Checking in on the Friends II (Job 11)
Bill Long 1/18/05
Zophar--the True Spokesman for God
Between Bildad and Zophar's first speeches is a third speech by Job (9-10) to which Zophar only responds directly at one point (11:4). The next lesson will return to Job in chapter 9. While we are still thinking about friends and their reaction to one another, however, let's go ahead and introduce the third friend, Zophar.
We saw last lesson that a certain ambiguity attended Bildad's statements to Job. Was he really trying to criticize Job's children (8:4)? Was he intending to bring back memories of the "great wind" that devastated the family (8:2)? Why does he spend three times longer speaking about the fate of the wicked than the blessings waiting for the righteous (8:11-22)?
With Zophar, however, nearly all ambiguity is taken away. He speaks with clarity, even brutal clarity. He will not only speak for God, but he will bring Job into the "deep things" of God. Thanks to Zophar, then, the many-sided wisdom of God is finally available! Our purpose is to try to hear the tone of Zophar's words, to determine what kind of person he is and then to assess where Job and the friends are after each has spoken.
1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered: 2 "Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and should one full of talk be vindicated? 3 Should your babble put others to silence, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? 4 For you say, 'My conduct is pure, and I am clean in God's sight.' 5 But oh, that God would speak, and open his lips to you, 6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For wisdom is many-sided. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves."
A. Zophar construes what Job has said in his previous speeches to be a "multitude of words (v.2)" or "babbling" and "wordiness (JV)." How could anyone hear the brilliantly constructed and anguished words of Job in that way?
B. He is the first of the friends actually to quote Job (v. 4). How close is his quotation to what Job has in fact said (see 9:20-21)? The word translated "conduct" in NRSV is probably best rendered "doctrine" (so David Clines). If we translate it "doctrine," what does this suggest about how Zophar "hears" Job's words?
C. Verse 5, Zophars' "wish" that God would speak to Job, is really a thinly-veiled reference to the fact that Zophar thinks he will now speak for God. Do you have friends like this? Are you like this? Is this what you look for in a friend?
D. Zophar's first "word from God," so to speak, is in v. 6. What is it?
E. What is your reaction to Zophar's characterization of the meaning of Job's situation?
"7 Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? 8 It is higher than heaven--what can you do? Deeper than Sheol--what can you know? 9 Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. 10 If he passes through, and imprisons, and assembles for judgment, who can hinder him? 11 For he knows those who are worthless; when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it? 12 But a stupid person will get understanding, when a wild ass is born human."
A. What is the "tone" of Zophar's words here? What is his view of God? of humanity?
B. One of the things that makes the Book of Job so difficult to understand is that the friends seemingly often have the "correct" theological and even pastoral words (recall Eliphaz's gentle approach to Job in 4:2). Is there anything "correct" about what Zophar says?
C. I like to imagine that when Zophar speaks vv. 11-12 he turns to face Job straight on with a sort of impatient glare. Reread those verses from that perspective. Is there violence in Zophar's speech? How do you reconcile the seemingly glorious words about God in 7-10 and these words in 11-12?
Job 11:13, 17-19
"13 If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward him....17 And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. 18 And you will have confidence, because there is hope; you will be protected and take your rest in safety. 19 You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid; many will entreat your favor."
A. Space does not allow a full quotation of his final words, but we should note that Zophar gives 7 full verses to his words of hope at the end. Do you read these as genuinely hopeful words to Job? Mindless repetition of Zophar's theology?
B. Is the author of the Book of Job subtly, or not so subtly, trying to criticize the "wisdom theology" (mostly reflected in the Book of Proverbs) in a section like this?
As I was studying Zophar's speech over and over again, a rather frightening thought came to mind. He seems to be as adamant and uncompromising in his belief as Job is in his. Is Zophar really a mirror image of Job and is their mindset really not that different? Have they therefore both overlooked or lost something? That is, Zophar's theology is all doctrine and seems to allow no room for life experience in it. Does Job's theology, in contrast, allow any room for "doctrine" that may not comport with his experience? Why, however, does everyone remember Job and no one recalls Zophar?
Finally, where are the friends after this first cycle of speeches? Any hope that they will speak to each other again in understanding terms?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long