Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said,XI.
(1) Zophar, the third of Job’s friends, has a clearly defined character, distinct from that of the others; he is the ordinary and common-place moral man, who expresses the thoughts and instincts of the many. Eliphaz was the poet and spiritual man, who sees visions and dreams; Bildad was the man who rested on authority and appealed to tradition; Zophar is the man of worldly wisdom and common sense. In some respects he is the most offensive of the three. He is astonished that Job has not been silenced by the replies of the other two, and thinks he can do no less than help to silence him. Thus he at once begins with “a multitude of words,” and “full of talk,” and “lies,” and “mockery.” Zophar stands on a lower level, and drags Job down to it. He refracts his protestations of innocence against himself, and charges him with iniquity in making them. His longing also to come into judgment with God (Job 9:32) he turns back upon himself, being confident that it could not fail to convict him were he to do so.
For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes.(4) Clean in thine eyes is variously referred to God, to mortal men (Job 11:3), and to Job himself (Job 32:1). The first seems most to be preferred, for at all events Job had hypothetically spoken of himself as righteous before God (Job 10:15). (Comp. Job 9:30. &c.) Zophar, therefore, who professes superior wisdom, desires that God would show Job how far short he falls of it: that He would show him the hidden things, the secrets of wisdom; for sound wisdom is manifold: it has many aspects, and lies as it were fold over fold in unexpected complexities, defying the shallow and unscrutinising gaze; and were He to do this, Job would find out to his dismay that God still credited him part of the penalty due to him.
And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.(6) They are double to that which is!—This translation conveys no sense, and is not a translation; see the last Note.
Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?(7) Canst thou by searching find out God? Literally, Canst thou attain to the searching out of God?
It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?(8) It is as high as heaven.—Literally, The heights of heaven; what canst thou do? it is deeper than the grave; what canst thou know?
If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him?(10) If he cut off.—It is the same word as “a spirit passed before me” (Job 4:15); and as Job himself used (Job 9:11): “he passeth on, but I perceive him not.” “If, then,” says Zophar, “God acteth thus, or if He delivers up a man into the hands of his enemies, or if He calls together a multitude against him—alluding apparently to Job 9:11-12; Job 10:17, where the word rendered changes is a derivative of the word here rendered “cut off”—then who can turn Him back from His intent?” adopting Job’s own question at Job 9:12 : “Who can hinder Him?” Some understand the three terms forensically: “if He arrest, and imprison, and hold assize; “but it is probable that Job’s own statements are alluded to.
For he knoweth vain men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it?(11) He knoweth vain men.—Though he regardeth it not: that is, seemeth not to see it.
For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass's colt.(12) For vain man would be wise, &c., is extremely difficult, because it is hard to distinguish subject and predicate. Literally, it runs, And hollow man is instructed, and the wild ass’s colt is born a man. Whether it means that if God did not thus conceal His observation of human actions, the very fool and the most obstinate would become instructed and disciplined, whereas now they are allowed to go on in their folly and obstinacy; or whether it is meant that, notwithstanding the dealings of Providence, hollow-hearted man is still devoid of heart, and every son of Adam at his birth is a very wild ass colt; or whether, again, it is meant that by reason of the Divine discipline the hollow-hearted man is disciplined, and the very wild ass colt is born a man and humanised, it is hard to decide. The uncertainty in part arises from our not knowing the exact meaning of the first verb: whether it is to get understanding or to be deprived of it—for either is possible. Another way of taking the context is to refer the last clause of Job 11:11, not to God, but to man. Man sees not that God sees him, for an empty man will get understanding when a wild ass’s colt is born a man—that is, the latter is as likely as the former. One point is pretty clear, that by the wild ass’s colt Zophar means Job. However, he suggests that if he will become something better and wiser, and will put away his secret sin, which he is convinced must cling to him, then he shall again know prosperity and be established in it.
And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning.(17) Thine age shall be clearer than the noonday.—Rather, there shall arise for thee a lifetime brighter than the noonday; thou shalt soar on high; thou shalt be like the morning, which is conceived of as having wings (Psalm 139:9). (Comp. Malachi 4:2, of the Sun of Righteousness.) This is how we understand the word rendered thou shalt shine forth. Many take it as a substantive, meaning darkness, in which case we must render, though there be darkness, thou shalt be as the morning.
And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety.(18) Thou shalt dig about thee.—Rather, thou shalt look around or search about thee, and see that thou canst lie down in safety. (Comp. Joshua 2:2, and Job 39:29.) The same word means, indeed, to dig and to blush; but both meanings are incongruous and inadmissible here.
But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.(20) As the giving up of the ghost.—Omit the as of comparison; or do so, and take the margin. Thus ends the first part of this mighty argument, the first fytte of this grand poem.