In Job 15-21, Job’s three friends each approached with a second attempt at cross-examination. After Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar finished their interrogations, Job replied in kind, stating his innocence and questioning their well-accepted doctrine of retribution. When Job finished listening to the first round of cross-examinations from his friends, he replied that their knowledge of the matter had not risen very far off the ground (chs. 12-14). But Job 15 records that Eliphaz would have none of it. On the whole, he viewed Job as one who was wicked, one who had shaken his fist against God and opposed the Almighty (Job 15:20a, 25).
Job responded by calling his friends “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) and maintaining his innocence. Job claimed his righteousness before God (Job 16:18-22) and longed for a human companion to come alongside and testify to God that Job was righteous. “I wish that someone might arbitrate between a man and God just as a man pleads for his friend” (Job 16:21), Job said. Bildad thought Job was being led astray by his unfounded claims to innocence. Attempting to further humiliate Job, Bildad catalogued a list of difficulties the unrighteous might encounter. The list remarkably resembled Job’s life situation. But Bildad grew even more bold and said, “Indeed, such is the dwelling of the wicked, and this is the place of the one who does not know God” (Job 18:21).
In Job 19, Job complained against his friends and warned them concerning their foolish counsel. Job trusted the One who had struck him more than the ones speaking with him (Job 19:25-27). Job warned that those who oppose a righteous sufferer would receive God’s wrath (Job 19:28-29), telling his friends, “Be afraid of the sword, because wrath brings punishment by the sword, so that you may know there is a judgment” (Job 19:29).
Zophar countered that if people suffer, it is because they have turned away from God. Thus, since Job was suffering without end in sight, he must have grossly offended God somewhere along the way. Perhaps most frustrating for Zophar was Job’s continued claims of innocence; Job must be concealing his sin, he thought. Job was warned that if one attempted to hide, “The heavens will expose his iniquity, and the earth will rise up against him” (Job 20:27).
After enduring the pejorative words of the three, in ch. 21 Job longed for a sympathetic ear. As Job surveyed the landscape of humanity, he could identify several exceptions to the tit-for-tat spirituality proposed by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job called them to consider that the wicked are often blessed with health, family, and prosperity (Job 21:7-21). Job accused his friends, saying, “Your answers are deceptive” (Job 21:34).
Job agreed with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar when they described God’s discipline of the wicked. Job, however, maintained that he had done no wrong and yet suffered as though he had sinned. In the storyline of Scripture, God’s justice toward humanity is ultimately understood in light of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul’s letter to the Romans encapsulates the way that he understood God’s justice toward those who had sinned against God and those who thought themselves generally okay before Him. Paul accused the judgmental among the Roman congregation (those whose thinking paralleled that of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) of condemning the sin of others while excusing themselves. Paul acknowledged that God is just to repay each person according to their works, “eternal life to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and indignation to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth, but are obeying unrighteousness” (Rom 2:7-8). Paul assured the Romans that God has no favorites and that He judges based upon works (Rom 2:11). Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar understood the same. But unlike Job and his friends, Paul understood that no one performs the works worthy of eternal life. In Rom 3:9-20, Paul described that all humans deserve God’s wrath because of their sin. In the storyline of Scripture, God’s grace is displayed uniquely in the person and work of Christ—through him alone one can enjoy God’s favor. God is just, Paul wrote. God places on Jesus the sins of those who believe in Christ and looks upon Jesus’ blood as the covering for human sin. God therefore credits to those who believe in Jesus the very standing of Jesus (Rom 3:25-26).