Job 25–26: Insight & Empathy

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 13: Thursday

Then Job responded,
What a help you are to the weak!
How you have saved the arm without strength!
What counsel you have given to one without wisdom!
What helpful insight you have abundantly provided!
To whom have you uttered words?
And whose spirit was expressed through you?”

Job 26:1–4

In Thursday’s Bible reading of Job 25–26, Bildad speaks to Job in chapter 25. Job’s reply to him in chapter 26, marks the beginning of a long discourse by Job that will continue for six chapters—until the end of chapter 31.

Bildad gives the last speech of the three friends. As I read his words, I thought, “What’s the point?” and from Job’s reaction I think he had similar thoughts. Job had just finished a passionate reply to Eliphaz’ accusation that he is a wicked man, and he had conclusively contra-dicted Eliphaz’ dogma that wicked deeds always bring the consequence of suffering. Job ended chapter 24 with a challenge to prove him wrong, and all Bildad can offer is a brief and weak speech on God’s dominion and power. It seems to me that Bildad didn’t know what to say, but was apparently unwilling to remain silent and felt the need to say something. E. S. P. Heavenor writes:

“This short speech is not a case of multum in parvo, but an indication that the ideas of the friends are all but exhausted…

“Job demonstrates that he understands what Bildad has said about the might of God. His controversy with him and with the others cannot be explained by failure to stand where they have stood in appreciation of the omnipotence of God; it must rather be explained by his honesty in facing certain puzzling facts of experience which they have either overlooked or suppressed. A. B. Davidson has the chapter heading: ‘Job rivals Bildad in magnifying the greatness of God.’”1

I was amused when I read Davidson’s heading because I had just been thinking that it seemed Job was trying to outdo Bildad. Bildad’s purpose in speaking was obviously not to help Job or provide counsel or insight—it was more of a feeble protest to Job, as if Bildad knew in advance what he would say was insufficient—hence Job’s scathing opening in chapter 26. Job takes the theme of the moon and stars introduced by Bildad and expands it in a manner that is so far beyond what Bildad had to say that I think Job was trying to strongly underscore the point, in case they missed his sarcasm, and tell them in a not so subtle manner, that, yes, he did realize and grasp the greatness of God. Job’s message is a reiteration of what he had to say in 13:1–2: he knows what they know and he’s not inferior to them.

Before you speak to someone who is suffering, do you take the time to genuinely consider who the person is and what he or she needs to hear? Do you listen and understand his perspective and see the individual? Or are you caught up in playing the role of counselor rather than actually being one? If your words aren’t well received, do you take the time to think over why they are not?

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar could never get past themselves to focus on helping Job. They remained caught up in their own fears and their own sense of insult when Job objected to their counsel. Bildad has the last word of the three of them; and it’s fitting that this final piece of advice ends with a sputter.

Lately I have been stunned to find that some of the most profound philosophical reflections I’ve seen online about the human condition are from the business world. In The Right Way to Respond to Failure, Peter Bregman writes that what we need after failure is not advice—most of us already know the platitudes—what we need is that which we cannot to give ourselves, but must receive from someone else—empathy. He comments:

“I wanted every leader, manager, and team member to see that, because the empathetic response to failure is not only the most compassionate, it’s also the most productive.

“Empathy communicates trust. And people perform best when they feel trusted.”2

While Job had not failed, his life has fallen apart and the accompanying feelings are similar. He has endured lectures and accusations, and received advice and wisdom which he already knew. What was one thing he needed badly, could not give to himself and which he did not receive? Empathy. Last week in Rebuttal & Understanding I wrote that Job needed affirmation of his friends’ love and respect for him as well as consolation from them. Those are all expressions of empathy!

“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
Lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
Job 6:14

The Hebrew word for kindness in Job 6:14, is hesed. A word that is frequently translated in the King James Version as lovingkindness. R. Laird Harris writes,

“The word “lovingkindness” of the KJV is archaic, but not far from the fulness of the meaning of the word.”3

When someone you know is suffering consider what he or she needs that they cannot give themselves, but you can. Giving advice may make you feel wise, but it may only make the other person more miserable. There are some things only God can give, but there are things you can give and that is why He has placed you in that person’s life. People need to know they are not alone—they need the touch of another human being to whom it matters what happens to them. They need to know you consider them to be a valuable part of your life. They need love.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Job and his friends, Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Public Domain.
1E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 435.
2Peter Bregman, The Right Way to Handle Failure, Harvard Business Review.
3R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old
, 1980, vol. I, p. 307.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

2 thoughts on “Job 25–26: Insight & Empathy

  1. Loving kindness. Covenant-keeping love. It’s just too marvelous a concept to be allowed to become obsolete or archaic. It’s too needed.

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