Job 11: Lessons in Spirit-Led Counseling from Zophar’s Mistakes in Rebuking Job

Introduction: In this chapter, Job’s third friend Zophar joined in the attacks that Eliphaz and Bildad had launched against Job. Of the three friends, he spoke the least, speaking only here and in Job 20. Yet, his attacks were the most direct and intense so far of the three. From Zophar’s rebukes, God reveals seven lessons on counseling. Spirit-led grief counseling requires: (1) patience / restraint, (2) compassion, (3) love, (4) kindness, (5) prayer, (6) hope, and (7) humility.

First, Zophar disagreed with Job’s claims of innocence and then viciously attacked him. Spirit-led grief counseling instead requires patience and restraint. Second, Zophar offered hurtful comments to Job in his moment of desperation. Spirit-led grief counseling should instead offer compassion to the broken-hearted. Third, Zophar misrepresented God’s love for His people, and his advice was not rooted in love. Spirit-led grief counseling must also not misrepresent God, and should be rooted in love. Fourth, Zophar then called Job an “idiot” for failing to repent. Spirit-led grief counseling must instead be rooted in kindness and encourage the broken-hearted. Fifth, Zophar relied upon his own beliefs and without any evidence to call Job a sinner. He then urged Job to repent. Spirit-led grief counsel instead requires investigation, prayer, and the Holy Spirit before making accusations. Sixth, Zophar then made false promises that Job’s confession of his hidden sins would force God to bring Job the peace he wanted. He failed to understand that God’s trials are not limited to sin. Spirit-led counseling should not make incorrect promises and should offer hope through faith in Jesus. Finally, Zophar spoke presumptuously about sin when he was also a sinner. Spirit-led grief counsel should instead be rooted in humility.

1. Restraint: Spirit-Led Grief Counsel Requires Patience and Restraint. Job 11:1-4.

  • Zophar accused Job of arrogance. In response to Job’s unwillingness to repent and his protestations of innocence, Zophar immediately rebuked him for his alleged arrogance: “1 Then Zophar the Naamathite responded, ‘Shall a multitude of words go unanswered, and a talkative man be acquitted? Shall your boasts silence people? And will you scoff, and no one rebuke? For you have said, ‘My teaching is pure, and I am innocent in your eyes.’” (Job 11:1-4). Zophar, along with Eliphaz and Bildad, originally came to “comfort” and “sympathize” with Job (Job 2:11). They all initially did this by sitting silently with him for seven days (Job 2:13) Yet, each eventually attacked him based upon their different world views, with Zophar the most brash and likely the youngest: “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.” (Ellicott’s Commentary on Job 11).1

Zophar rebuked Job for his alleged arrogance2

  • Job’s friends used escalating rhetoric against him. Each of the attacks on Job grew more intense with time. Eliphaz began his criticisms with diplomatic tact (Job 6:1-3). In contrast, Bildad immediately attacked Job as a wind bag: “‘How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a mighty wind?” (Job 8:2, 18:2). In contrast, Zophar began by accusing Job of saying a meaningless “multitude of words”, “boasts”, “ that “scoff[ing]” that allegedly required his strong “rebuke.” (Job 11:2).

  • Zophar twisted Job’s words to attack him. Counseling should never be done in anger. Out of anger, Zophar falsely alleged that Job had professed to be “pure” and “innocent.” (Job 11:1-4). Job did profess ignorance of a specific sin leading to his tragedies, based upon the mistaken assumption that only sin causes hardships: “Have I sinned? What have I done to You, Watcher of mankind? Why have You made me Your target, so that I am a burden to myself?” (Job 7:20). “If I have sinned, You will take note of me, and will not acquit me of my guilt.” (Job 10:14). Yet, Job never alleged that he was a human without any sin. Indeed, he asked for God to forgive him: “Why then do You not forgive my wrongdoing and take away my guilt?” (Job 7:21(a)). “ . . . my words have been rash.” (Job 6:3(b)). Job also knew that he could not make himself right with God on his own: “In truth I know that this is so; but how can a person be in the right with God?” (Job 9:2). “I am afraid of all my pains, I know that You will not acquit me.” (Job 9:28). As one commentator observes: “Therefore, we understand Job’s claims to be blameless (Job 9:21-22) to refer to the fact that there was indeed no special or particular sin on his part that prompted his great suffering. Indeed, even God recognized Job as blameless in this sense (Job 1:11:8, and 2:3).” (David Guzik on Job 11).3

  • Restrain yourself and show patience when you disagree with someone. Zophar had a right to be frustrated with Job’s claim that God is unfair. But he responded out of anger. James warned believers that an unrestrained tongue can be as harmful as a forest fire: “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (Jam. 3:5-8). Solomon also warned believers to restrain their tongues: “When there are many words, wrongdoing is unavoidable, but one who restrains his lips is wise.” (Prov. 10:19). “One who withholds his words has knowledge, and one who has a cool spirit is a person of understanding.” (Prov. 17:27; Ecc. 5:3). When you disagree with others, restrain your tongue and wait if you are angry. If not, you may only make things worse.

2. Compassion: Spirit-Led Counsel Offers Compassion to the Broken-Hearted. Job 11:5-6.

  • Zophar alleged that Job received a reprieve from an even worse punishment. While all of the speakers presumed to know God’s will, Zophar was so certain of an allegedly hidden, major sin that he even alleged that God had spared him from an even worse punishment: “‘But if only God would speak, and open His lips against you, and show you the secrets of wisdom! For sound wisdom has two sides. Know then that God forgets part of your guilt.”’ (Job 11:5-6). Thus, Zophar concealed his own cruelty toward Job by depicting God as being merciful in withholding the full punishment that Job deserved.

Zophar alleged that Job deserved an even worse punishment4

  • Zophar spread lies in a misguided belief that he was helping Job. Zophar was so convinced that Job was guilty of a hidden sin, he was willing to lie to force Job to repent. Because Job knew that there was no truth to his friends’ allegations, he later dismissed their advice as worthless: “But you smear me with lies; you are all worthless physicians.” (Job 13:4). He also called them “miserable comforters”: “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2). Nehemiah gave a similar rebuke to his enemies who sought to defame him: “Then I sent a message to him saying, ‘Nothing like these things that you are saying has been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.”’ (Neh. 6:8). The psalmist also frequently complained about those who spread lies: “For they have opened a wicked and deceitful mouth against me; they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.” (Ps. 109:2). “The arrogant have forged a lie against me; with all my heart I will comply with Your precepts.” (Ps. 119:69). “Your tongue devises destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.” (Ps. 52:2). God later rebuked the three friends for their acts: “It came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is trustworthy, as My servant Job has.” (Job 42:7).

  • Show the same compassion and comfort that God offers you to others. Cruelty should never be part of counseling. Instead of trying to rip Job down, Zophar should have shown him compassion. God offers you His comfort when you are feeling pain or sadness: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4; 7:6). God in turn asks you to be kind and compassionate toward others: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;” (Col. 3:12; Eph. 4:32). When someone is hurting, offer them compassion and comfort.

  • Celebrate God’s mercy and grace, but not as a weapon against others. Centuries later, Ezra led the Jews in praising God for not giving the Jews the punishment that they deserved under God’s law (Ezra 9:13). Yet, unlike Zophar, Ezra saw himself as needing that same mercy. There was also no question that the Jews had in fact received God’s mercy and grace under the law. Prophets had repeatedly warned the Jews that their failure to follow God’s law would lead to their defeat and deportation. The Jews ignored these warnings, and the Jews were then sent into exile. They had no right to have the nation formed again, but that was just what the God of mercy and grace did for them. If you plan to celebrate God’s mercy and grace, do it for yourself and the nation or Church collectively. Don’t make that a weapon directed against just one person.

3. Love: Spirit-Led Grief Counsel Does Not Misrepresent God’s Love. Job 11:7-10.

  • Zophar accused Job of arrogance in claiming to know God’s will. Zophar rebuked Job for believing that he knew God’s will when Zophar falsely claimed to do just that: “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are as high as the heavens; what can you do? Deeper than Sheol; what can you know? Its measurement is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. 10 If He passes by or apprehends people, or calls an assembly, who can restrain Him?” (Job 11:7-10). Zophar was guilty of hypocrisy and foolhardy arrogance. He knew nothing of God’s will.

Zophar rebuked Job for his alleged arrogance in refusing to repent5

  • Job was also wrong to question God, but not for the reasons alleged. Job had just acknowledged God’s sovereignty. He gave God the credit for “stretching the heavens” from an initial point of origin to their current state thousands of years before astronomers verified his claims (Job 9:8; 26:7). He also gave God the credit for creating him in his mother’s womb (Job 10:8-12). He further conceded that he could not comprehend God’s mind as a mere human: “If one wished to dispute with Him, He could not answer Him once in a thousand times. Wise in heart and mighty in strength, who has defied Him without harm?” (Job 9:3-4). He also gave God the credit for being all-knowing: “For His eyes are upon the ways of a person, and He sees all his steps.” (Job 34:21). Yet, because he labored under the same delusion as his friends that God only allowed sinners to experience hardship, Job incorrectly accused God of being unfair (Job 10:1-3; 7:11). Although Zophar was correct to point out that God is sovereign, he gave Job the wrong advice that he should accept his alleged “punishment” because Job allegedly deserved even worse. He should have instead encouraged Job to pray for God’s wisdom and trust that God was molding Him as the Potter molds the clay into a work of art.

  • Jesus’s love for you is beyond full human comprehension. In the context of God allegedly being distant and unknowable, Zophar spoke of God’s ways as being bigger than the all the seas: “Its measurement is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” (Job 11:9). But Jesus came so that we could see God the Father (Jo. 14:9). Paul later made reference to the unquantifiable ways of God to instead draw a picture of the incomprehensible depths of Jesus’ love for us: “For this reason I bend my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19). When someone is distressed, your ministry should be focused on sharing Jesus’ love for them. He loves and cares for each person during their times of suffering.

  • Out of love for mankind, God sacrificed His only begotten son. Zophar is not alone as seeing God as distant and unknowable. Many people today have the same view of God. But God so loved mankind that He sent His only begotten son Jesus to die on the cross so that any who believe might be saved (Jo. 3:16). Whenever you question God’s love for you, remember that Jesus died for you. If you are grateful for the love that Jesus showed you, you can show His love to those who are struggling or in need around you.

4. Kindness: Spirit-Led Counsel Shows Kindness to the Broken-Hearted. Job 11:11-12.

  • Instead of encouraging Job, Zophar called him an idiot. After his blunt attacks failed to move Job to repent, Zophar resorted to branding Job an “idiot” for failing to repent to God: “11 For He knows false people, and He sees injustice without investigating. 12 An idiot will become intelligent when a wild donkey is born a human.” (Job 11:11-12). Zophar alleged that Job was putting on a false show that God would see through. He compared Job to being as smart as a person born to a donkey. “The sharpness of his sarcasm is demonstrated in v. 12. Zophar labeled Job a witless, empty-headed man with as much chance to become wise as a wild donkey has to be born tame.” (Frank Gaebelein, Elmer Smick, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 1, 2 Kings, 1, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Zondervan Publishing House 1988) p. 917).

Zophar alleged that Job had the intelligence of a wild donkey for refusing to repent6

  • God does test and search the heart, but not for the reason Zophar implied. Zophar implied that God searches the minds of believers to destroy sinners. God instead tests the minds of believers to refine believers like precious metals: “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests hearts.” (Prov. 17:3). David was a man after God’s heart because he invited God to search his heart to expose and cleanse his hidden sins: “Search me, God, and know my heart; put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts;” (Ps. 139:23). “Examine me, LORD, and put me to the test; refine my mind and my heart.” (Ps. 23:2; Jer. 17:10). You should encourage others to know that God’s tests and trials are done out of love to mold us and cleanse us for His use.

  • Encourage one another with love in times of distress. Even if Zophar were correct in his belief that Job was a sinner (and he wasn’t), he should have employed love and encouragement to bring Job to a better place. God wants you to be a source of encouragement to others. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” (Heb. 13:22). Will you encourage others the way God is there for you?

  • Counsel without kindness does not reflect God’s love. Counsel that is either unkind or arrogant does not reflect God’s love: “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant.” (1 Cor. 13:4). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” (Gal. 5:22). “One who conceals an offense seeks love, but one who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Prov. 17:9). When you correct others caught in sin, do you do so with kindness?

5. Prayer: Spirit-Led Grief Counsel Requires Prayer and Spirit-Led Guidance. Job 11:13-14.

  • Zophar urged Job to repent of his sins. Having berated Job for alleged arrogance and stupidity for his purported false denials of sin before God, Zophar again urged Job to repent: “13 If you would direct your heart rightly and spread out your hands to Him, 14 If wrongdoing is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let malice dwell in your tents;” (Job 11:13-14). Zophar urged Job to beg for forgiveness like a beggar seeking food.

  • When sin exists, repentance should involve complete submission. In a general sense, Zophar was correct that a sinner cannot approach God with pride or self-righteousness. A person’s outstretched arms are a sign of submission: “My eye grows dim from misery; I have called upon You every day, LORD; I have spread out my hands to You.” (Ps. 78:8). “I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, like a weary land. Selah” (Ps. 143:6). “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger and dispute.” (1 Tim. 2:8). Yet, this advice did not apply to Job.

  • Test all things before you offer advice. Zophar relied upon his own understanding to label Job a sinner, and he did nothing to test it. To avoid making the same mistake as Zophar, believers are called to “. . . examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good,” (1 Thess. 5:21). This can be done by listening, asking questions and prayer.

  • Pray for wisdom and read God’s Word before you offer advice. If you wish to avoid making Zophar’s mistake, pray for wisdom and read God’s Word: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in secret You will make wisdom known to me.” (Ps. 51:6). “For to a person who is good in His sight, He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, . ..” (Ecc. 2:26). Are you praying for wisdom when others are in need of help?

  • Let the Holy Spirit guide your words of advice for others. When you pray and submit to God, the Holy Spirit will guide your words of advice for others in need: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (Jo. 16:13). “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:16). God wants you to seek His guidance through prayer and the Word. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). Do you pray and read God’s Word before helping advise others?

6. Hope: Spirit-Led Counsel Offers Jesus’ Hope to the Broken-Hearted. Job 11:15-19.

  • Zophar alleged that repentance would solve Job’s concerns. Having placed God in a box of only allowing hardship to happen to sinners, Zophar then made false promises that Job’s confession of his hidden sins would force God to bring Job the peace he wanted: “15 then, indeed, you could lift up your face without moral blemish, and you would be firmly established and not fear. 16 For you would forget your trouble; like waters that have passed by, you would remember it. 17 Your life would be brighter than noonday; darkness would be like the morning. 18 Then you would trust, because there is hope; and you would look around and rest securely. 19 You would lie down and none would disturb you, and many would flatter you.” (Job 11:15-19). Zophar was right to see God as the cure for Job’s problems. He was also correct that Job longed for the peace that only God could give him. But he diagnosed the wrong source of Job’s discontent.

Zophar made false promises on behalf of God7

  • Don’t offer advice presuming to know God’s will, unless the Word is clear. There may be circumstances where God’s Word directly addresses a subject, like murder and theft. Yet, there are many times where the application of God’s Word may or may not apply to a person’s circumstances. When the reasons for a person’s trial are not clear, believers should not presume to know God’s will. Between verses 15 and 20, “Zophar cataloged ten benefits that would come to Job if he met the conditions of the preceding verses. While what he said was not incorrect, he failed to note that sometimes God’s good people suffer. That is the mistake that characterizes all the friends’ speeches and makes their basic premise flawed. In their tight system of theology there was no room for suffering that was not caused by sin for bliss that was not based upon goodness.” (Robert Alden, The New American Commentary, Vol. 11, Job (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 146-147) (italics original). “And it was arrogant for Zophar to assume he knew why Job was suffering; he had reduced the solution of this very complex human problem to a simplistic formula – every pain has a sin behind it. Zophar erroneously suggested that if one repents and gets right with God, this guarantees that the struggles and troubles of life will dissolve (vv. 14-16).” (Gaebelein, Smick, p. 917).

  • Offer hope to those who are suffering. Job’s hope had ended (Job 7:6). Zophar was right to point out that God could give Job hope (Job 11:20). But he failed to say anything that would in fact offer hope to Job. When you meet a person who is suffering, you can offer them hope in Jesus: “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, . . .Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, yet our inner person is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:1, 16). “But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary of doing good.” (2 Thess. 3:13). “Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Is. 40:31). “The LORD will give strength to His people; the LORD will bless His people with peace.” (Ps. 29:11). “God, You are awesome from Your sanctuary. The God of Israel Himself gives strength and power to the people. Blessed be God!” (Ps. 68:35). “He gives strength to the weary, and to the one who lacks might He increases power.” (Is. 40:29). When you meet people who are depressed, do you offer them hope in Jesus?

7. Humility: Spirit-Led Grief Counsel Requires Humility. Job 11:20.

  • Zophar alleged that Job had no other escape from his wicked ways. Zophar believed that the full punishment that God had withheld would come soon without Job’s full repentance: “20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail, and there will be no escape for them; and their hope is to breathe their last.” (Job 11:20). Zophar rebuked Job for believing that death would give him a reprieve from the punishment that awaited him (Job 3:16-17; 6:8-9). Zophar spoke arrogantly as if he did not also need God’s mercy and grace.

  • Be humble in counseling because no one is without sin. One common mistake people make in counseling is to lecture or speak down to the other person. Yet, no one is without sin: “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, or no person living is righteous in Your sight.” (Ps. 143:2). “Indeed, there is not a righteous person on earth who always does good and does not ever sin.” (Ecc. 7:20). “When they sin against You (for there is no person who does not sin) and You are angry with them and turn them over to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, distant or near;” (1 Kgs. 8:46). “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Ro. 3:23). Thus, counseling should always be done with gentleness and humility: “Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; . . .” (Gal. 6:1). When you counsel others, comfort them by letting them know that you also are in need of God’s mercy and grace.