It is now Zophar’s turn to speak – yet the substance is no different. It can be summed up in a few hypocritical words – “For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes’. But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!” (v.4-6) Yet, it would appear that he has not applied these words to himself. Indeed, it appears Zophar has given up on seeking the deep things of God, on exploring the limits of the Almighty. And that is exactly what distinguishes Zophar from Job; Zophar simply does not ask and does not engage the LORD. Note, ironically, he still goes on a conjecture for the remainder of this chapter regarding the depth of the things of God (v.8-20), that:
- The deep things of God is higher than heaven and deeper than Sheol, longer than the earth and broader than the sea (v.8);
- If God passes through and imprisons and summons the court, who can turn Him back – will he not consider worthless men’s iniquity (v.11)? Will He not consider men who are self-conceited, who imagine himself born to act as he pleases, to roam at large, under no control (v.12 – as per Adam Clarke’s preferred translation);
- That one shall not lift his hands and his face to God if there is iniquity in his heart (v.13-15), yet without injustice in his life, he shall forget his misery, his life being brighter without sin as he is full of hope and finding his rest and security in God (v.16-19);
- Yet, the eyes of the wicked will fail – a life without hope except to breathe their last (v.20).
Job starts his response by calling Zophar out on the irony of the latter’s apparent humility. “No doubt you are the people [of wisdom] and wisdom will die with you.” (v.2) Instead of actually bearing the wisdom of God to be shared with all, Zophar is speaking empty words – for he did not once explain exactly what the character of God is, except that man shall be sinless before a non-understandable and non-fathomable Lord. Indeed, this prompts Job to later ask in Job 28 – “From where, then, does wisdom come? … Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (v.20, 28). So Job seeks now to destroy the “wisdom of the wise”, to thwart the “discernment of the discerning” (1 Corinthians 1:19), as embodied in Zophar.
Job does not beat around the bush and immediately preaches John 9:3 – just as it was not that Job sinned, or his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. So whilst Job has become a laughingstock of his friends (i.e. suggesting the speakers of the book of Job are not speaking out of sympathy, or out of love, but more out of mockery), yet he is the only one of his friends who actively calls out to God (v.4). He even acknowledges that a man of iniquity has less understanding that the beasts, birds, bushes, fish (v.7-8) – “Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?”
Job therefore accords wisdom not to men (despite Zophar’s words, which are now proven empty) but to God – with Him are wisdom and might (v.13). Compared to Zophar’s attempts to describe God in v.8-20 of chapter 11, see Job’s descriptions:
- With God are wisdom and might, counsel and understanding (v.13)
- None can rebuild or open what He tears down and shuts in; if He withholds, the waters will dry up; if He sends them out, they will overwhelm (v.14-15);
- He takes from and gives to the exalted and the humbled in this world (v.17-25), sovereign to bring deep darkness to light (v.22) – capable of taking away understanding (v.24-25).
Zophar has but preached to the choirboy – just as Job stated that He is not inferior to Zophar (chapter 12 v.3), so he repeats the same in v.2 of this chapter. However, what distinguishes Job is that he would speak to the Almighty (v.3) – he would engage with God, rather than muse about Him. Zophar is but whitewash with lies (v.4), Job’s friends are but worthless physicians compared to the chief Physician (Luke 5:31). Their “wisdom” would be to remain silent (v.5), rather than speak falsely on God’s behalf (v.7-10). In the words of Adam Clarke:
“In order to support your own cause, in contradiction to the evidence which the whole of my life bears to the uprightness of my heart, will ye continue to assert that God could not thus afflict me, unless flagrant iniquity were found in my ways; for it is on this ground alone that ye pretend to vindicate the providence of God. Thus ye tell lies for God’s sake, and thus ye wickedly contend for your Maker.”
Job recognises that it is the LORD who slays him (v.15) – just as it is the Father who slays Jesus (Matthew 20). This is no cosmic child abuse – but the act of a loving Father; that the defeat of the enemy comes not from pretending to know God, or undermining his combined character of the loving judge, the merciful adjudicator. Yet, Job’s hope is still in the LORD who slays him (v.15), just as Christ has hope in the Father who plans salvation through the cross for mankind. What joy is this gospel compared to the lies, the ashes, the clay, the mire which is being preached by “men of wisdom” like Zophar! To this day, the climate has not changed, and the sweet gospel is still ever so sweet compared to the words of “wise men”. As Job declares, so should we – the Lord who slays me is the same Lord who planned the cross; the Lord who loves graciously is the same Lord who judges all man indiscriminately – yet all is to bring out His works to bring salvation to all (v.16).
Thus Job approaches the LORD without fear and without insecurity – he lifts up his heart, his hands and his face to ask – “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (v.23). He is the model of the Christian, the Jacob who struggled with Jesus (Genesis 32), the Gideon who tested the LORD (Judges 6); the Paul who pleaded to have a thorn removed from his side (2 Corinthians 12) – all the while, these saints understand that the LORD is not too unfathomable, not too deistic. He is the LORD who loves and who cares – whose Son holds the keys to the gates of hell (Revelation 1:18), through whom the Father’s glory is shared with mankind (John 17). They all understand that Lord has become man to fellowship with us – to engage with us, to love us, to build a family with us. What Zophar did is the exact opposite – to remove themselves from His presence and yet cling onto the label of a child of Yahweh meaninglessly. Job is more like a child who yearns to speak to his Father than any of such wise men of earth.