Beckett: Commentary on Job 11, Zophar Speaks – You Deserve Worse

11:1-6, “You Deserve Worse, Job”

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?”

vv. 1-3

Zophar can’t hold himself back from speaking like Eliphaz (4:2). He is just as unsympathetic as Bildad and equally as tactless as Eliphaz. Sure, Job has said some foolish things and has made absurd presumptions of God, but again, Job needed Gospel, not Law.

He accuses Job of mocking God. So, should not his derision be silenced? This is an unfair accusation. Job has complained and challenged God, but he has not mocked or blasphemed Him.

“For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.'”

v. 4

This is a false accusation. Job knows he is not pure (9:2, 14-15; 7:21). Job says he is blameless (9:15, 20-21), but in saying this he was saying he’s innocent of some special sin to deserve God’s affliction, which he is (2:3).

“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.”

vv. 5-6

Like Job, Zophar wishes God would speak. Whereas Job wishes it for his justification, Zophar wishes it for Job’s damnation. Zophar’s saying, “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” sounds benign, but he’s insinuating that Job’s special sin is so bad that no penance is great enough to cover that sin. Like Eliphaz (5:7), he suggests Job’s suffering is punishment rather than discipline. Basically, he’s telling Job he deserves worse.

11:7-12, Zophar Addresses Job’s Theology of Glory

“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?”

vv. 7-10

Zophar surprisingly responds to Job’s momentary lapse into the theology of glory (10:13-17). What he says of God here is true and is antithetical to the theology of glory. Despite Job’s recent regression into this poor theology, he is aware of God’s unsurpassable, unknowable, and unfathomable mysteries (9:4-13). So is Eliphaz (5:9-16). Paul later echoes this truth of God (Romans 11:33-36). Thus, Zophar accurately says, it is futile to oppose God. Of course, however, Zophar erroneously thinks Job is opposing God’s punishment when God is not punishing him.

“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!”

vv. 11-12

Zophar accuses Job of being evil and stupid. Here, Zophar is equally as cruel as Bildad. In the Hebrew word translated as “stupid” (נָבַב, navav), he is literally calling him empty headed, for the word more closely means “hollow.” Just as it is impossible for a donkey to be born a human, so it is as impossible for Job to become wise and intelligent. So, according to Zophar, not only does Job deserve worse than what’s been allotted to him, but he is also far too stupid to fathom what’s happening to him—and so stupid that he is utterly incapable of growing in understanding.

11:13-20, Zophar’s Decision Theology

“If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward Him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents.”

vv. 13-14

After his harsh words, Zophar calls Job to repentance, but this is a pointless endeavour. He just left Job completely hopeless—that he deserves worse and is too stupid. Now he expects him to repent? If Job is too stupid, how can he repent? Zophar is the stupid one here.

It is not wonder why these words fell on deaf ears with Job’s response in chapter 12. Not because he’s stupid, but because of Zophar’s hopeless words. However, despite all this, Job amazingly manages to express his faith and hope in God (chapter 13). Job is not too stupid after all.

Zophar’s other error is his emphasise on you in Hebrew. It’s entirely up to Job rather than God. This is antecedent of today’s decision theology, prominent among Baptists and other mainline denominations. While they might preach about original and actual sin and the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus our Saviour, they will supplement meagre human works to their message. “You must make a decision for Jesus,” they say. But only once you’ve reached the “age of accountability,” of course.

Instead of relying solely on Christ, your salvation relies entirely on you both before and after faith. “Instead of presenting faith as the empty hand that receives forgiveness and salvation, they present it as making a decision to accept Jesus Christ and to invite him into their hearts” (Honsey, 86). Similarly, Zophar urges Job that his deliverance relies entirely upon him rather than Yahweh. For more on the falsity of decision theology, see the reading list I’ve provided below.

11:15-20, Zophar’s Prosperity Gospel

“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 favour.”

vv. 15-19

Zophar’s words here are beautiful but unrealistic. If only Job turned to God, he would find security and never fear (v. 15) or have misery (v. 16); his life would always be sunshine and roses (v. 17; contrast Psalm 37:5-6); and he will finally find rest (vv. 18-19), which Job expressed his desire for much earlier (3:24-26). People would even seek his advice just like they did in the past, which Eliphaz also mentioned (4:3-4).

As noted already, this is untrue of God’s holy people who always receive trouble (John 16:33; Acts 14:21-22), which is antecedent of today’s prosperity gospel heresy. Not only that, but Job’s life is also evidence to the contrary. God Himself described Job as blameless and upright (1:1, 8; 2:3), yet he still suffered despite God’s favour. The fact that Job and the lives of all God’s people still suffer not only proves this heresy wrong, but also supremely absurd.

“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.”

v. 20

As also already noted, we know this is untrue, at least on this side of the eschaton. In this world, many wicked people live to be exceedingly (and ordinarily) prosperous. And like Bildad, he erroneously includes Job in this category (8:11-19).

Application

Once again, we learn not to apply the prosperity gospel heresy to a person in suffering, but also the falsity of decision theology. Not only because these teachings are unhelpful to such a Christian, but also because they’re false teachings altogether. Furthermore, we see another example of a failure to distinguish between Law and Gospel.

Perhaps unique to Zophar is telling a person in suffering that they deserve worse while expecting them to repent and trust in the Lord. I hope I don’t have to say how incredibly asinine this is. Whether or not you believe a person deserves worse than what they’ve been given, is it helpful at all to tell them that? No! The only reason for you to tell someone that is because of the evil within you that you wish to see them suffer even more. There is nothing righteous about it.

Perhaps what we see here more than ever is an utter failure to actually listen to Job. For example, Zophar accuses Job of claiming to be pure (v. 4), but as we have seen, Job is wholly cognisant of his being a sinner and he was claiming to be blameless of special sin, not sin altogether. It might be obvious to the reader, but Zophar and the others failed to actually listen to Job.

In the practice of pastoral counseling, we call this active listening. To put it simply, active listening is essentially listening for the person to be heard rather than listening to respond. When you listen to respond, you’re not really listening, but simply “hearing.” As Simon and Garfunkel have sung, “People talking without speaking / People hearing without listening” (Sounds of Silence).

So, if there’s anything we can apply to ourselves here, it is to learn how to actively listen rather than “listening” just to respond and show your righteousness before others.

Bibliography

Honsey, Rudolph E. Job, People’s Bible Commentary. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1993.

Additional Readings on Decision Theology

Christ Chose Us

The Eucharist, The True Altar Call

Is Infant Baptism Necessary?

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