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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Job 11

 

 

Verses 1-20

XI.

A FRESH ATTEMPT TO CONVICT

Job 11:1-20

ZOPHAR SPEAKS

THE third and presumably youngest of the three friends of Job now takes up the argument somewhat in the same strain as the others. With no wish to be unfair to Zophar we are somewhat prepossessed against him from the outset; and the writer must mean us to be so, since he makes him attack Job as an empty babbler:-

"Shall not the multitude of words be answered?

And shall a man of lips be justified?

Shall thy boastings make people silent,

So that thou mayest mock on, none putting thee to shame?"

True it was, Job had used vehement speech. Yet it is a most insulting suggestion that he meant little but irreligious bluster. The special note of Zophar comes out in his rebuke of Job for the mockery, that is, sceptical talk, in which he had indulged. Persons who merely rehearse opinions are usually the most dogmatic and take most upon them. Nobody reckons himself more able to detect error in doctrine, nobody denounces rationalism and infidelity with greater confidence, than the man whose creed is formal, who never applied his mind directly to the problems of faith, and has but a moderate amount of mind to apply. Zophar, indeed, is a man of considerable intelligence; but he betrays himself. To him Job’s words have been wearisome. He may have tried to understand the matter, but he has caught only a general impression that, in the face of what appears to him clearest evidence, Job denies being any way amenable to justice. He had dared to say to God, "Thou knowest that I am not wicked." What? God can afflict a man whom He knows to be righteous! It is a doctrine as profane as it is novel. Eliphaz and Bildad supposed that they had to deal with a man unwilling to humble himself in the way of acknowledging sins hitherto concealed. By pressure of one kind or another they hoped to get Job to realise his secret transgression. But Zophar has noted the whole tendency of his argument to be heretical. "Thou sayest, My doctrine is pure." And what is that doctrine? Why, that thou wast clean in the eyes of God, that God has smitten thee without cause. Dost thou mean, O Job! to accuse the Most High of acting in that manner? Oh that God would speak and open His lips against thee! Thou hast expressed a desire to state thy case to Him. The result would be very different from thy expectation.

Now, beneath any mistaken view held by sincere persons there is almost always a sort of foundation of truth; and they have at least as much logic as satisfies themselves. Job’s friends are religious men; they do not consciously build on lies. One and all they are convinced that God is invariable in His treatment of men, never afflicting the innocent, always dealing out judgment in the precise measure of a man’s sin. That belief is the basis of their creed. They could not worship a God less than absolutely just. Beginning the religious life with this faith they have clung to it all along. After thirty or forty years’ experience they are still confident that their principle explains the prosperity and affliction, the circumstances of all human beings. But have they never seen anything that did not harmonise with this view of providence? Have they not seen the good die in youth, and those whose hearts are dry as summer dust burn to their sockets? Have they not seen vile schemes prosper, and the schemers enjoy their ill-gotten power for years? It is strange the old faith has not been shaken at least. But no! They come to the case of Job as firmly convinced as ever that the Ruler of the world shows His justice by dispensing joy and suffering in proportion to men’s good and evil deeds, that whenever trouble falls on any one some sin must have been committed which deserved precisely this kind and quantity of suffering.

Trying to get at the source of the belief we must confess ourselves partly at a loss. One writer suggests that there may have been in the earlier and simpler conditions of society a closer correspondence between wrong doing and suffering than is to be seen nowadays. There may be something in this. But life is not governed differently at different epochs, and the theory is hardly proved by what we know of the ancient world. No doubt in the history of the Hebrews, which lies behind the faith attributed to the friends of Job, a connection may be traced between their wrong doing as a nation and their suffering as a nation. When they fell away from faith in God their obedience languished, their vigour failed, the end of their existence being lost sight of, and so they became the prey of enemies. But this did not apply to individuals. The good suffered along with the careless and wicked in seasons of national calamity. And the history of the people of Israel would support such a view of the Divine government so long only as national transgression and its punishment were alone taken into account. Now, however, the distinction between the nation and the individual has clearly emerged. The sin of a community can no longer explain satisfactorily the sufferings of a member of the community, faithful among the unbelieving.

But the theory seems to have been made out rather by the following course of argument. Always in the administration of law and the exercise of paternal authority, transgression has been visited with pain and deprivation of privilege. The father whose son has disobeyed him inflicts pain, and, if he is a judicious father, makes the pain proportionate to the offence. The ruler, through his judges and officers, punishes transgression according to some orderly code. Malefactors are deprived of liberty; they are fined or scourged, or, in the last resort, executed. Now, having in this way built up a system of law which inflicts punishment with more or less justice in proportion to the offence imputed, men take for granted that what they do imperfectly is done perfectly by God. They take for granted that the calamities and troubles He appoints are ordained according to the same principle, with precisely the same design, as penalty is inflicted by a father, a chief, or a king. The reasoning is contradicted in many ways, but they disregard the difficulties. If this is not the truth, what other explanation is to be found? The desire for happiness is keen; pain seems the worst of evils: and they fail to see that endurance can be the means of good. Feeling themselves bound to maintain the perfect righteousness of God they affirm the only theory of suffering that seems to agree with it.

Now, Zophar, like the others full of this theory, admits that Job may have failed to see his transgression. But in that case the sufferer is unable to distinguish right from wrong. Indeed, his whole contention seems to Zophar to show ignorance. If God were to speak and reveal the secrets of His holy wisdom, twice as deep, twice as penetrating as Job supposes, the sins he has denied would be brought home to him. He would know that God requires less of him than his iniquity deserves. Zophar hints, what is very true, that our judgment of our own conduct is imperfect. How can we trace the real nature of our actions, or know how they look to the sublime wisdom of the Most High? Job appears to have forgotten all this. He refuses to allow fault in himself. But God knows better.

Here is a cunning argument to fortify the general position. It could always be said of a case which presented difficulties that, while the sufferer seemed innocent, yet the wisdom of God, "twofold in understanding" (Job 11:6) as compared with that of man, perceived guilt and ordained the punishment. But the argument proved too much, for Zophar’s own health and comfort contradicted his dogma. He took for granted that the twofold wisdom of the Almighty found nothing wrong in him. It was a naive piece of forgetfulness. Could he assert that his life had no flaw? Hardly. But then, why is he in honour? How had he been able to come riding on his camel, attended by his servants, to sit in judgment on Job? Plainly, on an argument like his, no man could ever be in comfort or pleasure, for human nature is always defective, always in more or less of sin. Repentance never overtakes the future. Therefore God who deals with man on a broad basis could never treat him save as a sinner, to be kept in pain and deprivation. If suffering is the penalty of sin we ought all, notwithstanding the atonement of Christ, to be suffering the pain of the hour for the defect of the hour, since "all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God." At this rate man’s life-again despite the atonement-would be continued trial and sentence. From all which it is evident that the world is governed on another plan than that which satisfied Job’s friends.

Zophar rises to eloquence in declaring the unsearchableness of Divine wisdom.

"Canst thou find the depths of Eloah?

Canst thou reach to the end of Shaddai?

Heights of heaven!

What canst thou do?

Deeper than Sheol!

What canst thou know?

The measure thereof is longer than the earth,

Broader is it than the sea."

Here is fine poetry; but with an attempt at theology the speaker goes astray, for he conceives God as doing what he himself wishes to do, namely, prove Job a sinner. The Divine greatness is invoked that a narrow scheme of thought may be justified. If God pass by, if He arrest, if He hold assize, who can hinder Him? Supreme wisdom and infinite power admit no questioning, no resistance. God knoweth vain or wicked men at a glance. One look and all is plain to him. Empty man will be wise in these matters "when a wild ass’s colt is born a man."

Turning from this, as if in recollection that he has to treat Job with friendliness, Zophar closes like the other two with a promise. If Job will put away sin, his life shall be established again, his misery forgotten or remembered as a torrent of spring when the heat of summer comes.

Thou shalt forget thy misery;

Remember it as waters that have passed by;

And thy life shall rise brighter than noonday;

And if darkness fall, it shall be as the morning.

Thou shalt then have confidence because there is hope;

Yea, look around and take rest in safety,

Also lie down and none shall affray thee,

And many shall make suit unto thee.

But the eyes of the wicked fail;

For them no way of escape.

And their hope is to breathe out the spirit.

Rhetoric and logic are used in promises given freely by all the speakers. But not one of them has any comfort for his friend while the affliction lasts. The author does not allow one of them to say, God is thy friend, God is thy portion now; He still cares for thee. In some of the psalms a higher note is heard: "There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased." The friends of Job are full of pious intentions, yet they state a most unspiritual creed, the foundation of it laid in corn and wine. Peace of conscience and quiet confidence in God are not what they go by. Hence the sufferer finds no support in them or their promises. They will not help him to live one day, nor sustain him in dying. For it is the light of God’s countenance he desires to see. He is only mocked and exasperated by their arguments; and in the course of his own eager thought the revelation comes like a star of hope rising on the midnight of his soul.

Though Zophar fails like the other two, he is not to be called a mere echo. It is incorrect to say that, while Eliphaz is a kind of prophet and Bildad a sage, Zophar is a commonplace man without ideas. On the contrary, he is a thinker, something of a philosopher, although, of course, greatly restricted by his narrow creed. He is stringent, bitter indeed. But he has the merit of seeing a certain force in Job’s contention which he does not fairly meet. It is a fresh suggestion that the answer must lie in the depth of that penetrating wisdom of the Most High, compared to which man’s wisdom is vain. Then, his description of the return of blessedness and prosperity, when one examines it, is found distinctly in advance of Eliphaz’s picture in moral colouring and gravity of treatment. We must not fail to notice, moreover, that Zophar speaks of the omniscience of God more than of His omnipotence; and the closing verse describes the end of the wicked not as the result of a supernatural stroke or a sudden calamity, but as a process of natural and spiritual decay.

The closing words of Zophar’s speech point to the finality of death, and bear the meaning that if Job were to die now of his disease the whole question of his character would be closed. It is important to note this, because it enters into Job’s mind and affects his expressions of desire. Never again does he cry for release as before. If he names death it is as a sorrowful fate he must meet or a power he will defy. He advances to one point after another of reasserted energy, to the resolution that, whatever death may do, either in the underworld or beyond it, he will wait for vindication or assert his right.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Job 11:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/job-11.html.

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