Beckett: Commentary on Job 12, Job’s Reply to Zophar – Glory to God’s Sovereignty

While Job’s friends have said some true things, they were all in error by assuming Job’s suffering is the direct result of God’s punishment for special sin. They were also erroneous in thinking that if Job turned from his former sinful ways, he would live a life of perpetual prosperity. His own life is evidence to the contrary.

12:1-6, Job’s Life Proves the Prosperity Gospel Wrong

Then Job answered and said, “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these?”

vv. 1-3

Job responds first with sarcasm in verse 2: “Obviously, y’all know everything! When you die, wisdom will die with you!” Yet Job refuses to let his friends have their satisfaction. They’re not as wise as they think they are. Much of their words have been tactless, insipid, and insensitive—things belonging to ineptitude rather than wisdom. That they made Job more miserable is indicative of their imprudence than it is of any wisdom. Job himself has wisdom to share.

“I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called to God and He answered me, a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock. In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.”

vv. 4-5

His friends adamantly maintained that the wicked only suffer in this life. Job could not agree, and rightly so. As said before, his life is evidence to the contrary. He is blameless and upright, even according to God Himself (1:8; 2:3), yet he suffers greatly.

Job indeed shares greater wisdom in verse 5. When things are going well, it’s easy for one to become arrogant and condescendingly look down upon those who are worse off (which Job’s friends are doing). Yet this life of ease can easily be reversed in a single day (cf. 1:13-19; Job’s entire life was flipped upside down in a single day).

The psalmist Asaph echoes this truthful wisdom (Psalm 73:2-5, 12). However, Asaph saw that eschatologically, the wicked have a final end (Psalm 73:17). Job later confesses this same truth (27:7-10).

“The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their hand.”

v. 6

However, here Job inflates the truth of the wicked’s prosperity in this life. They have security, but they are not entirely secure. This overstatement is a result of the harsh words his friends spoke. Would you or I react any differently?

12:7-12, Even God’s Creatures Know

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of Yahweh has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

vv. 7-10

Verses 7-12 serve as an introductory statement to his argument that follows in vv. 13-25. Job insinuates his friends have a perverted view on his suffering (indeed, they do). Perhaps mocking Bildad’s natural law theory earlier (8:11-19), Job calls forth all of creation as witnesses to his coming argument. According to Job, even all God’s creatures recognise Job’s affliction as being the cause of God Almighty.

Job’s postulation is questionable, however. Can animals and plants really know such things? They have natural instinct when it comes to nature, but it is doubtful that they have such divine instinct. This overestimation is likely a continuance of his overestimation made just prior to this in verse 6.

“Does not the ear test words as the palate tests food? Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”

vv. 11-12

Job reminds them again that he, too, has developed wisdom from many years of experience. Therefore, he is able to test what he has heard from them just as the tongue tests the palate of food to discern its usefulness.

Verse 12 serves as a close to his introduction to remind his friends of God’s preëminent wisdom and power.

12:13-25; God’s Sovereignty Permits All Things, Good and Bad

“With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding. If He tears down, none can rebuild; if He shuts a man in, none can open. If He withholds the waters, they dry up; if He sends them out, they overwhelm the land.

“With Him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are His. He leads counsellors away stripped, and judges He makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings and binds a waistcloth on their hips. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows the mighty. He deprives of speech those who are trusted and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong.

“He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light. He makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and He makes them stagger like a drunken man.”

Job confesses and praises God for His unsearchable sovereignty. He illustrates God’s sovereignty with His utter control over the highest and most noblest of places: of counsellors, judges, kings, priests, elders, and nobles. He allows their prosperity and He permits their ruin. These high, honourable estates are infinitesimal compared to God.

Zophar praised God for His wisdom as well (11:6-11), but he did so in order to cause further injury to Job. Earlier, Job also praised God for His infinite wisdom and power (9:1-24). Here, as he responds to Zophar, Job once again delineates God’s inexorable sovereignty. This is the God who has permitted his suffering.

Job is entirely correct in his summation, thus returning to the theology of the cross. By allowing Satan to afflict Job while sparing his life, God indeed permitted Job’s suffering. Job confesses here what we learn throughout the entirety of the book: God’s causing and permitting can be mutually exclusive. Here, for example, God in His sovereign majesty permitted Job’s suffering, but He is not the cause of it. Although God has permitted it, the source of Job’s suffering—indeed, of all believers—is the Devil. Therefore, one’s only hope is to hope in this sovereign God for deliverance, which Job does as he continues.

Application

It is difficult to write an application of this chapter without entering chapter 13, yet the two are deeply united as Job continues his dialogue.

The Christian confesses God’s sovereignty with Job. As theologians of the cross, saying what a thing is, we acknowledge that the sovereign God permits both good and bad. However, a vital distinction must be made. God causes all good, for He Himself is good. Yet while He permits bad to happen, He is not the cause of bad, or evil. As the Lutheran Confessions say:

God is not a creator, author, or cause of sin. By the instigation of the devil through one man, sin (which is the devil’s work) has entered the world (Romans 5:12; 1 John 3:7). Even today, in this corruption, God does not create and make sin in us. Original sin is multiplied from sinful seed, through fleshly conception and birth from father and mother [Psalm 51:5].

FC SD I, 7

Unbelievers equate permission with culpability, but one cannot be culpable of something for which they are not the source of its cause. Culpability belongs entirely to the Devil, the author of sin and the father of lies (John 8:44). Thus, the ancient question remains, “Why does God permit evil?”

God answers this question in the book of Job and He answers it again with Habakkuk, and it is not the answer we want. God does not answer this ancient question with a “because.” God’s answer is basically, “Wait.”

As the Lord spoke to Habakkuk, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (2:3).

Prior to this, Habakkuk complained to God about evil and suffering. God’s reply was essentially, “I have spoken and revealed My will concerning evil’s end. I have not lied. It may seem slow to you, but wait on Me. Be patient. It will surely come. It is not delayed.”

Evil already has an end, and we saw its end in Jesus on the cross. We simply—and arduously—have to wait and trust in the Lord. “Wait,” God says. We hate this answer, yet as we have seen in Job already, we are in no place to question the Lord. God is not obligated to explain Himself to us. He is sovereign. One who is sovereign never needs to explain his actions. God makes this point even further when He finally confronts Job.

Thus, like Job, our only hope is to hope in the Lord rather than ourselves. Our only hope is to trust in the One who is sovereign over all things to deliver us from evil at its final end, which is in Christ. This is the hope Job begins to confess in the following chapter.

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