SUFFERING MUST INDICATE SECRET SINS THAT DEMAND REPENTANCE BECAUSE GOD KNOWS ALL IN HIS SECRET WISDOM
David Clines: The three-strophe structure corresponds to the content of the speech: in vv 2–6 Zophar reproaches Job for his claim to innocence; in vv 7–12 he affirms the inscrutability of God; in vv 13–20 he counsels Job on the right way to behave and offers him hope if he will take Zophar’s advice. . .
As for genre, the chapter is evidently a disputation speech, as several features make clear.
– First, Zophar accuses his opponent of long-windedness and filibustering; Job’s speech is empty of content, yet at the same time constitutes blasphemy (“mockery” ) (vv 2–3).
– Second, he quotes words of his opponent (v 4) in order to refute them.
– Third, he cites authority for his case over against Job: the traditional teaching about the wisdom of God in which, Zophar presumes, lies hidden the reason for Job’s suffering (vv 5–6).
– Fourth, he interrogates Job in the style of a cross-examination, asking questions which cannot fail to leave Job in the wrong.
Other genre elements drawn upon, as so often in these speeches, are hymnic, wisdom, and prophetic elements. . .
The nodal verses are evidently vv 6c and 15. In v 6c is contained the essence of Zophar’s view of Job’s guilt: it is not less than it appears, but worse, and if God were not so merciful Job would be suffering even more severely than he is at this moment. V 15 is nodal because it encapsulates Zophar’s recommendation to Job and at the same time holds out promises of how different his future can be from his present state.
John Hartley: Zophar bears the least status, for he delivers only two speeches. His speech is thus far the most poignant, offering Job little comfort except for the elaborate picture of the repentant sinner’s peaceful security. Since in Zophar’s view people are either contrite worshipers of God or arrogant sinners, he sees little possibility that such a wordy man as Job might be upright, free from wrong. With no apparent sympathy for Job’s lament, he coldly reasons that Job’s present punishment is only partial, tempered by God’s abundant mercy. But he offers Job the promise that if he repents and turns to God with a single mind, he will again enjoy a secure, rich life.
Tremper Longman: In his estimation, Job is full of words that have no substance. Zophar is upset with Job’s claim that he is without error and without sin. He wishes that God would put him in his place (vv. 4–6). God will come and put Job in his place (see 38:1–42:6), but not for the reasons that Zophar believes. According to Zophar, God is ineffable and mysterious. This inspires Zophar (11:7–11) but irks Job (see 9:11–14). Zophar is convinced without a shadow of doubt that God will punish evil people; but in an indirect barb at Job (v. 12), he says that foolish people do not get it and never will. That said, Zophar lays out hope for Job: repent. If Job repents, then he will be fully restored. If he does not, then he will perish like all the wicked (see vv. 13–20). . .
While Zophar could not be more right in principle, he was totally wrong in his application of the principle to Job. Zophar demonstrates the dangers of a dogmatic, unreflective theology that does not take into account people’s actual situation.
Elmer Smick: Zophar considers Job’s words pure mockery (vv.2–3), for he thinks Job is claiming flawless doctrine and sinless perfection (v.4). Job steadfastly maintains his innocence or blamelessness in contrast with wickedness (9:22), but he does not claim to be perfect (7:21). He does, however, feel that God has treated him much worse than he deserves. Though he complains bitterly of the treatment God appears to be giving him, to this point he has not been particularly sarcastic nor has he mocked God or even ridiculed his friends. He has accused them of being shallow in their arguments and callous in the way they have dealt with him (6:24–27).
Charles Swindoll: Job’s third friend is your classic legalist. His tone and his words are saturated with abrasive legalism.
• “You are guilty, Job” (11:1-4).
• “You are ignorant, Job” (11:5-12)
• “You are sinful, Job” (11:13-20).
Guard against judgmental generalizations. Zophar would have been wise to get his facts straight before he took on a man as faithful as Job.
“Then Zophar the Naamathite answered,”
I. (:2-6) REBUKE OF JOB FOR SECRET SINS – BABBLING WITHOUT WISDOM
A. (:2-4) Rebuke for False Protestations
“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.’”
David Clines: If no one takes up God’s cause, says Zophar, Job will continue his mockery of the divine honor (v 3), protesting both to humans (v 4a) and to God (v 4b) that it is he—and not God—who is in the right.
David Thompson: Zophar feels compelled to speak. You can tell what kind of insensitive man he is by what he says at the beginning. He thinks he has figured it all out. He makes a series of four accusations against Job:
Accusation #1 – Zophar accuses Job of being too talkative. 11:2
Accusation #2 – Zophar accuses Job of being a braggart. 11:3
Accusation #3 – Zophar accuses Job concerning his teaching. 11:4a
Accusation #4 – Zophar accuses Job of saying he is innocent. 11:4b
B. (:5-6) Rebuke for Resisting God’s Secret Wisdom
“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.”
David Clines: The secret wisdom of God, with which he could put Job in his place, is a rather open mystery. For Zophar knows it, and he here communicates it to Job. It is that God, being merciful as well as just, allows his mercy to temper his just retribution against sinners. The balance between mercy and justice is not for humans to determine, however; it lies in the unfathomable freedom of God to “pass over” transgression and not exact the full punishment that is deserved (cf. Amos 7:1–9; Mic 7:18; Ezek 11:3; 20:17; Jer 4:27; 5:10, 18; 30:11; 46:28; Ezra 9:13).
John Hartley: When God speaks, he will make known to Job the secrets of wisdom. The secrets (taʿalumôṯ) refer to what God knows but human beings do not. God will speak the full scope of sound wisdom (tûšîyâ). This wisdom is twofold (kiplayim). Here twofold connotes the fullness or totality of a matter (cf. Isa. 40:2). Possibly wisdom is viewed as consisting of two sides, a revealed side manifest in creation and a hidden side which God keeps with himself (Pope). When God would converse with Job, he would draw on the full scope of wisdom in order to make Job see the errors in his rhetoric.
Tremper Longman: In vv. 5–6 Zophar wishes that God would speak to the issue. He desires God to speak because he is confident of what God would say and that God would take his side in exposing Job’s impurity. God’s wisdom is deep and profound. Job believes that God is making him suffer disproportionately to his sin. Zophar responds by arguing that God has even forgotten some of Job’s sin. Zophar would not take the word “forgotten” in its superficial meaning, but rather in the sense that God is not acting on all of Job’s sins. In sum, Zophar tells Job that he deserves worse than he is getting! Rather than being brutal and cruel in Job’s situation, God is actually being quite compassionate.
II. (:7-12) INSCRUTABILITY OF GOD’S SECRET WISDOM
David Guzik: Zophar Teaches Job Theology
a. Can you search out the deep things of God: After instructing Job in the doctrine of total depravity, Zophar went on to teach Job about the transcendence of God. Therefore, in Zophar’s thinking, Job was wrong to question God.
b. Who can hinder him: The next lesson in Zophar’s theology was the sovereignty of God. Zophar believed that the best thing Job could do was to accept his punishment from God instead of protesting the injustice of it. In Zophar’s mind, Job’s punishment was just, and God was actually giving Job less than he deserved.
c. He knows deceitful men; he sees wickedness also. Will He not then consider it: Zophar here implied that what Job wanted was for God to turn His head aside from justice. Zophar wanted Job to know that it was wrong – and wicked – to wish that God would not consider the deceit and wickedness of man; in this case, Job’s deceit and wickedness.
Derek Kidner: Zophar launches into a hymn on the sovereign wisdom of God. “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?” he asks (11:7). . . According to Zophar, sin is sin, and however much mercy has tempered justice, justice is still the principle on which the universe runs. God is the regulator of retribution. God knows who is guilty and who is not? And Job is guilty – he must be!
The hymn itself is sound enough:
1. God’s wisdom and knowledge are beyond human comprehension. They go beyond all the realms of the created universe (11:8-9).
2. God’s wisdom and knowledge are beyond human comprehension. His ways are “past finding out.” God knows sins that Job either does not remember or refuses to acknowledge.
3. God’s wisdom and knowledge ensure that justice will be seen to be done: God will bring the guilty to book (11:10-11).
All this is true, of course, but where is Job the sufferer in all of this? As George Philip comments, “There may be some truth in Zophar’s sermon to Job, but there is certainly no humanity in it, and remember it is spoken to a man of ripe years whose heart has been laid bare by suffering.”
A. (:7-9) God’s Secret Wisdom Cannot be Discovered
“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.”
David Clines: Zophar’s theological standpoint is quite distinctive. Where Bildad had appealed to the impossibility of God’s perverting justice (8:2) and Eliphaz had appealed to the impossibility of a mortal’s being entirely righteous in the sight of one’s maker (4:17), Zophar appeals to the impossibility of fathoming the divine knowledge (11:6–9).
John Hartley: Zophar is stressing God’s inexhaustible wisdom. God’s knowledge extends far beyond every boundary in the created order. The vastness of creation is expressed by the four dimensions1—height, depth, length, and breadth—in relationship to four comprehensive geographical terms—heaven and Sheol (which are frequently parallel; cf. Ps. 139:8), and earth and sea (an infrequent pair). God, being higher than the heavens and deeper than the lowest part of the universe, transcends the extraterrestrial realm. The created order, though too large for a human being to explore its extremities, is too small to house God.
In relationship to these extremities Job is asked, what can you do … what can you know? The meaning of know (yāḏaʿ) here goes beyond rational knowledge to include the ability to act on that knowledge. That is why it parallels do (pāʿal). There is nothing Job can do or know that could ever approach, let alone challenge, God’s knowing or doing. How then can Job entertain the idea that he could dispute his case with God?
B. (:10-12) God’s Secret Wisdom Knows Your Secret Sins
“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 And an idiot will become intelligent
When the foal of a wild donkey is born a man.”
David Clines: The crucial fact is, for Zophar, that no matter how great or how small Job’s sin is—and it is no doubt greater than Job imagines—it is sin. And however much mercy has tempered justice, justice is still the principle upon which the moral universe runs, and God is fundamentally the regulator of retribution. Zophar embarks upon this topos (vv 7–12) on the unfathomable wisdom of God with one particular aspect of God’s wisdom specifically in mind: God knows who is guilty and who not. Whether God knows absolutely everything is neither here nor there at the present moment for Zophar—though his language is of the most extreme generality; what matters is that God has an unerring ability to ferret out wrongdoing. And that means, when the generalities have been stripped down, that God knows that Job is a guilty man despite Job’s every protestation (v 4). . .
Proverbial saying — we seem to have two statements of impossibility which we could well represent as RSV does: “A stupid man will get understanding, when a wild ass’s colt is born a man”—“when pigs fly,” — an “empty” man will as soon gain understanding as a wild ass be a tame donkey.
John Hartley: Indeed, he knows false men. Here knows (yāḏaʿ) means both that God sees their wrongdoing and that he executes judgment on them. The phrase false men is literally “men of nothingness” (meṯê šāwʾ), those who have no moral scruples. Zophar denounces Job’s thought that since God acts capriciously in the way he arrests people, he needs to be stopped and called to give an account of his actions (9:12). Specifically he rejects wholeheartedly this description of God’s acting as a possible explanation of Job’s plight. Rather he believes that God has passed Job’s way and has imprisoned him with illness for some secret sin. Since God knows false men, it is impossible from Zophar’s perspective that God could have acted wrongly in afflicting Job. . .
The proverb then says that as it is impossible for a donkey to be sired by a wild ass, so it is impossible for a stubborn person to become truly wise by his own efforts. With this proverb Zophar says that there is no natural way for Job to be changed from a stupid man to a wise man. Or referring back to v. 4, it is utterly impossible that Job, a mere man, could be morally pure in God’s sight. Therefore, the only way for him to approach God will be the way of repentance, not the way of a legal dispute.
Tremper Longman: Zophar concludes this section with one of the most biting insults of the book (v. 12). We can imagine him looking into Job’s face with disdain and saying these words. He delivers the line as a kind of general principle (“proverb-like”), but in the context of the debate, it is clear that it is a barb aimed at Job. The upshot is that it is more likely that a donkey will give birth to a human child than that an empty-headed person, like Job in Zophar’s estimation, will give birth to a correct insight. In other words, Job is a fool and his ideas are foolish. However, as we will learn in the next section, he is not beyond redemption. He is not morally bankrupt; it is his present train of thinking that is troubled.
III. (:13-20) CALL FOR REPENTANCE
Francis Andersen: So much for Zophar’s lecture. Now he preaches. His remedy is simple: the usual string of pious advice. ‘If you get your thinking straight, and say your prayers,’ and so on. . . Let us assume that Zophar is trying to be helpful in his blundering way. The prophets say the same kind of thing quite effectively (cf. Isa. 1:15). But this is too glib; and it is off base, because it assumes that Job’s problem is his sin. Zophar falls into the common evangelistic error of applying the categories of guilt and pardon to every human problem. This is not what Job needs.
A. (:13-16) Methodology of Repentance – How to Repent
“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.
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.”
John Hartley: vs. 13 — Zophar exhorts Job, prepare your heart. “Preparing the heart” (hāḵîn lēḇ) means to make it firm or constant for belief. This expression stands parallel to “trust” (bāṭaḥ) in Ps. 78:8, 37; 112:7 — spread out your hands to him. His changed inner attitude is to be attested by spreading out his hands (kap) to God in earnest supplication.
Tremper Longman: vv. 15-19 — Here the restoration is described not in materialistic terms but rather in terms of one’s psychological state. If Job follows Zophar’s prescription, then he will have a new confidence that expels the fear and anxiety that he presently experiences. Trouble will be a thing of the past (v. 16). Darkness will give way to light. Insecurity will give place to security. Indeed, because of this newfound hope, people will come and will request Job’s favor (v. 19b).
B. (:17-20) Motivation for Repentance – Benefits of Repentance
“And 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.”
David Clines: What is the connection of the picture of security (vv 18–19a) with that of the image of the revered patriarch being flattered and deferred to (v 19b)? It must be that security for a princeling or sheikh like Job and his friends cannot consist in the mere absence of assault upon one’s property or person, but must also involve the esteem of those whom they have been accustomed to leading. Job suffers at the moment not only from the assaults of Sabeans and Chaldeans (1:15, 17) but from the disgrace into which his afflictions have cast him (cf. his own description of his disgrace in 30:1–15 compared with his former standing [29:7–17]). There is no security without honor, without full appreciation of one’s rank and quality. It is therefore climactic in Zophar’s depiction of the good fortune that awaits a truly converted Job that “many will seek your favor,” lit. “will make soft, or, sweet, your face.” The idiom is found in Prov 19:6 (“Many seek the favor of a generous man”) while Ps 45:13  (“The people of Tyre will entreat your favor with gifts”) reminds us that oriental flattery is not merely a verbal matter, but includes the presentation of gifts as tokens of esteem (a practice frequently misunderstood by westerners as “bribery”). The phrase is used also of entreating the favor of God (e.g., Exod 32:11; Jer 26:19; 1 Kgs 13:6) and here also the giving of gifts (sacrifices) is sometimes explicit (1 Sam 13:12; Mal 1:9). At Job’s restoration, indeed, such a scene will be enacted, with all his relatives and acquaintances bringing gifts as tokens of congratulation and also, no doubt, as a means of self-ingratiation (42:11). No one becomes prosperous through the gifts of such clients (in 42:10 Job had already had his fortunes restored to twice their former worth before the arrival of the bakshish money), but they are the icing on the cake for the man of wealth and dignity, and more: they are the outward and visible sign of social worth—which is what everyone wants, but Job more than most, considering that he has started at the top of the social ladder.
John Hartley: v. 17 — Job’s life then will be as bright as the sun at high noon. His season of darkness will be turned to joy just as the morning sun dispels the night and inspires hope for a bright new day. This is similar to the words of the psalmist: “[God] shall bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday” (Ps. 37:6). Light shining on a person’s life brings warmth, buoyancy, and a sense of well-being. The word for life (ḥeleḏ) stresses its longevity. Job is being promised a long, enriched life. This picture of brightness contrasts markedly with Job’s gloomy description of his fate in death at the end of his last speech (10:20–22).
vv. 18-19 — In his new life Job will have inner peace. He will have a strong sense of security because he will have genuine hope. Whereas now Job dreads the future, his hope will inspire him to anticipate the future with joy. Then he may look about with confidence. Like a sheep lying peacefully in a pasture guarded by a shepherd, Job will then be able to lie down and rest without any fear that someone will terrify him. Zophar is directly countering Job’s complaint that God is hunting him like a lion (10:16) with the promise that in the future God will lead and protect him like a shepherd. When he has peace with God, many will court his favor (ḥillû pānêḵā, v. 19b). This Hebrew phrase, usually translated “to appease” or “to entreat the favor of,” means literally either “to make the face smooth through stroking” or “to sweeten the face.” . . Entreaty is one way an inferior party seeks to win the favor of his superior. This language then means that Job will again stand at the head of his community and be accorded the highest honor.
Warren Wiersbe: But if Job wanted these blessings, he had to get them on Zophar’s terms. Yes, there was hope, but it was hope with a condition attached to it: Job must repent and confess his sins (vv. 13-14). Zophar is tempting Job to bargain with God so he can get out of troubles. This is exactly what Satan wanted Job to do! “Doth Job fear God for nothing?” Satan asked (1:9). Satan accused Job of having a “commercial faith” that promised prosperity in return for obedience. If Job had followed Zophar’s advice, he would have played right into the hands of the enemy.
Job did not have a “commercial faith” that made bargains with God. He had a confident faith that said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:15). That doesn’t sound like a man looking for an easy way out of difficulties. “Job did not understand the Lord’s reasons,” said C.H. Spurgeon, “but he continued to confide in His goodness.” That is faith!