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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 4-5

Job 20:4-5

That the triumphing of the wicked is short.

The triumph of the wicked

The words of the text are indisputably true, though misapplied. In the world there is, alas! very often a triumphing of the wicked. Sometimes We see it on a grand scale, as in the cases of Pharaoh, or of Nero. Sometimes we see it on a small scale. There is great mystery in this apparent triumph of evil. Many a suffering saint has been perplexed by this feature of the Divine government (Psalms 23:1-6).

Some thoughts as to why the wicked should be allowed to triumph for a season.

1. God is a God of patience and long-suffering. He does not cut short the day of grace, even of the most ungodly, but gives them space for repentance. And even if this is of no avail, yet it is a display of His own attributes, and leaves the impenitent more completely without excuse.

2. This triumph may be permitted for a time, as a chastisement to His people, or to His world. God uses the wicked as unconscious instruments in executing His will, and especially in inflicting chastisement on His backsliding people.

There is another, and how different a triumph, the triumph of the Christian. His triumph is not over the weak and suffering, but over the strong--the world, the flesh, the devil. (George Wagner.)

The triumphing of the wicked short

The triumph mentioned. The term used by Zophar is of very general meaning. It signifies the joy which is displayed by the conqueror on account of the successes which have attended him. It is to be understood as referring to the boast which ungodly men often make of their achievements. The term applies to the general conduct of all those who set God’s laws at defiance, and by their life show who take pleasure in the ways of sin. The enjoyment of transgression is the triumph of ungodliness.

The shortness of the triumphs of man.

1. In regard to the object itself. It is a conquest which circumstances put into their hands. But see how unstable is war.

2. The expression is also true as it regards the term of human life. The period allotted to man, even the longest period, is only a small portion of time. Death will soon overtake the ungodly, and put a final termination to all his plans and purposes; he will hurry the soul before the Judge of quick and dead, to give account of the deeds done in the body. Then will appear the value of the one thing needful. This subject teaches the people of God not to despond, not to judge or conclude that the wicked are happy, because they seem to prosper and triumph. It teaches the believer the obligations under which he lies to God for grace--grace which has enlightened his mind--grace which has led him to Christ, to believe in Him, and find mercy and peace--grace which has guided his steps, and enabled him to bear patiently all the ills of life, in the hope of a triumph forever. (F. Rogers Blackley.)

And the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment.

Against hypocrisy

Prejudice or passion will miserably warp the judgment. It will hide from us what we know not, and cause us to pervert what we do know. This is exemplified in the friends of Job. Job had hinted to them the evil and danger of their conduct (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.

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 “triumph,” as though no evil should ever happen unto them (Psalms 73:3-12). Hypocrites also frequently are held in estimation (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 (Matthew 13:20). But their prosperity will be of short duration. The hypocrite shall have a period put to his dissimulation. He shall soon appear in his proper character (Deuteronomy 32:35). In comparison of eternity, the duration of his joy will be “but a moment.”

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.

2. To the astonishment of all that knew them. The question “Where is he?” refers primarily to the utter extinction of the ungodly. 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”? (Isaiah 3:11; Psalms 9:17.) Does not the most authentic history in the world prove it to have been so? (Sketches of Sermons.)

Verse 8

Job 20:8

He shall fly away as a dream.

The dream of life

Job, in the text, speaks of life as a “dream,” a mere passing phantom of the brain.

A dream implies a dormancy in certain faculties of our nature. The flitting visions of the brain at night always imply the slumbering state of certain powers of the soul. The will has but little to do with the creations of the dream world. In what sense is the soul asleep? What are the faculties that lie dormant within us? There are those that consciously connect the spirit with the spiritual universe--God and moral responsibilities. But spiritual sleep is unnatural and injurious.

A dream fills the mind with illusive visions. The mind sees things in the dreams of the night that never will and that never can have any actual existence. Like dreams, our life here is full of fictions and fancies.

1. Man’s notions as to what his life here will be are illusions.

2. Man’s notions as to what constitutes the dignities and blessedness of life are illusions. Compare the world’s ideas of dignity with the dictates of common sense, the teaching of philosophy, to say nothing of the higher light of revelation. All notions of dignity and happiness are illusive which have not--

(1) To do more with the soul than the senses.

(2) To do more with the character than the circumstance.

(3) To do more with the present than the future.

(4) To do more with the absolute than with the contingent.

A dream is of very short duration. The night dreams of men are very brief, compared with the regular thoughts of their waking hours. Like a dream, life too is brief. This life dream will soon be over. (Homilist.)

Verse 11

Job 20:11

His bones are full Of the sin of his youth.

The sins of youth

The state or condition of a wicked man. “His bones are full of the sin of his youth.”

1. The sin. “Youthful pranks.” By youthful sins we may understand either kinds of sin, or the time of sin. Corrupt nature, though it cleave to all conditions of life, does not put forth itself alike in all. There are lusts that youth is more especially subject unto. Such as vanity both of spirit and conversation. Flexibility to evil. Easily wrought upon, and drawn away and enticed to that which is evil. Unteachableness. Wax to temptation and flint to admonition. Impetuousness; intemperance; uncleanness.

2. The punishment of sin. “His bones are full of them.” The Spirit of God would hereby signify to us the sad and miserable condition of an obdurate and impenitent sinner that has lived for a long time in a course of sin. The word “bones” may be taken either in a corporal or in a spiritual sense. There are many in old age who feel the sins of their youth in their body, their “bones.” There are diseases which attend on vicious courses, and hasten bodily destruction. Some kinds of sin God punishes even in this present life. But by “bones” we may understand the spirit, and more particularly the conscience. There is the remembrance of sin in the soul. Sin will stick in the conscience for a long while after the commission of it. God charges the guilt of the sins of youth upon men’s souls when the things themselves are past and gone. He rubs up their memories and brings their sins to remembrance. He convinces the judgment as to the nature of the sins themselves. He afflicts them also for them. This is all as true of secret as of open sins. The reasons why God proceeds against sins of youth are these:

(1) Because He will maintain His own right and interest in the world.

(2) Because sins of youth are commonly acted with greater violence and vehemency of spirit.

3. The sins of youth are a foundation of more sin. Various improvements of the subject. To those who are young, that from hence they would be so much the more careful and watchful of themselves. We should all study to consecrate and devote our best time to God and to His service. Those who have the care of youth should have a more watchful eye upon them. The aged may well pray with the Psalmist, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” Take up a general lamentation of the great exorbitancies and irregularities of youth, especially in these days. Notice the extent or amplification of the condition in these words, “Which shall lie down with him in the dust.” This denotes the continuance of a wicked man’s sin. It begins with him betimes, for it is the sin of his youth, and it lasts with him a long while; for it follows him even into another world. Two ways in which sin is said to “lie down in the dust.” First, in regard to the stain of it, and then with regard to the guilt of it. There are two things in Christ which are great arguments for closing with Him. There is holiness answerable to pollution, and there is pardon answerable to guilt. (T. Horton, D.D.)

Youth the root of age

It should be borne in mind that in old age it is too late to mend, that then you must inhabit what you have built. Old age has the foundation of its joy or its sorrow laid in youth. You are building at twenty. Are you building for seventy? Nay, every stone laid in the foundation takes hold of every stone in the wall up to the very eaves of the building; and every deed, right or wrong, that transpires in youth, reaches forward, and has a relation to all the after-part of man’s life. (H.W. Beecher.)

Sins and their punishments

There are seven sorts of special sins.

1. Such as appertain to and most commonly show themselves in this or that age of man’s life.

2. There are sins more proper to some countries and places.

3. To the season or times wherein we live.

4. There are special sins of men’s special callings, dealings, and tradings in the world

5. Of their conditions, whether poor or rich, great or small.

6. There are special sins following the constitution of the body, whether sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, or melancholy.

7. There are special sins hanging about our relations. The bones of some are full of the sins of their relations and constitutions; the bones of others are full of the sins of their conditions and callings; the bones of not a few are full of the sins of the place, time or age wherein they live. The bones of many are full of that special age of their lives, their youth. The sins of their youth age are visible in their old age, and the sins of their first age prove the sorrows of their last. Till sin be repented of and pardoned, the punishment of it remains. The punishment of sin reacheth as far as sin reacheth. All the sins of youth remain in and upon the oldest of impenitent persons. It is the greatest misery to persevere in sin. (Joseph Caryl.)

The sin of youth

We commonly say, it is not the last blow of the axe that fells the oak; perhaps the last may be a weaker blow than any of the former, but the other blows made way for the felling of it, and at length a little blow comes and completes it. So our former sins may be the things that make way for our ruin, and then at length some lesser sins may accomplish it. (J. Burroughs.)

The enduring effects of early transgression

The season of youth should be passed religiously, if old age is to be honourable, and if death is to be conquered. The sins of our younger days pursue us through life, and even “lie down with us in the dust.”

1. How difficult and almost impossible it is, in reference to the present scene of being, to make up by after diligence for time lost in youth. It is appointed by God that one stage of life should be strictly preparatory to another. It is also appointed that neglect of the several duties of any one stage shall leave consequences not to be repaired by any attention, however intense, to those of a following. If there have been neglected boyhood, so that the mind’s powers have not been disciplined, nor its chambers stored with information, the consequences will propagate themselves to the extreme line of life. Just because there has been negligence in youth, the man must be wanting to the end of his days in acquirements of whose worth he is perpetually reminded, and which, comparatively speaking, are not to be gained except at one period of his life. The same truth is exemplified in reference to bodily health. The man who has injured his constitution by the excesses of youth, cannot repair the mischief by after acts of self-denial. The seeds of disease which have been sown whilst passions were fresh and ungoverned, are not to be eradicated by the severest moral regimen which may afterwards be prescribed and followed. The possession of the iniquities of youth which we wish most to exhibit is that which affects men when stirred with anxiety for the soul, and desirous to seek and obtain the pardon of sin. Take the case of a man who spends the best years of his life in the neglect of God, and the things of another world. It is not necessary that we suppose him one of the openly profligate. If awakened to a sense of sin, such a man is very likely to defer resolute action till death overtakes him. On the most favourable supposition the mind finds it most difficult to forsake sin and change his conduct. The carelessness of today inevitably adds to the carelessness of tomorrow. Beginning with attachment to this world, men bind themselves with a cord to which every hour will weave a new thread. And however genuine and effectual the repentance and faith of a late period of life, it is unavoidable that the remembrance of misspent years will embitter those which are consecrated to God. By lengthening the period of irreligion, and therefore diminishing that of obedience to God, we almost place ourselves amongst the last of the competitors for the kingdom of heaven. If we devote but a fraction of our days to the striving for the reward promised to Christ’s servants, there is an almost certainty that only the lowest of those rewards will come within our reach. The iniquities of youth will hang like lead on the wings of his soul, restraining its ascendings, and forbidding its reaching those loftier points in immortality which might have been attained by a longer striving. (Henry Melvill, B.D.)

The sin of youth in the bones of age

Expositors differ in their exposition of a text in which so material a word as “the sin” is supplied by our translators. “His bones are full of the sin of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust”--the italicised words not occurring in the original. The Vulgate version is in favour of ours, “His bones are full of the sins of his youth”; while the Septuagint has it, “His bones are full of his youth”; in accordance with which rendering, Gesenius and others take the passage to mean, full of vigour, so that the man is cut off in his physical prime. Dr. Good’s reading is, “His secret sins shall follow his bones, yea, they shall press upon him in the dust.” Others take the literal Hebrew, “His bones are full of secret things,” to refer to the hidden, long-cherished faults of his life--the corrupt habits secretly indulged, which would “adhere to him, leaving a withering influence on his whole system in advancing years.” “His secret lusts would work his certain ruin,” the effect being that which, as a popular commentator says, is so often seen, when vices corrupt the very physical frame, and where the results are seen far on in future life. In this sense be the text accepted here. Graphic, after the manner of the man, is Dr. South’s picture of the old age that comes to wail upon what he calls a “great and worshipful sinner,” who for many years together has had the reputation of eating well and doing ill. “It comes (as it ought to do to a person of such quality) attended with a long train and retinue of rheums, coughs, catarrhs, and dropsies, together with many painful girds and achings, which are at least called the gout. How does such a one go about, or is carried rather, with his body bending inward, his head shaking, and his eyes always watering (instead of weeping) for the sins of his ill-spent youth: In a word, old age seizes upon such a person like fire upon a rotten house; it was rotten before, and must have fallen of itself, so that it is no more but one ruin preventing another.” Virtue, we are admonished, is a friend and a help to nature; but it is vice and luxury that destroy it, and the diseases of intemperance are the natural product of the sins of intemperance. “Chastity makes no work for a chirurgeon, nor ever ends in rottenness of bones.” Whereas, sin is the fruitful parent of distempers, and ill lives occasion good physicians. (Francis Jacox.)

Verses 12-14

Job 20:12-14

Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth.

The woe of the wicked

The disposition of a wicked man in regard to sin.

1. His complacency in it. “It is sweet to his mouth.” A metaphor taken from natural food, which is pleasing and delightful to the taste, which is seated in the mouth or palate. So is sin to the carnal heart. It is very sweet and refreshing to it. Especially in the first embracing or entertaining of it. The ground hereof is this. It is suitable and connatural to him. We may judge of the delight which a wicked person has in sin, by the measure of a gracious person’s delight in goodness. Satan enlarges and advances things to them, and makes them seem greater than they are.

2. His concealment of it. “He hides it under his tongue.” This wicked persons do, either by speaking for sin, or by speaking against it. They speak for it by denying it, or diminishing it, or defending it.

3. His indulgence or favourableness towards it. He spares it, and does not forsake it. He spares it, as to matter of search and inquiry; as to matter of resistance and opposition; as to matter of expulsion, and ejection, and mortification. He does not forsake it. He never forsakes his sin, till his sin forsake him, and he can keep it no longer. A man cannot be said to forsake any sin in particular, who does not forsake the way of sin in general.

The effect of sin to a wicked man. “Yet his meat,” etc. In the general, “His meat within his bowels is turned.” In the particular, “It is as the gall of asps within him.” This figure represents the bitterness and the perniciousness of sin. Use and improvement.

1. Beware of being taken with any sinful way or course whatsoever, from the seeming sweetness that is in it.

2. Do not please thyself in the covering and concealing of sin.

3. Or in self-security and presumption.

4. Use Christian prudence to see the plague afar off, to hide yourselves from it. (T. Horton, D.D.)

Verse 19

Job 20:19

Because he hath oppressed, and hath forsaken the poor.

Social wickedness

What is it that excites all this Divine antagonism and judgment? Was the object of it a theological heretic? Was the man pronounced wicked because he had imbibed certain wrong notions? Was this a case of heterodoxy of creed being punished by the outpouring of the vials of Divine wrath? Look at the words again. His philanthropy was wrong. The man was wicked socially--wicked in relation to his fellow men. All wickedness is not of a theological nature and quality, rising upward into the region of metaphysical conceptions and definitions of the Godhead, which only the learned can present or comprehend; there is a lateral wickedness, a wickedness as between man and man, rich and poor, poor and rich young and old; a household wickedness, a market place iniquity. There we stand on solid rock. If you have been led away with the thought that wickedness is a theological conception, and a species of theological nightmare, you have only to read the Bible, in its complete sense, in order to see that judgment is pronounced upon what may be called lateral wickedness--the wickedness that operates among ourselves, that wrongs mankind, that keeps a false weight, and a short measure, that practises cunning and deceit upon the simple and innocent, that fleeces the unsuspecting,--a social wickedness that stands out that it may be seen in all its black hideousness, and valued as one of the instruments of the devil. There is no escape from the judgment of the Bible. If it pronounced judgment upon false opinions only, then men might profess to be astounded by terms they cannot comprehend: but the Bible goes into the family, the market place, the counting house, the field where the labourer toils, and insists upon judging the actions of men, and upon sending away the richest man from all his bank of gold, if he have oppressed and forsaken the poor. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/job-20.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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