THROUGHOUT THE BOOK OF JOB, the behavior of Job’s seeming friends parallels the highly religious and legalistic behavior of the Pharisees as described in the New Testament. Even the words Job uses to describe his friends’ advice mirror those Jesus used when he described the Pharisees as “hypocrites” and “blind guides” (Matthew 15:7; 23:13-28 [ESV]). This is not to liken Job to Christ however. The parallel lies in the fully human responses and motives of both groups of men and in the purpose of their presence in scripture, which are most easily seen in the attitudes, diction, and tone they employ.
Attitude and motive seem to rule the actions and words of Job’s friends and the Pharisees. Job’s friends, for instance, propose word after word of attack, maintaining that “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sincerely believe that Job has committed sin and is being punished (5:17; 8:13; 11:13-14), so they feel justified in correcting Job and calling him to repentance. In a sense, these “friends” are motivated by pride because they feel they know God and how He must work. Their proposed solution to Job seems simple to them because they are the self-appointed righteous. Similarly in the gospels, the Pharisees are motivated by a sense of self-righteousness. For example, within the book of Matthew alone, the Pharisees repeatedly growl and scoff at Jesus and his disciples for not following Hebraic law. They complain that the disciples ate grain on the Sabbath (12:2), Christ healed on the Sabbath (12:10), and the disciples didn’t observe ceremonial ablution (15:1-2). The Pharisees act in pride as they are equally sure of the rightness of the law and their full knowledge of it. But, unlike Job’s friends who are not motivated by envy, the Pharisees also attack Christ’s authority because they claim either he doesn’t have any (7:28-29) or that Jesus is using Satan’s power to drive out demons (9:34; 12:24). This type of attack elucidates their jealous motives, for the Pharisees despise what they do not have, much as Job’s friends attack an integrity they don’t understand.
Another similarity arises in the diction and tone used by Job, his friends, and the Pharisees. Job classifies his friends as bitter mockers (17:2) since they treat him in an inferior way (13:2) and asks, “What does reproof from you reprove?” (6:26). His disapproval of them and their words is clear, and he responds in an argumentative and sarcastic tone, especially since they choose not to believe his repeated defense. For instance, Job declares them “worthless physicians” (13:4) and “miserable comforters” (16:2). His use of oxymoronic language conveys his disdain. Meanwhile, Job’s friends gawk at him as if he were a fascinating sea creature (7:12), something non-human on display. They call his responses “a great wind” (8:2), “babble” (11:3), “unprofitable talk” (15:3), and “wicked” (18:5; 20:5). Altogether as a group, Job’s self-righteous friends persist in this direct critical tone until the end of their barrage.
Though the Pharisees share a negative tone with Job’s friends, they confront Christ in a different manner—with questions or laws, intending to accuse him publicly and entrap him in debate (Matt. 12:10; 22:15). They then “conspire” in secret once away from his presence (12:14). Amazingly, they refrain from calling him names directly, yet the disciples know that the Pharisees are offended by Christ’s rebukes and by his parables (15:12). By the time Christ is arrested, the Pharisees and chief priests ask others to falsely accuse Christ (26:59-61), rather than be guilty of that themselves, as if using the mouths of others would keep them from the sin in their hearts. But, their full hatred is revealed as they denounce Christ as a blasphemer (26:65). This severely antagonistic tone, one that demands death, is far greater than Job’s friends’ cry for repentance.
As mere men, both Job’s friends and the Pharisees find agreement within a group, one that pursues the “letter of the law” and that shares equal pride in religion and in criticism of others. But theirs are empty words. Job and Christ would agree that their critics have no wisdom to offer, no eternal merit, yet there are two purposes for these adverse trials. For Job and Christ, the verbal and emotional attacks become part of their trial and testing—a refining process that strengthens the spirit and cements an intimacy with God. For Christians, without witnessing this opposition and their effects, we would not learn as clearly from the trials of either man. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons to be learned then from the criticism of others is the attitude of our heart. When we feel the sting of criticism or when we are aware that we have wrongly judged others out of our human wisdom, we can humble ourselves, repent, and remain steadfast in trusting God.