This chapter is perhaps Job’s low point as he considers the possibility that evil exists, because of God’s actions and purposes may have malevolent intent.
Something Zophar said really pushed Job off the edge! In fact, some of Job’s harshest words and greatest complaints against God occur in the next few chapters.
The sense of the first few verses is pretty obvious. Job sarcastically chides his friends and then reasserts that he has good reason for his complaints against God.
Typical of the book, verse two can make many a reader pause simply because we can’t quite put our finger on exactly what is said. Matthew Henry suggested that Job took issue with being called an “ass” (i.e. donkey) in Job 11:12. Perhaps there is some truth to this contention.
Aquinas observed, paraphrasing Job, that “So are only you men?…Since wisdom consists in the knowledge of the greatness of God, it follows that, if you alone know these things, that wisdom is found only in you, and thus wisdom will pass away when you pass away” (Commentary on Job, Chapter 12).
This means, as Henry observed, that Job is insulted by the dehumanizing insinuation made by Zophar. In this context, Job’s reassertion of his own humanity (verse 2) and his own intelligence (verse 3) make sense. Being that Job is on the wrong end of a “jackass joke,” he laments that he is “a joke to my friends” (Job 12:4).
Job then responds to the arguments of his friends by contending that their arguments assert that calamity is “prepared for those whose feet slip” (Job 12:5). The fact that his friends never deny this shows that this is essentially where they are coming from. Job then goes on to show that calamity crushes the just, fortune propers the wicked, and God allows it to occur because He ordains it (Job 12:6).
Perhaps throwing a “dumb animal” joke back in his friend’s faces, he exclaims “ask the beasts…let the fish of the sea declare to you” (Job 12:7-8) how obvious it is that “the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:9-10). Essentially, Job is saying it is obvious to all, in fact to the whole of creation, that the universe is not ordered in a just, retributive fashion as his friends assert.
Now, of course, Job is at fault to believe that God is in anyway unfair to allow creation to be this way. However, he is correct in saying it is from the hand of God. This is very important, because in theodicy many often will claim that God really is not responsible for the existence of evil, which results in God either not being omniscient or omnipotent. In the case of Job’s friends, they seek to get around placing limitations on God by dogmatically assuming that evil only befalls the wicked. By making such an argument, though it is not observably true, its logic preserves both God’s omniscience and omnipotence without imputing Him with any malevolence .
Verses 11 and 12 start out as a challenge to his friends to stomach what he is about to say. Job begins with saying that God has “wisdom and might” and only He alone has “counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13). What does God do with His omniscience and omnipotence? According to Job, He acts malevolently with these attributes.
God has the power to destroy the world, imprison men (Job 12:14), cover the Earth with floods (Job 12:15, in this we can infer God’s control over Leviathan and letting him break loose from his assigned boundaries on Earth), mislead men (Job 12:16, hence God has a negative effect on the Earth’s moral order), and destroy man’s fortunes (Job 12:17-25).
God’s overthrowing of the world’s moral order is a strong accusation from Job. True, it would disprove his friend’s contentions that God acts retributive, because if God actually ordains injustice God Himself would be responsible for wickedness itself. Job here almost accuses God of being the author of evil by cynically assuming that God is being arbitrarily sadistic. What we can be sure of is that there is nothing sadistic, or arbitrary, with how God acts.
Now, as Epicurus anticipated centuries after the writing of this book, if God’s omnipotence and omniscience are unquestionable, the existence of evil thereby makes His omni-benevolence uncertain. It is obvious this is the conclusion that Job painfully finds himself starting to believe, though as we will see in a bit, he’s not totally sold on it.
As a final note, let’s discuss a few of the latter verses which touch on an interesting idea of God misleading men. Job assumes here that He does not not lead men into all truth (John 16:13) as the Scripture teaches, but instead frustrates man’s wisdom. God “deprives the trusted ones of speech and takes away the discernment of the elders” (Job 12:20) which ultimately results in God withholding the truth from men and thrusting them into existential crises (Job 12:24, 25).
This is what Job means when he says that once wise men now “wander in a pathless waste” and that “they grope in darkness with no light.” They are thrown into chaos like Job, who has seen the whole moral fabric of existence torn to shreds before his eyes. The wise men grasp like Job looking for the god they thought they knew, only to stagger around like a drunk and find nothing.
Job is not right in saying this. God is “the truth” (John 14:6) and apart from knowing Him one only sees the shadows of realities or outright lies. This is why God Himself is “the light of men” (John 1:4) and that in the New Jerusalem there is “no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and …[t]he nations will walk by its light…[i]n the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed (Rev 21:23-25).
Job has true life in knowing the Lord by faith. In knowing God, there is true wisdom and knowledge of truth (as Job attests to in Job 28:28). But, Job’s suffering is causing him to have doubts and consider the opposite conclusion: that God prevents us from really knowing Him or the truth. It is understandable that Job feels this way because once he “called on God and He answered him” (Job 12:4), but now he inexplicably hears nothing. He once walked with God and felt that he knew Him. Now there are no more answers and we are watching the doubts unravel.