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256. Job 27, Introduction
Job 27 is perhaps the hardest chapter of Job to understand in its current form. That is, it uniquely suggests that the same person as just spoke continues to speak but is re-identified at the beginning of the speech. In every other speech of Job that spans two or more chapters (6-7; 9-10; 12-14; 16-17), the second chapter just continues without re-identifying the speaker. Then, it begins with a statement we haven’t seen previously where Job “takes up his proverbial speech” (27:1). Third, its theology, especially verses 13-23, suggests the certainty of judgment on the wicked, which is a doctrine Job has eloquently questioned just a few chapters earlier (Job 21). We have no reason to think anything has happened in between to make him reaffirm this aspect of the traditional theology. Fourth, by attributing the entire chapter to Job, and not giving a third speech to Zophar, the author has created an incomplete and unbalanced Third Cycle of speeches.
Many have been the attempts to address these problems. Some scholars figuratively throw up their hands and say that the literary breakdown in the Third Cycle seems to reflect the communication breakdown between Job and the friends. Though this may be true, it doesn’t go far in helping us sort out any of the problems listed above. Figuratively saying, “It is just a mess” may carry some weight, but not much.
Though I have until now defended the traditional attributions for the speeches (thus arguing that Job 25 is Bildad’s and Job 26 is Job’s), I don’t believe that strategy works in Job 27. I will present my case by contrasting it with Clines, one of the leading expositors of Job in our generation. He sees 27:1-6 as correctly attributed to Job, but then has Zophar speaking verses 7-10. Job again speaks in verses 11-12, with Zophar concluding in verses 13-23. He also pulls in a section attributed to Job (24:18-24) and puts it in Zophar’s mouth. We see that suggestions like this, regardless of how eloquently presented, will not garner wide praise. It is just too difficult to imagine such a complex, and distorted, editorial process standing behind Job 27.
My suggestion is simpler, though it also “finds” a third speech of Zophar in Job 27. Thus, I will ultimately argue that we have a complete Third Cycle, making the cycles nine (3-11), nine (12-20) and seven (21-27) chapters in length. Though my argument is simpler, it contains a twist. I see 27:1-10 as spoken by Job, completing his words in Job 26. Then, I see Zophar figuratively trying to “grab the mike” in order to say verses 11-12. Job may also be saying these verses. Thus, these two verses might even be like an antiphonal chant, with Zophar speaking verse 11 and Job responding with verse 12. That is, I am not sure how to characterize the speakers in verses 11-12 other than to say that the words could fit either or both.
But then things change in verse 13. Verses 13-23 are Zophar’s words. Perhaps he had even written them down, so to speak, just to make sure that his last words weren’t misstated. Yet, I want to take seriously the fact that the Book of Job attributes these verses to Job. How can that be? My suggestion is to see both Job and Zophar speaking verses 13-23. Job is “looking over Zophar’s shoulder” as Zophar speaks/reads his words in a genuine and forthright fashion, but Job will speak the words in a mocking fashion. Thus, Job is literally “speaking over” Zophar, with both saying the same words but it is attributed to Job, perhaps, because Job is speaking louder. The entire speech is attributed to Job because his voice may be more forceful but, in fact, the words and theology of verses 13-23 are seriously spoken by Zophar.
Read in this light, then, Job 27:13-23 serves a dual function. It allows Zophar to speak his final words, words of judgment on the wicked that are consistent with his earlier speeches in chapters 11 and 20. But it also allows Job, through his taunting of Zophar, actually to taunt God. If we can accept this, it would be a second indication that Job may be trying to lure or bait God into responding. I read 26:14 as possibly suggesting this, also. That is, if God will not respond to Job by recognizing any of Job’s reasonable forms of request earlier in the book, perhaps some mockery will cause God to spring into action. By arguing this way, I have both preserved the “correctness” of the attribution of Job 27 to Job and have “discovered” Zophar’s third speech, a speech that will neatly tie up the Third Cycle.
Before moving to our exposition of Job’s words in 27:1-6, it might be helpful very briefly to state the flow of Job’s argument in the last several chapters. Job had, in Job 16-17; 19 described his pain as well as his desire for vindication. Yet, the wicked are prospering and God seems to do nothing about it (21). Job wanted to approach God but can’t find God (23). The heartbreaking thing about it, however, is that wicked act with impunity (24). God is great, and perhaps even angry, but God has done nothing to solve all these problems (26). The best thing Job can do is to maintain his own innocence for the whole world to hear (27:1-6).