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7 Positive Lessons from Job’s Friends on Helping Hurting People

Ever felt like you had no clue how to help someone who was hurting? It doesn’t matter if the pain is physical, emotional or spiritual. Too often we simply freeze, not really knowing how to best help our friends in need.

Should I give them advice? Try to cheer them up? Give them a hug? Offer to help them in some way? Who really knows, right? It’s simply hard to know the appropriate way to respond so as not to hurt or offend them further.

jobs friendsThe Bible records a story for us about a man named Job (pronounced “jobe”). In his story, we see him experiencing some of the deepest emotional and physical pain one could be dealt. In his distress, three of his friends came to be with him. The initial steps they took serve as an example to us all on how to respond when one of our friends is hurting.

Job’s Test from God

In the book of Job, the Bible describes the man Job as righteous before God. It says he was upright and blameless, one who feared God and kept away from evil. He was also a family man and a man of prayer, often praying for his children to stay out of trouble.

And the Bible describes him as very rich, so that he was “the greatest of all the people of the East” (Job 1:3).

On one occasion, God allowed Satan to put Job through a personal trial. This was a test of Job’s faith to see whether he would curse God because of his hardships. So God gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted to Job, except take his life.

In a series of unthinkable events, Job lost everything. His livestock and possessions were stolen or destroyed, his children were killed in an “accident” and he experienced a painful skin disease. However, the Bible tells us that in all this Job did not sin by cursing God.

Even though Job didn’t curse God, he was in pain – deep, emotional and physical pain. How could you not be after experiencing all that?

So enter Job’s friends – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. But what could they possibly do to make Job feel better?

The Positive Example of Job’s Friends

In Job. 2:11-13, the Bible introduces us to Job’s friends. Here is what the Bible says they did:

“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.”

In these verses, I see seven things Job’s friends did that help me understand how to help a hurting friend.

1. They heard

Even though they were separated by some distance, they were close enough friends of Job to know something had happened. They were not too wrapped up in their own business to be disconnected from his life. Surely they had connections of some kind that allowed the news to reach them. Whomever was involved, must have known Job’s friends would have wanted to know what happened.

Lesson: In order to help a friend, you have to stay connected with them and know what is going on in their life.

Related Content: 12 Bible Verses About Friendship That Will Make You a Better Friend

2. They came

Job’s friends traveled to meet him. They could have stayed home and prayed for their friend. There would have been nothing wrong with that. After all, people of faith are called to pray for those who are hurting.

Instead, they decided to go the extra mile. They sacrificed their own personal time for their friend. I’m sure they left their jobs and families behind and spent their own money to travel from their homeland to be with Job.

Lesson: Sacrifice of time, energy and maybe even money is needed for your friends in their time of need.

3. They coordinated with each other

The Bible says they “made an appointment together to come and mourn.” In short, they reached out to one another and coordinated their journey. Maybe one of them started this process to get the others involved. And, in this instance, they decided the best course of action would be to show up together as one group.

Lesson: Share the news and get others involved if possible. But be sensitive to how many people come together at once to help the hurting person.

4. They showed appropriate emotion

The Bible tells us that when they saw Job they couldn’t recognize him. “They lifted up their voices and wept” for their friend.

Here we see Job’s friends seeing the situation for what it was. They deeply grieved for Job. And they expressed the right emotion in the right way. They didn’t show up by saying, “Hey Job! We are so happy to see you! Let’s go have a party!”

Lesson: Express emotion that is equal and relevant to the circumstances.

5. They showed solidarity with Job

Ancient tradition dictated that in order to express grief and sorrow you were to tear your clothes and put dust and ashes on your head. Job had done that when he received the devastating news.

Now his friends do the same. Each of them tore his robe and put dust on their head. They were unified in spirit and appearance with their friend and were not embarrassed.

Lesson: Find ways to identify and connect with those in pain.

Related Content: Encouraging Bible Verses for the Dark Times of Life 

6. They stayed with Job

This was not a short hospital visit where they said, “Hello, how are you doing?” and then left never to return. We read that Job’s friends stayed with him. They sat down on the ground and were with him for at least seven days and nights. They showed their willingness to be with Job as long as he needed.

Lesson: Friends in pain may need you for more than one day.

7. They didn’t speak

Perhaps the oddest part of this whole story is that Job’s friends don’t speak…at all…for seven days. Can you imagine that?

In contrast, our first inclination in an emotional situation is to say something to make the situation better. Or we get nervous and fill the dead air with the sound of our voice. It’s in moments like these, that we often say the wrong thing.

Job’s friends recognized from the moment they arrived on the scene that he was not ready to communicate in any way. So they just sat there with him and expressed their sympathy through silence.

Lesson: Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Being there is enough.

It’s All Downhill After That

Job’s friend’s initial reaction to his circumstance was very positive. They did so many things right in coming to comfort their friend. Sadly, when the conversation between Job and his three friends actually began in chapter three, it was all downhill for Job’s friends.

The Bible tells us that Job’s friends completely misread why this happened to him. They thought Job had done something wrong (sinned) and that God was punishing him for that sin. As a result, they kept urging Job to repent even though he had done nothing wrong.

For the next couple dozen chapters of conversation, they offer Job some really bad counsel. Consequently, they end up upsetting their friend with their “wisdom.” And we learn in the final chapters God was not happy with them. Maybe it would have been better if they had just sat there and kept quiet all the long.

This brings us to one final lesson…

Don’t offer counsel when you don’t understand what people are going through. Avoid throwing gasoline on the fire and escalating your friend’s painful feelings by saying or doing inappropriate things.  

But at least Job’s friends started out OK. We can learn from their positive response early on for the next time we are faced with a friend who is hurting.

Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: What’s your best advice for helping a friend in need? Have you ever said anything you regretted to someone who was hurting? What else can we learn from Job’s friends? 

Image courtesy of We Make Noise at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Job’s friends did a great deed, coming to comfort their friend! I was always intrigued by this story, when my close friend lost his dad, I came to him, and like Job’s friends, sometimes we just sat together and didn’t say a word… Later on down the line, he thanked me for just being around..
    Which gave me a deep reverence for this story… Also in defense of the friends, Job’s was in a spiritual war of colossal proportions that was beyond their overstanding… I understand why they would take the stance they took

  2. Gary Prichard says

    Job’s trial was real. However, he lost greatly. It was truly about his friends and his wife. They lacked the Faith of Job. They told Job to curse God and die! When did God turn Job’s sufferings around or end the trial? When Job prayed for his friends!
    Job’s Faith is very rare, more so today.

    Pray for Your Friends, Pray One for Another! We are all alike, We need each other…

  3. Robert Thornton says

    More than likely, The advice that you give a friend in a time of need will not be recognized at the time. Nor is it appropriate. Even when God is allowing an individual to go through something he may actually attend for you to watch, become aware of and prevent the same thing from happening to you. Surely God knows best. In fact he made you friends to begin with. So more than likely there is little that you can say and sometimes there is little you can do when someone is going through something. Perhaps the thing to do is Say “Friend, I know you, and I have been friends with you for a while. God has allowed us to see, share and experience things together. Let me know if there is something that I can do to help you. If you do this you MAY, OR MAY NOT offend your friend. Only God Knows. If you are critical in any way most likely you will lose that friend and you will look like a person who is hypocritical at best.

    • I completely agree Robert. Most times all friends need is your presence. They don’t want to hear from you in the middle of the pain. They just need a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold.

  4. niyi farakan says

    Really nice…I’d not realised there was any positive about Job’s friends…this is an eye opener…thanks

  5. Sr Catherine Chacko says

    People need to learn the art of empathizing which has a role in healing the hurt. It is otherwise called ‘understanding’ the one who is hurt.
    I liked the way Job’s friends behaved. They joined together, visited Job, did nit speak a thing, but was simply with him for seven days. Inspiring, provoking changes in me and inspiring.

    • You are correct…we do not practice empathy enough. We just want to fix people’s situation, not listen and truly understand where they are coming from. It is interesting that as soon as Job’s friends began to try and fix Job’s situation, that’s when they ceased being helpful. Their initial behavior was great but their words to him were awful and theologically off base.

  6. gole ejeta yembo says

    im now better informed. God bless you

  7. When I lost my husband, I was in deep deep sorrow and grieved openly. My closest friend chastised me on being a bad Christian. She said to me you talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. I was so hurt. I only wanted comfort. Yes, I may have expressed my pain openly, but I’m only human. It has put a wedge between us. I say I forgive her, but deep down it still hurts. Please pray for me.

    • I can’t imagine how that felt. Seems very insensitive to me. I’m not sure what your friend was expecting of you. Does she think we are not allowed to feel and express emotion? Even Jesus did that…once we are told he wept when his friend Lazarus died. It doesn’t make us a “bad Christian” to feel and express pain. In fact, go to any grief counselor and they’d say doing that is part of the healing process. Prayers going up for you Kate.

  8. Wow! The Holy Spirit began to deal with me concerning Job 42:10. I asked what is so significant about this scripture because it would not go away! And then I see this….God bless you, this opens up a lot that was not seen before. Thank you and blessings

  9. I always try to reach to friends whom I know need someone to talk to for some advice or anything that might help them solve their problem. It’s the least I can do, but I know it’s something good and to be appreciated.

  10. Sometimes, I was just there for my friends. I don’t speak or give advice unless they ask me to. Most of the time, friends just want to vent out their feelings, and after that, they seem to be okey. Healing comes after.

  11. Words of encouragement can cheer any friends up. Those are good verses, Brian! Thanks for sharing.

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