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Job and his friends debate whether the wicked (A) prosper unjustly or (B) get their just deserts. Each position has secondary implications for God's justice and wisdom in governing the universe, and these implications are also debated in Job, but my question is just related to this primary issue - do the wicked get away with evil or do they suffer for their deeds?

It seems that Job holds to position (A) in 9:24a, 10:3b, and especially in 21:7-34.

It seems that Job's three friends hold to position (B) throughout the book. Their position seems obvious in that they frequently reason that if Job is suffering, he must have sinned. (Their assumption it seems, is that the wicked do suffer.) Just to name a few specific places where they make their position plain: Eliphaz in 9:20-25, Bildad 18:5-21, and Zophar 20:5-29.

What seems so odd is Job 27:13-23. It seems that here Job suddenly flips from position (A) to position (B), making an argument to his friends...about the position they already hold. How does this passage fit in with the overall argument between Job in his friends?

A few answers I've heard and am unsure of:

  1. A read a secular Hebrew commentator suggests that Job's portion stops after 27:6 and that 27:7-28:28 is all Zophar's speech. He suggests that the line introducing the portion as Zophar's closing argument was lost in transmission. Two clues in favor of this argument: Firstly, 27:1 and 29:1 both introduce Job as the speaker, which would seem more appropriate if there was another speaker somewhere between. Second, the whole book follows a clear pattern of Job-Eliphaz-Job-Bildad-Job-Zophar (repeat). The cycle repeats three times, but then Zophar doesn't get his third turn to complete the pattern unless this passage is ascribed to him. This answer made sense but requires a huge inference that feels a little baseless.

  2. I read another commentator suggesting that Job, in exasperation, is trying to shut up his friends who have repeated the same ideas over and over, by making their argument better than they can. In essence, "Yes, of course the wicked suffer and are cast down from their high position, but my point is why do they prosper at all?" This answer felt plausible but required a high level of reading between the lines that seemed unfaithful to the text.

I feel like there may be some keys in 27:7-12, but I don't see them. Those verses are also lost on me, whoever the speaker is.

Any insight is greatly appreciated.

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 13 at 14:28

3 Answers 3

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Your 1. suggests that Job's portion stops after 27:6 and that 27:7-28:28 is all Zophar's speech. This seems unlikely for the following reasons:

“May my enemy be like the wicked, my adversary like the unjust!" - Job 27:7
"My enemy...my adversary...." sounds like Job, not Zophar.

"Behold, all of you have seen it yourselves; why then have you become altogether vain?" - Job 27:12 Zophar addressed Job, not "all of you".

"And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” - Job 28:28 These words belong in Job's mouth, not in Zophar's.

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These three friends came were supposed to offer condolences to Job, yet their words proved to be accusatory, pushing Job beyond his limits. In response, Job made an oath in Job 27:1-7, stands as a resolute rebuttal to the allegations hurled at him by his friends.

In his oath, Job not only reaffirms his faith in God but also underscores his belief in divine justice. His commencement with the declaration "As surely as God lives" (Job 27:2) signals his profound trust in God Almighty's ability to rectify any perceived injustice. Job's intent isn't to doubt God's righteousness, rather, he asserts his innocence with steadfast conviction.

In Job 27:7, Job accuses his friends did not treat him with reasonable fairness, like an enemy of him. Job maintains a veneer of courtecy without explicitly naming his friends as enemies while implying their involvement.

The subsequent verses Job 27:7-23 appear to take the form of a curse directed at his adversaries, focusing not on God but on those who provide false testimony, implicitly referencing his three friends. While some interpretations suggest that this passage aligns with Zophar's rhetoric, it's plausible that Job is repurposing his adversary's words against them, employing their language to underscore his point.

Note what Jesus said in Matthew 12:35-37 NIV

35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

As Job's accusations mounted, his three friends found themselves speechless, prompting Elihu to rekindle the debate in Job chapter 32.

The original poster's assertion that Job was inclined to believe the wicked prosper unjustly (A) is not entirely accurate. From the outset, Job affirmed his belief in divine judgment, as evidenced by his declaration in Job 1:21, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised". This resonates to Job 27:8, where Job asserts, "For what hope have the godless when they are cut off, when God takes away their life?". Job's stance underscores his acknowledgment of God's sovereignty, but he refrains from assuming the role of divine arbiter, a position his friends seemed eager to adopt.

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What seems so odd is Job 27:13-23. It seems that here Job suddenly flips from position (A) to position (B)

Job 27 is the beginning of Job's last speech, and though he continues to maintain his integrity (knowing that he had not done any of the things of which his friends had accused him), he is resigned to the fact that God has numbered him with the wicked: his possessions are gone; his children are destroyed; his family and friends have abandoned him (except the three tormentors); his neighbours are openly hostile towards him; his bed is no comfort to him -- he seeks its comfort, but finds no rest in it, as his nights are filled with scary dreams and terrifying visions;

This resignation, however, is the beginning of Job's salvation.

The fact is, Job, like all men, is a sinner. However, the nature of his sin continued to elude him (as it seems to for most readers of his story). In chapter 7, he says:

Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself?
Job 7:20 (NKJ)

But at the end of the story he declares:

... I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
Job 42:6 (NKJ)

Of what did he repent?

... I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful נִפְלָא֥וֹת for me, which I did not know.
Job 42:3 (NKJ)

The context of the Hebrew word, נִפְלָא֥וֹת (from Strong's H6381 - pālā'), is the same here as it is used by the Psalmist:

LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high וּבְנִפְלָא֣וֹת for me.
Psalms 131:1 (KJV)

Job was in need of salvation. Salvation from what? From himself, and from his neighbours who didn't see him in the same way he saw himself.

Reading through Job's last speech, one can't help but see a proud man. Chapter 29 is replete with, "I did this," and "I did that," without a single mention of God's hand in it. In chapter 30, we see Job's attitude to his neighbours, the ones who don't wait on his every word:

But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock.
Job 30:1 (KJV)

When he is reminiscing of better times, Job says:

21Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel. 22After my words they spoke not again and my speech dropped upon them. 23And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain.
Job 29:21-23 (KJV)

Moses says something similar:

1Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. 2My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:
Deuteronomy 32:1-2 (KJV)

However, Moses then goes on to say:

3Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. 4He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
Deuteronomy 32:3-4 (KJV)

Nowhere does Job give such recognition to God as the source of the refreshing nature of his words, or the motivation behind his good deeds.

If God had not intervened in Job's life as he did, then rather than laughing at the fate that befell him, his neighbours would likely have done away with him altogether. God rescued Job because he was a superior practitioner of the tenets of his religion, but he had forgotten the reason for doing so -- to advertise God's goodness, not his own.

God says to Job:

11Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him. 12Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. 13Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret. 14Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.
Job 40:11-14 (KJV)

There is no difference between a wicked man and a proud righteous man, because neither is moved to advertise the goodness of God. This is the message Job's story brings to our attention.

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