose the cords of Orion?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cling together?
Then Job answered the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. […] The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. […] After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.