In his reply to Bildad, Job stated that he experiences God as an adversary, but that a lawsuit against Him is not feasible. This provokes a reaction from Zophar the Naamathite. Because Zophar speaks last, it is likely that he is the youngest of the friends. His speech is more general in character than that of the other friends, but also harsher. Not only does he discuss the content of Job’s argument, but he also attacks Job himself and his integrity in a crude way.
With Zophar, we miss Eliphaz’s dignity and Bildad’s skillful arguments. He is impetuous and not sensitive in his speech. Like the other two, he fails to solve the enigma of Job’s suffering. Through his theory that Jobs’ suffering is the result of sins committed by him, he plunges the poor man even deeper into darkness.
Zophar paints Job as a foolish mocker, but still tries to lecture him. In his speech, he adopts the attitude of a great sage who possesses all wisdom. He tells Job at length about the greatness of the inscrutable God, and explains to him His actions as if he himself had fully understood this inscrutable God.
In his answer (Job 12-14) Job surpasses Zophar by far, both in length and in the fervor of expressions. This is not because Job has a greater ability, but because their gaze is not as wide as his.
1 - 6 Blaming Job’s Flood of Words
1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered,
2 “Shall a multitude of words go unanswered,
And a talkative man be acquitted?
3 “Shall your boasts silence men?
And shall you scoff and none rebuke?
4 “For you have said, ‘My teaching is pure,
And I am innocent in your eyes.’
5 “But would that God might speak,
And open His lips against you,
6 And show you the secrets of wisdom!
For sound wisdom has two sides.
Know then that God forgets a part of your iniquity.
Zophar, the Naamathite, responds to Job’s answer to Bildad (verse 1). He feels compelled to respond to Job’s “multitude of words” (verse 2). He throws at Job that he is “a talkative man”, someone who talks a lot, just to get his right, as if someone is right because he uses a lot of words (c.f. Pro 10:19).
By the way, Job not only talks a lot and uses a lot of words, but all his words have no substance either (verse 3; cf. Ecc 5:2). It is all bells and whistles and zero utility. Zophar calls Job’s words “boasts”. He clearly shows that he thinks Job is talking nonsense. Job shouldn’t think that with such nonsense he silences “men” – i.e. the friends – because they no longer have a response.
Zophar adds another qualification. What Job said about God from the deepest misery, has, in his conviction, the character of “mocking”. This must be dealt with. Job must be made aware of the scoff of his words, so that he will be ashamed of what he has said.
It indeed is very rude of Zophar to qualify Job’s utterances in this way. How dare he accuse Job of lying and scoffing! Job spoke in despair and said inappropriate things of and about God. But he is far from being a scoffer. On the contrary, he is deeply convinced of God’s high holiness. What he struggles with is how God acts with him. It is a warning for us not to call certain statements about God by people in great distress a defamation of God.
Zophar considers the words of Job as pure mockery because he draws false conclusions from what Job has said. According to him, Job has said that his understanding is pure and that he is pure in God’s eyes (verse 4). But Job did not say that. He has always maintained his innocence (Job 9:21; 10:7) and impeccability against their false accusations that he is a hypocrite, but never claimed to be perfect.
Zophar did not listen carefully. He listened selectively, and heard only that which suited his views of God. Not listening carefully to what someone else is saying has often been a source of miscommunication and misery. We need to listen carefully to what the other person is saying and also try to understand what he is saying. We can hear someone else’s words, but sometimes we can’t understand what he means to say.
Sometimes we only hear half of what someone is saying or we forget a part of it. Then words are taken out of context and wrong conclusions are drawn. Suppose I hear someone say: “I don’t like coffee with milk.’ When I say to someone else, ‘He said, I don’t like coffee’, I quote the other person verbatim and therefore correctly. But because I only partly quote what the other person has said, I tell a lie about him. A half-truth is a whole lie (Gen 20:2,12).
Zophar’s persistent denial of Job that he has done something evil brings Zophar to the hard sigh that God should open His mouth against Job (verse 5). Then it would be over and done with Job talking about his uprightness. He says this in the full conviction that God will say to Job what he and both his friends keep saying to him.
If only God would reveal the wisdom of His actions to Job (verse 6). It is a wisdom hidden in Himself. No one will see any of it if He does not make it known. His wisdom is a double wisdom, which means that it is an inscrutable wisdom. If God were to show something of this to Job, he would see that God still treats him very gently with everything that has happened to him, and does not attribute to him all that he deserves.
Without any proof, Zophar suggests that God does not even repay all of Job’s sins. Indirectly, he claims that he is aware of God’s wisdom. He sits on God’s chair and states that God forgets much of Job’s iniquity, that is, He does not take it into account. In His judgment of Job, according to Zophar, He allows a number of iniquities to go unpunished, for otherwise nothing would have been left of Job at all. Job should be thankful to God for this, for he got off lightly. Zophar is a hard, legal man. Of his friends he goes furthest in his accusations.
In this verse 6 we find the main point of Zophar’s argument against Job, namely the certainty that God punishes sins, so that according to him, rightly so, Job can never escape his well-deserved punishment.
7 - 9 God’s Greatness and Job’s Nullity
7 “Can you discover the depths of God?
Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?
8 “[They are] high as the heavens, what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol, what can you know?
9 “Its measure is longer than the earth
And broader than the sea.
Zophar underlines what he said about the wisdom of God with a sublime description of God. He asks Job if he can find what God discovers (verse 7). What God discovers – also to be translated with the depths, the mysteries of God –, is untraceable for Job and for every human being. Never will a man be able to figure out God in His wisdom and judge His deeds. The perfection of the Almighty is unfathomable for Job and for every human being.
In what Zophar says here about God, he connects divine wisdom with God as the Almighty. The perfect wisdom and omnipotence of God surpasses every measure of creation with which man as a creature is associated (verses 8-9). Zophar describes of God’s perfect wisdom and omnipotence the measure of height, depth, length, and width.
He does so in pictures that we can understand because we know that God is so, but that we cannot grasp according to their magnitude. Job cannot rise above heaven, so that he could do something there. He cannot look deeper than the realm of the dead (sheol), so that he would know something about what lies even deeper. In the length he can only see the earth and in the breadth only the sea. God’s perfect wisdom and omnipotence go far beyond what a human being can comprehend and is therefore unattainable to him. Man is His creature, above whom God as Creator is infinitely exalted.
In the New Testament we also encounter these four dimensions. There they are made accessible to the believers of the church, who together form the new man in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Through the Spirit we, with all the saints, are able to understand “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3: 18-19). “For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1Cor 2:10).
10 - 12 All Things Are Open to Him
10 “If He passes by or shuts up,
Or calls an assembly, who can restrain Him?
11 “For He knows false men,
And He sees iniquity without investigating.
12 “An idiot will become intelligent
When the foal of a wild donkey is born a man.
The infinite exaltation of God above all things and everyone is also evident in His dealings with man. If He passes by a man examining and finds sin, He has such a person confined to pre-trial detention, awaiting trial and sentencing (verse 10). He can also call someone to Himself to account for Him without anyone holding Him back. God can act in this way because He knows man through and through.
Again, these are powerful, impressive truths about God. God is indeed sovereign and nothing is hidden to Him. Scripture says to us: “All things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13). However, this is not said as a threat, but as comfort and encouragement. It should encourage us to ask Him to search and try us to see if there is a hurtful way with us, so that He may lead us on the eternal way (Psa 139:23-24).
That is precisely not the way Zophar speaks about God. He does not apply the truth of God’s knowledge of man to himself, but to Job. He suggests that Job is a false man who does iniquity (verse 11). Does Job think that God does not pay attention to this? Zophar wants to make it clear to him that God is aware of him, the deceitful Job. Zophar believes that this can make Job bow down.
What Zophar says looks like shock therapy. He speaks to Job so harshly that it must bring him to his knees. He also suggests that Job is “an idiot”, or an airhead, with even less chance of becoming wise than the chance that the foal of a wild donkey is born a sensible creature (verse 12). A wild donkey is the symbol of stubbornness, independency and willfulness, not bothering with any authority. Ishmael is compared to a wild donkey (Gen 16:12).
With Zophar there is not the slightest doubt about the relationship of Job to God and God’s dealings with him. God is sovereign and just. He rules the world by rewarding good and punishing evil. He does so in the lives of men on earth. Job is punished, so Job has sinned. That may not be visible to everyone, but the facts don’t lie. Job must be a traitor who secretly commits his sin, hidden from everyone, but not from God.
13 - 14 Call to Repentance
13 “If you would direct your heart right
And spread out your hand to Him,
14 If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,
And do not let wickedness dwell in your tents;
Zophar encourages Job to pray to God (verse 13). To this end the other two friends have also called (Job 5:8; 8:5). The fact that Zophar addresses this call to Job makes his arrogance clear. For him it is certain that Job has sinned, that is his starting point. He also believes that you recover if you confess your sins. From the beginning of this book we know that Job’s suffering was not caused by sin.
What Zophar says is true in itself. First Job has to direct his heart right, that means that he acknowledges God in His government over him. You can only approach God if your heart is in the right mind. Then you can come to Him with ‘hands spread out’, that is in prayer, like a supplicant. This means that there must first be a confession of iniquity and that he must break with it. Job first has to get rid of the evil things he is doing – “in your hand” – and put them far away from him (verse 14). Nor should he allow any injustice in his dwellings.
Zophar’s call expresses his legal view. He tells Job what he must do to come to terms with God. His call is good if it is made to someone who lives in sin. His call is wrong here because it is made to someone of whom God has testified that he serves Him.
15 - 20 The Peaceful Result
15 “Then, indeed, you could lift up your face without [moral] defect,
And you would be steadfast and not fear.
16 “For you would forget [your] trouble,
As waters that have passed by, you would remember [it].
17 “Your life would be brighter than noonday;
Darkness would be like the morning.
18 “Then you would trust, because there is hope;
And you would look around and rest securely.
19 “You would lie down and none would disturb [you],
And many would entreat your favor.
20 “But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
And there will be no escape for them;
And their hope is to breathe their last.”
In this section Zophar tells Job what he will get if he listens to him. However, after his previous wrongful, harsh accusations, the portrayal of bliss that he paints is completely misplaced. What he says here sounds like singing songs to a troubled heart. He thereby increases the pain of Job (Pro 25:20).
If Job listens to Zophar, he will lift up his face and look God in the face, and misery will depart from him (verse 15). After all, Job first complained that he cannot lift up his head as long as God pushes him down, didn’t he (Job 10:15-16)? Then he will stand firm as a house and no longer need to have any fear of God. He will forget all the trouble and will not think back to it (verse 16). In beautiful imagery Zophar compares this to “waters that have passed by”. Just as water that has passed by never flows back, so the trials will never return in Job’s life.
The life of Job will be in a light brighter than the noonday sun, as it is for the righteous (verse 17; Pro 4:18). Everything will be radiantly glorious. Nothing of the darkness in which he now finds himself will be present again. All darkness is gone. It is the opposite of the last words of Job in the previous chapter, where he says that light is like darkness (Job 10:22). Here is the darkness as the light of the morning (Isa 58:10; Zec 14:7), of the new day that will have dawned in Job.
Instead of fear of disasters, he will have faith or trust in God (verse 18). His confidence is based on the firm hope that God, in His goodness, will ensure that His prosperity is lasting. He will also be able to convince himself of this when he starts to look around. This means that in the evening he inspects everything around and in the house. He will discover nothing disturbing and will be able to sleep peacefully.
He will be able to lie down in complete peace (verse 19). He need not fear that someone, now that he is so under the blessing of God, will be able to disturb him. Instead of expecting threats, he may expect that many will come to him to entreat his favor (cf. Zec 8:23). Zophar does not suspect that he himself is one of those who will compete for Job’s favor (Job 42:9).
Zophar concludes his answer to Job with a veiled warning to his address (verse 20). Again the assumption is made that Job is a wicked man. The eyes of a wicked man will succumb as he looks for good, for it will never come. Nor will he ever have the opportunity to escape his misery. Any hope of that is lost. The only hope left to him is to breathe his last. Then he will be rid of all misery, that is to say, of his earthly circumstances.
But Job is not a wicked man who looks forward to the end of his life as his only hope. On the contrary, he clings more and more to God. In spite of all his doubts and despair about God’s dealings with him, he cannot do without God. He continues to look to God, and therefore his eyes will not succumb, but he will see God (Job 42:5). This will happen in a different way than he imagines and also very different from the way his friends present him to that end.
Thus ends Zophar’s argument, which is as clear as glass, and at the same time as cold as ice. It is clear: the sinner and the wicked shall perish, you’ll always get what you deserve. It is also bitterly cold: there is a total lack of tact and compassion. The other friends have shown some sympathy, but Zophar is rock-hard. He says to Job: Job, you are a wicked man, you have earned the suffering; acknowledge it and repent!