Job 20:1
Then Zophar the Naamathite replied:
Godless Prosperity Short-LivedE. Johnson Job 20:1-29
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 (ch. 15.) as the superlative to the positive, and to Bildad's (ch. 18.) 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. (Vers. 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 (vers. 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 (vers. 4, 5).


1. "Though his glory mounts,, to heaven, and his head reaches to the clouds (comp. Isaiah 14:13, 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 (ver. 7). The next is that of the fugitive dream (ver. 8; comp. Isaiah 29:7; Psalm 73:20; Psalm 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 (ver. 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; Psalm 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" (ver. 11).

2. The inconstant prosperity of the wicked under the figure of sweet food but deadly poison. (Vers. 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, vers. 12, 13); "yet his food is changed in his bowels - vipers' poison is in his interior (ver. 14). The riches he has swallowed God expels from his paunch. The drastic language betrays the energy and violence of Zophar's feelings (ver. 15). Then, recurring to the figure of ver. 14, "the tongue of adders slays him"(Psalm 140:3), the deadly bite replacing in the description the deadly draught (ver. 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. (Vers. 17-22.) "He may not see his pleasure in brooks, streams, floods of honey and cream" (ver. 17). These are well-known biblical figures for luxury and fulness of prosperity (Exodus 3:8, 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 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" (ver. 20). "Nothing escaped his greed, therefore his possessions shall not continue" (ver. 21). "In the fulness of his super fluity he comes into straits; every hand of the wretched comes upon him" (ver. 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. (Vers. 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. ver. 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 (ver. 23). The description goes on to point out the means by which the wrathful judgment of Heaven is executed (ver. 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 26). "The heavens disclose his guilt, and earth rises against him" (ver. 27). A striking contrast to Job 16:18, 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 (ver. 28). CONCLUSION. "Such is the lot of the wicked man from God, and the heritage allotted to him by God" (ver. 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.

Curse God and die.
She only comes on the scene to heighten for one moment the intensity of her husband's desolation and misery. "Renounce," she says, "God and die." "Leave the unprofitable service of this God, who has left thee to so undeserved a fate. Leave Him and quit life, a life that has nothing left worth living for." It seems hard indeed, hard above all to those who have known the blessings of an English and a Christian home, that such a sneer and such advice should come from such a quarter. It pains us, as with an unwelcome shock. Let me recall to you that when, some sixty years ago, the poet-painter William Blake drew some wonderfully powerful illustrations to the Book of Job, he, the English husband of a loyal and affectionate wife, refused to follow the course of the story in this terrible detail. All the rest he could portray, step by step; but here he stayed his hand, and those who can turn to his much-prized drawings will see Job's wife vindicated against the scorn of centuries, kneeling beside her husband, and sharing his patient misery. They will see her still by his side, through each and all of his future pangs and agonies, and restored with him to a common happiness in the closing scene. There was something in the record of Job's sufferings too keen and bitter, too remote, may we not thankfully say, from the experience of English and Christian married life, for that sensitive and gifted spirit, so often on the borderland where genius touches madness, to bear to reproduce. And it might well be so. "Curse God and die," she said. The depths of human misery seemed sounded. How many human souls might, in one way or another, have lent an ear to the suggestion. A Roman might have turned upon his unjust gods and died by his own hand, like Care, with words of defiance on his lips. Others might have sought the same fate in dull despair. Not so Job.

(Dean Bradley.)

Some have spoken very strongly about Job's wife. She has been called a helper of the devil, an organ of Satan, an infernal fury. thinks that the enemy left her alive because he deemed her a fit scourge to Job by which to plague him more acutely than by any other. Ewald, with more point, says, "Nothing can be more scornful than her words, which mean, Thou, who under all the undeserved sufferings which have been inflicted on thee by thy God, hast been faithful to Him even in fatal sickness, as if He would help or desired to help thee who art beyond help, — to thee, fool, I say, bid God farewell, and die!" There can be no doubt that she appears as the temptress of her husband, putting into speech the atheistic doubt which the adversary could not directly suggest. Brave and true life appears to her to profit nothing if it has to be spent in pain and desolation. She does not seem to speak so much in scorn as in the bitterness of her soul. She is no infernal fury, but one whose love, genuine enough, does not enter into the fellowship of his sufferings.

(R. A. Watson, D. D.)

Sorrow and pain work a ferment in the soul that is terrible. Our theme is the folly and wickedness of impeaching God.

1. The folly of impeaching the justice, wisdom, or love of God. Think of human ignorance. Compared with the material or brute creation man is great, but not great when compared with his Maker. Sydney Smith satirically described Lord Jeffrey as dissatisfied with the Almighty in the construction of the solar system, particularly as to the rings of Saturn. Men nowadays do soberly set up their judgment in opposition to the will and wisdom of God. They know but part, yet talk as if they understood the Almighty to perfection.

2. The guilt of such a course is equally great. It is a practical repudiation of the authority of God, who commands us to be patient and obedient. It is akin to the dreadful sin of blasphemy, an act that under no circumstances can ever be tolerated.

(C. H. Buckley, D. D.)

Job's wife is typical of a class of persons that has always existed in the world. Such persons lose sight of all that is bright in life, hem themselves in with the blackest gloom, seek a path only in the darkness where no star shines, allow distrust to take entire possession of their souls, and hatred to reign supreme in the domain of their affections, and then end their career like Pope's reprobate knight, of whom the poet says, "And sad Sir Balaam curses God and dies." In human life we often meet with persons whose gloomy minds throw a shadow on everything with which they come into contact. We protest against pessimism as being false in theory, and impossible in practice. Even dark things have a bright side, which can be seen if looked for in a proper spirit.


1. False views of God. A man's theology very largely influences his life. Spiritual ideas are at the root of all others. Whatever a man thinks of God and religion, will largely mould his character. Despair arises from two causes: the pessimism of men who are opponents of God, haters of God; and the hard, encrusted, stern, unbending Calvinism, which professes to be overpowered by God's love, which love is, however, always limited to those holding the doctrine. The pessimistic raving is indicative of a despair which has taken a fixed and settled position in the soul. Hope has fled, and all the brightness, even to the last spark, has departed from life.

2. Misanthropic notions respecting the human race. The loss of faith in our fellow men is a prolific cause of despair. We place confidence in men, and we are betrayed; we trust them, and they deceive us. So we lose faith in mankind: we sink into a condition of sullen moroseness, which is but the forerunner of despair.

3. Denial of God's existence. Atheism is a gloomy creed. To take away God is to deprive the world of hope, to rob it of its highest consolation, and consequently to plunge the human race into the blackest despair.


1. It shuts out of view possible changes for the better. The clouds encompass us, the darkness hems us in, we see no light, and we lose hope, never dreaming that behind the mists a sun is shining, which will sooner or later dispel the gloom and illumine the world with its beams.

2. It injures the soul. Like all evil passions, it grows with what it feeds on.

3. It is a rebellion against God. Evil is not the universe. Goodness is eternal. God lives, and His mercy fails not. Despair is rank blasphemy against heaven.

III. THE REMEDY FOR DESPAIR. It is the religion of Jesus, with the great and eternal truth which it enunciates — God is love. Recognising the fact that there is a God, and that His mercy is over all that His hands have made, how can we ever despair? We know that we are in His hands, and that therefore we are sure. Let us then leave the demon of despair to atheists, and those who have neither faith in God nor confidence in man, but for ourselves we must cling to the eternal truth that God is love.

(George Sexton, M. A. , LL. D.)

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