Now if you would please take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me back to the book of Job to Job chapter 11 on page 423. We are returning to Job after having been away for a few, several weeks now, sitting under David Felker’s wonderful ministry to us for which I am sure, like me, you are immensely grateful. But we’re back tonight in our ongoing studies in the book of Job. And really, we are concluding the first round of exchanges between Job and his three friends. You will remember Job’s three, so-called “friends” – though with friends like these, right, who needs enemies? Eliphaz, Bildad, and now tonight, Zophar.
And you remember the situation. Job has become the object of Satan’s attacks under the mysterious permission of the sovereign Lord. His children are dead, his wife has deserted him, his home and his business lie in ruins, his health has collapsed; he’s left sitting in the ashes of his former life, mourning and pouring out his confusion before God as he scrapes the sores on his skin with broken potsherds. And along come, right at that point, at what looks like the lowest possible moment, along come his three friends to help him descend just a little further with their so-called “advice.”
And here in chapter 11, we are introduced to the perspective of Zophar, the Naamathite. This is the third of Job’s friends. He accuses Job of arrogance. And like Eliphaz and Bildad before him, he calls upon Job to repent. If only Job would repent, then everything would return to normal. And then we’ll see in chapters 12 through 14, Job responds. And as we’ve seen already, Job’s response is filled with sorrow and hurt at his friends’ treatment of him. And we’re going to see Job as he responds to Zophar not only rebuke and correct Zophar, but to turn to the Lord and to cry out to Him for help and for deliverance. And nestled in the middle of Job’s response, we will see one of those marvelous places in the book of Job where he expresses confidence about eternity, about life after death. Here are one of the adumbrations of resurrection, so appropriate for this Easter Sunday and so helpful to us this side of the empty tomb to be reminded of.
And all we intend to do tonight is to look first at Zophar and his wounding, painful comments to Job, and then we’ll consider Job’s response. Of necessity, we’re working somewhat with summary here so that we can see the big picture. And because of constraints of time, we won’t be able to read all of chapters 11 through 14. And so I want us to read together chapter 11 but do have your Bibles open and keep them open as we work our way through the material in these chapters from 11 through 14; page 423 if you’re using one of the church Bibles. Before we read the Word of God, however, it’s appropriate for us, isn’t it, to call out to Him to help us by the illumination of the Holy Spirit that we may receive and rest upon Christ as He comes to us and speaks to us in His holy Word. So let’s pray together.
Our Father, we love You and we are so grateful that You speak to Your children in holy Scripture, that You do not leave us groping in the dark for answers. But You say to us, we hear a voice behind us saying in our ear, “This is the way. Walk in it.” So would You, by the gracious work of Your Spirit again tonight, give us ears to hear what Your Spirit says to the Church. All those whom You have gathered here are here for a reason, for this moment, to hear these words in our circumstances. And so we look to You with expectation, that You would deal with us by Your grace, wield Your Word and cause it to bear much fruit in our lives, and equip us by it that we may be a blessing to others. That the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted, we might also in turn comfort others also. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Job chapter 11 at the first verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:
‘Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right? Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God's eyes.’ But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.
Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven – what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. If he passes through and imprisons and summons the court, who can turn him back? For he knows worthless men; when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it? But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey's colt is born a man!
If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. And you will feel secure because there is hope; you will look around and take your rest in security. You will lie down, and none will make you afraid; many will court your favor. But the eyes of the wicked will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them, and their hope is to breathe their last.’”
Amen, and we praise the Lord that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.
In John’s gospel, chapter 9, Jesus, you will remember, Jesus was walking one day with the disciples when they pass a man who had been born blind. And looking at Him, the disciples ask a revealing question. You remember the question? “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” You see the operating assumption in their question. Because of the culture of the time, here was a man whose blindness has disadvantaged him terribly throughout the whole course of his life. And here he is now, destitute, broken, and begging. And the disciples are looking for an explanation for this embodiment of dreadful suffering that they see before him. And they look for the explanation of his suffering in his sin or perhaps in the sin of his parents. So the basic presupposition about the way the world works in their thinking is – bad things really only happen to bad people. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” You see how they reason. If he’s suffering so much, there must be sin at the root of it that God is punishing him for.
That is actually not a terribly uncommon attitude even today. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will recognize it. When people suffer, with whose lifestyles we disagree, aren’t we sometimes tempted to think, “Well, they’re just getting what they deserve”? When appeals reach us for help, especially from the marginalized and the poor, aren’t we tempted to withhold our aid until we feel they have somehow qualified for it? Even though we may know better, we still tend to infer a causal relationship between suffering and sin. And so we want to link relief to righteousness. “Bad people suffer. Good people deserve our help.” That’s how we function sometimes, certainly what the disciples thought in John 9, and it is absolutely what Zophar thinks here in Job chapter 11 as he responds to Job and to his sufferings.
You may remember that Eliphaz, the first of Job’s three friends, identifies this same attitude and says, “Job, the reason you’re suffering is because you’re a sinner. And that’s why all of this has happened to you.” And he reinforced his argument, do you remember, by claiming the authority of divine revelation. He had a vision. He heard voices in the night. And that’s how he knows that Job is guilty and needs to repent. And then Job’s second friend, Bildad, he argued the same point. “Job, you’re suffering because you’re a sinner. You’re sore and broken and hurting because you deserve it.” And this time, instead of an appeal to revelation, he made an appeal to tradition to reinforce his argument. “This is what the fathers have to say about your situation Job. It’s all your fault.”
And Job, we saw, rejects both positions not because he thought God was indifferent about sin. He isn’t. Nor because the fathers are wrong to say that sin will be punished. It will. But because that’s not an accurate description of what was actually happening in Job’s particular case. Job, here, is not suffering because he is being punished for some specific sin. And so Job protests his innocence. And that is where Zophar finally joins the conversation. He’s been listening to Job rebut the arguments of his friends, and he just can’t stand it any longer. He feels compelled to respond to what he considers Job’s foolish talk. Look at chapter 11 verses 3 and 4. You’ll see what he thinks of Job’s speech thus far. “Should your babble silence men? And when you mock, shall no one shame you? For you have said, ‘My doctrine is pure and I am clean in God’s eyes.’” He really does not think much of Job’s responses thus far, does he? He considers Job’s protestations of innocence “Exhibit A” in establishing Job’s arrogance and his folly. “It is babble and mockery to talk like this, Job.”
“You Deserve Worse”
And if you’ll look at the last clause of verse 6 in chapter 11, you’ll actually see just how far-reaching, according to Zophar, Job has misunderstood what God is doing in all of Job’s sufferings. Job has been arguing that he is innocent, and therefore his sufferings are unjust. On the contrary, Zophar says, "God is being amazingly merciful toward you! You deserve much, much worse!" Verse 6, "Know then, that God exacts less of you than your guilt deserves. You should count yourself fortunate, Job, that God is being so lenient as to inflict such small judgments upon you!" Well, that may theologically strictly be true in one sense. Every sin deserves the wrath and curse of God and Job is a sinner among sinners. And yet, we must remember, from chapter 1 and 2, that Job is not being punished because of particular sins. And so Zophar’s response here, instead of educating and enlightening Job to the truth of the justice of God, is nothing more than the cruel twisting of a knife in the heart of Job. As he endures dreadful suffering, Zophar is saying to him, “You know, you should be thankful. Your wife has left you. Your children are dead. Your life is in ruins. You’re sitting in the ashes of your home. You’re covered in sores. You’re in agony. You should be thankful.” It’s a dreadful, dreadful thing to say to one you profess to call friend.
God’s Inscrutable Wisdom
And then, Zophar decides to teach Job a thing or two about God. Verses 7 through 12, if you’ll look there for a moment. What he says about God is true enough as far as it goes. Although, as we’ll see, Zophar ultimately ends up distorting the character of God. Look at verses 7 through 12 with me. He says to Job, “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven. What can you do? Deeper than Sheol. What can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. If he passes through and imprisons and summons the court, who can turn him back? For he knows worthless men. When he sees iniquity, will he not consider it?” What Zophar is saying about God’s inscrutable wisdom and almighty power, that’s right on. Isn’t it? The problem isn’t really that he’s teaching error at this point. That’s not the issue.
Truth Without Love
What’s Zophar’s problem here? It is truth without love. It’s doctrine without any compassion. As I’ve had to learn the hard way, maybe you have too, it’s all too easy, isn’t it, to be accurate and obnoxious at the same time. To be accurate and think that you have fulfilled your duty toward those amongst whom the Lord has placed you and whom you call friends and loved ones. You’ve fulfilled your duty to say true things, and you have forgotten the burden to love. To be accurate and obnoxious is actually a very easy temptation into which many of us fall. Certainly, Zophar falls into that trap.
And so on top of all his other sufferings, poor Job has to listen to the dreadful bloviations of Zophar, the insufferable know-it-all, as, notice, he accuses Job of precisely the same sins of which he himself is guilty. Did you notice that? We’ve all met people like this, haven’t we? They project onto others the character flaws they avoid facing in themselves. Zophar accuses Job of arrogance. Zophar accuses Job of arrogance. “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It’s higher than heaven. What can you do? Deeper than Sheol. What can you know? Who do you think you are, Job?” So arrogant! That’s what he’s saying.
His Own Arrogance
And yet his own arrogance, in all of this, is really very difficult to miss. Don’t you agree? You can see it maybe most clearly in the sneering, contemptuous barb he delivers in verse 12. Look at verse 12. “But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man.” “When donkey’s give birth to human babies, an airhead like you, Job, will finally start to see sense, and not before!” That’s what he’s saying. “When pigs fly, a blockhead like you might begin to listen to common sense at last. So it’s a good thing I’m here to help you out, Job.” And Zophar proceeds to offer some friendly advice. Verses 13 through 20. Verse 13, “If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands towards God? If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away. Let not injustice dwell in your tents. So Job, if you’d just see sense, recognize that you are, in fact, guilty after all, climb down off your high horse and repent, well you know, everything is going to start to look so much better for you.”
Possibility and Blessing
In fact, he begins to say to Job, “If you repent, all your troubles will begin to evaporate like mist in the morning sun. In fact, people are going to start flocking to you for answers. You will become a great man once again.” Do you see that? It’s a beautiful picture of possibility and blessing Zophar holds out in front of poor, suffering Job. Verse 15, “Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish.” Remember, he’s covered in open sores at this point. “Just acknowledge you were wrong, Job, and then all your wounds will be healed. You will be secure and not fear. You will forget your misery.” Hard to imagine considering the depths of his suffering and loss. “You will remember it as waters that have passed away, like water under the bridge, Job – the death of your children, the loss of your liveliness, the agony you now endure. “Your life will be brighter than the noonday, it’s darkness like the morning. You will feel secure because there’s hope at last. You have no hope right now, but there will be hope. Just see it my way, Job!”
The Voice of Satan
Now you will remember, won’t you, that Satan began his assaults upon Job in the opening chapters of the book, and then he seems to disappear from the book of Job. But he hasn’t really disappeared at all, has he? You can still hear his voice – subtle, devious, applying all the manipulative techniques and psychological tools he can muster to cause Job to forsake his integrity. You hear the whispering sibilant susurrations of the serpent, just like our first parents did in the garden, on the lips of Zophar the Naamathite. It’s the echo of what he said to Jesus in the wilderness. You remember what Satan said to Jesus? He showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and he said, “All this I can give you, if you will but bow down and worship me.” Zophar is saying to Job, “All this I can give you, I can give it all – all that you’ve lost I can restore to you – if you’ll just forsake your integrity, if you will just distort the character of God, join me and your other friends, Eliphaz and Bildad in our point of view, recognize that we are right, that God is a sort of mechanical justice machine into which you input behavior, turn the crank, and automatically will come blessing or judgments in this life in a 1:1 ratio. If you’ll just say things like that, forsake your integrity, stop your protestations of innocence, and everything that you’ve lost will be restored to you.” It is a dark, Satanic snare.
And here’s the strategy at the heart of it. It is a counsel that suggests the way to peace is to remove mystery. It is to resolve ambiguity. It’s certainly a nice, clean-cut vision of reality. Isn’t it? Bad things happen to bad people. Good things happen to good people. Actually, in verse 14 when Zophar says, “If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,” the word he uses for “iniquity” implies ill-gotten gain, deceptive behavior. He talks about “injustice no longer dwelling in your tent.” There’s a subtle insinuation there that, maybe, Job actually prospered originally in the way that he did because he was a shady businessman and that’s why he’s now suffering, you see. And so, since Job had sinned, now he’s suffering. If Job would repent, then he would be blessed. And blessed as he ought always to have been blessed all along – not on the basis of shady dealings, but on his proper submission to God at last. It irons out all the wrinkles. It leaves no ambiguity. It’s a nice, clean, clear-cut model of a moral universe. All the answers to the “Why?” questions are provided. If you’re suffering, you deserve it. That’s why you’re suffering.
“What Have I Done?”
It’s a real temptation many of us actually have to wrestle with, especially in the darkest nights of our souls. When though, perhaps we may know better theologically, intellectually, the temptation is strong, sometimes overwhelming to wonder, to ask, “What have I done? What did I do to deserve this? Where did I go wrong, Lord?” And there, you hear again, the temptation of the evil one. Because there are some mysteries that the Lord does not promise to unravel. After all, you remember, “The secret things belong to the Lord, but what has been revealed belongs to us and to our children.” There are mysteries with which we must simply live. There are depths of unknowable reality into which we may sink that we may not always be able to reason our way to a solution. And in those moments, we must face a choice. Will we bow before the God who reveals Himself in Scripture, acknowledge Him to be just, face the mystery of our circumstances without trying to resolve the apparent contradiction between them both, and kiss the hand that afflicts us and cling to Him and say, “I don’t know why this is happening. I don’t know what brought me here into this hard, sore, grievous place, but I trust You in it. I don’t understand, but I’m clinging to You.” You may do that, or you may fall foul to Satanic temptation and begin to resolve all the mystery and, in the end, distort the character of God.
Zophar’s teaching here, his advice to Job, reduces God to little more than a cosmic slot machine. You know, you plug in the relevant behavior, you turn the crank, and out pops either blessing or suffering. And sometimes when we’re hurting, when everything goes wrong, we think we’re being punished. Or, we start to say to ourselves, “If I just do enough, pray enough, give enough, serve enough, maybe then I can leverage a blessing and cause God to reverse His stance towards me.” But it is better, brothers and sisters, to embrace the mystery and not try to resolve it than to distort the character of God. It is better to bow under the pain and the unknowability of God’s mysterious, hard providences and to acknowledge that He is good, and though I do not know how to reconcile my suffering with His goodness, He is good and I trust Him, better to do that than to embrace the lie.
That was the choice set before Job, and as we turn now to Job’s response, we’ll see that he does not hesitate to reject the Satanic lies on the lips of Zophar. If you’ll notice in the opening few verses of chapter 12, he rebukes Zophar and his friends for their arrogance. He sees that very clearly. And then in the remainder of chapter 12, Job paints an alternative picture of God that stands in sharp contrast to Zophar’s distant, mechanical deity. In a stinging counter to his three friends’ claims to superior wisdom, Job invites them to go and ask the beasts and the birds and the fish, verses 7 through 12. Even they will tell you, he says, God has done this in the inscrutable wisdom of His ways, Job’s God is the God who brings desolations on the earth. He’s the God who destroys and chastises and judges, against whom no one can stand. You see what he’s really saying to Zophar? He’s saying, for all the bitterness that may lace his reply to Zophar, he’s saying, “I’m going to continue to struggle with the mystery. I’m going to live with the ambiguity. God has done it. I don’t know why He’s done it, but I will not distort His character to ease my pain.”
Display of Faith
Now that’s a remarkable display of faith. And as you read on in this section of Job’s response, you see that faith shining brighter and brighter and brighter. Chapter 13, verses 1 through 12, he rebukes his companion still further. Verse 4, “As for you, you whitewash with lies. Worthless physicians are you all.” Verse 7, “Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him? Will you show partiality for him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him as one deceives a man? You twist the truth about God to suit your arguments, but it’s all deception and warped. You’re speaking wickedly and you’d better be careful. You’re telling me I’m being judged, but your distortions of God’s character will leave you exposed to God’s wrath in turn. You really think you can deceive God?”
That is actually the response of faith in the face of Satanic attack. Job defends God, you see, and he rebukes those who distort the character of God. Even when the character of God is the thing generating Job’s confusion and his sorrow, he defends God. He takes God side against all that distort His character. You remember Satan’s question to God back in chapter 1 verse 9 – “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Well Job is answering that question here, isn’t he? “Let God be God and every man a liar. I’d rather embrace utter uncertainty for myself and submit to the truth about my God, than find ease for myself and distort who He is. God is first in my life, even when I do not understand.”
Brothers and sisters, is God first in your life, even when you do not understand? Are you willing to submit and embrace the mystery and to confess that God is good, that He is just, and He knows what He is doing, and He is under no obligation to explain Himself to us? Instead, let us learn to kiss the rod that afflicts us and to embrace the trials that He ordains.
And that remarkable stance of faith that shines so brightly in Job, I don’t think ever shines anywhere more clearly, maybe nowhere more clearly is faith so evident, than it becomes in verse 15. Look at these remarkable words of chapter 13 at verse 15. “Though he slay me, I will hope in him. Yet I will argue my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him.” “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him.” Job is not living for life, is he? He’s not living for comfort. Life itself is not the ultimate value for Job. Living for God, the God who gives life – and Job is prepared to confess in his own wise providence, takes life – living for God, trusting this God, serving this God, living with the ambiguity of not always understanding this God but trusting Him nevertheless, that is his position. That is his stance. The stance to which every child of God is being called. To trust the Lord and to say, like the Lord Jesus, in the depths of His own agony, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not my will, but Your will be done. Not my will, but Your will be done. Have it Your way, Lord. Have it Your way and not mine.”
Two Extremes of the Struggle
And then, in chapter 13 verses 20 right on through chapter 14, you notice Job stops talking to his three friends and he starts talking to God directly. He begins to pray. And his prayer gives voice to these two extremes of his struggle. On the one hand, there are notes of despair and confusion. Chapter 13:24 he says to God, “Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy?” Chapter 14:1-6, he thinks about the inevitability of life and death and even asks God simply to leave him alone and finish his allotted time in peace. There’s this note of despair, bordering on fatalism. And then, verses 7 through 17 of chapter 14, there’s a different note that sounds; a beautiful note of hope in the darkness. Do you see it in 7 through 17? He compares a tree stump to human life. Verse 7, “For there is hope for a tree if it be cut down that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.”
But is it this way with a human being? That’s what Job is wondering. Verse 14, “If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my service, I would wait till my renewal should come. You will call and I would answer you.” Job, listen to this, Job is expressing hope that just like the tree stump – you cut it down, you don’t dig up the roots, you know, and it begins to sprout again – that maybe, even if his sufferings end as he seems to expect here in his own death, death will not be his end. There will be a resurrection life to come. “Waiting throughout the days of his service,” that’s his vocabular; it’s a reference probably to patient existence in Sheol, the realm of the dead. Heaven, the Old Testament, the Old Testament believer did not have a very clear view of what happens after death. They did understand that there is some sort of conscious existence beyond the grave. We need to wait until the New Testament to see all that that looks like. But Job is saying here, “Even were I to enter into such a realm, the realm of the dead, I would still serve You and wait patiently until my renewal should come. All God would need to do is speak, like at creation – ‘Let there be light. Let there be life.’ – And there was light; there was life. All God would need to do is speak and I would answer, summon and I would come forth from the grave.”
Now Job is an ancient saint; a believer who clings to the God of covenant love at a time in history when the way that God had revealed Himself was far from full. Today, you and I, we stand in a far better position than he. We see so much more. In the past, God spoke to us in various ways through the apostles and the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. And in the light of Jesus, we see much more clearly what Job but through the shadows merely glimpses here. We know, not with any ambiguity or uncertainty, we know that once the tree, once it’s cut down, will bring forth new shoots. We know that the dead shall rise in victory because we know that has already happened on the third day when the stone was rolled away and Jesus stepped from the grave alive again. We know Jesus Christ has risen. And so we know that death no longer can have the victory. We have the empty tomb. Job has grasping faith at hope through the shadows. We have the brilliance of the clear Easter Sunday morning to strengthen our faith in the gloom and darkness of our worst sorrows and our darkest trials. We can look where Job could not. We can look to the risen Christ and know that God has an answer for the darkness and the mystery and the trial and the suffering and the loss and the sin and the shame and the pain. One day He will make all things new and everything sad is going to come untrue.
We don’t clutch desperately at hope, dimly seen. We bathe in the warm, brilliant light of the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to everlasting life. It is not in any doubt, because Jesus already has risen.
So here’s the message in your sufferings, in your struggles, dear Christian brother or sister. Do not lose sight of your destiny. So look forward, and cling to it with tenacity, by always looking back at the empty tomb, and to Christ, whose resurrection is the guarantee of your own. One day soon the hope of glory will come, suffering eclipsed by songs of joy, your broken heart will be made whole, your weeping eyes will be wiped dry by the finger of the God who made you. You can cling to that hope, not as a desperate hope but as a sure and certain hope through the darkest trial, into which God, in His wise providence, His mysterious providence, may yet still bring you.
Let’s pray together.
Father, would You forgive us for those moments when we try to resolve the ambiguity and live without mystery, to make it all make sense. Whenever we do that, we almost always distort Your character. We make ourselves big and we make You small. We reduce You to a sort of cosmic principle of judgment and blessing and we try to leverage from You the happy life that we always wanted by doing just the right amount of the right kind of things. But what a distortion of the truth that is. It reduces You to a cold tyrant, when in fact, You are a loving Father. And though we do not always know why You do what You do, in the inscrutable mystery of Your providence, yet we know You in Jesus Christ. We believe that You work all things, even our worst moments, darkest moments, sorest moments, even our shame, even our sin, You work all things together for the good of those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Help us to cling to the great truth that the tomb is empty and the throne occupied. That Jesus Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. And as we cling to it, help us embrace the mystery and kiss the hand that afflicts us, and say with Job that “the Judge of all the earth will do right.” For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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