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All three friends have spoken. They all gave their views from different angles. Job sees a pattern in this. The three friends all agree that Job’s suffering is the result of sins committed by him. They are also determined to convince him of his sins, despite the fact that they have no other proof than what they see as proof: his suffering. Job is very indignant about this.
Earlier, Job reacted especially to the way the friends approached him, to their lack of understanding and empathy (Job 6:14-27). But his words did not come across. Zophar has just added a bit more, and spoken to Job in an even louder and more insensitive way. In his reaction to this, Job does not so much deal with his style, but rather with the content. He refutes his so-called wisdom.
Job’s answer to Zophar in Job 12-14 can be divided into two parts:
1. His answer to his friends (Job 12:1-25; Job 13:1-19).
2. His questions to God (Job 13:20-28; Job 14:1-22).
Job Feels Accused by His Friends
When Zophar is finished, Job responds (Job 12:1). His answer is not an agreement with what Zophar has said, but a refutation of it. His response is addressed not only to Zophar, but to “you”, that is, to the other two friends as well (Job 12:2). This is also the case in Job 6, where Job makes it clear that he is very disappointed in his three friends. Sarcastically he says to them: ‘What wisdom have you expressed, unbelievable. Really, you are grossing up in wise words. If you die, that’s the end of wisdom.
‘But’, Job goes on to say, ‘in no way I am inferior in wisdom to you’ (Job 12:3). He points out that like them, he also has a heart. By this he means that he also has intellect and thinks about things and has feelings. He is “not inferior” to them. They tell him nothing new. What they use as arguments against him in order to convince him of their correct ‘vision of God’, are the arguments known to everyone. He doesn’t feel that he is taken seriously by them. As if he lacked knowledge about God. Job was known for his wisdom and assisted many (Job 4:3-4). He does know how people talk about God and His actions by people who think they know Him. With what they tell him about God, they don’t get him down.
He accuses them of joking with him (Job 12:4; Job 17:2; Job 21:3; Job 30:1). In doing so, they act very differently from God, to Whom Job resorts. God does listen to him, he is convinced of that, even though he does not understand why God acts with him in this way. To God, Job states, he is a just and blameless man. That is why it is so unjust that his friends ridicule him and treat him so disrespectfully. They talk easily. They can ridicule him because they do not know the distress he is in. They prosper and grow and they put God at their will. More than anyone else, Christ has experienced this mockery.
Job compares them to someone “who is at ease”, the man without worries, who has no problems (Job 12:5). The man without worries looks at an oppressed man and despises him in his thoughts. He believes that he who is oppressed is to blame. What happens to him, he deserves, he has brought it upon himself through his behavior. You can see he’s on the verge of slipping. That’s because he’s not standing right before God.
That’s how Job feels judged by his friends. It’s like he’s being kicked while he is down, instead of a comforting pity. People who don’t have problems often have a quick judgment about those who do. Parents whose children are doing well are in danger of making quick judgments about parents whose children are not doing well. In doing so, they sometimes also moderate themselves to know the causes. In general, public opinion is mercilessly cruel to those who are already having such a hard time.
In Job 12:6 Job points out the injustice he observes on earth. This is also what Asaph observes (Psa 73:2-3). Jeremiah also struggled with this (Jer 12:1-2). With this, Job contradicts the vision of his friends that God always rewards good and punishes evil. Zophar has accused Job of wickedness in his tent (Job 11:14) and thus, according to him, has demonstrated the cause of Job’s misery. Job now replies that the tents of the destroyers have rest and that those who provoke God are perfectly secure. God’s hand protects them from evil and He is good to them. This is how God often treats people in goodness while they defy Him. This means that God does not always immediately punish evil and reward good. That Job is suffering so much misery is not proof that he has sinned.
Job Refers to Witnesses
After an interlude (Job 12:4-6) Job returns to his main argument (Job 12:2-3), calling heaven and earth to witness that God is everywhere and does everything (Job 12:7-13). He points out to His friends the lower creation, that of animals and birds (Job 12:7). They should be taught by those animals. Then they will be taught about God’s actions. Their ignorance will then disappear, for it will be revealed to them how God acts. If they go to the earth and the fish of the sea, they will receive the same teaching, for they will tell the same (Job 12:8). They will discover that everywhere in nature there is the same injustice that he also experiences. Nature makes it clear that the strong wins it from the weak and that those who are cruel prevail.
God does the same everywhere. What they see in nature confirms what is happening in the human world. There, too, it is the brutal and cruel who are bulldozing the meek. Isn’t it something everyone observes (Job 12:9)? Is there anyone who doesn’t see it? He is either very short-sighted or completely blind. Behind this is “the hand of the LORD”. This is the only time the name “LORD” appears in the conversations with the friends.
Because of what Job says, someone might think that God would be the causer of evil. But we must remember that what Job describes is the consequence of the sin that has come into the world. God is not the causer of evil, but He has attached consequences to the evil that is there. One of those consequences is that evil rules over good, which can make it seem as if He is rewarding the doing of evil.
God holds all that lives in His mighty hand (Job 12:10; cf. Mt 10:29). With this, Job emphasizes God’s sovereignty. Everything is under His control. This concerns the life of every living thing – men and animals – and above that also the breath or spirit that He has given of all living things only to all mankind (Ecc 3:21; Gen 2:7; Dan 5:23). He gives man life, health and happiness without being obliged to do so (Acts 14:17), and has the right to take all that away without giving any account. With the expression “all mankind” Job indicates that man is subject to the same laws as the rest of creation.
When words are spoken – here alternating by the friends and Job – the listener – here alternating the friends and Job – judges their content (Job 12:11). The question is whether they are true or false, right or wrong, whether they should be accepted or rejected, whether they are words of God, or words of men. Judging words is like tasting food through the palate. The friends have tasted the words of Job, but rejected them as distasteful. Conversely, Job has tasted their words and spits them out. He rejects them, for they are untrue, wrong words. They are not words of God, but words of men.
After his reference to animals and the earth, Job points to the aged men (Job 12:12). They have gained wisdom and insight in their long lives. Their perceptions and experiences have shaped them. Job does not doubt that they will agree with him. Let them examine his case, and see what is true of the accusations of his friends.
Finally, Job points out to his friends a wisdom that far surpasses the wisdom of the aged men, and that is the complete wisdom that he knows to be present with God (Job 12:13). God has not only wisdom, but also might. In His wisdom He designed the world and by His might He created the world. “To Him belong counsel and understanding”, which means that He knows exactly what to do with what He has designed and created. That’s where the understanding of mankind stops. It is therefore not a testimony to the wisdom of friends when they think they are able to explain why God acts as He did with Job. Rather, it is a posturing, an interference in things that God has reserved for Himself.
Job Describes the Power of God
Job’s a remark about God’s wisdom and might in Job 12:13 is reason to give examples of how God uses His wisdom and omnipotence in practice. Job does this to show his friends that he knows Who God is. They don’t have to tell him that. In his misery Job sheds a one-sided light on God’s omnipotence and wisdom. He presents it in such a way that God overthrows everything on which man should be able to rely when it comes to justice, protection and consolation.
There may also be an undertone of an accusation against God. It has been said that in these verses he accuses God, as it were, of ‘mismanagement’, of abuse of His might. Remarkable in this respect is that Job mainly describes the might of God to exterminate. This fits in with everything we have heard about God from Job’s mouth so far. He does not understand God. How can God act like this with someone like him, who has served Him so faithfully? God has broken off his life and there is no prospect of rebuilding it (Job 12:14). He feels locked up, imprisoned in his misery, without an opening to escape it.
What he experiences of God, he sees all around him. God acts as He wills, without anyone being able to stop Him in it, and without giving an account of His deeds. That behind all God’s deeds there is a wise intention, Job is still blind to. He measures God’s actions by the circumstances in which he finds himself. He cannot rise above his own judgment of them. He is not yet ready for that. The struggles in his thoughts about God are still too intense for that.
What God can do with a man like Job, he can also do with the waters (Job 12:15). He can stop them and He can let them go. If He stops them, drought is the result. If He lets them go, floods will come and turn the earth upside down. Job only describes here the negative effect of what God does. He does not have an eye for the blessings that God also has in mind. For God speaks to men through natural disasters so that they may repent to Him.
God is for Job now Someone with whom strength takes precedence over wisdom (Job 12:16; cf. Job 12:13). He is first and foremost concerned with God’s strength, which he experiences, but in its devastating form. Surely he knows that God also possesses wisdom. Only it is a mystery to him from which that wisdom is evident, for he does not understand why God treats him so. He who is misled and misleader are both in the power of God. That is how powerful He is. But why He allows them both to coexist, Job does not understand.
Then Job speaks of counsellors who are carried away destitute by God (Job 12:17). With all their wise counsel – see for example Ahithophel (2Sam 16:20-23; 2Sam 17:1-5; 14) – these people have not been able to prevent God from giving them into the hands of enemies who have made them walk barefoot (cf. Isa 20:4). The judges who are supposed to have insight into the right and to judge in disputes are made fools by God, deprived of their understanding. God is sovereign and also controls the minds of the wisest people on earth.
Kings are also subject to His dominion (Job 12:18). They may say something and decide, but God undoes it in His omnipotence. He even “binds their loins with a girdle” which means that He takes their royal girdle (dignity) away from them, binds an ordinary girdle around them, and takes them away as captives. What applies to the kings as political leaders also applies to the priests, the religious leaders (Job 12:19). He can also make them walk barefoot. The secure ones are also under His authority. They may think that they can exercise their power undisturbed, but He is throwing them into ruin. How He deals with them makes it clear that He has the circumstances of life in His hand and can change them as He sees fit.
He has the last word, not they. Counselors, judges, kings, priests, all of them are under His authority and He acts with them as He wills. Job is right in this if they deserve it, but he leaves that side aside. He only sees how God acts with him. He is one of the “trusted ones” (Job 12:20). He knows this of himself. But God seems to think otherwise, for He gags him. All discernment of old people fails to explain this.
“Nobles” do not count with Him (Job 12:21). He pours “contempt” on them. The principle is general (Psa 107:40), but here too Job may mean himself. “Loosen the belt of the strong” means that God makes their walking impossible or severely restricts their freedom of movement. The belt serves to keep the clothing up so that it does not bother someone when he is walking. Job experiences that God makes it impossible for him to walk.
God is so omniscient that He reveals what is most hidden from man (Job 12:22; cf. 1Cor 4:5a). What is “deep darkness” for man, what is completely hidden from his perception and what he also shudders from, is not hidden from God either. “All things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13). God has control over the most hidden things.
What applies to persons also applies to nations (Job 12:23-25). He also has total control over the nations (Job 12:23). All the sources from which they draw and through which they grow great come from Him. He can also take away those sources, making them disappear from the earthly stage. Their habitat over which they are scattered is determined by Him. The nations do not determine their own course, He does.
This seems to contradict what Paul says: “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways” (Acts 14:16). But that contradiction is only appearance. Both statements are true. The nations are responsible for their own choice. They have chosen to go their way apart from God. God has allowed them to do so. But that does not mean that God has given up control. If the nations go their own way, God directs them in such a way that they will suffer the consequences of their choice.
Here we see what we find again and again in Scripture, on the one hand the responsibility of man and on the other hand God’s plan. God fulfills His intentions and in so doing includes man’s actions without reducing man’s responsibility. We cannot bring these two sides together, but God can. That is what He is God for.
In order to achieve His purpose with the nations, He causes disorientation among the leaders of the nations (Job 12:24). They wander around the world “in a pathless waste”. They do not see any passable way. All their planning is futile. They grope around “in darkness with no light” (Job 12:25). If a man goes his way without God, it means that he is in darkness, where there is no light. Such a man staggers like a drunkard. He looks for something to hold on to, but does not find it.
In summary, Job has explained to the three friends the power and wisdom of God. Between the lines we feel his struggle with the goodness and righteousness of God. This struggle is further explained in Job 13.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Job 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19