Job 20:4-7. Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung: they which have seen him shall say, Where is he?
PREJUDICE or passion will miserably warp the judgment. It will hide from us what we might know, and cause us to pervert what we do know. Never was this more strongly exemplified than in the friends of Job. Had they calmly considered, they might have comforted him in his affliction; but, by a hasty misapplication of acknowledged truths, they most unjustly and cruelly condemned him. Job had hinted to them the evil and danger of their conduct [Note: Job 19:28-29.]. And Zophar, irritated at the caution, replies with great severity. His words, however, though misapplied, suggest to us two very important truths respecting sinners:
I. Their prosperity is transient—
Of sinners, some make no profession of religion, and others a false profession. Each of these characters may enjoy, for a while, great prosperity—
[The profane are often exalted to places of dignity and power: they prosper in all their labours for wealth and preferment. They not only despise, but perhaps persecute the godly: they “triumph,” as though no evil should ever happen unto them. This the Psalmist saw with deep regret [Note: Psalms 73:3-12.].
Hypocrites also frequently are held in estimation [Note: Revelation 3:1.]. They are objects of envy to many an humble and contrite soul. They will boast of experiences which might well be coveted; and even attain considerable heights of joy [Note: Matthew 13:20.]. Their “excellency may mount up to the heavens, and their heads reach unto the clouds.”]
But their prosperity will be of short duration—
[Death will speedily seize upon the most stout-hearted sinner. Then all, which he gloried in, shall come to an end. None of his “pomp shall follow him,” or his “wealth be carried with him.” The hypocrite also shall have a period put to his dissimulation: he shall soon appear in his proper character. The all-seeing God will discover the secrets of his heart. Nor is this time at any great distance [Note: Deuteronomy 32:35.]: in comparison of eternity, the duration of his joy will be “but a moment.”]
Then will they experience a sad reverse—
II. Their ruin will be tremendous—
The ungodly will in due time be visited for their offences. They will then “perish;”
1. To their own eternal shame—
[Many portions of Scripture appear to us indelicate; but God’s representations of sin are surely just, and well calculated to make us nauseate and lothe it. Such is his description of the ways of sinners [Note: 2 Peter 2:22.]; and such his declaration respecting their end [Note: Compare Revelation 3:16. with the text.]. They will perish under circumstances of disgrace and ignominy. Christ will not deign to own them before his Father [Note: Matthew 10:33.]. The angels will come forth to execute the vengeance of God upon them. The saints would even “thrust them out of heaven” if they should seek admittance there [Note: Luke 13:28.]. The damned themselves will insult them with bitter taunts [Note: Isaiah 14:9-16.]: nor shall they ever cease to be objects of contempt and abhorrence. This is told us in the plainest terms [Note: Proverbs 13:5. Daniel 12:2.]. Nor, while they retain, as they must, their character, is it possible that their situation ever should be changed [Note: Revelation 22:11.].]
2. To the astonishment of all that knew them—
[The question, “Where is he?” refers primarily to the utter extinction of the ungodly; but it may well be considered also as an expression of surprise. The wicked little think where their course will terminate. If the rich man’s request had been granted [Note: Luke 16:23; Luke 16:27-28.], what reply would his surviving brethren have made so soon as that in the text [Note: They would most probably have exclaimed, ‘Where it he! in hell! lifting up his eyes in torments! Is it really so? We never could have thought it: we had no doubt but that he was happy: he seemed to us as worthy and blameless a character as any: nor had he himself any doubts but that he was going to heaven.’]? The hypocrites also often escape detection in this world. Perhaps they were celebrated, after their departure, as eminent saints. We may conceive that their dearest friends, or their associates in holy exercises, may inquire after them in heaven. What surprise and horror must seize them, when they hear of the doom which the heart-searching God has passed upon them [Note: If a Minister is to have those as his “joy and crown of rejoicing,” who were truly converted by his ministry, we may, not improperly, suppose a degree of disappointment, if he miss those, concerning whom he had entertained the most sanguine hopes. We may suppose him, upon the first discovery, to say, ‘Where is he! What, he in hell! I often feared that I myself should go thither; but who would have ever thought that HE should?’ The Lord grant that this may never be realized by any of us!]!]
Address—“Know you not this?”
Know you not that this has been so from the beginning of the world?
[Does not the word of God assert, that “it shall be ill with the wicked [Note: Isaiah 3:11. Psalms 9:17.]?” Does not the most authentic history in the world prove it to have been so [Note: Where are now the antediluvian scoffers, the haughty Pharaoh, the treacherous Judas, the worldly-minded Demas, the heretical Hymeneus? &c.]? Does not conscience itself testify that it shall be so still?]
If you know, do you not consider this?
[Can any thing be more worthy of our consideration? If we have “but a moment,” should we not improve that moment? Are we willing to perish in this ignominious and awful manner?]
Let us live no longer in the neglect of religion—
[The gratifications of sense can last but for a little time; but the consequences of neglecting God will endure for ever. Surely the care of the soul is the “one thing needful.”]
Nor let us rest in a “form of godliness” without experiencing “its power”—
[It will avail us little to deceive our fellow-creatures. The higher we have been in their estimation, the deeper will be our disgrace. Let us then go to Christ for the remission of past sins: let us approve ourselves to him in future, as “servants that need not be ashamed,” and labour to be “sincere and without offence until his coming again.”]
THE EMPTINESS OF EARTHLY POSSESSIONS
Job 20:22. In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits.
MEN universally, by nature, seek their happiness in earthly things: and though they meet with continual disappointment, they will persevere in the same unprofitable course, “spending their money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfieth not.” The question, “Who will shew us any good?” is asked by every man: but it is the godly man alone that answers it aright, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me [Note: Haman’s state, Esther 5:11-13, may here be opened to advantage.].” The godly man attains the object of his pursuit: but the ungodly man finds, by bitter experience, that, whatever be the measure of his success in the attainment of earthly things, “in the fulness of his sufficiency he is in straits.”
From these words, I will take occasion to shew what a poor wretched creature a mere worldly man is;
I. As viewed in himself—
It is here supposed, that he may not only possess a very large measure of earthly things, but may have a consciousness that his portion is, as it were, “shaken together, pressed down, and running over.” Yet, “in the fulness of his sufficiency, he will be in straits;”
1. As it respects his present enjoyments—
[Earthly things, of whatever kind they be, pleasures, riches, or honours, are all, in their nature, empty and unsatisfying — — — in their use, transient and cloying — — — and, in their effects, productive of trouble and vexation — — — Our blessed Lord has told us, that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth;” and Solomon, after trying all things to an extent that no other man ever did, has given us his testimony respecting them, that they are “all vanity and vexation of spirit.”]
2. As it respects his future prospects—
[Every man has a consciousness that there is a future state; and that earthly possessions, so far from advancing our preparation for it, tend rather to divert our attention from it, and to obstruct our progress in the heavenly life. And it is no uncommon thing for a man, in the midst of all his earthly pleasures, to feel them embittered to him, by a consciousness that he is hastening to the eternal world, and is unprepared for it. In fact, though men may, for a season, shake off the thoughts of eternity, they cannot so divest themselves of it in a time of sickness, and in the approach of death, as not to feel exceedingly straitened in their spirit, and to acknowledge that they have been all their days following a phantom, that has eluded their grasp, and disappointed their expectations.]
But, to see him in his true colours, look at him,
II. As viewed in contrast with a godly man—
As an ungodly man may possess an abundance of earthly comforts, so may a godly man be reduced to great straits. We can scarcely conceive a more destitute condition than that of Lazarus, or that of those persecuted saints who “wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented [Note: Hebrews 11:37-38.].” Yet, as the worldling is in straits in the midst of his abundance, so these are in abundance in the midst of all their straits. They enjoy much,
1. In possession—
[They have peace with God: and that is more to them than ten thousand worlds. With this this have content; which reconciles them fully to their state, whatever that state may be. However great their distress may be, they are resigned to it as their father’s will, and they assure themselves that “all things shall work together for their good.” They know that “their affliction is but light and momentary, and that it is working out for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Hence, so far from being dejected by their trials, they even “glory in them,” and find them a source of solid satisfaction [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.].]
2. In reversion—
[They are enabled to look up to heaven, with an assurance, that, however destitute here, they have in that blessed world “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” They have already a foretaste of that bliss, in “a spirit of adoption,” and in the sealing of the Spirit, which is to them “an earnest” of what they are speedily to enjoy in all its fulness. How empty do all earthly things appear to him, whilst in such an elevated state as this! A king upon his throne, if not possessed of these spiritual treasures, is to him an object of pity rather than of admiration and envy: so infinitely is the worldly man below the child of God! The worldly man, in having all things, possesses nothing; but the saint, whilst “having nothing, in reality possesses all things [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].”]
1. Seek not happiness in a way of sin—
[Sin may afford a present gratification: but, though it be as honey in the mouth, it will be as gall in the stomach. So we are told in the preceding context [Note: ver. 12–14.]; and so it is found by every child of man — — —]
2. Be not too intent upon the things of this world—
[In earthly business, of whatever kind, we may be diligent; yea, and great diligence will consist with great fervour of spirit, and spirituality of mind [Note: Romans 12:11.]. But “our affections are not to be set on things below.” In heaven alone is the treasure which we are to affect; and “where that is, our heart must be also.”]
3. Seek your happiness in God alone—
[There can be no disappointment, and no satiety. That will make you rich in possession, and in reversion too: for if Christ be yours, “all other things must of necessity be yours also: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours: and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Job 20". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany