It is sad to see what intemperate passions even wise and good men are sometimes betrayed into by the heat of disputation, of which Zophar here is an instance. Eliphaz began with a very modest preface, Job 4:2. Bildad was a little more rough upon Job, Job 8:2. But Zophar falls upon him without mercy, and gives him very bad language: Should a man full of talk be justified? And should thy lies make men hold their peace? Isa. this the way to comfort Job? No, nor to convince him neither. Does this become one that appears as an advocate for God and his justice? Tantaene animis coelestibus irae?--In heavenly breasts can such resentment dwell? Those that engage in controversy will find it very hard to keep their temper. All the wisdom, caution, and resolution they have will be little enough to prevent their breaking out into such indecencies as we here find Zophar guilty of.
I. He represents Job otherwise than what he was, Job 11:2, 3. He would have him thought idle and impertinent in his discourse, and one that loved to hear himself talk; he gives him the lie, and calls him a mocker; and all this that it might be looked upon as a piece of justice to chastise him. Those that have a mind to fall out with their brethren, and to fall foul upon them, find it necessary to put the worst colours they can upon them and their performances, and, right or wrong, to make them odious. We have read and considered Job’s discourses in the foregoing chapters, and have found them full of good sense and much to the purpose, that his principles are right, his reasonings strong, many of his expressions weighty and very considerable, and that what there is in them of heat and passion a little candour and charity will excuse and overlook; and yet Zophar here invidiously represents him, 1. As a man that never considered what he said, but uttered what came uppermost, only to make a noise with the multitude of words, hoping by that means to carry his cause and run down his reprovers: Should not the multitude of words be answered? Truly, sometimes it is no great matter whether it be or no; silence perhaps is the best confutation of impertinence and puts the greatest contempt upon it. Answer not a fool according to his folly. But, if it be answered, let reason and grace have the answering of it, not pride and passion. Should a man full of talk (margin, a man of lips, that is all tongue, vox et praeterea nihil—mere voice) be justified? Should he be justified in his loquacity, as in effect he is if he be not reproved for it? No, for in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin. Should he be justified by it? Shall many words pass for valid pleas? Shall he carry the day with the flourishes of language? No, he shall not be accepted with God, or any wise men, for his much speaking, Matt. 6:7. 2. As a man that made no conscience of what he said—a liar, and one that hoped by the impudence of lies to silence his adversaries (should thy lies make men hold their peace?)--a mocker, one that bantered all mankind, and knew how to put false colours upon any thing, and was not ashamed to impose upon every one that talked with him: When thou mockest shall no man make thee ashamed? Isa. it not time to speak, to stem such a violent tide as this? Job was not mad, but spoke the words of truth and soberness, and yet was thus misrepresented. Eliphaz and Bildad had answered him, and said what they could to make him ashamed; it was therefore no instance of Zophar’s generosity to set upon a man so violently who was already thus harassed. Here were three matched against one.
II. He charges Job with saying that which he had not said (Job 11:4): Thou hast said, My doctrine is pure. And what if he had said so? It was true that Job was sound in the faith, and orthodox in his judgment, and spoke better of God than his friends did. If he had expressed himself unwarily, yet it did not therefore follow but that his doctrine was true. But he charges him with saying, I am clean in thy eyes. Job had not said so: he had indeed said, Thou knowest that I am not wicked (Job 10:7); but he had also said, I have sinned, and never pretended to a spotless perfection. He had indeed maintained that he was not a hypocrite as they charged him; but to infer thence that he would not own himself a sinner was an unfair insinuation. We ought to put the best construction on the words and actions of our brethren that they will bear; but contenders are tempted to put the worst.
III. He appeals to God, and wishes him to appear against Job. So very confident is he that Job is in the wrong that nothing will serve him but that God must immediately appear to silence and condemn him. We are commonly ready with too much assurance to interest God in our quarrels, and to conclude that, if he would but speak, he would take our part and speak for us, as Zophar here: O that God would speak! for he would certainly open his lips against thee; whereas, when God did speak, he opened his lips for Job against his three friends. We ought indeed to leave all controversies to be determined by the judgment of God, which we are sure is according to truth; but those are not always in the right who are most forward to appeal to that judgment and prejudge it against their antagonists. Zophar despairs to convince Job himself, and therefore desires God would convince him of two things which it is good for every one of us duly to consider, and under all our afflictions cheerfully to confess:—
1. The unsearchable depth of God’s counsels. Zophar cannot pretend to do it, but he desires that God himself would show Job so much of the secrets of the divine wisdom as might convince him that they are at least double to that which is, Job 11:6. Note, (1.) There are secrets in the divine wisdom, arcana imperii—state-secrets. God’s way is in the sea. Clouds and darkness are round about him. He has reasons of state which we cannot fathom and must not pry into. (2.) What we know of God is nothing to what we cannot know. What is hidden is more than double to what appears, Eph. 3:9. (3.) By employing ourselves in adoring the depth of those divine counsels of which we cannot find the bottom we shall very much tranquilize our minds under the afflicting hand of God. (4.) God knows a great deal more evil of us than we do of ourselves; so some understand it. When God gave David a sight and sense of sin he said that he had in the hidden part made him to know wisdom, Ps. 51:6.
2. The unexceptionable justice of his proceedings. “Know therefore that, how sore soever the correction is that thou art under, God exacteth of thee less than thy iniquity deserves,” or (as some read it), “he remits thee part of thy iniquity, and does not deal with thee according to the full demerit of it.” Note, (1.) When the debt of duty is not paid it is justice to insist upon the debt of punishment. (2.) Whatever punishment is inflicted upon us in this world we must own that it is less than our iniquities deserve, and therefore, instead of complaining of our troubles, we must be thankful that we are out of hell, Lam. 3:39; Ps. 103:10.