Job 11–14

Introduction

We come today to Zophar’s first speech and to Job’s reply to him. And today’s passage is the last part of the first cycle of speeches. I’ve explained before that there are three cycles of speeches from chapter 4 to chapter 28. In the first cycle, the three friends take it in turns to speak to Job; and he responds to each one in turn. The same pattern is repeated in the second cycle of speeches. The third cycle of speeches is truncated, because after Eliphaz speaks and Job responds, and after Bildad speaks and Job responds, Zophar does not speak. It seems he’s got nothing more to say. But today we have his first speech and Job’s reply; and their two speeches round off the first cycle of speeches.

I also said before that it’s possible that Job’s three friends are unknowingly agents of Satan. Satan wanted Job to give up his faith in God and to curse God. And so, to get him to curse God, Satan took away Job’s family and possessions. On that one extra-ordinary day, they were all destroyed or stolen. But Job did not curse God. And so, to get him to curse God, Satan took away his health. Job was covered from head to toe in painful sores. But Job did not curse God. Then his wife came to him and urged him to curse God and die. And it’s possible that his wife was, unknowingly, an agent from Satan, sent to tempt him to renounce his faith. But Job did not curse God. And now it’s possible that Satan sent these three friends to talk to Job in the hope that, by the things they said to him, Job would give up his faith and curse God.

The reason we think this is the case is because Job’s friends, who supposedly came to sympathise with him and to comfort him, did not really sympathise with him or comfort him. They made clear that they believed that Job must have done something wrong so as to provoke God to punish him. And so, their attitude was that Job had sinned and needed to repent, because God was clearly punishing Job.

We know they’re wrong, because we know from what God said about Job in chapter 1 that Job was blameless and upright. That’s not to say he’s sinless. Job, like everyone else, was a sinner. But it means he was a man of integrity who could not be accused of doing anything scandalous. And it means he had not done anything to deserve the severe suffering he was enduring.

His friends didn’t know this. They assumed that God was punishing Job for his sins. And by the things they said to Job, Satan may have been hoping to destroy Job’s faith and to get him to curse God.

So, let’s turn to see what Zophar said to Job; and then we’ll study what Job said in response. And just to give you a preview: although Job referred in chapter 10 to the next life as the place of no return, the land of gloom and deep shadow, the land of deepest night and of disorder, where even the light is darkness, in today’s passage he begins to grasp for the first time a hope in the resurrection. And so, in the midst of his deep and dark sorrow, there’s a glimmer of light.

Chapter 11

But let’s start with Zophar in chapter 11. As one of the commentators says (Estes), Zophar jumps immediately to the attack: ‘Are these words going to go unanswered?’ The NIV leaves out the word ‘multitude’. So, is this multitude of words going to go unanswered? Are all these words going to go unanswered? He’s saying that Job is talking too much. He’s full of talk. In fact, his words are idle. Do you see that in verse 3? He’s talking nonsense. He’s babbling. And someone needs to put him in his place and silence his many words by showing him how he’s wrong. He says in verse 3 that Job has been mocking. He probably means that he’s been mocking the wisdom which Eliphaz and Bildad have relied on when they said that Job has sinned and needs to repent. And so, someone needs to rebuke Job for mocking this ancient wisdom. Eliphaz and Bildad weren’t able to do it. Now Zophar is going to try.

And he says that Job has claimed that his beliefs are flawless and that he is pure in God’s sight. However, Job claimed no such thing. For instance, the word ‘pure’ means sinless. And Job has never claimed to be sinless. He never claimed to be perfect. God described him as being blameless, which is not the same as being perfect. A perfect man is sinless and without any moral blemish, whereas a blameless man is a man of integrity who hasn’t done anything scandalous. So, Job hasn’t said what Zophar claims he has said. But by saying that Job claims to have flawless beliefs and to be morally pure, Zophar is saying that Job thinks he’s better than everyone else. He thinks he’s superior in wisdom and in what he knows; and he’s holier than everyone else. But this is not the case, because Job has not said these things about himself. He’s not proud or arrogant. Job is merely a man who is suffering terribly; and he’s been trying to defend himself before his friends who have been accusing him of doing wrong.

In verses 5 and 6, Zophar expresses his wish for God to come and speak to Job so that Job will know that God has even forgotten some of Job’s sins. That’s how the NIV translates the end of verse 6. However, the ESV translation is different. It says that Job will know that God exacts of him less than his guilt deserves. In other words, you think you don’t deserve what you’re suffering. But let me tell you something: you deserve even worse than this. You think you are being punished unfairly. But you deserve to be punished even more severely than this. This is a terrible thing to say to someone who was lost his children and his possessesions and who is covered in painful sores. It’s a terrible thing to say to someone who is suffering that you deserve worse than this. And it’s a foolish thing to say, because how could Zophar possibly know? He’s not God. He doesn’t see what God sees. He doesn’t know what God knows. How can he possibly know what Job deserves? And so, it’s a foolish thing to say.

And the irony is that in the following verses, Zophar accuses Job of not being able to understand the mysteries of God. Zophar should take his own advice, because he’s not able to understand the mysteries of God either. If he could understand the mysteries of God, he wouldn’t be saying these things to Job. But Zophar refers to the mysteries of God to make the point that Job doesn’t understand: You can’t tell what God is doing. You can’t fathom his mysteries. You can’t probe the limits of the Almighty. They are higher than the heavens and deeper than the grave. They are longer than the earth and wider than the sea. You can’t possibly take in what God is doing.

And do you see what Zophar is doing here? He’s trying to put Job in his place. He’s trying to humble Job. He’s saying to Job: You don’t understand!

And he goes on in verse 10 and following to say that no one can stop God. No one can challenge him and hope to succeed. God recognises deceitful men. He takes note of those who are evil. In other words, he knows who are guilty. And the implication, of course, is that he has seen Job’s sin. He know what Job has done. And in verse 12 he’s really saying that Job is an ass. He’s a witless man who cannot become wise. So, you’re a dummy.

However, he thinks there is something Job can do. Look at verse 13: If you devote your heart to God, and stretch out your hands in prayer, and if you put away your sin, and give up your evil ways, then you will lift up your face without shame. So, repent and God will cause you to forget your trouble; and your life will become brighter than the noonday sun. You will be secure. You will rest in safety. You will not be afraid. Many will court your favour. So, repent and God will bless you once again. And if you don’t repent, then know that the eyes of the wicked will fail. They will perish.

Zophar holds to the same vending machine theology as his two friends. Put money in the machine and out comes a snack: always and immediately. Put evil in and out comes suffering: always and immediately. Put good in and out comes blessings: always and immediately. But, as I’ve said before, the day of judgment has been postponed to the end of history. For the time being, God may punish the wicked in this life, but he may not; he may cause them to prosper in this life. And God may bless his people in this life, but he may not; he may cause them to suffer in this life. And that’s the case with Job. Job was blameless and upright and yet God sent trouble into his life. Zophar did not know what he was talking about. He did not know the mysteries of God. He could not fathom the depths of God’s wisdom.

And here’s another thing before we move on. Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar told Job to repent. And all three of them said to Job that if he repents, God will take away his suffering; and God will bless him once again and fill his life with good things. Repent, said Zophar, and your life will be brighter than the noonday. Repent, said Bildad, and your future will be prosperous. Repent, said Eliphaz, and God will rescue you from every calamity. They were saying that the reason for returning to God is for God to bless you. And that’s pretty much what Satan was saying in chapters 1 and 2. Satan said the only reason Job worshipped God was because of the blessings he would receive from God in this life. He was saying that God is only worth worshipping when we get what we want from him. So, do you want a life of plenty? Then turn from your sin and turn back to God. Do you want a life of ease and comfort? Worship God. The way to get what we want is to worship God.

But why are we to turn from our sin? We’re to turn from our sin because we hate it. And we hate our sin because we know it offends God. That’s the reason to turn from our sin. We’re not to turn from our sin for selfish reasons. We’re not to turn from our sin so that God will bless me and give me what I want in this life. We’re to turn from our sin because we know it offends God; and we love God and want to please him, because he is God; and he’s worthy of our love and worship. So, we’re to turn from our sin and we’re to obey God because he is God.

Yes, we turn from our sin because we also know that every sinner will be condemned on the day of judgment and sent away to be punished forever, whereas every believer will be acquitted on the day of judgment and brought in to enjoy eternal life. That’s what the wicked and the righteous will receive in the life to come. But Satan and Zophar and the rest were not talking about the things of eternity. They were talking about blessings in this life. They were talking about what I want in the here and now. And we shouldn’t turn from our sin because of what we might receive in the here and now. We should turn from our sin because it offends God; and we love God and want to please God, because he is God and he’s worthy of our obedience in the here and now and forever.

Chapter 12

And so we turn to Job’s reply in chapters 12, 13 and 14. He begins with sarcasm:

Doubtless you are the people,
and wisdom will die with you.

You lot — and he’s referring to all three friends — think you’re the only ones with wisdom. You think wisdom begins and ends with you. But I have a mind to understand too. I’m not inferior to you. And when Job asks, ‘Who does not know all these things?’ he suggesting that what they’re saying is common knowledge. They’re not saying anything new. Everyone knows what you know.

He then goes on to say that, though he is righteous and blameless and has worshipped God, he’s nevertheless become a laughing-stock. The friends say God punishes the wicked and blesses the righteous. But look what happened to me! I’m righteous and blameless, and I’m suffering.

He goes on to refer to men at ease, who despise the misfortunes of others. And the tents, or the lives, of marauders and robbers are undisturbed. Those who provoke God by their sins are secure. So, you say God punishes such people; but their lives are safe.

Next he turns to the animal world. Ask the animals and the birds and the earth itself and the fish and they will teach you about God’s ways. They will teach you that God controls all things. In his hand is the life of every creature. And therefore he can do with them whatever he pleases. The friends were saying that God is bound to punish the wicked and to bless the righteous. But that’s not always the case, because to him belongs wisdom and power. What he tears down cannot be rebuilt. The man he imprisons cannot be released. He holds back the waters and brings drought; or he let the waters loose and causes a flood. He raises up and he tears down. He frees one person and he causes another to be captured. He silences trusted advisers and pours contempt on nobles and he disarms the mighty. He makes nations great and he destroys others. He makes leaders foolish so that they grope around as in the dark. God does all of these things, because he rules and reigns in heaven over all that he has made. And it’s not as simple as the friends believe when they say that God always and immediately blesses the righteous and God always and immediately punishes the wicked. Just look at the world. Look at human history. All kinds of things happen to all kinds of people. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Chapter 13

In chapter 13 Job expresses his desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue his case. One of the commentators (Clines) says that, in Israel, legal disputes were not about winning a victory, but about bringing about reconciliation. However, the three friends are trying to win a victory over Job on God’s behalf by smearing him with lies and by accusing him falsely. So, he wishes that they would be silent, because they’re being false witnesses for God. He’s saying that they’re trying to defend God’s cause against Job and to protect God’s reputation. And in order to defend God, they’re resorting to lies and deceit and they’re showing partiality to God, when what they should be doing is speaking the truth without showing partiality or favouritism. And if they think that what they’re doing will please God, they’re mistaken. Look at verse 10 of chapter 13: He would surely rebuke you. God doesn’t want you to defend him with lies.

He then asks them in verse 13 to be silent so that he can speak to God. Though he knows he’s taking his life in his hands, he still wants to defend himself before God. Most English translations translate verse 15 as the NIV does which is: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.’ However, it’s possible that it should be translated: ‘He will slay me, I have no hope.’ In that case, he’s saying that while he has no hope and he expects God to slay him, he still wants to defend himself while he has the chance. In fact, he thinks his desire to clear his name is to his advantage, because a guilty person with a guilty conscience would not dare to come before God, but Job wants to appear before him. Isn’t that a sign of a clear conscience?

And he has prepared his case and he is hopeful that he will be vindicated if he’s given a fair hearing. And so, in order to have a fair hearing, he makes two requests to the Lord. Firstly, withdraw your hand from me so that I will no longer be frightened to come into your presence. In other words, promise you won’t hurt me any more. Secondly, call and I will answer or let me speak and you can reply to me. In other words, let me come before you and we can talk about what’s been going on. Show me my offenses and explain why you’re treating me like an enemy. Let me know, so that we can straighten things out and make peace between us again.

In verse 26 he suggests the possibility that perhaps he’s being punished for the sins of his youth. Alternatively, he may be saying that he feels he’s being treated like someone who guilt has been accumulating since his youth. In either case, it seems to him that he’s already being locked up and punished without first being allowed to make his case before God. And because of his suffering, he feels that he’s rotting away like a rotten garment. He’s perishing. But before the end comes, he wants to defend himself before God and see if they can be reconciled.

Chapter 14

And so, we come to chapter 14 which begins with a lament:

Man born of woman
is of few days and full of trouble.
He springs up like a flower and withers away;
like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.

Life is short and difficult. And it will soon be over. He goes on:

You have determined the number of his months
and have set limits he cannot exceed.

God knows the day of our death, because he plans all things. And so, won’t you look away from me and leave me alone until my life is over? Give me some peace. Give me some rest.

And then he refers to a tree. A tree may be cut down and dies, but it sprouts again. It will live again. However when a man dies, he is laid low in the ground. He breathes his last; and is no more. He dies; and he’s gone. He lies down; and does not rise.

But then, as Job thinks about these things, he expresses a longing or a wish. If only, he says in verse 13. If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed. And if only you would set me a time and then remember me. In other words, put me in the grave and leave me there for a time. And then, once your anger has subsided, bring me out again. He goes on to ask: ‘If a man dies, will he live again?’ Is it possible? Can that happen? Will all my days of hard service lead eventually to renewal? Do you see that in verse 14? He’s asking whether it’s possible for his life to be renewed after his death so that somehow he will continue to live, but in a new and better way? And at that time, you will call, and I will answer you. This speaks to us of a renewed relationship. There is peace between them and renewed fellowship. And he says that God will long for the creature he has made. And at that time God will watch his steps, but will not keep track of his sins. All his offences will be sealed up in a bag; and his sin will be covered over. God will pay no attention to his sins; and his sin will not come between them.

This is his longing. This is his hope. This is what he wishes for. If only, he says. If only. But for now it seems that God destroys man’s hope. A man dies and is gone. His sons are honoured, but he doesn’t know it, because he’s dead. If his sons are brought low, he doesn’t see that either, because he’s dead. He’s left all alone with his own pain and suffering. Job came to the verge of a full hope in the resurrection (Green), but then that hope vanished.

Resurrection

What was only a wish for Job has become a sure and certain hope for us because of the death and resurrection of our Saviour. He died, giving up his life to pay for our sins. And in this way, he has made peace for us with God. Though we once deserved to be punished for our sins and for all that we have done wrong, Christ has now paid for our sins in full and he has satisfied the justice of God on our behalf. God is no longer against us, but for us. Job wanted to appear before God to defend himself. But Christ has done all things necessary to make peace for us with God.

And just as Christ died and was raised, so all who believe in him will be raised from the grave, to live with God forever. We believe that when we die, our bodies are laid in the grave as though in our bed. And there they will rest until Christ comes again and calls us. And when he calls, we will hear his call and answer him. And our bodies will rise the grave and we will live with him in body and soul forever and forever.

And our bodies will be renewed so that they are perfectly suited for everlasting life in the presence of God. Our present weakness and suffering will be gone; and we’ll have perfect peace and rest.

Job wished for something like this. He longed for it. He dreamed of it. But it’s a sure and certain hope for us because of Christ, who died and who was raised and who promises resurrection life to all who believe in him.

Worship God

But before we finish, let me go back to what I said earlier about Zophar and his friends who said to Job that he should repent in order to receive blessings from God. They were echoing what Satan said, who claimed that Job only worshipped God for what he could get from God in this life. Take away the blessings, and Job will renounce the faith and curse God.

But Job contradicts what Satan said and he did not worship God only for the blessings he would receive. When he had nothing, he did not renounce his faith. He did not curse God. He remained the servant of the Lord. Though he did not understand why his God was treating him this way, he continued to worship God.

This is how one Old Testament scholar puts it (Kline): ‘Job shows himself a true covenant servant, ready to serve his God for naught.’ Someone who is not a true covenant servant will only worship God for what we can get from God in this life. Take away the things I value the most, and I will give up on God. But a true covenant servant will worship and serve God for naught. For nothing. Or, as the same writer puts it in another place, we’re to consecrate ourselves — we’re to devote ourselves — to God ‘come what may’. ‘Come what may’ — whether good things or afflictions — we will continue to worship God and to serve him. This is the case, because ‘come what may’, God is still God; and therefore he’s still worthy our worship.

And as I’ve said before, in heaven we have a great high priest who became one of us and who suffered as one of us. And, unlike Job’s unsympathetic friends, the Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest, is a true friend who is able to sympathise with us in our weakness and suffering, because he suffered as one of us. And he’s interceding for us all the time. And so, we can rely on him to help us and to keep us so that we’re able to persevere and to serve God ‘come what may’.