In chapter 11, Zophar makes the contradictory argument that God is so above man we cannot understand how He works, yet at the same time arguing we can expect that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked.
By the time Zophar gives his two cents, Job has now laid what appear to be explicit accusations against God’s creative purpose, His character, and even His decision making. Before Job made such assertions, his friend’s responses have been steadily becoming sharper and more explicit in their assertion that Job is suffering because of unrepented sin.
In the movie Die Hard, John McClane is asked, “Last time I saw you you was gonna have a talk with some fellas. Next thing I hear one of em’s dead.” John responds, “Conversation sort of went downhill.”
Job, in this instance, is a lot like John McClaine. His friends for the remainder of the book increasingly accuse Job of heinous wrongdoing wrongly, inventing ever greater crimes, and the conversation just goes “downhill” from there. The friends speak so wrongly, and Eliphaz later so shamefully, that God asks Job to sacrifice on their behalf to atone for their wrongdoing.
Zophar’s response at times has a degree of deference due to Job’s condition and reputation, but it is notably more assertive than Bildad’s (who at least says “please” in Job 8:8). He is pretty straightforward about his disagreement with Job’s sentiments. Zophar does not want Job to go unanswered (Job 11:1) and considers Job’s defensiveness as self-righteousness (see Job 11:3-4 using the words “boasts,” “pure,” and “innocent”). However, being that Job declared himself as “righteous” (i.e. Job 9:20), Zophar’s caricature of Job is not totally without justification.
In chapter eight Bildad unknowingly foresaw Job’s restoration. The same sort of ironic gift of prophecy is also given to Zophar in this chapter. It is not unheard of in the Scripture where someone speaking, even with evil intent, unknowingly predicts or foreshadows the future. One such example of this is in John 11:50 where the high priest Caiphas, when planning the assassination of Jesus Christ stated, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” John informs us that “he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation” (John 11:51).
In the same way Zophar says the following:
But would that God might speak, (which we find that He does later)
And open His lips against you, (God opens His lips against the friends and Job himself)
And show you the secrets of wisdom! (God does this when He makes His speeches)
For sound wisdom has two sides (Zophar thinks it is him versus Job, but in reality it is man’s wisdom versus the wisdom of God; Job 11:5-6).
Then, Zophar gets a jab in on Job: “Know then that God forgets a part of your iniquity” (Job 11:6). Simply put, God has already forgiven Job for a bunch of stuff, but there is still some iniquity that God won’t forgive and must punish Job.
After slipping the accusation of guilt into the conversation, Zophar asserts that God’s ways are completely unsearchable due to His greatness (Job 11:7-9). This in of itself is true if we conclude rightly that it is due to God’s very greatness we often do not understand the purposes behind how He acts.
However, Zophar then follows up God’s greatness with the assertion that God cannot be compelled in matters of justice because of His strength (Job 11:10). We should remember, this is exactly the issue Job took issue with in Job 9. Again, it is not that God’s strength dictating matters is not untrue of itself, but it is not as if God forces something evil on us and due to His strength alone it is just. However, this would be inconsistent with His own self-revealed nature in the Scripture.
After briefly insinuating that Job is wicked and that God has picked up upon it due to His perceptiveness (Job 11:11), he makes a confusing comment about how an idiot cannot become intelligent anymore than an animal can give birth to a man (Job 11:12). It would seem overtly rude, and not in line with Zophar’s more subtle accusations against Job, to outright call him an idiot at this moment.
It is probably best not to understand verse 12 about Job himself, but more in line with verses 7 to 11. Zophar is saying that God’s ways are much beyond man’s. His power is greater than man’s. He knows man better than man knows himself. Man, in comparison, is just the village idiot in the cosmic neighborhood. No matter how hard man tries, whether by learning or exerting himself to commit acts of righteousness, this will never change (hence the idiot comment.)
The idea behind this may be similar to what is found in Is 64:6 pertaining to man’s righteous acts being nothing in the sight of God. Of course, the idea of imputed righteousness from Christ is missing from Zophar’s thinking, but there are elements of truth to what he says. Man does indeed fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
However, Zophar’s advice afterward is trite and presumes that God always, in the sight of all, curses in this world those who deserve to be cursed and blesses those who deserve to be blessed. In fact, Zophar appears to have too high a view of man, and thereby himself, when he says that if Job repents he “could lift up” his “face without moral defect” (Job 11:15).
Zophar does not understand the role of God’s grace. His advice to Job essentially is that if Job is good, God is compelled to bless him. Ironically, this goes against the view of the all-powerful, untouchable God of verses 7 to 11. A God who is compelled to act by the actions of men is not in of Himself unrestrainable, as verse 10 would imply. Instead, God can be manipulated by the actions of men. This is why the gift of salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of works so none may boast (Eph 2:8). If even faith in of itself was not granted by God (Phil 1:29), then God would be put into the position by man to be compelled to act. Being that we know that Job’s friends are later corrected in the story, we know this is a great error!
Elihu later in the book astutely asserts that it is not as if our sins or acts of righteous add or negate anything from God so that they might compel Him to do anything (Job 35:6-7). Instead, as we know from the first two chapters, God is glorified when men are righteous by His grace, and when they are punished when they are wicked.
God’s glory is ultimately not important to Zophar. He is merely concerned in God giving peace to the righteous and bringing ruin upon the wicked, whose “hope is to breathe their last” (Job 11:20). Without there being an afterlife, as Job is to show real soon, then quite often it is the righteous who are destroyed along with the wicked, and oftentimes the wicked do quite well, a point he returns to in chapters 21 and 27.