If Job 18 was Bildad’s description of the hell Job will one day experience, than we can easily say Job 20 is Zophar’s description of the hell Job will one day experience. While Bildad spoke of Job’s existence in hell saying it would be like a downward spiral into terror, filled with increasing terror, plunging all the way down to the king of terrors himself, Zophar speaks of the moment prior to that when all of Job’s sinful secrecy will be made plain for all to see as God devours him in judgment. Most of what Zophar has to say here is a reaffirmation of what Bildad said in chapter 18 but from another angle and through Zophar’s personality.[1]Both are terrifying descriptions of hell and both Bildad and Zophar, by saying these things to Job, are aiming at unfolding the wrath they feel is sure to come.

v1-3 launch us out into these turbulent waters saying, “Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said: “Therefore my thoughts answer me, because of my haste within me. I hear censure that insults me, and out of my understanding a spirit answers me.” Zophar is upset. But that doesn’t quite get at it does it? Zophar is more than upset, he is furious with Job for his words in chapter 19. After what Zophar surely thought was a good sermon on hell from Bildad in chapter 18, Job responded in chapter 19 by saying that it wasn’t he who was headed for such a place of terror but his friends instead, and that it is they who ought to be afraid of the sword to come (19:28-29). This brings Zophar to an angry place and causes him to keep unfolding the vision of hell Bildad began earlier. The phrase at the end of v3 is a strange one, “…out of my understanding a spirit answers me.” This isn’t to teach us that other spirits have come to Zophar who have taught him and told him what to say, no. Eliphaz says things like that, Zophar does not. What this phrase is intended to communicate is that Zophar’s anger has almost involuntarily prompted his spirit to respond with his own wisdom. Such promptings are sure to be familiar to us as we all, in our own anger, respond to various things in sinful ways. The difference is that we usually are aware when we’re sinfully responding out of anger and need to cool off and repent. Zophar does not know such things. He feels completely justified in his words, so he lays it out clearly and aggressively here.

Three things come out of Zophar in chapter 20. First he describes Job as a vapor in v4-11, he then speaks of Job as a devourer in v12-19, and then lastly he speaks of God as a devourer in v20-29.

Job the Vapor (v4-11)

v4-11 says, “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment? Though his height mount up to the heavens, and his head reach to the clouds, he will perish forever like his own dung; those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’ He will fly away like a dream and not be found; he will be chased away like a vision of the night. The eye that saw him will see him no more, nor will his place any more behold him. His children will seek the favor of the poor, and his hands will give back his wealth. His bones are full of his youthful vigor, but it will lie down with him in the dust.”

Whatever height the wicked reach in this life whether it be above the clouds or even up to the heavens it will not change the simple fact that the wicked will have a quick and complete end. The imagery of height is used here to call forth the notions of particular brand of wickedness: pride and arrogance. Pointing out that those who are prideful are the ones who think they’re above all others. That the proud will end up a vapor is as Zophar says, a law that is of old. So old that all those who are serious about religion know it, live by it, and have seen it prove true time and time again. He likens the wicked to dung here that perishes and washes away down the sewer, or like a dream that flies away, or like a vision that is chased away never to be found again. Zophar believes Job is so wicked and that those who once knew him will soon ask ‘Where is he?’ And with his departure goes all his belongings and wealth, which causes the statement in v10 about his own children seeking the favor of the poor. This either means upon his death his children will be plunged into such deep poverty that they will have to ask the poor for aid, or that his children will have to pay back to the poor all that their father stole from them.[2]It’s probably the latter option in view here since v19 implies Job’s mistreatment of the needy. Either way, Zophar says Job, even though being full of youthful vigor (v11) he will die, quickly vanish away, and leave no lasting legacy or helpful inheritance to his kids…only strife and struggle.

Job the Devourer (v12-19)

“Though evil is sweet in his mouth, though he hides it under his tongue, though he is loath to let it go and holds it in his mouth, yet his food is turned in his stomach; it is the venom of pcobras within him. He swallows down riches and vomits them up again; God casts them out of his belly. He will suck the poison of cobras; the tongue of a viper will kill him. He will not look upon the rivers, the streams flowing with honey and curds. He will give back the fruit of his toil and will not swallow it down; from the profit of his trading he will get no enjoyment. For he has crushed and abandoned the poor; he has seized a house that he did not build.”

This section reminds me of Edmund’s desire for the White Witch’s Turkish Delight in chapter 4 of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Witch was originally horrid and cruel to Edmund but turned strangely curious and warm to him once she found out he was a Son of Adam. He was cold, she gave him a fur coat. He was thirsty, she gave him a hot drink. He was hungry, asked for Turkish Delight, and the Witch gave it to him. After he finished all of it, he felt awful, sick, and bloated. But Lewis comments near the end of the chapter that the food of the Witch is so deceptively poisonous that one could keep on eating and eating and eating until they die. Edmund doesn’t know this, he just keeps on eating the sinful sweets until they’re all gone. And even though he felt all kinds of sick, the only thing he could think of is having more of it. This is quite a picture of sin given to us here in Lewis’ Chronicles. It’s a picture similar to what Zophar says here of Job’s devouring nature.

Zophar says Job loves wickedness so much that (v12-14) he rolls it around in his mouth savoring all he can out of it before swallowing it down. But once swallowed it turns his stomach and feels like the venom of cobras. Proverbs 20:17 makes this point when it says, “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.” In v15 Zophar says this is how Job has accumulated all his wealth and riches. He unjustly gained wealth and though God caused it to come back up again and again Job kept swallowing the what Zophar calls cobra and viper poison confirming his vile character. Because of this he will not look on the health spoken of in v17, pure lands flowing with rivers and streams of honey and curds. No Job’s experience will be v18, never again to enjoy his work, or keep the profits of it, giving away the rewards of his labor and not keeping it for himself or swallowing those good things down. Why again is this Job’s judgment? Because he has devoured, crushed, and abandoned (v19) the poor, claiming all the labor of their hands as his own.

For his continual sinful devouring, Zophar now says God will devour Job. This is how the argument unfolds as we begin the final portion of Zophar’s speech in v20-29.

God the Devourer (v20-29)

“Because he knew no contentment in his belly, he will not let anything in which he delights escape him. There was nothing left after he had eaten; therefore his prosperity will not endure. In the fullness of his sufficiency he will be in distress; the hand of everyone in misery will come against him. To fill his belly to the full, God will send his burning anger against him and rain it upon him into his body. He will flee from an iron weapon; a bronze arrow will strike him through. It is drawn forth and comes out of his body; the glittering point comes out of his gallbladder; terrors come upon him. Utter darkness is laid up for his treasures; a fire not fanned will devour him; what is left in his tent will be consumed. The heavens will reveal his iniquity, and the earth will rise up against him. The possessions of his house will be carried away, dragged off in the day of God’s wrath. This is the wicked man’s portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God.”

As Edmund was insatiably hungering for Turkish Delight Zophar rebukes Job saying he has been insatiably gathering and hoarding riches for himself. Contentment has been as far from Job as the East is from the West. Thinking[3]it will make his belly full and his soul satisfied Job will actually only experience the burning anger of God raining down, literally, into his body. Zophar is saying because Job has devoured the poor to make himself rich, God will devour him and make him the epitome of destitution before tossing him into the eternal inferno of His hot anger. In his fret Job may try to flee from one weapon only to be met by another stronger weapon. Though the iron weapon may miss him the bronze arrow will sink into his gallbladder, and when Job pulls it out of his gallbladder the sense is that bile (or corruption) will flow out finally testifying of Job’s sinful ways…terror will seize him as he realizes his doom and destiny with an angry God…where a dark fire so hot that it doesn’t need to be fanned will consume him forever. Zophar says there is no escaping this, even the heavens and earth testify against him. Thus, the Job-devouring God will be drag Job off in the day of His wrath. So Zophar concludes in v29 saying, “This is the wicked man’s portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God.”

We could conclude in many ways this evening speaking of innocent suffering of Christ, speaking of Christians drinking the cup of Christ to varying degrees in this life as we suffer. But I’d like to end elsewhere. The ESV Study Bible is helpful here to end with this evening…note for Job 20:27 on page 901. Listen to what it says, “Although it is not his purpose, Zophar hints here at the central tension of the book: what is the relationship between what is true before God and what takes place on earth? The friends wrongly assume that Job’s circumstances on earth are a transparent indicator of his guilt before God in heaven. Job has governed his life by a belief that God is indeed just, and his lament reflects his desire that God’s justice would be manifested more than it is in his present life on earth. In the end, Zophar will realize that what the heavens will reveal is his own error, not Job’s iniquity.”




[1]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 220.

[2]Ash, page 222.

[3]Ash, page 225. This section was very good. See it for the whole argument.

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