Job 11–12: Ease & Calamity

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 6: Thursday

“He who is at ease holds calamity in contempt,
As prepared for those whose feet slip.”
Job 12:5

Job summarizes the attitude of his friends: they are at ease and not beset with devastation, and so they look down on calamity as something that cannot touch them because it only happens to those who stray from God’s ways and sin.

In today’s Bible reading of Job 11–12. Zophar speaks for the first time in chapter 11, and Job’s rejoinder begins in chapter 12, continuing through chapter 14. Of Job’s three friends, Zophar is the worst—he is cold and without pity as he lectures and rebukes Job, secure in his pomposity that he has all the answers to Job’s calamities. After I read Zophar’s words, I was very interested to see E. S. P. Heavenor’s comments on him, because as I’ve read through Job, I’ve found Heavenor to be immensely helpful. He writes:

“Zophar is the narrow dog­matist par excellence. We find in him two flaws charac­teristic of his type. In the first place he is too confident in his religious standpoint. We find no traces of a humble ‘I do not know’. He is right in maintaining that he is in touch with truth (e.g., 11:7–11, which speaks of the peerless, transcendent wisdom of God). He is wrong in thinking that he has all the truth. He understands not a whit more than Job about the reason for Job’s sufferings. Second, he is lacking in humility. He is swift to call Job to go down on his knees at the recollection of the limitations of human knowledge. Yet, as he talks down to Job, he forgets that the mind scrutinizing his sufferings is limited too. Unknown to himself, his deductions from Job’s misery have a far greater stamp of the wild ass’s colt (11:12) on them than the most agonized cries of the sufferer.”1

Francis Andersen describes Zophar:

“The Naamathite is the least engaging of Job’s three friends. There is not a breath of compassion in his speech…

“Zophar also exaggerates. He accuses Job of being garrulous (verse 2f.), self-righteous (4–6), opinionated (7–12), and recalcitrant (13–20).”2

David Atkinson is even more blunt:

“Zophar has joined the conference in chapter 11 with his insolent, childish, know-all confidence…

“Zophar is our third speaker, and he is rather a nasty piece of wrok. Zophar is high on the list of those without whom we could happily live if we never saw them again: an insolent, intellectual prig…As Robert Gordis says of him, ‘He never lets facts interfere with his theories.'”3

Friends of someone who suffers should not presume to offer a quick explanation of the why of affliction. If a cause and effect is obvious, such as some behavior that directly ties into adversity, then prayer, love, humility and fear of God are keys to wisdom. If someone has a bad gash on a finger through wrong use of a kitchen knife, you don’t lecture on knife safety while the person bleeds to death. As you staunch the wound, the attitude revealed by the person will indicate whether rebuke or consolation and guidance is needed. I have heard women confess sin with tears. They had no need of rebuke; they were weeping already with repentance. They needed to be reminded of the forgiveness that was theirs in Christ and help to avoid temptation.

Someone like Job, however, who suffers without overt cause needs help trusting God in the face of no explanation of his affliction. That means first of all, you have to refrain from pressing God for an explanation or implying to your friend that there is one to be had. Can you, yourself, trust God in the suffering of someone else? Can you bear the tension or must you have an explanation? I find bearing this tension hardest of all to bear when my children suffer.

Derek Kidner writes,

“A closer look at the material shows that the basic error of Job’s friends is that they overestimate their grasp of truth, misapply the truth they know, and close their minds to any facts that contradict what they assume. That being so, if the book is attacking anything its target is not the familiar doctrine of other Scriptures, such as God’s justice and benevolence, his care for the righteous and punishment of the wicked, of the general law that what one sows one reaps. Rather, it attacks the arrogance of pontificating about the application of these truths, and of thereby misrepresenting God and misjudging one’s fellow men. To put it more positively, the book shows (by its context, the opening scene in heaven) how small a part of any situation is the fragment that we see; how much of what we do see we ignore or distort through preconceptions; and how unwise it is to extrapolate from our elementary grasp of truth.”4

As Job 11 closes, Andersen summarizes:

“The friends have now had their first round. All the issues are exhibited. Job still stands where he stood at first (1:21; 2:10), submissive to the irresis­tible might of God, but strained in faith as he fights to win his way to a new assurance of the goodness of God. He is neither docile nor patient. The friends can only conclude that Job is somehow in the wrong. God has exposed his secret sin, and now his worst fault is to keep on concealing it. Their duty is to help him back to God through repentance and confession (5:17; 8:20; 11:14). So far Job has stubbornly rejected their well-intentioned ministry. He insists on his integrity, admits no faults. He refuses to establish the justice of God by confessing fictitious sins. The friends can only regard his stand as pride and hypocrisy. They cannot see Job’s anguish as he tries in vain to discover the ‘smiling face’ behind God’s ‘frowning providence’…

“Job’s response [Job 12:1–14:22], which is exceeded in length only by his final speech in chapters 29–31, comes at a significant point in the dialogue. It marks the end of the first round [or cycle of speeches between Job and his friends] and leads on to the second…The chapter divisions mark the three major sections of the speech. In chapter 12 Job counters what the friends have said with his own interpretation of the activities of God.”5

Job begins his rejoinder with biting sarcasm:

Then Job responded,
“Truly then you are the people,
And with you wisdom will die!
But I have intelligence as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
And who does not know such things as these?
I am a joke to my friends,
The one who called on God and He answered him;
The just
and blameless man is a joke.
He who is at ease holds calamity in contempt,
As prepared for those whose feet slip.”
Job 12:1–5

In Job 12:7–25 Job counters his friends with words on the wisdom and might of God. On 12:7–9 Heavenor writes,

“Job now states his familiarity with everything that they have said about the wisdom and power of God.”6

Never forget that unless your friend undergoing suffering is a brand-new Christian, whomever you’re trying to help may already know what you know about God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and might. In fact, that person may even know more! In describing the last section of Job 12, Andersen says,

“Here Job shows himself to be a more honest observer, a more exuberant thinker than the friends. The mind reels at the immensity of his conception of God. The little deity in the theology of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is easily thought and easily believed. But a faith like Job’s puts the human spirit to strenuous work.”7

When we are cut to the bone by devastating loss, when we see evil run rampant, the why of suffering is inexplicable. To paraphrase Os Guinness, we may not know why, but we must know why we trust God who does know why. I’ve quoted from his book, Doubt, many times. His insight has been a lifeline to me in my most difficult hours. We’re in the middle of reading Job, but I want to share some of his thoughts with you now, because if you’re in the middle of a time of grief, you may need his insights now (his emphasis):

“When a Christian comes to faith his understanding and his trust go hand in hand, but as he continues in faith his trust may sometimes be called to go on by itself without his understanding.

“This is where the principle of suspended judgement applies. At such times if the Christian’s faith is to be itself and let God be God, it must suspend judgement and say, ‘Father I do not understand you, but I trust you.’

“Notice what this means. A Christian does not say, ‘I do not understand you at all, but I trust you anyway.’ Rather he says, ‘I do not understand you in this situation, but I understand why I trust you anyway. Therefore I can trust that you understand even though I don’t.’ The former is a mystery unrelieved by rationality and indistinguishable from absurdity; the latter is a statement of the rationality of faith walking hand-in-hand with the mystery of faith. So the principle of suspended judgment is not irrational. It is not a leap of faith but a walk of faith. As believers we cannot always know why, but we can always know why we trust God who knows why, and this makes all the difference.

“…Face to face with mystery, and especially the mystery of evil, the faith that understands why it has come to trust must trust where it has not come to understand.

“Suffering is the most acute trial that faith can face, and the questions it raises are the sharpest, the most insistent and the most damaging that faith will meet. Here as nowhere else the supreme challenge is issued to suspend judgment. The basic principle is the same (we do not know why but we know why we trust God who knows why) and our basic prayer is the same (‘Father I do not understand you, but I trust you.’), but the price we are asked to pay is unique.

“Can faith bear the pain and trust God, suspending judgement and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgements must be made?…To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is different again.

“…To suspend judgement and simply trust is the hardest thing. Faith must reach deep into its reserves of courage and endurance if the rising panic of incomprehensible pain is not to be overwhelming.”8

Whether we suffer or whether those we love suffer, when we don’t know why, we must know why we trust God who knows why:

“There is one thing we must not skate over too quickly, or in our haste we may not notice until too late that the ice is thin. If suspended judgement turns on the principle ‘we do not know why but we know why we trust God who knows why’, it is all important that we do know why we trust God

“Sometimes we have no way of knowing how much strain our faith can take until we actually suffer. Only then do we know whether our faith is grounded where it should be.

“The test of suffering reveals whether our ‘knowing why’ is an irreducible bedrock conviction grounded in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, or whether our faith is resting to any degree on what is not foundation, but superstructure or just plain sand.”9

When we don’t know why, why can we trust God who knows why?

“And how is this?…a Jew not in his youth, but in his prime, who freely took on himself the full desolation of God’s silence so that after suffering in our place he might restore us to his Father, that then we might be sure that God is there, and God is good…

“Not surprisingly it is those whose faith in God is anchored in the incarnation—God become flesh, crucified, risen—whose faith can pass through the fires of suffering. For there is no question however deep or painful which cannot be trusted with the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ.”10

When we walk by faith, when we do not know why, we do not walk alone. God is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. Jesus said He would not leave us as orphans. We have been given the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one called alongside to help.

God has also given us our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us. They can be those we know, or even those we’ve never met, but who yet give us words of encouragement. Here is encouragement for you from David Atkinson:

“We are not promised freedom from suffering in this world. ‘In the world you will have tribulation.’ Nor are we let into all of God’s secrets. But we are promised grace. For some, there may be healing and restoration in this life. For others, that gift awaits them in the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ where there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more death. But for all of us, here and now, there is grace, and there can be hope.”11

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:6–1112

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Tres figuras de busto ¿Job y sus amigos?: Josep Vergara. Public Domain.
1,6E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 429, 429.
2,5,7Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 169, 171–172, 176.
3,11,12David Atkinson, The Message of Job: Suffering and grace (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove IL: 1991) 85, 57; 162; 162–163 1 Peter 5:6–11 as quoted by Atkinson.
4Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1985) 61.
8,9,10Os Guinness, Doubt (Lion Publishing plc, England: 1976, third ed. 1987) 199–200, 202, 206; 209–210; 211, 213.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s