Job 13:4

Sermon preached on June 25, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

I've heard that one of the primary rules for emergency medical team is to,

"First, do no harm."

In other words, don't do anything that will make things worse. That reminds me of a funny scene from the old TV show, "Get Smart". In that scene a man was dying and Maxwell Smart was leaning over him listening to his last words. He had some valuable information that they needed. The guy was struggling to get some words out and after he very faintly said them in Maxwell's ear, he expired. When Maxwell get up, a colleague asked Maxwell what he said. Maxwell replied,

"He said, 'Get your knee off my chest.'"

I remember awhile ago Phil told me something to the effect that until about 1900 or so, if you went to a doctor there was about 50 percent chance that he would help. There was also a 50 percent chance that he would harm you. I believe it because we know that some of the things that doctors used to do in the old days were harmful. In ancient times blood-letting was a common practice. They used to bleed people. Before 1900 doctors used to use mercury to treat pretty much anything and everything. If you scraped your knee they would tell you to rub a little mercury on it. Today we know that mercury is very toxic and should not be used to treat many medical problems. I could go on but I'll stop there because some of the ancient medical practices are too awful to be mentioned. Throughout history there have been many examples of bad medical practices.

But of course Job is using the term 'physicians' metaphorically. His friends weren't medical doctors, they were there to comfort him, to help him in his difficulty. As such

they were worthless physicians.

Rather than helping him, Job's friends added to his misery. They made his situation worse. They contributed to his mental anguish. They accused him of sin. They mocked him. Once they started speaking to him they did him no good at all. Job says it would be better if they would just keep quiet. In verse 5 Job said, (HCSV)

"If only you would shut up
and let that be your wisdom!"

That reminds me of Proverbs 17:28 which says,

"Even a fool is thought wise
if he keeps silent,
and discerning if he holds his tongue."

It would be so much better if they had kept doing what they did during the seven days when they first came to help Job. It says, (Job 2:12–13)

"When they saw him from a distance,
they could hardly recognize him;
they began to weep aloud,
and they tore their robes and
sprinkled dust on their heads.
Then they sat on the ground with him
for seven days and seven nights.
No one said a word to him,
because they saw how great
his suffering was."

Job's friends actually followed the medical advice—'First do no harm,' but after the first seven days of silence all they did was harm Job. As soon as they opened their mouths they stopped helping. They were worthless physicians.

The words that are used in our text are interesting. The word that is translated 'worthless' often refers to a pagan god or an 'idol'. Indeed, it's often translated by the word 'idol'. Just like idols are worthless, so are Job's friends. It has connotations of 'weakness', of being defective. It's used in Zechariah 11:17 to refer to a shepherd who deserts the flock entrusted to him. It says,

"Woe to the worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!"

In the same way, when the word is translated, 'god' referring to someone other than the true God, it is, (Judith M. Hadley, "א," NIDOTTE, 1:405)

"used to affirm the nonexistence of such entities…"

A fake god is no good at all. It's worthless.

I've heard of people just pretending to be doctors. Some of them have never been to medical school, they don't have a medical license yet they pretend to be qualified doctors. Their patients are most unfortunate. Job is saying that his friends are like that. They are worthless.

In the same way Job's friends were worthless physicians

because they didn't properly diagnose Job's situation.

Job says that his friends are like doctors that misdiagnosis a condition and pursue a treatment that is wrong and unhelpful. They assumed that Job's suffering was related to some great sin in his life. Therefore they spent a great deal of time urging him to confess his sin and to repent of it.

We live in a difficult world—it's often hard to know what to do to help those who are suffering. Another problem is that we naturally lack compassion. We see this in Jesus' disciples in John 9. We read, (verses 1 & 2)

"As he went along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
'Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?"

The first reaction of the disciples was not to have compassion on the man for being born blind, but to ask if he or if his parents had sinned that this tragedy had come upon him. We often assume things about people and completely misjudge them. We don't have compassion on people. We think ill of them and don't even attempt to help them.

A third problem is that even if we have compassion, we still often fail to help people. Job's three friends had compassion toward Job. When the came to Job after they heard about his trouble they wept, tore their clothes and sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat with him for seven days to support him in his suffering.

We should commend them for that. But even though they had compassion on their friend, they were worthless physicians because

they didn't help Job.

What Job says here about his friends reminds me of the woman mentioned in Mark 5 who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years. It says, (Mark 5:26)

"She had suffered a great deal
under the care of many doctors
and had spent all she had,
yet instead of getting better
she grew worse."

They took her money but they didn't help her at all. She would have been better off not going to them at all. Job said that his three friends were like that.

Job needed help. His friends should have helped him. Compare Job's friends to Jonathan, King Saul's son. When King Saul was trying to kill David, David had to flee. It was a difficult time for David. For awhile he was all alone. (1 Samuel 21:1) In 1 Samuel 23:16 we read,

"And Saul's son Jonathan went to David
at Horesh and helped him
find strength in God."

Jonathan said to David, (1 Samuel 23:17)

"Don't be afraid. My father Saul
will not lay a hand on you.
You will be king over Israel,
and I will be second to you.
Even my father Saul knows this."

Jonathan reminded David of God's promise. God had promised David that he would be king over Israel. Samuel had anointed him. Jonathan reminded him of this. It had to be so. Nothing could stop it.

As a Christian you are to be a blessing to others. I ask you, are you misjudging anyone? Can someone say about you that you have completely misdiagnosed their situation and failed to help them? Are you lacking in compassion toward those around you? Even if you have compassion on them, are you actually helping them?

The second theme we see in our text is that

your speech is to be a blessing to others.

What Job is complaining about here is what his friends said to him—his words. In verse 5 he told them that he wished they would just shut up.

Ephesians 4:29–30 says,

"Do not let any unwholesome talk
come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful
for building others up
according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen."

This is an staggering command. We are to speak only what is helpful. We are to build other up according to their needs.

We need wisdom to do that. The only way we can fulfill that command is to be constantly depending on God to help us.

One of the interesting comments from the TV series, Band of Brothers had to do with one of the surviving soldiers of Easy Company commenting on their leader, Captain Winters. He said, (not an exact quote)

"He always seemed to know the right thing to do."

In very difficult and dangerous situations, their captain seemed to instinctively know the right thing to do, the right strategy.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we instinctively knew the right thing to say to people who are hurting? Proverbs 25:11 says,

"A word aptly spoken is like
apples of gold in settings of silver."

If only we could do that. The only way we can possibly know the right thing to say is by leaning on God for wisdom, to be asking him to give us this wisdom, so that we will not misjudge people. We need Him to give us the right attitude, the right words. We need to be so filled with the Word of God, with the Spirit of God. That's the only way we can do any of this.

We need to be flexible in dealing with different people—depending on their situation and their disposition.

Remember Jesus' interaction with the woman taken in adultery? He didn't berate her? He didn't deal harshly with her even though her crime called for the sternest rebuke. No. He obviously saw that she was overwhelmed with guilt and the horror of what she had done and frightened by her close brush with death. Thus Jesus dealt gently with her.

John Calvin says about how we should deal with people according to their condition. (Sermons on Job: Chapters 1-14)

"Oh, here is a good medicine. It is approved, so it will help this patient.' But he will kill one patient with it while saving another if he proceeds that way. Consequently, a doctor must be prudent and know the makeup of the person he is treating as well as what the disease is. Now these men have not made such considerations. That is why Job calls them physicians of no value."

The third thing I want you to see here is the importance that one interaction with someone can have. Job's friends are known for one thing—how they failed Job. Thus we see that

people's lives are sometimes defined by one thing that they do or fail to do.

That's how some people are remembered. You do many things in your life. Those who know you well know that your life is multifaceted and that you have done many good things and failed in a very few.

But sometimes history and other people know you for one thing. We see this in Job's friends. What's the only thing they are known for? They are only known for failing Job. Job's friends had an opportunity to help their friend. This was the most significant thing that they were given to do in their lives—at least from the perspective of the book of Job. It's the only thing we know about them. They were Job's friends who came to help him when he was sick. They failed. Job called them,

"worthless physicians…"

We know them only as unhelpful and mean-spirited friends. I say mean spirited because one of the characteristics of their speeches is that often begin by insulting Job. Unhelpful and mean-spirited.

Some people will form their opinion of you by one interaction you have with them. It was that way with one doctor I had. I had numerous surgeries because of nasal polyps in the early 1970's. Usually they would operate and keep me in the hospital a couple of days. For about 5 years I had one surgery a year. But for the third one I had a doctor tell me that his way of doing it was so good that I wouldn't have to stay in the hospital a day or two afterwards. He said I could be released a couple of hours after the surgery that I would be okay to make the trip home. What a mistake I made in having him as my surgeon. I don't remember waking up in the recovery room. I probably did but what I remember is being on a stretcher in the hospital hallway being as sick as can be. I couldn't walk yet they were telling me that I had to go. They finally wheeled me out to the parking lot where someone picked me up. I was 250 miles from home and we were planning on driving—but we had to change our plans because I was so sick. I felt like that doctor treated me like I was subhuman. My opinion of that doctor is so negative. He was the worst I ever had.

Richard Nixon. He did many things in his life. But he's known primarily for being the only president to resign. He's known for the Watergate cover-up.

My point is that many people will only have one interaction with you to form an opinion. No matter what you do you can't guarantee that interaction will be viewed favorably. Some people only had one interaction with Jesus and they came away hating Him, because He healed someone on the Sabbath or something like that.

But our problem is that we often fail in that one interaction.

This shows the importance of everything that you do. I heard a story once about someone asking Walt Disney why he was working so hard on one particular movie. I believe it was in the context of the person telling Walt that he was the greatest, that all his movies were great and that he could afford to slack off a bit. Walt reportedly replied,

"You're only as good as my last film."

That is so true.

Jesus showed us the importance of taking care of little things when He said, (Matthew 10:42)

"And if anyone gives even a cup of
cold water to one of these little ones
because he is my disciple,
I tell you the truth,
he will certainly not lose his reward."

Strive to do well in everything you do.

Lastly, the wonderful thing the Bible teaches us is that because of the grace of Jesus, because of His power in you,

you can speak well and help those in need around you.

The command to speak only what is helpful in Ephesians 4:29 is followed in chapter 5 by the command to be imitators of God. It tells us that we are now in the light of the Lord. It tells us to be filled with the Spirit. Through God's grace, through God's power we can speak well. We can speak beneficial and helpful things to build people up. As we read in 2 Peter 1:3,

"His divine power has given us
everything we need for life
and godliness through our knowledge
of him who called us
by his own glory and goodness."

In Philippians 4:13 the apostle Paul wrote,

"I can do everything
through him who gives me strength."

His power is made perfect in weakness. Christians, study the word, seek to apply it to your lives. Walk with Jesus depending on His power. And speak well, to help power in their trials.

May God give us grace to do so.