Job 20 – Zophar Speaks a Second Time
A. Zophar answers Job.
1. (1-3) Zophar describes his turmoil.
Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:
“Therefore my anxious thoughts make me answer,
Because of the turmoil within me.
I have heard the rebuke that reproaches me,
And the spirit of my understanding causes me to answer.”
a. My anxious thoughts make me answer: Zophar insisted that Job’s striking defense in the previous chapters made him anxious and caused turmoil within him. Job’s speech upset him.
i. “Zophar speaks with dignity, but dignity is not an indication of discernment. Zophar has listened to Job’s words but not to the spirit of them; he is ashamed of the attitude his former friend has taken.” (Chambers)
b. I have heard the rebuke that reproaches me, and the spirit of my understanding causes me to answer: Though wounded by Job’s tough response, Zophar claimed he would answer Job with understanding.
i. “Zophar therefore assumes his old ground, and retracts nothing of what he had said. Like many of his own complexion in the present day, he was determined to believe that his judgment was infallible, and that he could not err.” (Clarke)
ii. We can rightly question the spiritual understanding of Zophar’s answer, but he certainly spoke with an understanding of poetry and literature. “The poem must be read with full attention given to the use of figurative language, parallelism, and strophic structure, all basic elements of Hebrew poetry. Despite the error of Zophar’s application, the poem itself ought to be appreciated as a masterly piece of literature.” (Smick)
2. (4-11) The short triumph of the wicked man.
“Do you not know this of old,
Since man was placed on earth,
That the triumphing of the wicked is short,
And the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment?
Though his haughtiness mounts up to the heavens,
And his head reaches to the clouds,
Yet he will perish forever like his own refuse;
Those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
He will fly away like a dream, and not be found;
Yes, he will be chased away like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will see him no more,
Nor will his place behold him anymore.
His children will seek the favor of the poor,
And his hands will restore his wealth.
His bones are full of his youthful vigor,
But it will lie down with him in the dust.”
a. Do you not know this of old: Zophar here did what he and his friends had done on previous occasions; he made a claim to authority simply by saying, “We all know these things to be true,” without proving the claim.
i. “Zophar had a strong conceit that Job was but a hypocrite, one that was wicked before God in heart, notwithstanding his fair pretences and professions of piety.” (Trapp)
b. The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment: “Job, we all know this – that whatever good or triumph the wicked seem to enjoy, it is all quickly passing. It is only for a moment, and the wicked man will perish forever like his own refuse.”
i. Yet he will perish forever like his own refuse: “Zophar here hints his disbelief in that doctrine, the resurrection of the body, which Job had so solemnly asserted in the preceding chapter.” (Clarke)
B. The misery of the wicked man.
1. (12-19) The frustrated life of the wicked man.
“Though evil is sweet in his mouth,
And he hides it under his tongue,
Though he spares it and does not forsake it,
But still keeps it in his mouth,
Yet his food in his stomach turns sour;
It becomes cobra venom within him.
He swallows down riches
And vomits them up again;
God casts them out of his belly.
He will suck the poison of cobras;
The viper’s tongue will slay him.
He will not see the streams,
The rivers flowing with honey and cream.
He will restore that for which he labored,
And will not swallow it down;
From the proceeds of business
He will get no enjoyment.
For he has oppressed and forsaken the poor,
He has violently seized a house which he did not build.”
a. Though evil is sweet in his mouth… Yet his food in his stomach turns sour: Zophar argued that though the wicked man might enjoy things for a while, God surely brings His judgment against him so that all can see. What is sweet today for the wicked man will soon become sour.
i. “The evil man’s wicked deeds, especially his robbing the poor, are tasty food that pleases his palate but turns sour in his stomach.” (Smick)
ii. Here, he implied a painful and aggressive application. He would insist that Job was this wicked man, and his previous blessing and prosperity in life was only the sweet that has now turned sour.
iii. Trapp on he swallows down riches: “As wild beasts do their prey, as the greater fishes do the lesser, greedily, easily, suddenly, irrecoverably, as the fire swalloweth up the fuel, as the lean kine devoured the fat, and as the Pamphagus glutton doth his tid-bits, his sweet morsels.”
iv. Trapp on God casts them out of his belly: “Thus God will rake out of his belly, so that piece of his heart shall go with it. In the last destruction of Jerusalem some of the Jews had swallowed their gold, that the Roman soldiers might not have it; this was found out, and thereupon thousands of them were killed and ripped up for the gold that might be found in their stomachs and bowels. In like sort shall God deal with those covetous.”
b. For he has oppressed and forsaken the poor: Here, Zophar described what he thought was the sinful conduct of the wicked man, and why he deserved to be frustrated in life. Clearly, he implied that this was Job.
2. (20-29) The dark destiny of the wicked man.
“Because he knows no quietness in his heart,
He will not save anything he desires.
Nothing is left for him to eat;
Therefore his well-being will not last.
In his self-sufficiency he will be in distress;
Every hand of misery will come against him.
When he is about to fill his stomach,
God will cast on him the fury of His wrath,
And will rain it on him while he is eating.
He will flee from the iron weapon;
A bronze bow will pierce him through.
It is drawn, and comes out of the body;
Yes, the glittering point comes out of his gall.
Terrors come upon him;
Total darkness is reserved for his treasures.
An unfanned fire will consume him;
It shall go ill with him who is left in his tent.
The heavens will reveal his iniquity,
And the earth will rise up against him.
The increase of his house will depart,
And his goods will flow away in the day of His wrath.
This is the portion from God for a wicked man,
The heritage appointed to him by God.”
a. In his self-sufficiency he will be in distress: Zophar thought that the reason Job was in such agony and distress was because of his own self-sufficiency; this explained his great misery.
i. There is nothing left for him to eat… God will cast him on the fury of His wrath: “When a wicked man’s belly is filled and there is nothing left for him to devour, God then vents his anger against him.” (Smick)
b. He will flee from the iron weapon; a bronze bow will pierce him through: Zophar claimed that the wicked could not escape from their destiny of judgment. If they escaped the iron weapon, then a bronze bow was waiting for them.
i. An unfanned fire: “To wit, by man, but kindled by God himself.” (Poole)
c. It is drawn, and comes out of the body: Here, Zophar saw the wicked man pierced by the arrows of God’s judgment. He took the complaint of Job of being pierced by God’s arrows (Job 6:4, 7:20) and turned it back upon Job, claiming that Job deserved this as a wicked man.
i. Job’s friends did not seem to regard him as a wicked man when they first came to him (Job 2:11-13). One might say that Job virtually provoked this judgment from them, in that they simply tried to help Job see that he was a sinner who needed to repent, and when Job absolutely refused to agree with them, they came to regard him as a stubborn and wicked man.
ii. Once they regarded him as this, they quickly hardened in their estimation of Job: “All cries and appeals on the part of Job are, in his friends, eyes, mere proofs that he refuses to read aright the universal law as revealed in the experience of life… The images that they put before him grow darker and darker.” (Bradley)
d. The heavens will reveal his iniquity, and the earth will rise up against him. The increase of his house will depart, and his goods will flow away in the day of His wrath: Zophar seems to describe Job’s losses, and he therefore made the clear connection that Job was the stubborn, wicked man who deserved this judgment from God.
i. The phrase “and his goods will flow away” is revealing, showing that Zophar focused almost entirely on the material aspect of Job’s troubles, and virtually ignored the spiritual dynamic. “He sees the carrying off of ‘possessions’ (Job 20:28) as a judgment. The loss of fellowship with God, in this life or after it, does not strike him as a far worse fate. Yet it is precisely this loss that fills Job’s mind with horror, and this need that arouses his most desperate longings.” (Andersen)
e. This is the portion from God for a wicked man, the heritage appointed to him by God: This was Zophar’s firm conclusion (he speaks no more in the Book of Job). He made the clear connection between the wrath that the wicked man reaps and Job’s own situation.
i. “These closing words were in the nature of a summary of all he had been saying. The sufferings he had described were such as fell to the wicked, and that by Divine appointment. All this was true. But other things were true, of which he seemed to have no knowledge… The narrowness of Zophar’s philosophy made him unjust to Job.” (Morgan)
ii. Significantly, Zophar was mostly correct. It is true that there is a moral order to the universe and that wickedness is inherently unprofitable, and it is cursed and judged by God. Morgan rightly observed: “In a passage thrilling with passion, he described the instability of evil gains. There is triumph, but it is short. There is a mounting up, but it is succeeded by swift vanishing. There is a sense of youth, but it becomes dust. There is a sweetness, but it becomes remorse; a swallowing down which ends in vomiting; a getting without rejoicing.” Yet that true general principle did not apply to Job’s specific situation.
iii. Zophar – as with the rest of Job’s friends – also left little room for grace. “It is worth pointing out, as a sign of the narrowness of Zophar’s beliefs, that his speech contains no hint that the wicked might repent, make amends, and regain the favour of God. Zophar has no compassion and his god has no mercy.” (Andersen)
©2019 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission