We have heard from Eliphaz and Bildad, and we have heard the reply of Job to each of these men. We know that there is one more friend who joins in these speeches, and we also know something about the downward trend. As we come now to Zophar the Naamathite, we need to brace ourselves for a difficult and subtle attack against this great suffering servant of the Lord.
We have been able to mine gems from the words of Job, words that he himself later seems to regret. Wise men are even able to learn from fools, and Job is no fool. Yet Zophar says that Job’s speeches are babble, the speech of a mocker, and simply wasted words. Again we are reminded that the Lord Himself, at the conclusion to this book, will say concerning the three friends of Job, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
Job is already, at least in part, aware of the ridiculousness of his desire to defend himself in the face of the Almighty. He knows that he could not stand in such a situation. Yet Zophar will use this occasion to press upon Job what this good man knows far better than Zophar. The Lord is wise. His knowledge is beyond us. God is merciful. These things Job knows. He knows that he cannot actually compete with Almighty God in any contest that could be imagined, but this man who regularly sacrificed on behalf of his children that they might be forgiven by God, now speaks out of his horrible loss because he cannot understand what God has done. Do not tell him that God is beyond his understanding. That is what Job has been saying, though his way of expressing himself may not seem polite to someone who is not facing his pain. He says that he cannot understand God, and he calls out to Him in the strongest way, not as a detached observer, but as a crushed lover of the One who gives life and who takes it away.
Yet Zophar says more than this. He says that God knows worthless men. What is his point? Why is Zophar talking about worthless men? Is Job worthless? Is that the answer to the deep questions of the Lord’s discipline of those He loves? Is that the message behind the mystery of the cross of Christ? Are men just worthless workers of iniquity, just like stupid donkeys? Is our problem that we just will not accept how worthless we are?
This doctrine of Zophar is not biblical. It certainly does not deal rightly with the account of our creation in the image of God with dominion over the creatures in a world that was very good. It does not even do justice to the account of the fall, when God announced not only our judgment, but also our rescue at great cost to a certain Seed of the woman who would come one day to crush the head of the serpent. It certainly is not a correct understanding of the birth and death of Jesus Christ, since God gave His one and only Son for our salvation. Man is not a worthless being. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and among all men, Job is surely one of the greatest. Zophar talks of man’s worthlessness in the context of a great man’s extreme suffering. This is surely not the right message to bring healing and hope to the downcast.
Job is not a stupid man, nor a man that others should refer to as a person of iniquity. It may seem humble to talk about the depravity of someone this way, but the context of Zophar’s words must be examined. Who is speaking? To whom is he speaking? How are his words likely to be received? What is going on in the life of the person to whom he is speaking? Isn’t it natural to assume that Job will get Zophar’s point, a point that is not all that hard to figure out? Something like this: Zophar is able to correct Job in his evident cursed state, as the worthless man that he apparently is, a man exposed as stupid and full of iniquity by the very troubles that he has faced. Zophar can administer the necessary correction to the secretly ignorant and immoral Job and set him on a path that will lead to healing and prosperity, if only Job will listen and put away all his sinful behavior, of which there is no outward evidence.
This argument is a complete denial of everything that everyone knew about Job. When we have an inkling that we know something about a suffering person, and yet we have no proof, we too quickly place ourselves in the posture of God, who alone knows the heart. What did people plainly know about Job? What was Job’s past, the evidence that men really did know? How did he raise his family? How did he treat the poor and the weak? Was he a man of powerful love? Was he someone sought after for truth and wisdom? Yes, to all of these questions.
What about Jesus, then, the suffering Servant of the Lord, dying on a cross? Was He a genuinely righteous man? Was His teaching true? Were His works of healing real? Did He give sight to a blind man? Did He successfully call Lazarus out of the tomb? Was He good in all His ways and merciful to those in need? Did anyone have a right to instruct Him when He was dying on the cross for us? Yet even Peter thought that the cross was a bad idea, and no one seemed to understand why Jesus had to suffer. But now we see that He died for people who we too often judge to be worthless. If we will see our Savior rightly, we will begin to measure the worth of a redeemed human being in light of the depth of what it cost to save him. He has saved us. We are not worthless. Through Him we have found hope that goes beyond our final breath.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
God of Hosts, how can we stand the speeches of men in a day of deep trouble? We know that You are the Almighty God. Will righteous men be called stupid and wicked when they are facing crippling misery? The encouragement of lesser men who presume to correct their superiors is a dreadful burden. They have little of any worth to say to a troubled soul. Bring us through a season of dreadful trial by Your saving love.