Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said,
Now Zophar (Tswophar , sparrow, from tsaphar, perhaps “quit”) gets his turn at bat. It occurs to me that Job would make a great rap opera, given the rhythmic repetitions and the fact that the characters are continually talking smack to one another. Zophar’s complaint seems similar to the others, if more explicit:
said, My doctrine [is] pure, and I am clean in thine eyes. But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee;
Zophar appears deeply offended that Job is scorning the council of his other friends, and wonders why God doesn’t straighten him out. His remedy is similar to that of the others:
If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him; If iniquity [be] in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear:
There’s probably some subtle differences I’m glossing over, but the core issue is the same: Job needs to repent, then God will heal him. Job, of course is having none of this. After the usual smack, Job reiterates his critique of the “refined” view of God’s justice:
The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth [abundantly].
In the rest of the chapter, Job basically seems to say: God does whatever He wants; sometimes he punishes the righteous and prospers the wicked, rather than the other way around. But he goes even further in the Chapter 13:
Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God.
Now, this I find fascinating. After all, that’s similar to what his friends have been urging all along, and it sounded like Job had already declared such an effort futile. What’s different? Well, in contrast to his friends’ recommendation, Job is not exactly approaching as a penitent:
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
Job seeks to prove his ways (yakach derek), rather than repent of them. “yakach” is a popular word in Job, used three times just in this chapter, and is variously translated plead, reason, chasten, correct, etc. Yet, Job doesn’t see this behavior as defiant or cheeky, or even necessarily futile:
He also [shall be] my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.
Job believes salvation (y@shuw`a , obviously a loaded term for Christians) is still possible — if God will treat him fairly:
Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not thy dread make me afraid. Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak, and answer thou me.
For the first time, Job appears to address God directly, with something between a plea and a challenge.
How many [are] mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.
A poignant verse; I wonder whether it is meant sincerely or rhetorically. Perhaps Job himself doesn’t know. Still, once gets the feeling that Job is not so much denying the presence of sins (chatta’ah) as denying his knowledge. Or wondering if this present calamity is due to sins of his youth (`avon na`uwr):
For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.
Chapter 14 continues the lament, though there’s one passage that struck me:
O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If a man die, shall he live [again]? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.
I’m sure theologians enjoy debating the hints of life after death, but what strikes me is the sheer agony of it all. It sounds like a young child cowering in fear of his life from the rage (‘aph) of a violent, alcoholic father, combining terror and love in a single heart-rending cry. Hoping that the father will come to himself and remember (zakar) the child, even want him (kacaph) again.
If I were there, I’d want to cry out:
Job! Don’t despair. God does still love you. I know you’re hurting. I know life seems evil, and God seems cruel. Yes, terrible things have happened to you, and justice seems a vain dream. But I affirm you have lived your life the best you know how, and God Himself is proud of you. Hang in there. I know the agony must seem unbearable. But I believe in you Job. I know you can make it. And I believe in God. He will answer you. This is not the end. God is refining you, for reasons I don’t understand. Perhaps He is calling up the sins of your youth — but not to punish you for them, but to free you from them. Please Job, don’t give up. On God or yourself.
In that context, I find verse 17 suggestive:
My transgression [is] sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity.
My growing conviction is that Job’s despair is not just a result of his suffering — grievous though that is — but his flawed concept of God. I know myself, even with relatively minor disappointments and trials, I start to think that I am unacceptable, that God hates me or is punishing me. That life is a sham and justice a joke. Perhaps it is a testimony to Job’s strength of character that this much suffering is required to push him to that same brink. But push him it does, and that brink is still a lie. It is the secret sorrow and pain of his youth, preserved in a bag (chatham ts@rowr) , waiting to taunt and torture him.
Lord, deliver Job, not so much from his troubles as from himself.
Or should I say, save me?
God, I feel for Job. I feel with Job. His sins are mine, His complaint is mine. I too have doubted and argued with you. I have felt your hand crushing me, when it seemed you were seeking out the sins of my youth to punish and remind me of my failure. Help me to learn with Job of your redemption and grace. Heal me that I may be whole. Wash me that I may be pure. Love me that I may belong. Your child, Ernie.