When we come to chapter 11 we meet the third and final friend come to bring comfort to Job. Zophar is his name, and as you’ll see he doesn’t have much to say by way of comfort, rather he comes with a rebuke. Before we get into what this last friend says I want to point out something about these friends. If you haven’t noticed it yet, you will here in chapter 11. Job’s friends say things that are often very similar to things we say to one another in the Church.For example, we feel consoled when we hear Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that life abundant is given and had and enjoyed only in Him, but Zophar says something very similar in Job 11:15-19. Another example, we rejoice with Paul as he explodes in praise after the robust theology of Romans 1-11 in Romans 11:33-36, but Zophar says something very similar in Job 11:7-9. Surely we don’t conclude that because Zophar is rebuked at the end of Job for not speaking rightly of God, that Jesus and Paul are wrong as well. Not at all.
But if that’s not the case, we then have a new question. When someone says things about God that are correct, how do we know if they’re a Paul or a Zophar? We could speak as a realtor here and use one simple phrase: location, location, location. In John 10:10 Jesus is speaking to His disciples, and in Romans 11 Paul is speaking to the Church in Rome. In both of those places the truth spoken about God is meant to encourage and edify the Church. Job’s friends may say right things about God, but they’re not aiming at edification for Job, they’re using truth to tear him down. So, in a true sense they may be right what they say but they’re wrong in how they apply those statements about God.
Therefore, as we look into Zophar’s response to Job in chapter 11 let’s be encouraged to be careful and cautious about how we speak of God to others, ensuring that we’re not mirroring Job’s friends at all.
Chapter 11 is broken into three sections:
v1-6 – Accusation
v7-12 – Confrontation
v13-20 – Instruction
“Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said: “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right? Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’ But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”
One of our church members recently sent me a message about an article they read from a former pastor of theirs. The article was, in essence, this pastor’s belief that Christian music seeking to give voice to those who are suffering and seeking to trust God in the midst of that suffering is foolishness. The article went onto say that lamenting in song to God is really just complaining and whining. This particular church member was rightly furious about what was said in the article, so furious that they then asked me, not if, but how they should respond to it. So we discussed a few things about how they might do that and are praying it is received well. I share this little story because this church member was vexed about what this author so boldly said. So vexed and angered by it that they felt they could not remain silent about it, but had to respond to it. In a similar manner, Zophar has heard Job’s words and has been so enraged by them that he feels he can no longer remain silent. So in v2-3 he calls Job out for babbling on and on with a multitude of words. He calls Job out for mocking them as they try to give him counsel. Zophar feels Job has shamed them with his words so far, and so he now feels that Job should be shamed in return.
In v4 Zophar accuses Job when he says, “For you say ‘My doctrine is pure and I am clean in God’s eyes.’” But this isn’t what Job has said so far is it? Far from it. Job would be the first to admit that he is confused and vexed himself currently rather than doctrinally pure. Sure he has said some pretty weighty things about God, but these statements (like the one in 9:22 and all throughout chapter 10) aren’t calm and cool statements of doctrinal clarity. No, they’re the agonized conclusions of a man in desperation.And Job doesn’t claim to be clean or perfect in God’s sight. He is a blameless man for sure, but the two aren’t the same. Zophar is so provoked by Job that he wishes God would speak up now and open His lips because if He did Zophar seems pretty sure what God would say to Job. What would He say? God would, look at v6, divulge secrets of wisdom and in His manifold understanding He would rebuke Job’s partial understanding. Then it comes. One of the most cruel things said to Job thus far. “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” Zophar is saying that God causing Job to be bankrupt, taking away all his animals, all his servants, all his children, and all his health is only part of what Job really deserves. Such that, if God were to truly give Job all of what he deserved his suffering would be dramatically deeper. This is what God would remind Job of, Zophar thinks, if God were to reply back to Job right now. Yikes. Not only is this a fantastically cruel thing to say, it is arrogantly ironic because even though God’s wisdom and understanding are secret (see v6) apparently Zophar has plumbed the depths of these secrets himself and found it all out. This is his accusation to Job.
“Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. If he passes through and imprisons and summons the court, who can turn him back? For he knows worthless men; when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it? But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man!”
Here Zophar rightly speaks of God saying He and His knowledge in all His fullness is higher than heaven, deeper than sheol, longer than the earth, and broader than the oceans. This would be a beautiful statement indeed if Zophar applied it to himself and not only Job. But he doesn’t. He just tells Job that he cannot know God well enough to be able to know God truly. The implication though is that Zophar can, in his own finite mind, penetrate higher than heavens, deeper than sheol, longer than the earth, and broader than the seas to find out the infinite knowledge of God. Again, what does Zophar know that Job doesn’t? The thought is that when God passes by He imprisons the one with iniquity and summons a court together to pass judgment on him. Zophar believes this one imprisoned for his sin about to be judged is Job. And Job, in his partial knowledge, would be foolish to try and argue with God who has perfect knowledge. To try and do so resembles the folly of a wild animal instinct in man. God knows the sin of all men, does Job really believe God will pass by and won’t consider his own sin?
So after calling Job as stupid as a wild animal and telling him God is giving him less than he truly deserves, he decides to give him some counsel.
“If you prepare your heart, you willstretch out your hands toward him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. And you will feel secure, because there is hope; you will look around and take your rest in security. You will lie down, and none will make you afraid; many will court your favor. But the eyes of the wicked will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them, and their hope is to breathe their last.”
Zophar’s advice can be deduced to a list of things to do. First, above all other things Job must prepare his heart…to do what? To stretch out his hands toward God…to put iniquity far from his hands…and to not allow injustice in his affairs. If Job does this, Job will lift up his face without shame or embarrassment and will experience a list of blessings. Namely, if he does these things Job will be secure and not afraid, he’ll forget his misery as waters that have washed away (perhaps the common saying ‘water under the bridge’ pops in your head here).His dark life will be bright as the high noon, he’ll feel dawn push back the night in his soul, and from this Job will feel secure and hopeful and in this newfound security Job will rest, lie down, while many once again come to him for counsel and pursue him for fellowship. Zophar’s instruction to Job is that Job will gain all these things, these blessings, if he puts his sin away from him. As beautiful as the things in v15-19 are they form a vivid contrast to the dark list that ends his instruction. If Job does not do these things v20 will ever be his reality. His eyes will fail, he won’t see things rightly (or as they are), he won’t see light at the end of the tunnel, he’ll be cemented in his suffering and lost condition, and the only thing he’ll look forward to is his own death when he breathes his last.
There are two problems with this instruction. First, Job has no secret sins to repent of, we are again reminded of that as we read this. And second, Zophar’s motivation for Job to repent is exactly the same motivation of Satan’s accusation of Job. Remember, Satan thinks Job was only a holy man because of all the blessings of God. So if Job repents from his ‘sin’ in order to gain all these blessings, as Zophar instructs him to, he’ll prove Satan right.
So here at the end of the first cycle of speeches of Job’s comforter’s we see now, having heard from all of them, that they’re all basically saying the same thing. Job’s suffering because he’s sinned. Thus, the counsel is simple: repent and return. Yet ironically, it is the friends who must repent and return, not Job, which we’ve seen in all of Job’s responses to them thus far.
But linger back on v6 with me as we wrap this up tonight. Zophar believed Job was receiving less then He truly deserved from God, and that if God really did give Job what he deserved his suffering would be vastly greater. There’s a gospel tune playing here for us if we have ears to hear it. God truly has given us, in Christ, not only less then we deserve, but what we don’t deserve at all! We deserve death, for death is the wage of sin. But in His mercy He didn’t give us those wages, Christ paid them in full and now in His grace we’ll never have to pay them ourselves! Instead He gave us the reward we didn’t earn – eternal life! This song is playing in v6 for us to hear, and by faith we must live by this gospel tune as well.
Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 153.