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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Job 20

Verses 1-11

Zophar Speaks (20:1-29)

The Joy of the Godless Is Temporary (20:1-11)

Zophar begins with an abrupt explanation. His opening "therefore" may indicate that heretofore he has been restraining himself and now must justify the fact that he speaks. It is apparent that he has been somewhat troubled, not just by Job’s general attitude, but especially by the conviction Job has just voiced and the solemn warning he has given the friends. It is even possible that Zophar is represented as having temporarily wavered in his dogmatism but as having crushed down any unsettling thoughts and returned to the safety of the absolute principle set out in verses 4 and 5.

Verses 6 and 7 indicate that Zophar is willing to accept the fact of a temporary prosperity for the godless; but he is certain that it is only temporary, and later he will assert that it is not satisfying. The wicked man "will perish." Job has remarked on the apparent hopelessness of man’s prospect: "Man dies . . . and where is he?" (14:10). Zophar says that the question must be asked not of man in general but only of the wicked man, whose life is like a "dream" or a "vision of the night" (vs. 8; for the use of similar imagery for life in general see Psalms 90:4-5). In verse 10 Zophar moves on to the thought that the prosperity of the wicked passes away with him; his children are reduced to beggary or will have to pay back the gain he had gotten unjustly (understanding "their hands" for "his hands" in verse 10). Verse 11 sums up in the basic contention that whatever strength the godless may seem to have will perish with him and come to nothing.

Verses 12-19

Prosperity Is Bitter to the Wicked (20:12-19)

At verse 12 the thought shifts to the bitterness of such prosperity as does come to the wicked. It brings no real enjoyment; what seems to be sweet turns bitter (vss. 12-14); riches are not retained but become a poison to the one who takes them (vss. 15-16). The result is that the ungodly man has no lasting profit from his evil (vss. 17-18; the figure of "honey and curds" is a familiar one for peaceful prosperity). In verse 19 Zophar again comes to a summary, this time in a statement that is prophetic in tone. Here he might be an Amos or an Isaiah, speaking the moral truth that prosperity founded on injustice does not last in God’s world.

Verses 20-29

The Life of Evil Men Is Terrible (20:20-29)

In the closing part of his speech Zophar turns to the terrible nature of the life which the wicked man is doomed to live. His life is not only short and his prosperity bitter; his whole existence is marked by ceaseless terror. Here Zophar goes beyond the limits of even general truth as he describes the wicked man as never knowing a moment free from misery. The characteristics of this misery are counted off: unenduring prosperity (vs. 22) , God’s unremitting anger (vs. 23), no hope of escape (vs. 24), terror of death (vs. 25), darkness and fire (vs. 26), and a flood of destruction (vs. 28). All this, Zophar declares, is "the wicked man’s portion from God," and it is so because heaven itself will be his accuser and earth his destroyer (vs. 27). Again it is evident that Zophar has learned well the word of the prophets. Unfortunately he is one of the too large group in all ages who have made the truth of the past an inviolable barrier against new understanding and insight into the present.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 20". "Layman's Bible Commentary".