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108. Job 11:1-6, Less Than You Deserve
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 O 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.
We may usefully divide Zophar’s speech as follows:
Job 11:1-6, Less Than You Deserve
Job 11:7-12, God is Smarter than You, Job
Job 11:13-20, Hope for the Future
When Zophar asks whether a “multitude of words” should go unanswered (v 2), he uses the phrase rob debarim lo (“many words not. . .”). The identical phrase appears in Proverbs 10:19 but with an ethical conclusion. There the author says, “In a multitude of words sin is not lacking” (the first three Hebrew words are also rob debarim lo). Maybe the reason why a multitude of Job’s words had to be answered is that the tradition tells Zophar that a multitude of words brings sin with it. The second half of Proverbs 10:19 also echoes Job 11:2. The phrase of Proverbs 10:19, “But the one who restrains lips (saphah) is wise,” no doubt stands behind Zophar’s words, “Should one full of lips/talk (saphah) be vindicated?” (11:2) Rather than Zophar seeing Job as being able to talk himself into vindication, Zohpar sees Job’s profusion of words as evidence of his sin. Zophar also uses words that Job used to describe his lawsuit in Job 9: tsadeq (“to be justified”; 9:2) and anah (9:3, 14, 15, 16).Rather than waiting for God to answer Job, Zophar will step in and aid the process. Now that he has grounded his response to Job theologically and legally, Zophar can proceed.
At first glance, verse 3 seems simply to express a parallel idea to 11:2, though with more interesting words. Zophar chides Job for “empty talk/idle boasts/babble” (bad) which has made men shut up (charash means “to hold one’s peace/stay silent”). Job has been mocking (laag) with no one stepping forward to “humiliate/rebuke/make him ashamed” (kalam). This implies that Zophar thinks that Eliphaz and Bildad have been ineffective in handling Job.
Though individual word studies may be useful, what is more impressive here is Zophar’s reliance on another Proverb in shaping his response to Job. The Book of Proverbs deals in a seemingly contradictory but ultimately thoughtful way with the difficult subject of whether or not one should answer a fool or just let him/her keep prattling on. Proverbs 26:4-5 has:
“Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also seem like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he becomes wise in his own eyes.”
The dilemma is this: if one lets a fool just monopolize the conversation, spewing out foolish things without contradiction, the fool becomes emboldened and thinks of the self as wise. And sometimes those sitting around listening to the fool might feel themselves implicated in the foolishness. So, Zophar explores, with the help of thoughts continued in Israel’s wisdom tradition, the joint themes of Job’s foolishness and wordiness.
Note that Job has monopolized the conversation so far, with 134 verses in Chapters 3, 6-7, and 9-10. The friends have had a total of 70 verses. The real fear is that Job will continue to spew his bad (5x, “empty talk/empty boasting”) and become wise in his own eyes. That the problem of becoming “wise in one’s own eyes” becomes a problem for Zophar can be seen with his preoccupation with the divine “wisdom” in verse 6 and the “deep things/profundities of God” in verses 7-8. The reason God needs to give Job a lesson in wisdom is to forestall Job’s feeling that all his words have given him wisdom. Interestingly enough, most scholars who read Job’s words up until this point are convinced that they possess a rare poetic genius. Thus, Zophar’s characterization of them here as “empty” or “idle” talk heightens an irony that is developing. Zophar needs to respond to Job lest Job think of himself as wise even though Job has delivered the most searching critique of God penned in the Bible. When words are being considered, there is no objective standard of worth or value. What may seem to us or to Job as eloquent and telling, might seem to the beleaguered friends as arrogant prattle.
Thus, Zophar has to speak. He will not only defend God’s honor in his words; he is most interested in making sure that Job, whom he thinks is uttering foolish words, will not think of himself as wise.