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109. Job 11:4-6, Zophar Continues

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.


Now that Zophar has thoroughly laid out his method in verses 2-3, he gets to the nub of his complaint against Job in verse 4.


    “For you say, ‘Pure is my doctrine; and I am clean in your eyes."


Most translations render the word for doctrine (leqach) as “conduct,” though we lose any connection of leqach to the wisdom/teaching tradition of Israel by so doing.  Leqach appears 9x in the Bible, six of which are in Proverbs. The clearest connection with Job 11:4 is Proverbs 4:2, “For I give you good doctrine (leqach); do not forsake my law.”  


Job has never said that either his “doctrine” or “conduct” was “pure” (zak), though in 16:17 he will talk about his prayer being zak. Elihu brings the same charge against Job in 33:9, where he alleges that Job has said, “I am pure (zak) and without transgression” (beli pasha). Bildad said that if Job was pure (zak) and upright (yashar), all would be well (8:6). In contrast, Job has asserted that he is tam (9:21).  Such a statement could no doubt have been heard by Zophar as an appeal to Job’s purity. So, Zophar doesn’t seem to be far from the mark here. Job might even wryly retort that he was “pure” or “clean”—before God thrust him into the mud (9:30-31)!  

The second half of the verse uses another word for purity or cleanliness: barBar only appears 7x in the Bible, with the most memorable usage in Psalm 19:8, “The Law of the Lord is pure (bar), enlightening the eyes.” The verb barar appears more frequently (18x), and can mean to be “chosen” or to be “clean.” Though many have argued that Zophar is Job’s most unsympathetic critic, he is the only one to date who has actually tried to quote Job. The words aren’t too far off; Job really can’t disagree with Zophar’s assessment in verse 4.     


Once we understand Zophar as a person steeped in the wisdom tradition, and that his desire to answer Job is driven by a desire that Job gain wisdom, the words of verses 5-6 neatly fall into place. Zophar expresses his desire that God would now speak to Job and lead Job into the hidden things of wisdom. Verse 5 provides minor translation challenges, but can be rendered:


    “But oh that God would give you a word/piece of the divine mind, and would open his lips with          you.”


The vehemence of the verse is captured in the double adverbs or adverbial clauses that begin the sentence. “Oh that, would that. . .!” is the tone of them. Zophar considers what he has to say a matter of the greatest urgency. Several translations talk about God opening the divine lips against Job, but the proposition im is ambiguous (it can mean with or against or unto or near/by). We don’t know if these words are said in a hostile or friendly spirit, and maybe Zophar himself is confused, because verse 6 contains both seemingly gentle and hostile elements:


    “And (that God would) declare to you the deep/hidden things of wisdom, how they are                       manifold, doubling success!  But know this, that God has forgotten some of your sin.”  


After reading these shocking words that end this passage, we want to backtrack and consider all of Zophar’s words from that perspective. Zophar’s churlish point in verse 6 is that God is really letting Job off the hook rather lightly. Only a pent-up hostility and faux graciousness in the first few verses can explain that kind of thought. No doubt Job’s words in his three earlier speeches hit Zophar with a kind of directness and arrogance that required him to speak so mercilessly. 


I have often observed the phenomenon among certain religious groups that if one questions a seemingly basic tenet of the faith, even trying to hold it up to rather neutral scrutiny, that many can take the question as a direct assault on the structure of their hopes and an implicit criticism of their lives. This probably extends far beyond the realm of faith—any kind of questioning of basic or sacred principles, or seemingly unquestionable axioms, can often be taken by the upholders of those principles as tantamount to a slashing attack not only the principle, but on those who hold the principle dearly. Thus, the questioner can often be treated with disregard, disrespect and utter loathing while in his/her mind, s/he was just raising a rather innocent question.


Zophar’s vitriolic response to Job at the end of verse 6 is best understood in this light. In Zophar’s mind, Job was not just holding up basic principles for examination (i.e., Is God really just?); he was attacking the God of the Covenant and all that really made life meaningful. Though one may try to contain one’s disdain and resentment, it will bubble to the surface pretty quickly. Thus, Zophar’s response, which seemingly started by considering Job as a fool in need of instruction, quickly degenerates into looking at Job as deserving even more pain than he has received. Direct hits can bring forth that kind of extreme response.


Yet, we ought to pause on verses 5-6 to unpack some of its language, even if we now know where this is heading. Just as I argued that Job’s language in 10:7-8 encouraged us to see that passage as a “study in hands,” so the appearance of the word for “lip/speech” (saphah) in 11:2, 5 makes this little section a “study in lips.” Zophar asks indignantly whether a man “full of lips” shall be justified (v 2); what Job needs instead is that God would open the divine “lips” (v 5). Shut your lips, Job, and listen to God’s lips. That is the tone of verse 5.  


But verse 6 makes us pause because Zophar expresses so beautifully a rather profound thought in the first half of the verse—that God would declare to Job the “hidden things” of wisdom. The word taalumah is rare, occurring only twice more, but always translated as something that is hidden or secret.  For example, Psalm 44:21 says that he (God) knows the secrets/hidden things (taalumah) of the heart. The word is derived from a 28x-appearing verb alam, which almost unambiguously means “to hide” (the verb appears three times in Job). 


Zophar fascinates us because he suggests that there are dimensions of the religious life that only God might open to us, that perhaps aren’t available in the normal course of living. Such a thought—that wisdom is more like a deep well, full of life-giving water, than of a sealed off and fully mastered tradition, is intriguing. While we are pondering this point, Zophar tells us that this wisdom (chakam) is manifold leading to success. The phrase is kiphlayim letushiyyah, and literally means “doubled success” or “doubled sound wisdom.” Tushiyyah appears only 11x in the Bible, but nine of these are either in Job or Proverbs, making it also a wisdom tradition word. It is probably best rendered “sound wisdom” in all of its four appearances in Proverbs (2:7; 3:21; 8:14; 18:1), but it leans towards a meaning of “success” in Job 5:12. Perhaps this is a distinction without much of a difference. God’s bringing Job into the deep things of wisdom will lead to multiplied success and deepened understanding.  


One wonders whether God actually is flattered by Zophar’s words and, in response, will secretly take a page from Zophar’s playbook when He, for more than 100 verses in Job 38-41, speaks of the deep or hidden things of God, things that Job doesn’t know. Zophar’s prayer, that God would lead Job into this kind of wisdom, may be seen to have its fulfillment in that section. That God would so candidly fulfill Zophar’s wish expressed in 11:6 is all the more astonishing given God’s summary dismissal of the friends’ advice in 42:7-8, as not having spoken “right” of God. Much is happening in the words of 42:7-8 that can’t be now clarified. Suffice it to say that God’s own agenda in 42:7-8 may lead Him to speak his hurried words and oversimplify the discussion of the earlier parts of the book.


As mentioned above, I think that Zophar exploded in verse 6b because he couldn’t hold his resentment back any longer. He sees that it will take a while for God to get around to teaching Job sound wisdom, and so he bursts: ‘You’ve received less than you deserve.’ The verb in verse 6b that captures Zophar’s vehemence is the 6x-appearing nashah, elsewhere rendered as “forget” (Genesis 41:51; Job 39:17; Isaiah 44:21; Jeremiah 23:29; Lamentations 3:17).  God has “forgotten” some of Job’s “sin/guilt” (the common word avon). But even though he has just dropped a theological bomb on Job, Zophar doesn’t shut up right away. He quickly recovers, and then plunges on in verses 7-12.

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