With Friends Like These…

“Buck up, Job. You’re getting what you deserve. Isn’t that what everyone wants?” (William Blake illustration of Job’s tormentors, 1792, US-PD)

Once in a while the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day email comes up with something surprising. Today the “word” was “Job’s comforter.” The term describes “a person who discourages or depresses while seemingly giving comfort and consolation.” The MW people offer this example to illustrate: “Danny, a reliable Job’s comforter, assured Shane that the girl who’d broken his heart had always been out of his league.”

Unlike some words that elude all attempts to pinpoint their origins, this one is easy. It comes from the Book of Job in the Christian Old Testament (and probably elsewhere also). If you don’t know the story of Job (pronounced “JOHB” by the way, not “JAHB”), Job was a “righteous” man who also happened to blessed with wealth and sons and daughters (somehow the wife gets left out of this equation). God asks Satan his opinion of Job (I guess they were having a drink together and the subject came up), and Satan says Job is only pious because he has it so good. Oh, yeah?, says God, a little miffed. Yeah, says Satan, and I can prove it. Let me kill his kids and take away all his wealth and afflict him with boils and see if he still loves you then. God ponders this, shrugs, and says, why not? Give it your best shot. (I am, disclaimer here, re-imagining the tale somewhat.)

So Satan takes away Job’s wealth, kills his kids, afflicts him with boils, AND, cleverest of all, leaves the wife behind to give Job grief about all of these things. Not surprisingly, Job starts to call God bad names and wishes he, Job that is, had never been born. That’s when his three “friends” — Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite — show up to make him feel better. One tells Job that his kids died because they were sinful and he should just shut up and take it like a man. Another thinks Job did something wrong or was simply stupid. The third tells Job he whines and wails and talks too much, so basically more “shut up and take it” advice. Job tells them to take their “comfort” and ride back out on the camel they came in on. He then tells God that he was crazy to presume he could figure out God’s reasons for doing anything and should have just gone with the flow and then, one burnt offering later, he gets his wealth, health, and family back. Voila!

This is the point where the moral of the story usually comes in. The way I see it, it is either “don’t fight the law because the law wins” or “burning the chicken on the barbecue might not be a bad thing” or “if you see God and Satan having a drink together and they happen to glance your way, grab your ankles and…” Well. You know the rest.


Kim Pederson

Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings

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