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Zophar sets forth at large the state and portion of the wicked.
Before Christ 1645.
Job 20:2. Therefore do my thoughts— Verily the emotions of my thoughts cause me to reply, even because there is some sensibility in me. This translation is agreeable to the Hebrew, and throws much light on the passage. Zophar means, that, as he had some modesty left, he could not bear to have so much reproach thrown on him without notice. Perhaps, too, he intends a reflection on Job, as if he was deficient in that virtue. Thus this adversary of Job, who, as we have before observed, seems to have been of the most violent temper of the three, instead of being convinced by his appeal in the foregoing chapter, immediately turns the argument upon him; as if he had said, "Since you have mentioned the future judgment, give me leave to put you in mind of what history informs us from the beginning of the world, that the triumphing of the wicked is but short, and the joy of the hypocrite (the sycophant, or false accuser) only for a moment; Job 20:5 short, in respect of that swift destruction, which sometimes befals them here; but shorter still, compared with that futurity which we all expect:" for he seems to have an eye to both in this speech. The words of the 4th verse seem plainly to refer to the history of the first man, whose joy was short indeed, for he was judged and sentenced soon after he had sinned. But the following part of the speech gives us, I think, a very lively description of the effect which the consideration of a future judgment usually has upon the minds of wicked men; filling them with the greatest horrors in the midst of their enjoyments. Though it may not always restrain men from oppression, yet it makes their children seek to please the poor, by restoring to them that whereof their fathers had unjustly spoiled them: nay, sometimes the wicked wretch himself shall be so touched in conscience, that his own hand shall restore what he had taken; Job 20:10. His children shall seek, &c. He goes on in nearly the same strain to the end of the chapter; from a review of which we see that this speech of Zophar does not describe the punishment of the wicked to be just such a state as Job then laboured under, as some would have us think, meaning a state of outward calamity. Some strokes of this kind, indeed, appear to be mixed with it: but what he chiefly labours to describe is, a state of inward terror and perplexity, arising from a sense of guilt, and the apprehension of that future judgment which Job had mentioned in the conclusion of his speech. In short, he takes occasion from the mention of it to describe, with all the force of his eloquence, the anxiety and distraction which the thoughts of it do sometimes create in the bosom of a wicked man; and, as he still suspected Job for such, he tries, by this tragical description, if it were yet possible, to scare him into a confession. So that they who imagine that Job's friends in their following speeches take no notice of his famous protestation in the last chapter, seem quite to have overlooked the plain drift of this speech of Zophar, which contains a very elegant description of the restless state of wicked men, and their inward horrors and anguish arising from this very persuasion of a future judgment. See Heath and Peters.
Job 20:3. I have heard the check of my reproach— I hear the ignominious reproof which is aimed at me; and the spirit within me causeth me to answer. Heath.
Job 20:4-7. Knowest thou not, &c.— The latter clause of Job 20:4 might as well have been rendered, Since Adam was placed on the earth. There is no reason to doubt but that this passage refers to the fall, and the first sin of man; the date agrees; for the knowledge here taught is said to arise from facts as old as the first placing man upon earth: the sudden punishment of the iniquity corresponds to the Mosaic account; the triumphing of the wicked is short, his joy but for a moment. Above all, the nature of the crime, and of the punishment here described, are strong presumptions on this side: Adam's ambition was, to be like God, and he had the tempter's word to assure him that he should be so: how aptly is this ambition described in the passage before us: Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds! that is, as the Syriac and Arabic versions render the verse, "Though in his pride he ascend up to heaven, yet shall he perish for ever." Adam's punishment was death: To dust shalt thou return. The punishment, as described in this book, is, He shall perish for ever: but how, or in what manner? Why, like his own dung; i.e. by returning to earth again. That the Chaldee paraphrast understood this whole passage to relate to the fall, seems evident by his expression in the 4th verse, where he takes notice, of the accuser or tempter, as well as of the offenders: Gaudium impiorum finitur cito, et laetitia delatoris ad momentum; the joy of the impious finishes quickly; and the gladness of the accuser at the moment. What delator, or accuser, do we read of at the time of Adam's being placed upon the earth, except the tempter? to whom the name of the adversary, or accuser, was afterwards appropriated; and it is the character, in this very book, of the spirit permitted to plague and torment Job: which is one evidence, by the bye, that the paraphrast understood the same person to have been concerned in both cases, in the tempting of Adam, and in the tormenting of Job. Our own version, the Vulgate, and Montanus's, agree in one sense; the joy of the HYPOCRITE is but for a moment: but who is this hypocrite, appearing at the very first placing upon earth? It was neither Eve nor Adam: they were bold and hardy, and distrustful of God, but showed no guile or hypocrisy in the whole transaction. But the tempter's part was all hypocrisy: he shewed great concern for the prosperity of those whom he meant to destroy, and well deserves this character; and the Chaldee paraphrast has reason for fixing it upon him. See Bishop Sherlock's Use and Intent of Prophesy, Dissert. 2: p. 209.
Job 20:6. Though his excellency— His great honour; the Syriac. His pride. Houbigant.
Job 20:10. His children, &c.— Houbigant gives this verse a different turn from that proposed in the note on the 2nd verse. He renders it; His children shall wander about in poverty; for his hands, &c. See Psalms 94:23.
Job 20:11. His bones are full of the sin of his youth— The expression seems directly to assert that there is a punishment attending the wicked in a future state. His bones are full of the sin of his youth, or his secret sin, which shall lie down with him in the dust. There is a parallel expression, Eze 32:27 of mighty warriors buried with great military pomp, and with their swords laid under their heads; but their iniquities shall be upon their bones, though they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living. This passage puts me in mind of a contrary expression used by the prophet Isaiah, where he describes the happy state of the righteous at the resurrection; their hearts, says he, shall rejoice, and their bones shall flourish like an herb. Isaiah 66:14. It was probably from hence that the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus borrowed his expression, Sir 49:10. Of the twelve prophets let the memorial be blessed, and let their bones flourish again out of their place; i.e. may they obtain a joyful resurrection. Peters.
Job 20:17. He shall not see the rivers, the floods, &c.— That is, he shall not see them with any pleasure. The most delightful things of this world, and the greatest affluence and plenty of them, shall afford him no enjoyment. Bishop Warburton thinks this to be a proverbial speech, taken from the descriptions of the Holy Land, as a land flowing with milk and honey; but I think that proverbial speeches are usually conveyed in the same forms of words, and here is a great variation in the expression; for there is but one word the same, namely, דבשׁ debash, honey: moreover, supposing to flow with milk and honey, or rivers of honey and butter, were proverbial expressions, to denote a fertile land, yet it might be used (for any thing which appears to the contrary) in Job's time and country before ever Moses wrote. Milk and honey were such delicacies with the ancients, that Pindar, who had none of the lowest opinion of his own performances, compares his song to them for its sweetness:
"Hail, friend! I send to thee this honey mix'd "With whitest milk."———
u924?εμιγμενον μελι λευκω Συν γαλακτι . N em. γ .
Job 20:18. That which he laboured for, shall he restore— He shall restore what he gained by his labour, and shall not consume it. His merchandize was abundant, but he shall not enjoy it. Houbigant.
Job 20:22. Every hand of the wicked, &c.— All kind of misery, &c.
Job 20:26. All darkness shall be hid in his secret place— All manner of calamity is laid up in store for him: an unquenchable fire shall consume him: it shall devour all that remaineth in his stead. Heath; see Joel 2:3. Houbigant renders it, Every secret thing which lay hid in his treasures, though no one bloweth it, a fire shall devour. If any one remaineth in his tent, it shall go ill with him. The beautiful images of the store-houses, or magazines, wherein are reserved distress and calamity for the wicked, is again repeated; chap. Job 38:22-23.
Job 20:28. The increase of his house— The revenue of his house shall be taken away: in the day of wrath which abideth him, it shall be cut off. Houbigant. Heath renders it, the abundance of his house shall roll away like the torrents, in the day of his fury.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Zophar in haste rises to vindicate himself and his friends from the unjust aspersions, as he imagined, of cruelty and persecution, which Job cast upon them. Big with matter, his thoughts swelled in his bosom, and forced a vent at his lips. He interprets what he had heard as a high provocation; and, confident that reason was on their side, and solid understanding only with them, he speaks as under the influence of the spirit of wisdom, and therefore demands attention. Note; (1.) They who are most confident are seldom most in the right. (2.) Prejudice and pride make men interpret the kindest warning into an affront, and return it with insolence. (3.) The dictates of passion often pass for the voice of reason; so partial is every man apt to be in his own cause.
2nd, He here opens his argument. The destruction of the wicked is speedy and certain; and therefore, from Job's afflictions, this character must needs belong to him. He appeals to all antiquity, in proof of the doctrine that he was about to advance. Since the day when man was placed on the earth, the misery of the wicked had been uniform and perpetual; witness Cain, the flood, the destruction of Sodom, &c. The triumphing of the wicked was ever short, and the hypocrites joy momentary. Whether their character was abandoned wickedness or hypocritical profession, avowed irreligion or the form of godliness without the power of it, their damnation slumbered not. Though for a while, indeed, iniquity might be triumphant, and hypocrisy undetected, yet ruin final and eternal awaited them. Their prosperity shall be passing as the dream, unsubstantial as the forms of fancy in the visions of the night, and they shall be loathsome to the last degree. With surprise they who passed by them in their exaltation shall, at their return, enquire what is become of all their greatness, now buried with them in the grave, where no eye shall any more behold them. Note; (1.) However long a wicked man's prosperity, or a hypocrite's profession, lasts in this world, it may well be counted short and momentary, compared with the eternity which approaches. (2.) Sin and ruin, though not always in this life, shall, in the next, appear certainly inseparable. (3.) They who lift their heads to the clouds in sinful prosperity, or proud self-righteousness, only thus mount, in order to fall deeper into the pit of destruction, where, of all others, the hypocrite's portion will be the most terrible. See Matthew 24:51.
3rdly, In a variety of instances Zophar expatiates on the misery of the wicked in this world. His children shall seek to please the poor, or, being poor, shall please. Men will take pleasure to see them reduced, and the ill-gotten gain vanish, which by force their father shall be compelled to restore. Full of the sins of youth, his bones shall be rotten with diseases, and they shall not only bring him to the grave, but the curse of sin shall for ever rest upon him, dead as alive. Sweet as the draughts were of pleasurable iniquity, and delightful as was the indulgence of his appetites; cherished as his lusts were in his bosom, and concealed to save his character and credit among men, yet shall those acts of sin, which seemed so sweet in the prospect, and so transporting in the enjoyment, afterwards breed loathing; and pangs within shall succeed, bitter as gall to the conscience, and poisonous to the soul as the venom of the asp. The fruits of his insatiate covetousness, which he swallowed as a hungry man his food, he shall disgorge, either by his own terrified conscience compelling him to restitution, or by God's Providence restoring to the right owner the spoils of wickedness. Disease fatal as the poison of asps, and painful as the viper's bite, shall seize him, as the just wages of his iniquity. His affluence, in which he once gloried, and for which he laboured so long and unweariedly, shall fail him, like the streams of a brook dried up. When every one has got his own, nothing shall be left to comfort him. Because of his oppression he shall carry about with him a tormented conscience, and shall not save the smallest portion of his desirable acquisitions. He shall be reduced to pining hunger, and not the least pittance be left for his heirs: so universal shall be his desolations. Note; (1.) Youthful sins, however lightly accounted of, have terrible consequences. (2.) God often makes men's iniquities their present plague; and disease, deformity, pain, contempt, and loathing, are seen in this world to be the wages of sin. (3.) The sweetest sins produce the most bitter remembrances, both now in the pangs of conscience, and hereafter in hell, where the worm never dies. (4.) They dearly purchase present pleasure and greatness, who, for the sake of these, expose themselves to everlasting pain and contempt. (5.) The gains of covetousness and oppression are often short-lived: what is gotten by wickedness is very frequently squandered in profusion.
4thly, We have the wicked man brought to his final exit. In the midst of his sufficiency and abundance, the fears of want shall make him poor, and prevent him from the use of what he has; or his destruction shall then suddenly descend upon him, and the wicked shall spoil him, as the Chaldeans had done to Job. While the meat is yet in his mouth, and he is in the mid-pursuit of his lusts and covetousness, the wrath of an offended God, furious as the whirlwind, shall be hurled upon him, to crush him under the intolerable weight; and miseries, like a deluge of rain, shall beat upon him. When God pursues, flight will be vain: judgment upon judgment, terrible to feel, as unavoidable to escape, shall light upon him; the barbed arrow pierces him, the glittering sword strikes him through the liver; mortally wounded he falls; the terrors of death seize him, convulsive agonies of body, tormenting pangs of conscience; horrible the present anguish, but more intolerable the fears of futurity. Darkness utter and eternal awaits him, reserved for him among God's treasures of vengeance; the fire of hell unquenchable, which God himself hath kindled, shall consume him. Misery and ruin shall be entailed upon his posterity: his sins, however secret, shall be brought to light; or judgments immediately from God, as the burning of Sodom, shall proclaim his atrocious guilt, and all the powers of nature appear armed against him in God's quarrel. In this day of wrath his desolations shall be accomplished; and all that he hath shall finally perish with him. Such is the portion of the wicked man. Note; (1.) The wrath of God assuredly abides on the most joyous sinner, and he will shortly make him feel its fury. (2.) How terrible will be the hypocrite's disappointment who lies down dreaming of happiness, and awakes in hell! (3.) There is no escaping from God's pursuit: they who will not flee to him for mercy cannot fly from him in judgment. (4.) If wicked men would but consider their latter end, it would give a check to their revels, and awaken some salutary concern about escaping the wrath to come. (5.) The most secret sins cannot be long concealed; a judgment-day will unveil every man's heart and ways. (6.) The portion of the wicked is this certain, terrible, inevitable ruin; if not in time, yet, what is infinitely worse, in eternity.
The discourse of Zophar thus affords awakening truths; and though, as levelled against Job, it was grossly misapplied, yet it may minister abundant instruction, when considered as a warning against the ways and miserable end of the ungodly and the hypocrite.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Job 20". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13