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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-29



Zophar does not even consider the possibility that Job is not wicked, but again strongly condemns the wicked, making it evident that he is really speaking of Job. He was evidently greatly stirred, not by the Spirit of God, but by his own misguided thoughts (v.2). Job had asked for some pity, but Zophar thinks he only deserves the opposite. He had heard Job's rebuke that was a reproach to Zophar, but makes it clear that he will accept no rebuke. He fights back with "the spirit of his understanding" (v.3), not by the Spirit of God.

Did Job not know that "he triumphing of the wicked is short?" (vv.4-5). Of course Job knew this, but Zophar was thinking of Job's earlier history as the triumphing of the wicked, now cut short by his adversity. His joy being cut short was proof to Zophar that Job was a hypocrite. However, was the triumphing of the wicked always as short as Zophar implied? No. Asaph speaks of this in Psalms 73:1-28 when he "saw the prosperity of the wicked" (v.3). They might go through life with no real adversity, but their triumph is cut short at least when they die, as Asaph learned in the sanctuary, as he says, "I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end" (Psalms 73:17).



"Though his haughtiness mounts up to the heavens, and his head reaches to the clouds, yet he will perish forever like his own refuse" (vv.6-7). These words were cruelly unfair to Job. While he was remiss in the way he spoke of God, yet Job's words cannot be rightly considered haughty. Zophar speaks as though Job's haughtiness was excessively bad, and goes so far as to predict that Job would perish forever! Of course this was absolutely false as to Job, though it is true of the wicked.

The following verses (8-9) speak of people missing the wicked man, asking where he is, for as a dream he goes as quickly as he comes. Why "his children seek the favour of the poor" may not be too easily understood, and there is some question as to the translation, "his hands restore his wealth." But his bones that were once full of fruitful strength will be reduced to the dust of death (v.11).



Zophar is remarkably graphic, and correct, in describing the plight of the wicked man. This section shows that man's wickedness comes back upon himself. Evil may be sweet in his mouth, virtually hiding it under his tongue, willing to speak wickedness instead of judging it and forsaking it (vv.12-13). He keeps it in his mouth and soon swallows it, and his stomach turns sour (v.14). What he swallows becomes as cobra venom.

Zophar continues his graphic description of the wicked man, saying that he swallows down his criminally obtained riches, but vomits them up again (v.15). He is like a drunkard with delirium tremens. At first when he drinks, the pleasure of it deceives him, and his pleasure soon turns to bitterness. He has himself been guilty of sucking the poison of cobras, and the results of this can be only his own fault: he destroys himself (v.16).



Thus, the wicked will not see what he has in the past depended on, "the rivers flowing with honey and cream." That for which he laboured will not sustain him now (v.18), and from the proceeds of his past business he will get no resulting enjoyment. The reason for this Zophar considers to be that "he has oppressed and forsaken the poor, he has violently seized a house which he did not build" (v.19). Of course this may be true of some wicked men, but to charge Job with such crime was itself a repulsive crime.

"Because he knows no quietness in his heart, he will not save anything he desires." It is true that God will allow no quietness in the heart of a wicked man; but Job did not enjoy quietness in his heart because of his sufferings. Zophar knew this and supposed Job was therefore wicked. Would Job then save nothing he desired? Thus Zophar would discourage Job from ever expecting any good to come out of his afflictions. How little he knew the heart of God, who moved Paul at a later date to write, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).



Not only could a wicked man find his own wickedness recoiling on him, and find no help in his past experiences, but he could also expect harsh retribution from the hand of God. "Nothing is left for him to eat," Zophar says; his prosperity will not last, his self-sufficiency will only serve to mock him, and misery would come on him from every hand (vv.21-22). Though he intends to fill his stomach in self-satisfaction, God would cast on him the fury of His wrath and rain His anger on him while he is eating (v.23). Job felt that this was practically what God was doing to him, and Zophar seemed glad to "rub it in," to make Job all the more miserable. But this could not persuade Job that he was wicked, for he knew such accusations against him were false.

"He will flee from the iron weapon" (v.24). This may remind us of Joseph, who "was laid in irons" (Psalms 105:18), the iron speaking of hard, unyielding circumstances, that in Joseph's case found him calmly submissive, but caused Job to want to flee, as with most of us, we want to avoid the hardness of trials. One might ask, would Zophar feel submissive if an iron weapon threatened him? or would he want to flee from it? But he was not in the same predicament as Job, and could speak quite confidently about others. "A bronze bow will pierce him through," evidently speaking of the arrow from the bow. Thus he is pierced through with terror.



This section emphasises more strongly Zophar's words of the previous section, declaring the total, unmitigated wrath of God toward a wicked man. "Total darkness is reserved for his treasures" (v.26). Actually total darkness will be the case for all who reject the grace of God in Christ Jesus, "the blackness of darkness forever (Jude 1:13). But Job had said, "In my flesh I shall see God" (ch.19:26): he certainly did not expect the blackness of darkness forever. Nor would the fire of hell consume him, as the wicked will experience. It is true enough that the heavens would reveal the iniquity of the wicked, and even the earth would rise up against him. All that he has gained on earth will depart, nothing left to show for his life here, in the day of God's wrath (vv.27-28). Thus Zophar ends his discourse, "This is the portion from God for a wicked man, the heritage appointed to him by God" (v.29). There was a good measure of truth in what he said, but his inferring that Job was identified with such a class of evil-doers was not only unfair; it was inexcusably false.

From this time on Zophar had nothing more to say, though both Eliphaz and Bildad responded again to Job's strong protests, Eliphaz rather briefly, and Bildad much more briefly. Then the whole field was left to Job, whose closing arguments occupied nine chapters, and left his friends with nothing in the way of response. Very likely Eliphaz was the eldest of these friends, and Zophar the youngest, for Eliphaz appears to have had more experience, and experience that should have given him more understanding of Job's actual condition and needs. Zophar however, as is often the case with young and inexperienced men, assumed that he had more discernment than his elders, particularly Job, who was no doubt much older than he, but whom he did not hesitate to castigate without proper reason. Eliphaz had at least at first shown some consideration of Job, and when he witnessed the inconsiderate viciousness of Zophar, one would think he would at least have cautioned the younger man against excessive speech. But they were sadly united in their opposition to Job.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Job 20". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/job-20.html. 1897-1910.
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