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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-29

III. Zophar and Job: Ch. 20–21

A.—Zophar: For a time indeed the evil-doer can be prosperous; but so much the more terrible and irremediable will be his destruction

Job 20:0

1. Introduction—censuring Job with violence, and Theme of the discourse: Job 20:1-5

1          Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said:

2          Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer,

and for this I make haste.

3     I have heard the check of my reproach,

and the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer.

4     Knowest thou not this of old,

since man was placed upon earth,

5     that the triumphing of the wicked is short,

and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment?

2. Expansion of the theme, showing from experience that the prosperity and riches of the ungodly must end in the deepest misery: Job 20:6-29

6          Though his excellency mount up to the heavens,

and his head reach unto the clouds;

7     yet he shall perish forever, like his own dung:

they which have seen him shall say, Where is he?

8     He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found;

yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night.

9     The eye also which saw him shall see him no more;

neither shall his place any more behold him.

10     His children shall seek to please the poor,

and his hands shall restore their goods.

11     His bones are full of the sin of his youth,

which shall lie down with him in the dust.

12     Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth,

though he hide it under his tongue;

13     though he spare, and forsake it not,

but keep it still within his mouth:

14     yet his meat in his bowels is turned,

it is the gall of asps within him.

15     He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again:

God shall cast them out of his belly.

16     He shall suck the poison of asps;

the viper’s tongue shall slay him.

17     He shall not see the rivers,

the floods, the brooks of honey and butter.

18     That which he labored for shall he restore, and shall not swallow it down:

according to his substance shall the restitution be, and he shall not rejoice therein.

19     Because he hath oppressed, and hath forsaken the poor;

because he hath violently taken away a house which he builded not;

20     Surely he shall not feel quietness in his belly,

he shall not save of that which he desired.

21     There shall none of his meat be left;

therefore shall no man look for his goods.

22     In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits;

every hand of the wicked shall come upon him.

23     When he is about to fill his belly,

God shall cast the fury of His wrath upon him,
and shall rain it upon him while he is eating.

24     He shall flee from the iron weapon,

and the bow of steel shall strike him through.

25     It is drawn, and cometh out of the body;

yea, the glittering sword cometh out of his gall;
terrors are upon him!

26     All darkness shall be hid in his secret places;

a fire not blown shall consume him;
it shall go ill with him that is left in his tabernacle.

27     The heaven shall reveal his iniquity;

and the earth shall rise up against him.

28     The increase of his house shall depart,

and his goods shall flow away in the day of His wrath.

29     This is the portion of a wicked man from God,

and the heritage appointed unto him by God.


1. A new variation of the favorite theme of the friends—the perishableness of the prosperity of the ungodly.—The formula by which it is this time expressed is (Job 20:5): “The triumphing of the wicked is of short duration, and the joy of the ungodly only for a moment.” In the further development of this thought the wicked, who encounters inevitable destruction, is described as a rich man, who avariciously seizes on the possessions of others, and whose property, unjustly acquired, becomes the prey of an exterminating fire that destroys himself, and all that belongs to him. This on the one side links itself to the former description of Eliphaz, Job 15:25 seq., on the other side, however, it glances aside with malicious suspicion at the former prosperity of Job, the foundation of which the speaker would indicate as presumably impure and unrighteous.—The discourse is divided into a short introduction (Job 20:2-5), and a discussion extending through four strophes of six verses each (in one instance of five), together with a closing verse, which stands as an isolated epiphonema.

2. Introduction, together with the theme of the discourse: Job 20:2-5.

Job 20:2. Therefore do my thoughts give answer to me.—[לָכֵן, by some rendered “still, yet,” (Umbreit, Noyes, Rodwell), or “truly,” (Elzas), but incorrectly]. השיב with Accus. of the person, as in Job 13:22 [E. V., “cause me to answer,” and so Fürst, and this would correspond with Zophar’s eagerness to speak; but the other signification is the more common]. שְׂעִפִּים as in Job 4:13.—And hence (comes) the storming within me.—Lit. “my haste in me”: חוּשׁ here in the sense of perturbatio; and בִּי in immediate connection with חוּשִׁי, and more precisely qualifying it, comp. Job 4:21.—Both לָכֵן in a, and בַּעֲבוּר in b, point forward to the statement given in Job 20:3 of the cause of Job’s discontent and excitement. [“On this account he feels called upon by his thoughts to answer, and hence his inward impulse leaves him no rest, because he hears from Job a contemptuous wounding reproof of himself.” Ewald, Hahn, Wordsworth, etc., point backward to the closing menace of Job’s discourse (Job 19:29) as the cause of Zophar’s feeling]. בַּעֲבוּר, which is evidently separated from חוּשִׁי by the accentuation is used as a preposition = “on account of,” but without its complement. We must supply either כֵּן (from לכן in a), or זֹאת; comp. the similar elliptical use of כְעַלּ in Isaiah 59:18. To connect בַּעֲבוּד immediately with חוּשִׁי: “because of my storming (Del. “because of my feeling”) [“because of my eager haste,” Ges., Con., Carey, Noyes] within me,” produces a less symmetrical structure for the verse, and a flatter sense.

Job 20:3. A chiding to my shame must I hear! Comp. Isaiah 53:5 [“chastisement of our peace,” i.e., which tends to our peace; so here, the chastisement or chiding which tends to my shame.—The E. V.’s rendering, “check of my reproach” is scarcely intelligible. Neither is “I have heard” sufficiently exact for the fut. אשמע, which means rather “I have to hear.”—E.].—Nevertheless the spirit out of my understanding gives me an answer; i.e., “out of the fulness of its perception it furnishes me with information as to what is to be thought of Job with his insulting attacks” (Delitzsch), viz., that he is to be warned and punished as an ungodly man. [E. V., יַעֲנֵנִי, as Hiph. “causeth me to answer;” better as Kal “answereth,” and thus equivalent to השׁיב, Job 20:2. This exordium is strikingly suggestive of the prominent traits of Zophar’s character; his mental discursiveness and vivacity, or perhaps volatility, indicated by שׂעפים, his thoughts shot forth in various directions; his eager impetuosity, חושׁי, he could scarcely contain himself until Job had finished, and then broke out hotly; his proud sensitive egotism, especially prominent in Job 20:3 a, “the chiding of my shame must I hear;” his subjective self-sufficient dogmatism—“the spirit out of my understanding gives answer.” It is questionable whether רוּחַ here is to be taken as Renan explains, of the universal (not as he terms it “impersonal”) spirit (comp. Job 32:8), speaking in man. The dogmatic character of the speaker, and the prominence which he gives to his own personality, is not altogether in harmony with such a view. Moreover, Elihu is put forward by the poet as the representative of an internal revelation, even as Eliphaz represents the external. Zophar on the other hand represents the individual reason, as Bildad represents the collective traditional wisdom of the race. See Introduction.—E.].

Job 20:4-5 present the substance of these communications of Zophar’s spirit in the form of a question addressed to Job.

Job 20:5. Knowest thou this indeed [either “the question implying that the contrary would be inferred from Job’s language” (Con.), or “sarcastically, equivalent to: thou surely knowest; or in astonishment, what! dost thou not know!” (Del.) hence it is unnecessary (with E. V., Ges., etc.), to supply the negative, הֲלֹא = הֲ] from eternity (i.e., to be true, מִנִּי־עַד, as a virtual adjective, or as a virtual predicate-accusative, Ewald § 336, b), since man was placed upon the earth. שִׂים Infinit. with an indefinite subject, “since one placed” [or, since the placing of] as in Job 13:9.—אָדָם, not precisely a proper name, referring to the first man, but collective or generic; comp. Deuteronomy 4:32.

Job 20:5. That the triumphing of the wicked is short (lit., from near, i. e., not extending far; comp. Deuteronomy 32:17; Jeremiah 23:23), and the joy of the ungodly only for a moment.—עֲדֵי in עֲדֵי־רֶגַע, like עַד in 2 Kings 9:22 expresses the idea of duration, “during, for.” The whole question is intended to convey doubt and wonder that Job, judging by his speeches, was entirely unacquainted with the familiar proposition touching the short duration of the triumphing of the wicked which is made the theme of what follows. [This is Zophar’s short and cutting rejoinder to Job’s triumphant outburst in Job 19:25 seq.—That jubilant exclamation was, as Zophar indirectly suggests, a רִנְנַת רָשָׁע, that exulting joy a שִׂמְחַת חָנֵף].

3. The expansion of the theme: Job 20:6-29.

First Strophe: Job 20:6-11. [The wicked, however prosperous, perishes utterly, together with his family and acquisitions; he himself in the prime of life].

Job 20:6. Though his height (שִׂיא from נשׂא, comp. שׂואPsa 89:10) [i. e., his exaltation in rank and power] mount up to Heaven, and his head reach unto the clouds; comp, Isaiah 14:13 seq.; Obadiah 1:4. [הִגַּיעַ, not causative (Del.), but parallel to עלה, as ראשׂ to שׁיא].

Job 20:7. Like his dung he perishes forever; they who have seen him say: Where is he?—The subj. here is the חָנֵף, Job 20:5 b, and so continues to the end of the de scription. כְּגֶלְלוֹ, “like his dung,” from גֵּל, globulus stercoris, Zephaniah 1:17; Ezekiel 4:12; Ezekiel 4:15 (comp. גָּלָל, 1 Kings 14:10). This comparison, which beyond a doubt expresses a meaning which is unfavorable and disgraceful to the ungodly man, refers to his own dung; in the same way that this is at once swept away, on account of its ill odor, so is he speedily removed by the Divine judgment (comp. Ezek. l.c.). In regard to the coarse harshness of the expression, comp. below, Job 20:15, as also Zophar’s former discourse, Job 11:12. [“The word is not low, as Ezekiel 4:12; Zephaniah 1:17 shows, and the figure, though revolting, is still very expressive.” Delitzsch]. The following explanations involve an unsuitable softening [and weakening] of the sense. (1) The attempt of Wetzstein in Delitzsch [I. 377 seq. adopted by Del. and Merx] to identify גֶּלְלוֹ with the cowdung heaped up for fuel in the dwelling of the wicked. (2) The attempt of Schultens, Ewald, Hirz., Heiligst., [Con.], to read כִּגְלָלוֹ, “according to his greatness, in proportion as he was great,” from גְּלָל, magnificentia, majestas [Good (followed by Wemyss) adopts this with the additional amendment of כ to ב, understanding the passage to teach that the wicked perishes in the midst of his greatness]. (3) The unfounded translation of the Syriac: “like the whirlwind” [regarding גלל, or גל as = גלגל, and so Fürst, who however defines it to mean “chaff.” Either of these renderings, as well as Wetzstein’s, makes the suffix superfluous.—E.]. (4) The equally untenable rendering of some of the Rabbis (as Gekatilia, Nachamanides): “as he turns himself,” or “in turning around, as one turns the hand around.”

Job 20:8. As a dream he flies away [and is no more to be found: and he is scared away as a vision of the night].—For the use of “dream” and “night-vision” (חִזָּיוֹן as in Job 4:13 [“so everywhere in the book of Job instead of חָזוֹן, from which it perhaps differs as visum from visio,” Delitzsch]), as figures for that which is fleeting, quickly perishable, comp. Isaiah 29:7; Psalms 73:20; Psalms 90:5. יֻדַּד, Hiph.: “is scared away,” to wit, by God’s judicial intervention; a stronger expression than the Active יִדַּד, “he flies.”

Job 20:9. An eye has looked upon him (been sharply fixed upon him; שׁזף as in Job 28:7); it does it not again; comp. Job 5:3; Job 7:8; Job 8:18. [The verb שָׁזַף is found in Song of Solomon 1:6 in the sense of scorching, or making swarthy (cogn. שָׁדַףadurere). Hence the signification of a fixed scorching look is attached to it by Delitzsch. It may at least be said of it that it means as much as our “scan,” or “gaze upon.” It is suggested perhaps by the lofty position, the heaven-touching, cloud-capped attitude of the wicked in Job 20:6. Such a height, which the sun would (שׁזף) look on, and cause to glow, the eye of man would (שׁזף) gaze on intently. The clause is thus equivalent to: There was a time when he was the observed of all observers, but it is so no more—E.].—And his place beholds him no more.—מְקוֹמוֹ, which is doubtless the subject of b, is here construed as a feminine, as in Genesis 18:24; 2 Samuel 17:12.

Job 20:10. His children must seek to please the poor.—יְרַצּוּ, 3d plur. Piel from רצה = to propitiate, appease, synonymous with חִלָּה פְנֵי־פ׳, an expression which is to be understood in a sense altogether general, and not specifically of asking alms [Barnes: “they would be beggars of beggars”] nor of appeasing by the use of money, although the second member approximates the latter meaning quite closely. The ancient versions read יָרֹצּוּ, or יְרִצְּצוּ (from רצֹץ), and thus obtained the meaning, which is far less suitable, “His sons (object) the lowly smite down.” [Ewald, adopting this definition for the verb, and amending בָּנָיו to הָפְנָיו translates: “his fists smote down the weak”].—And his hands (must) give back his wealth: to wit, by the hands of his children, who will have to appease the creditors of their father. [“The suffix in ידיו might refer back, in the way of individualization, to the plural in בנים (so Noyes); but against this is the fact that also in the following verse the wicked man is the subject of the discourse.” Schlott.]. The meaning would be much less simple if (with Carey, Dillmann) [Bernard, Renan, Lee], “his hands” were understood literally, and after the preceding mention of his death we were carried back here to the period of his life.

Job 20:11. His bones were full of youthful vigor (so correctly the LXX., Targ., Pesh.—while the Vulg., Rosenm., Vaih., etc., understand it of “secret sins,” and comp. Psalms 90:8), [Jerome, however, followed, by E. V., Lee, and Barnes, combining the two ideas of sin and youth, while Renan, Good, Wemyss, Carey, render “secret sins.” Our other authorities, Ew., Dillmann, Schlott., Rodwell, Words., Con., Ber., Elz., with Ges. and Fürst agree with the LXX., etc.]—and it lies down with him in the dust; or “it is laid down,” viz., his youthful vigor; for the use of תִּשְׁכָב referring back to עֲלוּמָיו, comp. Job 14:19; Psalms 103:5 b. For “dust,” meaning the “grave,” comp. Job 19:25; Job 17:16.

Second Strophe: Job 20:12-16. A description of the perishableness of the ungodly man’s prosperity by a comparison with poison, sweet to the taste, but deadly in its results.

Job 20:12-13 are the protasis dependent on אִם Job 20:14 seq., the apodosis.

Job 20:12. Though evil tastes sweet in his mouth (הִמְתִּיק lit., “makes sweet,” Ewald, § 122, c [Green, § 79, 2]); he hides it under his tongue, i.e., he does not swallow it down, in order to enjoy the sweet taste of it so much the longer [“the evildoer likened to an epicure,” Delitzsch.—Renan: Comme un bonbon qu’ on laisse fondre dans la bouche].

Job 20:13. He is sparing of it (חמל to indulge, to spare, here with עַל, the preposition commonly used with verbs of covering, protecting, guarding) and does not let it go, and retains it in his palate.—The tenacity with which the evil-doer persists in the lustful enjoyment of his wickedness, is set forth by five parallel and essentially synonymous expressions accumulated together.

Job 20:14. (Nevertheless) his food is changed in his bowels—into what is explained in the second member. The poison of asps is within him.—מְרוֹרָה (= מְרֵרָה, Job 16:13), lit, “gall,” is used here for “poison,”—because the ancients used interchangeably terms representing the bitter and the poisonous; comp. ראשׁ = a bitter, poisonous plant and the poison of serpents, in Job 20:16; Deuteronomy 32:33. The word is naturally chosen here as antithetic to המתיק, verse 12. [On פְּתָנִים see below, Job 20:16.]

Job 20:15. He hath swallowed down riches.—חַיִל, “possessions, riches, property,” without the accompanying notion of forcible acquisition which rather first makes its appearance in בָּלַע. God will cast them forth again out of his bellyi.e., his riches, or that which he has swallowed. The greedy devourer of wealth will be made to vomit it forth, as by pains of colic. The LXX., from motives of decorum, substituted ἄγγελος here for θεός; in Zophar’s mouth, however, the latter word need not surprise us.

Job 20:16 returns back to the figure of Job 20:14 b in order to describe more minutely the effect of the poison which he had been enjoying. [He sucked in the poison of asps], the tongue of adders slays him—the tongue being regarded as the seat or container of the poison (Psalms 140:4 [3]), the original figure being at the same time changed, and the fatal bite taking the place of the deadly draught; comp. Proverbs 23:32. [פֶּתֶן, LXX. ἀσπίς; according to some, e.g., Kitto, Pictorial Bible, the boeten of the Arabs, about a foot long, spotted black and white, the bite instantly fatal; according to others, the el-Haje of the Arabs, from three to five feet long, dark green, with oblique bands of brown, resembling the cobra di capello in its power of swelling the neck and rising on its tail in striking its prey. The אֶפְעֶה cannot be determined. See the Dictionaries and Cyclopædias, “Asp,” “Viper,” “Serpent,” etc.]

Third Strophe: Job 20:17-22. [The evil-doer cannot enjoy his prosperity—for he must restore his ill-gotten gains.]

Job 20:17. He may not delight in the sight of (ראה ב as in Job 3:9) brooks, streams, rivers of honey and cream.—[The negative אַל and the apocopated יֵרֶא express the concurrence of the speaker’s moral judgment and feeling with the affirmation of the fact. They are a mental Amen to the prediction.—E.] After פְּלַגּוֹת in the absol. state there follow in apposition two nouns in the construct state, נַהֲרֵי גַהֲלֵי, which form an assonance, and are co-ordinate. [Dillmann: “It is a more poetic artistic expression than the simple נהרי דבשׁ ונהלי חמאה.” Hupfeld conjectures that נהרי may be a gloss. See Gesen. § 255, 3 a.] “Honey and milk” (or here, by way of gradation, “cream,” comp. Isaiah 7:15; Isaiah 7:22) are a familiar figurative expression denoting luxurious prosperity, as in Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17, and often; found also in the ancient classical poets, in their descriptions of the golden age; e.g., Theocritus, Idyll. V. 124 seq.; Ovid, Metam. I. 111 seq.: Flumina jam lactis, jam flumina nectaris ibant; comp. Virgil, Ecl. IV. 30; Horace, Epod. 16, 47.

Job 20:18. Giving back that which he has labored for (יָגָע, subst. synonymous with יְגִיעַ) [the participial clause מֵשִׁיב יָגָע coming first, and assigning the reason for what follows] he enjoys it not—lit. he swallows it not, he will not be happy. According to the property of his exchange (תְּמוּרָה as in Job 15:31) he rejoices noti.e., in accordance with the fact that he employed sinful, unjust means of exchange, in order to gain temporal possessions and enjoyments, he has no pleasure in the latter, he must lack the joy which he had promised himself in them. So correctly Ewald, Delitzsch, Dillmann, etc.; while Hirzel and others [E. V. Lee, Bernard, Renan, Rodwell], following the Targum, translate as though instead of כְּחֵיל תְּמוּרָתוֹ, the passage read כְּחֵילוֹ תְּמ׳ (“as his possessions, so his exchange”, i.e., his restitution). Gesenius, Schlottmann [Conant, Elzas] render: “as his property that is to be exchanged, i.e., to be restored” (similarly Hupfeld: sicut opes permutando comparatas), which, however, yields a strained sense [and is also “contrary to the relative independence of the separate lines of the verse, which our poet almost always preserves, and is also opposed by the interposing of ולא יבלע.” Del. Carey explains: “to the full amount of its value,” taking חיל in the sense of “power,” or “fullness”—a doubtful signification when used in connection with property. To be noted is עלם in our Book for עלז or עלץ].

Job 20:19. For he crushed, abandoned the poori.e., maltreated with persistent injustice the unprotected and defenceless. He has taken houses (lit. “a house,” collective) for his plunder, and builded them noti.e., has not re-builded them, has not reached the point of reconstructing and fitting them up according to his own taste, because he was not allowed to retain permanent possession of them. Against the rendering of the Targ., Vulg., etc., also of Hupfeld [and E. V.]: “he has plundered a house which he builded not,” it may be urged that in that case it must have read וְלֹא בָנָהוּ. The causal relation in which the first member is placed to the second by Delitzsch: “because he cast down, let the destitute lie helpless, he shall not, in case he has seized a house, build it up” [Conant: “the houses he has plundered he shall not build up”] is indicated with too little clearness by the כִּי at the beginning of the verse, and yields a meaning entirely too artificial. [Other constructions, according to the causal rendering of כִּי, are (a) That of the E. V.: “Because he hath oppressed and hath forsaken the poor: because he hath violently taken away a house which he builded not; surely he shall not,” etc.; which cannot be justified in rendering כִּי differently in Job 20:19 and in Job 20:20. (b) That of Noyes and Rodwell, who introduce the apodosis in 20b. (c) That of Good, Lee, Wemyss, Carey,—which assumes the apodosis to be introduced by עַל־כֵּן in Job 20:21 b.—E.].

Job 20:20. For (כִּי co-ordinate to that at the beginning of the preceding verse) he knew no rest in his belly: the seat of his gluttony or avarice. שָׁלֵו here a substantive (differently from Job 16:12, where it is an adjective), synonymous with שַׁלְוָה, Proverbs 17:1. For the sentiment comp. Isaiah 59:8. [E. V.: “he shall not feel quietness,” etc., overlooks the distinction of tenses in the verse: יָדַע Perfect, יְמַלֵּט Imperf. Whether we translate כִּי “for” or “because,” there is a relation of antecedent and consequent between a and b. This has been the evil-doer’s character—insatiable voracity; this shall be his doom—to be stripped of every thing.—E.] (Therefore) he shall not escape with his dearest treasure.—מִלֵּט without an object = to escape, like פִּלֵּט, Job 23:7; or also = מִלֵּט נַפְשׁוּ, comp. Amos 2:15. The ב in בַּחֲמוּדוֹ is the ב of accompaniment or of possession, as in Job 19:20. [Not, therefore, instrumental (Schlottmann—the object conceived of as the instrument), nor partitive: “of all his delights he shall save nothing” (Conant). The rendering of Carey, Elzas, etc.: “in his appetite he let (or lets) nothing escape,” is inadmissible on account of the passive form of חמוד, which signifies not the act, but the object, of desire.—E.]

Job 20:21. Nothing escaped his greediness [or gluttony]: lit. “there is nought of a remainder [or of that which has escaped] to his food—comp. Job 18:19. [אָכְלוֹ from אֱכֹל, not אֹכֶל (E. V. “meat”); hence, more literally still than above: “there is nothing that has escaped his eating”]. Therefore his wealth shall not endure.—יחיל, as in Psalms 10:5, means “to be solid, powerful, enduring.” טוּב, “wealth,” or also “prosperity,” as in Job 21:16. [E. V.: “no man shall look for his goods,” which can only mean (with יחיל), no one shall wait for his property as his heir,—a meaning both less simple and less suitable than the above.]

Job 20:22. In the fullness of his superfluity it is strait with himi.e., distress overtakes him, meaning external poverty (not internal anguish, etc.), as b shows. The Inf. constr. מְלֹאות (written like קְרֹאות, Judges 8:1), from מלא, after the analogy of לה׳, verbs; comp. Gesen. § 75 [§ 74], Rems. 20 and 21 [Green, § 166, 2]. יֵצֶר with retracted tone for יֵצַר [“on account of the following monosyllable.” Del.]; comp. Genesis 32:8; Ewald, § 232 b.—Every hand of a wretched one (comp. Job 3:20) comes upon him (comp. Job 15:21)—viz.: to inflict retribution on him for the violence suffered at his hands, or in order to demand of him plundered property. [The primary reference is doubtless to the victims of his own rapacity, although we may give it, with Delitzsch, a more general application: “the rich uncompassionate man becomes a defenceless prey of the proletaries.”] So according to the reading עָמֵל, comp. Job 3:20. If, following the LXX. and the Vulg. (with Eichhorn, De Wette, etc.), we read עָמָל, we obtain the meaning—in itself indeed admissible, but less in harmony with Job 20:19-21 : “the whole power of misery comes upon him.” [So Rodwell. Bernard, Noyes and Renan take יד as in Job 33:2, for “wound” or “blow;’ and translate: “every blow of misfortune” (Ren.), or “every blow of the wretched,” i.e., every blow which cometh upon the wretched (Noyes), or every blow, every plague that can render a man miserable (Bernard).]

Fourth Strophe: Job 20:23-28. The end of the wicked according to the divine judgment.

Job 20:23. That it may serve to the filling of his belly, He casts the glow of His wrath upon him.—The subject is God, although He is not expressly named; as in Job 16:7. The Jussive יְהִי, at the head of the verse, is rendered by most as a simple future: “it shall come to pass,” viz. that which follows. But to express this we should rather expect וְהָיָה (as frequently with the prophets), or וַיְהִי (as frequently in prose). For this reason the construction of the Jussive as dependent on יְשַלַּח is to be preferred to any other (so Stickel, Hahn [Ewald], Dillmann. etc.). [It is certainly simpler, and in the spirit and style of Zophar in this discourse to take יְהִי as an independent verb, forming the first of the series of jussives in this verse, each of which expresses the strong sympathy of his feelings with the result which he predicts. See above on אַל־יֵרֶא, Job 20:17; and Dillmann’s remark below.—E.]—The Jussives יְשַׁלַּח and וֲיַמְטֵר, however, are to be explained on the ground that the passage is intended to set forth the necessity for God’s punitive agency as established in the divine order of the world [“and at the same time to indicate his own agreement therewith.” Dillm.]. In regard to the descent of the divine wrath in the form of a rain of fire, comp. above on Job 18:15.—As to the phrase: “to fill the belly of any one,” comp. above Job 20:20; Luke 15:16.—And causes to rain upon him with his food.—(בְּ serving to introduce the object; comp. Job 16:4; Job 16:10). The subject here again is God. The food which He causes to rain upon the wicked, to wit, his just punishment (comp. Job 9:18; Jeremiah 9:14 [15]) is called “his food” (לַחְמוֹ), viz. that of the wicked, that which he is appointed to feed upon. [Ewald: “rain upon him what can satisfy him.”—Schlottm.: “Such a rain of fire, figuratively speaking, is to be the food of the ungodly, instead of the former dainty morsel of wickedness (comp. Job 20:12-13).”—Wordsworth: “He surfeited himself with rapine, and God will make him surfeit with His revenge.”—Carey: “Just as in Psalms 11:6, the wicked are said to drink snares, fire and brimstone, so here the glutton shall have them for food.”] It is possible also to refer the suffix to God. Much too artificial is the rendering of the Targ., Aben-Ezra, Gerson, Delitzsch: “He causeth it to rain upon him into his flesh,”—although to be sure לחם might in accordance with Zephaniah 1:17 mean “flesh.” [In Zeph., however, the parallelism: “and their blood is poured forth as dust, and heir flesh (לְחֻמָּם) as dung,” makes the application clear; whereas here he whole context points to the usual literal application.—E.]—עָלֵימוֹ, poetic, full-toned form for עָלָיו as in Job 22:2; Job 27:23. [“The morally indignant speech which threatens punishment, intentionally seeks after rare solemn words, and dark-some tones.” Delitzsch. The partial assonance of עלימו בלתומו may also have had some influence in determining this form, which in this instance at least can scarcely be regarded as plur., on account of the pointed individual application to Job. The rendering of E. V., Good, Lee, Wem., Rod., Elz.: “and shall rain it upon him while he is eating,” is at variance with the form, and misses the striking force of the figure as given above.—E.]

Job 20:24 seq. describe how the divine decree of wrath is historically realized by the introduction of several illustrations, the first being that of a warlike pursuit and wounding [“a highly picturesque description.” Ewald].—If he flee from the iron armor (comp. Job 39:21), a bow of brass (Psalms 18:35) pierces him through (comp. Judges 5:26). [If he escapes one danger, it is only to fall into another, and from the same source]. The two members of the verse, which are put together asyndetically, are related to each other as antecedent and consequent, as in Job 19:4.

Job 20:25. He draws it out (viz. the arrow, in order to save his life, comp. Judges 3:22). [The Targ. reads מִגִּוָהּ: he (the enemy, or God) draws, and it (the sword) comes out of its sheath; against which Delitzsch objects that גֵו cannot signify vagina. Carey also translates שָׁלַף, “it is drawn,” i.e. the sword of the pursuing enemy, who plunges it into him, and then draws it out again; but this is much less natural, and mars the terrible vividness of the description given of his unavailing struggle with his doom.—E.]—Then it comes forth out of the body; or also “out of the back,” in case גֵּוָה, after the analogy of נהרה, Job 3:4, should be identified with גֵּו. But the difficulty of accomplishing such a manipulation of the weapon scarcely permits this assumption (adopted among the moderns by Dillmann), [“The evildoer is imagined as hit in the back, the arrow consequently as passing out at the front.” Del.], which, moreover, has against it the following member: and the gleaming steel (comes) out of his gall (comp. Job 16:13; and above on Job 20:14 of this ch.). In regard to בָּרָק, lit. “lightning,” here “gleaming steel, metal head” (not a “stream of blood,” as Hahn explains it), comp. Deuteronomy 32:41; Nahum 3:3; Habakkuk 3:11.—Upon him (come) the terrors of death.—The plur. אֵמִים (from אֵימָה, Job 9:34; Job 13:21) could indeed be connected as subject with יַהֲלֹךְ construed ad sensum (Hahn, Delitzsch), [Conant]; but the accents connect יַהֲליְ rather with the second member of the verse, so that some such verb as “come, break upon,” must be supplied with עָלָיו אֵמִים. Equally opposed to the accents, and altogether too difficult is the rendering of Rosenmüller and Hirzel [Schultens, Carey]: “he goes [departs, “he is going!” Carey] terrors upon him,” i.e., while terrors are upon him.

Job 20:26. Further description of the divine decree of punishment, with special reference to the wicked man’s possessions.—All darkness is hoarded up for his treasures, i.e., every kind of calamity, by divine appointment, awaits the treasures which he has gathered and laid up (צְפוּנִים as in Psalms 17:14; comp. Deuteronomy 33:19). To the agency of the earthly-minded evildoer storing up treasures for himself corresponds the agency of God in opposition storing up the destruction which is destined to overtake them. Comp. θεσαυρίζειν ἑαυτω ὅργήν, Romans 2:6. [As Delitzsch suggests, there is somewhat of a play upon words in טָמוּן לִצְפוּנָיו].—A fire which is not blown consumes him, lit. “which was not blown” (לֹא־נֻפָּח, a relative clause, Gesenius, § 143, 1 [§ 121, 3], hence a “fire of God” burning down from heaven (comp. Job 1:16; Job 18:15; Isaiah 33:11 seq.). תְּאָכְלֵהוּ is most simply explained (with Ewald, Hupfeld, Dillmann) [Fürst, Conant], as an alternate form of the Jussive Kal, instead of the more common תֹּאכְלֵהוּ, comp. Ewald, § 253, a. [Gesenius takes it as Piel for תְּאַכְּלֵהוּ, with lengthened vowel in place of Daghesh-forte; Delitzsch as Poel with Hholem shortened to Kamets-Khatuph; Hirzel, Olsh., Green (§ 93, a; § 111, 2, e) as Pual for תְּאֻכְּלֵהוּ, with the rendering: “a fire not blown shall be made to consume them.” In נֻפָח the gender of אֵשׁ is disregarded, the adoption of the masc. in both the verbs בפח and ירע making the personification of the supernatural fire more vivid. See on רוח Job 1:19.—E.]—It must devour that which survives (that which has escaped former judgments; שָׂרִיד as in Job 20:21) in his tent.—יֵרַע is Jussive Kal [to be explained like the preceding Jussives, Job 20:17; Job 20:23] from רעה, “to graze, to feed upon,” the subject here being אֵשׁ used in the masc.; comp. for this rare masc. usage of אֵשׁPsa 104:4; Jeremiah 48:45. Olshausen’s emendation to יֵרָע (Jussive Niph.=“it shall be devoured”) is unnecessary. [E. V., Bernard, Barnes, Carey, etc., render: “It shall fare ill with him that is left,” etc., or “That which is left, etc., shall perish, or be destroyed” (Lee, Wemyss, Elzas, etc.), some deriving the form from רוע, “to fare ill,” others from ירע in the same sense (Mercier, Carey), others from רעע, either Kal (Fürst) or Niph. (Dathe, Lee). The context favors the root רעה.—E.]

Job 20:27. The heavens reveal his iniquity (יֲגלּוּ also properly Jussive like the verbs in Job 20:26; Job 20:28), and the earth riseth up against him (מִתְקוֹמָמָה pausal form for מִתְקוֹמְמָה). Thus the two chief divisions of the creation, which Job had previously (Job 16:18 seq.) summoned as witnesses in behalf of his innocence, must rather testify the opposite, must thrust him out from themselves as one condemned by God, so that there remains for him as his abode only the gloomy Sheol, the third division of the creation besides heaven and earth; comp. Job 11:8-9; Psalms 135:6; Sir 24:7-9.

Job 20:28. The increase of his house must depart, flowing forth (lit. “things that flow, or run away,” diffluentia, in apposition to יְבוּל) in the day of His wrath, viz. the divine wrath. Ges., Olsh. [Gr., § 140, 2], etc., explain נִגָּרוֹת as Part. Niph. from גרר with an Aram. formation, defining it to mean opes corrasæ, things which have been scraped or gathered together; but less satisfactorily, for the clause בְּיוֹם אַפּו, at the end of this member of the verse, hardly permits us to look for a second subject, synonymous with יְבוּל. Moreover we must have found that thought expressed rather by נגרותיו = opes ab eo corrasae. As it would seem that after Job 20:27 a return to the wicked man’s possessions and treasures could not properly be looked for, some commentators have indulged in attempted emendations of the passage, all of which touch upon יגל in the first member (Jussive Kal from גלה, “to depart, to wander forth, comp. Proverbs 27:25). Thus Dathe, Stickel, etc., read יָגֹל—“the flood rolls away his house, etc.:” Ewald, יִגַּל—“the revenue of his house must roll itself away (like a torrent;” comp. Amos 5:27): Dillmann finally יִגָּל, Jussive Niphal of גלה—“the produce of his house must become apparent as that which flows away in the day of His wrath.”

Job 20:29. Closing verse, lying outside of the strophic arrangement, like Job 5:27, etc.—This is the portion of the wicked man from Elohim; the lot or “portion” (חֵלֶק, comp. Job 27:13; Job 31:2) assigned to him by Elohim, [אָדָם רָשָׁע, “a rare application of אָדָם, comp. Proverbs 6:12 instead of which אִישׁ is more usual,” Del.].—And the heritage appointed to him by God.—נַחֲלַת אִמְרוֹ, lit. “his heritage of the word,” i.e., his heritage as appointed to him by a word, by a command, a judicial sentence (אֹמֶר in this sense only here; but used similarly nevertheless in Psalms 77:9; Hebrews 3:9. It is possible moreover to take the suffix in אִמְרוֹ as genitive of the object to אֹמֶר [or אֵמֶר], in which case the sense would be: “the heritage of the command concerning him.” In this case however the construction would be a much harsher one. [“חלק and נחלת taken in connection with the יבול of the preceding verse form a striking oxymoron: that his heritage be taken away from him, that is the heritage adjudged to him by God.” Schlottmann].


This second discourse of Zophar’s, which is at the same time the last of the utterances directed by him against Job—for in the third act of the colloquy he does not speak—as respects the passionate obstinacy with which it urges the one ever repeated dogma and fundamental axiom of the friends is related to the second discourse of Eliphaz in chapter 15, as superlative to positive, and to the second discourse of Bildad, as superlative to comparative. In it the narrow-minded, legal, as well as unfriendly and unjust opposition of the friends to the misunderstood sufferer appears at its height, as was the case with the former discourse of Zophar in its relation to its two predecessors.—Neither does it present any new thoughts in opposition to Job, any more than the immediately preceding discourses of Eliphaz and Bildad. The terrible picture of the judgment of wrath upon the sinner, with the delineation of which, true to the pattern presented by those two discourses, it is principally, and indeed almost exclusively occupied, exhibits scarcely anything that is materially new or original. Only as regards its formal execution does this picture of horror surpass its two predecessors. It excels in its adroit presentation, and in its skilful, and to some extent original treatment of the familiar figures and phraseology of the Chokmah. This descriptive power, which in the effects produced by it proves itself to be not inconsiderable, seems indeed to be wholly subservient to the speaker’s spirit and purpose, which are characterized by hateful suspicion and vehement accusation. This materially weakens the impression which it is calculated to produce. “It is not possible to illustrate the principle that the covetous, unmerciful rich man is torn away from his prosperity by the punishment God decrees for him, more fearfully and more graphically than Zophar does it; and this terrible description is not overdrawn, but true and appropriate—but in opposition to Job it is the extreme of uncharitable-ness which outdoes itself: applied to him the fearful truth becomes a fearful lie. For in Zophar’s mind Job is the godless man, whose rejoicing does not last long, who indeed raises himself towards heaven, but as his own dung, (comp. on Job 20:7) must he perish, and to whom the sin of his unjust gain is become as the poison of the viper in his belly. The arrow of God’s wrath sticks fast in him; and though he draw it out, it has already inflicted on him a deservedly mortal wound! The fire of God which has already begun to consume his possessions, does not rest until even the last remnant in his tent is consumed. The heavens, when in his self-delusion he seeks the defender of his innocence, reveal his guilt, and the earth which he hopes to have as a witness in his favor, rises up as his accuser. Thus mercilessly does Zophar seek to stifle the new trust which Job conceives towards God, and to extinguish the faith which bursts upward from beneath the ashes of the conflict. His method is soul-destroying; he seeks to slay the life which germinates from the feeling of death, instead of strengthening it.” (Delitzsch). Comp. what Brentius says in his straightforward striking way: “Zophar to the end of the chapter puts forth the most correct opinions; but he is at fault in that he falsely distorts them against Job, just as though Job were afflicted for impiety, and asserted his innocence out of hypocrisy, and not out of the faith of the Gospel.”


As regards the homiletic treatment of this discourse, the same may be said in general as of the discourses, related as to their contents, in chapters 15 and 18. The description given of the perishableness of the prosperity of the ungodly, and of their just punishment at the last through the judgment of God, has its objective truth and value for the practical life; but the vehement tone of the representation, and the many unmistakable allusions to Job as the object of the speaker’s unfriendly suspicion, destroy the pure enjoyment of the discourse, and compel us to regard the picture, skilful as it is in itself, with critical caution.

Particular Passages

Job 20:8. Brentius: The state of the ungodly is compared to the most unsubstantial things, to wit, to a dream, and to visions of the night, which, while they are seen, seem to be something, but when the dreamer awakens, there is nothing remaining, as is set forth in Isaiah 29:0.

Job 20:10. Idem: From this verse we learn whence the poverty, and whence the wealth of children proceeds, viz., from the piety of parents (Psalms 37:25).—Weimar Bible: The reason why many children suffer great misfortune, and especially poverty, lies often in their own sin, but it also proceeds oftentimes from the wickedness of their parents (Exodus 20:5). He therefore who would see his children prosperous, let him beware of sin.

Job 20:12 seq. Starke: Sinful pleasure is commonly transformed into pain. When sin is first tasted it is sweet like sugar, but afterwards it bites like an adder (Proverbs 20:17; Proverbs 23:32; Sir 21:2 seq.).

Job 20:20 seq. Brentius: As water can never satisfy the dropsical, but the more it is drank, the more it is thirsted for; so riches never satisfy the mind’s lust, for the human mind can be satisfied with no good, save God (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Hence it comes to pass by God’s righteous decree, that as the avaricious man is discontented with what he has, as well as what he has not, so the ungodly man never has enough, however much property he may possess, because he is without God, in whom all good things are stored. You have an example of this in Alexander the Great, who, not content with the sovereignty of one world, groaned on learning that there were more worlds.

Job 20:27. Idem: Creatures, when they see the impieties and crimes of the ungodly, are silent until God pronounces judgment; but when His judgment is revealed, then all creatures betray the crimes which the ungodly have committed in their presence. In Christ however the sins of all the godly are covered, nay, are absorbed.—Wohlfarth: Nature is leagued against sin! It is an incontrovertible truth which we find here, written thousands of years ago—he who departs from God’s ways contends against heaven and earth, which from the beginning of the ages have been arrayed against sin, as a revolt against God’s sacred ordinances.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Job 20". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/job-20.html. 1857-84.
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