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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Job 20

 

 


Verse 1

ZOPHAR’S SECOND REPLY.

1. The strange composure of Job, his consciousness of innocency, and his faith in God, instead of winning the sympathy, have served only to cut to the quick the heart of his antagonist. None are more disposed to deal in denunciation than they who have been wounded in vanity by being worsted in argument. Exasperated by Job’s allusion, in his closing exhortation, to the sword and the judgment, Zophar wields the terrors of the law, and conceives that he is doing God service by such maintenance of His truth. In the vivid and masterly portraiture of the wicked rich man Zophar evidently has his eye on Job, and in describing the doom of wealth gotten by fraud and rapine, he more than insinuates, that this is the secret of Job’s trouble. Complete destruction has come upon him because there was no limit to his greed. Job’s fervent appeal to a future life, with all its resources of hope and deliverance, is offset by the fate of the godless wretch who, hurled from the summit of worldly prosperity, is consumed by a fire unkindled by human breath. The moral of Zophar’s address is, that Job, instead of talking piously, would much better give himself to repentance.


Verse 2

The Introduction announces the theme of the following discourse. THE JUBILEE OF THE WICKED IS ONLY OF SHORT DURATION, Job 20:2-5.

2. Therefore — The threatened judgment with which Job closes rouses Zophar’s fiery indignation, and colours his entire reply; the judgment Job threatens, lies in wait for himself. For this, etc. — Literally, because of my fervour (also, haste) within me. The cognate word in the Arabic, “boil with heat,” furnishes the true meaning of חושׁ, fervour, heat.


Verse 3

3. The check of my reproach — Literally, chiding of my shame, that is, the chiding which tends to his shame — a similar phrase to that of “the chastisement of our peace,” Isaiah 53:5 — the chastisement that produces our peace. My shameful rebuke must I hear.

Of my understanding From or out of. Zophar prides himself upon representing “the individual reason, as Bildad represents the collective traditional wisdom of the race.” — Evans.


Verse 4

4. Knowest thou this — This gives the only sign of a reply that either he or his friends deign to make to the grand confession of faith, I know, etc. (Job 19:25-27.) Zophar regarded Job as a consummate hypocrite, and worthy of fiercest rebuke, rather than of “the communion of saints.” In this lies, probably, their profound silence with regard to Job’s proposed inscription on the rock. Or, if Zophar reply at all, it is to remind Job that the coming of the Goel shall be to take vengeance on the wicked, such as Job, (Job 20:26,) and hence the greater reason why he should repent. Job’s wisdom is not “from eternity,” nor does it date back to the creation of man, as is evident from his not knowing that the triumphing of the wicked is short. The question is intensely ironical. Job knows so much of what will take place after death, and yet knows nothing of this world. He knows that God cares for “the dust” of such hypocrites as he, and yet does not know that the triumphing of the wicked is for a moment. If with his “understanding” he grasp the eternity to come, he must have been from eternity himself.


Verse 5

5. Hypocrite Ungodly. Job’s triumphant faith is but “the triumphing of the wicked,” and “the joy of the ungodly.” These are the rough, spiteful stones which Zophar hurls at the exultant confession chiseled upon the everlasting rock.

Moment — Literally, the twinkling of an eye. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:52. The Hebrew rega’h corresponds to our word moment. A moment, philologically, is simply a movement.


Verse 6

First strophe expands the aphorism just announced, (Job 20:4-5,) — Like a lofty tree, he may mount up to heaven, yet with ignominy, and, suddenly, shall he perish, and his wealth be swept away with him, (Job 20:6-11.)

6. Excellency — In the sense of height or exaltation.


Verse 7

7. Like his own dung — Hirtzel renders the first clause: “According to his greatness so shall he perish forever.” So that “his destruction is the greater even as he himself is greater,” (Ewald,) which is properly discarded by Dillmann as inconsistent with the Hebrew use of words. In order to relieve the harshness of the figure, Wetzstein tells as that in the Hauran and Arabia the dung of cows is gathered by women and children for fuel. It is mixed with water and chopped straw, pressed into the shape of cakes, which are piled up in a circular form, and used as a kind of storehouse until needed for the fire. The flame is without odour, and the ashes pure as our own wood ashes. Delitzsch and Umbreit read as in the Authorized Version. The figure expresses the utmost contempt for Job, his immortality, and his future vision of God, and, in itself, would not be exceptionable to Oriental ears. 2 Kings 9:37; Ezekiel 4:12; Zephaniah 1:17.


Verse 9

9. The eye — Literally, An eye has looked upon him; it does it not again. The elevation of the wicked made him the object of a brief but earnest gaze. The same Hebrew verb reappears in Job 28:7 and in Song of Solomon 1:6 — “the sun hath scanned me.” This verse furnishes a striking paraphrase of Job 20:5 — “for a moment” — the pith of the aphorism.

His place — See note on Job 7:10.


Verse 10

10. Seek to please the poor — Some adopt the marginal reading, but the text is preferable. So low are they reduced that they fawn upon the poor, lest the latter take revenge for the mis-doings of the parents of the former.

Their goods His substance, that is, extorted wealth.


Verse 11

11. The sin of his youth — Literally, secret things. Hitzig and many moderns render עלומו, secret sins, (see Psalms 90:8,) though others prefer youth, in the sense of “youthful vigour.” The latter sense, then, would give the idea that prematurely the wicked man descends to the grave. The root of the word halam, (from which is holam, eternity, “the hidden,”) means both to hide and to be young. Even if the latter meaning be accepted, it may as properly mean youthful sin as youthful vigour. Job had spoken of hope descending with him to the bars of sheol, and of rest in the dust, (Job 17:16.) “No!” says Zophar, “your secret sins shall lie down with you in the dust — the grave shall be no place of rest.” It were bad enough if, like a wound in the body, sin left simply a scar upon the soul. But sin is a poison, as Zophar proceeds to show. It enters into man’s entire being, until he may be said to be “full” of it. So subtle is the virus that it penetrates every tissue. The sins of youth make themselves felt in subsequent years through premature old age, the ruin of health, manifold regret ripening into remorse, and the general wreck of our moral being. Youth is strangely a period of weakness, and pre-eminently one of temptation; but nature utters aloud her notes of warning, and the voice of the Lord God walking also in this paradise, may be heard affectionately cautioning the soul against eating of forbidden fruit.


Verse 13

Second strophe — The epicure in wickedness awakes in agony to find the secret tidbits of sin changed into most deadly poison, and his sweetest delights proved to be germs of a signal destruction, Job 20:12-16.

13. Forsake it not Will not let it go. Like a bonbon which one dissolves in his mouth. (Renan.) So sweet is the poisonous mouthful that he is “sparing of it,” and retains it long “in the midst of his palate.” The reader will recall the gormand (Philoxenus) who wished he had a neck as long as that of a crane, that he might prolong the taste of his food. Through five variations Zophar rings the one thought, the deliciousness of sin. The terrible sequel is thus made the more striking.


Verse 14

14. His meat His food, that is, the wickedness he had eaten.

Turned Changed into poison. Canon Cook cites from an Arab poet, “crime may be enjoyed, but not digested.”

The gall of asps — It was the opinion of the ancients that “the gall constituted the venom of serpents.” — PLINY, Natural History, 11:75. The asp (pethen) is supposed by some to have been the boeten of the Arab, which is thus described by Forskal: “Spotted all over with black and white; a foot long, and about twice as thick as one’s thumb; oviparous; the bite is instantly fatal, and causes the body to swell.”


Verse 15

15. Riches — One of the “Forty-two Points of Instruction,” a small Tibetan work, delivered by Buddha, is, “The man who seeks riches is like a child that, with the sharp point of a knife, attempts to eat honey; ere he has time to relish the sweetness that has but touched his lips, nothing remains to him but the poignant pain of a cut in the tongue.”


Verse 16

16. The viper Eph’ha. Tristram (Nat. Hist.) identifies it with the sand-viper, a species of small size, about a foot long, varying in colour and common in Arabia and Syria. He frequently found it in winter under stones by the shores of the Dead Sea. It is very rapid and active in its movements. Though highly poisonous, it is not so much dreaded as the fatal cobra or cerastes.

The viper’s tongue — “Though biting with his teeth the viper appears to bite with the tongue, for it bites with tongue extended.” — Hengstenberg. Not unlike the bite of the serpent, sin brings at once suffering and incipient death. Thus Plato corrects the saying of Hesiod, “that punishment closely follows sin;” it being, as he says, born at the same time with it. Whoever expects punishment already suffers it. Whoever has deserved it, expects it. (SENECA, Epis., 105.)


Verse 17

Third strophe — The wicked had counted upon perennial resources of bliss — “rivers of honey and butter” — only to find himself stripped of all his ill-gotten good, and himself the defenceless prey of the victims of his own insatiable greed, Job 20:17-22.

17. Not see the rivers — See note Job 29:6. ראה with ב implies joy in beholding. To the Oriental a river has ever been an emblem of felicity. In the paradise of Mohammed “are rivers of incorruptible water, and rivers of milk, the taste whereof changeth not; and rivers of wine, pleasant unto those who drink; and rivers of clarified honey.” — KORAN, Sura 47. The butter was either cream, or simply curdled milk in a semi-liquid state.


Verse 18

18. Laboured for — The fruit of labour; but not necessarily his labour.

According to his substance, etc. — Delitzsch and Zockler render this difficult passage: “According to the riches he hath gotten (literally, “of his exchange,”) shall he not rejoice?” Hirtzel, Welte, etc., agree with the Authorized Version. Thus Renan: “His restitutions shall equal his riches;” which is but a feeble enlargement of the first clause of the verse. The word תמורה will be better rendered recompense, as in Job 15:31, According to his riches shall his recompense be, and he shall not rejoice. “Zophar enters now more particularly into the cause of the fate of the ungodly; and placing guilt and punishment together, seeks to bring into view the divine jus talionis,” [law of retribution.] — Hengstenberg.


Verse 19

19. A house which he builded not — Literally, A house hath he plundered, but he shall not build it up. “House” is used collectively for houses. The prerogative of the wicked is, that they destroy; (Ecclesiastes 9:18;) for them there is no counterpart, such as of “building up.” He finally fails in all his desires and efforts, for they are founded in wrong.


Verse 20

20. That which he desired Because he knew no rest in his craving, (literally, belly,) he shall not escape with his dearest; meaning, perhaps, the children of Job. Hitzig strains the Hebrew when he translates it, “what he desires, escapes him not.” In this and the preceding verses Zophar insinuates that Job was extortionate and grasping; this accounted for the completeness of the destruction.


Verse 21

21. His goods Nothing escaped his devouring. Therefore his good, שׂוב, shall not endure. “By the word good is intended his summum bonum, or what seemed such to the bad man. It sounds like a sentence of judgment after the arraignment in the previous items.” — Tayler Lewis. Kindred is the expression of Milton’s fallen angel: —

“Evil, be thou my good.”


Verse 22

22. The wicked עמל, wretched. Covetousness, which is the idolatry of wealth, shrivels the soul, and converts the imagination into an engine of terror. The fear of want comes upon the soul like “a strong man armed.” A guilty conscience sees in every man an enemy, “an officer in every bush,” every hand of the wretched comes upon him.


Verse 23

Fourth strophe — Heaven and earth conspire to make the doom of the wicked complete and inevitable, Job 20:23-28.

23. About to fill his belly — Literally, It shall be to fill his belly.

God shall cast — Rather, he casts on him the fury of his wrath, and causes (it) to rain upon him with his food.

While he is eating — Literally, in his food. לחום, bowels, (Hitzig,) flesh, (Delitzsch.) The employment of unusual words leads Delitzsch to remark, “the morally indignant speech, which threatens punishment, intentionally seeks after rare solemn words and darksome tones.” But a little while ago the wicked hid dainty morsels of wickedness under his tongue, which were too delicious to swallow, (Job 20:12-13;) now his food is mixed with the wrath of God, which he, perforce, must swallow. “As he could never be satisfied with sensuous goods, (Job 20:20) God will satisfy him — with his punishments.” — Hirtzel. The Parthians poured melted gold down the throat of the greedy Roman general Crassus, whom they had defeated and slain. — RAWLINSON, Sixth Monarchy, p. 175. The first word, יהי, is jussive, like the expressions “casts” and “causes to rain,” and indicates the speaker’s acquiescence in the retributions of God. They are a kind of amen to the divine will.


Verse 24

24. Bow of steel — Not steel, but brass or copper. As bronze tools were used for engraving or sculpturing the rocks, and even in working the quarries, the ancient Egyptian must have possessed some lost art for tempering copper. Wilkinson found a chisel at Thebes with very little alloy; of 100 parts, 94.0 being copper, 5.9 tin, 0.1 iron, the point of which was intact, while the top was turned over by the blows it had received from the mallet. — Anc. Egypt, P.A., 2:158. The verse evidently contains a proverb similar to the classic Scylla and Charybdis. Compare Amos 5:19; Isaiah 24:18. The German would say, “He escapes from the smoke, but falls into the fire.” Nothing could escape him, and he can not escape his fate.


Verse 25

25. It is drawn, etc. — Literally, He draweth it, (the arrow.)

The glittering sword cometh… gall — Better, It cometh forth from the body, (some read back;) even the glittering blade from out his gall.

Terrors upon him — Rather, He goeth, terrors upon him. The drawing of the glittering sword (literally, lightning) from the gall must have been fatal. Thus he goeth — dies; the Arab would say, “Departs to his own place.” Acts 1:25. Schultens says, “The word ‘goeth,’ standing by itself, adds new weight.”


Verse 26

26. His secret places All darkness shall be hid in his treasures. Darkness is used for dark fate, calamity. He bides (tsaphan) his treasures; God hides (taman) with them his darkness. The fate of each sinner embodies the “divine irony in the Nemesis of history.” Compare Proverbs 1:24-31; Psalms 2:2-4. “Each time the wicked lays his unjust goods by, God lays something by till at last the time of exchange comes, treasure for treasure.” — Hengstenberg.

A fire not blown — The Septuagint has, “fire that burns not out,” πυρ ακαυστον. A fire that God has kindled, and not man, therefore said to be, not blown.

Deuteronomy 32:22. “Wickedness is a self-igniting fire,” it carries within itself the elements of destruction. The punishment of sin is in part the letting loose of its own destructive nature.

It shall go ill It shall destroy that which survives in his tent. Others read as in the text, (A.V.)


Verse 27

27. The heaven… and the earth — Zophar may have had in mind Job’s appeal to the heaven and earth, (Job 16:18-19.) With the good man, Eliphaz had said, (Job 5:22-23,) all nature stands in loving concord: against the bad man, adds Zophar, the heavens and the earth (as in Job’s case, chaps. i, ii) rise in dread conspiracy. The catastrophe of the wicked serves to bring to light their secret sins, a truth he bends into a boomerang to hurl at Job. Nature has no burial place for sin. God’s word is pledged that all sin shall finally be brought forth to the light. The earth, unwilling to tolerate the sinner any longer, is represented as rising up against him. The new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1) cannot be inaugurated until the last sinner has been cast forth from his grave.


Verse 28

28. Omit “and his goods.” The subject of נגרות, flowing away, is not expressed. “Like waters poured forth, his all flows away.” — Cocceius. The figure of the text is rugged and grand, perhaps taking its rise in vivid traditions of the deluge, in which the wealth of the world in like manner dissolved and flowed away. The gain of the ungodly is equally unsubstantial, and liable to be irrecoverably destroyed. See Job 4:19; Job 22:16; comp. Proverbs 23:5.


Verse 29

29. The closing verse, for the greater emphasis, lies outside of the strophic arrangement as in Job 5:27.

Appointed unto him — Literally, And the heritage of his word from God. Word, in the sense of appointment. Such a doom brought upon the wicked by his own sins is spoken from God. For he is the author of the scheme that entails such results.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Job 20:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/job-20.html. 1874-1909.

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