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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



We reject the viewpoint of commentators who speak of Zophar’s “eloquent” sermon on the fate of the wicked. No speech is either honest or truthful that is designed to destroy a true servant of God; and, in our evaluation of Zophar’s crude and insulting speech, we must take into account his purpose, namely, that of forcing an innocent man to repent of sins he had not committed.

Yes, Zophar in this speech described the fate of the wicked; but like every evil philosophy it was only partially founded in truth: (1) Zophar’s description of what often happened to wicked men appeared here as a description of what always, invariably, and without exception happened! (2) Zophar’s description was purely materialistic. This earthly life, to Zophar, was all there is. There was no understanding or allowance whatever for ultimate rewards or punishments. (3) To Zophar, no wicked man had any hope whatever. He had no conception whatever of the universal wickedness of mankind; and to him, the righteous were the wealthy and prosperous people, and the wicked were those in poverty or suffering. (4) Many of his most dogmatic assertions were blatant falsehoods, as for example, (a) that the wicked die early (Job 20:11), and (b) that ill-gotten gains shall be removed from the wicked in this life (Job 20:15). Zophar’s speech was fully in keeping with the evil design of Satan.

Rawlinson’s excellent summary of Zophar’s diatribe is as follows:

“This second speech is even worse than his first (Job 11). Coarseness and rudeness are added to his former hostility (Job 20:7; Job 20:15). His whole discourse is a covert denunciation of Job as a wicked hypocrite (Job 20:5; Job 20:12; Job 20:19; Job 20:29), who is receiving only the punishment he deserves for a life of crime. He concludes by prophesying Job’s violent death, the destruction of his house, and the rising up of heaven and earth as witnesses against him.”(F1) Of course, these lying prophecies should be added to the roster of Zophar’s falsehoods.

Verses 1-5


“Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said, Therefore do my thoughts give answer to me, Even by reason of my haste that is in me. I have heard the reproof that putteth me to shame; And the spirit of my understanding answereth me. Knowest thou not this of old time, Since man was placed upon earth, That the triumphing of the wicked is short, And the joy of the godless but for a moment?”

“By reason of my haste that is in me” Matthew Henry noted that, “It seems here that Zophar broke in upon Job and began abruptly.”(F2) Zophar, as the willing instrument of Satan here, was greatly displeased with the Divine Message Job was in the process of speaking, a message of the Redeemer for all mankind, a message delivered “by the direct inspiration of God,”(F3) a message concerning which Job entertained no doubt or uncertainty whatever. He did not say, “I hope,” or “I think,” and not even that “I believe,” but that, “I KNOW that my Redeemer liveth.”

It seems incredible that Zophar could have rudely butted in and concluded Job’s inspired words. Zophar was insensitive to all that Job said. He was like those West Texas buzzards that sail with obscene wings above flower fields and gardens searching for and finding only some rotting carcass on a hillside. Zophar passed over, with out even hearing it, one of the sublimest promises in the Word of God, only to compare Job to the dunghill on which he sat. God pity the Zophars of our own generation.

“Knowest thou not this of old time” “This is a mocking question.”(F4) It is the equivalent of, “What a fool you are not to know what everybody else has known for ages’!

“The triumphing of the wicked is short” “He is sure that the wicked does not keep his property very long; such a thing has never happened in the range of human experience.”(F5) Had Zophar never heard of Cain? This, of course, is another of Zophar’s falsehoods.

Verses 6-11


“Though his height mount up to the heavens, And his head reach unto the clouds; Yet he shall perish forever like his own dung: They that have seen him shall say, Where is he? 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 which saw him shall see him no more; Neither shall his place any more behold him. His children shall seek the favor of the poor, And his hands shall give back his wealth. His bones are full of his youth, But it shall lie down with him in the dust.”

“Though his height mount up to heaven” It is pride which Zophar mentioned here. “His words against pride are not altogether false; “It is his application of them to Job that was sinful.”(F6) It is the wickedness of Zophar’s view that the present world is “all there is,” and that it is “all there’s ever going to be” that marks him as an agent of the devil here.

“His children shall seek the favor of the poor” etc. “This picture of destitution may include the thought of poetic justice: his children will have to beg from the poor who begged in vain from their father.”(F7) This view, it would seem to this writer, is a little far-fetched; but a number of scholars have suggested it.

Verses 12-19

“Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, Though he hide it under his tongue, Though he spare it, and will not let it go, But keep it still within his mouth; Yet his food in his bowels is turned, It is the gall of asps within him. He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again; God will cast them out of his belly. He shall suck the poison of asps; The viper’s tongue shall slay him. He shall not look upon the rivers, The flowing streams of honey and butter. That which he labored for shall he restore, and shall not swallow it down; According to the substance which he hath gotten, he shall not rejoice. For he hath oppressed and forsaken the poor; He hath violently taken away a house, and he shall not build it up.”

“Sweet in his mouth… gall within him” The fruit of evil is not nearly so dramatic and sudden as Zophar stated here. In some instances, the reward of evil will not occur in this life at all, but in the life to come. The thing that Zophar was driving at here was that of denouncing Job, whose disasters indeed came suddenly.

“The viper’s tongue shall slay him” Like much of the rest of Zophar’s tirade, this had no relation whatever to truth. It was not the viper’s tongue that killed people; it was its fangs loaded with venom.

“He hath oppressed and forsaken the poor” Zophar, of course, means that this is what Job has done. “Job is the culprit upon whom God is wreaking vengeance because of his oppressing the poor.”(F8) That, of course, is exactly what Zophar was saying here.

“He hath violently taken away a house, and he shall not build it up” From the marginal reference here, we learn that the meaning of the last clause is, “He hath not built it up.” He took a house that was not his, a house he had not built. Zophar here was brutally charging Job with all kinds of sins, without any evidence whatever; he was multiplying his allegations in the hope of hitting something that might have been true.

Verses 20-29


“Because he knew no quietness within him, He shall not save aught of that wherein he delighteth. There was nothing left that he devoured not; Therefore his prosperity shall not endure. In the fullness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits: The hand of everyone that is in misery shall come upon him. When he is about to fill his belly, God will cast the fierceness of his wrath upon him, And will rain it upon him while he is eating. He shall flee from the iron weapon, And the bow of brass shall strike him through. He draweth it forth, and it cometh out of his body; Yea, the glittering point cometh out of his gall: Terrors are upon him. All darkness is laid up for his treasures: Afire not blown by man shall devour him; It shall consume that which is left in his tent. The heavens shall reveal his iniquity, And the earth shall rise up against him. The increase of his house shall depart; His goods shall flow away in the day of his wrath. This is the portion of a wicked man from God, And the heritage appointed unto him by God.”

“He draweth it forth” The reference is to an arrow, the projectile discharged by the bow. The picture is that of a fatal wound.

“The heavens shall reveal his iniquity” “This is a direct contradiction of the great hope expressed by Job in Job 19:25; and this serves here, in case there should have been any doubt in Job’s mind, to identify Job as the `wicked man’ Zophar is talking about throughout this chapter.”(F9)

It is most significant that Zophar contradicted Job 19:25. That “great hope” as Kline called it, was far more than a “hope.” It was a confident assurance expressed in the boldest and most dogmatic terms, “I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER L1VETH” Satan’s anger and savage hatred at once appeared in Zophar’s lying interruption.

Zophar’s speech was satanic, oriented absolutely against all truth. “His speech contains no hint that the wicked might repent, make amends, and again be restored to God’s favor.”(F10)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Job 20". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/job-20.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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