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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-6


It’s Zophar’s turn for a second speech. He’s the fiercest speaker. Of his friends, he is the one who leaves the least doubt as to who he means. Because of his fervor, he is also the first who is ready with his words. This is his second and last speech. The other two friends will speak to Job a third time and then remain silent.

What Zophar says is almost all true. His great error is that he applies everything he says to a righteous one. If we taste the undertone of his words to some extent, it seems that Zophar is someone who speaks from the comfortable fact that he himself is healthy and prosperous and sees therein, for himself, the proof of his own goodness and righteousness.

Zophar makes brilliant and masterful use of the Hebrew language in poetic form, a literary masterpiece. All the more tragic is the fact that a wrong message can be packaged and delivered in such a marvelous way.

He begins by explaining why he goes to fight again with words (Job 20:1-Leviticus :). Next he describes with great attention to detail what according to his theology a wicked person looks like (Job 20:4-Joel :).

The Joy of the Wicked Is Short

It is Zophar’s turn to answer Job (Job 20:1). The speed and fierceness of his reaction show, as is often the case, that he is expressing superficial thoughts and not truths of weight. He has formed his thoughts during the speaking of Job without listening to him properly. He will speak these thoughts as a response (Job 20:2). It is indeed his thoughts, not God’s, however much truth there is in what he says. He will not waste any time on them either, for the words of Job must be immediately contradicted.

For Job has uttered a reproof – he has heard it himself – that insults him (Job 20:3). By this he will mean the serious warning of Job in the last verses of the previous chapter. This warning resonates. What Job said to them there, he cannot leave unanswered, of course. There Job accuses them of a criminal action against him. It is an insult!

But Zophar is confident that his spirit knows what to answer. He has understanding or reason enough for that. He is so convinced of his right that correction is unthinkable, yes, offensive to him. He sees himself as someone who has a good understanding of things, and especially of Job’s case. Nobody fools him. No, others, especially Job, have to listen to him, because he has knowledge of things.

He will catch up with Job about something that has existed since creation (Job 20:4). Anyone who has a bit of sense knows that. It is about the question of the wicked and the godless or hypocrite (Job 20:5). Does Job know? Job has claimed that he knows something (Job 19:25), but Zophar says that Job’s knowledge is modern enlightenment, for it is not based on a correct knowledge of history. So it is foolish knowledge. With this, Zophar sweeps Job’s argument off the table.

Zophar will not say that the wicked and the godless have no pleasure, but it is clear that this has always been short-lived. What Zophar says may sound impressive, but it is not always true. For instance, Cain lived for a long time after the murder of his brother.

For Zophar, Job is proof that the understanding he gained in his study of history is correct. Job enjoyed prosperity and happiness. But in reality he is an ungodly and hypocrite. That is why this period of prosperity and joy has only been short, for a moment. Job can still imagine so much and walk with his head in the clouds, he ends in disaster (Job 20:6). In the background is also the idea that the health and prosperity enjoyed by Zophar are proof of his right.

Verses 7-11

He Will Soon Be Cut Off

If we try to forget for a moment who Zophar is addressing, he speaks in flowery language, full of appealing examples. He is an expert in describing evil and its results. But the application to Job is too clear to really forget who he is speaking to. Job will perish, and in the most shameful way: just like his refuse (Job 20:7). Refuse will be wiped away and never seen again. There is no desire to get it back either. This is how it will be with Job. A dead body treated with contempt is thrown into the field like dung (2 Kings 9:37; Psalms 83:9-2 Samuel :; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 9:22Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 25:33).

The wicked perish in the same way as a dream and a vision (Job 20:8). A dream and a vision are temporary and fleeting apparitions. They are there for a moment and then disappear again. They cannot be held or recalled. When they are over, they are irrevocably gone, wiped away like a mist that dissolves because it is chased away by the wind.

No one will see him again (Job 20:9), for he is like a dream and a vision that are gone. The place where he lived no longer sees him either. He will never come back. His place is empty, as if he has never been there. His children fall to the beggars (Job 20:10). He leaves nothing behind for them, for he must return the wealth he has unfairly taken away from others.

He himself may still be so full of youthful vigor, but premature death will put an end to it (Job 20:11). In the power of his life he will be powerless in the dust and perish to the dust from which he was made (Genesis 3:19). And, according to Zophar, untimely death is proof that God always punishes the wicked.

Verses 12-16

The Wicked Poisons Himself

Zophar presents the wicked as one who has sin in his mouth as something sweet (Job 20:12). He hides it under his tongue, for otherwise “the sweet” melts too quickly, and it is out with the fun. He wants to enjoy it as long as possible. He cherishes evil and holds it in his mouth (Job 20:13). To let it go, to let loose and to cease is not an option for him. He will keep it in his mouth for as long as possible. If he holds it against his palate, he will enjoy it as long as possible. The taste of it is so good …

But this pleasure comes to an end. When he has swallowed the delicacy and it has entered his belly and intestines, the delicacy turns into “venom of cobras” (Job 20:14). Sin is not candy, but snake poison. What he has greedily gained in power by robbing it from others, he will vomit out again (Job 20:15). God will personally take care of that. What the wicked has sucked in in sinful pleasure is nothing but snake poison (Job 20:16). In short, the death of the wicked is caused by his own sin.

Verses 17-21

Past Prosperity Does Not Benefit

Zophar depicts what the wicked would like to feast on, but what he will never see (Job 20:17). He holds all this up to Job to make him realize that Job is an ungodly man. The wicked one imagines that he will enjoy “streams, rivers of honey and curds”. “Honey and curds” represent the highest enjoyment of earthly prosperity and earthly happiness (cf. Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 6:3). The wicked man sees it coming in streams. He also sees in his imagination that large supplies of it are available in streams. It is one great pleasure of undisturbed enjoyment. But he will see nothing of it.

It will be completely different than he imagined. What he has attained, he must return to its rightful owners (Job 20:18). He wanted to devour it in his greed, but that illusion is taken away from him. The pleasure of what he has wrongfully appropriated also passes him by.

The cause of this is his merciless act against the poor (Job 20:19). He first oppressed them (literally: crushed them) and took everything away and then left them to their miserable fate in which they had ended up because of him. The latter is done by taking everything away from them. His loot also includes a house he did not build. He chased the occupants out and took possession of it.

However, he “knew no quiet within him” (Job 20:20). He is never satisfied. His greed yearns for more and more, he is insatiable. Restless he is always looking for more. But everything he covets will be lost. He will not be able to save anything to survive the time of need. Nothing edible remains to satisfy his hunger (Job 20:21). He has devoured everything and everyone. The expected benefit of his prosperity is only of short duration.

Verses 22-25


When the wicked man thinks he has a fulness of abundance, cramps come upon him (Job 20:22). The terrible possibility that he will lose everything gives him nightmares. What strikes him is worse than a nightmare. Every wretched person who has ever fallen into misery because of him will raise his hand against him and have it come down upon him with punishment.

Not only will the hand of every wretched person be against him, but God will also turn against him (Job 20:23). That will be his judgment. If he has something to fill his belly, God will send His fierce anger on him. God will fill his belly with his fierce anger, until it gives him abdominal pain and he has no use of his food at all (cf. Psalms 106:14-Ezra :). He will get no strength from it. And while he is still enjoying his food, he will be struck by a rain of anger that God sends upon him in His displeasure.

There is no way to escape this judgment. The wicked who thinks he can escape one evil will be struck by another evil (Job 20:24; cf. Amos 5:19). His attempts to flee the judgment are useless. If he succeeds in fleeing from iron weapons (the sword), he will be struck by an arrow with a glittering point shot by a bronze bow. No matter how hard he runs away, the arrow overtakes him and penetrates his back (Job 20:25). The arrow has penetrated deep into his body. When it is pulled out, it turns out to have gall on it, which means he is fatally struck. There is no cure for it. A terrible death awaits him.

Verses 26-28

The Anger Remains

The only view the wicked has, both for himself and for his safely stored goods, is “complete darkness” (Job 20:26). Darkness in all its facets awaits him. That is where he ends up. There he will be consumed by an unfanned fire, which means a fire that has not been blown by men, but by God. Whoever he has left “in his tent”, that is in his dwelling-place, “will be consumed” by it. This is a reference to the children of Job who also perished. Zophar did not spare Job any horror. He presents Job the way and the end of the wicked, without showing him any ray of hope.

In Job 20:27, Zophar refutes Job’s claim that his Witness is in heaven (Job 16:18-Proverbs :), by stating that the iniquity of the wicked will be revealed to others by heaven (God). Everyone will hear of it. The result will not be a ‘silent march’ for the dead wicked. On the contrary, there will be great indignation on earth. Everyone will rise up against the wicked because of what has become known.

Sometimes people are honored posthumously, that is after their death. But it can also happen that people are despised and cursed after their death. The latter sometimes happens when, after their death, the terrible things that people, who were celebrated during their lives, have done become known. This is how it will be with Job, according to Zophar. Even the earth, which has seen all these terrible things, will bear witness to them (Deuteronomy 31:28).

The wicked shall lose all his prosperity (Job 20:28). That has happened to Job. Zophar attributes this to the anger of God. It is the explanation of the friends for the loss that Job has suffered. It has all been knocked out of his hands by God because he has sinned. Zophar does not doubt this, as he says in his closing words.

Verse 29

Zophar’s Conclusion

Zophar ends his second speech in the same way as Bildad (Job 18:21). The conclusion of his whole speech is crystal clear. Without a doubt, what he said about the fate of the wicked is exactly what God will do to Job. The wicked has spoken words against God. That is what Job has done. By doing so, he has acquired his hereditary possession consisting of God’s anger. Job has acquired his heritage. The legacy of rebellion against God is the loss of everything he possessed and that life becomes one great ruin, with death as its only prospect.

Without pity, Zophar persecuted the plagued Job with his words. There is no understanding for Job’s uprightness. What Zophar says, he says all under the guise of standing up for God’s rights. No help is to be expected from Zophar and his friends and people like them.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Job 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/job-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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