Better Off Dead?

In this, the eleventh week of writing sonnets through the Book of Job, we encounter another of Job’s purported friends, a man named Zophar. As the third man to observe Job writhing in agony and scraping the oozing wounds that cover his entire body, Zophar is perhaps the least sympathetic of the trio. Without hesitation, he moves immediately to accusation … no small talk or niceties.


In my personal study, I’ve always thought of Zophar as the younger of the three friends. He’s impetuous and hasn’t yet learned the finer points of diplomacy. Maybe he even possesses a graduate parchment from LUU (Land of Uz University) and believes he’s got the world figured out. He’s listened to Eliphaz and Bildad explain their points of view about why Job is suffering. He’s also heard Job’s attempts to deflect their assessments.

Zophar decides he’s batting clean-up and he’ll hit the home run to explain exactly where Job has erred. Once he’s presented his point of view, he’s sure the others will see his wisdom; the question of Job’s suffering will have been put to rest.

He begins by ridiculing the meaningless chatter in which his associates have engaged. This exchange brings to mind a speech the former governor Ann Richards gave to the Democratic National Convention in 1988. At an appropriate point in the speech while she castigated the senior George Bush for being out of touch, Richards paused and said, “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” (The moment was especially effective, in part because Richards delivered it with her best Texas drawl.)

Referring to Job’s pleadings that he’s sinless, Zophar probably affected his best Uzzian drawl and mimicked, “Poor Job, he can’t (cain’t) help it. He was born with gold ingots in each hand.” In essence, Zophar was unafraid to call Job a liar.

What strikes me about this chapter is Zophar’s casual approach. I have to wonder whether he’s a genuine friend to Job or just an acquaintance who enjoys feeling superior when he witnesses someone else’s pain. He’s different from Eliphaz who urges Job to make his righteous appeal to God. He’s different from Bildad who suggests looking to ancestral examples for understanding. No, Zophar is his own authority; he needs none other. Furthermore, if it’s sympathy Job wishes, Zophar’s not going to commiserate with Job.

In fact, Zophar’s pragmatic. Look, Job, if you’re not willing to admit your egregious sins and repent, then you deserve to die. No ifs, ands or buts. The sonnet below gives some flavor for Zophar’s unsympathetic remarks. Personally, I think Job would have preferred being completely alone, rather than have “friends” like Zophar taking potshots at him. With friends like that … ? No need to complete the phrase. I’m sure you’ve heard it often enough. Maybe the aphorism originated with Job.

Job Chapter 11, sonnet, Zophar, poetry, poem, Uz
Job Chapter 11

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