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Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 2

Therefore - לכן lākên, “certainly, truly.” In view of what has been just said. Or perhaps the word means merely certainly, truly.

Do my thoughts cause me to answer - This is variously rendered. The Vulgate renders it, Idcirco cogitationes meae variae succedunt sibi, et mens in diversa rapitur - “Therefore my various thoughts follow in succession, and the mind is distracted.” The Septuagint, “I did not suppose that thou wouldst speak against these things, and you do not understand more than I.” How this was ever made from the Hebrew it is impossible to say. On the word “thoughts,” see the notes at Job 4:13. The word denotes thoughts which divide and distract the mind; not calm and collected reflections, but those which disturb, disconcert, and trouble. He acknowledges that it was not calm reflection which induced him to reply, but the agitating emotions produced by the speech of Job. The word rendered “cause me to answer” (ישׁיבוּני yeshı̂ybûnı̂y), “cause me to return” - and Jerome understood it as meaning that his thoughts returned upon him in quick and troublesome succession, and says in his Commentary on Job, that the meaning is, “I am troubled and agitated because you say that you sustain these evils from God without cause, when nothing evil ought to be suspected of God.”

And for this I make haste - Margin, “my haste is in me.” The meaning is, “the impetuosity of my feelings urges me on. I reply on account of the agitation of my soul, which will admit of no delay.” His heart was full, and he hastened to give vent to his feelings in impassioned and earnest language.

Verse 3

I have heard the check of my reproach - I have heard your violent and severe language reproaching us. Probably he refers to what Job had said in the close of his speech Job 19:29, that they had occasion to dread the wrath of God, and that they might anticipate heavy judgments as the result of their opinions. Or it may be, as Schultens supposes, that he refers to what Job said in Job 19:2, and the rebuke that he had administered there. Or possibly, and still more probably, I think, he may refer to what Job had said in reply to the former speech of Zophar Job 12:2, where he tauntingly says that “they were the people, and that wisdom would die with them.” The Hebrew literally is, “the correction of my shame” (כלמה מוּסר mûsâr kelı̂mmâh), “the correction of my shame.” that is, the castigation or rebuke which tends to cover me with ignominy. The sense is, “you have accused me of that which is ignominious and shameful, and under the impetuous feelings caused by such a charge I cannot refrain from replying.”

And the spirit of my understanding - Meaning, perhaps, “the emotion of his mind.” The word “mind” or “soul” would better express the idea than the word “understanding;” and the word “spirit” here seems to be used in the sense of violent or agitating emotions - perhaps in allusion to the primary signification of the word (רוּח rûach), “mind.”

Verse 4

Knowest thou not this of old - That is, dost thou not know that this has always happened from the beginning of the world, or that this is the invariable course of events. His purpose is to show that it was the settled arrangement of Providence that the wicked would be overtaken with signal calamity. It was “so” settled that Job ought not to be surprised that it had occurred in “his” case. Zophar goes on to show that though a wicked man might rise high in honor, and obtain great wealth, yet that the fall would certainly come, and he would sink to a depth of degradation corresponding to the former prosperity.

Since man was placed upon earth - Since the creation; that is, it has always been so.

Verse 5

That the triumphing - The word “triumphing” here (רננה renânâh),” shouting, rejoicing” - such a shouting as people make after a victory, or such as occurred at the close of harvesting. Here it means that the occasion which the wicked had for rejoicing would be brief. It would be but for a moment, and he then would be overwhelmed with calamity or cut off by death.

Short - Margin, as in Hebrew “from near.” That is, it would be soon over.

And the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? - This probably means, as used by Zophar, that the happiness of a hypocrite would be brief - referring to the happiness arising from the possession of health, life, property, friends, reputation. Soon God would take away all these, and leave him to sorrow. This, he said, was the regular course of events as they had been observed from the earliest times. But the “language” conveys most important truths in reference to the spiritual joys of the hypocrite at all times, though it is not certain that Zophar used it in this sense. The truths are these.

(1) There is a kind of joy which a hypocrite may have - the counterfeit of that which a true Christian possesses. The word “hypocrite” may be used in a large sense to denote the man who is a professor of religion, but who has none, as well as him who intentionally imposes on others, and who makes pretensions to piety which he knows he has not. Such a man may have joy. He supposes that his sins are forgiven, and that he has a well-founded hope of eternal life. He may have been greatly distressed in view of his sin and danger, and when he supposes that his heart is changed, and that the danger is passed, from the nature of the case he will have a species of enjoyment. A man is confined in a dungeon under sentence of death. A forged instrument of pardon is brought to him. He does not know that it is forged, and supposes the danger is past, and his joy will be as real as though the pardon were genuine. So with the man who “supposes” that his sins are forgiven.

(2) The joy of the self-deceiver or the hypocrite will be short. There is no genuine religion to sustain it, and it soon dies away. It may be at first very elevated, just as the joy of the man who supposed that he was pardoned would fill him with exultation. But in the case of the hypocrite it soon dies away. He has no true love to God; he has never been truly reconciled to him; he has no real faith in Christ; he has no sincere love of prayer, of the Bible, or of Christians and soon the temporary excitement dies away, and he lives without comfort or peace. He may be a professor of religion, but with him it is a matter of form, and he has neither love nor zeal in the cause of his professed Master. Motives of pride, or the desire of a reputation for piety, or some other selfish aim may keep him in the church, and he lives to shed blighting on all around him. Or if, under the illusion, he should be enabled to keep up some emotions of happiness in his bosom, they must soon cease, for to the hypocrite death will soon end it all. How much does it become us, therefore, to inquire whether the peace which we seek and which we may possess in religion, is the genuine happiness which results from true reconciliation to God and a well founded hope of salvation. Sad will be the disappointment of him who has cherished a hope of heaven through life, should he at last sink down to hell! Deep the condemnation of him who has professed to be a friend of God, and who has been at heart his bitter foe; who has endeavored to keep up the forms of religion, but who has been a stranger through life to the true peace which religion produces!

Verse 6

Though his excellency mount up to the heavens - Though he attain to the highest pitch of honor and prosperity. The Septuagint renders this, “Though his gifts should go up to heaven, and his sacrifice should touch the clouds;” a sentence conveying a true and a beautiful idea, but which is not a translation of the Hebrew. The phrases, to go up to heaven, and to touch the clouds, often occur to denote anything that is greatly exalted, or that is very high. Thus, in Virgil,

It clamor coelo.

So Horace,

Sublimi feriam sidera vertice.

And again,

Attingit solium Joyis.

Compare Genesis 11:4, “Let us build us a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.” In Homer the expression not unfrequently occurs, τοῦ γὰρ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει tou gar kleos ouranon hikei. In Seneca (Thyest. Act. v. ver. 1, 2,4,) similar expressions occur:

Aequalis astris gradior, et cunctos super

Altum superbo vertice attingens polum,

Dimitto superos: summa votorum attigi.

The “language” of Zophar would also well express the condition of many a hypocrite whose piety seems to be of the most exalted character, and who appears to have made most eminent attainments in religion. Such a man may “seem” to be a man of uncommon excellence. He may attract attention as having extraordinary sanctity. He may seem to have a remarkable spirit of prayer, and yet all may be false and hollow. Men who design to be hypocrites, aim usually to be “eminent” hypocrites; they who have true piety often, alas, aim at a much lower standard. A hypocrite cannot keep himself in countenance, or accomplish his purpose of imposing on the world, without the appearance of extraordinary devotedness to God; many a sincere believer is satisfied with much less of the appearance of religion. He is sincere and honest. He is conscious of true piety, and he attempts to impose on none. At the same time he makes no attempt scarcely “to be” what the hypocrite wishes “to appear” to be; and hence, the man that shall appear to be the most eminently devoted to God “may” be a hypocrite - yet usually not long. His zeal dies away, or he is suffered to fall into open sin, and to show that he had no true religion at heart.

Verse 8

He shall fly away as a dream - As a dream wholly disappears or vanishes. This comparison of man with a dream is not uncommon, and is most impressive. See Psalms 73:20; see the notes at Isaiah 29:7-8.

As a vision of the night - As when one in a dream seems to see objects which vanish when he awakes. The parallelism requires us to understand this of what appears in a dream, and not of a spectre. In our dreams we “seem” to see objects, and when we awake they vanish.

Verse 9

The eye also which saw him - This is almost exactly the language which Job uses respecting himself. See Job 7:8, note; Job 7:10, note.

Verse 10

His children shall seek to please the poor - Margin, or, “the poor shall oppress his children.” The idea in the Hebrew seems to be, that his sons shall be reduced to the humiliating condition of asking the aid of the most needy and abject. Instead of being in a situation to assist others, and to indulge in a liberal hospitality, they themselves shall be reduced to the necessity of applying to the poor for the means of subsistence. There is great strength in this expression. It is usually regarded as humiliating to be compelled to ask aid at all; but the idea here is, that they would be reduced to the necessity of asking it of those who themselves needed it, “or would be beggars of beggars.”

And his hands shall restore their goods - Noyes renders this, “And their hands shall give back his wealth.” Rosenmuller supposes it means, “And their hands shall restore his iniquity;” that is, what their father took unjustly away. There can be but little doubt that this refers to his “sons,” and not to himself - though the singular suffix in the word (ידיו yâdāŷ), “his hands” is used. But the singular is sometimes used instead of the plural. The word rendered “goods” (און 'ôn), means “strength, power, and then wealth;” and the idea here is, that the hands of his sons would be compelled to give back the property which the father had unjustly acquired. Instead of retaining and enjoying it, they would be compelled to make restitution, and thus be reduced to penury and want.

Verse 11

His bones are full of the sin of his youth - The words “of the sin” in our common translation are supplied by the translators. Gesenius and Noyes suppose that the Hebrew means, “His bones are full of youth;” that is, full of vigor and strength, and the idea according to this would be, that he would be cut off in the fulness of his strength. Dr. Good renders it forcibly,

“His secret lusts shall follow his bones,

Yea, they shall press upon him in the dust.”

The Vulgate renders it, “His bones are full of the sins of his youth.” The Septuagint, “His bones are full of his youth.” The Chaldee Paraphrase, “His bones are full of his strength.” The Hebrew literally is, “His bones are full of his secret things” (עלוּמו âlûmāŷ) - referring, as I suppose, to the “secret, long-cherished” faults of his life; the corrupt propensities and desires of his soul which had been seated in his very nature, and which would adhere to him, leaving a withering influence on his whole system in advancing years. The effect is that which is so often seen, when vices corrupt the very physical frame, and where the results are seen long in future life. The effect would be seen in the diseases which they engendered in his system, and in the certainty with which they would bring him down to the grave. The Syriac renders it, “marrow,” as if the idea were that he would die full of vigor and strength. But the sense is rather that his secret lusts would work his certain ruin.

Which shall lie down with him - That is, the results of his secret sins shall lie down with him in the grave. He will never get rid of them. He has so long indulged in his sins; they have so thoroughly pervaded his nature, and he so delights to cherish them, that they will attend him to the tomb. There is truth in this representation. Wicked people often indulge in secret sin so long that it seems to pervade the whole system. Nothing will remove it; and it lives and acts until the body is committed to the dust, and the soul sinks ruined into hell.

Verse 12

Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth - Though he has pleasure in committing it, as he has in pleasant food. The sense of this and the following verses is, that though a man may have pleasure in indulgence in sin, and may find happiness of a certain kind in it, yet that the consequences will be bitter - as if the food which he ate should become like gall, and he should cast it up with loathing. There are many sins which, from the laws of our nature, are attended with a kind of pleasure. Such, for illustration, are the sins of gluttony and of intemperance in drinking; the sins of ambition and vanity; the sins of amusement and of fashionable life. To such we give the name of “pleasures.” We do not speak of them as “happiness.” That is a word which would not express their nature. It denotes rather substantial, solid, permanent joy - such joy as the “pleasures of sin for a season” do not furnish. It is this temporary “pleasure” which the lovers of vanity, fashion and dress, seek, and which, it cannot be denied, they often find. As long ago as the time of Zophar, it was admitted that such pleasure might be found in some forms of sinful indulgence and yet even in his time that was seen, which all subsequent observation has proved true, that such indulgence must lead to bitter results.

Though he hide it under his tongue - It is from this passage, probably, that we have derived the phrase, “to roll sin as a sweet morsel under the tongue,” which is often quoted as if it were a part of Scripture. The “meaning” here is, that a man would find pleasure in sin, and would seek to prolong it, as one does the pleasure of eating that which is grateful to the palate by holding it long in the mouth, or by placing it under the tongue.

Verse 13

Though he spare it - That is, though he retains it long in his mouth, that he may enjoy it the more.

And forsake it not - Retains it as long as he can.

But keep it still within his mouth - Margin, as in Hebrew “in the midst of his palate.” He seeks to enjoy it as long as possible.

Verse 14

Yet his meat - His food.

In his bowels is turned - That is, it is as if he had taken food which was exceedingly pleasant, and had retained it in his mouth as long as possible, that he might enjoy it, but when he swallowed it, it became bitter and offensive; compare Revelation 10:9-10. Sin may be pleasant when it is committed, but its consequences will be bitter.

It is the gall of asps - On the meaning of the word here rendered “asps” (פתן pethen), see the notes at Isaiah 11:8. There can be little doubt that the “asp,” or aspic, of antiquity, which was so celebrated, is here intended. The bite was deadly, and was regarded as incurable. The sight became immediately dim after the bite - a swelling took place, and pain was felt in the stomach, followed by stupor, convulsions, and death. It is probably the same as the “boetan” of the Arabians. It is about a foot in length, and two inches in circumference - its color being black and white. “Pict. Bib.” The word “gall” (מרורה merôrâh), means “bitterness, acridness” (compare Job 13:26); and hence, bile or gall. It is not improbable that it was formerly supposed that the poison of the serpent was contained in the gall, though it is now ascertained that it is found in a small sack in the mouth. It is used here as synonymous with the “poison” of asps - supposed to be “bitter” and “deadly.” The meaning is, that sin, however pleasant and grateful it may be when committed, will be as destructive to the soul as food would be to the body, which, as soon as it was swallowed, became the most deadly poison. This is a fair account still of the effects of sin.

Verse 15

He hath swallowed down riches - He has “glutted” down riches - or gormandized them - or devoured them greedily. The Hebrew word בלע bela‛, means “to absorb, to devour with the idea of greediness.” It is descriptive of the voracity of a wild beast, and means here that he had devoured them eagerly, or voraciously.

And he shall vomit - As an epicure does that which he has drunk or swallowed with delight. “Noyes.” The idea is, that he shall lose that which he has acquired, and that it will be attended with loathing. All this is to a great extent true still, and may be applied to those who aim to accumulate wealth, and to lay up ill gotten gold. It will be ruinous to their peace; and the time will come when it will be looked on with inexpressible loathing. Zophar meant, undoubtedly, to apply this to Job, and to infer, that since it was a settled maxim that such would be the result of the ill-gotten gain of a wicked man, where a result like this “had” happened, that there must have been wickedness. How cutting and severe this must have been to Job can be easily conceived. The Septuagint renders this, “Out of his house let an angel drag him.”

Verse 16

He shall suck the poison of asps - That which he swallowed as pleasant nutriment, shall become the most deadly poison; or the consequence shall be as if he had sucked the poison of asps. It would seem that the ancients regarded the poison of the serpent as deadly, however, it was taken into the system. They seem not to have been aware that the poison of a wound may be sucked out without injury to him who does it; and that it is necessary that the poison should mingle with the blood to be fatal.

The viper’s tongue shall slay him - The early impression probably was, that the injury done by a serpent was by the fiery, forked, and brandished tongue, which was supposed to be sharp and penetrating. It is now known, that the injury is done by the poison ejected through a groove, or orifice in one of the teeth, which is so made as to lie flat on the roof of the mouth, except when the serpent bites, when that tooth is elevated, and penetrates the flesh. The word “viper” here (אפעה 'eph‛eh), “viper,” is probably the same species of serpent that is known among the Arabs by the same name still - El Effah. See the notes at Isaiah 30:6. It is the most common and venomous of the serpent tribe in Northern Africa and in South-western Asia. It is remarkable for its quick and penetrating poison. It is about two feet long, as thick as a man’s arm, beautifully spotted with yellow and brown, and sprinkled over with blackish specks. They have a large mouth, by which they inhale a large quantity of air, and when inflated therewith, they eject it with such force as to be heard a considerable distance. “Jackson.” Capt. Riley, in his “Authentic Narrative,” (New York, 1817,) confirms this account. He describes the viper as the “most beautiful object in nature,” and says that the poison is so virulent as to cause death in fifteen minutes.

Verse 17

He shall not see the rivers - That is, he shall not be permitted to enjoy plenty and prosperity. Rivers or rills of honey and butter are emblems of prosperity; compare Exodus 3:17; Job 29:6. A land flowing with milk, honey, and butter, is, in the Scripture, the highest image of prosperity and happiness. The word rendered “rivers” (פלגה pelaggâh), means rather “rivulets small streams - or brooks,” such as were made by “dividing” a large stream (from פלג pâlag, to “cleave, divide”), and would properly be applied to canals made by separating a large stream, or dividing it into numerous watercourses for the purpose of irrigating lands. The word rendered “floods,” and in the margin, “streaming brooks” (נחלי נהרי nâhârēy nachalēy), means “the rivers of the valley,” or such as flow through a valley when it is swelled by the melting of snow, or by torrents of rain.

A flood, a rapid, swollen, full stream, would express the idea. These were ideas of beauty and fertility among the Orientals; and where butter and honey were represented as flowing in this manner in a land, it was the highest conception of plenty. The word rendered “honey” (דבשׁ debash) may, and commonly does, mean “honey;” but it also means the juice of the grape, boiled down to about the consistency of molasses, and used as an article of food. The Arabs make much use of this kind of food now, and in Syria, nearly two-thirds of the grapes are employed in preparing this article of food. It is called by the Arabs “Dibs,” which is the same as the Hebrew word used here. May not the word mean this in some of the places where it is rendered “honey” in the Scriptures? The word rendered “butter” (חמאה chem'âh) probably means, usually, “curdled milk.” See the notes at Isaiah 7:15. It is not certain that the word is ever used in the Old Testament to denote “butter.” The article which is used still by the Arabs is chiefly curdled milk, and probably this is referred to here. It will illustrate this passage to remark, that the inhabitants of Arabia, and of those who live in similar countries, have no idea of “butter,” as it exists among us, in a solid state. What they call “butter,” is in a fluid state, and is hence compared with flowing streams. An abundance of these articles was regarded as a high proof of prosperity, as they constitute a considerable part of the diet of Orientals. The same image, to denote plenty, is often used by the sacred writers, and by Classical poets; see Isaiah 7:22 :

And it shall come to pass in that day

That a man shall keep alive a young cow and two sheep,

And it shall be that from the plenty of milk which they shall give,

He shall eat butter

For butter and honey shall every one eat,

Who is left alone in the midst of the land.

See also in Joel 3:18 :

And it shall come to pass in that day,

The mountains shall drop down new wine,

And the hills shall flow with milk,

And all the rivers of Judah shall flow with water.

Thus, also Ovid, Metam. iii.

Flumina jam lactis, jam flumina nectaris ibant.

Compare Horace Epod. xvi. 41.

Mella cava manant ex ilice; montibus altis

Levis crepante lympha desilit pede.

From oaks pure honey flows, from lofty hills

Bound in light dance the murmuring rills.


See also Euripides, Bacch. 142; and Theoc. Idyll. 5,124. Compare Rosenmuller’s Alte u. neue Morgenland on Exodus 3:8, No. 194.

Verse 18

That which he laboured for shall he restore - This means that he shall give back the profit of his labor. He shall not be permitted to enjoy it or to consume it.

And shall not swallow it down - Shall not enjoy it; shall not eat it. He shall be obliged to give it to others.

According to his substance shall the restitution be - literally, according to Gesenius, “As a possession to be restored in which one rejoices not.” The sense is, that all that he has is like property which a man has, which he feels not to be his own, but which belongs to another and which is soon to be given “up.” In such property a man does not find that pleasure which he does in that which he feels to be his own. He cannot dispose of it, and he cannot look on it and feel that it is his. So Zophar says it is with the wicked man. He can look on his property only as that which he will soon be compelled to part with, and not having any security for retaining it, he cannot rejoice in it as if it were his own. Dr. Lee, however, renders this, “As his wealth is, so shall his restitution be; and he shall not rejoice.” But the interpretation proposed above, seems to me to accord best with the sense of the Hebrew.

Verse 19

Because he hath oppressed - Margin, “crushed.” Such is the Hebrew.

And forsaken the poor - He has plundered them, and then forsaken them - as robbers do. The meaning is, that he had done this by his oppressive manner of dealing, and then left them to suffer and pine in want.

He hath violently taken away an house which he builded not - That is, by overreaching and harsh dealings he has come in possession of dwellings which he did not build, or purchase in any proper manner. It does not mean that he had done this by violence - for Zophar is not describing a robber, but he means that he took advantage of the needs of the poor and obtained their property. This is often done still. A rich man takes advantage of the needs of the poor, and obtains their little farm or house for much less than it is worth. He takes a mortgage, and then forecloses it, and buys the property himself for much less than its real value, and thus practices a species of the worst kind of robbery. Such a man, Zophar says, must expect punishment - and if there is any man who has occasion to dread the wrath of heaven it is he.

Verse 20

Surely he shall not feel quietness - Margin, as in the Hebrew “know.” The sense is, he shall not know peace or tranquility. He shall be agitated and troubled. Wemyss, however, renders this, “Because his appetite could not be satisfied.” Noyes, “Because his avarice was insatiable.” So Rosenmuller explains it. So the Vulgate renders it, “Nec est satiatus renter ejus.” The Septuagint, “Neither is there safety to his property, nor shall he be saved by his desire.” But it seems to me that the former is the sense, and that the idea is, that he should not know peace or tranquility after he had obtained the things which he had so anxiously sought.

In his belly - Within him; in his mind or heart. The viscera in general in the Scriptures are regarded as the seat of the affections. We confine the idea now to the “heart.”

He shall not save of that which he desired - literally, he shall not “escape” with that which was an object of desire. He shall not be “delivered” from the evils which threaten him by obtaining that which he desired. All this shall be taken from him.

Verse 21

“There shall none of his meat be left Margin, “or, be none left for his meat.” Noyes renders it, “Because nothing escaped his greatness.” Prof. Lee, “no surviver shall remain for his provision.” But the meaning, probably, is, nothing shall remain of his food, or it shall all be wasted, or dissipated.

Therefore, shall no man look for his goods - Or rather, his goods or his property shall not endure. But a great variety of interpretations has been given to the passage. The Hebrew word rendered “shall look,” יחיל yāchı̂yl, is from חוּל chûl, which means, “to turn round, to twist, to whirl;” and thence, arises the notion of being firm, stable, or strong - as a rope that is twisted is strong. That is the idea here; and the sense is, that his property should not be secure or firm; or that he should not prosper. Jerome renders it, “Nothing shall remain of his goods.” The Septuagint, “Therefore his good things - αὐτοῦ τὰ ἀγκθά autou ta agatha - shall not flourish” - ἀνθήσει anthēsei.

Verse 22

In the fulness of his sufficiency - When he seems to have an abundance.

He shall be in straits - Either by the dread of calamity, or because calamity shall come suddenly upon him, and his property shall be swept away. When everything seemed to be abundant he should be reduced to want.

Every hand of the wicked shall come upon him - Margin, “or, troublesome” The meaning is, that all that the wretched or miserable endure should come suddenly upon him. Rosenmuller suggests, however, that it means that all the poor, and all who had been oppressed and robbed by him, would suddenly come upon him to recover their own property, and would scatter all that he had. The general meaning is clear, that he would be involved in misery from every quarter, or on every hand.

Verse 23

When he is about to fill his belly - Or rather, “there shall be enough to fill his belly.” But what “kind” of food it should be, is indicated in the following part of the verse. “God” would fill him with the food of his displeasure. It is spoken sarcastically, as of a gormandizer, or a man who lived to enjoy eating, and the meaning is, that he should for once have enough. So Rosenmuller interprets it.

God shall cast the fury - This is the kind of food that he shall have. God shall fill him with the tokens of his wrath - and he shall have enough.

And shall rain it upon him while he is eating - Noyes renders this, “And rain it down upon him for his food.” The meaning is, that God would pour down his wrath like a plentiful shower while he was in the act of eating. In the very midst of his enjoyments God would fill him with the tokens of his displeasure. There can be no doubt that Zophar designed that this should be understood to be applicable to Job. Indeed no one can fail to see that his remarks are made with consummate skill, and that they are such as would be fitted “to cut deep,” as they were doubtless intended to do. The speaker does not, indeed, make a direct application of them, but he so makes his selection of proverbs that there could be no difficulty in perceiving that they were designed to apply to him, who, from such a height of prosperity, had been so suddenly plunged into so deep calamity.

Verse 24

He shall flee from the iron weapon - The sword, or the spear. That is, he shall be exposed to attacks, and shall flee in cowardice and alarm. Bands of robbers shall come suddenly upon him, and he shall have no safety except in flight. Pref. Lee explains this as meaning, “While he flees from the iron weapon, the brass bow shall pierre him through.” Probably the expression is proverbial, like that in Latin, Incidit in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charybdin.

The bow of steel shall strike him through - That is, the “arrow” from the bow of steel shall strike him down. Bows and arrows were commonly used in hunting and in war. To a considerable extent they are still employed in Persia, though the use has been somewhat superseded by the gun. “Bows” were made of various materials. The first were, undoubtedly, of wood. They were inlaid with horn, or ivory, or were made in part of metal. Sometimes, it would seem that the whole bow was made of metal, though it is supposed that the metal bow was not in general use. The “weight,” if nothing else, would be an objection to it. The word which is here rendered “steel” (נחוּשׁה nechûshâh), means properly “brass or copper” - but it is certain that brass or copper could never have been used to form the main part of the bow, as they are destitute of the elasticity which is necessary. Jerome renders it, et irruet in arcum aereum - “he rushes on the brazen bow.” So the Septuagint, τόξον χάλκειον toxon chalkeion. So the Chaldee, דכוכומא קשתא - “the bow of brass.” There is no certain proof that “steel” was then known - though “iron” is often mentioned. It is possible, however, that though the whole bow was not made of brass or copper, yet that such quantities of these metals were employed in constructing bows, that they might, without impropriety, be called bows of brass. The Oriental bow consists of three parts. The handle, or middle part - that on which the arrow rested - was straight, and might be made of wood, brass, copper, or any other strong substance. To this was affixed, at each end, pieces of horn, or of any other elastic substance, and, the string was applied to the ends of these horns. The straight piece might have been of brass, and so without impropriety it might be called a brass bow. It is not properly rendered “steel” at any rate, as the word used here is never employed to denote iron or steel.

Verse 25

It is drawn - Or rather, “he draws” - that is, he draws out the arrow that has been shot at him; or it may mean, as Prof. Lee supposes, that he draws, that is, “someone” draws the arrow from its quiver, or the sword from its sheath, in order to smite him. The object is to describe his death, and to show that he should be certainly overtaken with calamity. Zophar, therefore, goes through the process by which he would be shot down, or shows that he could not escape.

And cometh out of the body - That is, the arrow, or the glittering blade. It has penetrated the body, and passed through it. He shall be pierced through and through.

The glittering sword - Hebrew ברק bârâq - “the glittering;” scil. thing, or weapon, and is given to the sword, because it is kept bright.

Cometh out of his gall - Supposed to be the seat of life. See the notes, Job 16:13.

Terrors are upon him - The terrors of death.

Verse 26

All darkness shall be hid in his secret places - The word “darkness” here, as is common, means evidently calamity. The phrase “is hid,” means is treasured up for him. The phrase “in his secret places,” may mean “for his treasures,” or instead of the great treasures which he had laid up for himself. The Apostle Paul has a similar expression, in which, perhaps, he makes an allusion to this place. Romans 2:5, “but, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath.” Treasures formerly were laid up in secret places, or places of darkness, that were regarded as inaccessible; see the notes at Isaiah 45:3.

A fire not blown - A fire unkindled. Probably the meaning is, a fire that man has not kindled, or that is of heavenly origin. The language is such as would convey the idea of being consumed by lightning, and probably Zophar intended to refer to such calamities as had come upon the family of Job, Job 1:16. There is much “tact” in this speech of Zophar, and in the discourses of his friends on this point. They never, I believe, refer expressly to the calamities that had come upon Job and his family. They never in so many words say, that those calamities were proof of the wrath of heaven. But they go on to mention a great many similar “cases” in the abstract; to prove that the wicked would be destroyed in that manner; that when such calamities came upon people, it was proof that they were wicked, and they leave Job himself to make the application. The allusion, as in this case, was too broad to be misunderstood, and Job was not slow in regarding it as intended for himself. Prof Lee (“in loc.”) supposes that there may be an allusion here to the “fire that shall not be quenched,” or to the future punishment of the wicked. But this seems to me to be foreign to the design of the argument, and not to be suggested or demanded by the use of the word. The argument is not conducted on the supposition that people will be punished in the future world. That would at once have given a new phase to the whole controversy, and would have settled it at once. The question was about the dealings of God “in this life,” and whether men are punished according to their deeds here. Had there been a knowledge of the future world of rewards and punishments, the whole difficulty would have vanished at once, and the controversy would have been ended.

It shall go ill with him in his tabernacle - Hebrew שׂריד ירע yâra‛ śârı̂yd - “It shall be ill with whatever survives or remains in his tent.” That is, all that remains in his dwelling shall be destroyed. Prof Lee renders it, “In his tent shall his survivor be broken” - supposing that the word ירע yâra‛ is from רעע râ‛a‛ - “to break.” But it is more probably from רוּע rûa‛ - “to be evil; to suffer evil; to come off ill:” and the sense is, that evil, or calamity, would come upon all that should remain in his dwelling.

Verse 27

The heaven shall reveal his iniquity - The meaning here is, that the whole creation would conspire against such a man. Heaven and earth would be arrayed against him. The course of events would be so ordered as to seem designed to bring his character out, and to show what he was. He would attempt to conceal his sin, but it would be in vain. He would hide it in his bosom, but it would be developed. He would put on the air of piety and innocence, but his secret sin would be known. This seems to be the general sense of the verse; and it is not necessary to attempt to show “how” it would be done - whether by lightning from heaven, as Noyes supposes, or whether by some direct manifestation from the skies. Probably the meaning is, that the divine dispensations toward such a man - the overwhelming calamities which he would experience, would show what he was. The word “heaven” is not unfrequently put for God himself. Daniel 4:23, “the heavens do rule.” Luke 15:21, “I have sinned against heaven.”

The earth shall rise up against him - Calamities from the earth. The course of events here. Want of success - sterility of soil - blight and mildew, would rise up against such a man and show what he was. His real character would in some way be brought out, and it would be seen that he was a wicked man; compare Judges 5:20.

They fought from heaven;

The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.

Verse 28

The increase of his house shall depart - Septuagint, “Destruction shall bring his house to an end.” The word rendered “depart” (יגל yı̂gel from גלה gâlâh), means, properly, “shall go into captivity.” The sense is, that whatever he had laid up in his house would entirely disappear.

His goods shall flow away - What he had gained would seem to flow away like water.

In the day of his wrath - The wrath of God - for so the connection demands.

Verse 29

This is the portion of a wicked man - This conclusion is similar to that which Bildad drew at the close of his speech, Job 18:21. Zophar intended, undoubtedly, that Job should apply it to himself, and that he should draw the inference, that one who had been treated in this manner, must be a wicked man.

And the heritage appointed - Margin, “of his decree from.” The Hebrew is,” Of his word” (אמרוּ 'êmerô ) - that is, of his “purpose.” The idea is, that this is the divine rule, or arrangement. It is not a matter of chance. It is the result of appointment, and when people are afflicted in this manner, we are to conclude that “God” regards them as guilty. The whole object of the discussion was to arrive at the principles of the divine administration. Nothing is attributed to chance; and nothing is ascribed to second causes, except as indicating the will of God. It is assumed, that the course of events in the world was a sufficient exponent of the divine intention, and that when they understood how God “treated” a man, they could clearly understand how he regarded his character. The principle is a good one, when “the whole of existence” is taken into the account; the fault here was in taking in only a small part of existence - this short life - and hastening to the conclusion, that the character could be certainly determined by the manner in which God deals with people here.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Job 20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/job-20.html. 1870.
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