Below is a summary of the dialogue in Job that I put together as part of working through the book. The book is long, and the purpose of this was to capture the gist of what each person was saying so that I could get a handle on what they were arguing.
The story starts with Job having everything taken away from him and being stricken by disease despite his being a righteous person. He is greatly distressed by this, and as a result wishes that his life would just end so that he need not have to continue struggling through this unwarranted treatment from God. Throughout the dialogue he maintains that he is righteous and that this suffering cannot be the punishment for his wickedness, leading him to question why God would inflict it upon him.
His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar try to comfort him by explaining why God would have brought such calamity to him, but their attempts all presume too simplistic a model of how God governs the world. Towards the end, Elihu comes and rebukes the three friends for being incapable of upholding the righteousness of God in the face of Job’s complaints. Unlike the other three, Job does not respond to Elihu and God does not reprimand him (42:7–9). This suggests that he is on the right track.
Eliphaz believes that God blesses the pious, and so urges Job to stop wishing his life away and to praise God rather than blame him, so that he can reap blessing. As the dialogue progresses it becomes apparent that he does assume Job has done something wrong, but his primary concern is with what Job does next in order to become blessed.
Bildad believes that God judges the wicked and rewards the righteous, and so urges Job to turn to God in righteousness rather than wish the fate of the wicked upon himself. From his point of view, Job’s family must have been judged for their wickedness and Job is doing himself no favor by wishing this same fate upon himself. He does not think Job is necessarily being judged, but that he should definitely stop asking for it.
Zophar believes that God only judges us because of our wickedness, and that since Job is being judged he must be keeping some sin of his secret. He urges Job to confess and move on, so that he can be right with God again and be done with his punishment.
Elihu believes that God works in ways that we might not expect because he is not a mere human. He judges the wicked and blesses the righteous, sure, but he could also bring calamity to the righteous in order to keep them from falling into wickedness. It’s not like God owes it to us to give us blessing all the time, and ultimately whether we’re righteous or wicked depends on how we respond to suffering. So he criticizes Job for having become a scoffer in response to his suffering, the exact opposite of what he should have done.
(1–2) Job is righteous and God is proud of him. One of the members of the divine court challenge him, saying that Job is only righteous because God has blessed him, and that were Job to suffer he would reject God. God permits him to cause suffering to Job, so long as he doesn’t kill him.
Job (3): I wish I’d never been born, and am amazed that life is given to someone in such misery.
Eliphaz (4–5): You, who comforted others, do you not see that God will bring prosperity to the innocent? Only the evil will perish in their ways, so wishing this upon yourself is wrongheaded. Accept your troubles, and look to God for relief rather than wishing death upon yourself.
Job (6–7): My complaint stands! I have sought God and yet gotten punished severely. Therefore I will continue to despise my troubles.
Bildad (8): How long will you speak like this? God judges the wicked and the righteous according to their deeds. If your children died because of their sin do not join them in cursing God because of it. Rather, be righteous and find prosperity!
Job (9–10): How might I plead my case to this God, who wounds me in spite of my perfection? If in putting off my sorrows I get punished anyway, then what point is there in doing so? As it is, I’m afraid of him and don’t think he’ll stop judging me even if I repent. There is no mediator between us, who can hold his rod back. All I want is for this God, who takes pleasure in punishing his creation, to give me relief for the short time before I fade into nothingness.
Zophar (11): It will do you no good to hide things from God, for he knows all. Repent without holding on to sin secretly and your ailment will be remedied.
Job (12:1–13:12): Am I inferior to you so that I don’t know these things as well? I have seen that God brings both good and evil, and you lie when you say it is otherwise. Would you lie in defense of God? I know that I am righteous, so I will continue in my complaint. If there were someone to show me wrong, then I’d happily admit defeat.
Job to God (13:13–14:22): So then, I ask two things. Withdraw your hand from me that I might not fear to come near, and tell me of my sin. You know that man is limited, and that unlike the tree he has no hope. The tree will sprout again after its death, but not so for man. He remains dead until the end of the heavens. Please, kill me and hide me in Sheol, that I might be hidden from this scourge of life. Oh that the day would come when you honor your creation, but as it is you wear him down and destroy his hope.
Eliphaz (15): We are not to be ignored, for we have the wisdom of our fathers from long ago. You turn away from devotion to God to your own demise. How can you speak of righteousness when not even his heavens are righteous? The man who acts arrogantly toward God is to be afraid of him, and it is better for him not to trust in himself! Do not describe yourself in these terms.
Job (16–17): So much for being my friends! You have given me no comfort in my day of difficulty. God has smitten me and broken me into pieces, and everyone has turned against me. Not only this, but he has made my friends incapable of understanding what is happening. My life is over and my hope is dashed. If I have already turned to desire Sheol then what hope is there left for me to hope in?
Bildad (18): Do not treat us like idiots. Consider this, and then we can talk: surely you are wishing the outcome of the wicked upon yourself[, you who say you are righteous].
Job (19): How long will you attack me with your words, by disgracing me [who is righteous]? God has already disgraced me in every way, and more I my intimate friends have turned on me. Have mercy on me, for God has already stricken me. Know that you who attack me will reap judgement for it, from God my redeemer.
Zophar (20): Why do you insult us with your harsh criticism (censure)? You know from old that the exaltation of the wicked is short-lived. For the evil he holds on to destroys himself, and his insatiable desire is finally fulfilled by God’s judgement upon him. Then the heavens will reveal his iniquity.
Job (21): Hear me out, and then you can continue mocking me. Look at me — am I not appalling to you? Now look at the wicked. They live long and prosper, they are glad and rejoice, they scoff at God and the die peacefully. Clearly I am not being led by them! How often are they really punished, as you say? Are living under a rock?! Who can teach God? He judges everyone. And we see the same overcome the prosperous and the poor. Now I know that you scene against me, because you ask me to reveal to my sin, but have you looked around? The wicked prosper, and others follow them[, quite unlike my situation, so you must be picking on me]! Your words are nothing.
Eliphaz (22): Is it any gain to God if you are blameless? Is he judging you for fearing him? Surely not, it’s because you are wicked. You have done evil, and so God punishes you. You mock God, saying that he’s too far away to know how to run the world[, letting the wicked prosper]. Turn back to God and He will establish you. Lift your face to him, and he will deliver even the one who is not innocent.
Job (23–24): If I stood before God and pleaded my case, then he would judge me righteous. But I cannot find him to do so. I have kept his ways but there is no way for me to change what he has planned for me, and so I dread him. Why doesn’t God judge the wicked on schedule? They do so much evil — worse than what you claim I’ve done — and their victims have nothing, they tread the winepresses but suffer thirst. You say the wicked are judged quickly, yet it seems to me that God prolongs their lives. Please, prove me wrong!
Bildad (25): Listen, God is above all and has armies beyond measure. How could any man be right before him? Even the stars are dim in his eyes, man is a but maggot to him.
Job (26): Wow, so helpful! God is too big to be put into such a simple box!
Job (27): With God as my witness I will not lie by agreeing with all of you. I am righteous and will not make myself wicked by deceit. For what hope is there for the wicked? He does not die quickly, but eventually he or his children reap what he has sown.
Job (28): In searching out gold and silver man has gone places that beasts could not discover, but he has not found wisdom there. Nor can he buy it with gold or silver he made. The birds above have not seen it, nor can anything in the land of the living. Even Death and Abaddon have heard only rumors of it. God however, has seen it and understands the ways to it. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. He’s told man that’s it the fear of God which is wisdom.
Job (29–31): I’ve walked the way of the righteous, for those near me and for strangers. People honored me and thought me a friend of God. But now they laugh at me and turn against me. Didn’t I help the oppressed? But now that I’m oppressed there is no help for me. If I have done any evil then let God cast me down. But I’m righteous! Tell me what my fault is, let my adversary write down the indictment.
Elihu (32): I am young and so I’ve been waiting for wisdom to be revealed by my elders. But behold, you have found no answer to Job! Surely it is not age that gives wisdom but the spirit God gives us, thus I can no longer hold in my opinion on the matter, and flatter my fellow humans by listening to them.
Elihu (33): Job, listen to me, your fellow human who has heard what you’ve been saying. You have said that God is unjustly against you, but you are wrong to complain at him, claiming that he does not hear your cries. God is no mere man like you and I, and he speaks to us in ways that we might at first not notice. In a dream, perhaps, he might terrify us in order to turn us away from pride. In our pain he might rebuke us, that we might be saved from a path leading to death. He does all sorts of things that we may know that he is the source of life.
Elihu (34): You men of understanding, Job has complained about God doing him injustice and thereby numbered himself among the scoffers. Far be it from God, the Judge of everything, that he should do wickedness — no-one has given him this role [that he might fail in it]. Quite the opposite: he calls kings nothing and noblemen wicked! Furthermore, he knows all and does not need anyone to being their case before him. He judges all according to how it really is, and Job has made himself wicked by presuming otherwise [in response to his suffering].
Elihu (35): Job, do you really think you righteousness entitles you to anything before God [so that he couldn’t use affliction for more than judgement]? If you sin, do you affect him? And likewise if you do right? These things only affect your fellow humans. When people cry to God out of selfish ambition rather than awe for God, their cries are empty and God does not answer. So too, Job, your cries are empty because you speak without understanding.
Elihu (36–37): Let me speak of the righteousness of God, with knowledge that is [apparently] far from this place. God does not despise anyone: he helps the afflicted and destroys the wicked. The godless hold onto their anger when faced with difficulty, but for others learn from their affliction and grow from it. You must not be so quick to turn to wrath, which then becomes scoffing. God is a great and powerful teacher, and you must remember to extol his work [rather than fall into resentment]. Just look at all the complex ways in which nature works — that’s him! We know not how he orchestrates anything, for he is so high and mighty, something it would be good for you to keep in mind. “Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”
God (38:1–40:2): Who is speaking without knowledge, confusing the matter? Get ready Job, because I’m going to question you now [as you asked]. Tell me, where were you when I built everything you see? Have you been to the gates of death itself? Do you order the sea, the clouds, light and darkness? Who is it that gives wisdom and takes it away? Is it by your understanding that all animals move and live? You who wish to argue with God, give me an answer.
Job (40:3–5): How can I answer? I am nothing [compared to you]. I have spoken, but I dare not say any more.
God (40:6–41:34): Well, get ready, because I will question you further. Will you condemn me in order to establish yourself in the right? Do you think you are more fit to be the Judge? If so, then in your anger go — destroy all the wicked, let’s see you do it. On the day you do it I will acknowledge that you don’t need me. [But you can’t!] Consider the Behemoth and the Leviathan: even these beasts cause you to tremble, and I made them!
Job (42:1–6): I see that you are above all things. I was rash to dean your present so that I could tell you off, but I see now that I did so out of ignorance. I had only heard about you before, but now I see you with my eyes, and “therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
(42:7–17) Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are reprimanded by God: “My anger burns against [you three] for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (42:7) God commands them to offer burnt offerings, and ask Job to pray for them, that God might forgive them. Then God restores Job’s fortunes and eventually “Job died, an old man, and full of days.” (42:17)