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Bible Commentaries
Job 20

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-29


Job 20:1-29

Zophar's second speech is even more harsh than his first (Job 11:1-20.). He adds coarseness and rudeness to his former vehement hostility (Job 20:7, Job 20:15). His whole discourse is a covert denunciation of Job as a wicked man and a hypocrite (verses 5, 12, 19, 29), deservedly punished by God for a life of crime. He ends by prophesying Job's violent death, the destruction of his house, and the rising up of heaven and earth in witness against him (verses 24-28).

Job 20:1, Job 20:2

Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said, Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer. Zophar "has heard the check of his reproach" (Job 20:3), i.e. the reproach contained in the last words of Job in the preceding chapter. Therefore his thoughts rise up within him, and com-psi him to make a reply. He cannot allow Job to shift the onus of guilt and the menace of punishment on his friends, when it is he, Job, that is the guilty person, over whom the judgments of God impend. And for this I make haste; rather, and because of my haste that is within me (see the Revised Version); i.e. "because I am of a hasty and impetuous temperament."

Job 20:3

I have heard the check of my reproach; or, the reproof which putteth me to shame (Revised Version). Some suppose an allusion to Job 19:2, Job 19:3; but it is better to regard Zophar as enraged by Job 19:28, Job 19:29 of Job 19:1-29. And the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer. This claim is not quite consistent with the acknowledgment of hastiness in Job 19:2. But it is no unusual thing for an impetuous and hasty man to declare that he speaks from the dictates of pure dispassionate reason.

Job 20:4

Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth? These words scarcely "imply cognizance of the record (of the creation of man) in Genesis," as Canon Cook suggests; but they do imply belief in a creation of man, not an evolution; and in the existence of a continuous tradition, extending from that time to Job's. The passage is among those which make for the high antiquity of the book.

Job 20:5

That the triumphing of the wicked is short (comp. Psalms 37:35, Psalms 37:36; Psalms 51:1-5; Psalms 73:17-19, etc.). This is one of the main points of dispute between Job and his opponents. It has been previously maintained by Eliphaz (Job 4:8-11; Job 5:3-5; Job 15:21, Job 15:29) and by Bildad (Job 8:11-19), as it is now by Zophar, and may be regarded as the traditional belief of the time, which scarcely any ventured to question. His own observation, however, has convinced Job that the fact is otherwise. He has seen the wicked "live, become old, and remain mighty in power" (Job 21:7); he has seen them "spend their days in wealth," and die quietly, as "in a moment" (Job 21:13). In Job 24:2-24 he seems to argue that this is the general, if not universal, lot of such persons. Later on, however, in Job 27:13-23, he retracts this view, or, at any rate, greatly modifies it, admitting that usually retribution does even in this life overtake the wicked. And this seems to be the general sentiment of mankind.

"Raro antecedentem scelestum,

Deseruit pede poena claudlo."

(Horace, 'Od.,' Job 3:2, ll. 31, 32.)

There remains, however, the question whether the triumphing of the wicked can fairly be considered "short," and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment. When we consider the lives of Dionysius the elder, Sylla, Marius, Tiberius, Louis XIV; Napoleon, it is difficult to answer this question in the affirmative.

Job 20:6

Though his excellency mount up to the heavens. "Though he reach," i.e; "the highest pitch of prosperity" (comp.Psalms 73:9; Psalms 73:9). And his head reach unto the clouds (comp. Daniel 4:22, "Thou, O king, art grown and become strong: and thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven").

Job 20:7

Yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung. Some understand "his own dung-heap," regarding the "ashes" of Job 2:8 as, in reality, a heap of refuse of all kinds; but it is simpler to suppose a plainer and more vulgar taunt. They which have seen him shall say, Where is he? i.e. "Whither hath he gone? What is become of him?" (comp. Isaiah 37:36).

Job 20:8

He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found; i.e. "as a dream flies, when one awaketh" (see Psalms 73:20; Isaiah 29:7, Isaiah 29:8). Yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night. A "vision of the night" is perhaps something more than a "dream;" but it is equally fugitive, equally unstable-with morning it wholly vanishes away.

Job 20:9

The eye also which saw him shall see him no more; or, the eye which scanned him. The verb used (שָׁזַךְ) is a rare one, occurring only here, in Job 28:7, and in So Job 1:6. In the former passage it is used of a falcon, in the latter of the sun. Neither shall his place any more behold him (comp. Psalms 103:16, "The place thereof shall know it no more").

Job 20:10

His children shall seek to please the poor. Another rendering is, "The poor shall oppress his children," since the meaning of the verb יְרַחּוּ is doubtful. But the translation of the Authorized Version seems preferable. His children will curry favour with the poor, either by making restitution to them on account of their father's injuries, or simply because they are friendless, and desire to ingratiate themselves with some one. And his hands shall restore their goods (comp. Job 20:15 and Job 20:18). He himself will be so crushed and broken in spirit that he will give back with his own hands the goods whereof he has deprived the poor. The restitution, i.e; will be made, in many cases, not by the oppressor's children, but by the oppressor himself.

Job 20:11

His bones are full of the sin of his youth; literally, his bones are full of his youth; i.e. lusty and strong, full of youthful vigour. There is no sign of weakness or decay about them. Yet they shall lie down with him in the dust. A little while, and these vigorous bones, this entire body, so full of life and youth, shall be lying with the man himself, with all that constitutes his personality, in the dust of death (comp. Job 20:24, Job 20:25).

Job 20:12, Job 20:13

Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth; i.e. though the wicked man delight in his wickedness, and gloat over it, and keep the thought of it in his mind, as a gourmand keeps, so long as he can, a delicious taste in his mouth; though he, as it were, hide it under his tongue, in order not to let it escape him; though he spare it, and forsake it not; but keep it still within his mouth, yet, notwithstanding all this, disgust and nausea arrive in course of time (see the next two verses). It is, perhaps, the most surprising among the phenomena of wickedness that men can gloat over it, voluntarily recur to it, make a boast of it, recount signal instances of it to their friends, and seem to find a satisfaction in the recollection. One would have expected that shame and self-disapproval and fear of retribution would have led them to dismiss their wicked acts from their thoughts as soon as possible. But certainly the fact is otherwise.

Job 20:14

Yet his meat in his bowels is turned. Still, a time comes when the self-complacency of the wicked man is shaken. He experiences a failure of health or spirits. Then, suddenly, it is as if the meat that he has swallowed had been turned to poison in his bowels, as if the gall of asps were within him. Compare what Bishop Butler says of the sudden waking up of a man's conscience. The ancients seem to have known that the poison of serpents was a strong acid, and therefore supposed that it was secreted by the gallbladder (see Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 11:37).

Job 20:15

He hath swallowed down riches and he shall vomit them up again. The wicked man shall be made to disgorge his ill-gotten gains. Either fear, or remorse, or a judicial sentence will force him to make restitution (see Job 20:10). God shall cast them out of his belly. Whatever is the immediate motive of the restitution: it will really be God's doing. He will cause the fear, or the remorse, or bring about the judicial sentence.

Job 20:16

He shall suck the poison of asps. Probably Zophar does not affix any very distinct meaning to his threats. He is content to utter a series of fierce-sounding but vague menaces, which he knows that Job will regard as launched against himself, and does not care whether they are taken metaphorically or literally. Job will be equally distressed in either ease. The viper's tongue shall slay him. It is really the viper's tooth, and not his tongue, that slays; but Zophar is not, any more than Job (Job 27:18), an accomplished naturalist.

Job 20:17

He shall not see the rivers, the floods, the brooks. The wicked man shall suffer, not only positive pains, but what casuists call the poena damni, or "penalty of loss"—deprivation, in other words, of blessings which he would naturally have enjoyed but for his wickedness. Zophar here threatens him with the Joss of those paradisiacal delights which the Orientals associated with water in all its forms, whether as פּלגות, or "rills derived from larger streams," or as כהרי, "rivers," or as כחלי, "brooks" or "torrents," now strong and impetuous, now reduced to a mere thread These are said poetically to flow with honey and butter, not, of course, in any literal sense, such as Ovid may have meant, when, in describing the golden age, he said—

"Flumina jam lactis, jam fiumina nectaris ibant;"

('Metaph.,' 1.111.)

but as fertilizing the land through which they ran, and so causing it to abound with bees and cattle, whence would be derived butter and honey. Compare the terms in which Canaan was described to the Israelites (Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 26:9, Deuteronomy 26:15, etc.).

Job 20:18

That which he laboured for he shall restore. Even that which he gets by his own honest labour he shall have to part with and give up. He shall not swallow it down; i.e. "shall not absorb it, and make it his own." According to his substance shall the restitution be. So Schultens, Professor Lee, and Dr. Stanley Leathes, who understand Zophar as asserting that, in order to compensate those whom he has robbed, the wicked man will have to make over to them all the wealth that is honestly his Others translate, "According to the substance that he hath gotten, he shall not rejoice" (see the Revised Version, and the commentaries of Ewald, Delitzsch, and Dillmann).

Job 20:19

Because he hath oppressed and hath forsaken the poor. These charges are now for the first time insinuated against Job; later on, they are openly brought by Eliphaz (Job 22:5-9). Job denies them categorically in Job 29:11-17. They seem to have been pure calumnies, without an atom of foundation. Because he hath violently taken away an house which he builded not. Another calumny, doubtless. Something like it was insinuated by Eliphaz in Job 15:28.

Job 20:20

Surely he shall not feel quietness in his belly; rather, became he knew no quietness in his belly' or within him (see the Revised Version); i.e. because his greed and his rapacity were insatiable—he was never at rest, but continually oppressed and plundered the poor more and more (see the comment on Job 20:19). He shall not save of that which he desired; or, he shall not save aught of that wherein he delighteth (see the Revised Version). For his oppression, for his violence, for his insatiable greed, he shall be punished by retaining nothing of all those delightful things which he had laid up for himself during the time that he was powerful and prosperous

Job 20:21

There shall none of his meat be left; rather, there was nothing left that he detoured not, or nothing remained over from his eating (Schultens). Scarcely intended literally, as Canon Cook supposes. Rather said in reference to the wicked man's persistent oppression and robbery of the poor, the needy, and the powerless (comp. Job 20:19, Job 20:20; and note our Lord's words, "Ye devour widows' houses," Matthew 23:14). Therefore shall no man look for his goods. This is an impossible rendering. Translate, with Rosenmuller, Canon Cook, Stanley Leathes, and our Revisers, therefore his prosperity shall not endure. In other words, a Nemesis shall overtake him. For his oppression and cruelty he shall be visited by the Divine auger; a sudden end shall be made of his prosperity, and he shall fall into penury and misfortune. Covert allusion is, no doubt, intended to Job's sudden loss of his extraordinary prosperity by the series of calamities so graphically portrayed in Job 1:13-19.

Job 20:22

In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits. Even while his wealth and prosperity remain, he shall find himself in difficulties, since every hand of the wicked (or rather, the hand of every one that is wretched) shall come upon him; i.e. all those who are poor and miserable, especially such as he has made poor and miserable, shall turn against him, and vex him.

Job 20:23

When he is about to fill his belly (comp. Job 20:12-18); i.e. "when he is on the point of making some fresh attack upon the weak and defenceless." God shall east the fury of his wrath upon him (comp. Psalms 78:30, Psalms 78:31, where a far less harmful lust is noted as having brought down the Divine vengeance). And shall rain it upon him while he is eating; or, as his food (comp. Psalms 11:6, "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup").

Job 20:24

He shall flee from the iron weapon. This is no indication of the late authorship of Job. Iron was in use in Egypt at a very early date. A thin plate of it was found by Colonel Howard Vyse embedded in the masonry of the great pyramid; and iron implements and ornaments, iron spear-heads, iron sickles, iron gimlets, iron keys, iron bracelets, iron wire, have been found in the early tombs not infrequently. That they are not more common is accounted for by the rapid oxidization of iron by exposure to the air, and its rapid decay in the nitrous soil of Egypt. The inhabitants of South-Western Asia were at no time much behind the Egyptians in their knowledge of the useful arts: and iron appears as a well-known metal in the Jewish Scriptures from the time of the Exodus (see Numbers 35:16; Deuteronomy 3:11; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 8:9; Deuteronomy 28:23; Joshua 8:31). It is true that the principal weapons of war continued to be made ordinarily of bronze, both in South-Western Asia and in Egypt, till a comparatively late period; but Zophar may mean to assign to the slayer of the wicked man weapons of a superior character. And the bow of steel shall strike him through. It is uncertain whether steel was known in the ancient world. But, whether or no, "steel" is not meant here. The word used in the original is nehushtah, which undoubtedly means either "copper" or "bronze." As copper would be too soft a material for a bow, we may assume bronze to be intended. The bronze used in Egypt was extremely elastic, and there would have been little difficulty in fashioning bows of it (on the existence of such bows, see 2 Samuel 26:5; Psalms 18:34).

Job 20:25

It is drawn, and cometh out of the body; rather, he draweth it forth' and it cometh out of his body (see the Revised Version). The stricken man draws the arrow from his flesh, the natural action of every one so wounded. If the arrow was simply tipped with a smooth iron point, it would be easy to withdraw it; but a barbed arrow could only be cut out. Yea, the glittering sword cometh out of his gall; rather, the glittering point. The arrow is supposed to have pierced the gall-bladder, and to be drawn forth from it. There would be little chance of recovery in such a case. Hence terrors are upon him.

Job 20:26

All darkness shall be hid in his secret places; literally, all darkness is reserved for his treasures' which some understand of his hidden earthly treasures, which no one shall ever find—some of the retribution laid up for him by God, which will be such darkness as Job describes in Job 10:21, Job 10:22. A fire not blown shall consume him; i.e. "a fire lighted by no human hands," probably lightning or brimstone from heaven (Job his tent, i.e. in his dwelling. His wife, his children, if he has any, and his domestics, shall be involved in the general ruin.

Job 20:27

The heaven shall reveal his iniquity; and the earth shall rise up against him. This is Zophar's reply to the appeal which Job made (in Job 16:18, Job 16:19) to heaven and earth to bear their witness in his favour. Heaven, he says, instead of testifying to his innocence, will one day, when the books are opened (Revelation 20:12), "reveal his iniquity;" and earth, instead of echoing his cry, will "rise up" in indignation "against him." He will have none either in heaven or earth to take his part, or give any testimony in his favour.

Job 20:28

The increase of his house shall depart. "The increase of his house" may be either his children and descendants; or his substance—that which he has accumulated. In the former case, the departure spoken of may be either death (see Job 20:26), or carrying into captivity; in the latter, general rapine and destruction. And his goods shall flow away in the day of his wrath. It seems to be necessary to supply some such nominative as "his goods," or "his treasure," צפוניו (see Job 20:26). These shall "flow away," i.e. melt and disappear, "in the day of his wrath," i.e. the day when wrath comes upon him.

Job 20:29

This is the portion of a wicked man from God; i.e. the lot, or possession of a wicked man—that which God makes over to him as his own in the last resort, and which is all that he has to look for. In other words, it is the heritage appointed unto him by God (comp. Job 27:13). As to some God, at the last, will assign an inheritance of good, so to others he will appoint an inheritance of evil


Job 20:1-29

Zophar to Job: an orthodox champion to the rescue.

I. AN IMPETUOUS ORATOR PERTURBED. Threatened with Divine vengeance, Zophar advances to the combat in hopes of utterly confounding his antagonist. His appearance, manner, and address are characterized by:

1. Bold defiance. "Therefore," i.e. in view of what you have just spoken; nay, "nevertheless," i.e. in spite of all your grandiloquent talk about a sword. Zophar had been unmoved, equally by Job's pathetic wail depicting his abandonment by God and man, and by Job's sublime utterance respecting his Divine-human Goel. Job's prayer for a drop of human pity had made no impression on his flinty bosom. Job's suggestion that the law of retribution they so vehemently preached might one day receive unexpected illustration in themselves (Job 19:29) had touched him to the quick. Accordingly, to hide the writhings of his lacerated spirit, he assumes an aspect of courage which he does not possess.

2. Extreme perturbation. The inward agitation of his spirit he betrays in his language. His cogitations were confused. His "thoughts" shot up in all directions from his heart like the manifold and intricate ramifications of a tree (cf. Job 4:16). The word strikingly represents the mind's activity under violent excitement. The soul of Zophar was perplexed. Job's discourse had possessed the merit of enlisting the attention, if not the sympathy, of his hearer. It had moved the feelings, if it had not convinced the judgment. And Zophar, if he did not listen with a loving spirit, at least did not hearken with a vacant mind. Yet, considering the mental disturbance which Job's speech had produced, Zophar would have acted prudently had he maintained a discreet silence. Troubled thoughts seldom fashion wise or weighty words; and, though vehement emotion, especially when under control, is of immense advantage to an orator, yet an intellect deranged by passion is divested of whatever power of conviction it might otherwise possess.

3. Indecent haste. Whether or not a pause usually intervened between the different speeches in this controversy, Zephyr would appear to have been exceptionally impatient to smite his adversary, and to have rushed into the arena of debate like a war-horse neighing for the battle. If the rush of feeling and the multitudinous array of ideas which Job's words provoked did not "cause him to answer" (verse 2), they at least furnished him with what seemed a crushing rejoinder to the outspoken insolence to which he had been compelled to listen—a rejoinder made and ready, so that he required not to meditate, but simply to "follow the suggestions of his thoughts as fast as they arose" (Carey), which he did. It had been better infinitely that Zophar had exercised a little self-restraint—better for his own credit, since "he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly" (Pied. 14:29), since even good men are prone to err when they speak in haste (Psalms 116:11), since it is the part of a wise man to "refrain his lips" (Proverbs 10:19), and the commandment of God to "be not rash with one's mouth" (Ecclesiastes 5:2), but to be "swift to hear, slow to speak" (James 1:19), and since "there is more hope of a fool than of him that is hasty in his words" (Proverbs 29:20); and it would have been better for Job's comfort, since hasty words are seldom kindly words.

4. Virtuous resentment. Zophar, "the very pink and pattern of orthodoxy" (Cox), had been threatened with the sword. He had perfectly understood what Job meant by brandishing (metaphorically, of course) that lethal weapon before his eyes. It was designed as a "check of his reproach" (verse 3), a reprimand to overwhelm him with disgrace, which he, Zophar, now hurled back upon the speaker with indignant scorn. The wounding of Zophar's self-esteem had been a more serious offence on Job's part than the striking at his faith. Zophar "one of those hot-heads who pretend to fight for religion that is imperilled, while in reality" they are "only zealous for their own wounded vanity" (Delitzsch). Instead of answering Job's arguments, which doubtless he could not, he wipes out, or imagines he wipers out, the gratuitous dishonour done to his reputation as an orthodox believer by vehement reassertion of the current faith. It is usual for those who cannot reply to an opponent's objections to indulge in personal invectives and extravagant assertions.

5. Wonderful conceit. Zophar practically informs Job that if he (Zophar) does not confound him (Job) and his heretical doctrines, it is not for want of ability to do so. "The spirit of his understanding," i.e. the inner light of his intellectual discernment, the spirit emanating from the keen faculty of perception which he knows to be within him, furnishes him with all the information requisite for such a purpose. Now, doubtless, "there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding" (Job 32:8); but "this also is a vanity" which may be witnessed beneath the sun, that they who have the least of such understanding not unfrequently suppose themselves to have the most, while they who have the most are the least inclined to praise themselves on its account.


1. With sarcastic sunrise. Zophar professes astonishment that Job required to be instructed on so obvious a point as the Divine law of retribution, considering

(1) what a wise man Job was: "Knowest thou not this?" thou who knowest everything—an obvious allusion to Job 19:25; and

(2) what an old law it was, having been "of old, since man was placed upon the earth." and therefore surely not beyond the cognizance of a man who could look to the world's end. Zophar's irony was clever, but not kind.

2. With evident relish. With ill-concealed gusto Zophar repeats the popular dogma of the day, that "the triumphing of the wicked is near [literally, 'is from near'], and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment," adding that "though his excellency," or exaltation, "mount up into heaven, yet shall he perish for over;" words suggestive of

(1) the superficial character of the irreligious man's happiness, which is commonly derived from things at hand, the creature-comforts by which he is surrounded;

(2) the short-lived duration of the wicked man's hope, which is only "from near," i.e. of recent origin, and continues but a little space, being doomed to perish at the close of life's brief day at the furthest;

(3) the seeming elevation of the hypocrite's piety, which often appears to wear an extraordinary aspect of sanctity, setting its head among the clouds, while common saints have much ado to walk upon the earth without stumbling (Isaiah 65:5; Matthew 23:14; Luke 18:11);

(4) the absolute certainty of the ungodly man's overthrow, since he shall yet be cast down from the loftiest position of security to the lowest depths of degradation (Isaiah 14:13-15; Amos 9:2; Obadiah 1:4);

(5) the terrible completeness of the sinner's destruction—he shall perish, and that for ever. Had Zophar been a man of tender spirit, instead of a fierce and fiery bigot, he would not have exulted with such fiendish delight in a doom so appalling even in imagination.

3. With varied illustration.

(1) A coarse metaphor. The wicked man shall perish "like his own dung," i.e. with abhorrence and contempt (1 Kings 14:10; 2 Kings 9:37; Psalms 83:10; Jeremiah 8:2)—a sentiment which, although not conveyed in polite language, is sometimes verified in this world in the case of notorious transgressors, and in the next world will certainly prove true of all the ungodly.

(2) An impressive image. The prosperous wicked man is likened to an unsubstantial dream, which, with its magical phantasmagoria, highly excites the fancy of the sleeper, but which vanishes, when night is passed, into the limbo of oblivion. What Zophar here affirms of the individual is true of men generally. The sinful life is a tremendous unreality; it may often assume imposing shapes, fascinating to beholders; but, after all, is only a pretentious shadow, which will disappear when, at the dawning of eternal day, the good man awakes. The pious life alone has solidity and continuance.

(3) A borrowed text. Zophar plagiarizes a sentiment (Job 19:9) from a previous address of Job (Job 7:8, Job 7:10). When preachers appropriate the thoughts of others, they should carefully acknowledge to whom they are indebted for their wisdom or eloquence.

(4) A solemn reflection. That when a wicked man dies he commonly bequeaths a legacy of shame to his descendants, his children being obliged "to please the poor" (verse 10), i.e. to court the favour of the destitute whom his rapacity has impoverished, and, in his name, so that it might actually be held to be by his hands, to "restore the goods" of those whom his covetousness and oppression have redfaced to beggary. Nothing is more certain than that a father's ungodliness is often visited upon his family (Ezekiel 18:2)—an argument for parental piety; that the whirligig of time brings strange revenges upon sinners, punishing them by the very inflictions they entailed on others, e.g. reducing their children to beggary as they had reduced the children of others (1 Samuel 15:33)—a proof of God's overruling providence; that ill-gotten gain seldom proves a blessing to its possessors, mostly bringing misery into a man's house instead of felicity (Genesis 13:11)—a caution against covetousness; and that God frequently compels the restitution of wealth unjustly acquired, sometimes by the power of grace (Luke 19:8), sometimes by the anguish of remorse (Matthew 27:3-5), sometimes by the hand of death (Psalms 39:6), sometimes by the superior craft of others (Genesis 30:37)—a reason for honest dealing.

(5) A cruel innuendo. That Job had been wicked in his youth, that Job's bones were even then full of the secret lusts of his early manhood, that at least his physical disease was the direct retribution of his previous excesses, and that these, his unrepented crimes, were about to descend with him to his grave (verse 11). Though not applicable to Job, at whom all commentators are agreed it is pointed (cf. Job 13:26; Job 17:15, Job 17:16), the language conveys a solemn warning as to youthful indulgence in sin,

(a) its proneness to progress and develop into a licentious and profligate old age;

(b) its tendency to avenge itself in time in a diseased body, an enfeebled mind, a premature death; and

(c) its certainty, unless repented of, abandoned, and forgiven, to lie down with the transgressor in his grave, ay, to accompany him beyond the grave into the unseen world of eternity.


1. The picture of a sinful epicure. (Verses 12-18.)

(1) The wicked man's estimate of sin. He regards it as a dainty which communicates to his soul the same gratification that delicious viands do to tide palate. A melancholy proof of the degradation into which man has sunk, that that which God pronounces an abomination he should contemplate with approbation; that a nature which God formed to find its happiness in holy fellowship with himself should experience pleasure in disobedience. Yet to the carnal mind all sin possesses more or less a relish, while some forms of indulgence, such as intemperance in eating and drinking, inordinate ambition and avarice, devotion to the frivolous, and often wicked, amusements of fashionable life, are attended with at least a seeming satisfaction.

(2) The wicked man's delight in sin. He deals with it as an epicure does with a dainty—keeping hold of it as long as he is able, seeking to extract from it as much sweetness as possible, "hiding it under his tongue, sparing it and forsaking it not, but keeping it still in the middle of his palate" (verses 12, 13); as a glutton does with delicious food, eagerly devouring it, gulping it down with avidity, swallowing it with greediness (verse 15), gormandizing and stuffing himself with the tasty viands with the voracity of a beast—a description applicable to the drunkard (Proverbs 23:20, Proverbs 23:21), the debauchee (Proverbs 7:22), the covetous man (Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 56:11).

(3) The wicked man's recompense from sin. He shall be filled with misery by that in which he formerly delighted, as if the pleasant food of which he had partaken had been changed in his stomach into the gall of asps (verse 14). "Though wicked men relish sin at the time, roll it as a sweet plum in the mouth, and feel its deliciousness, the issue will be agony; it will turn into wormwood, it will rankle as a hellish virus in every vein of the soul" (Thomas). He shall be taken with a loathing for that which he formerly desired, viz. riches, which shall compel him to disgorge that which he gulped down with greediness (verse 15); nay, what he toiled so hard to obtain he shall not be permitted to retain, but shall be obliged to restore without having experienced from it any real enjoyment (verse 18). Though conveying a cruel and malicious insinuation that Job's wealth had been unjustly acquired—which it was not—yet the sentiment is often true, especially of riches, that that which men pursue with avidity and accumulate with eager anticipations of delight, seldom realizes the expectations it excites, often fills its possessors with disgust, and must eventually be given up, if not before, at least at death (Ecclesiastes 6:2; cf. 'Measure for Measure,' Acts 3:0. sc. 1). He shall be slain by the very thing which he supposed should be his life, the sweet morsel of sin which he sucked turning out to be the poison of asps, and as the deadly bite of a viper. So sin ever carries retribution in its own bosom. The fair fruit which was expected to make Adam and Eve wise as gods left them overwhelmed with guilty shame (Genesis 3:7); Samson's amorous dalliance with Delilah conducted him to Gaza's prison (Judges 16:21); David's sin with Bathsheba proved like molten fire within his veins (Psalms 32:4; Psalms 51:8); the wine-cup of the drunkard at last bites like a serpent and stings like an adder (Proverbs 23:32). He shall be excluded from any real happiness on earth. "He shall not see the rivers, the floods, the brooks of honey and butter" (verse 17). Much more, it may be added, he shall not attain to the felicity of the future Paradise of God. "The river of life, the wine of the kingdom, the fruits of Paradise, the joys at God's right hand, the pleasures for evermore," are "all forfeited for the momentary pleasures of sin" (Robinson).

2. The picture of a powerful tyrant. (Verses 19-28.) The portrait intended for Job.

(1) The crimes laid to his charge are:

(a) Merciless oppression, in the threefold form of grinding down, forsaking, and robbing the poor (cf. Job 22:6, Job 22:7); conduct common in the era of the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 3:16) and in the days of primitive Christianity (James 2:6), though by no means infrequent in these times; conduct offensive in the sight of God and man (Ecclesiastes 6:8; Ecclesiastes 7:7), and wholly unbecoming in a good (Isaiah 33:15), but specially characteristic of a bad (Psalms 55:3), man; conduct attaining its highest degree of wickedness when the poor oppress the poor (Proverbs 28:3), and certain to be fiercely avenged (Psalms 35:10; Proverbs 22:16; Isaiah 3:15; Jeremiah 22:16) by him who espouses the cause of the oppressed.

(b) Insatiable greed, being represented as one who felt no quietness in his belly, i.e. whose cravings knew no bounds (verse 20), and from whose covetousness nothing escaped (verse 21)—a sin against which men are warned in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:17), and saints in the gospel (Luke 12:15), and upon which woes are pronounced by the prophets (Isaiah 5:8; Jeremiah 51:13; Micah 2:9.; Habakkuk 2:6), and judgments by the apostles (Romans 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:3, Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 13:5; James 5:1-3; 2 Peter 2:3).

(2) The doom predicted as his portion is exhibited as:

(a) Deceiving prosperity. He shall not be able to escape with that to which his soul clings as its dearest treasure (verse 20). Calamity shall overtake his accumulated spoil in spite of his most watchful care. His prosperity shall not continue (verse 21), but "in the fulness of his sufficiency" when rejoicing in abundance, "he shall be in straits" (verse 22), either dreading impending destitution, or being deprived of his property, as Job was, by the stroke of swift calamity. As no man's riches can save him from peril (Psalms 49:7), so neither can any man save his riches when God commands them to take wings and flee away (Proverbs 23:5). God can take a sinner from his wealth (Luke 12:20) as easily as a sinner's wealth from him (Genesis 19:29), or, permitting the wealth to remain, he can cause its possessor to feel in straits.

(b) Thickening adversity. "Every hand of the wicked [literally, 'every hand of the wretched,' i.e. every stroke that falls upon the wretched] shall come upon him." He shall be assailed by every form of trouble; as e.g. Divine wrath in the midst of his enjoyment (verse 23)—God, in order to fill his belly, raining down upon him the fiery glow of his indignation as he did upon the cities of the plain (Genesis 19:24), upon the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 11:33; Psalms 78:30, Psalms 78:31), and, according to Zophar, upon Job (Job 1:16). Sudden destruction in the midst of his oppressions (verses 24, 25). Fleeing from an adversary, he is pierced in the back by an arrow from a bow of steel. Drawing the gleaming weapon from his body, the metal head of the arrow from his gall, terrors of approaching death or of a fearful conscience encompass him. So God sometimes causes the sinner to be struck down in the very act of his wickedness (Numbers 16:31; 2 Samuel 8:5; 2 Kings 1:9, 2 Kings 1:10; Acts 5:5), and so are bold transgressors commonly transformed into cowards when death comes and conscience wakes. Complete annihilation of himself and his treasures (verse 26). Though concealed in the earth, these treasures will yet be laid bare by fire from heaven, which shall also burn up him and them (as the fire of God had already, literally, burnt up Job's sheep and oxen, and was on the eve, metaphorically, of devouring himself), consigning both to a gloom darker than that which enshrouds the freebooter's spoil—a doom reserved for the finally impenitent. Certain exposure of his wicked character and life (verse 27), not only heaven renouncing and abhorring the transgressor, but the earth also conspiring to ensure his detection. As certainly as God and the universe are on the side of saints (Romans 8:28), so certainly are they arrayed against the sinner. It was, perhaps, only poetry when Deborah and Barak sang that the heavenly powers fought for Israel, and the stars in their courses contended against Sisera (Judges 5:20); it was superstition which made the Melitans imagine Paul to be a wicked wretch whom Divine vengeance suffered not to live (Acts 28:4); it is plain prose and solemn truth when God says that heaven and earth are in league against the sinner. Final extinction for his house and its belongings in the day of wrath (verse 28), as appeared to be the case with Job, though it was not, and as will eventually be the case with the wicked, though they think not.


1. The elements of truth in this conclusion. These are:

(1) That the wicked man has a portion or heritage, which he shall assuredly receive as the righteous reward of his ungodly life. Equally with the saint will the sinner be recompensed according to his works.

(2) That this portion or heritage is decreed for the wicked man by God. As God appoints to all men their earthly lots, so does he determine the lots of all in the life beyond.

(3) That this portion or heritage shall be bestowed upon him by the hand of God, so that his evading or eluding it will be wholly impossible.

2. The ingredients of error in this Conclusion.

(1) The wicked man's portion is not always bestowed upon him on earth: the first mistake of Zophar.

(2) Even if bestowed on earth, it is not universally a heritage like that described above: Zophar's second blunder.

(3) If, again, it was exactly as portrayed, it did not apply to Job: the third mistake of Zophar, and the worst of the three.


1. That controversy, especially in religion (and politics), is seldom profitable, and almost always irritating.

2. That controversialists are commonly characterized more by exaggerated language than by convincing argumentation.

3. That no cause is advanced by either vulgarity of speech or personality of allusion.

4. That it is not uncommon for s careless reasoner to mistake a half-truth for a whole, an exceptional truth for a universal, an occasional truth for s perpetual.

5. That it is impossible for a wicked man to escape retribution, if not in this world, at least in the next.

6. That unpardoned sins are the worst grave that any man can lay his bones in.

7. That though sin may be attended with pleasure, it can never result in happiness.

8. That what prevents ultimate success to a sinner is the fact that God is against him.

9. That God knows when and how to strike his avenging blows so as to cause them to gall hardest on the object of his displeasure. 10. That the greatest calamity which can overtake a human soul is the wrath of God.


Job 20:1-29

Godless prosperity short-lived.

Here we have a new variation on the favourite theme of the friends—the inconstancy of godless prosperity. "The jubilation of the wicked is but of short duration, and the joy of the profligate but a moment." The wicked man is specially here described as a rich man, who greedily snatches at others' property, and whose ill-gotten gains become a deadly consuming fire to him and all his. It is related to Eliphaz's speech (Job 15:1-35.) as the superlative to the positive, and to Bildad's (Job 18:1-21.) as the superlative to the comparative. Similar remarks to those, then, must here apply; and the description is in itself true, apt, and striking, but its evident animus against Job is fiercely unjust.

I. CENSURE OF JOB: INTRODUCTION OF THE THEME. (Verses 1-5.) "Therefore my thoughts reply to me, and hence comes the storm of my bosom. Must I hear correction that insults me? But my spirit out of my understanding gives me an answer"—namely, of warning and chastisement to Job as a godless man (verses 1-3). Zophar then gives these suggestions of his spirit in the form of a question directed to Job: "Knowest thou this from eternity, since man was placed on the earth, that the triumph of the wicked endures but a short time, and the joy of the reprobate but a moment?" He is astonished that Job, as appears from his speeches, is unacquainted with this well-worn and familiar truth of experience (verses 4, 5).


1. "Though his glory mounts" to heaven, and his head reaches to the clouds (comp. Isaiah 14:13, Isaiah 14:14; Obadiah 1:4), like his dung he perishes for ever; they that saw him say, Where is he?" The coarsest and most contemptuous comparison seems to be purposely selected (verse 7). The next is that of the fugitive dream (verse 8; comp. Isaiah 29:7; Psalms 73:20; Psalms 90:5). Dreams and visions of the night! emptiest things! appearing to be something while they last, but leaving no trace behind when the sleeper wakes. The eye that has seen him shall see him no more; and the place where he seemed to move, a solid person of flesh and blood, beholds that figure no longer (nor. 9). The curse descends to his children; they are reduced to court the favour of humble folk, and they have to give up to their father's creditors his ill-gotten wealth (verse 10). How often, though not without exception, do we see this to be the rule of life—the beggary or the wealth of children is rooted in the wickedness or goodness of the parents (Exodus 20:5; Psalms 37:25)! Let him who would see his children happy beware of sin. "His bones were full of youthful strength, and with him it lies in the bed of dust" (verse 11).

2. The inconstant prosperity of the wicked under the figure of sweet food, but deadly poison. (Verses 12-16.) "Though evil tastes sweet in his mouth, he hides it under his tongue," rolling it as a delicious morsel, he sparingly fosters it, and lets it not go, and keeps it back on his palate" (in five synonymous phrases the idea of the dwelling and gloating over the sweet morsel of sin is set forth, verses 12, 13); "yet his food is changed in his bowels—vipers' poison is in his interior (verse 14). The riches he has swallowed God expels from his paunch. The drastic language betrays the energy and violence of Zophar's feelings (verse 15). Then, recurring to the figure of verse 14, "the tongue of adders slays him"(Psalms 140:3), the deadly bite replacing in the description the deadly draught (verse 16; Proverbs 23:32). So God turns men's "pleasant vices" into whips and scourges for their backs ('King Lear'). The sweet Dead Sea fruits that tempt the taste turn to ashes on the lips. Sinful pleasure turns to pain, It begins with sweetness, like sugar, but afterwards bites like a serpent (Proverbs 20:17; Sirach 21:2, et seq.).

3. (Verses 17-22.) "He may not see his pleasure in brooks, streams, floods of honey and cream" (verse 17). These are well-known biblical figures for luxury and fulness of prosperity (Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17). And where the classic poets describe the golden age these figures occur: "streams of milk, streams of nectar flowed" (Ovid, 'Metam.,' 1.111, sqq.; Theocr; 'Id.,' 5.124, sqq.; Virg; 'Eel.,' 4.30; Her; 'Epod.,' 16.47). "He gives back what he has gained, and enjoys it not; accord ing to the property of his barter he is not merry;" that is, in proportion as he employed unjust means of exchange, to obtain temporal goods and enjoyment, he does not rejoice in them, he must go without the mirth that he promised himself from them (verse 18). "For he crushed, and caused the lowly to he down." With what tender regard does biblical morality and law treat the poor and defenceless! what indignation does it testify against the oppressor! "He snatched houses for himself, and built them not." The meaning perhaps is, he built them not anew, did not succeed in rebuilding them according to his taste, because he could not possess them for a permanence (verse 19). "For he knew no rest in his belly." "The way of peace" (Isaiah 59:8) is not for restless greed and selfish hardness to others' sufferings to tread. "Therefore he will not escape with that which is dearest to him" (verse 20). "Nothing escaped his greed, therefore his possessions shall not continue" (verse 21). "In the fulness of his super fluity he comes into straits; every hand of the wretched comes upon him" (verse 22). The clamours of those whom he has wronged, the cries of the widows, the orphans, the poor, make a din in the ears of the bad man; their hands stretch forth to seize the goods of which he has defrauded them. It is a striking picture of retribution. Perhalps the most salient point in this description is that of the insatiableness of greed. "The dire dropsy increases by self-indulgence, nor expels the thirst, unless the cause of disease flees from the veins, and the watery languor from the pale body," says Horace, in a noble ode on the use and abuse of riches. "You shall more widely rule," he says, "by taming the greedy spirit, than could you join Libya to far-off Gades" ('Od.' 2.2). Riches cannot satisfy the soul, nor any earthly good, but only God (Ecclesiastes 1:8). The covetous temper finds as much want in what it has as in what it has not. No possessions, however great, can satisfy, us, until we have found the treasury of all good things in God. We are still little Alexanders, not content to rule over one world—grieved to hear there are no more (Brenz).

4. End of the wicked man in accordance with the Divine judgment. (Verses 28-28.) "That it may serve for the filling of his belly, he causes his fiery wrath to fall upon him" (comp. Job 18:15). ion the figure of filling the belly, cf. verse 20; Luke 15:16.) "And causes to rain upon him with his food;" that is, his food, the wages of his sin, is the just punishment from God (Luke 15:23). The description goes on to point out the means by which the wrathful judgment of Heaven is executed (Luke 15:24, sqq.).

(1) Warlike examples: pursuit and wounds. "He flees from the iron harness, the brazen bow pierces him" (Judges 5:26). He draws the arrow from his body (Judges 3:22), and the shining steel comes out of his gall; the terrors of death come upon him (Luke 15:25). Then

(2) some further descriptions of the Divine judgment, especially with reference to the property of the wicked. "All darkness is reserved for his treasures." His hoards are exposed to every casualty. He finds that he has been "treasuring up for himself—wrath!" (Romans 2:5). A fire that no human hands have kindled devours him, destroying the relies of former judgments (Luke 15:26). "The heavens disclose his guilt, and earth rises against him" (Luke 15:27). A striking contrast to Job 16:18, Job 16:19, where Job had appealed to heaven and earth as witnesses of his innocence. Thus denied and cast from both, the only place for the wicked is in Sheol, or Hades. The produce of his house must pass away, like wrecks floating down a flood, in the day of God's wrath (verse 28).

CONCLUSION. "Such is the lot of the wicked man from God, and the heritage allotted to him by God" (verse 29). The witness of nature against the sinner—this is the most powerful concluding thought in this awe-striking address. Nature seems to be unconscious of men's guilt, as of their virtues. The leaves of the forest do not shudder, the bright blue sky is not overcast, the earth does not quake when deeds of crime are done. Yet that majestic order represented by heaven and earth—the order which finds its reflection in the conscience of man—cannot be violated with impunity. It will avenge itself in the end. And we see from time to time striking types and prophecies of this in the way by which crime is detected from the traces left on the face of nature, or by the clues afforded by natural law. The light of day reveals the deed of the night-time, and the earth gives up her dead. If all sins thus leave some record, what rest or peace could there be for the guilty conscience except in the gospel, which assures us that in Christ the sins of the penitent and believing are "covered," and that his blood cleanseth from all sin?—J.


Job 20:5-20

The temporary triumph of the wicked.

Zophar now comes forth with wise words; but they are as arrows, slender, strong, and sharp, which, though drawn upon a strong bow, yet miss their mark. Only too true is his assertion of the brevity of the triumph of the evil-doer, the momentary joy of the hypocrite; only too accurate his forcible setting forth of the state and portion of the ungodly. Job has to hear again cruel words. His patient faith has yet to be further tested; his final triumph is postponed.

I. HIS HONOR IS TEMPORARY. If he raise himself so that "his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever;" "he shall fly away as a dream," so short is his grasp of any position of honour.

II. HIS FAMILY PROSPERITY IS BUT BRIEF. The goods he has gained by his ungodliness "his hands shall restore," and his children crouch to appease the poor. Ill-gotten gain is held by uncertain hands. For a time the ungodly seems to prosper, but it is that he may be consumed out of his place.

III. HIS LIFE IS WASTED AND PASSETH AWAY. Even his youthful vigour fails him. it shall speedily "lie down with him in the dust." The practice of wickedness brings punishment on hint who offends. The tendency of wrong-doing is ever to prey upon the strength of the life.

IV. THE PLEASURES OF SIN TO HIM ABE BUT FOR A SEASON. Though he 'hide" wickedness "under his tongue,'' though it be "sweet in his mouth," yet shall it be turned to "the gall of asps within him."

V. THE POSSESSION OF RICHES IS PERMITTED ONLY FOR A BRIEF PERIOD. Though he swallow them down, "he shall vomit them up again." Nothing has permanence with him. Changes come over him from sources he cannot trace and certainly could not foresee. His toil is fruitless. "That which he laboured for shall he restore he shall not rejoice therein." Wickedness eats into the strength and joy of life. It exposes life to innumerable evils and robs it of its chief good. The wicked man has no pledge of permanent blessing. "He shall not save of that which he desired." Truly "the triumphing of the wicked is short."—R.G.

Job 20:21-26

Disappointment to the wicked.

Even when all promises well to the wicked, evil shall lurk under cover of the seeming prosperity. When he is about to satisfy himself, suddenly he shall be in straits. His hopes shall be blasted, his strong confidence disappointed. With a singular cluster of strong figures Zophar depicts the unsatisfying position of the wicked man. He is in the midst of enemies. Every source of help and joy seems to fail him.

I. HE FINDS NO HELP IN MAN. "Every hand of the wicked shall come upon him." Even they of his own way of thinking disappoint him. They turn upon him. An ungodly man can have no true confidence in his ungodly associates. Evil in them enables them to detect evil in him. The spirit which they know within themselves to be wrong and untrustworthy, unkind and evil-plotting, they know w be the same in him.

II. HE FINDS NO HELP IN GOD. "When he is about to fill his belly, God shall cast the fury of his wrath upon him." The wicked, so long as he continues wicked, has nothing to hope for from God. It was the joyful boast of one assailed on every hand, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" So if God be "against" a man, of what avail is it that any are "for" him? God is the best of friends, the most mighty of enemies. Not that in the Divine heart are any sentiments of enmity against the children of men, but men turn blessings into curses by the way they use them- So men make an enemy of their best Friend.

III. HE FINDS NO HELP IN CIRCUMSTANCES. The iron weapon which he might have grasped he shall flee from; and the bow of steel which he might have drawn shall strike him through. "Terrors'' seize him, "darkness" hides in his secret places, "a fire not blown" consumes him. He is encompassed by foes. All things are against him. Though he prosper, yet "in the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits." "This is the portion of the wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed unto him by God"—R.G.

Job 20:27

The final testimony against ungodliness.

The wicked may hide himself "in his secret places," but his iniquity will be revealed. He cannot escape. For a time he may prosper and may practise deceit; but ultimately his doings shall be made known and meet with their just retribution. The natural consequence of wrongdoing is to go on from bad to worse until at length it bursts all restraint. Even the dull eye of the neighbour will detect the prevailing wrong, but the keen eye of a Divine justice cannot be escaped. Evil outwits itself. Its fruit appears in due time. Faultiness of life and conduct make themselves apparent. But should it be possible wholly to hide iniquity through life, and to die with the dreadful secret locked in the breast of the wrong-doer, yet there still remains a revelation which cannot be evaded. "The heaven shall reveal his iniquity; and the earth shall rise up against him." This final testimony against ungodliness is.—






Job 20:5

The short triumphing of the wicked.

Zophar's superficial view has truth in it as far as it goes. He is a man of the world, and he has kept his eyes open. What he has seen has been no illusion. It is not enough to explain the deeper mysteries of Job's experience. Yet it has an obvious truth in it.


1. This is seen in experience. Even Zophar, who finds it not exactly in accordance with his ideas of providence, still cannot but admit that it exists. A swindler fattens on the spoils of the robbery of widows and orphans. A Napoleon dominates Europe.

2. It is important to recognize the fact. We must make our theories accord with our experience and observation of the world. It is useless to comfort ourselves in the seclusion of our private meditation with an easy optimism, if this will not fit in with the events of everyday life. If we are not prepared to expect the triumph of the wicked, the sight of it will strike us with a shock of dismay.

3. The triumphing of the wicked does present a difficulty. It is contrary to our notion of justice. No doubt the narrow, conventional notion of the three friends was founded on a genuine sense of right and fitness. If there is to be no future judgment, and if this temporal state is typical of the whole course of life, here is an instance of gross injustice. We must therefore face it, and inquire what it means.

II. THIS TRIUMPH IS SHORT. Zophar's explanation is that the triumph will soon pass away, and will give place to overthrow and ruin.

1. This is seen on earth. As a rule, the swindler does not die rich. He usually outlives his gains. Great wickedness generally disappoints its owner. Napoleon finishing his career as an exile at St. Helena is typical of the most frequent end of a very bad course. But this is by no means a universal principle. The whole of a bad man's life may be externally prosperous, right on to death.

2. This will be seen after death. We must extend our contemplation of the course of the wicked man. He dies, leaving wealth, pleasure, power, triumph, behind him. None of these can accompany him through the dark doors of death. He has laid up no treasures in the unseen world. There he is certainly beggared, and he has good ground for expecting the infliction of wellmented punishment. His short earthly life, but a moment when compared to eternity, is over, and with it all his triumphing has ceased.


1. It is fallacious because its brevity is hidden. The foolish man who glories in it does not see how swiftly it is slipping away from him. A triumph which must soon give place to shame is not worth much to its owner.

2. It is fallacious because it gives no solid satisfaction. The wicked glee of triumphing in sin is quite superficial. Often its very excitement is only a result of restless discordant passions. It wears a bold front, but it covers a weary spirit. If there is a spark of conscience left there must be a haunting fear—like the mummy at the Egyptian feast—that spoils the pleasure.


1. This is solid. It begins with victory over sin and self, our greatest enemies.

2. It is assured. It is brought about by the work of Christ; it is just sharing in his victory; and Christ must triumph.

3. It is eternal. On earth there may be shame and humiliation, but in heaven Christians are called to the joy of victory—to be "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37).—W.F.A.

Job 20:12-17

The sweet taste of sin and its bitter after-taste.

I. THE SWEET TASTE OF SIN. How can we account for the tact that if sin is essentially an evil thing it should ever be attractive to us? Surely its natural hatefulness should make it repulsive. If it is hideous in the sight of God, by what witchery can it be made to appear fascinating to our eyes?

1. It appeals to our lower desires. It makes its first appeal to nature. There was no evil at first in Adam and Eve, and yet sin was made attractive to them. Christ could not have been tempted unless sin had been made to wear a fair mask in his presence. The bodily appetites and the self-seeking desires are natural and innocent in themselves. But they should be kept under by our higher nature. If, however, the tempter appeals to them directly, he appeals to the prospect of natural pleasure.

2. It is aided by our selfish nature. We are all fallen creatures. If the fall has not taken the form of sensuality, it has certainly been accomplished in selfishness. Now sin appeals to our selfish nature, and promises personal gratification at the expense of righteousness.

3. It is intensified by corrupted desires. Sin perverts the natural appetites and corrupts the most innocent desires. The wicked thing which is first sought because of some promised result comes to be loved on its own account. As the miser loves his money, so the sinner loves his sin—first for what it can purchase, then on its own account. He is like a hypnotized person, to whom gall tastes like sugar, because he is deluded into believing evil to be his good.

II. THE BITTER AFTER-TASTE OF SIN. Zophar rightly enlarges upon this subject. We do not need any amplification of the delights of sin. The very presentation of them to the imagination is degrading. The soul is soiled by contemplating them. We are quite ready to admit their strength. But it is not so easy to imagine vividly and to keep well in view the dreadful after-results. They are remote, unattractive, uncongenial. Therefore we need to be forced to see the results of sin in detail. Zophar narrates them with graphic ragout. Let us, then, consider the disagreeable details of the bitter after-taste.

1. It is pain within. The morsel is sweet in the mouth, and it is hidden under the tongue to keep it safe and to prolong the delicious enjoyment of it; yet when it is swallowed it becomes like the gall of asps. The recollection of past sin is a pain of conscience. Its very delights are turned to bitterness in the after-thought. Just in proportion to their tempting fascination before the deed is their repulsiveness after it has been committed. The foolish victim of temptation looks back on his orgies with disgust. He loathes himself, he grovels in humiliation. How could he have been such a fool as to sink to this shame and degradation?

2. It results in the loss of future delights. The sinner is made to give up his fiches. He is denied "the brooks, the rivers, the torrents of honey and butter," which he was greedily looking forward to. The justice of God will not permit him to revel for ever in wickedness. By his indulgence in sinful pleasures he has destroyed the faculty of innocent joy. His debauch has turned the garden of innocent delights into a desert. For such a man there is no hope but in complete regeneration. Yet that is possible. Even he can be converted, and made a new creature in Christ Jesus.—W.F.A.

Job 20:19, Job 20:20

Oppressing the poor.

This is a sin most frequently referred to in the Bible, a common wrong against which the prophets of Israel continually pretested with vehement indignation. Christ, usually mild and gentle, spoke in great anger of this wickedness (Matthew 23:14). St. James denounced it as not unknown among Christians (James 5:4).


1. Its various forms. It is not always seen in the bare and open fashion of primitive times. The sheikh exacts more than is due from his tribe, the Eastern landowner grinds down his fellaheen, the baron enslaves and robs his serfs, and we denounce the manifest wrong. But is not the same evil to be seen in the more decorous injustice of modern Western civilization? The great body of working men is now emancipated from the tyranny of past ages, and is able to assert itself and claim its rights. But below this powerful class is a mass of unskilled workers, the helpless men and women who crowd the lower quarters of great cities—the really poor. When advantage is taken of the poverty of these miserable people to grind them down, they are being robbed. With us the sweating system takes the place of the old territorial oppression.

2. Its invariable wickedness. Is the modern commercial oppression one whit less guilty than the old lordly tyranny? The evil is more disguised with us; it is more difficult to bring it home to its authors; our complicated civilization hushes it up—yet the cruelty and wickedness are as real as ever.

II. THE PUNISHMENT. The writers of the Bible who denounced the sin of oppressing the poor continually threatened punishment to the guilty oppressors.

1. Direct loss. Zophar contemplates the actual loss of ill-gotten gains. This may happen in the present life. It will certainly occur at death. The oppressor can take none of the profits of his cruelty out of the world with him.

2. Disappointment. In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits. Even without the loss of property difficulties will arise. The rich man may be murdered in his palace. Most oppressors live in fear. Trouble of mind mingles like gall in the sweetest cup of pleasures got by cruelty.

III. THE CURE. Punishment is not cure. The fear of it may act as somewhat of a check. But we must go deeper for "the root of the matter" if we would cure it. Now undoubtedly in this case the root is not hard to find, for it is simply unmitigated selfishness. Therefore until men can be taught to substitute brotherliness for selfishness, oppression of the poor must continue. No social revolution, no legal enactment, no forcible change, can eradicate the evil. We must go for the cure of social evils to Christ. He is concerned with society as well as with the individual, and there is no hope for society until he is recognized as its Saviour and its Lord. Christianity instils brotherliness. No man can be a Christian who is destitute of this grace. Oppression of the poor belies the most sanctimonious profession of religion. We want to get back to the religion, of Christ, which made more of brotherliness than even of faith; the religion of St. Paul and St. John, which taught that love is the greatest thing in the world.—W.F.A.

Job 20:22

Straitened in the time of fulness.

I. SUDDEN DISASTER. This had come upon Job. It looks as if the pragmatic Zophar was rude enough to insinuate that the picture he was painting would be recognized by the patriarch as a portrait of himself. Now, the external part of the picture was true to the circumstances of Job. Therefore the broad hint that the internal part also applied to him was the more cruel. Job's sufferings were extreme, but they were not contrary to precedent. Sudden disaster is not unknown. The rich man is beggared by an unexpected commercial collapse. An epidemic or a storm at sea suddenly bereaves a father of his whole family. Death snatches the prosperous person away at the height of his success.

1. This is not expected. Although it is not uncommon, people are generally unprepared for it; and when it comes they are astounded and dismayed. We are deceived by present appearances. It is difficult to believe in the overthrow of that which gives no sign of being in danger.

2. This is crushing. The pain of a fall is determined by the height from which one descends as much as By the depth that is reach, d. The troubles of those who were once prosperous are far worse to bear than the troubles of people who do not know what earthly happiness means.

3. This should teach us to look beyond the present.

(1) In preparation for possible disaster. We should not, however, be always brooding over the possibility. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Still, we should be fortified against it.

(2) In the possession of better than earthly things. We can endure the shocks that strike our earthly tabernacle, if we have "a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1).

II. INTERNAL POVERTY. The ruin may take another form. There may be no such external and visible calamities as those that came upon Job. The normal coupe of events may be unbroken, the material prosperity may be unaffected. Yet there may be distress and misery. Then the soul is straitened although the fulness of earthly sufficiency is not touched.

1. This comes from our spiritual nature. The body has been fed, but the soul has been starved; therefore the soul is straitened. There are times when we perceive deeper needs than any earthly bread can satisfy; "for man shall not live by bread alone," etc. (Matthew 4:4).

2. This is felt in the awakening of conscience. A voice within calls us to a service for which our earthly sufficiency affords no rapport. On the contrary, the wealth of external things seems a sort of hindrance, distracting our thoughts and absorbing our care when we should be turning to more spiritual affairs. The spiritual nature, once aroused, feels cramped and oppressed by the very fulness of earthly sufficiency.

3. This should drive us to the wells of living water. We are tempted to neglect those sources of spiritual life when the streams of earthly blessings flow in fulness. Yet nothing but the water of life can nourish the soul. Without this we are thirsty still. We are straitened that we may turn to Christ for the water which he gives, and for his bread of life.—W.F.A.

Job 20:27

Iniquity revealed.

I. IT IS HIDDEN. Otherwise, of course, it would not need to be revealed. How is it hidden?

1. By secrecy. The sin is not committed in the light of day and before the eyes of a crowd. The wicked deed is done in the dark.

2. By circumstances. Events are such that the evil does not come out to the light. Snow falls and conceals the footprints of the thief.

3. By falsehood. Charged with his crime, the sinner denies it. For a while his lie is accepted, if there is no proof against him.

4. By negligence. It is not the business of everybody to be an amateur detective. The world lets much wickedness pass from sheer indifference.


1. Certainly in the future judgment. Then the secrets of all hearts shall be made known. God knows the wickedness that is hidden from man, for nothing can be concealed from his all-searching gaze. We are not only to expect that God will then punish sin. Further than this, there will be a general unveiling of character. The hypocrite will be unmasked. Everybody will be seen in his true nature.

2. Possibly on earth. Even here Heaven may reveal the iniquity. A providential turn of events may bring it all to light. Without any handwriting on the wall or any trumpet-toned annunciation, the slow and awful unrolling of providence may make the ugly story known.

III. ITS REVELATION WILL BE FOLLOWED BY ITS PUNISHMENT. This follows naturally: no avenging angel needs to be sent from heaven. "The earth shaft rise up against him." It is as though the earth itself were horror-stricken at the sight of such enormity. She cannot bear the presence of the wicked man. Her silence would be like acquiescence, or even complicity, in his guilt. Nature itself works for the punishment of sin. The laws of nature are on the side of righteousness. They are God's laws, and all the laws of God are in harmony. All that is needed is sufficient time and scope, and the course of nature itself will produce the punishment. We see this already in regard to sins of the flesh, which bring disease, misery, death. It will take longer time, and the free opportunities of another world, to bring about the same result with all other sins.

IV. ITS EARLIER CONFESSION WILL PREVENT LATER REVELATION. An this dark and direful doom is not inevitable. We are warned of it in order that we may avoid it. There is no necessity for us to wait for the Divine unveiling of our sin. Though that is certain to come if we do wait long enough for it; we may yet anticipate it by confession. God does not desire to expose the most guilty man to shame and suffering. His great wish is to conquer sin in the heart of the sinner. If the wickedness is owned and repented of, that is what God most wishes, and greatly prefers to the punishment of the impenitent. Not only does love yearn to save the sinner, but righteousness also desires to cast out the sill, as a more effectual conquest of it than merely punishing it while it is still retained in the heart of a man. Still, the thought of the impending revelation of sin shows how necessary an unreserved and complete confession is, if the sinner is to be forgiven. This is the first condition of pardon. While we hold to our sin, God cannot set us free from it and its consequences.—W.F.A.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Job 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/job-20.html. 1897.
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