The Book of Job - Lesson 14

Zophar’s Speech and a Summary of Cycle 1 (Job 11.1-20)

Zophar assumes that Job is being punished because he sinned and accuses him of mocking God. Job's three friends move from tactful suggestions to open hostility. As Job is searching for answers, he becomes disappointed in his friends.

Duane Garrett
The Book of Job
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Zophar’s Speech and a Summary of Cycle 1 (Job 11.1-20)

I. Zophar's First Response

A. Zophar comes closer to accusing Job of sinning

B. Since Job is a mortal, he can't understand God

C. Later in the book, God will say that human wisdom is good but it has limitations

II. Summary of the First Cycle of Speeches

A. The three friends move from tactful suggestion to open hostility

B. Eliphaz's encounter with the night spirit

C. The stance of the friends could be regarded as a perversion of the doctrine of total depravity

D. Job is searching for answers and disappointed in his friends

  • When you see what you would describe as evil and injustice in the world, how does that affect your view of God? When someone is suffering, do you assume that it’s because they are getting what they deserve? This lecture gives you an overview of book of Job by describing his situation, how he interacts with his friends and God, and what we can learn about how God is managing the world.

  • Because there is nothing specific in the text that tells you when the book of Job was written, the sections in Job that allude to other passages of scripture give you some helpful clues. The structure of the book of Job focuses your attention on the main subject of the book which is God’s wisdom.

  • Other cultures in the ancient near east created literature with themes that are similar to the book of Job. The book of Job is unique because of his character and the answer that the book provides for the situation he is in.

  • Job is one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. It covers more “advanced” topics than Proverbs and uses a variety of literary genres and allusions to other Biblical passages to explain and illustrate profound truths about God’s nature and his involvement in the world.

  • There is limited information in the book of Job about its geographical and historical background. However, it can be helpful to understand general information about the geography and history of the area to give you a context for reading and studying the book of Job. The author of the book of Job was a Hebrew poet who had an extensive vocabulary. Being uncertain about history and geography is good because the message is timeless.

  • Job contains literary elements that are similar to what you find in other Biblical books that are Apocalyptic. These elements include depictions of events in heaven and on earth, the emphasis on specific numbers and persevering in your faith in God, the references to mythological animals and God’s supernatural control of all events. 

  • Satan appears before God with an accusation against Job. Even though Job is described as, “upright and blameless,” Satan accuses Job of serving God only because Job is prosperous. God allows Satan to take away Job’s possessions, children and health. The remainder of the book is the dialogue of Job and his friends attempting to determine why this is happening.

  • Job curses the day he was born. When you carefully examine what he is saying, you realize that it is more intense than just saying that he wished he had never lived.

  • Eliphaz begins tactfully in his remarks to Job. He did not intend to do harm. However, he thinks God is causing Job to suffer because of a sin Job committed. He speaks accurately of the justice of God, but in Job’s case he misapplies it. He also gives a message he received from the, “night spirit.”

  • Eliphaz considers the message of the, “night spirit” a revelation from God. However, at it’s core, this message is inconsistent with God’s attitude toward Job, and creation in general.

  • Job’s theological worldview has fallen apart because he knows he doesn’t deserve to suffer. Eliphaz calls Job to repent. Job responds questioning why he is suffering, because according to his worldview, he hasn’t done anything to deserve it.   

  • Bildad is direct is his rebuke and admonition of Job. He uses metaphors to get his point across.

  • When Job’s friends describe God as all powerful in an attempt to comfort Job, he becomes terrified because he sees God as causing his suffering and there is nothing that can stop it.

  • Zophar assumes that Job is being punished because he sinned and accuses him of mocking God. Job's three friends move from tactful suggestions to open hostility. As Job is searching for answers, he becomes disappointed in his friends.

  • Job agrees with his friends that God is causing his suffering, but disagrees with them about why it’s happening. Job believes that God will eventually vindicate him.

  • Eliphaz appeals to the night spirit and the tradition of the elders to tell Job that he is a babbling and blaspheming fool.

  • Job begins by criticizing what his friends are saying to him and then professes his faith in God. Bildad responds harshly to Job.

  • Even though Job’s friends have criticized him, he has grown in his faith in God. Job is worn out and begs for compassion. When he gets nothing but contempt and hostility instead, he confesses his faith and hope in God. The messianic theology of Job is different from any other book of the Bible.  

  • Zophar uses metaphors that are found in other passages of scripture as well as Job’s own words to accuse Job of being wicked. However, Zophar made a serious error, which we need to avoid in our lives.

  • Job continues to wrestle with the presence of evil in the world and the apparent injustice of God. 

  • Eliphaz attacks Job as being wicked by twisting the meaning of what Job has said previously. The irony is that Job will be reconciled to God and will pray for Eliphaz.

  • Job wants to lay out his case before God by claiming his innocence. Job says that God is hidden and does as he chooses, but that God neither judges the guilty nor helps the righteous. Bildad responds by contrasting God’s holiness and human lowliness.

  • Job sarcastically thanks the friends for their wise words, which he doesn’t think were wise at all.

  • This is a poem about wisdom that divides the content of the book and points to a deep truth. It is inserted by the author of the book and is not attributed to Job or the friends.

  • The crisis that Job is experiencing is not just the material losses and physical suffering, but also his crisis of faith. He thought he understood what his relationship with God is all about but he feels that God has abandoned him for no apparent reason. Job laments the pain he feels from being disgraced and humiliated.

  • This is the last major statement that Job makes, other than his responses to God that come later. Job is taking a series of oaths that he has not committed any of the sins he mentions. The Bible is distinctive in declaring that all people are created equally, in the image of God. In ancient cultures, some people intrinsically have more value than others because of heritage, wealth, gender, race, etc. God looks on everyone impartially.  

  • Elihu is not mentioned either before or after his speech. He claims to be perfect in knowledge. Elihu thinks that the other three did not convince Job because they did not give a satisfactory answer, but Elihu ends up repeating what they have already said. He thinks that the doctrine of retribution is the answer to Job’s situation. Elihu is a warning to us that we don’t have all the answers.

  • The questions of the book of Job are, “How does God address the problem of evil and why do we serve God? God created a world that is stable and not chaotic. Where there was chaos, God brought in light, shape and beauty. Chaotic forces are necessary for life and God controls them.

  • People in ancient Mesopotamia lived in constant fear of the chaos, danger, ferocity of nature and they valued subduing, controlling and pushing back nature. Wilderness was something to be tamed and pushed back by civilization. In the Gilgamesh epic poem, Enkidu is transformed into a civilized man who protects the domestic animals from the wild animals. In Egypt, there were gods of the Black Land and gods of the Red Land. God sees everything in the world as entirely under his control.

  • God’s care for the animals and how this relates to the problem of Job. All of the things that we see as chaos, and out of control depend on God and thrive because he provides for them and things that he manages and glories in. God describes nature as good, unlike the night spirit that describes it with contempt and loathing. God knows how to manage the chaotic elements of creation.

  • The societies of the Ancient Near East had a high concept of justice. It was the duty of the rulers to uphold justice and protect the powerless. If you are a man who leads, you need to make sure that evil is held in check. Listen to people who come to you with a grievance. God is asking Job if he comprehends what it means to bring justice to the world. It involves both power and wisdom.

  • Behemoth is the plural form of a Hebrew word that refers to animals in general also specifically to wild animals. In Job, it’s also used as a metaphor representing the composite forces of the powers of the earth that are against God.

  • Behemoth is a dangerous power that God must reckon with. Some people think this is an allusion to animals that God created in Genesis 1:24. “Lady Wisdom” is the wisdom that God built into creation. Behemoth is dangerous and a force to be reckoned with, not the embodiment of good behavior. One aspect of principalities and powers is forces outside of the world we can see. In Revelation, God protects people from the fury and wrath of the beast, which is an oppressive power that seeks to take the place of God.  

  • Job 41 describes Leviathan. Leviathan is not a natural animal like a crocodile. Sometimes Leviathan refers to a large sea creature, and sometimes death, chaos and the embodiment of evil. Satan is present at the first of the book but he is never mentioned again. In order for God to deal with evil in the world, he must defeat Leviathan.

  • Leviathan is a ferocious creature that no human can subdue. God is saying that he is willing to oppose Leviathan and  is not frightened of Leviathan or intimidated by his boasting. God is the one who will defeat this enemy who seems unbeatable to humans. God tells Job that he will deal with Leviathan but God doesn’t tell him how he will do it. Job embraced God’s answer even though Job didn’t know how God would deal with evil.

  • Job announces that he has changed his outlook on evil, God’s governance of the world and his own suffering. Job knew that God is all-powerful. Now Job knows something more about how God uses his power. Should God be merciful to people who will still be evil? Eschatological is an event that can only happen by a work of God. Emergence of divine power within the historical context. Job admits that he didn’t understand the complexity that is involved in God conquering evil. God forgives Job’s three friends because Job interceded for them. God is showing his approval with job by publicly restoring him.

  • Job’s suffering brought him to a new understanding of who God is and what God is doing in the world. Job’s hope, and our hope, is in a heavenly redeemer that rose from the dead. Legalism comes about often when people hold to essential teachings but they don’t know God. They substitute the rules for relationship.

  • Job mentions composite animals similar to those described in other apocalyptic passages. Job had faith that God would do a work of salvation but didn’t understand everything that Jesus would do. There is a hidden plan of God to redeem people and conquer evil that is a major theme in apocryphal books and also in Job.

  • Job tells us about the heavenly mediator. Prior to his afflictions, Job’s life was almost god-like because he was relatively free of suffering. Job through his affliction, faces the problem of evil and the enormity of suffering in the human race. Even though some people commit evil and violent acts, Job describes them in pitiful terms.

  • Should virtue, or piety, be disinterested? If it’s not done for it’s own sake, is it real? Job’s love for God is not disinterested, but it is real.

If God is good and powerful, why do you see suffering in the world? Why do you serve God even when you experience suffering? How do you respond to others when they ask these questions? How have you answered them for yourself? These are such important questions that the entire book of Job is devoted discussing only these issues in the context of the perspective of the experiences of one person. 

The theme of the book of Job is timeless and singular. There are clues about its geographical and historical setting but nothing in the book itself that identifies the place or time of its writing. However, the setting is irrelevant because the questions that are addressed in the Book of Job are ones that people have asked in all cultures, throughout time. It would be distracting and even limiting to frame the dialogue in a specific time or culture. There are enough clues in the text to give you a general idea of the culture and time it was written in to help you understand the logic and metaphors used by the main characters in their dialogue. 

The complete book of Job is composed of the dialogue of Job, his friends and God regarding the issues of God's goodness, his power, and evil in the world. No historical events. No other personal, corporate or theological issues. Since these questions are central to your understanding of God's character and how he works in the world around us throughout history, the book of Job compels you to consider this question deeply and exhaustively. The point is that by the end of the book, you can understand and articulate who God is and how he works in your life and in the world. 

The value of this class is that Dr. Garrett helps you understand what the text means, the historical and theological implications, and how you apply it to your life. Dr. Garrett's knowledge of the Bible, understanding of the Hebrew language and background in Ancient Near Eastern history and culture inform his insights into the message of the book and what it means to you. He is skilled at explaining technical linguistic and theological issues in a way that helps you comprehend them and see how they apply to your life. Whether you are just beginning in your study of the Bible or you have had training at an advanced academic level, studying the Book of Job with Dr. Garrett has the potential change the way you understand God and also how you live each day. 

Recommended Books

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

This Student's Guide is for the class on The Book of Job in BiblicalTraining.org. It contains the outlines to the lectures, a summary of each point, and reflection...

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide


So far, Eliphaz and Bildad have answered Job and now it is Zophar’s turn. So we will look at Zophar’s speech in Job chapter 11 and how he seeks to reel in Job. The outline is very simple. First we have Zophar’s frustration. He wishes that God would intervene, chapter 11, verses 2-6. Then we see that Job is stupid for even thinking he can question God in verses 7-12; and Zophar’s solution is very simple, Job needs to repent now, verses 13-20.

I. Zophar’s First Response

So we begin. In chapter 11, verses 2-6: “Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce others to silence? Will no-one rebuke you when you mock, if you say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight.?’ Oh, how I wish God would speak and that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this, God has even forgotten some of your sins.” Zophar is very irritated. He gives Job a strong retort because he is just so angry. He says that somebody needs to answer everything you have been saying. He accuses Job of mocking God. Again, like Bildad, he is exaggerating what Job is saying. Job is speaking in great frustration, but he is not mocking God. He believes God is almighty. He just doesn’t know why God is doing what he is doing. He wants some relief. He wants to understand how God is running things, that he would do all of this to an innocent man.

A. Zophar comes closer to accusing Job of sinning

Some of what he says here is quite ironic because we know that Zophar is wrong or is right in a way he does not expect. In verse 4 he says, “You say to God, ‘I am pure in your sight.’” In fact, God did say, “Job is just and righteous, a man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Zophar doesn’t realize it, but in fact, Job is pure in God’s sight.

He then says, “I really wish God would speak.” Well, God will speak. Zophar thinks that God will just come to Job and say, “You’re a sinner. Here are all the sins you have committed, now on your knees! Repent!” Whereas, God will say something very unexpected and he will convince Job, but he will not rebuke Job as a sinner.

Zophar has some interesting thoughts. What he says turns out to be in effect correct in a way, but not in the way Zophar expects. He goes on and he says in verse 7: “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above. What can you do? They are deeper than the depths below. What can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. If he comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him? Surely he recognizes deceivers and when he sees evil, does he not take note? But the witless can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human.”

B. Since Job is a mortal, he can’t understand God

Once again, the irony here is pretty strong. When he says in verse 7, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Do you have the kind of knowledge he has? Do you understand the depths the way God understands the depths?” that is very similar to what God will in fact say. God will speak of how he created heaven and earth and the seas and how God manages the storm and how God manages all the stars, how God knows and understands all these things. He will ask Job, “Job, do you do any of this?” Job will say, “No, no I don’t.” To that extent, once again he foreshadows what God is going to do; but once again, he misunderstands. When he says, “When he confines you in prison, he treats you as a sinner. He recognizes deceivers,” verse 11. “Won’t you accept that?” Zophar is saying. But in fact, when God rebukes Job and when he speaks of having created heaven and earth and when he speaks of the depths and the creatures of the sea and all the wild animals, he will not rebuke Job as a sinner. He will not say, “Job, you committed this sin and that is why all of this stuff happened to you.”

Once again, ironically Zophar is right, but not in a way he understands. But the next proverb is striking, verse 12: “But the witless can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human.” This is a metaphor for people who are not just foolish, but people who are stubborn, people who refuse to accept the truth, kind of a proverbial fool of the book of Proverbs. No matter how much you teach them, no matter how much you show them, they won’t get it. They are like a wild donkey’s colt and they can never become truly human. This has a parallel in Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

Just like a human cannot change his skin, his external appearance, a leopard cannot change his spots, so Jeremiah says to the sinners of Judah, “You cannot change, you are just committed to doing evil and you can’t even stop.” Zophar is saying the same thing to Job. “You are like a wild donkey. You are so stubborn. As a wild donkey can never become human, you can never accept wise teaching.” But there is more to it than that. Zophar is actually echoing what Job himself has said. In chapter 6, verse 5 Job said, “Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass, or an ox bellow when it has fodder?” So Job compared himself to a wild donkey and he meant it in the sense of, “I am suffering, I am hurting, and that’s why I’m making so much noise.” Zophar picks it up and says, “You are just a stupid, wild donkey. You’re ignorant, you will never change, you’re stubborn,” etc.

Interestingly, there is an another reference to the wild donkey and that is from God’s speech. Chapter 39, verses 5-8 God says: “Who let the wild donkey go free? Who untied its ropes? I gave it the wasteland as its home, the salt flats as its habitat. It laughs at the commotion in town. It does not hear a driver’s shout. It ranges the hill for its pastures and searches for any green thing.”

What makes this comparison even worth noting? Why is it significant? Zophar compares Job to a wild donkey and then here God speaks of a wild donkey. God speaks of the wild donkey’s freedom as a good thing. This is something that will become very important in God’s speech, how he will portray the wild animals of the world. He doesn’t look upon a wild donkey as something that needs to be tamed, that needs to be beaten and brought into submission. He thinks the wild donkey is great as it is. It is an animal that is able to live in wasteland, live off scrub brush, live in very harsh habitats and it thrives, it does just fine. The wild donkey looks into a town and he sees the donkeys in there who are tied to yokes and who are being driven and who are being lashed and the wild donkey says, “I’m glad that is not me.” He is free. He is powerful. He is prepared and created for the environment in which he lives. So for God, the freedom and the strength of the wild donkey is a good thing, it is how God made it, it is not something to be corrected. Whereas Zophar looks upon the whole world as needing to be brought into submission. Everything needs to be given its place. Everybody needs to learn the rules. Everybody needs to be tamed. He is angry at Job because he is untamable.

C. Later in the book, God will say that human wisdom is good but it has limitations

This will become much more significant when we get into God’s speech. But just to give you a little kind of preview of what is coming in God’s speech, what God will say is, in effect human wisdom has its limitations. Not that it is bad, human wisdom can only go so far; and the kind of discipline and rules that human wisdom will apply to human life is fine so far as it goes. But there is a higher wisdom that manages things that are much more wild, much close to chaos, and only God can handle that. Only God knows what to do with such situations. This is sort of foreshadowing how God looks upon wildness, over against how Bildad and Zophar and Eliphaz look upon wildness.

Earlier in my lectures I spoke of three levels of wisdom. The first level, again, being just technical skill. The second level being what you see in Proverbs, the
ability to control life, the ability to know how to function, basic principles of right and wrong, handling yourself in society, etc. That is important, it is good, it is true. But there is also a third level of wisdom, which is God’s wisdom. This is a wisdom that is above all nature. It is a wisdom that is sometimes paradoxical, sometimes surprising and counterintuitive. The third level of wisdom is what we will explore in God’s speech, and that is what is foreshadowed here.

Essentially what we have in Zophar’s speech is a picture of someone who is determined to bring Job to heel, to tame him, to make him confess some sin, to
make him agree that the traditional doctrine of retribution is good and fine and everything is going as it should go; and what we see in Job is refusal to do so.

II. Summary of the First Cycle of Speeches

We have thus come through the first cycle of speeches: Job and Eliphaz, Job and Bildad, Job and Zophar. What do we have here?

A. The three friends move from tactful suggestion to open hostility

First, in their accusations of Job, the three move from tactful suggestion - Eliphaz, to open raising doubts about Job’s righteousness - Bildad, to direct reproach and open hostility - Zophar. So there is a progression in the three and there is progression to greater and greater anger and to more harsh insults and indefensible attacks on Job.

B. Eliphaz’s encounter with the night spirit

Secondly, Eliphaz’s encounter with the spirit is foundational to the stance of the three. It is a satanic assertion that humans are utterly foul and that human
righteousness is impossible. So we saw in Eliphaz’s speech where the night spirit came and how he spoke to Eliphaz and how he had this very nihilistic message that the whole of creation is corrupt in God’s eyes, even heaven is corrupt,even the angels are corrupt. And God looks upon it all and human beings in particular are something for which God only has disdain because they are foul creatures of the flesh, of the clay; and that they are both foolish and corrupt and that when they die, nothing is lost. Eliphaz and the friends hold to many orthodox teachings about God and about humanity; but they have allowed their understanding of depravity following the night spirit to lead them to deep hostility and to a perverted understanding of God. As we have seen, it is ultimately nihilistic.

C. The stance of the friends could be regarded as a perversion of the doctrine of total depravity

Third, the friends’ stance could be regarded as a perversion of Biblical doctrine. This is something, again, we have to sift through as we work through their
speeches. Some of the things they say will be absolutely correct. Some of the things they say will be a distortion of something that is correct. Some of the things they say will be absolutely wrong. We should not expect to find in them nothing but bad arguments. That is very superficial, that is shallow. The poet of Job is nothing, if not very deep and very profound. You rarely have an argument in which one side just says nothing but mistakes and never gets anything wrong. That is what we have in the three friends. We have to be discerning as we work through their speeches and see what is right and see what is wrong, as we have already done.

D. Job is searching for answers and disappointed in his friends

Fourth, Job at this stage is searching for answers and sorely disappointed in the three. He proceeds from the same presuppositions as theirs about the doctrine of retribution; but he knows he did not do anything evil to deserve what happened to him. Thus, he is in an intellectual crisis.

When we read Job, we need to understand that when we read the words of the man, Job, first of all we are reading the words of a man who is in deep physical and emotional and intellectual pain. He is utterly bewildered by what has happened to him. We need to be careful and discerning as we read his words as well, knowing that where he is complaining to God, yes, he really is complaining about God and complaining about what God has done to him, but he is doing it out of a search for truth and he has not rejected God. He is rather voicing in very strong terms his pain and his distress.

That takes us through the first cycle and in our next lecture we will begin the second cycle with the next speech of Job.

Question: Do you think these three friends, because this is a poem, might be his own struggles in himself, and him talking with himself?

Dr. Garrett: I do think the three friends are real, but that is an insightful question because so much of what they say arise from beliefs that God himself holds; so they are giving voice to things that Job already knows or he already believes. So he is going back and forth, trying to figure out what is wrong. Yes, I think they are real. I think what they are saying to him are things that he kind of would say to himself and that is part of what is tormenting him, that is part of his intellectual crisis.