Zophar picks up his line of reasoning by expressing his personal disdain for Job’s words:
“My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer
because I am greatly disturbed.
I hear a rebuke that dishonors me,
and my understanding inspires me to reply.”
How could someone like Job possibly rebuke Zophar? Zophar is doing fine, checking his lists, living in self-righteousness. He left his home to comfort a friend who has “obviously” committed some grievous sin as evidenced by the disaster that has fallen upon him. From his perspective, Job is not the victim of some injustice, rather he is the victim of his own misgivings and therefore unqualified to offer suggested remedies, much less rebuke those who have taken time from their busy lives to help poor old Job. “I hear a rebuke that dishonors me…” comes from this pious position.
“…my understanding inspires me to reply.” Zophar is so secure in himself that he has the ability to impart his special wisdom on Job. Here is Zophar’s incredible insight:
- godless people don’t last long
- these people will perish like dung
- like a dream, they flitter away
- he will swallow the evil that is so sweet in his mouth
- snakes in his stomach will destroy him
- God will inflict his punishment
In other words, my friend Job, all of this you are seeing is your own doing–you brought this on yourself.
When we sit with those who have far less material resources than we do, is it possible that these thoughts run through our minds? How did you get here? What mistakes did you make to land in your sibling’s house with two other families? “Obviously” you’ve made mistakes or you wouldn’t be here. Let me console you with my wisdom, then drive away in my car to my well-deserved house.
I’m not proposing a poverty or prosperity theology, only suggesting that we must guard against this line of reasoning. Perhaps we should teach something like a Zophar Test before heading into the mission field. Or perhaps on a more positive scale, a Mother Theresa test to be sure our hearts are in the right place.
Side note: Isn’t it interesting that we tend to focus on those who are outwardly struggling, those who have little income and few resources to overcome that which has set them back. The guy that just drove by me in a shiny new Porsche is probably farther from God than the man who sits on the porch on disability, unable to hold a job to support his family.
“Such is the fate God allots the wicked,
the heritage appointed for them by God.”
Here we are in the center of Job, lost in the world’s definition of success, of cause and effect logic, as we witness how easy and absurd it is to slip down the path of self-righteous indignation. So much to learn from these extreme characters, but we’re not done yet!
Job counters Zophar’s line of reasoning with his own observations about the wicked:
- Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?
- Their homes are safe even though they are far from God
- Bulls breed, cows calve — no problems there!
- They have lots of happy children dancing about
- The live and die in prosperity
Explain that Zophar! You’ve seen it. You’ve seen those who are far from God live in apparent prosperity while never darkening the steps of a church or even considering their sinful, self-indulgent behavior. How does that work, O most wise Zophar?
Job keeps pointing to God while his friends keep pointing to themselves. Interesting. “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?” (Job 21:22). All are equal in God’s eyes, rich or poor, strong or weak, able or crippled. Job keeps prompting his friends to take a broader view of life.
Even in his personal pain and agony, Job offers this insight as he ends this round:
“So how can you console me with your nonsense?
Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!”
If I learn nothing else from this round, I hope that I learn to withhold judgment based on circumstantial evidence. God can certainly see beyond the temporal issues of today and see deep into the soul. I know I can’t look that deeply, but I can look beyond the surface if I would simply stop and pray for wisdom.