Two of Job’s friends have attempted to correct Job so far. Eliphaz and Bildad has attempted to show Job that he is obviously not innocent of sin and this is the cause of his suffering. The first two chapters of Job told us plainly and clearly by God and the narrator that this is not the cause. Job is blameless, upright, fears God, and turns from evil. With Job still maintaining his integrity and blamelessness, we will consider how Job’s third friend, Zophar, will try to comfort Job. As we have been doing in each lesson, we will consider what we learn from Zophar’s words, what we learn from Job’s response, and what we learn about God in regards to suffering and how he runs the world.
Zophar’s Speech (11:1-20)
Zophar begins by telling Job that Job is full of idle chatter and babbling. Job is a windbag, just like Bildad said (11:2-3). Your words have no substance. You talk a lot but say nothing. Further, Job’s position concerning his innocence is ludicrous (11:4) and Zophar wishes that God would put Job in his place (11:5-6). Zophar says that the evidence of Job’s life shows that he is not innocent. Consider that Zophar does not know of any sins. Rather, the evidence that Zophar depends on is the fact that Job has suffered so greatly. Listen to the cutting words at the end of verse 6: “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” God has forgotten some of your sins and you are actually get less than you deserve. What cruel and crushing words! Yet have we thought that about the lives of others? Sometimes we will give this terrible comfort to others: “Well, it could be worse.” Basically, this is what Zophar is saying. It could be worse. You did not receive all that you deserve from your sins. You have suffered much but it could be worse. Friends, this is not comfort. Telling another person that life could be worse is of no comfort or value at all. How does telling another person that your life could be an even greater disaster comfort to the suffering person? Of course life could be worse! But how does that help me with my pain and suffering today? Zophar is telling Job that God has been compassionate toward Job because it would be so much worse if God punished him for all his sins. This is Zophar’s great counsel to Job.
Further, Zophar points out that God cannot be understood (11:7-12). No one can comprehend him. God is too high and too deep, and a stupid person like Job could never understand him (11:12). Job is a fool and his words are foolish. Any attempt to understand God is considered by Zophar as utter folly and Job is empty-headed for trying. How often people make this mistake and indicate that God cannot be known because he is too great and too deep! Sometimes scriptures are misused to make this point.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33–34 ESV)
Is Paul saying that you cannot know God so do not even try? No! Paul is saying that we cannot understand the mind or the plan of God unless he reveal it to us. We cannot conceive our ideas and plans and think that this is the way God thinks and acts. He does not. This passage from Isaiah is also similarly misused:
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6–9 ESV)
Again, the point is not that you cannot know God but that you are to exchange your knowledge and way of thinking for God’s knowledge and way of thinking. We are supposed to spend our lives trying to understand God through the words he revealed to us. If we cannot understand and know God, why did he give us this book that contains his mind, his thoughts, and his words? How the prophets cried out for the people to know the Lord! Friends, we can know the Lord and we are to seek him.
Finally, Zophar concludes his speech by returning to retribution theology (11:13-20). Pray to God (11:13) and repent (11:14) and God will make your life all better after doing so (11:15-20). Repenting will get your blessings back and if you do not repent then you are in the company of the wicked (11:20). Before we leave Zophar and consider Job’s response I want us to consider where in the scriptures does God promise to make your life better or fully restore you after trials? Does God say that he will restore you after your loved one dies? Does God say that he will restore your life after divorce? Does God say that he will restore your life after great loss? Where is the promise? Yet Job’s friends continue to tell Job that repentance always brings about physical restoration of what was lost. It is a false hope that humans offer but God does not give.
Job’s Response (12:1-14:22)
God cannot be systematically explained (12:1-25)
Job begins by criticizing Zophar, calling him a know-it-all and when he dies clearly wisdom will die with him (12:2). Job points out that Zophar is not saying anything new (12:3). Pray and repent. Job knows this system that Zophar and the other two keep proclaiming. Job has called out to God (12:4) but Job is nothing more than a laughingstock to others. It is easy for people who are not experiencing troubles to mock those who are (12:5). How true this is! How easy it is to push down those who are stumbling when you are not experiencing trouble. Job further points out that Zophar is provoking God by the words he says (12:6).
Here is Job’s point. Zophar is provoking God because God cannot be explained so simply. Your system of thought is shallow and God is more complex than your simple theology. There is no tame, systematic explanation of God’s actions (12:7-25). The rest of the chapter is Job illustrating how God cannot be systematically explained. Who can explain why in one place God gives drought and another place God gives a flood (12:15)? Who can explain the fate of leaders on earth (12:16-21)? Why are some rulers allowed to continue on in strength while others God strips and overthrows? Who can explain why good leaders are cut short while horrible leaders are given power to rule? Further, Job looks to the nations. Who can explain the fate of the nations of the earth (12:22-25)? He makes some nations great and destroys others. God makes a nation great and then destroys that very nation. Job’s point is that there is no way to systematically explain everything God does. Yet how often we do try to do this! For example, how often have we tried to explain why Ananias and Sapphira were killed while others vehement rebels of God in Acts were not! Why was the apostle James allowed to be killed by the sword but the apostle Peter was set free in Acts? How God runs the world cannot be simply or systematically explained.
Your system of thought is deceitful (13:1-12)
In chapter 13 Job continues to point out how the friends’ theology is deceitful and false. He calls his friends worthless doctors (13:4) and true wisdom would be for them to keep quiet (13:5). Job calls them out for making up lies to prove their system true (13:4). How often this happens where people will create lies about others or God to prove true their way of thinking! Job challenges these three friends telling them that they are speaking wickedly on God’s behalf (13:7). How can you defend God’s cause (13:8) and how well will it go for you if you were going through this (13:9)? You would be doomed (13:10-11). Your platitudes are ashes and are as fragile as a clay pot (13:12). Your system for explaining life would fall apart when God comes after you.
Job must take his case to God (13:13-28)
Therefore, Job must continue to present his case before God. Job knows that it is dangerous for him to say what he thinks. He knows he is taking his life into his own hands. But his only hope is to lay his case before God (13:13-15). God may kill him but he has no other hope (13:15). The godless cannot come before God (13:16) but Job is not godless. Therefore, his appeal to God will be his salvation. Job knows that he will be vindicated because he is righteous (13:17-18). His friends are not able to bring charges of sin against him (13:19). Please notice that Job continues to have faith in God’s righteousness, even though he does not understand what God is doing.
Job then pleads with God to remove his hand from him because God is terrifying him (13:20-21). Yet Job says that if God will call for him he would answer (13:22). Job knows he has not done wrong and cannot understand why he is God’s enemy (13:23-27). Show me my sin (13:23)! Know that I am a man who is wasting away (13:28). The intensity of Job’s suffering over these many months have not eased.
Job has no hope (14:1-22)
This leads Job to speak of his hopeless situation. The days for humans are few and full of trouble (14:1) and we do not endure (14:2). Life is short and fixed by God (14:3-6). So leave me alone until the time of judgment. Plants and trees have hope when they are cut down. They can sprout again (14:7-12). But humans do not have the same hope. Job wishes that he could have hope by taking refuge in the grave and then be brought back to life (14:12-13). But that hope does not exist. Hide me in the grave until your anger passes (14:13). Let me know how long this is going to go on and then you can remember me again after the wrath is over (14:13-15).
But Job returns to hopelessness, understanding that renewal must come from this life because we are not trees (14:14-17). He cannot be cut down and sprout again. How wonderful it would be if he could be cut down and start over. Then his sins would be forgotten, bagged up and thrown out like trash (14:16-17). Job is desiring a restored relationship with God. Remember that Job thinks that he is cut off from God because he is suffering. This is a consequence of believing in retribution theology. But God has not separated himself from Job even though Job feels this way. Job still believes God would vindicate him if he had the opportunity. But God destroys such hope (14:18-22). Notice the point Job makes. If there is no resurrection, then there is no hope. Job says that he is going to die and there is no hope of restoration. Plants and trees have hope of growing again after being cut down but for humans he does not see that hope.
Message For Today
Consider what Job expresses. Without resurrection there is no hope for humanity. We are simply suffering the few days that we have and then we die. Our days are few and full of trouble. We are helpless and hopeless in this life. We are like a flower, here for a moment and then burned up (14:1-2). Humans die and laid low. We breathe our last and that is it (14:10). Like waters that dry up so we lie down and do not awake (14:11-12). There is a massive hopelessness without resurrection. Life is truly painful and pitiable. Job’s feeling are correct without resurrection hope. Just finish me off and let me die when I am in this anguish. The apostle Paul made the same point to the Corinthians:
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)
But again God addresses our need and gives us the hope that we need for this life. This is the hope the apostle Peter describes for us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3–9 ESV)
We have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance. This is the hope we need and gives us the ability to have joy even though we are grieved by various trials. Job hopes that there could be life again. God shows us through Jesus that there is life again because of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus Paul could say with confidence:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4–5 ESV)
We are not dead and then it is all over. We can endure because we will live again. Death has lost its sting and God has given us hope through our trials for life again.