While the Bible is not a book about etiquette or the ins and outs of interpersonal behavior, there are examples in the Bible of real people who exhibited healthy and unhealthy relationships that can serve as a guide for navigating difficult situations.
Relationships are complicated. People are complicated. When approaching friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers, it involves a lot of unstated politicking that even for the most extroverted person can be challenging. While the Bible is not a book about etiquette or the ins and outs of interpersonal behavior, there are examples in the Bible of real people who exhibited healthy and unhealthy relationships that can serve as a guide for navigating difficult situations.
One of the most unique places to glean that kind of information is from the experiences of Job. In it, there are several layers of stated and unstated cultural, religious, and personal dynamics at play in their conversations that can help people learn how to navigate their own complicated relationships after careful study.
Job: A father, a husband, an intercessor to God for others. Experiences great loss due to circumstances outside of his control, confronted by people he used to intercede for, accusing him of bad behavior.
Job’s Wife: A mother and wife. Expresses anger at her husband for his behavior as he grieves.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar: Job’s three friends. Implied Job had served as intercessor before God on their behalf.
Elihu: Accompanied Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to comfort Job. Younger than the other men.
God: Their creator, the one whose characteristics are ultimately debated by the men.
10 Lessons about Relationships in the Book of Job
1. Everyone Grieves Differently
After the loss of his children, his crops, and his livestock, Job enters a period of deep grieving in which he practices traditional mourning for his culture. His wife does not, rather she condemns Job’s behavior and exhibits anger at God.
Everyone copes with hardship differently, and it is not appropriate to expect universal reactions to difficulties.
“Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die’” (Job 2:9).
2. It Is Good to Grieve with Others
When Job’s four friends heard about his loss, they came out to support him. Sometimes the best way to support is in strong silence, sometimes to cry with someone, sometimes to bring words of encouragement. Understanding what’s appropriate in the moment can be difficult, but it is always worth it to bring comfort.
“Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:11-13).
3. Sometimes People Mean Well, but They Say Hurtful Things in Ignorance
When Job’s friends tried to coax him out of his depression, they tried to convince him there must be some reason God would punish Job. Early on, they say things intended to be prudent and helpful, but the reader knows these things are not true, which only serve to further cause a rift between the friends and Job.
“If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression” (Job 8:4).
4. Many People Are Fair-Weather Friends
As the discourse continues, Job reveals that he used to have more friends, but they have turned against him because of the tragedies in his life and his subsequent mourning. They believed God is punishing him, and that he deserved it. When Job had land, influence, power, and outward manifestations of God’s favor, people loved him. When it appeared God had removed His favor, though He had not, people turned on Job. This behavior has proved common throughout history.
“I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called to God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock” (Job 12:4).
5. Some People Will Always Take Disagreement as a Personal Attack
At several points, it seems that what aggravates Job’s friends is that he is not agreeing to their points. They make cutting and personal attacks, as if Job’s disagreements are because he thinks they’re stupid, rather than entertaining the possibility they may be incorrect in their assessment of the situation.
“Why are we counted as cattle? Why are we stupid in your sight?” (Job 18:3).
6. Knowing When to Stop a Conversation Is Important
Sometimes the best thing to do between two people, especially if they’re close, is to know when to put a pause in a heated disagreement. At several points Job pleads with his friends to stop trying to get him to confess to sins he didn’t commit. This man was already suffering deeply from loss, and their relentless attacks were wearing him down, not helping him, and creating further tension. It was also serving to kick him while he was down.
“Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?” (Job 19:21-22).
7. Sometimes We Have False Friends, or People Who Look for Reasons to Tear Us Down
Eliphaz gets so exasperated with Job that he eventually accuses him of all manner of wicked behavior which the reader knows is false, because God affirmed Job’s righteousness at the beginning of the text. While Eliphaz does not know what went on in Heaven, he does know that Job was not injuring widows, extorting people, or withholding charity, but he accused him anyway.
“Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities. For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing and stripped the naked of their clothing…Therefore snares are all around you, and sudden terror overwhelms you, or darkness, so that you cannot see, and a flood of water covers you” (Job 22:5-11).
8. Arguments Can Often Devolve into Useless Finger-Pointing
When people allow a disagreement to continue, people have a tendency to stop making good, salient points and start making ad hominem attacks, blame-share, or bring up irrelevant points. Job and his three friends who have been speaking up until this point all do this the further into the dialogue they get.
“Therefore snares are all around you, and sudden terror overwhelms you, or darkness, so that you cannot see, and a flood of water covers you” (Job 26:2-4).
9. It Is Good to Respect Our Elders, but Be Willing to Voice the Truth When Appropriate
Historically and in contemporary times, there are many cultures where younger individuals defer to their elders and try not to publicly contradict them, out of respect. Job’s friend Elihu was younger than everyone else, but he saw the foolishness and divisiveness and stepped up to assert God’s truth and chastise his elders for their inappropriate conduct. He saw Job being self-righteous, and the other three making false accusations. They were unable to argue with Job’s bad mentality because they suffered the same sin.
“I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you” (Job 32:6b).
10. Man’s Relationship with God Is Separated by Sin
People cannot have a direct relationship with God in their natural states. Elihu reminds Job, their friends, and by extension the reader that they are sinners in need of forgiveness in order to have a right relationship with God. We are reminded of this daily by the difficulties of life.
“Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones, so that his life loathes bread, and his appetite the choicest food. His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen, and his bones that were not seen stick out. His soul draws near the pit, and his life to those who bring death” (Job 33:19-22).
Eventually God stepped in, correcting Job, rebuking Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and creating a path for all four men to reconcile with Himself and with one another. The final lesson from the Book of Job about relationships is this: pursuing reconciliation with one another is an extension of being reconciled with God. In order to have a right relationship with Him, people can put their faith in Jesus Christ, our ultimate mediator.
Chesterton, G.K. Introduction to the Book of Job. Ravenio Books.
Hartley, Joh. The Book of Job. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.
McGee, J. Vernon. Job. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 1995.
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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.