Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Job 11: Zophar

With the first Bildad-Job cycle completed, it was Zophar's turn to speak. Would he defend Job or condemn him? 

This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.


Eliphaz spoke from a base observation and experience. Bildad spoke from a base of ancient wisdom. Zophar just spoke. If Eliphaz represented scholarship and Bildad represented orthodoxy then Zophar represented rigid fundamentalism. Consequently, Eliphaz had the best chance to see Job's situation for what it was, and Bildad might have been made to listen to new wisdom. Zophar would have been unmoved.

Zophar's speech occupies just 20 verses, but every one drips venom:

Then Zophar the Naamathite spoke up and said: “Should not this abundance of words be answered, or should this talkative man be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce people to silence, and will no one rebuke you when you mock? For you have said, ‘My teaching is flawless, and I am pure in your sight.’ But O that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you, and reveal to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides, so that you would know that God has forgiven some of your sins. 

Can you discover the essence of God? Can you find out the perfection of the Almighty? It is higher than the heavens—what can you do? It is deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If he comes by and confines you and convenes a court, then who can prevent him? For he knows deceitful men; when he sees evil, will he not consider it? But an empty man will become wise, when a wild donkey colt is born a human being. 

As for you, if you prove faithful, and if you stretch out your hands toward him, if iniquity is in your hand—put it far away, and do not let evil reside in your tents. For then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be securely established and will not fear. For you will forget your trouble; you will remember it like water that has flowed away. And life will be brighter than the noonday; though there be darkness, it will be like the morning. And you will be secure, because there is hope; you will be protected and will take your rest in safety. You will lie down with no one making you afraid, and many will seek your favor. But the eyes of the wicked fail, and escape eludes them; their hope is to breathe their last.” (Job 11:1-20)

To Zophar, Job was just a talkative man having an abundance of idle words. Never mind that Job had declared his innocence and had begun to raise the central questions emanating from his true situation. On the contrary, according to Zophar, Job was getting off easy. After all, he told Job, "God has forgiven some of your sins." That must have made Job feel good. He had lost his children, lost his livelihood, and lost his health to a terrifying disease--and now he must accept that God had been merciful. (Now as we come to the end of this study, we will indeed see that the Lord's motivation was mercy, but not as Zophar meant it.)

Zophar next declared that it was impossible for Job to really know God. But God knew him, "For he knows deceitful men; when he sees evil will he not consider it?" Perhaps Job could begin to know God if he put away his evil ways. Until then there was little hope, "an empty man will become wise, when a wild donkey is born a human being." By this Zophar likened Job to the wild donkey and placed his bet on the side of Job's continued failure.

And so Job, about whom the Lord said, "there is no one like him on the face of the earth," needed to put away his iniquity and keep evil far from his tents. Then the good life would come. Barring that Job's only hope was to breathe his last breath and die.

I hope that by now you have begun to see the real drama in this little read middle section of Job. There are physical, personal, spiritual, and philosophical  dynamics that have put pressure on Job. As surely as his friends are losing their grip on reality (not in the sense on insanity but in the sense of seeing the world incorrectly), Job is facing the reality of his situation in a desperate need to understand.

Job's response to Zophar, if he really actually spoke to Zophar, was quite long. That comes next, and we will be on it for several days.

Wednesday: Job after Zophar

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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