Avraham ben Yaakov


The third of Job's companions, Tzophar the Na'amatite, now answers him. Ramban (on Job 11:2) explains that "Tzophar's intention was to give support to the argument of his companions that Job had sinned and this was why all this evil had come upon him. The new idea that he introduces is that some of God's deeds are revealed while some are concealed. For God overlooks the sins of the wicked and although He sees their evil, He does not at first pay attention in case they will repent. All this is because of His mercy over His works. If He benefits the wicked and shows them mercy, how much more so will He not harm the righteous. The only reason why suffering has come upon Job is to prompt him to direct his heart to repentance and to stretch out his hands to God in prayer, and in the end he will attain tranquility. For the tranquility of the wicked turns into calamity in the end if they do not repent. Thus Job's problem over the cases of the wicked people who enjoy a good life turns into a proof of God's mercy over His creations - for He does not reject the work of His hands. All the more so will He not harm the righteous."

Vv 5-6: But oh that God would speak. and He would tell you the secrets of wisdom, for wisdom is manifold!" The Hebrew phrase for "wisdom is manifold" is KIPHLAYIM (="there is double.") LE-TOOSHIYAH (=".to wisdom"). The Hebrew word TOOSHIYAH is from the root YESH, "it exists", because God's wisdom is forever and never returns to nothingness in the way everything else does (Metzudas Tzion). In the words of Ramban (on v 6), "All that visibly exists in the world is double and contains both revealed wisdom and hidden wisdom. That is to say, God's Providence over the creations is good both on the revealed and concealed level." Tzophar tells Job that God has exacted less of a payment for his iniquity than is warranted, and this is proof that He will not exact any more than is warranted.

Vv 7-10: God's wisdom is unfathomable and nobody can call Him to account for what He does.

V 11: God sees men's iniquity and if He appears to pay no attention, it is because He shows patience in case they will repent (see Rashi).

V 12: Even an empty, foolish man can gain himself a heart and subject himself self-reckoning and return to his Creator. Man starts life as a wild ass's colt, but he has the power to teach himself to be a new man and follow a good path (see Rashi, Metzudas David).

Vv 20: If Job will come to his senses and distance himself from any sins he may have committed, his suffering will pass and he will have a good end.


Job's answer to Tzophar occupies the whole of Chapters 12-14. Job's opening words can be construed as if he is denigrating his companions for thinking that they alone have wisdom. However Ramban prefers to interpret that Job shows respect for his companions, who were the choicest sages of their generation and could fittingly be called a "nation" since other people were animals compared to them. Nevertheless, Job protests that he is no less than them, and he also knows that God is exalted and concealed from the understanding of His creations, who cannot fathom His ways (Ramban on Job 12:2-3).

Job complains that he has become a laughing stock to his friends, who maintain that he must have been wicked when in fact he knows he is innocent.

Vv 5ff: Job suggests that his friends, smugly satisfied with their own success, show contempt for him because he has stumbled. He implies that as they sit back, unscathed and complacent, they are like the wicked who enjoy tranquility and prosperity.

Vv 7ff: "But ask now the beasts and they shall teach you." Tzophar and his companions had spoken as if they had a monopoly of wisdom, but Job retorts that the unfathomable depth of God's wisdom can be inferred by all from the animals, birds and fish of the sea in all their manifold variety.

V 11: "Does not the ear try words as the palate tastes food." Many things can be understood from experience or through reason. V 12: "With aged men is wisdom." Through many years of experience men can become wise: wisdom is not exclusively in the hands of Job's companions.

Vv 14ff: Job is no less aware than Tzophar of the paradoxical nature of God's ways. These beautiful verses in which Job depicts how the high and mighty are brought down and the wise are shown to be ignorant serves as an introduction to the next part of Job's answer to Tzophar, which comes in the following chapters, because he wants to break out of simple explanations and conventional categories in seeking an answer to his question about why the innocent suffer.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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