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259. Job 27:11-12, Fighting for the Microphone

    

11 “I will instruct you in the power of God;

What is with the Almighty I will not conceal.

12 Behold, all of you have seen it;

Why then do you act foolishly?

 

Though I argued that verses 7-10 were spoken by Job, I recognized the weight of the opposite argument (i.e., attributing them to Zophar). If it was difficult to come to a firm conclusion on verses 7-10, verses 11-12 present an even harder problem. Because of the double appearance of the second person plural pronoun “you” in verse 12, it makes most sense if Job utters it. Yet, verse 11 probably is most easily understood if it is attributed to Zophar. It seems that verse 11 might be  the opening lines of his third speech. He, as well as the other friends, have been offended by Job’s antics and his words. Job not only needs to be brought down a peg in his attitude but needs to have his concepts straightened out.That is the friends’ approach.  

 

My way of sorting out the dilemma is to see Job and Zophar, as it were, struggling for the microphone here, each trying to get his line in before the other speaks. Zophar eventually will get to speak his final words in verses 13-23 (see argument below), but I think verse 11 makes most sense if it is Zophar’s, while verse 12, because of the plural “you’s” is Job’s. It means that the dialogue is starting to get out of control, a thought confirmed when we see Job 28 as a “time out” in the conversation. Each side needs to take a break.  

 

We can see the opening words of verse 11 (“I will teach you. . .”) as a direct response to Job’s earlier pleading with the friends. Job had said, “Teach me, and I will be silent” (6:24). Zophar is now directly responding: “I will teach you. . .”

 

What does Zophar have to teach in verse 11?  The language is quite generic, though that hasn’t stopped scholars from trying to make it precise.  Zophar will 

 

    “teach you with/about the hand of God; what is with the Almighty I will not conceal."  

 

Yet there is a problem with my thesis. The “you” of verse 11 is also in the plural. Maybe, adumbrating my approach to verses 13-23, both are speaking these words, with the plural “you” capturing Job’s intent. In any case, teaching about the “hand” of God and “what is with” God isn’t particularly precise. Clines has read the first as the “power” of God and the latter as the “purpose” of the Almighty. Since the lesson Zophar (or Job) wants to teach isn’t in these introductory words, I have no difficulty with trying to make more precise the “hand” of God or “what is with” the Almighty.  

 

Then, I see Job struggling to get in his words in verse 12:

 

    “Lo, you yourselves (plural), all of you (plural) have seen them (plural); why then do you vainly

     speak such empty things?”

 

The last phrase, fairly arresting, is literally “You are empty with respect to emptiness.” Both the noun hebel (73x, “vanity, idols, breath, vapor, empty”) and its related verb habal (5x, “to act emptily, become vain”) appear together. Habal appears only here in Job, but the double use of the verb and noun, as here, also appears in Jeremiah 2:5.  That verse presents an accusation of the Lord against the House of Judah. God asks,

 

    “What unrighteousness (evel, 53x, but disproportionately in Job—12x) have your fathers found

    in me that they went so far away from me?  They walked after empty things (hebel) and they

    become nothing/vain (habal).” 

 

Hebel has previously appeared 3x in Job, all on the lips of Job. In 7:16 he complained that his days were a mere breath; in 9:29 the word was used in the phrase “toiling in vain”; in 21:34 Job used it to describe the friends vain or empty attempt to comfort him. Thus, the combination of the plural “you’s” as well as the use of “vanity” language suggests that Job speaks these words. Actually the power of verses 11-12 may be greatest if we see Zophar as saying, “Let me teach you. . .” but Job not letting him continue because “you vainly speak empty things.” You wonder if they ever got close to fisticuffs.