Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 12–14. Job’s Reply to Zophar
The distinctive point in Zophar’s discourse was his prominently adducing the omniscient wisdom of God against Job, before the judgments of which, as seen in the providences that befall men, anything called individual conscience ought to be silent. This led Zophar into an eulogy of God’s wisdom, the greatness of which was to him the explanation of the sudden and destructive interferences of God among men (ch. Job 11:10-11). And in contrast with this insight of God Zophar spoke of men as “hollow.”
All this stung Job deeply, for it implied not only ignorance of himself (ch. Job 11:6), but ignorance of God, and he felt keenly the assumption over him (a thing only ventured on because he was afflicted, ch. Job 12:4-5) of these men, who thought themselves entitled to give him instructions regarding the wisdom and the power of God (ch. Job 12:3, Job 13:2). Hence there runs through his reply a continual sarcasm against their assumed superiority, mixed with pathetic references to the lowness into which he had sunk—he whose past life had been one of close fellowship with God, ch. Job 12:4—when such men took it on them to give him lessons; and he is never weary ringing changes on the “wisdom” which was the key-note of Zophar’s unfortunate oration—No doubt! wisdom will die with you (ch. Job 12:2); “I have understanding as well as you … who knoweth not such things as these?” (ch. Job 12:3); “With God is wisdom” (ch. Job 12:13); and, with a half-concealed reference to the proverb, he wishes at last that they would hold their tongue and it should be their “wisdom” (ch. Job 13:5). In this speech Job for the first time really turns upon his friends in earnest, and he reads them some severe lessons not only on the mental superficiality with which they took in hand his problem, which they thought to unravel by citing a few old saws and “maxims of ashes” (ch. Job 13:12), but also on the moral onesidedness which they shewed. They took the part of God against him not as true men who had really planted their feet on the bottom of things as the world presented them, but from a shallow religiosity which was but partiality for God; and, as they had invoked the rectitude and the omniscience of the Almighty against him, he sists them before the same bar, reminding them that the God before whom they shall have to answer is God of the universe, according to the facts which the universe reveals, and bidding them fear His resentment and chastisement for their very pleading in His behalf, because that pleading was made ignorantly and not in true sincerity (ch. Job 13:4-12, cf. the result, ch. Job 42:7 seq.).
The speech falls into three large sections, which coincide generally with the three chapters, although the limits between the second and third are not very well marked.
First, ch. 12. Job resents the assumed superiority of his three friends in regard to knowledge of the operation of the Divine power and wisdom in the world, and shews by a lofty delineation of them that he is a far greater master in this knowledge than they are.
Second, ch. Job 13:1-22. But this Divine wisdom and power do not, as the friends imagine, explain his calamities. On the contrary, it is against this very action of God in the world that he desires to appeal to God. And their defence of it is false, and from no better reason than out of servility to God. He desires to meet God on the question of his innocence, and challenges Him to appear and answer him.
Third, ch. Job 13:23 to Job 14:22. The challenge remains unanswered. And again, as before, the thought of his sad condition and of the riddles in which he is involved gets the better of Job, and he sinks into a sorrowful wail over the wretchedness of man, his weakness and God’s rigid treatment of him, and the complete extinction of his life in death. But just when the folds of darkness which the mysteries and the pathos of human life wrap around him are thickest, there suddenly arises in his mind, like a star struggling through the clouds, the surprising thought that after this life there might be another, and that God, when His wrath is overpast, might call His creature back to Him again in friendship. The star comes out but for a moment, but Job has once seen it, and on every occasion when it appears again it shines with greater brilliancy.
Ch. 12. In reply to Zophar’s Appeal to the Divine Wisdom and Power, Job shews by a brilliant delineation of them that he is a greater master in the knowledge of these than his friends are
First, Job 12:1-6. Job gives sarcastic expression to his admiration of the wisdom of his friends (Job 12:2). Then, passing into earnestness, he laments the depth to which he has sunk when men take it on them to inflict such common places on him about God’s wisdom and power—on him whose life had been lived with God. This was how men treated one, though righteous, when afflictions befell him; the prosperous wicked man was differently regarded (Job 12:4-6).
Second, Job 12:7-25. Coming to the matter itself, the display of God’s power and wisdom in the world, especially in the world of life, with its sufferings, the knowledge of which the friends boasted of as exclusively their own (cf. shew thee the secrets of wisdom, ch. Job 11:6), Job
(1) intimates that this knowledge is so common that anyone may learn it who opens his eyes and looks upon the life and fates of the lower creatures—all shew that God moves among them with an absolute power and sway (Job 12:7-10).
(2) The same may be learned by anyone who has ears to hear what aged men tell of God’s ways in the world. Thus Job introduces a brilliant picture (in which much history both of catastrophes in nature and revolutions among men is condensed) of the uncontrolled movement of God in the affairs of the world:—the natural world (Job 12:14-15); those highest in rank among men, the wise, the rulers, the eloquent (vv, 16–22); and nations (Job 12:23-25). Zophar had sought to shew that a moral purpose directed the action of God’s wisdom and might—“he knows wicked men” (ch. Job 11:11); Job, on the other hand, brings out their immeasurable greatness and the absoluteness with which they dominate among men, and how they confound with an ironical destructiveness everything human that bears any likeness to themselves, “making fools” of judges, and “pouring contempt” upon princes (Job 12:17; Job 12:21).
And Job answered and said,
No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.2. ye are the people] Sarcastic admiration of the wisdom of his three friends, cf. ch. Job 11:6. “The people” does not seem to mean the right people, persons worthy of the name of “people;” rather “the people” is used as three other persons, well known to history, employed it, when they said, “We, the people of England.” It means the whole people; hence Job adds, “Wisdom will die with you.”
But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?3. But I have understanding] Rather, I also have understanding, lit. heart; cf. on ch. Job 11:12, to the depreciating words of which Job refers.
who knoweth not such things as these] lit. with whom are not such things as these? i. e. such knowledge as this. The reference is to Zophar’s exhibition of the Divine wisdom and might, ch. Job 11:7-12.
I am as one mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and he answereth him: the just upright man is laughed to scorn.4. I am to be one that is a laughing-stock to his friends,
I, who called on God and he answered me:
A laughing-stock the just and perfect man!
4, 5. Job laments how low he had fallen when men thought to instruct him, a man of God, with such primary truths regarding God’s operation in the world. Yet it was but an illustration of the general truth—righteousness when unfortunate was held in contempt. The verses read,
He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.5. There is contempt for misfortune in the thought of him that is at ease,
It awaiteth them who are slipping with their foot.
Zophar’s references for Job’s advantage to the Divine wisdom and might implied that Job was ignorant of all this, and took no account of Job’s past life spent in the fellowship of God and in meditation on His ways. It is to this last that Job refers when he says: I who called on God, &c. He feels keenly the pass he has come to when men inculcate such commonplaces upon him; this feeling he expresses by saying, I am to be, I must be, or have to be a laughing-stock.
Job 12:5 means, But such is the treatment which those who fall into misfortune, even though they be righteous men, receive at the hands of those that are at ease and prosperous. The word rendered “misfortune” or calamity occurs again, ch. Job 30:24, Job 31:29, Proverbs 24:22. On the slipping of the foot, cf. Psalm 38:16; Psalm 73:2.
The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly.6. The other side of the picture, the peace of the wicked.
into whose hand God bringeth abundantly] The words might also mean: they who carry (their) god in their hand, the idea being that their god is their own strong hand or the weapon in it; cf. what the prophet says of the Chaldeans, This their power is their god, Habakkuk 1:11 with Job 12:16. The commentators quote from Vergil the words of the contemptor deorum, dextra mihi deus, and Hitzig refers to Ammianus, 17. 12, who says of some Scythian tribes, mucrones pro numinibus colunt. In Job 12:5 Job said that the afflicted righteous were despised; the strict antithesis would have been that the prosperous wicked received respect; but Job, with the keen eye which he has at present for the anomalies of the Divine government, attributes the peace of the wicked to God, though they recognise no God but their own strong arm. Cf. ch. Job 5:24.
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:7–10. Such knowledge as the friends possessed of God’s wisdom and power and their action in the world could be learned by any one who had eyes to observe the life and fate of the lower creatures. In all may be seen God’s absolute might and sway prevailing (Job 12:10).
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.8. speak to the earth] The “earth” here includes all the forms of lower life with which it teems.
Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this?9. in all these] Or, by all these, Genesis 15:8.
hath wrought this] Rather, doeth this, viz. as Zophar had taught and as Job 12:10 explains, rules with an absolute sway in all the world of life upon the earth, men and creatures. We should say in English here, acts thus (as Zophar had said), cf. Isaiah 41:20, though the point prominently referred to is the infliction of suffering.
In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.10. This verse rounds off the statement in Job 12:7 seq. that God moves among the living creatures upon the earth, dispensing life and death, in a way absolute and uncontrolled.
Doth not the ear try words? and the mouth taste his meat?11. and the mouth taste his meat] Rather, as the mouth (lit. palate) tasteth his meat. Does not the understanding ear discern and appropriate sound knowledge, as the palate discerns and relishes wholesome food? The ear (as well as the eye, Job 12:7-10) is a channel of sound information.
11–25. Job 12:7-10 referred to what one could see of God’s power and wisdom in the world, these verses refer to what one might learn of them by hearing ancient men discourse regarding them. In ch. Job 13:1, where Job looks back upon this chapter, he refers to both channels of knowledge, his eye and his ear. He does not despise knowledge learned from the observation of others when it is pertinent, cf. ch. Job 21:29. And it is obvious that the description in Job 12:13-25 contains many allusions to catastrophes, both in nature and in human society, which Job could not have seen himself, but must have learned from tradition.
With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.12. As Job 12:11 indicated the instrument, the ear, through which one learned, this verse refers to the source from which the information was to be obtained, viz. the ancients, that is, the aged men.
With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding.13. With him is wisdom and strength] i. e. with God, him being emphatic. There is no antithesis however between His wisdom and that of the aged referred to Job 12:12. The passage that follows to the end of the chapter describes God’s power and wisdom as their operations had been observed by men, though naturally the picture receives its colour from the state of Job’s mind. “Strength” is rather might or power to execute what wisdom devises. These attributes of God’s confound and bring to nought everything bearing the same name among men.
Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again: he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening.14. breaketh down] e.g. fenced cities, devoting them to ruin, cf. ch. Job 15:28.
shutteth up a man] In prison, as captive kings and the like, cf. Jeremiah 22:24 seq., 2 Kings 25:27 seq.
Behold, he withholdeth the waters, and they dry up: also he sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth.15. withholdeth the waters] In droughts. The second half of the verse refers to floods and cataclysms.
With him is strength and wisdom: the deceived and the deceiver are his.16. The word “wisdom” in this verse is that in ch. Job 5:12, Job 11:6.
the deceived and the deceiver] lit. he that errs and he that leads into error, he that is ruled and he that rules oppressively. These are distinctions among men; to God both are the same, or both are equally in his hand, cf. Proverbs 22:2.
He leadeth counsellers away spoiled, and maketh the judges fools.17. away spoiled] The word is rendered “stripped” Micah 1:8, the meaning being, deprived of their outer garments, and clothed as slaves and captives. The word might perhaps mean “barefooted” (so Sept. Micah 1:8), also a condition of those in destitution and mourning, 2 Samuel 15:30.
On second clause “maketh judges fools,” turns them into fools, and shews them as fools, cf. Isaiah 44:25; Isaiah 19:11 seq.
He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle.18. he looseth the bond of kings] The verse probably means, he relaxes, removes the authority of kings, destroys their bond or power over men; and as a consequence their own loins are girt with a girdle, i. e. either the common girdle of the labourer, or the cord of the captive.
He leadeth princes away spoiled, and overthroweth the mighty.19. leadeth princes away spoiled] Rather, priests. In antiquity priests occupied influential places; cf. what is said of Melchizedek, Genesis 14, of Jethro, priest of Midian, Exodus 2:16 seq., and of the influence of the priests in several crises of the history of Israel. On “spoiled’ see Job 12:17.
the mighty] lit. the established or perennial; being in apposition with priests, usually a hereditary caste, the word describes those who occupied high permanent place among men.
He removeth away the speech of the trusty, and taketh away the understanding of the aged.20. the speech of the trusty] Eloquent men, able to recommend and carry their plans. The word “understanding” means sense or discretion (Proverbs 11:22).
He poureth contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty.21. contempt upon princes] Or, nobles, ch. Job 34:18; cf. Psalm 107:40.
weakeneth the strength of the mighty] lit. looseth the girdle of the strong. As the garments were girt up for active labour or battle, to loose the girdle means to incapacitate; Isaiah 5:27.
He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.22. he discovereth deep things] In the A. V. to “discover” is to reveal, to bring to sight. The verse means that God through His wisdom sees into the profoundest and darkest deeps, and brings what is hidden to light. “Shadow of death” means the deepest darkness, ch. Job 3:3. The reference is not to be limited to the deep and concealed plans of men, which God exposes and frustrates (ch. Job 5:13, Isaiah 29:15), though this may be included. The verse can hardly mean that God reveals or manifests His own profound deeps (ch. Job 11:6; Isaiah 45:15), though such a sense would give the parallelism desirable to the two other commencing verses, 13 and 16.
He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.23. God’s rule among the nations and direction of their fate.
and straiteneth them again] Perhaps, and leadeth them away, cf. 2 Kings 18:17. The clause is obscure, it may not be a direct, but an inverse parallel to the first clause, and mean: he spreadeth abroad (or, scattereth, cf. Jeremiah 8:2; Numbers 11:32), and giveth them settlements again.
He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people of the earth, and causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way.24. he taketh away the heart] i. e. the understanding; cf. on ch. Job 11:12.
in a wilderness] Same word as in ch. Job 6:18. The word is that rendered “without form,” Genesis 1:2; Jeremiah 4:23, i. e. chaos. The reference is to the confusion and perplexity into which the chiefs are thrown. The word is finely used Isaiah 45:19, I said not to the seed of Jacob seek ye me in the waste, i. e. in uncertain conditions (A. V., in vain).
They grope in the dark without light, and he maketh them to stagger like a drunken man.25. Further description of their perplexity. Cf. ch. Job 5:14.
maketh them to stagger] Or, to wander. Cf. Isaiah 19:14; Psalm 107:27; Psalm 107:40.