Day 12

Zophar’s Second Speech and Job’s Reply

from the Job reading plan


Job 20:1-29, Job 21:1-34, Psalm 37:34-36, 2 Peter 3:9-13

BY Guest Writer

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

This is a question we’ve all asked at some point in our lives. And up until this point in our reading of Job, it’s been the essential question. In other words, how else could Job’s excruciating circumstances be explained here, “on the ground”? (Job 1:20). No one sitting around Job had access to the heavenly scene you and I read in chapters 1 and 2, so how else were they to understand the human wreckage sitting right in front of them? As far as Job’s friends were concerned, the only possibly explanation was that Job must have committed some egregious sin.

Job and his friends did have the same fundamental theological framework. With this in mind, they reasoned that if people are good, they can expect God to be good to them in return. (This also sounds an awful lot like a message from today’s culture.) Sinful behavior, on the other hand, results in disastrous consequences. (We see this laced throughout God’s instructions at Sinai, emphasized by the prophets, and threaded throughout later books as well.) But this a human expectation. We believe life is supposed to be fair. Turns out, it’s not—which is why we hear the steady drumbeat of this question throughout Job: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

In this chapter, that question gets turned somewhat on its head, inverted: “Why do good things keep happening to bad people?” Why are some wealthy and seemingly untroubled while others struggle day in and day out? In our cultural terms, we wonder how someone can afford to travel abroad to exotic places while others have to work three jobs, struggling to keep food on the table. Why do some people seem to lead such peaceful lives? How do some get away with blatantly rejecting God? None of it seems fair.

Zophar’s emphatic response was this: the sinful may lead lives that look just peachy on the outside, but it’s all fleeting (ch. 20). Those who mistreat the poor and greedily hoard everything in sight—in the end, they will be crushed under God’s judgment and end up in the terror of utter darkness. Job’s response to this? Basically, “Yeah, right.” From what he had seen, the lives of immoral people were often golden. Their families were fine, they lived in security, and they were prosperous.

Letting the wicked get off scot free is not justice, Job reasoned. Most of us would agree with him, I suspect, as we watch all kinds of contemporary injustices parade across our television screens daily. But Job’s observations—while spot-on, to be sure—are not the only perspective. Scripture gives us another view, another way to regard the wicked who seem to flourish in this world. As the psalmist declared, it is only for a season. Those who wait on the Lord, those who hope in Him, will see justice (Psalm 37:34–36). And it is in the waiting that we, like Job, must trust in God and His righteous character, rather than trusting in what we perceive with our own eyes.

Elaine A. Phillips received a BA in social psychology from Cornell University, an MDiv from Biblical Theological Seminary, and an MA in Hebrew from the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, where she and her husband, Perry, studied and taught from 1976–79. She holds a PhD in rabbinic literature, and teaches Biblical Studies at Gordon College. She also serves as a historical geography field instructor for Jerusalem University College. She has published a commentary on Esther in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; a devotional book, With God, Nothing Is Impossible; and, most recently, An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts.

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53 thoughts on "Zophar’s Second Speech and Job’s Reply"

  1. Kaelyn says:

    I have a hard time reading Job, and this lesson is really helping me understand. Thank you SRT.

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