Job 11 – “Zophar’s First Speech”

waterflowingHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Zophar, the third of Job’s three friends, confronts Job in chapter 11. He defends God’s position, belittles Job for questioning God, and encourages Job to return to God.

II. Photo
Zophar urges Job to turn to God: “But if you direct your mind, And spread forth your hands toward Him… You will then put your misery out of mind, Consider it as water that has flowed past.” (vv. 13, 16)

III. Important Verses

v. 2: Is a multitude of words unanswerable? Must a loquacious person be right?
vv. 5-6: But would that God might speak, And talk to you Himself. He would tell you the secrets of wisdom, For there are many sides to sagacity; And know that God has overlooked for you some of your iniquity.
v. 14: If there is iniquity with you, remove it, And do not let injustice reside in your tent.
v. 16: You will then put your misery out of mind, Consider it as water that has flowed past.

IV. Outline
1. Introduction
2-6. A defense of God
7-12. Discrediting Job’s philosophy
13-19. Counseling Job and offering him hope
20. The fate of the wicked

V. Comment
In chapter 11 Zophar confronts Job. He begins by describing Job’s excessive words (v. 2), then accuses him of “mockery” (v. 3), rejects his arguments (vv. 4-6), and calls his philosophy into question (vv. 7-12). Clines writes (p. 272) that Zophar has “no question of Job’s guilt. What Job has done wrong he must suffer for; it cannot be atoned for, forgiven or prayed away.” At verse 13 the speech takes a positive turn; Zophar counsels Job on the way to live and guarantees him a happy life if he follows his advice. In terms of structure, the speech contains disputational elements (vv. 2-6), hymnic elements (vv. 7-11), and an enigmatic proverbial saying (v. 12). Vv. 15-19 contain the types of assurances found in some psalms (e.g. Ps. 91).

Like many of the speeches in the book, Zophar’s speech begins with a reference to the “words” and “speaking” of his predecessor: “Is a multitude of words unanswerable? Must a loquacious person be right? Your prattle may silence men; You may mock without being rebuked” (vv. 2-3; cf. vv. 4:2; 8:2; 9:2; 15:2–3; 16:2–3; 18:2; 20:2; 21:2; 32:6–33:3; 34:2; 36:2; 38:2). Zophar calls Job’s speech rov devarim “a multitude of words.” It is interesting to note that this phrase appears in two other places in Tanakh, and both occurrences have a negative connotation. Prov. 10:19 says, “Where there is much talking (berov devarim), there is no lack of transgressing, But he who curbs his tongue shows sense,” and Eccl. 5:2 says, “Just as dreams come with much brooding, so does foolish utterance come with much speech.” Zophar also calls Job an ’ish sefatayim “a man of speech [lit. lips].” While the word sefatayim often has a negative connotation (cf. Prov 4:24, 10:8, 10:10, 12:13, 14:23), it sometimes appears in a positive light (cf. Prov 16:21, 24:26, 26:23).

In Job’s third speech (ch. 9-10) Job spoke of his desire to bring God to trial, but lamented the futility of such an endeavor: “If I summoned Him and He responded, I do not believe He would lend me His ear.” (9:16) In vv. 11:5-6 Zophar appoints himself a “spokesman” for God and answers Job: “But would that God might speak, And talk to you Himself. He would tell you the secrets of wisdom, For there are many sides to sagacity; And know that God has overlooked for you some of your iniquity.” Zophar’s last point, namely the fact that God has overlooked some of Job’s iniquity, is a common theme in Tanakh (see Mic 7:18, Ezek 20:17, Jer 46:28; Ezra 9:13, etc.). It also indicates Zophar’s critical view of Job: while Eliphaz and Bildad viewed Job’s living as an indication of righteousness, Zophar thinks the only reason Job is alive is God’s kindness.

In v. 14 Zophar says, “If there is iniquity with you, remove it, And do not let injustice reside in your tent.” Clines places this statement in its broader Wisdom context (p. 268): “How does Zophar propose Job can get rid of his sin? Not by sacrifice or atonement, not even by repentance, but by a renunciation of it, a distancing of himself from it, putting himself far from it. This is wisdom theology speaking. Sin is not something to be covered up or cleansed or forgiven, but to be avoided, departed from, disassociated from (cf Ps 1:1; Prov 1:10–15; 4:14, 24; 5:8; 30:8). Once sin has been committed there is nothing that can be done about it except suffer the inevitable future… Job can only “renounce” his present wrongdoing, and, to use a metaphor familiar to the world of oriental hospitality, give it no house room as a guest (“let iniquity not dwell in your tent”).”

In vv. 13-19 Zophar guarantees Job a prosperous life if he follows his advice. In v. 16 he says, “You will then put your misery (‘amal) out of mind, Consider it as water that has flowed past.” Besides for the fact that Zophar – like Eliphaz and Bildad – ignores that Job would rather die than live happily, it is interesting to note the similarities between this verse and Gen 41:51: “Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, meaning, ‘God has made me forget completely my hardship (‘amal) and my parental home.’” Both verses speak of “forgetting” one’s pain (‘amal).

In v. 17 Zophar guarantees Job the “light” of better days: “Life will be brighter than noon; You will shine, you will be like the morning.” This should be viewed in the context of Job’s bleak statements about darkness, e.g. 10:21-22, “Before I depart — never to return — For the land of deepest gloom; A land whose light is darkness, All gloom and disarray, Whose light is like darkness.” While Job only wanted the darkness of death, Zophar urges him to consider the light of life.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

Clines, Proverbs 1-20 (Word Biblical Commentary)

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