Zophar is seething. He can’t stand it. Does Job really think he can dispute with God? Zophar’s zeal for the righteousness of God demands that he “rebuke” this mocker. “Will no one rebuke you,” Zophar retorts, “when you mock?” (11:3b).
Zophar’s speech may be divided into three sections: (1) his rebuke of Job’s insolence (11:2-6), (2) his hymn on divine transcendence (11:7-12); and (3) his appeal to Job to repent (11:13-20). Again, a little theology is a dangerous thing in defending traditional understandings. Zophar’s theology of transcendence grounds his misdirected assault on Job.
Zophars hears Job’s lament as an assertion of Job’s own sinlessness. He puts words in Job’s mouth. Job never claimed his “beliefs” were “flawless” or that he was “pure” in God’s sight (8:4). But Zophar cannot hear Job’s dispute with God as anything other than unfaithfulness and anticipates that God will voice his displeasure if he ever does speak to Job. Zophar wants God to teach Job the “secrets of wisdom.”
It seems that “righteous” people tend to hear laments exactly as Zophar hears them. In fact, many read Job’s words exactly as Zophar read them. I think it is a dangerous thing to side with the friends against Job given God’s own response to the friends in chapter 42. Yet, we are so schooled to believe that honest, heart-felt, angry laments to God are so sinful that we can’t even hear Job’s righteous venting without condemning him in sympathy with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.
Unfortunately, Job’s condemnation is not sui generis. Many laments are condemned for their harshness and “irreverence.” The spirit of Zophar yet lives in the hearts of the “righteous.”
This rejection of lament is rooted in a misapplication of divine transcendence. Zophar rightly asks, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?” (11:7). Of course not! Job confesses divine mystery and transcendence–he already has done so in the dialogues and will in his response to Zophar. But for Zophar this means that the divine court will imprison Job rather than release him because this is what God does with “deceitful men” (11:10-12). It does not, seemingly, occur to Zophar that Job is honest and that his cry to the transcendent one is the call of a wounded victim. It is almost as if Zophar’s understanding of transcendence renders God unapproachable and many lamenters have been rebuked on that basis.
Yet, Zophar hopes for Job’s repentance: “if you devote your heart to him,” he pleads, “you will surely forget your trouble” (11:13a, 16a). Hope and security will return; darkness will become light; danger will turn into safety. And Job, Zophar promises, will no longer be afraid; his fear will dissipate–a motivation that was probably quite real to Job. God will no longer terrify him (Job 11:13-19). Repent, and everything will be just fine…the same promise that Eliphaz and Bildad offered. Indeed, that has been the theme of Job’s friends in this first round of the dialogue.
Job’s hope, according to the friends, is to renounce his own integrity and repent. If Job were to do so, this would give the accuser (“the satan” in chapte 1) the victory. For, then, the accusation would certainly be correct–human beings only serve God for profit, for the “stuff.” If Job is willing to deny his own integrity in order to get his “stuff” back, then he would serve God out of a profit motive rather than out of love. Unwittingly, Zophar asks Job to deny his faithful witness rather than uphold it.