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JOB’S REPLY TO ZOPHAR
I. Defends himself against the charge of ignorance implied in Zophar’s speech (Job 12:2-3).
His defence is:—
1. Ironical (Job 12:2). “No doubt but ye are the people; and wisdom shall die with you;” the wisdom of mankind is collected in your person, and when you die wisdom must perish at the same time. Times when it may be proper to use the language of irony and sarcasm. Its proper use to put error and pretension to shame. So Elijah to the worshippers of Baal: “Cry aloud for he is a God;” and Paul to the Corinthians: “Ye are rich; ye have reigned as kings without us” (1 Corinthians 4:8). Assumption on the part of preachers and monitors sure to render their words powerless and themselves ridiculous.
2. Serious (Job 12:3). “But I have understanding as well as you: I am not inferior to you.” Times when modesty does not forbid a man to speak in his own commendation. Allowable when for our own defence, or for the interests of truth. Paul compelled by his detractors to this “foolishness of boasting” (2 Corinthians 12:11). A man’s duty to know himself; and especially to know whether he has “understanding” to “know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, which is life eternal” (2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 John 5:20; John 17:3).
3. Contemptuous. “Yca, who knoweth not such things as these” (margin, “with whom are not such things as these?”). Conceit and pretension to be taken down. Zophar’s vaunted wisdom was after all—
(1) Commonplace. His speech mostly such moral and religious sentiments as were found in everybody’s mouth.
(2) Borrowed; second-hand maxims handed down from the fathers. Preachers to be careful—
(1) Not to deal in mere commonplace sentiments, or to ring changes on a few universally admitted truths. Hearers to be taught something which they do not already know. The instructed scribe to “bring out of his treasure things new and old.” Necessary to present new truths, or old ones in a new, clearer, or more impressive light.
(2) Not to parade before others what is not really their own, without acknowledging it. False prophets reproved for stealing God’s words, “every one from his neighbour,” and passing them off as if delivered to themselves (Jeremiah 23:30).
II. Complains of his being treated with scorn in consequence of affliction (Job 12:4).
“I am as one (or, ‘I am one who is’) mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God and he heareth him (or, ‘that he may answer him;’ or, ‘and let him answer him;’ possibly the taunt of his enemies, as Psalms 22:8; Matthew 27:43); the just upright man is laughed to scorn.” This treatment, according to the ordinary way of the world (Job 12:5). “He that is ready to slip with his feet is a lamp despised (or a torch thrown away as useless) in the thought of him that is at case” (or, “contempt adheres to calamity in the mind of the prosperous and secure, ready for those who slip with their feet”—who are tottering, or already fallen into adversity and trouble). Probably one of proverbial maxims referred to in Job 12:4, quoted by Job on his side of the question, and as descriptive of his own case.
1. He was mocked. No small aggravation of his affliction (ch. Job 16:10; Job 16:20; Job 17:2; Job 17:6; Job 21:3; Job 30:1; Job 30:9-10). The experience of David (Psalms 22:7; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 69:11-12; and of David’s Lord (Matthew 26:67-68; Matthew 27:27-31; Luke 23:35). Mockery worse to bear than open violence. The bitterness of this treatment enhanced by the previous experience of honour and respect (ch. Job 29:7-25). Believers not to be staggered at “cruel mockings,” either from the world or nominal professors. Such mockery the expression of inward contempt,—“in the thought of him,” &c. The followers of a despised Christ to expect no better treatment than their Master (Isaiah 53:3; John 13:16).
2. Was mocked in consequence of his affliction (Job 12:5). An aggravation of the treatment. Affliction painful enough in itself, and demanding sympathy. Hard to endure, and cruel to inflict, mockery and contempt on account of it. This experience of Job also that of David, and of the great Antitype of both. Christ was mocked by men when bruised by God.
3. Job thus mocked notwithstanding his uprightness and piety.
(1.) His uprightness,—“the just upright man.” The testimony already given him by God (ch. Job 1:8; Job 2:3).
(2.) His piety. Manifested in his prayerfulness,—“who calleth upon God,” &c. Exemplified in his conduct in reference to his children (ch. Job 1:5). His practice still in his affliction (ch. Job 16:20). Made at last an intercessor for his friends (ch. Job 12:8; Job 12:10). A man of piety necessarily a man of prayer. Affliction draws a good man nearer to God, sends a bad one farther from Him. Terrible aggravation of the sin when the mocked sufferer is an upright child of God. The tremendous guilt of the Jews in relation to Jesus. Job’s prayers ordinarily heard and answered, though apparently not so now. So with Jesus in his last suffering (Psalms 22:2; Luke 22:42, compared with John 11:42). Prayer, offered believingly in the name of Christ, heard and answered, though in God’s own time and way. God’s answer to believers’ prayers his testimony to the acceptance of their persons.
4. Job was mocked by these who were at ease themselves (Job 12:5). Another aggravation of the sin as well as of the suffering occasioned by it. To be “at ease,” a common description of the ungodly. Too often applicable even to the professors of religion (Amos 6:1). Job’s complaint that of Christ’s suffering church (Psalms 123:3-4). Suffering in ourselves the parent of sympathy for others.
III. Re-asserts the prosperity of the ungodly (Job 12:6).
“The tabernacles of robbers prosper; yea, they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly” (or, “to whom God bringeth with his hand,” or, “to him who carrieth God in his hand”). Repeats more fully what he had asserted (ch. Job 9:24). Perhaps quotes another maxim of the ancients. Observe—
1. The characters spoken of.
(1) “Robbers.” Reference to the ungodly who put might for right. The earth, previous to the flood, filled with violence by such. The giants in those days, mighty men of renown (Genesis 6:1). The flood the consequence of their violence and its prosperity. A similar state of things not long after that event. Nimrod, “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Hence the war of the kings (Genesis 14:0). The Sabeans and Chaldeans (ch. 15–17) other specimens of these “robbers.” Lust for property, power and pleasure, the natural tendency of fallen men. Hence wars and fightings (James 4:1-2). Tyrants, despots, and great conquerors, often only robbers on a large scale. Unlawful gains, oppression of the poor, and mercantile dishonesty, other forms of “robbery” (Jeremiah 22:13; Hebrews 2:12).
(2) They “provoke God to anger.” The effect of all ungodliness. God angry with the wicked every day. The wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and righteousness of men (Romans 1:18). God’s anger especially provoked by cruelty and wrong. The whole life of the ungodly a continued provocation of God. Wealth treasured up against the day of wrath (Romans 2:5). Patience no proof of the want of provocations.
2. What is asserted of them. They “prosper.” The prosperity of the ungodly more fully enlarged upon (ch. Job 21:7-13). The stumbling-block of Asaph (Psalms 73:2; Psalms 73:12); the perplexity of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:1).
(1) Their dwellings are in outward peace and prosperity. Their “tabernacles” prosper. A cluster of tents required to form an Oriental chieftain’s household. The families of the ungodly appear to prosper (ch. Job 21:8-9; Job 21:11). Full of children, and leaving the rest of their substance to their babes (Psalms 17:14). Their homes appear likely to stand for many generations. Their lands called by their own names (Psalms 49:11).—
(2) They enjoy abundance of earthly comforts. Their abundance brought to them in the providence of God, though idolatrously ascribed to their own hand (Deuteronomy 8:17; Hebrews 1:11). Observe—(i.) Good fortune no proof of Divine favour. Dives had his good things in this life, Lazarus his evil things, (ii.) Earthly goods as well as trials at the Divine disposal. These often mysteriously, always wisely, distributed. As compared with spiritual blessings, rather the husks that the swine eat, or the bones thrown to the dogs. Ordinarily given as incitements to repentance, gratitude, and love. When lusted after, often given in judgment rather than in mercy. The desire granted, while leanness is sent into the soul (Psalms 106:15).
IV. An Appeal to the irrational creation (Job 12:7-10).
“Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee, &c. Who knoweth not in all these (or, ‘which among all these knoweth not’) that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?” (that God—here alone in the dialogues spoken of as “the Lord”—is both Creator and Governor of all things). Perhaps a third proverbial maxim quoted by Job.—Observe:
1. All animate and inanimate nature man’s teachers.
The Book of Nature
Its lessons manifold both as to faith and practice. Job, in the end, referred to its teachings by God himself. Heaven and earth an open Bible, speaking both from God and of Him. The nocturnal sky a wide unfolded scroll, with every star a character. David’s delight to spell in it the glory and perfections of God (Psalms 19:1-2). Every rising sun proclaims anew His goodness and faithfulness (2 Samuel 3:23). Solomon sent his readers to the ants for a lesson of industry. Jesus directs His disciples to the birds and the flowers to learn implicit confidence in the care of their heavenly Father. The book of nature distinctly enough written, and the voices of creation sufficiently audible and clear. But sin has dimmed our spiritual vision, dulled our hearing, and made us slow to learn either about God or ourselves.
2. The existence of an all-pervading, all-sustaining, and all-controlling
Insisted on by Zophar as if Job had been ignorant of it. Declared by the dust on a butterfly’s wing as well as by the lustre of the Dogstar. Proclaimed by the motion of an insect as it dances in the sun-beams, as well as by the rising and setting of sun, moon, and planets. The hand that upholds the, sun in the heavens guides the sparrow in its fall to the ground. “Not a fly but has had infinite wisdom concerned, not only in its structure, but in its destination.” [Young] Nature’s works designed to lead up to nature’s God.—“In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath (or spirit) of all mankind” (Job 12:10). All life in and from God. First created, and then supported and preserved by Him. “In Him we live,” &c.,—not only by Him but in Him. The life of men, animals and plants, no longer continued than He pleases. The laws of existence established by Him, and still under His control. The spirit or thinking part of man as well as the soul or feeling part of animals, equally proceeding from and dependent upon Him. The highest creature no more able to prolong his existence a moment beyond His will than to create a universe. The power of a man to think, as well as the sense to feel, and the muscles to act, alike from Him. A glance of His eye able to reduce creation to its original nothingness. All events under His control. Moral evil permitted, penal evil inflicted by Him. The twin truths of creation and providence everywhere taught by external nature. The truth that nature fails to teach, that which man most needs to learn. For man to learn the way of pardon and reconciliation with God, the volume of nature required to be supplemented by that of revelation.
V. The right and duty of exercising private judgment, (Job 12:11).
“Doth not the ear try words, and the mouth taste his meat?” (or, “as the mouth tastes its food”). The office of the ear to try or judge of the statements submitted to it. The ear put for the judgment or reason which acts through it. Moral and religious truths at that time conveyed through the ear rather than the eye. Books or writings rarely, if ever, found among the people—Men’s duty to examine and judge of what they hear. Applicable to the quotations already, or yet to be, made from the ancients by Job and his friends, as well as to the sentiments uttered by themselves. Job bespeaks candour and attention to his speeches, and resolves to judge for himself as to what is advanced by his friends. Observe, in reference to
1. Man possesses a faculty by which to judge of moral and religious statements. Such a faculty distinguishes man from the brutes, and allies him to angels. The faculty of reason or judgment originally given and still continued to men, though weakened and depraved by sin. Appealed to by God in His messages to men (Isaiah 5:3); by Christ (Luke 12:57); by His apostles (1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 11:13-14). Lies at the foundation of all efforts to instruct, enlighten, and persuade others in reference to religious subjects. Implies the possession and the apprehension of a standard of right and wrong. Its highest office to judge of moral and religious statements by that standard. A standard of moral judgment implanted in man’s nature at his creation, but now much effaced. Renewed in the moral law and in the Scriptures in general. The object of the Bible and of the Holy Spirit to exhibit that standard, and to lead men to judge, conclude, and act according to it.
2. Man’s duty to exercise that faculty in regard to all statements of moral and religious subjects. Appeal to the law and the testimony in reference to what man teaches, enjoined by God Himself (Isaiah 8:20). Men commanded to cease to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:27). The apostolic injunction—“Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1). The part of the “simple” to “believe every word.” The Beræans commended for searching the Scriptures daily to see whether the things spoken by the apostles were according to them (Acts 17:11). Superstition and priestcraft deny to men the right of private judgment, and forbid the ear to do its office. To believe only because the Church or our forefathers have done so, is for the ear no longer to “try words.” Man responsible to God for the right exercise of the judgment He has given him. When God speaks, the office of the judgment is to discover that He has done so, to ascertain what He has spoken, and then, unquestioningly, to accept it. God’s announcements often above reason, never contrary to it. The judgment to be exercised on moral and religious subjects with—
(1) Seriousness and attention;
(2) Candour and patience;
(3) Modesty and humility;
(4) Impartiality and absence of prejudice;
(5) Prayer for Divine enlightenment.
3. Human authority on religious subjects to be respected, but not regarded as paramount (Job 12:12-13). “With the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days is understanding. With Him (i.e. God) is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding,”—wisdom in both its forms, speculative and practical; or, wisdom to direct and strength to accomplish. The latter verse probably the commencement of another quotation. Job’s object in it—
(1) To vindicate his knowledge of God as not inferior to that of his friends;
(2) To show that the wisdom of God infinitely surpasses that of the wisest of men. Human wisdom acquired by study, observation and experience,—by the long-continued exercise of the judgment referred to in Job 12:11. By reason of use men have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, and so become men of full age in understanding, instead of children (Hebrews 5:13-14; 1 Corinthians 14:20). That wisdom always imperfect and fallible. God the only infallible teacher. Wisdom, in men, as something communicated; with God, as something eternally and essentially abiding. In man as a stream, limited and uncertain; with God, as a perennial fountain. An appeal, therefore, to be made from man’s teaching to God’s. Divine teaching to be implicitly submitted to and confided in, as that of infinite wisdom.
VI. Spirited description of God’s providence in the world (Job 12:14-25.
Probably a quotation of ancient poetry, or the production of the poet put into Job’s mouth. Properly commences with Job 12:13. A magnificent ode or hymn on the Divine perfections and procedure in the world. The similarity in language and sentiment to parts of 107th Psalm remarkable. Celebrates especially the various
Acts of Divine Providence
Exhibits its operations on a grand and extensive scale. Represents God as ruling over nations as well as individuals. His Providence viewed more in its solemn and judicial aspects.
1 In acts of destruction (Job 12:14). “He breaketh down, and (or ‘so that’) it cannot be built again.” The part of the Divine Ruler is to pull down as well as to build up—to kill as well as to make alive (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6; Deuteronomy 32:39). Breaks down houses, cities, individuals, families, nations—the earth itself. Seen in the Flood, the Cities of the Plain, perhaps the Tower of Babel. Breaks down cities, buildings, &c., by earthquakes, inundations, volcanoes, lightnings, tempests, &c; nations and kingdoms by invasions, wars, civil discord, foolish counsels, &c; individuals by diseases and misfortunes. Breaks down in various ways human schemes and enterprises (Genesis 11:3-8; 2 Chronicles 20:36-37). Reference to one form of destruction in Job 12:15. “He withholdeth the waters and they dry up; also he sendeth them out and they overturn the earth.” Exemplified in the Deluge. The windows of heaven then opened, and the fountains of the great deep broken up (Genesis 7:11). Inundations frequent in Arabia and Egypt.
2. In laying restraints on individuals. “He shutteth up a man (Heb. ‘over a man’) and there is no opening.” Reference to underground prisons (Jeremiah 37:18). God in His providence shuts up individuals as prisoners—by affliction and misfortune (Job himself an example); by delivering them up into the hand of enemies; by bringing them into difficulties and straits; by inward darkness and distress; by insanity, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar. When God shuts up, none but Himself can open (Isaiah 22:22).
3. In overruling both men’s misery and mischief (Job 12:16). “The deceived and the deceiver are His.” The deceiver can only act, and the deceived suffer, by His permission. The deceiver His, to restrain his deception and employ it for His own wise purposes. The deceived His, to deliver him from the deception, or to correct or punish him by it. The deceiver God’s instrument in trying the good and punishing the bad. Satan the deceiver of the nations (Revelation 20:3). Lying spirits in the mouth of false prophets, God’s instruments in punishing Ahab and his people (1 Kings 22:20). False Christs and false prophets to deceive many, but not the elect (Matthew 24:11-24). Antichrist’s advent to be with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in those that receive not the love of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
4. In punishing nations and their rulers (Job 12:17). “He leadeth councillors away spoiled (stripped as captives taken in war, or deprived of their dignity, or as persons bereft of judgment), and maketh the judges fools;” (—so infatuates them, that they shall give wrong judgment, and so bring the nation into trouble). So God threatened to take away from Judah the judge, and the prudent, and the councillor, and to give children to be their princes, and to cause babes to rule over them (Isaiah 3:2-4). No greater woe to a land than when God in judgment gives it up to unwise rulers and statesmen (Ecclesiastes 10:16).—Job 12:18. “He looseth the bond of kings (dissolves their authority, as in the case of Rehoboam and the Ten Tribes), and girdeth their loins with a girdle” (perhaps a cord or rope, as indicative of servitude). No uncommon thing for despotic rulers to be dethroned by their oppressed and discontented subjects, and instead of the insignia of royalty to have to wear the habit of a prisoner or an exile (Jeremiah 52:8-11; Jeremiah 52:31-33). Numerous examples in Europe within the last century.—(Job 12:24-25). “He taketh away the heart (or understanding) of the chief of the people of the earth (or the land), and causeth them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way, &c.” Easy with God in judgment on themselves or the nation, to leave rulers and statesmen in such perplexity as not to know what to do, and to abandon them to foolish and ruinous counsels. So Rehoboam adopted the unwise counsel given him by his youthful advisers. The result of such judicial infatuation seen in foolish and hurtful wars, in the adoption of unwise public measures, in the enactment of intolerant, partial, and unjust laws, and in a short-sighted reactionary policy after one of enlightened progress.
5. In humbling the brave, the gifted, and the great (Job 12:19). “He leadeth princes (or priests—probably civil rulers, viceroys, or ministers of state) away spoiled, and overthroweth the mighty” (warriors mighty in battle). No king saved by the multitude of a host. The battle is the Lord’s, who gives the victory to whom He will. Threatened to take from Judah the mighty man and the man of war. At times turned the edge of Israel’s sword, so that they could not stand in the battle (Psalms 89:43). Armies and their generals often overthrown when calculating on certain victory. God sometimes overthrows the mighty by allowing them to overthrow themselves through foolish and ambitious counsels. (Job 12:20.)—“He removeth away the speech of the trusty (the cloquence of the patriotic orator), and taketh away the understanding of the aged” (the prudence and wisdom of the experienced senator). So God threatened to take away from Judah “the eloquent orator, the ancient and the honourable man” (Isaiah 3:2-3). May remove such by disease or death without supplying their places, by withholding the desire to serve their country with their gifts, or by withdrawing the gifts themselves. Persuasive eloquence and penetrating judgment not in men’s own keeping. The influence of wise and confidential advisers sometimes destroyed to serve God’s own purposes (2 Samuel 15:31; 2 Samuel 17:14; 2 Samuel 17:23).—Job 12:21. “He poureth contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty.” Numerous examples furnished by France and other European countries during the last hundred years.
6. In disclosing hidden wickedness (Job 12:22). “He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.”
(1) Wicked and deeplaid schemes. Examples: the diabolical contrivance of Haman for the destruction of the Jews (Book of Esther); the Gunpowder Plot for the overthrow of the Protestant religion in England.
(2) Secret crimes long hidden from men. Examples: Joseph’s brethren, Achan, David. The verse in this sense quoted by the Apostle, 1 Corinthians 4:5.
7. In the increase and decay of nations (Job 12:23). “He increaseth the nations and destroyeth them; He enlargeth the nations and straiteneth them again.” A nation sometimes made to rise within a short time to great power and influence. Examples: Rome; Israel under David and Solomon; and in more modern times, England, America, and Prussia. Examples of the decay of nations: Israel, after the death of Solomon; Rome, after the prevalence of luxury, pride and cruelty; Spain, after its persecution of the truth and exclusion of an open Bible. Changes in the condition of nations perhaps as early as the times of Job (Genesis 14:0). Egypt, a powerful monarchy at a very early period, ultimately for its idolatry, “the basest of kingdoms.” The seven nations of Canaan extirpated for their wickedness and lust. Only a short period occupied by the rise and fall of each of the first three universal empires.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Job 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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