When Your Close Friend Turns Against You

On the night of His betrayal, our Lord quoted from Psalm 41:9 and applied it to the treachery of Judas. That verse says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” While David was writing about his own experiences, he was also writing as a type of Christ. Thus, Calvin comments on this verse:

And certainly we ought to understand that, although David speaks of himself in this psalm, yet he speaks not as a common and private person, but as one who represented the person of Christ, inasmuch as he was, as it were, the example after which the Church should be conformed—a point well entitled to our attention, in order that each of us may prepare himself for the same condition. It was necessary that what was begun in David should be fully accomplished in Christ; and, therefore, it must of necessity come to pass, that the same thing be fulfilled in each of his members, namely, that they should not only suffer from external violence and force, but also from internal foes, ever ready to betray them, even as Paul declares that the Church shall be assailed, not only by “fightings without,” but also by “fears within,” (2 Cor. vii. 5).[1]

It is not only Christ, but all His people who shall experience this betrayal by one who was formerly esteemed as a ‘close friend.’ It is not from the time of David’s psalm forward, but all those who love Christ who will also experience the reproaches of Christ. Moses considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26). Thus Moses wrote the Book of Job to show that this great man, this Eastern patriarch, also suffered the hostility of close friends against him for the sake of Christ.

The three friends of Job, for all their failures, were no doubt good men and true friends. They each had come a long distance to see Job when they heard of his trials. They sympathized with him when they saw his sufferings. They sat down beside him for a week without saying a word. They were unwittingly subject to the work of the devil in furthering his attack on Job. They were used by that enemy to multiply Job’s torment and sufferings. The thoughts they had were not from the Lord. It teaches us that we must be very careful in what we say to make sure we are thinking, acting, and speaking Biblically.

Those Who Plow Iniquity

While their main message to Job was certainly wrong, there are elements of what they said that would have been true in different circumstances. Eliphaz, probably the oldest of the three friends, makes the first speech against Job. He does so in such a way that would serve well as an example of how not to comfort a brother under trials. In his first recorded words to Job, he twice accuses of him of being impatient and then asks: “Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?” (Job 4:6). Yet, it was Eliphaz who had lost all patience as revealed by his question to Job: “But who can refrain from speaking?” (Job 4:2). Well, a true friend could, for one. These dramatic speeches between Job and his friends surely reveal that Job was not making his fear of God his confidence. In the very first chapter, Job had offered sacrifices for his children because, he said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). That is not the way a person reasons who trusts in ceremonial works of righteousness for his salvation or makes his integrity his hope. As Mason retorts:

The essential error of Eliphaz, and of Job’s other friends, is in trying to shift Job’s focus away from the roots of faith and onto its flowers and fruit. Even as they talk loftily of God, what they are really doing is distracting Job’s full attention from the Lord and tempting him to concentrate instead on himself and his sin. . . Assuming that the opposite of sin is virtue, they conclude that a righteous life is one that will always be producing visible fruit that is its own reward. Yet in the vocabulary of the gospel, the opposite of sin is not virtue but grace.[2]  

In the age old debate over whether salvation is by faith or by works, Eliphaz and his friends come down clearly on the side of works. Eliphaz confidently states a principle that becomes the essential, unnegotiable position of Job’s friends: “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it’ (Job 4:8). Through eight separate speeches, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar never budge nor waiver from that position. There are certainly a number of similar verses in Scripture. Proverbs 22:8 says: “He who sows iniquity will reap vanity, and the rod of his fury will perish.” Hosea 8:7 says, “For they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” And, Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will reap.” It seemed so obvious to Eliphaz that Job was suffering for some sin, some secret sin, that was known only to God. It is certainly true that “whatever a man sows, this he will reap” and that message would have been appropriate under different circumstances, but not in the particular circumstances which had befallen Job. The failure of Eliphaz and his comrades was that they did not have the skill to rightly discern the ways of God and to give a word of comfort and encouragement Job during his trials. One of the most troubling aspects of Eliphaz’s character is that he overstates most things. He does that in his speech to Job about sowing and harvesting by stating that this is what he has “seen”. Eliphaz portrays himself as an elder statesman, but he still comes across as cold and heartless towards Job’s circumstances. Apparently, that week of silence left him too much time for thinking which can be very dangerous. As my father’s motto always was, “Think long, think wrong.” Neither Eliphaz nor his other friends ever do what Paul commends to all of us, that we would receive the comfort from God in our afflictions “so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Having judged that Job was suffering as a result of his sins, they were unable to express any sympathy towards his trials.

 Delighting in a Vision He Has Seen

In the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul entreated that church not to let anyone defraud “you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the wordship of angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18). Self-abasement, the worship of angels, and the mystic superstition associated with visions certainly leads to an inflated opinion of oneself. There is a danger as John Eadie writes, in allowing ourselves to wander beyond not only “the regions of sense, but even that of Scripture;” to allow ourselves an “inquisitive spirit” that pries “into the invisible world” and loses itself “in transcendental revelries.”[3] Much of the false religion of the world is based on such mysticism and superstition which is opposed to the revelation of truth in the Scripture. It is troubling, therefore, when Eliphaz references an experience that he had during his sleep. There are various interpretations of Eliphaz’s vision. While there are some similarities to what Old Testament prophets experienced, there are also differences. Before we consider his vision, we must remind ourselves what the Lord said about these friends in Job 42:8—“you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.” John Hartley noted these differences:

Hearing dominates over seeing, as is typical of a vision account in the OT. But the recipient’s inability to describe any visual images differs from a prophetic account, for the prophet sometimes sketches briefly, but specifically, what he saw (e.g. Isaiah 6). Though Eliphaz’s experience was primarily auditory, he did get a glimpse of something resembling a spirit. But no prophet ever mentions hearing a word from “a spirit.” More often a prophet speaks as though he stood before Yahweh and there was commissioned to proclaim God’s purpose to his people.[4]     

Yet, the main difference between Eliphaz’s speech and the words of the prophets is in the message itself which is a denial of the gospel. The words of Eliphaz seem like a truism until they are examined more closely. Once again, Hartley is helpful:

While this revealed truth seems so obvious that its being stated is trite, it is central to Eliphaz’s thinking. Thus he will repeat it in each of his speeches (15:15, 16; 22:2). Whereas the usual basis in the OT for this thought of human unworthiness is humanity’s sinful disposition, Eliphaz grounds the doctrine of human insignificance on humanity’s inferiority before God.[5]  

Grounding human insignificance in man’s inferiority before God is not the message of the Scripture. The problem is not that God failed to create all things very good, but that sin entered into the world through the fall. Eliphaz makes no mention of the fall of mankind nor to the Lord’s declaration when man was created: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule” (Genesis 2:26). Eliphaz’s questions in Job 4:17 can be translated as: “Can mankind be just from God? Can a man be pure from God?” Thus, Eliphaz continues to state that God does not trust His servants and charges His even angels with error (Job 4:18). Once again, that is contrary to many passages of Scripture which describe those angels who kept their first estate as perfectly carrying out the mission given to them by the Lord. Yet, if Eliphaz’s vision was not from God, from whence did it arise? The answer is not hard to find. As we noticed in the last chapter, Satan has the power to work on the psychic condition of men. John Bunyan described even Christian as receiving messages from the devil when he was passing through the Valley of the Shadow of death which he could hardly discern from whence they came. And there are instances in Scripture of lying spirits being sent out to deceive the unbelieving.   

By grounding the distance between man and God in the creation rather than the fall, Eliphaz has basically given the reverse message with which Satan  enticed Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit: “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil.” The message of Eliphaz told Job that man by creation was so far below God that he could never be just and pure. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to become like God by eating the forbidden fruit. Eliphaz said that man is so far below God that he can never be just and pure before Him. In both instances, man’s problem is based on the creation. Yet, Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” Satan tempted man to become like God. Eliphaz said man was so far below God as a result of creation that he could never be like Him. Yet, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The problem of man is the result of the fall—not God’s supposed flawed or deficient creation of him.

Eliphaz repeats this same message in Job 15:14-16 and Job 22:2. The basic message is the theme of all Job’s friends in their speeches against him. Yet, their words are not so much against Job as they are words against God Himself. Is it true that God “puts no trust in His holy ones” and that “the heavens are not pure in His sight?” (Job 15:15). There is no other book of Scripture which teaches that the Lord ‘puts no trust in His holy ones’—just the opposite. Christ said in Luke 9:26: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” The holy angels of God are there considered to be participants in that glory that belongs to the Son of Man and the Father. Hebrews 1:14 asks concerning angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render  service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” There is one angel—a fallen angel—in whom God certainly puts no trust. He is that fallen angel—Satan. He appears with the other angels before God to get his marching orders, but he chafes at the restrictions placed on him and is always trying to spit the bit out of his mouth. In that angel and all the other fallen angels who left their first estate, the Lord certainly puts no trust. But it is wrong to call them “servants” and class them with the other angels. Against those fallen angels, the Lord surely charges them with error, but not so with the holy angels who carry out His purposes perfectly.

So, the great question for us concerning this vision of the night that came to Eliphaz is this: Was it the result of spiritism whose author is Satan or did it come from the Lord? Another question is this: Who was this ‘spirit’ that passed before Eliphaz as a kind of phantom whose form could not be discerned but whose appearance made his flesh bristle up? (Job 4:14). We know from Scripture if this was a vision of God or one of His holy angels, then the message that was communicated would be in accordance with the rest of Scripture. David Thomas in The Book of Job: Exegetically and Practically Considered comments on that verse wherein Eliphaz said his “flesh bristled up” as follows:

Shakespeare, in his speech of the ghost of Hamlet, describes the effect of fear upon the flesh: “But that I am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotty and combined locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end, like quills from the fretful porcupine.”[6]   

While it is true that even the saints who had visions of the Lord or even the holy angels were filled with awe and reverence, Eliphaz’s description of his experience goes beyond holy awe to dreadful fear. He was overtaken with “disquieting thoughts” and “dread” and “trembling” and shaking bones and flesh bristling up. Knowing from Scripture that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), I agree with Mike Mason that this vision of Eliphaz was from the evil one and not the Lord:

Eliphaz very probably committed the heinous—yet unfortunately all too common—error of mistaking an evil spirit for the Spirit of the Lord, and moreover of repeating the words of a demon as if they were those of God Himself.

Certainly it is true  throughout the Bible that meetings with God are normally accompanied by an initial, overwhelming dread. When Isaiah saw the Lord his immediate response was “Woe to me! I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:5) and when the glory of the Lord shone around the Bethlehem shepherds, “they were terrified” (Luke 2:9). Yet always in such cases the Lord’s first word is one of peace to the trembling heart, for He knows that only in peace can we see and hear Him as He really is—the God of love, in whom “there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).[7]  

Satan had been given by the Lord unfettered access to try Job in every way short of taking his life and he was using every weapon at his disposal. If the devil indeed was using the three friends of Job to torment him further, then what better way to do so than by beguiling Eliphaz with a false message. This message of Eliphaz was not one of peace, but one of hopelessness. It was the hopeless message that man can never be justified before the Lord. Such hopelessness is the special playground of the evil one. Yet, the message of the gospel is that there is justification before God for the one who believes. The contest between God and Satan was not over the righteousness of Job—even the devil did not deny that. It was over the gospel itself—and Satan well understood that point. The primary message of the Bible is that man, despite his native sinfulness, can be just before God through faith in Christ alone. By asking the rhetorical question if man can be just or pure before God (or, ‘from God’), Eliphaz was really stating that man cannot be just and pure before God. Even the angels in heaven, according to this false message of Eliphaz, are charged with error. That is a message of hopelessness and despair. It is a message that says man can never be any better or any different than he already is because God created him so far below Himself. Thomas Brooks shows what is wrong with these “disquieting thoughts” of Eliphaz in his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. Eliphaz was judging Job by feeble sense and turning his thoughts into an alleged truism—that was wrong. As Brooks wrote in his fourth chapter on “Satan’s Devices to Keep Saints in a Sad, Doubting, Questioning, & Uncomfortable Condition”:

The second remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That the hand of God may be against a man, when the love and heart of God is much set upon a man. No man can conclude how the heart of God stands by his hand. . .

God can look sourly, and chide bitterly, and strike heavily, even where and when he loves dearly. The hand of God was very much against Job, and yet his love, his heart, was very much set upon Job, as you may see by comparing chaps. 1 and 2, with 41 and 42.[8]

In his enmity against Job, the devil was attempting to overwhelm him with despair and continued to attack him after he refused to curse God and die. He wanted Job to spiral downwards into deep depression wherein he would lose all hope and would question the love of God for him. This is typical of the devil. It is one of his devices, according to Brooks. 

[1] James Anderson, trans., John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Volume Second (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, n.d.), 122.

[2] Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994), 70.

[3] John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians (Minneapolis, Minnesota: James and Klock Christian Publishing Company, 1977), 188.

[4] John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), 111. 

[5] Ibid. 113.

[6] David Thomas, The Book of Job: Exegetically and Practically Considered (Minneapolis, Minnesota: James & Klock Publishing, 1976), 58.

[7] Mason, Ibid., 72.

[8] Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 152-3.

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