How to comfort the afflicted

Do you ever feel inadequate because you don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting? Have you considered that maybe you don’t need words, that perhaps there is a different or better way to comfort the afflicted? There once was a man named Job who was suffering extreme pain. His friends came to comfort him, but they didn’t start with words; their approach was very different. Let’s see if there’s something about their example that can encourage us when we are at a loss for words.

Thanks for watching this episode of Bible Mountain dotcom. This is the fourth episode in a series on the book of Job called Why Do People Suffer. The book of Job can be divided into 33 sections. You may notice the blocks in this chart are different widths. The width corresponds to how many verses are in each section. Most of the book is a dialogue that took place between Job and his friends or between Job and Yahweh about why people suffer. The first four sections set the stage for that dialogue.

ChartThe first section is the first five verses of chapter one. This section introduces us to Job, telling us he was the most righteous and wealthiest man in the east. We looked at that section in the first episode of this series. In the second episode we looked at the second section. This section tells us Satan presented himself before Yahweh and was given permission to take away Job’s possessions and children to see if he would curse God. Job did not curse God. In the third episode we looked at the first ten verses of chapter 2. This section tells us Satan was allowed to afflict Job’s body with pain to see if he would curse God. Once again, Job did not curse God.

Today, we’re going to read the fourth section of Job. This section is short, but it is important because it introduces us to Job’s friends, and it shows us perhaps a different way to encourage those who are suffering. Let’s get started at Job 2:11.

Job 2:11

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him.

Here we are introduced to Job’s three friends: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. These men were major participants in the dialogue that spans over half the book of Job. The author deliberately pointed out they made an appointment to arrive together. He also explained their purpose: sympathize and comfort. Sympathize is a translation of the Hebrew word nud. This Hebrew word is translated many different ways. Let’s look at some examples.

Gen. 4:12 You will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.

1Kings 14:15b   “as a reed is shaken in the water

Psa. 11:1   Flee as a bird to your mountain;

Prov. 26:2     Like a sparrow in its flitting,

So we have wanderer, shaken, flee, and flitting. This word conveys the idea of not having direction or intent. So when Job’s friends came to sympathize with Job, they came to simply be with him. They were going to be with him so he didn’t have to suffer alone.

Comfort is a translation of the Hebrew word nacham. Let’s look at some examples of how this word is translated.

Gen. 5:29b     This one will give us rest from our work

Ex. 13:17b     The people might change their minds

1Sam. 15:11 I regret that I have made Saul king

Job 42:6b     I repent in dust and ashes.

So we have give us rest, change their minds, regret, and repent. This word communicates change. So when Job’s friends came to be with Job, they also intended to eventually effect change.

Job 2:12

When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky.

Notice the friends did not recognize Job. Did you ever hear of a friend or relative being sick and then when you saw that person you don’t recognize him or her because the illness dramatically changed their looks? That is what happened to Job. This tells us Job was very sick. Notice they raised their voices, wept, tore their robes, and threw dust. These were all expressions of grief.

Job 2:13

Then the three friends sat down on the ground with Job for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

Notice the word seven. These friends came and sat with Job but no one spoke for seven days. That was a long time for everyone to be silent. Notice the word “for”. They were silent because they saw his pain was very great. Again, this indicates the extent of Job’s suffering.

Job 3:1

Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

Notice the word cursed. In our society we associate cursing with using bad words. In other words, a curse is an insult. In Bible times, cursing meant invoking harm or punishment on someone or something. In other words, in Bible times a curse was an assault. For example,

2Kings 2:23-24

Then Elisha went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.

In this case Elijah cursed the lads, and as a result of the curse, two bears came out and tore up some of the lads. The curse was more than an insult, it was an assault.

Now back to Job, he was in so much pain, he cursed the day of his birth in an attempt to bring action that would prohibit himself from ever being born. Notice the words “major break”. This is something that appears in the original Hebrew text, but is not included in modern Bible translations. Let me explain why this is important. I’m going to use these four verses as an example. Let’s read this first.

Job 2:13-3:2

Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said, “Let the day perish on which I was to be born, And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’”

In the English language we use space to group letters into words – here I highlighted the spaces in the first row – and we use space to separate sentences into paragraphs. In Biblical Hebrew they did not do this. Their writing looked like this: They had no space between words, no punctuation, and no paragraphs. Take a few seconds to try and read this. It is a bit more challenging to read this way.

However, they did have a way of grouping words into sections of thought. They used letters to indicate major breaks and minor breaks. This Hebrew letter indicated a major break. and this one indicated a minor break. I assume they did it this way because writing materials were expensive, and they wanted to put as much information as possible on each piece of writing material. So if we go back to these verses, notice on the right side of the screen the highlighted letter. There is a major break at this point. In English it looks like this. Here is the major break.

The reason I point this out is because we usually think the break is here. This is the start of chapter 3, and here the translators put a symbol indicating the start of a new paragraph. If we think the break is here, then we think this is part of Job’s curse. However, once we know the Bible puts the break here, we realize the curse and this are two separate things. Hence, today’s episode will end here after the statement that Job cursed the day of his birth. In the next episode we will see what Job did next.

Let’s go back to this sentence about seven days of silence. Earlier, I pointed out Job’s friends came to sympathize with Job. We looked at four verses where the same Hebrew word is translated wanderer, shaken, flee, and flitting, and concluded sympathize is simply being there. Thus, Job’s friends came to be with Job. Now let’s look at verse 13 again.

Job 2:13

Then the three friends sat down on the ground with Job for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

Think about the fact they sat there for seven days. Time is valuable. Time is a limited resource. The fact they were willing to invest seven days just being there demonstrates patience. When Job’s friends went to comfort Job, they were patient. They did not expect to make Job feel better in half an hour; they knew it would take time.

What about us? If one of our friends or relatives is suffering, would we have the patience to stop everything else for seven days and just be there with them? Here’s something else to consider:

1Cor. 13:4   Love is patient.

Do we love our friends and relatives enough to be patient when they are suffering? Do we love them enough to spend seven days? When we want to comfort the afflicted, instead of agonizing over whether or not we have the right words, perhaps we should agonize over whether or not we have enough patience and love.

 

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”

 

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