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Job 11:7-12 – God’s Ways Are beyond Human Understanding

Summary

The third counselor, Zophar, offers the ultimate conversation stopper when other explanations fail: humans can never fully understand what God is doing in the world.

Analysis

As the first cycle of speeches draws to a close, Zophar points out that there are limits to human wisdom. Our efforts to understand what God is doing will always fall short. Zophar even uses rhetorical questions (in vv. 7-8) to point out the disparity between God's wisdom and that of humans.

When this passage is read in the context of the whole book of Job, some interesting points emerge. Zophar sounds very much like Elihu in chapters 36-37 and God in chapters 38-39. If there is a defining word about suffering in the book of Job, it might well be in God's first speech. Humans cannot know and do what only God can know and do. If Zophar says the same thing this early in the book, why must the book be so long, plodding on and on as Job and his friends carry on their dialogue? Why cannot Job simply say, "Zophar, I guess you're right? As much as I hate to admit it, I'll never find an answer to my suffering that makes logical sense. I'll just have to abandon the search and trust in God, anyway."

There are at least a couple of reasons why it is not sufficient to end the book here. First, it is too soon. Job needs to talk some more, to let his questions run their course, to get it all off his chest. He is not yet ready to quit banging his head against the wall and accept his limits. Second, it is Zophar who tells him to quit asking hard questions, and Job suspects Zophar wants him to be quiet because Zophar is feeling uncomfortable and inadequate to deal with Job's questioning. Later, in chapter 38, it is God who speaks, and now Job will listen. When God tells us to "be silent and trust me," we will be much more likely to acquiesce than if those words come from a purveyor of pious platitudes who is nervous about where the conversation is going.

Job 11:7-12


7 ‘Can you find out the deep things of God?
   Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?*
8 It is higher than heaven*—what can you do?
   Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
9 Its measure is longer than the earth,
   and broader than the sea.
10 If he passes through, and imprisons,
   and assembles for judgement, who can hinder him?
11 For he knows those who are worthless;
   when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it?
12 But a stupid person will get understanding,
   when a wild ass is born human.*

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10 February 2011

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