Notes on Job 20-21

Job 20‑21  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Second Discourse of Zophar
The last of the three comes forward once more, even avowing the haste, if not irritation, under which he sought to deal with Job. Zophar's main point is the transient character of the evil-doer's triumph. If such an one seem to rise up fast to the highest pinnacle of prosperity, it is but to be precipitated suddenly into the lowest pit of wretchedness and infamy, the evident object of divine resentment.
And Zophar the Naamathite answered and said,
Therefore do my thoughts give answer to me,
And hence my haste in me.
A reprimand to my shame I have to hear;
Yet the spirit of my understanding answereth for me.
Knowest thou this from of old,
From the placing of man on the earth?
From near [is] the triumphing of the wicked,
And the joy of the ungodly for a moment.
Though his height mount to the heavens,
And his head reach the cloud,
Like his dung he perisheth forever;
They that saw him shall say, Where [is] he?
Like a dream shall he fly away, and not be found,
And he shall be scared away like a vision of the night.
The eye scanned him, [but] not again;
And his place beholdeth him no more.
His children shall seek to please the poor,
And his hands give back his wealth.
His bones were full of youthful vigor,
Which will lie with him in the dust.
Though evil maketh sweet in his mouth—
He hideth it under his tongue,
He is sparing of it, and will not let it go,
And retaineth it in the midst of his palate—
His food is changed in his bowels,
The poison of asps is within him.
Wealth hath he swallowed, and shall disgorge it:
God will eject it again out of his belly.
He shall suck the poison of asps:
The tongue of the viper shall slay him.
He shall not gaze on rivulets,
Plowings of streams of honey and butter.
What he labored for, he shall restore, and not swallow.
As the property his exchange, and he rejoiceth not,
For he crushed, abandoned, the poor,
Seized a house, and built it not;
For he knew no rest in his belly;
He shall not escape with his desirable thing,
There is no remnant of his eating.
Therefore his prosperity endureth not.
In the fullness of his superfluity he is straitened,
Every hand of a wretch shall be upon him.
That it may be to the filling of his belly,
He shall send against him the burning of His anger,
And rain upon him with his food.
He fleeth from a weapon of iron,
A bow of copper pierceth him through;
It is drawn, and it cometh out of the body,
And the glittering sword proceedeth out of his gall:
Upon him [are] terrors.
All darkness [is] hid for his treasures,
A fire not blown consumeth him;
It shall fare ill with what is left in his tent.
The heavens reveal his iniquity,
And the earth riseth up against him.
The increase of his house departeth,
Things that ran away in the day of His anger.
This [is] the portion of the wicked man from God [Elohim],
And the heritage of his sentence from God [El].
The triumphant tone of Job provoked the hasty and self-confident spirit of Zophar, and deep shame, because of a reproachful reproof, which he considered as undeserved, by his friends, as it ill became the man who was suffering the due reward of his deeds and state. Hence he was burning to speak and rejoin, and his irrepressible impulse he mistook for fullness of solid matter. Yet, as applied to the case in hand, they were no more than his own “thoughts,” true to his usual egotism, as distinguished from the grave wisdom of Eliphaz, and the traditional knowledge of Bildad. Job, in his opinion, had better beware: a jubilee of the godless is of the briefest. Lift up his head as he may, he perished forever, as the most offensive thing that men sweep away, so that they that see him say, Where is he? It is the fullest contrast with the positive blessing of faith: he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. He that does it not is as a dream, or night-vision. Scanned once, he is not before the eye again; his place knows him no more.
Retribution sets in too for his children as well as himself. How could it be otherwise? For, however sweet to him, and enjoyed tenaciously, evil might be, it was poison within; and the riches so greedily and unscrupulously devoured God makes him vomit forth, himself too slain as by a venomous bite. Honey and cream may flow in rivulets, brooks, streams, but they yield no pleasure to him. What he had labored for he gives back, and swallows not; as the property of exchange, he rejoices not; for he ground down and forsook the poor, seized on a house he was not to build, being cut off before his plans were mature, and he could enjoy. For, insatiate in inward greed, he should not escape with what he values most—not a remnant for his eating—and his prosperity does not endure.
How blinding is religious prejudice which could think thus of Job! Wrath is cruel, anger is outrageous, and who is able to stand before envy or jealousy? But error in religious judgment may be the most cutting of all, and this in proportion to the earnestness with which it is embraced; for the thought of God is then abused to exclude every atom of human, not to say of brotherly, kindness. See how the final scene is painted! In the fullness of abundance, says Zophar, his straits come: not a wretch that stretches not out his hand against him. God will give him plenty, but it will be the burning of His wrath, raining it on him with his food. Does he seek to avoid some weapon of iron? The bow of copper pierces him through. The language is most telling. It is drawn, and no sooner this than it comes forth from his flesh, the glittering sword out of his gall. Some understand “He is gone! terrors over him,” which certainly falls in with the graphic suddenness of the ruin described. But the older versions are adverse to Rosenmiiller, Schultens, &c., who take it thus.
Finally, not wealth, but all darkness, is hid for his treasures; he is heaping it up for the day of wrath; fire not blown on, but burning from within, shall consume him, and what has escaped former judgments shall then fare ill in his tent. Instead of the heavens and the earth appearing to attest his innocence, according to Job's appeal in chapter xvi. 18, et seqq., they must give their evidence decisively against him, the increase of his house too departing as evanescent things in the day of divine wrath. This is the lot of the wicked man from Elohim, and his heritage awarded by El is, that he should lose all and be lost himself.
Chapter 21: Job's Answer
And Job answered and said,
Hear my speech with attention,
And let this be your consolation.
Suffer me, and I will speak,
And after I have spoken thou mayest mock.
As for me, [is] my complaint to man?
And why then should not my spirit be short?
Turn to me, and be astonished, and lay hand on month.
Truly, if I think on [it], I am troubled,
And my flesh doth shudder.
Why do the wicked live, become old,
And mighty in wealth?
Their seed is established with them in their sight,
And their issues before their eyes.
Their houses [are] peace, without fear,
And the rod of God [is] not upon them.
His bull gendereth, and faileth not,
His cow calveth, and miscarrieth not.
They send forth their sucklings as a flock,
And their children frisk.
They lift [their voice] to timbrel and harp,
And rejoice at the sound of a pipe.
They wear out their days in prosperity,
And in a moment sink [to] Sheol.
Yet they say to God, Depart from us
For we desired not the knowledge of Thy ways:
What [is] the Almighty that we should serve Him?
And what profit have we if we meet Him?
Lo! their good [is] not in their hand.
The counsel of the wicked be far from me.
How oft is the lamp of the wicked put out,
And their destruction cometh upon them—
Torments He appointeth in His anger!
They are as straw before wind,
And as chaff a whirlwind stealeth.
God layeth up his iniquity for his children,
He repayeth him, and he knoweth [it].
His own eyes see his blow,
And he drinketh of the wrath of the Almighty.
For what delight [hath] he in his house after him,
When the number of his months is cut off?
Shall [one] teach God [El.] knowledge,
And He nevertheless judgeth the righteous?
This [man] dieth in the fullness of his strength,
Altogether at ease, and quiet,
His troughs are full of milk,
And the marrow of his bones is soaked.
And this [man] dieth with a bitter soul,
And hath not eaten of the good.
Together they lie down in the dust.
And the worm covereth them over.
Lo! I know your thoughts,
And the plots ye do violently against me.
For ye say, Where [is] the house of the prince?
And where the tent of the habitations of the wicked?
Have ye not asked the passers-by?
And their signs do ye not know?
To a day of destruction the wicked is spared,
To a day of great wrath they are led off.
Who to his face declareth his way,
And who requiteth him what he hath done?
And he, to the graves he is brought,
And over the heap one keepeth watch.
Sweet to him are the clods of the valley,
And after him draweth everybody.
And [there is] no counting before him.
How vainly then ye comfort me!
Your answers remain falsehood.
Job subjects his third assailant to a closer examination, after a call to hear, not without severity. It would console him most for them to listen attentively. After he had spoken, Zophar might continue what he cannot but call mockery. Job felt far more truly than they that his was no common trial, and that they had wholly failed to help him in discerning its ground, character, and object. That it came from God he doubted no more than they; that it looked, yet could not be, penal he felt; yet was he wholly unable to divine the how and wherefore of his strange, and profound, and prolonged sufferings. They might complain if he complained as to man. But that God should so try one who held fast to his integrity to Himself, and who utterly denied their surmises of hidden wickedness, did try his spirit to the utmost, and account for his impatience. But he summons with marked solemnity to hear what he admits made himself shudder, yet an undeniable truth, in flat contradiction of their narrow thoughts, and wise saws, and uncharitable dogmatizing, that the wicked, instead of being cut down young, live on, grow old, become great in power, with their posterity established about and before them, and their offspring before their eyes; that their households are free from fear or scourge; that their farms flourish; that they enjoy life to the full, spending their days prosperously, till, in a moment, not with lingering disease or racked with agony, they sink to Sheol; yet, spite of every good, not only not owning God in thankful praise, but desiring no knowledge of God, yea distance from Him, and accounting prayer wholly useless.
Job, however, stands to it that somehow the prosperity of the wicked is not in their hand, but God's, yet he abhors their counsel and ways. How often, he asks, does their lamp go out, and destruction break on them, as God is pleased to apportion in His displeasure? It may be now and then, hardly often; it is false to say always. The day is coming when the ungodly, instead of prospering, shall be like the chaff which the wind driveth away. (Psa. 1) The friends antedated the time, directing their eyes (blinded, alas!) to the present, like Christendom, instead of waiting, like Job, for the resurrection and the kingdom. It may fall on his children, not on the man himself, in this world. Job looks on to the judgment, when the evildoer must suffer. Let none then misjudge God's ways, or draw unfounded inferences from His government at present. Look at these two men, each with a full cup, one of happiness, the other of misery; both lying dead together. Appearances prove nothing but the haste and folly of those who judge before the time. Such were their thoughts and plots, to the wrong of himself. They might have learned better from those that pass by, that the wicked is spared for a day of doom; yet who would tell him so? He is buried with no less care than others, people following in his wake, as countless souls before. Thus evidently vain was their consolation, and their answers fallacious.