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110. Job 11:7-12, God is Smarter than You, Job

 

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.

 

In this passage Zophar continues to develop the ideas of verses 5-6—where he talked about the divine wisdom and the hidden things of God. Yet, even though he is able to wax eloquent on that subject for four or five verses in this section, the resentment wells up in him again, and he can’t resist making another dig against Job in verse 12, even though that proverbial-like sentence has resisted clear translation for more than 2000 years.

 

We recall that at a corresponding point in their speeches Eliphaz appealed to a scary night vision that brought him insight (4:12-16) and Bildad spoke with glowing admiration of the traditions of the elders (8:8-10). But Zophar here simply refers again to the deep things of God. It is not simply a touching subject but an alluring one. Lest we get lost in the deep things, however, we ought to note the twofold use of the verb matsa (the common verb for “find”) in verse 7. The issue will not simply be about God’s greatness and extent but about whether a human can “find” these things. Zophar gives the clear impression that Job (and others) are unable to “find” the divine things unaided. We are totally entranced. Maybe Zophar will provide a key to these deep things.  

 

Zophar’s words in verse 7 may have had a deeper effect on Job than Job initially realized. Later, in 23:3, when Job is putting together his (legal) case against God, Job expresses his frustration in words that could have been lifted from Zophar: “Oh that I knew where I could find him (God; using the same verb matsa as in 11:7 and the same expression for longing as in 11:5, miy-yitten, “Oh that God would give”). Job will search in all directions for God (23:9), a thought that probably responds to Zophar’s encouragement to see God as unlimited in extent (11:8-9).      

 

In 11:7, then, Zophar has returned to his “A” game after delivering the harsh words of 11:6b. But we ought to take care in translating his question in verse 7,

 

     "Can you, by searching diligently, find God?  Or, the very limits/end of God, can you find?” 

 

The noun for searching diligently is cheqer, a word only appearing 12x in the Bible, seven of which are in Job. Job is certainly the book of “searching out.” Eliphaz had first used the noun cheqer in 5:9 when he talked about the wonderful and unsearchable (eyn cheqer) things of God. Its verb form is chaqar, the word used triumphantly by Eliphaz in 5:27 when he affirmed that everything he said was well “searched out.” Perhaps wanting to make sure that we don’t lose the force of cheqer as a noun, Seow here translates it as “profundity,” so that his rendering of the question is, “Can you discover the profundity of God. . .?”

 

We are intrigued with the possibility of discovering for ourselves these “things searched out/profundities” (called the “deep things” of God in the NRSV). In the second half of the verse,  Zophar refers to these “searched out” things as the taklith of God (v 7). Taklith only appears 5x in the Bible, three of which are in Job. Derived from the common verb kalah, which means to be complete or come to an end, the noun taklith suggests a limit or boundary or something in the utmost reaches of a physical or psychological space. By using the striking vocabulary of searching out and utmost limits and connecting this to God, Zophar shows that he isn’t simply a narrow legalist, but one who himself has pondered the issues of God’s deep things. His fear seems to be that Job’s straitened circumstances have hindered, rather than enhanced, his ability to recognize the boundaries of God.   

 

But rather than providing Job a road map on how to discover these deep things/boundaries for himself, Zophar will continue his mysterious language about the inaccessibility and greatness of God (vv 8-9):        

 

            “It is high as the heavens; what shall you do? It is deeper than Sheol; what

            do you know?  Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”

 

Note that Zophar will now try to describe the unlimited character of the divine wisdom. He first speaks of its heights, then of its depths, then of its length, and finally of its breadth. Zophar stretches us to our imaginative limits to try to conceive of such a boundless God. The two questions in verse 8 are really meant to show Job his smallness and limitations. “What shall you do?” means, ‘You can’t get to it.’ We might think that the question is out of place or irrelevant, until we realize that Job had asked a question, “What do you do?” in 9:12 and directed it to God. God snatches away; who can say to God, in an accusing tone, “What are you doing?” (9:12). Zophar is answering that small impertinence by showing that the question really should be turned back on Job, i.e., what will you do, Job, when considering the divine vastness?

 

The phrase “high as the heavens” (sometimes rendered “higher than heavens”) was so suggestive that Eliphaz will pick up on it and expanded on it in 22:12, “Is not God in the height of heavens/higher than the heavens? God sees the heads/tops of the stars, how high they really are!” In Job 22 Eliphaz argues for the omniscience of God. . .'if God is so high and can survey the stars from the other side of them, how much more can he understand everything about you, Job?' But Zophar uses the phrase to stress God’s inaccessibility.  

 

The thought is developed in verse 9, but here Zophar speaks of the length and breadth, so to speak, of God. When he says “longer than the earth,” he uses the word arok, derived from the verb arak, “to be prolonged.” Arak plays a central role in Israel’s theology. Obedience to the commandments of God assures that “your days will be long/prolonged/stretched out (arak) in the land.” (Exodus 20:12; cf Deuteronomy 4:40). Stretched out more than the earth is a fitting way to complement the height and depth of God’s limits. Finally, it is “wider” (rachab) than the sea. When Isaac finally found a place, open and distant from potential enemies, he named it Rehoboth, meaning “broad space,” a place where he could live his life in peace.  So vast is Zophar’s God. You wonder how God could have any problem with this description, even though he scores the three friends for “not speaking right” about God in 42:7, 8. While writing these paragraphs I couldn’t get out of my mind the rhythmic lines of the African-American classic, “Rock-a My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”  Though online versions differ, the last verse usually is:

 

            “So high, can’t get over it

            So wide, can’t get round it

            So deep, can’t get under it

            O rock-a my soul. . .”

 

Scriptural writers like to play with the concepts of the heights and depths of God because these ideas stretch our imagination almost to the breaking point. Isaiah says, 

 

     “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord. For as the        heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your        thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  

 

Yet, Scripture also points to the way that this distance can be bridged:  

 

      “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things           to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate        us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord," Romans 8:38-39.    

 

Then, when Moses talked about not being afraid that the commands of God are too inaccessible or too hard for people, he says, 

 

      “This commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you nor is it too far 

      away.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for                       us. . .Neither is it beyond the sea. . .No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your             heart for you to observe,” Deuteronomy 30:11-14.

 

For Zophar, however, the inaccessibility of God ought to humble Job, to make him realize his need for God and, ultimately “direct your heart rightly (and) stretch out your hands toward him” (11:13).  Before we get there, however, Zophar has a few more things to say about God. Not only is God vast; God can do whatever the divine wants.