Advice to Husband and Friends by Job by Charles R Swindoll
All the passages below are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “Job” published in 2004.
Examining the life of Job is like crawling into a crucible. For the next few moments think about that word crucible. At the core of the term is the Latin word, crux, which means “cross,” used as a synonym for torture. We still use the word in that way, like when we refer to “A cross one must bear.” Our English term excruciating bears a similar resemblance. In Job’s case, his crucible would mean his pit of agony. Webster defines crucible, “a severe test; a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause change or development.” Study that definition before you rush on. Go back and read it again, slower this time.
Job’s crucible was brought about by two severe attacks from Satan, both permitted by God. Round one—he was attacked in the area of his possessions and his family. His means of earning a living and sustaining a comfortable lifestyle were suddenly removed.
Round two came on the heels of the first, before the grieving father could catch his breath. Satan was determined to hear Job curse his God, so he attacked him in the one area that remained—his health. Not only did he take it away by covering him from his scalp to his soles with sore boils that oozed and cracked and turned his skin black, the awful disease created a maddening itch, high fever, and swelling so severe he hardly resembled himself. The misery is staggering to imagine.
The nineteenth century Scottish divine, Alexander Whyte, put it best in these few words: “Till Christ came, no soul was ever made such a battleground between heaven and earth as Job’s soul was made.”1 Job’s crucible was a battleground. Keep in mind, we know what Job did not know. We know why it happened, and we know how it came about. He knew neither. All he knew was one day he was a model of health and strength, a man of prosperity and integrity with a full quiver of children and happy, wholesome relationships with his circle of friends and workmen, only to lose it all in a matter of hours. Rather than reacting in panic and anger, the man heroically endures. In fact, since his day, Job has come to be known, not as the model of suffering but as the model of endurance.
I remind you of what is written of him in the middle of the first century, “You have heard of the endurance of Job” (James 5:11 NASB). Job endured the crucible; he didn’t fight it or attempt to escape from it. The only ones he had left when all the dust settled was a wife and a small circle of friends from whom he received no affirmation. No encouragement. No comfort. No soothing words of compassion. No embrace of affection. They only added stink to his stack. Nevertheless, Job endured.
A professor of history once said, “If Columbus had turned back, no one would have blamed him but nobody would have remembered him either.”2 The single reason we remember Job with such admiration is because he endured.
Not only did he endure the afflictions I’ve described, he also endured the words of a grieving, shortsighted wife. As we shall see, he also endured the accusations of friends who took upon themselves the role of judge and jury. If you have gone through your own crucible, chances are good you know what it is like in the midst of pain to have people turn against you. What pain that brings! But, returning to the definition, that’s when the crucible causes change and development. As a result of enduring pain, we change from being mere sufferers to wise counselors and valuable comforters.
I was walking the hallways of our church staff offices recently, and I stopped by my son Chuck’s office. He serves as the chief audio engineer at Stonebriar Community Church. As you’d guess, his desk is piled high with specs, catalogues, technical gear, CDs, and various equipment. I couldn’t help but notice a piece of paper he had taped to the wall above his desk. It was a quotation he had lifted from John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart. The statement read: “I don’t trust a man who hasn’t suffered …”3
Looking at the statement, I realized the most valuable counsel I have received in my life has never come from a novice. It’s come from those who bore the scars of the crucible. “As diamonds are made by pressure and pearls formed by irritation, so greatness is forged by adversity.” 4 Sound advice comes from veterans of pain.
ADVICE FROM JOB
Since that is true, this would be a good time to get some advice from job. Later on, we will examine the counsel and advice others gave to him, but I think one should first consider what Job’s counsel might be to us. A man who is enduring such anguish certainly has some helpful things to say to all of us. None of it directly, understand, but drawn indirectly by inference from the final few verses of the second chapter of job.
In my previous chapter, I suggested a couple of pieces of advice for wives. Allow me a few moments of repetition, just to jog your memory.
Advice to Wives
First, always guard your words when your husband is going through a hard time. This good advice is not only for ladies with husbands, this is for single women who have men you’re close to and, perhaps, work alongside. Men can become vulnerable and, in fact, gullible during difficult times. It would be regrettable if you thoughtlessly dumped out words that would not be wise. Job’s wife, in fact, did that … thankfully Job did not agree with her counsel.
Second, never suggest to us that we should compromise our integrity. Don’t ever go there. Even if it would bring us instant relief or temporary gratification. Integrity is a tough enough virtue to sustain without the temptation to compromise it. Gauge your words, ladies. And I’m addressing this to the ladies because—believe it—your words do mean more than we act like they do. More often than not, wives’ words are wiser words than we give you credit for, which is unfortunate. So when you do speak, never suggest solutions that could weaken our integrity. Keep in mind, ladies, there’s nothing more important (aside from a relationship with Christ), than one’s moral and ethical integrity.
Advice to Husbands
Now, let me write a few practical words to you who are husbands. Thanks to Job’s example, here are four pieces of advice we would do well to hear and heed, men.
First, listen well and always tell your wife the truth. I’m impressed that Job listened to the words of his wife. He pondered them, he considered them, he turned them over in his mind. He neither misunderstood nor ignored her. He heard what she said, and he didn’t interrupt her as she said it. That places job in a unique category among husbands, quite frankly.
Men, I’ve found that most of us are not hard of hearing; we’re hard of listening. Our wives frequently have the most important things to say that we will hear that day, but for some strange reason, we have formed the habit of mentally turning off their counsel.
We say to ourselves, “Oh, boy, I’ve sat through this before; I know where she’s going here.” Wait, wait, wait! Probably Job and his wife have had a few spats; it’s a marriage, isn’t it? I would imagine they had a reasonably good marriage. That’s the best any couple can hope for. At critical times in a marriage, wives will have the kernel of truth that we need to hear, but we will miss it if we are not careful. If we operate from habit by reacting in an impatient manner, we will fail to pay attention. (We’ll look like we are, but the truth is we’re not listening).
Let me add here—when we do respond, always tell her the truth. Which means, if what she says is wise and squares with what you know to be truth—if it is helpful—then say so. And thank her. If it is not, say that. Job disagreed and said so.His response after hearing her was, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.”
As one author analyzes the scene:
She sees death as the only good remaining for Job. He should pray to God (lit.’bless’) to be allowed to die, or even curse God in order to die, an indirect way of committing suicide.
Whatever lay behind her words, Job rejects them with fury. But he does not call her `wicked’, merely foolish, that is, lacking in discernment. She thinks God has treated Job badly, and deserves a curse; Job finds nothing wrong with what has happened to him. At this point, Job’s trial enters a new phase, the most trying of all. Instead of helping, the words of his wife and of his friends cause him more pain and put him under more pressure than all the other things that have happened to him so far.5
Job detected in his wife a snag of bitterness, some disillusionment, so he said to her, in effect, “This is advice I cannot and I will not act on. This isn’t wise. This is wrong counsel and I refuse to accept it.”
In the four decades I’ve been dealing with folks who are married, I find one of the most difficult things to get couples to do is say the truth to each other. Admit when we’ve done wrong rather than skirt it or rationalize around it or excuse it—just say, “I was wrong.” Or, if we hear our mate say something that we know is not wise or we detect a questionable motive, we tend not to say the hard thing. How much better to respond, “You know, honey, I realize you’ve got my good at heart, but I honestly have to say, I don’t agree with it. I think it is unwise for you to suggest that.” In the long haul, your marriage will be healthier if you will allow truth to prevail. Especially if it’s truth spoken in love. Listen well, and always speak the truth.
Second, teach her what you have learned about God. Clearly that’s what Job did. Notice how he did it: He asked a question. “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” As I mentioned in the previous chapter, his statement communicated great theology! Job had learned this about his Lord over the years he had walked with Him. Therefore, he explains, “You and I have to understand that our God is not a God who provides only health and wealth. He is our sovereign Master … Lord over whatever occurs in our home, in our lives, including what I’m going through. Our loss and my condition are no surprise to God. This is His will for us; He’s having His way in all of this. For some unrevealed reason He has permitted it and we need to remember, while we can’t explain it, He is still sovereign over this as well.” Job used their circumstances to teach his wife about God.
I’ve not met a godly woman who has ever said to me, “I really am not interested in what my husband has to say about spiritual things.” Godly women are teachable. They say, without hesitation, “I’d rather learn truth from my husband than anybody I know.” Difficult circumstances, painful though they are, provide great opportunities for instruction in righteousness. Affliction, hardship, and sickness can draw couples—in fact, entire families—closer. As the Lord teaches us things about Himself during the crucible, let’s be faithful to pass them on to our mates as well as our children.
Consider Job’s situation. Here’s a man covered with sore boils, in such anguish he can hardly sleep. And yet he’s communicating this spiritual insight about the Father’s will that his wife needed to hear … learn. If he could do that, so can we. Let’s take the time to share with her some of the things we’re learning in the crucible. But let’s do so with gentleness and grace. Again, like job, who simply asked the question, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Gentle, gracious words are always preferred.
Third, model verbal purity. “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Because we’ve lived with our wives over the years and have become extremely comfortable around them, we tend to be unguarded in our words. Wives usually get the brunt of our worst words. Since this is true, let’s agree today that we will restrain ourselves from verbal impurity. Job did not make a blasphemous statement. He did not curse God. Furthermore, he didn’t curse her. As we read earlier, Job didn’t call her “wicked,” but “foolish.”
Be careful how you talk to your wife, my friend. Love her, don’t scold her. If you must disagree, do so with tenderness. I can recall a particular pastor at the door of the church, when his wife simply asked, “Shall we have lunch at a restaurant or do you want to eat at home?” The man turned and rebuked her publicly! The man unloaded on her a piece of his mind he couldn’t afford to lose. Amazingly, she didn’t react, but my heart went out to her. As several of us witnessed the embarrassing and inappropriate comments made by this well-known preacher, we were all uncomfortable. I learned a lot about that preacher that day. Job may have been a public figure, but he didn’t throw his weight around. It makes no difference how well known or how important you are, or how long you’ve been married, or how much money you make or how big your company is—or your church is; no man has the right to talk down to his wife. She is your partner—your equal. Furthermore, she knows a lot of stuff on you. Someday she may write your long-awaited, unauthorized biography!
Fourth, accept her completely; love her unconditionally. A wife thrives in a context of love and acceptance. She is who she is. God has made her into the woman she has become. And may I remind you, she is the wife you chose. She has become the woman that God is making her into, and that calls for complete acceptance and unconditional love on your part. Ideally, that combination results in a deep commitment. Both of you are in this relationship for the long haul. You’re there to stay. And no amount of hardship, difficulty, test, or trial will separate you. In fact, it can pull you closer. Tragically, many a marriage is bound together by very thin, fragile threads. As tests come—from the in-laws or the children, perhaps a difficulty at birth that leads to birth defects in a child, or trials and tests in the business or financial realm … whatever, deliberately pull together and determine to hang in there. Tell her how much she means to you. Talk to her about her value in your life—how much she represents to you. When the crucible heats up, too many guys look for ways to get out.
Maybe we need a brief break here. I’ve been pretty serious, so let me have a little fun with you. I have a close friend who sent me a funny story about a couple who’d been married a long time. The wife awakens in the middle of the night and discovers her husband has gotten out of bed. She gets worried about him, so she puts on her robe and slippers and walks downstairs to look for him. The guy is sitting all by himself at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee. He’s staring at the wall, blinking through tears. She says, “What’s the matter, dear?” He shakes his head but doesn’t say a word. So she asks, “Why are you down here at this time of night? What’s going on?” He looks up from the cup of coffee, glances at her, then says, “You remember twenty years ago when we were dating and you were only sixteen?” She says, “Yeah, of course I remember.” He pauses. Words don’t come easily. “Well,” he says, “remember when your father saw us in the car and we were smooching and he got so mad he walked out to the car and stuck a pistol in my face and he said, `Any boy who kisses my daughter like that is going to marry her! Either you marry her or I’m sending you to jail for the next twenty years.’ Remember that?” She said, “Yeah, I remember that.” He wipes another tear away and he says, “I just realized I would have gotten out today. “Now, that’s a bad husband!6
Okay, enough frivolity. Time to get back to the crucible.
THE ORIGINAL THREE AMIGOS
It isn’t long after all this calamity before the word gets out to most of Job’s friends. Understand, the man had many friends, not just those who showed up one day. All those friends got word that Job had come upon hard times, tragic times. But only a few decided to make a trip to be with him. We don’t know much about these men, really, very little. We’re not even sure where they lived originally. They’re simply called “Job’s three friends.”
“Now when Job’s three friends hear of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place” (Job 2:11 NASB). The biblical narrative names them for us—Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar.
Just to inform you ahead of time, much later in the biblical account (chapter 32) we will meet a fourth friend—younger than these three. His name is Elihu. When Elihu finally steps into the story, he says he’s younger and he admits that he’s shy. So he stays in the shadows for quite some time. Three cycles of dialogue occur between job and these three original friends as Elihu stays quiet. The first three are anything but quiet as they unload the truck of criticism and guilt, shame and blame on their friend. We’ll hear from them shortly, but not Elihu. He patiently waits for them to have their say before he speaks.
The three older friends were closer to Job’s age. They were probably wealthy sheiks who had the time and the money to leave their homes and be gone from their businesses in order to visit Job. Maybe the men had met Job in the business world. Perhaps they were part of the enterprise that had been Job’s in better times. We don’t know how they had formed their friendship, we’re never told. The point is, each one came from a different place to spend time in the crucible with their friend.
The story unfolds, “They made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). I repeat, always pay attention to the verbs when you’re reading through the Scriptures. These action words tie together the movement of the story. In this case, the men came for two reasons: to sympathize and to comfort. Keep that in mind. It will be easy to forget it.
Before this book ends, a lot of unattractive and unpleasant things are going to be said by these friends. Matter of fact, the longer they stayed, the worse things got. The more argumentative, and the more judgmental, and the more intense the dialogue.
Advice to Friends
But before we get to all that, these men should be commended for coming. While all of Job’s other friends and acquaintances simply heard and stayed where they were, these friends at least showed up. Good for them! Their coming and their stated reason for coming gives us a choice opportunity to appraise true friendships. Earlier we considered job’s advice to husbands. Now would be a good time to focus on a few characteristics of true friends.
First, friends care enough to come without being asked to come. No one sent a message saying to Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar, “Would you please come and bring a little sympathy and comfort for Job? The man is dying in this crucible of anguish and pain.” That wasn’t necessary, because real friends show up when someone they love is really hurting. Friends don’t need an official invitation. Spontaneously, they come.
Remember the New Testament story of Lazarus when he got so sick? His sisters, Martha and Mary, let Jesus know about that. “The one whom you love is sick.” That’s all they said. They didn’t ask Him to come. And when He doesn’t come (which is another story), they’re offended. But He could have said, “You never asked me to come.” No, not really. You don’t ask a friend. If a friend of yours has a heart attack and you find out he’s taken to a hospital across town, it isn’t long before you’re there. You don’t wait for an invitation. No one’s ever invited to a funeral. We say we go because we’re paying our last respects. On our own initiative, we attend out of respect. In the same way, these men cared about and loved job, so they came alongside.
Second, friends respond with sympathy and comfort. Sympathy includes identifying with the sufferer. Friends do that. They enter into his or her crucible, for the purpose of feeling the anguish and being personally touched by the pain. Comfort is attempting to ease the pain by helping to make the sorrow lighter. You run errands for them. You take care of the kids. You provide a meal. You assist wherever you need to assist because you want to comfort them.
John Hartley writes insightfully,
On learning of Job’s affliction, three beloved friends … Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, agreed together to travel to Uz in order to console Job. The term for friends has a wide range of meanings, including an intimate counselor … a close friend … a party in a legal dispute. Friends often solemnized their relationship with a covenant, promising to care for each other under all kinds of circumstances. The relationship between Job and his three friends gives every evidence of being based on a covenant…. Such a relationship was characterized by loyal love…. Motivated by love and their commitment, these men came to console and to comfort Job. The word to console… means literally “to shake the head or to rock the body back and forth” as a sign of shared grief. To comfort. .. is to attempt to ease the deepest pain caused by a tragedy or death … With the noblest intentions, these three earnestly desired to help Job bear his sorrow.7
Isn’t that intriguing? Maybe, while you were in school you had an unwritten pact with a small group of friends. You got so close, you said to each other, “No matter what, wherever we find ourselves in the future, we all want each other to know we’re going to be there for one another, especially when you’re in need.”
That may have been the way it was with Job and these men. They never wrote it out and signed on the dotted line, but it’s true. These men had that kind of closeness and so, naturally, they came to give sympathy and comfort.
Third, friends openly express the depth of their feelings. Friends have ways of doing that, don’t they? It’s not uncommon to see a friend standing nearby in the hospital room fighting back the tears. It’s not unusual for the friend to express deep feelings. Casual acquaintances don’t usually do that; genuine friends make their feelings known.
Truth be told, these men were initially shocked when they saw what they saw. They didn’t even recognize Job! They probably first went to his old home site, where they had been before. The place didn’t even look familiar. Everything around it was destroyed. There was nothing stirring. It was ghostly silent; all they could see were the gravestones on the hillside. And somebody nearby says, “Oh, Job? He left sometime ago. I think he’s staying out at the city dump.” Another shock.
When they arrived, even before they got up close, they could tell the difference immediately. Their friend had no hair, his robe was torn, and he is sitting there with dung burning near him, a pack of wild dogs not far away, and stinking, rotten garbage everywhere. They stood and stared in disbelief. That’s when their feelings came out. “Man, look at this.” And “they threw dust over their heads toward the sky” (an ancient expression of grief) as they cried. That implies they were down near the dust. The narrative states, “they sat down on the ground” (v. 13). That’s what friends do. They don’t worry about getting dirty or messy.
This brings me to my fourth principle. Friends aren’t turned off by distasteful sights. On the contrary, they come alongside and they get as close as possible. Friends are not offended because the room has a foul smell. Friends don’t turn away because the one they’ve come to be with has been reduced to the shell of his former self, weighing half of what he used to weigh.
Friends see beyond all of that. They don’t walk away because the bottom has dropped out of your life and you’re at wits’ end. On the contrary, that draws them in. These men literally raised their voices and sobbed as they sat down on the ground with Job. They demonstrated the depth of their anguish by staying seven days and seven nights without uttering a word.
Fifth, friends understand, so they say very little. I love the way Warren Wiersbe writes of this:
The best way to help people who are hurting is just to be with them saying little or nothing, and letting them know you care. Don’t try to explain everything; explanations never heal a broken heart. If his friends had listened to him, accepted his feelings, and not argued with him, they would have helped him greatly; but they chose to be prosecuting attorneys instead of witnesses.8
Job’s friends stayed because they had every reason to be near him. The kind of anguish this man’s going through, he may have died at any moment, for all they knew. So they stayed by his side with their lips sealed. It was what happened afterthose seven days that fouled things up. The longer they stayed the worse things became.
The moment we find ourselves in trouble of any kind—sick in the hospital, bereaved by a friend’s death, dismissed from a job or relationship, depressed or bewildered—people start showing up telling us exactly what is wrong with us and what we must do to get better. Sufferers attract fixers the way road kills attract vultures. At first we are impressed that they bother with us and amazed at their facility with answers. They know so much! How did they get to be such experts in living?
More often than not, these people use the Word of God frequently and loosely. They are full of spiritual diagnosis and prescription. It all sounds so hopeful. But then we begin to wonder, “Why is it that for all their apparent compassion we feel worse instead of better after they’ve said their piece?”
The Book of Job is not only a witness to the dignity of suffering and God’s presence in our suffering but is also our primary biblical protest against religion that has been reduced to explanations or “answers.” Many of the answers that Job’s so-called friends give him are technically true. But it is the “technical” part that ruins them. They are answers without personal relationship, intellect without intimacy. The answers are slapped onto Job’s ravaged life like labels on a specimen bottle. Job rages against this secularized wisdom that has lost touch with the living realities of God.9
The late (and I might add great) Joe Bayly and his wife, Mary Lou, lost three of their children. They lost one son following surgery when he was only eighteen days old. They also lost the second boy at age five because of leukemia. They then lost a third son at eighteen years after a sledding accident, because of complications related to his hemophilia.
Joe writes in a wonderful book, The View from a Hearse, (which has been changed in title to The Last Thing We Talk About):
I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true.
I was unmoved, except I wished he’d go away. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.
I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.10
Friends have done it right when those in the crucible hate to see you go.
We must leave Job in his misery for now. We’re mere onlookers. Had we lived in his day, there is no way we could say, “I know how you feel.” You don’t. I don’t. We can’t even imagine. But we do care. Our presence and our tears say much more than our words.
Words have a hollow ring in a crucible. [41-53]
1. Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), Old Testament Characters (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, i99o) 379. Public domain.
2. Source unknown.
3. John Eldredge, Wild at Heart (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001) 137. Reprinted by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.
4. Peter H. Gibbon, A Call to Heroism (New York, NY Grove/Atlantic: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002), 182.
5. Francis Andersen, Job: Tyndale OT Commentary Series (London: Inter Varsity Press 1976), 93. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515 http://www.ivpress.com.
6. “20 Years is All It Takes” in an e-mail to Chuck Swindoll, 2002, www crazydoodle.com/jokes/20years.html.
7. John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (NICOT) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 85. Used by permission.
8. Warren Wiersbe, Be Patient (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, A Division of Cook Communications, i99i), 21.
9. Eugene Peterson, “Introduction to Job,” The Message (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 840. Used by permission.
10. Joseph Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishing Co., A Division of Cook Communications, 1973), 55-56