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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-29


Produces nothing new; much more outspoken than before. Enlarges on the miseries overtaking the wicked, insinuating that Job was such. His argument,—like in condition, like in character.

I. The introduction to the speech

His reason for speaking again, viz., Job’s charges of cruelty and unkindness, and his denunciation of Divine wrath against them on account of it (Job 20:2). “Therefore (because of thy charges and denunciations), do my thoughts (cogitations as to what I ought to do) cause me to answer, and for this I make haste (margin, ‘my haste’ [or earnestness] is in me). I have heard the check of my reproach (reproof that is a reproach to me), and the spirit of my understanding (my spirit which has intelligence regarding the subject in question) causeth me to answer.” Observe—

1. The part of a wise man not to speak without sufficient reason. Zophar had a reason for speaking, but not a correct one. Job’s charges and denunciations were true and just.

2. Pride ill brooks reproof. Men seldom willing to take the reproach which they give to others. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

3. Right to think well before uttering one’s sentiments on more serious subjects. Better that our thoughts cause us to answer than our feelings.

4. Insensibility no part of piety. Zophar felt as well as thought. Spoke from ardour as well as reflection. Good to be zealously affected in a good thing. What is not spoken earnestly may as well remain unspoken.

5. Earnestness to be grounded on just considerations. Thought to lead, feeling to follow. “While I was musing the fire burned.” Zophar’s feeling called “haste.” Often too much haste both in our feeling and our words. With less haste in Zophar’s spirit, there had been more humanity in his speech. “He that hasteth with his feet sinneth.” Not less he that hasteth with his tongue. “Be not rash with thy mouth.” “Slow to speak, swift to hear.” What is spoken in haste, frequently not according to truth. Hasty words make matter for repentance. Hastily spoken not always hastily forgotten. Hasty words often make deep wounds. “The hasty to speak the slowest to learn” (Proverbs 29:20).

6. A spirit of intelligence to be prized and cultivated. Natural understanding the gift of God, but may either be fed or famished. The best way to a good understanding is a good life. “An honest man has half as much more brains as he needs.” “A good understanding have all they that keep His commandments.” Christ made “wisdom” to those who are in Him, as well as righteousness and sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). Wisdom given to believing prayer (James 1:5-6). To have a good understanding one needs to keep both eyes and ears open. A spirit of intelligence necessary to a good answer. A light needful for entering a dark chamber. Safe not to speak on a subject till you are conscious of understanding it.

II. The speech itself

The gist of it—Job must be a wicked man. The reasoning—Wicked men are miserable, either now or afterwards; Job is very miserable; therefore Job is a wicked man. The question: Are only wicked men miserable in this life? Job maintains that the wicked are not always nor alone miserable; that “time and chance come alike to all.” Zophar’s second speech another example of lofty Oriental poetry. Contains solemn and weighty truths, quoted and verified to this day. His opening statement such (Job 20:5). “The triumphing (or song) of the wicked is short (Heb., from near; like water taken from the surface instead of a deep well, therefore ending quickly and abruptly); the joy of the hypocrite (or profane) is but for a moment.” The allusion to Job’s case too obvious. The statement true, but not always in the sense of Zophar. The joy of the wicked short-lived. May last through life, but not beyond it. The pleasure of sin but for a season. The joy of the ungodly short, as—

(1) It has no solid foundation—built only on earthly things that perish with the using;
(2) Is based upon a falsehood, viz., that sin and the creature are able to give happiness;
(3) Can only exist in the present life. Creature-enjoyment no longer-lived than the creature itself. Sin in its own nature opposed to lasting enjoyment. Divine justice engaged to terminate it in this life. Sin a tree with branches enough, but no root; with plenty of blossom, but no fruit. Observe—
1. The longest life but “for a moment.”

(1) In comparison with eternity;
(2) In the view of the individual himself towards its close. Sad, for the pleasure of a moment to throw away the joys of an endless life.—
2. The joy of the hypocrite or profane “but for a moment.”

(1) As confined to this life;

(2) In comparison with the joy of the righteous, which is lasting. The joy of a false religion, or of a mere external profession and shallow experience of the true, a lamp that goes out from want of oil.—Zophar refers to all past history for confirmation (Job 20:4). “Knowest thou not this of old,” &c. The history of the past most useful when serving as a guide to the present. History full of examples of the

Short-lived prosperity of sin

The memory of the Flood and its terrible lessons still fresh in the days of Zophar. The truth solemn and salutary, but Zophar’s application of it cruel and unjust. His statements, too, require a wider field of vision than the present world.

1. The prosperous ungodly sooner or later overthrown with contempt and infamy (Job 20:6). “Though his excellency (loftiness or exaltation) mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds (though he attain the highest pitch of earthly prosperity and grandeur), yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung (cast away with contempt and abhorrence; or, according to some, in the midst of his splendour’); they that have seen him (beholding with admiration his prosperity) shall say, ‘Where is he?’ Obvious allusion to job’s former dignity and prosperity. Prosperous wickedness is—

(1) One of the mysteries of Providence;
(2) One of the trials of good men;

(3) One of the proofs of a future judgment. The perplexity of Asaph till he “went into the sanctuary of God,” and understood the end (Psalms 78:17). No man to be called happy till the end of his life, a maxim of the ancient heathen. Revelation adds, Nor till after the end of it. Christ lifts the curtain and shows what is beyond. Humbling contrast with former haughtiness and magnificence implied in Zophar’s simile (so Psalms 83:10). Contempt and infamy attach to wickedness, however prosperous. A day coming when God’s despisers shall be an abhorring to all flesh (Isaiah 66:24).

2. The prosperous ungodly vanish from sight and memory (Job 20:8). “He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found; yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night. The eye also which saw him (looked on him with admiration) shall see him no more, &c.” The life of the ungodly especially a dream, as—

(1) Without solidity and reality;
(2) As quickly terminating;
(3) As soon forgotten. No trace left that men care to cherish. No pleasing and profitable “footprints on the sands of time.’ Good men only the truly “great” who “remind us we can make our lives sublime.” “The memory of the wicked shall rot.” Associated with nothing excellent, noble, or benevolent. The presence of bad great men on earth a nightmare, which men would fain “chase away” and then forget. Seen especially in the case of tyrants, ambitious and unprincipled rulers, men climbing to power by forbidden ways and employing it for evil ends.
3. Their children affected by their sin (Job 20:10). “His children shall seek to please the poor (to propitiate the poor, whom their father oppressed or defrauded; or, shall be so reduced as to court the favour even of the poor; margin, ‘the poor shall oppress his children’; Cocerdale—’his children shall go a begging’); and his hand (or, “their hands”) shall restore their goods” (the goods of which their father had plundered them). Observe—

(1) An inheritance of trouble bequeathed by the ungodly to their offspring. In the Providence of God, the effects of a man’s oppression made to extend to his children. The child often reaps what the father sows, good or bad.

(2) Ill-gotten wealth, sooner or later, proves ill-gotten woe. Restitution of unjust gains follows either in a man’s own life-time or his children’s. Made voluntarily, the curse is averted both from himself and them. Zaccheus the publican (Luke 19:1, &c). The reference here to the rich man’s children cruel towards Job, still mourning the loss of his seven sons and three daughters.

4. Effects of their sin entailed on their own person (Job 20:11). “His bones are full of the sins of his youth (or of his secret sins, or of youthful vigour), which shall lie down with him in the dust.” Apparent allusion to Job’s diseased body. Observe—

(1) Bodily disease often the result of by-gone excesses. Age often made to inherit the sins of youth (ch. Job 13:26). Hence David’s prayer (Psalms 25:7). Seeds of disease sown in sinful indulgences. The drunkard carries the effects of his cups to the grave. Secret sins often followed by open sufferings. A cruel insinuation on the part of Zophar that this was Job’s case.

(2) The sinner often smitten with disease and death in the midst of prosperity and apparent strength. Herod at Cesarea (Acts 12:21-23).

(3) Sad when a man’s sins lie down with him in the dust. Certain, if not prevented by repentance, faith, and forgiveness. To lie down with him in the dust is to continue his companions for ever (Revelation 22:11). Separation from our sins either now or never.

5. Terrible misery after temporary enjoyment (Job 20:12-14). “Though wickedness (especially in the acquisition and enjoyment of ill-gotten wealth), be sweet in his mouth; though he hide it under his tongue (either for secrecy or continued enjoyment); though he spare it and forsake it not; but keep it still within his mouth: yet his meat in his bowels is turned; it is the gall of asps (the most deadly poison) within him.” Sin sweet to the unrenewed heart. Stolen waters sweet. Such sweetness short-lived. Honey in the mouth becomes gall in the bowels. Sin in itself a deadly poison. Death itself, and death its wages. David’s sweet sin with Bathsheba broke his bones. The blood of Urijah brought blood into his house. The effect of sinful enjoyment is to “mourn at the last” (Proverbs 5:11-14). Poison no less deadly became sweet to the taste. The sweetest things often the sourest afterwards.

6. Forced surrender of acquired wealth (Job 20:15). “He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again; God shall cast them out of his belly.” Apparently Job’s case. Riches eagerly pursued, abundantly obtained, and fondly enjoyed, to be sooner or later unwillingly surrendered. The worldling and his wealth part company, if not before, yet on a dying bed. The glutton compelled to vomit up his dainty morsels. “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” The sumptuous table then gladly exchanged for a drop of water. The worldling unable to keep his wealth a moment beyond God’s pleasure. A thousand means at His disposal of making him quit his grasp on this side of death. The failure of a bank, the fall of a mercantile house, the explosion of some promising speculation, sufficient for the purpose. “But even now worth this, and now worth nothing!”

7. Death in some distressing form and circumstances (Job 20:16). “He shall suck the poison of asps (the most deadly one); the viper’s tongue (put out when about to bite), shall slay him.” All animate and inanimate nature only instruments for the execution of God’s purposes, whether of judgment or of mercy. The effect of the intoxicating cup, that at last it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder (Proverbs 23:32). To suck the pleasures of sin now is to suck the poison of asps hereafter. The Bible draws aside the veil and reveals man’s tempter become his tormenter (Luke 16:19-26).

8. Bitter disappointment and exclusion from future happiness (Job 20:17). “He shall not see the rivers, the floods, the brooks of honey and butter.” A blessedness even in this life, of which, the worldling deprives himself. Still more in the life to come. The river of life, the wine of the kingdom, the fruits of paradise, the joys at God’s right hand, the pleasures for evermore, all forfeited for the momentary pleasures of sin. To the cry at the closed gates: “Lord, Lord, open unto us,” the only response: “Depart from me, I never know you.”

9. No real enjoyment of his riches even here (Job 20:18). “That which he laboured for shall he restore, and shall not swallow it down (or enjoy it); according to his sub stance shall the restitution be, and he shall not rejoice therein.” Riches gathered often become riches scattered. To obtain wealth one thing, to enjoy it another. Great gains not always great gain. Man gets, God gives. Ill-gotten, ill-gone, [Latin Proverb]. Wealth often the parent of woe. A canker in a sinner’s gold (James 5:3). Wages earned without God only put into a bag with holes. The world a lie, especially to those who trust in it. Money outside the heart a blessing, inside of it a curse.

10. A troubled conscience (Job 20:19-20). “Because he hath oppressed and hath for saken the poor; because he hath violently taken away an house which he builded not (obtaining it by fraud instead of honest industry); surely he shall not feel quietness in his belly (his mind or conscience), he shall not save of that which he desired” (or, shall not escape with his coveted but illgotten wealth). Another cruel and unjust allusion to Job. The charge of oppression afterwards directly made by Eliphaz (ch. Job 22:5-9). Taken generally, the statement true. Ill-gained wealth, like the hoarded manna, breeds worms; the worm of an accusing conscience. The rust of dishonest gain eats into the flesh like fire (James 5:3). A house built by oppression gives a voice to its stones and timber (Habakkuk 2:9-11). A quiet conscience better than a well-filled coffer. Naboth’s coveted vineyard a curse both to Ahab and his wife (1 Kings 21:1-19).

11. Loss of property and of children (Job 20:21). There shall none of his meat be left (margin, “there shall none be left for his meat”); therefore shall no man look for his goods.” A cutting sentence for impoverished and bereaved Job. Job’s full house now an empty one. His goods gone, and none to inherit the miserable remnant. The richest man in Uz now penniless. The man with ten adult children now without even one. Able lately to leave an ample inheritance to his children, now without either estate or sons to inherit it. One of the world’s vanities the desire to enrich one’s heirs. God and man often robbed while living to leave larger sums when dead. A worldly man’s great affliction to lose the heir of his hoarded wealth. The rich worldling often compelled to leave his riches to those for whom he cares not, and who care not for him.

12. Perplexity and trouble in the midst of his riches (Job 20:22). “In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits: every hand of the wicked (or of the mischievous; every kind of mischief; or every blow that comes upon the wretched) shall come upon him.” A sad and cutting remembrancer to Job of his various calamities and the quarter from which some of them had come. God, in His providence, visits the prosperous wicked with sudden and unexpected manifestations of His anger (Job 20:23) “When he is about to fill his belly (or, ‘there shall be wherewith to fill his belly’) God shall cast the fury of His wrath upon him, and shall rain it upon him (as literally on Sodom and Gomorrha; also implying the vehemence and abundance of the judgments) while be is eating” (in the midst of his enjoyment; or, “as his food”). A bitter sarcasm. The worldling sits down to his sumptuous table, but the wrath of God shall be his dish. Vengeance shall be his viand. He shall be fed with fury for his food. Case of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-20). Experienced by Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 11:33; Psalms 78:30-31. Appeared to have been realised in Job. Overtaken by apparent judgments in the midst of his prosperity. Fire rained on his cattle as on the cities of the Plain (ch. Job 1:16; Genesis 19:24). Fiery rain instead of refreshing showers an awful sign of judgment (Psalms 50:3).

13. Inability to effect escape (Job 20:24). “He shall flee from the iron weapon (the weapon employed in close combat,—visible judgments),—and the bow (discharging its arrows from a distance,—invisible judgments) of steel (Heb. of brass; therefore with all the more force) shall strike him through.” Seeking to escape from one evil he falls into another. Fleeing from the pit he falls into the snare. God at no loss for means to punish the ungodly. Vain attempt to escape when God purposes to destroy. The only place of refuge for a sinner the wounds of Jesus opened to satisfy justice for his sins. Submission to God and faith in His Son the only but certain safety for the guilty.

14. Rapid and effectual execution of God’s purposes of vengeance (Job 20:25). “It is drawn (viz., the arrow or the sword with which to punish the ungodly), and cometh out of the body (having passed through it); yea, the glittering sword (of Divine vengeance, Deuteronomy 32:41; Ezekiel 21:9-10) cometh out of his gall (or gall-bladder, having thus inflicted a deadly wound): terrors are upon him” (the terror of death which now stares him in the face, and the terrors of judgment immediately to follow). The language rapid, elliptical, and in the past and present tense, to indicate the suddenness and certainty of the blow. A fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. How shall we escape if we neglect the great salvation? (Job 20:16.—“All darkness (all kinds of calamity, or accumulated misery) shall be hid in his secret places,” (hid amongst his choicest treasures, or secretly laid up for him in places where he expected safety). Observe—

(1) God’s judgments find the sinner in his most secret and secure retreat. “When they shall say, peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them.”

(2) Among a sinner’s most valuable possessions lies a hidden curse. “A fire not blown (requiring no blowing, or not kindled by man, viz., the ‘fire of God’ or lightning, as ch. Job 1:16) shall consume him.” Terrible word for poor Job, who had seen his sheep and the shepherds consumed in this very way. A similar judgment on the household of Korah, &c. (Numbers 16:35). “It shall go ill with him that is left (or, ‘it shall consume’ what is left) in his tabernacle.” Words cruelly telling in the case of Job. The fire of God had left but one shepherd to tell the tale of the disaster. Stroke after stroke had fallen on his property and household, till all were consumed but his wife and three servants. Job, if any, seemed marked out by Divine judgments as a secret and guilty transgressor. Terrible trial for faith. “Who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?” (Psalms 76:7).

15. Secret sins discovered (Job 20:27). “The heavens shall reveal his iniquity; and the earth shall rise up against him.” Apparently verified in Job’s case. The lightning from heaven, and the Chaldean and Sabean marauders, with the whirlwind of the desert, from the earth, seemed to proclaim him a wicked man, whom vengeance was at length overtaking (Acts 28:4). Observe—

(1) Animate and inanimate creation made at God’s pleasure to conspire against his enemies.

(2) Iniquity, however secretly committed, sooner or later revealed. No darkness or shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide either themselves or their sins. Secret iniquity not only open to God’s view, but one day to be so to that of the universe. Hypocrisy only now “the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone.” No cloak of religion able to hide sin from God, or by-and-by, from our neighbour either. Terrible exposure awaiting secret evil-doers.

(3) Our sins either to be found out now by ourselves and brought to the throne of grace to be pardoned, or to be found out hereafter by God, and brought to the throne of judgment to be punished.

16. Destruction of all belongings in a day of wrath (Job 20:28). “The increase (progeny, or natural products) of his house shall depart, and his goods shall flow away (be swept away as by a torrent, suddenly and irrecoverably) in the day of his wrath.” Sad verification of this apparently afforded in the case of Job. The whole progeny of his house, with all his goods, swept away as by an inundation. A day of wrath now surely overtaking this prince of Uz. Difficult for him and his friends to believe otherwise. To the latter the thing was clear. To Job it seemed so; but if actual wrath, it was undeserved. Job’s error in sometimes inclining to the latter alternative. His apparent “day of wrath” was, in reality, a day of love. Observe—

(1) The province of faith to believe against all appearances. “Behind a frowning providence,” &c.

(2) Easy with God to sweep away all the increase of a man’s house.

(3) A day of wrath coming, in which all earthly possessions will flow away. “The earth and the works therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

III. The summing-up (Job 20:29).

“This is the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed unto him by God” (Heb., the heritage of the decree of the Mighty One; decreed by Him who is Almighty, therefore irresistible). Similar language in Psalms 11:6. The conclusion apparently unavoidable in relation to Job. The portion of a wicked man manifestly meted out to him. If Job is not such a man, all our notions of the Divine government in this world are upset—the rock is “removed out of his place.” Strong faith and a sound conscience required by Job to believe that God would yet clear his character. The statement of Zophar both true and untrue. Viewed in relation to this life, not always true. Viewed in relation to the next, far short of the fact. A more terrible portion awaits the impenitent in another world. The harrowing things mentioned by Zophar only a foreshadowing and prelude to the sinner’s future doom. Wrath rarely exhibited in this world, because reserved for the next. Days of wrath here sent as specimens and warnings of that which is to come.

“That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away.
What power shall be the sinner’s stay?
How shall ye meet that dreadful day?
Jesus, be Thou my spirit’s stay,
Though heaven and earth shall pass away.”


(1) A sinner’s portion not what he wishes, but what God appoints.

(2) His portion a heritage—(i.) As contrasted with his earthly possessions and enjoyments; (ii.) As certain to find him as its heir;

(3) Solemn contrast between this portion and that of the believer in Jesus (Psalms 16:5; 1 Peter 1:3).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Job 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/job-20.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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