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Doug Van Meter - 17 July 2022

Zophar the Zealot and Job the Jilted (Job 11:1–13:6)

Of Job’s three friends, Zophar appears to have been the most zealous in his attempt to defend God’s honour and condemn Job’s critique of how God was running his universe. His verbal thrusts, no doubt, wounded Job deeply, who responded with great angst. We find in this interaction the familiar pattern in which those at ease offer suffering saints simplistic but unhelpful platitudes. We should pay careful attention lest we fall into the same trap. We will consider the text before us under six major headings: 1. Job Insulted (11:1–12) 2. Job Indicted (11:13–20) 3. Job’s Complaint (12:1–12) 4. Job’s Conundrum (12:13–25) 5. Job’s Contempt (13:1–5) 6. Job’s Confused Confidence (13:6–14:22)

Scripture References: Job 13:1-6, Job 12:1-25, Job 11:1-20

From Series: "Job Exposition"

A devotional exposition of the book of Job by Doug Van Meter.

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In the passage before us, Job’s third friend speaks. His name is Zophar. Because he spoke last, it is suggested that he was perhaps the youngest of the three. Regardless, he seems to have been the most zealous in his attempt to defend God’s honour and condemn Job’s critique of the way God runs his universe.

If he had lived in Jesus’ day, he might very well have been a member of the Zealots—the religio-political group who were particularly zealous for the right. Like many of those, his zeal was such that he militantly responded to what he saw was amiss. Thankfully, unlike them, he did not brandish a dagger, yet his verbal thrusts no doubt wounded Job deeply. Interestingly (mercifully!), whereas the other two friends would confront Job three times, Zophar was only given two opportunities. I’m sure Job felt that this was two too many. Job’s interactions with his “counsellors” reminds me of the words of Eugene Peterson: that “sufferers attract ‘fixers’ like roadkill attracts vultures.” Zophar fits this description.

Job responded to Zophar’s insults and wrong-headed indictments with great angst. It should be noted that, with each response to his friends’ accusatory and simplistic confrontations, Job seems to have grown increasingly frustrated. Over the course of their interactions, he increasingly viewed his former friends as present foes. His sarcasm increased as he was increasingly jilted. Abandoned by his friends exasperated his sense of being jilted or abandoned by God.

In the text before us we see a familiar pattern where those at ease simplistically counselled a suffering saint with unhelpful platitudes.

As Christopher Ash has pointed out, Zophar and his friends lived according to a traditional system where blessings and curses depended strictly on one’s behaviour. In their system there was little room for the inexplicable and inscrutable ways of a sovereign God. We might say that they had God in a box. And an inexplicable situation like Job’s, which that did not fit their system, put them into a philosophical panic. They could only force his predicament into the mould of their theological worldview. The consequences for Job were cruel and destructive. However, Job was also on a theological journey and so he questioned God—not always reverently (though God is big enough to handle this!)—and, in the end, he was corrected but vindicated, while his counsellors were confronted and condemned.

We should learn from these numerous failed encounters of our own propensity to unhelpfully try to fix things with a wrongheaded approached and wrong theology. Let us be careful of thinking we can simplistically fix every problem.

As we study chapter 11–14 together (though we will only consider a part of them in this study), we will do so under the following headings:

  1. Job Insulted (11:1–12)
  2. Job Indicted (11:13–20)
  3. Job’s Complaint (12:1–12)
  4. Job’s Conundrum (12:13–25)
  5. Job’s Contempt (13:1–5)
  6. Job’s Confused Confidence (13:6–14:22)

Job Insulted

The interaction opens with Zophar insulting Job:

Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said: “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right? Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? 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! For he is manifold in understanding.  Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.


“Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. If he passes through and imprisons and summons the court, who can turn him back? For he knows worthless men; when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it? But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man!”

(Job 11:1–12)

Commentators share a similar contempt for this man Zophar. Francis Anderson writes that Zophar is the “the least engaging of Job’s three friends. There is not a breath of compassion in his speech.” Elmer Smick adds that “he was ruthlessly judgmental.” David Atkinson notes that Zophar “was one of those tiresome people—probably just out of College!—who knows everything. As Robert Gordis says of him, ‘He never lets facts interfere with his theories.’”

Zophar aimed to “fix” his friend but only succeeded in putting him into a bigger fix. Essentially he merely jeered condemningly at his afflicted friend.

Job the Judged

Zophar accused Job of mocking God, along with the three friends, and yet nothing Job had said indicates this (vv. 1–3). He also accused Job of claiming to have flawless doctrine and to have lived a sinless life (v. 4), claims that Job never made. Rather, he confessed his confusion and his sinfulness (7:21).

Zophar concluded that Job was fortunate that God had not given to him all that he deserved (vv. 5–6). If Zophar was a Calvinist, he would certainly have been in the cage stage!

Be careful of assuming you know more than you know—either about the person you may be trying to help or about God. In fact, Zophar seems to have been guilty of the same thing of which he accused Job: claiming “perfect doctrine.”

Job the Jeered

In vv. 7–12, Zophar assumed the position of the know-it-all theologian exalting the greatness of God, not in order to stimulate devotion of God but (it seems) as a weapon to bludgeon and demean Job.

Job had, and would yet, acknowledge these very theological truths. Clearly, this was not his problem. Rather, his problem was that he believed this indescribable, inscrutable God had abandoned him—and he did not know why.

Zophar ended his theological assault with a terrible insult, implying that Job was a “worthless” and “stupid” sinner (vv. 11–12). It is not a stretch to say that Zophar was calling Job a jackass. Nice!

If you want to help someone, demeaning them is not the best way! Though sometimes there can be shock value in using straightforward words (as Jesus did in Matthew 16:23), this will only prove helpful in the context of humble compassion and truly holy conviction.

Finally, though Zophar’s theology was spot on, and would be creedally and confessionally commendable, nevertheless his theological correctness was misapplied and mistimed. Putting it another way, don’t use theology to shame those who are suffering. Though often abused, sometimes the truths sufferers need is that God is love and God is wise. This was proven at Calvary. Zophars unfortunately too often leave out the gospel in their theological arsenal.

Job Indicted

If the opening verses point to Job being jeered, 11:13–20 show Job jilted by his friends and, according to Zophar, rightly jilted—rejected—by God.

“If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. And you will feel secure, because there is hope; you will look around and take your rest in security. You will lie down, and none will make you afraid; many will court your favour. But the eyes of the wicked will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them, and their hope is to breathe their last.”

(Job 11:13–20)

Here, Christopher Ash points to Zophar (and his friends’) “system.” It is all so simple! God brings bliss to those who behave and mishap to those who misbehave. Zophar’s fundamental message is that “God has a wonderful plan for your life” (vv. 13–19)—but Job was missing it because of his  sin (v. 20).

The “system” is simple: Repent and God will owe you. If you do good, God will do you good. Zophar’s system was not much different than the Satan’s (1:10–11; 2:4–5). In other words, his system was utilitarian. It was about getting fromGod rather than giving to God. It was consumeristic. “Be faithful and God will fix you in such a way that you will forget your misery.” As if he would simply forget burying seven sons and three daughters!

My mother loves God and has served him for decades. At ninety years of age, she still has sadness as she remembers her first child, miscarried. Many a faithful, suffering saint would dispel Zophar’s simplistic system.

Job’s Complaint

Job responds to the verbal assault of Zophar from 12:1–14:22. From 12:1–13:19, he addresses Zophar (and his friends, the various “you” are mainly plural) and from 13:20–14:22, he addresses God. We will study his address to God next time.

Job begins by zinging Zophar. He lets him have it. He can give as good as he gets. His predicament, both at the mysterious hand of God and at the mistreating hand of his friends, is no laughing matter. Hence, he responds himself with some Zophar-like zeal.

Job’s Sarcasm

Job adopts a defensive stance in his response to being implicated for unconfessed transgression. Job, the mocked, becomes Job the mocker. It is understandable though perhaps not excusable.

Then Job answered and said: “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these? I am a laughingstock to my friends; I, who called to God and he answered me, a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock. In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip. The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their hand.”

(Job 12:1–6)

The word “people” refers to those who are noble, and Job sarcastically digs that these men are the sum of all wisdom. However, he claims that he also knows a thing or two about God, and about the system they proclaim.

Job argues, “I have sought a hearing with God (per your system) and yet he seems to ignore both my searching heart and my uplifted hands (see v.13). In fact, not only am I laughingstock to you all, I also feel that I am a cosmic joke to God. After all, the godless live in sinful ease and yet they live more securely than I do.” Job is confused over why the wicked prosper (see Psalm 73).

Job’s Seminary

The theme of these 12:7–12 verses is unarguably God’s sovereignty (v. 9). But there are two options concerning the interpretation of this passage. One, because the “you” is now singular, it is argued that Job is quoting his friends in their address to him. He therefore is saying, “You yourselves attest to nature and experience pointing to God’s absolute sovereignty. Hence quit trying to box God into your theological system. He cannot be controlled by your formulas.”

The second interpretation, which I favour, is that Job is himself attesting to what nature and experience have served as a “seminary” teaching him about God’s sovereignty. Job says that even the beasts and the plants can recognise that what he is experiencing is from the sovereign hand of God—without any cause from his side. He concludes, that “God’s sovereignty over human life should be as obvious as the relationship between the ear and words, between the mouth and food, and between wisdom and the aged” and that “apparently the friends have not understood what should be obvious” (Belcher).

Having been compared to a donkey (v. 12), perhaps with sarcasm Job implies that these “super wise of all history” are actually not even on the level of the wisdom of the beasts of the field! They certainly are not as wise as the “aged” (v. 12).

We can learn from this that though the doctrine of divine sovereignty does not answer all our questions, it does enable us to submit to God’s mystery.

Job’s Conundrum, 12:13-25

Job was a child of his age. His age embraced a system, a worldview of order. Hence the formulaic approach to God’s blessings and curses. But the chaos into which Job has been cast created a major conundrum. As 12:13–25 indicate, he wrestled with both the goodness and the unpredictability of God.

“With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding. If he tears down, none can rebuild; if he shuts a man in, none can open. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land. With him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his. He leads counsellors away stripped, and judges he makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings and binds a waistcloth on their hips. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows the mighty. He deprives of speech those who are trusted and takes away the discernment of the elders. He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong. He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light. He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.”

(Job 12:13–25)

In each of these verses, the conclusion is not what Job would have suspected, for they speak of God’s destructive use of his sovereign power. God is both inapprehensible and unpredictable. He finds God to be scary.

Job views this scary unpredictability in nature (vv. 13–15), in human leadership (vv. 16–21), in the heavens (v. 22), and amongst nations throughout history (vv. 23–25). As we saw previously, he is learning that God is in control, that he cannot control him. This leaves him terrified. His friends need this fear of the Lord as well. This is what will lead to true wisdom (28:28).

We must appreciate that God is not tame). In the Chronicles of Narnia, when confronted by the idea of Aslan, the lion, who is a picture of the Lord Jesus, Lucy asks, “Is he safe?” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Mr. Tumnus adds, “He’s wild, you know. Not a tame lion.”

We would do well, in our afflictions and in our counselling to be reminded that God is sovereign and good, but he is not tame. This will compel us to adopt a posture of submission.

Job’s Contempt

Job is nearly finished addressing Zophar and the other two friends in this first round of speeches. It is clear that his exasperation with them is growing. It belches forth in 13:1–5.

“Behold, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!”

(Job 13:1–5)

Job tells them that he is at least as observant and theologically astute as they are and, on that point, he desires an audience with God (v. 3; see chapter 9). Though he is confused, he is nevertheless confident that a just God will hear him. But as for these friends, well, that’s an entirely different matter!

Job has zero confidence in their ability to truly help him. They are those who speak superficially and deceitfully (v. 4). They are like the white-washed Pharisees of Jesus’ day: plenty of theology and yet useless to those in need (Matthew 9:36–38).

They are useless physicians. Sure, they can discern affliction, but they are clueless about how to help. They claim to be specialists, yet they don’t seem to even know the basics. They are frauds, malpractising quacks, killing the patient.

Job’s sarcasm overflows when he wishes for them to “keep silent” (v. 5). In the words of Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Or as Mark Twain said, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”

So, what can take away from this passage?


As we draw our time in this text to a close, let me end with a few brief points of application.

First, don’t exasperate those suffering. “The only way Zophar knows to defend God’s justice is to condemn Job. It is hard to have a conversation with someone who does not know how to listen, who always wants to correct you, and who thinks he knows what God is doing in your life” (Belcher). Those who are afflicted are often emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. Be careful that you do not exhaust them further. Be a good listener and that will help you to be a better counsellor. Beware of exasperating those suffering through simplistic exhortations (especially when you have not suffered).

Second, don’t exaggerate your system. That is, be careful not to overpromise. Be sure to rightly divide the word of truth. Be careful of boxing in God to the way you think it “must be.” Therefore, be careful about what and from whom you are learning. God’s plan for your or “their” life may not be as “wonderful” as you predict. David Mckenna says it well

May all who suffer be spared the comfort of Zophar. To feel no compassion for pain, to pretend to know the “secret” of suffering, to claim the inside knowledge of the mystery of God, to reduce the relationship between God and man into a ritual, and to hold out glossy and unrealistic hopes for righteousness—Zophar will either destroy the final shreds of Job’s faith or deepen the pain of his suffering.

Third, don’t exaggerate your skill (your ability to “fix” things). There are a whole lot of situations that you and I cannot fix. Don’t oversell your ability. Some things will never be fixed until Jesus Christ returns. Beware of creating expectations that will only disappoint in the end.

Fourth, and finally, do extend your sensitivity. Sit with the suffering. Lament both with and for the suffering. Be available for the suffering. Love them, listen to them, learn with them, and know when and what to speak to them.