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JOB 12


Job Chides His Accusers Job Answers His Critics
Reply of Job
God's Wisdom Is Best Seen in the Awesome Works of His Omnipotence
12:1 12:1-6
Job Speaks of the Power of God     12:12-15

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.



 1Then Job responded,
 2Truly then you are the people,
 And with you wisdom will die!
 3But I have intelligence as well as you;
 I am not inferior to you.
 And who does not know such things as these?
 4I am a joke to my friends,
 The one who called on God and He answered him;
 The just and blameless man is a joke.
 5He who is at ease holds calamity in contempt,
 As prepared for those whose feet slip.
 6The tents of the destroyers prosper,
 And those who provoke God are secure,
 Whom God brings into their power."

12:1 Job responds to Zophar in Job 12:1-14:22.

12:2 Job's response is sarcastic. Zophar claimed wisdom. He was so confident in his assertions (cf. Job 17:10). He thought his wisdom/truth was God's wisdom/truth. This fallacy is something all theologians must resist!

▣ "the people" This may be a reference to the leadership (cf. Job 12:13-21, AB, p. 86).

12:3 Job asserts his equality (cf. Job 13:2). He agreed with most of his friends' theology, except he felt his situation did not fit "the two ways." They could not accept this; he could not deny this.

Job felt his understanding (lit. "heart") of God (i.e., wisdom) was as good as his three comforters (cf. Job 13:2).

12:4 "a joke" This noun (BDB 966) means "laughter," "derision," or "sport." It is used of

1. individuals – here and Jer. 20:7

2. nations

a. Moab, cf. Jer. 48:26

b. Israel, cf. Jer. 48:27; Lam. 3:14

Job is shocked that a "just" (BDB 843) and "blameless" (BDB 1071) person (cf. Job 9:15,20,21; 10:7; 23:11-12) could become a derision. This person who was once in relationship with God now feels abandoned by all!

12:5 This verse seems to be Job's thoughts about his three comforters.

1. because they are experiencing no problems (cf. Job 5:17-26) they are quick to judge others

2. because of their attitudes they are in danger (i.e., "feet slipping," an idiom for problems, cf. Ps. 73:2) of judgment themselves



The MT has "lamp" or "torch" (לפיד, BDB 542) but this does not fit the context, unless it is parallel with "thought" (hapax legomena of BDB 799). Most modern translations assume the root is פיד (BDB 810), which means "ruin," "disaster" (cf. Job 30:24; 31:29; and possibly 21:20, see BDB 810).

▣ "thought" This feminine noun (BDB 799) occurs only here in the OT. The unusual ending may be a plural.

The second line of this difficult verse has been understood in two ways (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 104).

1. NASB, referring to those who are "prepared" (BDB 465 I) for those whose feet slip (a Hebrew idiom, BDB 588, KB 609 construct BDB 919)

2. NEB, REB, referring to those who are at ease kicking the suffering person (BDB 645)


12:6 This repeats Job's attack on "the two ways" as the only explanation of God's dealing with humans. It does not answer the reality of human life,

1. the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Job 9:24; 10:3; Psalm 73; Jer. 12:1)

2. Job's innocent suffering (cf. Job 12:4)


12:6c This line of poetry is difficult to understand. Is it parallel to Ps. 12:6b (see JPSOA) or does it make an assertion about the attitude (i.e., idolatry) of the wicked (i.e., their own power/hand, see TEV, NRSV)? The NET Bible (p. 789) thinks it refers to those persons who are confident that God is on their side (i.e., like the three comforters, cf. Job 12:2).

 7"But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;
 And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
 8Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;
 And let the fish of the sea declare to you.
 9Who among all these does not know
 That the hand of the Lord has done this,
 10In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
 And the breath of all mankind?
 11Does not the ear test words,
 As the palate tastes its food?
 12Wisdom is with aged men,
 With long life is understanding."

12: 7-12 This strophe is a literary way of asserting that Job agrees with his comforters' view of the sovereignty of God. This was the traditional view (Job 12:12).

Notice the literary technique of asking animals (i.e., beasts, birds, and fish) and the earth (i.e., inanimate creation, cf. Ps. 19:1-6) to show God's sovereignty.

Some scholars see "earth" as "living creatures of the earth," like Mic. 7:17, because animals precede the mention of "the earth" (Job 12:8a) and follow it (cf. NJB).

12:7-8 The Jewish Study Bible (p. 1520) makes a good point about the repeated singular pronoun "you." They could

1. reflect Job quoting what his comforters said to him

2. show Job's counter argument

3. refer to Zophar, as Job 12-14 is a response to his speech

However, Job always refers to his comforters in the plural and they to him in the singular.

12:9 "the hand of the Lord has done this" This is a rare usage of YHWH outside of the prose introduction (Job 1-2) and conclusion (Job 42:7-17). This covenant name occurs only here and in Job 38:1; 40:1,3,6; 42:1.

Job is not a descendant of Abraham but he knows about the Covenant God of Israel.

What is it that the "hand" of YHWH has done? The "it" seems to refer to

1. Job (an innocent man) being a joke, Job 12:4

2. God prospering the wicked

3. the life of all humans being in God's control (Job 12:10)

This directly contradicts "the two ways" (i.e., Deut. 30:15,19; Psalm 1). Something is wrong in God's revelatory dealings with humans! The blessings and cursings of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-30 have not been fulfilled!



This is the noun nephesh (BDB 659), which here refers to all air-breathing life (cf. Gen. 1:30) on the planet. This term describes Adam (cf. Genesis 2:7) and living creatures (cf. Genesis1:20,21,24; 2:19; 9:10,12,15,16).

▣ "the breath of all mankind" This is an allusion to

1. Gen. 2:7

2. ruah's semantic field (i.e., wind, breath, spirit); see SPECIAL TOPIC: SPIRIT IN THE BIBLE

Life is a gift from God. He is in complete control! This is a well known truth.

1. proverb, Job 12:11

2. aged wisdom, Job 12:12

The conflict is that "the two ways" is an emphasis on the choices of humans. Which is true,

1. God is sovereign?

2. human choices have consequences?

Job chose right but still negative consequences came, therefore, they must have come mysteriously from God.

12:11 This same proverbial saying occurs in Job 34:3. Much of the dialogue, poetic sections of Job may contain ANE proverbs or wisdom sayings. This could explain some of the unusual Hebrew poetic lines.

12:12 If Job 12:12 relates to Job 12:2, then a rhetorical question form, expecting a "no" answer showing it is not true (cf. Job 32:9), is possible (cf. NRSV, JPSOA, REB, NET Bible). Wisdom is not only with human traditions (cf. Job 8:8-10) but even animals know it.

If it is a statement, maybe Job is referring to Zophar's and Elihu's youth.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 12:13-25 
 13"With Him are wisdom and might;
 To Him belong counsel and understanding.
 14Behold, He tears down, and it cannot be rebuilt;
 He imprisons a man, and there can be no release.
 15Behold, He restrains the waters, and they dry up;
 And He sends them out, and they inundate the earth.
 16With Him are strength and sound wisdom, 
 The misled and the misleader belong to Him.
 17He makes counselors walk barefoot
 And makes fools of judges.
 18He loosens the bond of kings
 And binds their loins with a girdle.
 19He makes priests walk barefoot
 And overthrows the secure ones.
 20He deprives the trusted ones of speech
 And takes away the discernment of the elders.
 21He pours contempt on nobles 
 And loosens the belt of the strong.
 22He reveals mysteries from the darkness
 And brings the deep darkness into light.
 23He makes the nations great, then destroys them;
 He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.
 24He deprives of intelligence the chiefs of the earth's people
 And makes them wander in a pathless waste.
 25They grope in darkness with no light,
 And He makes them stagger like a drunken man."

12:13-25 In light of Job's assertion of the sovereignty of God, this strophe delineates aspects of that sovereignty.

1. with Him (and Him alone, implied) is

a. wisdom (BDB 315)

b. might (BDB 150)

c. counsel (BDB 420)

d. understanding (BDB 108)

2. He controls the destiny of humans

a. He tears down (cf. Isa. 6:11; Jer. 1:10)

b. it/they cannot rebuild (cf. Job 3:14)

c. He imprisons (lit. "shuts up") a man, and there can be no release (cf. Job 9:12; 23:13)

d. He controls the waters (i.e., physical creation)

(1) initial chaos/creation (play on "shuts up," cf. Gen. 1:9-10)

(2) waters used for covenant disobedience and obedience (i.e., Deut. 11:17; 28:12,24; 1 Kgs. 8:35-36)

e. Job 12:16a parallels Job 12:13a

f. Job 12:16b parallels Job 12:14 (i.e., God controls all humans)

(1) Israel's leaders

(a) counselors, Job 12:17a

(b) judges, Job 12:17b (cf. Job 9:24)

(c) kings, Job 12:18

(d) priests, Job 12:19a

(e) the secure ones, Job 12:19b

(f) the trusted ones, Job 12:20a (NIV, "trusted advisors")

(g) the elders, Job 12:20b

(h) the nobles, Job 12:21a

(2) the leaders of other nations

(a) the nations, Job 12:23

(b) their chiefs, Job 12:24

   – deprives them of wisdom

   – makes them wander in a pathless waste

   – grope in darkness

   – stagger like a drunk man

Because of the list of Israel's civil and religious leaders mentioned, the best guess for a date for the writing of Job is the "monarchial period."

12:16b "The misled and the misleader" There is a play on

1. verb, "misled" – a Qal active participle, BDB 992, גגש

2. verb, "misleader" – a Hiphil active participle, BDB 993, גהש

3. same form as in Job 12:23, NASB, "leads them away"

4. same verb used in Job 6:24; 19:4, NASB, "erred"

Both the one initiating the deviation from God and the one misled by it are in God's control. All things are in God's control. Yet what about the good and bad human choices and their consequences? "The two ways" does not fully explain life.

12:17,19 "barefoot" This adjective (BDB 1021) occurs only here (Job 12:17,19) and Micah 1:8, and refers to grieving (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GRIEVING RITES).

It could also refer to the humiliation of being "stripped" and paraded (from הלך, BDB 229, "walk") naked in the streets as a symbol of defeat.

12:18 The imagery is uncertain but it is obvious God humiliates powerful kings (probably of Israel).

12:21 "strong" The MT has אפיקים (BDB 67), which means "channel of water" (cf. Job 6:15). This does not make sense here. A similar root, אפק (BDB 67) means "strong." Most translations use this root. Possibly the plural form denotes "the very strong."

12:22 This may refer to the plans of Israel's leaders. God will bring to light all evil plans and schemes (cf. Job 5:12-14).

12:23 See Psalm 107:40; Isaiah 34:12; 40:23-24.

12:24-25 These verses describe the terrible reality of life without revelation. Humans plan (Job 12:22) but to no avail! Life without a knowledge of God is "a pathless waste." It is the opposite of "the everlasting way" (cf. Ps. 16:11; 139:24; Matt. 7:14).

12:25a The absence of light is a judgment on the wicked (cf. Job 5:14; 18:5-6,18; 38:15). The verb "grope" (BDB 606, KB 653, Piel imperfect) is used of one of the covenant curses of Deut. 28:29, which possibly alludes to one of the plagues on Egypt in Exod. 10:21-23).

Light symbolizes God's presence and truth. The idiom "under the sun" in Ecclesiastes is a similar idiom (i.e., if there were no God, this is what life would be like).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What is it about the speeches of the three comforters that Job agrees with?

2. Why is Job 12:5-6 so difficult to interpret?

3. Is Job 12:12 a statement or a question?

4. Why is the description of the sovereignty of God in Job 12:13-25 all negative, referring to His judgment?

5. Is it possible Job 12:17-21 refers to Israel's leaders?


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