Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 11. The Speech of Zophar
In ch. 3. Job did not assert his innocence, but only lamented his fate. And it was possible for Eliphaz tacitly to assume his guilt without alluding to it, and admonish him in regard to his complaints. Even in chaps. 6, 7. Job only threw out here and there a spasmodic affirmation of his innocence, being occupied with other things, and being deterred by his own sense of rectitude from condescending to clear himself. And Bildad could suppose himself entitled to disregard Job’s passing claims to innocence, they were natural but perhaps scarcely seriously meant. But in chaps. 9, 10. Job had denied his guilt with a vehemence which made it impossible not to take his denial into account. Here was a new element introduced into the strife, which the three friends had to reckon with. It was plain that Job seriously believed in his own innocence. But it was equally plain from his afflictions that God regarded him as guilty. This is the state of the question as Zophar feels he has to face it. Naturally he does not range himself on Job’s side. No, Job may be unaware of his sins, but the Divine Omniscience knows them and is bringing them to remembrance. And if God would appear and speak, as Job seems to wish, he too would be made to know them. This is the new application which Zophar makes of the doctrine of the three friends. Job is setting up his knowledge of himself against God’s knowledge of him.
The speech falls into three short sections:—
First, Job 11:2-6, after some preliminary personalities of a more depreciatory kind than those used by Bildad (ch. Job 8:2), Zophar expresses his wish that God would appear and speak with Job, as he had desired (ch. Job 9:34), and reveal to him the depths of the Divine Wisdom or Omniscience, then Job would be made to know his sins.
Second, Job 11:7-12, this thought leads Zophar into a panegyric of the Divine wisdom; and this wisdom it is, which, detecting men’s hidden sin, accounts for the sudden calamities which they suffer.
Finally, Job 11:13-20, from this Zophar passes to an exhortation to Job to put away his evil, with a promise, if he will do so, of great prosperity and unclouded happiness in the time to come.
Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said,
Should not the multitude of words be answered? and should a man full of talk be justified?2. Should not the multitude of words] Or, shall not …? Zophar probably did not demand the parole immediately on Job’s ceasing to speak. A pause was allowed to intervene, and the words with which he commences form his apology for speaking—he replies to Job only lest Job should fancy that by his much speaking he has shewn himself to be in the right, cf. Proverbs 10:19.
should a man full of talk] Or, shall a man full of talk, lit. a man of lips. Zophar insinuates that Job’s words come merely from his lips; they could not come, as the words of the ancients did, from the heart, ch. Job 8:10; they were mere empty phrases, cf. ch. Job 8:2; Isaiah 36:5. Job, it must be confessed, had made a long and in some parts vehement oration.
Should thy lies make men hold their peace? and when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed?3. Should thy lies] Or, Shall thy boastings, or, as Reuss, “ton verbiage.” The reference is probably to Job’s assertions of his own innocence, or perhaps the general scope of his speech. The word “men” is as we should say “people”—shall thy boastings put people to silence?
and when thou mockest] Or, so that thou mockest, none putting thee to shame. Job’s “mockery” or irreligious, sceptical talk is summed up in Job 11:4. This mockery is called “scorning,” ch. Job 34:6.
For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes.4. For thou hast said] Better, and sayest, explaining what his mockery consists in.
My doctrine is pure] Job had not used precisely such words. Zophar gives what he understands as the gist of his contention.
and I am clean in thine eyes] Perhaps rather, I was clean, when plunged into my afflictions. The words are those of Job addressed to God, which Zophar recalls, cf. ch. Job 9:21, Job 10:7. It is probable that this clause explains what Zophar means by the preceding clause, “my doctrine is pure.” Job’s “doctrine,” which Zophar considers an example of “mockery,” is not his general principles, but this particular point, that God afflicts a man whom He knows to be righteous. Zophar quite justly discovers here a novel doctrine to which he certainly had not been accustomed. But connected with this particular assertion of Job’s were his views on human destiny in general, ch. Job 7:1, and on the character of God’s government, ch. Job 9:1-23. The two preceding speakers had assumed that Job’s principles were identical with their own, and anticipated that a few good advices in the line of these principles would bring the man to a right mind. Zophar begins to surmise that they have a more obstinate disease to cure than they had looked for, and that Job’s principles, instead of being identical with theirs, cut clean athwart them. This discovery accounts for the rather unworthy tone of his language. His irritation was natural. He had never met a man with such ideas as those of Job before, and he is driven out of patience and decorum by his new theories. Elihu is even more shocked, and thinks that such another as Job does not exist, ch. Job 34:6.
But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee;5. Job had expressed his readiness to meet God and plead his cause before Him, ch. Job 9:25; Zophar, with reference to this, exclaims, Would that God would speak! The result would be different from what Job anticipated, his guilt would be laid before him.
And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.6. shew thee the secrets of wisdom] Wisdom here is God’s omniscience. Its secrets are not the things known to it, such, for example, as Job’s sins, but its own profound depths and insight.
that they are double to that which is] Or, that it (wisdom) is double in (true) understanding. By double or twofold in regard to true understanding is not meant, double of man’s wisdom or that of the creature in general, but rather, twofold what Job conceived of it, in other words, that, in regard to its true insight, it far exceeded all conception. This translation presents the smallest deviation from the A. V. and is simple. It is an objection to it that it makes “understanding” a quality of “wisdom,” while the former word (on which see note on ch. Job 5:12) would more naturally be but another name for the “wisdom,” as it is in Job’s reply to all this, ch. Job 12:16, cf. Job 11:13. Hence others assume that the word twofold means “many folds,” translating: that folds, complications, belong to (true) understanding,—that is, that (God’s) understanding is manifold.
Know therefore] i. e. then shouldst thou know. The imperative is a more vivid way of expressing the future, see on ch. Job 5:1.
exacteth of thee less, &c.] This gives the general sense, though the translation seems to rest both on a false etymology and a false idea of construction. Literally the words mean: God bringeth into forgetfulness for thee some of thy guilt, that is, remembereth not against thee all thy guilt. Others (e.g. Hitz.): God causeth thee to forget thy guilt. The general meaning is, that if God would appear and speak and reveal His knowledge of Job’s sins, Job would be brought to know that he was guilty—perhaps even that his afflictions were far below his guilt. This is a harder word than has yet been uttered against Job.
Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?7. The verse means, Canst thou fathom or conceive God? The special side of God’s being, which Zophar declares to be unfathomable, is His wisdom or omniscience. This is the point in question, for it is this which discovers Job’s heart and his sins; and Zophar desires to put this omniscience before Job to bring him to take a right place before it, just as Eliphaz brought the holiness of God before him. Literally the verse reads: Canst thou find the deeps of (or, that which has to be searched out in) God, canst thou reach to the perfection (the outmost, the ground of the nature) of the Almighty? Cf. ch. Job 26:10, Job 28:3.
7–12. Panegyric on the Divine Wisdom or Omniscience. This wisdom cannot be fathomed by man (Job 11:7). It fills all things (Job 11:8-9). And this explains the sudden calamities that befall men, for God perceives their hidden wickedness (Job 11:10-11). But man is of no understanding (Job 11:12).
It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?8. His wisdom is immeasurable, unfathomable. The words are an exclamation: heights of heaven! what canst thou do?—thou art impotent before it, to scale it or reach it.
deeper than hell] i. e. than Sheol, the place of the dead—canst thou fathom it, penetrate with thy knowledge to it?
The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.
If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him?10. This omniscience in its operation among sinful men.
If he cut off] if he pass by. Zophar uses Job’s own word and illustration, ch. Job 9:11 (passeth on).
and shut up] i. e. arrest, and put in ward.
or gather together] i. e. call an assembly for judgment, which took place in full concourse of the people; cf. the graphic picture Proverbs 5:3 seq., esp. Job 11:14.
who can hinder him] Or, turn him back, again Job’s own words, ch. Job 9:12.
For he knoweth vain men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it?11. Job had used these words to describe God as an irresistible, unaccountable force; Zophar indicates what account is to be given of God’s actions—He knoweth vain (wicked, Psalm 26:4) men. His action is the reflexion of His omniscient insight.
will he not then consider it] Rather, without considering it. The words are closely connected with the preceding: he seeth wickedness also, without needing to consider it, that is, with a knowledge immediate and requiring no effort, cf. ch. Job 34:23, notes. So already Ibn Ezra. Another meaning is possible: and that which they (men) consider not. But this is a useless repetition.
For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass's colt.12. Having finished his brilliant picture of God’s omniscient wisdom, Zophar adds further brilliancy to it by contrasting it with the brutishness of man. The verse perhaps should read,
But an empty man will become wise
When a wild ass colt is born a man,
the one thing will happen when the other happens. The verse seems to be in the shape of a proverb, and is full of alliterations which cannot be reproduced in translation. The word “empty” is properly “hollow;” and “to become wise” is literally “to get heart,” i. e. understanding or mind (ch. Job 9:4, Job 12:3). The last phrase was understood by Gesenius to mean “to be without heart” or understanding. Following this view, many translate: But empty man is void of understanding, yea, man is born (like) a wild ass colt. Gesenius objects to the other that it offends against dignity. The verse has been interpreted in a great variety of ways.
If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him;13. If thou prepare thine heart] Thou is emphatic, and meant by the speaker to place Job in a different class from the “hollow man” described in Job 11:12. Job hardly accepted the good intention, cf. ch. Job 12:3. “To prepare the heart” may mean, to bring it into a condition of right thought and feeling towards God. The word might also mean “fix thy heart,” let it no more be driven to and fro amidst false feelings and views, Psalm 10:17; Psalm 51:10; Psalm 57:7; Psalm 78:37.
and stretch out] In prayer, and seeking help, Exodus 9:29; Isaiah 1:15; cf. Job 8:5.
13–20. Zophar turns to Job in exhortation and promise.
If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles.14. The reformation which Zophar impresses on Job has several steps: first, the preparation of his heart; then, prayer unto God; then, the putting away of his personal sins; and finally, those of his home. These are enumerated, one after another, but nothing lies in the order of enumeration.
For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear:15. for then shalt thou] Or, surely then shalt thou, ch. Job 8:6.
lift up thy face without spot] The word lift up is selected to meet Job’s complaint that he must not lift up his head, ch. Job 10:15; and the words “without spot” meet his words “filled with shame.” Then he shall lift up his face in conscious innocence and disfigured with no signs of God’s anger on account of his guilt.
be steadfast, and shalt not fear] Said in reference to Job’s fluctuating feelings and condition as he describes them, ch. Job 9:27-28.
Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away:16. because thou shalt forget] Or, for thou shalt forget trouble.
that pass away] that are passed away.
And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning.17. and thine age] Or, as we should say, and life, Psalm 17:14; Psalm 39:5.
thou shalt shine forth] Rather, if there be darkness, it shall be as the morning. Even should temporary darkness occur it will not be utter, but light like the morning. This seems said in opposition to Job’s mournful words, ch. Job 10:22, “where the light is as darkness.” The present words might also mean that the darkness shall be not a continual obscurity but one which a morning comes to dispel.
And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety.18. because there is hope] In opposition to Job’s desponding pictures of his life, ch. Job 7:6 seq., Job 9:25 seq., Job 10:20 seq.
thou shalt dig about thee] Rather, thou shalt look, or search, about thee, cf. ch. Job 39:29; Deuteronomy 1:22. Job, as one naturally does before retiring to rest, will look around to see if there be any danger near or cause of disquietude, and seeing none will take his rest in safety.
Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; yea, many shall make suit unto thee.19. make suit unto thee] The phrase means literally: shall stroke thy face, i. e. supplicate or flatter thee. Proverbs 19:6; Psalm 45:12.
The picture which Zophar draws of Job’s restored prosperity is beautiful. (1) Trouble shall be forgotten, or remembered as waters that are passed away; and the memory of a past trouble that cannot recur but makes the present happiness greater (Job 11:16). (2) And the future shall rise brighter than noon, or, it may be, shall increase towards brightness more than the noon does, shewing an ever-growing clearness; and if it be at any time clouded, as in any life however clear there are clouds, the darkness shall only be a lesser light like that of the morning; or as the words may mean, the darkness shall only be like the fixed changes of nature and shall give place like the night to a fair and hopeful morning (Job 11:17). (3) Thus restored to the fixed order of a life with God he shall be trustful because there is hope, and he shall look about, surveying all things, and finding nothing to dread shall lie down in confidence (Job 11:18); and when lain down he shall rest peacefully. (4) And his security and prosperity shall draw to him the homage of many, who (as before) shall seek his favour (Job 11:19).
But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.20. Zophar concludes by setting in opposition to this picture another, the fate of the wicked.
their hope shall be as the giving] Rather, shall be the giving up of the ghost; death is what they have to look for. Perhaps Zophar adds these words by way of warning to Job. Eliphaz allowed no streak of darkness to cloud the brightness of the prospect he anticipated for Job, ch. Job 5:19-26; Bildad spoke of perishing, but it was of Job’s enemies, ch. Job 8:22; Zophar throws out his warning more generally, and Job may accept it if it fits him.
The problems that trouble us are not new. These ancient disputants graze at least the edges of most of them. Under Zophar’s speech lies the question, If the affirmations of a man’s conscience or of his consciousness be contradicted by the affirmations of God, what does it become a man to do? Job’s conscience declared that he had not been guilty of sins, while God by his afflictions was clearly intimating that he had.—It may be safely concluded that a real contradiction of this kind will never occur. Both Zophar and Job were under a false impression when they supposed that God by His affliction of Job was affirming his guilt. They put a wrong meaning on his afflictions. Zophar, however, thought that a man must bow to God. But as Job’s consciousness spoke to a fact, which was to him indubitable, he felt that he was unable to submit. The history of Job teaches us that the wise course in such circumstances is to raise the prior question, Is this supposed affirmation of God really His affirmation? It may be that we are putting a wrong construction on His words or providence And as such supposed contradictions will not usually be, as in Job’s case, in regard to simple facts but to moral judgments and the like, there is much room always to raise the prior question also on the other side, Is this affirmation of conscience, which seems opposed to the intimations of God, a true affirmation of conscience? the affirmation of an enlightened, universal conscience? As none of us, unfortunately, is in possession of this universal conscience of mankind, but only of our own particular one, which must, however, be our guide, perplexities may occasionally arise in our actual religious experience.