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107. Job 11, Enter Zophar

 

Zophar is the third friend who speaks. We don’t know his state of mind while waiting his turn to speak to Job, but we can infer from his words that Job’s words offended him. Job had impugned God’s sense of justice, had complained about life’s futility, had called out the friends for their inability to show him how he had sinned in this instance. Job believes he is a blameless person who has done nothing meriting the pain he now faces. In addition, Job has accused God of being the angry one, angry since the beginning of time. Though we may be tempted to see the friends as the intransigent ones, in fact Job has done a lot to alienate them even before Zophar speaks.

 

Zophar also feels that the friends have not adequately answered Job’s words. Neither of them has directly placed blame for the situation where Zophar feels it belongs—on Job’s doorstep. That is, Zophar will argue that Job has sinned in this instance. Eliphaz tiptoed around the issue, arguing only that Job’s distress might be the disciplining hand of God (5:17-27); Bildad suggested that the great turmoil Job faced may have been provoked by his children’s behavior (8:4). Zophar has to correct these omissions by setting the record straight: that God has “forgotten” a bit of Job’s sin (11:6). God has exacted less of Job than Job actually deserves.  

 

While agreeing with Bildad and Eliphaz that Job has a potentially bright future, Zophar grounds this hope neither in a mystical night vision (Eliphaz) or the traditions of the elders (Bildad).  Zophar just says that if Job “establishes” his heart (v 13) and extends his hands toward God, then he shall experience a reversal. There is no mention of God’s actually “saving” Job, though Zophar may have assumed that since his compatriots spoke so eloquently on that subject, there was no question that God was the one to save. Zophar also differs from the others in the viciousness of his attack in his early words. Whereas Eliphaz chided and “tested” (nasah; 4:2) Job, and Bildad quite baldly suggested that Job’s children brought their own destruction upon themselves (8:4), Zophar will go so far as to suggest that Job has received less than his sins warranted (11:6). While all three friends are representatives of the standard wisdom tradition (as found in Proverbs), Zophar’s seeming dependence in 11:2-6 on specific verses or modes of argumentation in Proverbs shows that the tradition is a living reality for him.