Job 11-14: We Must Avoid Offending God when When we are Defending God

Reading for January 8, 2009

 

Friend: מֵרֵעַ (mē∙rē): noun, masculine;—companion, , i.e., one in close association and whom one has personal regard for (Jdg 14:11, 20; 15:2, 6; 2Sa 3:8; Job 6:14; Pr 19:7)[1]

 

In today’s reading we are introduced to another friend of Job’s. Zophar was a man of obvious theological sophistication.  He was a man who cared very deeply about the glory of God.  I would like to think that Zophar and Job were (genuine) friends, as the text says, and probably had been for many, many years.  There is no doubt in my mind that Zophar did not go out to visit Job in his distress just to pile more sorrows onto his friend’s life.  Surely Zophar went to visit Job because he cared.  There could not have been a financial motivation for Zophar.  Job, once one of the wealthiest men among his countrymen, now was penniless. I’m sure that no one would believe Zophar went to visit Job because he was looking forward to a having a wonderful time reminiscing about old times.  Finally, Zophar did not go to see Job because he wanted to pick a fight with someone he had most likely respected and looked up to for many years.  Most people don’t like conflict, and while I obviously don’t know what was going through Zophar’s mind, I certainly doubt this is the reason why he would take valuable time away from his life . Who would want to travel a great distance simply to rub a buddy’s crumbling flesh further into the dust.  In fact, we know from the book of Job itself what Zophar’s true motivations were:

 

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:11-13; NIV).

 

As we can see from this text, the genuine motivation of Job’s friends was not to destroy him, but to build him up and get Job’s life back in the right direction.Yet, as we enter into this text, we notice that this is exactly what Zophar did not do.  Job, in the midst of the worst possible pain, found himself in a sophisticated theological debate that was very personal with men that he considered to be his friends.

 

With the closeness of Job and Zophar’s relationship established, it appears that after he had mourned with and for Job over the course of a week, he had now had his fill of Job’s call for personal justice.  We noted that the real turning point of this book happened in chapter 9 when Job began to demand a trial from God. As time went on, Job began to make the unbelievable claim that the weights of life were stacked against him and it was God who had done this to him.  We can hear the anger in his words as he cried out in chapter 10,

 

3Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? 4Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? 5Are your days like those of a mortal or your years like those of a man, 6 that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin— 7though you know that I am not guilty and that no one can rescue me from your hand?”

 

Essentially, Job is saying here that God is after him and there is nothing Job can do because God is all-powerful.  As was noted in the last entry, the frustration of Job’s perceived injustice made him openly wish that there was some arbitrator that would judge between him and God (9:33-35).  Such talk is borderline blasphemous for those of us who take our faith seriously.  Yet he went on and said so much more to bring God’s character into question,

 

22It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ 23 When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. 24When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?  . . . 28I still dread all my sufferings, for I know you will not hold me innocent.

 

There is no way to underestimate the degree to which Job has said some seriously offensive stuff in the midst of is limited understanding about the desperate nature of his circumstances.  I’m sure that Zophar began this process with Job very sympathetically, yet when he began to speak so disrespectfully about God, it probably drove him to his breaking point.  Zophar now was determined to defend God and the lesson here, brothers and sisters, is that we must be very careful not to offend God when we are defending God.  This is because God is a God of grace and just as Job had no idea what was happening behind the scenes of his life, it was also true that Job’s friends didn’t know as well. God is always a God of grace and when we defend him we must remember speak about him in a way that is full of grace and humility. 

 

Without saying too much about this interchange, Zophar came out firing at Job when it was his opportunity to speak.  He was obviously deeply offended by Job’s audacity in calling God’s righteousness and justice into question. I’m sure that it was a painful thing to do, yet he probably looked at it as a duty of love to straighten out his old friend out.  In fact, the way Zophar spoke to Job, it appears that he no longer thought of Job as a friend at all.  As far as Zophar was concerned, pitiful or not, it was time for Job to learn a little lesson about what it means to have a proper respect for God.  Zophar gave it to Job with both barrels and he even made the shocking claim that Job probably deserved worse than what he actually got.

 

“Then Zophar the Naamathite replied: 2 “Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? 3 Will your idle talk reduce men to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock? 4 You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight.’ 5Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you 6  and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin” (NIV).

 

 

 As we note in chapters 12-14, Job does his best to defend his words and his life’s actions, but it appears that now the proverb has proven itself to be true, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city,

and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel” (Proverbs 18:19; NIV).   

 

So, what has gone wrong in this relationship between these two friends that have cared for one another for so long?  The reality here is that neither man has a real understanding of the plan of God in their own particular circumstances.  Once again, this conflict arose because Job accused God of being unjust and Zophar attacked Job making such wild claims and went so far as to accuse Job of harboring secret sins and that his punishment was just retribution for those things that only God could see.  Neither man was right and in the end it was Job who was vindicated by God and it was Zophar who had sin to be atoned for.  So here is the lesson in all of this: when we defend God, we must be extremely careful not to offend Him in the process.  The way we avoid such a tragic mistake is to approach God with humility and others with grace.  Ultimately, God is and will always be his own defense and we can rest in knowing that he can defend his own honor with absolute perfection.

[1]Swanson, James: Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). electronic ed. Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. DBLH 5335, #1


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3 Responses to “Job 11-14: We Must Avoid Offending God when When we are Defending God”

  1. John Crutchfield Says:

    I wonder how many times I messed that up. Thank you for your ongoing guidance in clearing the way to greater understanding.
    John

  2. Barbara Muirhead Says:

    First of all, thanks for explaining these lessons and starting the Chronological Reading. It makes understanding “how to read the bible” so much easier for me.

    From this lesson, are you saying that Zophar sinned because he accused Job of harboring secret sin? And do you know if the two (Job & Zophar) remained friends even through their arguments?

  3. Bruce Smith Says:

    Thanks John, we’ve all messed up and even Job did to some degree. That is why the message of Job is one about grace as we shall see in the end – God will show grace to Job and Job will show grace those who had once been his friends.

    I appreciate your comments as well Barbara. I think that you have summarized things very well to this point. Job’s friends argued for what theologians call, “the law of retribution.” This concept simply means that we get exactly what we give. So, Job’s friends believed that there is no way God would allow Job to go through these events if he didn’t directly do something to deserve it. Because Job appeared in every way outwardly righteous, they began to assume that he must have had a really dark side which he had hidden very well. The reality, though, is that Job had been a man of integrity and had no dark side. At this point, these men began to talk past one another. Job presented himself as blameless while his friends argued that he must have had something deeply wrong with him because of his suffering. In the midst of this, Job then moved to have God hear his case, but he was despondent because he began to wonder if God would give him a fair hearing at all because of his unmatched power. It was in all of this that Job, himself, began to make the mistake of going after God as there was a sense that he too thought that the law of retribution was not functioning properly since his punishment was way beyond anything he had done.

    Now, here is the key of this book . . . the law of retribution is not a hard and fast universal principle. Sometimes God will choose to show grace and mercy when we have done wrong. Sometimes God will allow us to go through suffering not directly because of our sin but because he has a deeper purpose for us in it (e.g., the story of the blind man that Jesus healed. Jesus said that the man was born blind so that God’s power would be displayed at the moment of his healing). God’s fundamental purpose in every event of life, whether good, ill or indifferent, is to conform us to the character of Jesus Christ. If going through difficult times will bring this to pass, he will do it; because Christ likeness is his highest good for our lives.

    We are thankful, of course, for the fact that God also loves to give his people good gifts (James 1:17). It should be noted that one of the reasons why God allowed Job to go through this time of intense suffering was so that we could be helped in our own.

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