Lecture 14: Zophar’s Speech (Job 11) and a summary of cycle 1
Course: The Book of Job
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.