New European Commentary


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Job 20:1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered- Job has just uttered a wonderful statement of ecstatic joy at the prospect of his personal, future salvation, and then has gone on to appeal for the friends to repent and stop judging him, so that they might share it (Job 19:25-29). Zophar is so proud and angry that all he can do is lash out at Job, totally ignoring Job's faith, hope and appeal. This is characteristic of how the friends generally refuse to engage with Job's actual words and arguments, because they are so obsessed with their own narrative they have spun about Job. And this refusal leads Zophar to crudeness (:7,15) and basically predicting the violent destruction of Job, with heaven and earth united in witness against his evil (:24-28). 

Job 20:2 Therefore do my thoughts make me answer, even by reason of my haste that is in me-
Elihu opens his response with something similar, leading us to see Elihu as summarizing the arguments of the friends and Job.

Job 20:3 I have heard the reproof which seeks to shame me. The spirit of my understanding makes me answer-
The "reproof" was Job's genuine appeal to the friends to stop condemning him because they might thereby miss out on the wonderful personal salvation which Job rejoiced in (Job 19:25-29). To be told 'You are too judgmental' made Zophar even more judgmental and angry.

Job 20:4 Don’t you know this from old time, since man was placed on earth-
We the audience become almost bored by the way the friends keep on claiming that ancient sage wisdom is the source of truth, and any new revelation must be wrong just because it is new. But this sense of weariness at their repetition is intentional. We are led to realize that indeed, dialogue cannot progress if the participants simply return to the same old arguments all the time and refuse to engage with the responses.

Job 20:5 that the triumphing of the wicked is short, the joy of the godless but for a moment?-
Job's relatively brief period of prosperity is interpreted as meaning that Job was "wicked... Godless". Again we see how the wrong theology (in this case, that suffering implied personal sin) led to a headlong dive into ever more false assumptions, and condemning an upright man.

Job 20:6 Though his height mount up to the heavens, and his head reach to the clouds-
This was of special relevance to the captives in Babylon. These words are used of Babylon's king who was to fall (Dan. 4:22), an event the restoration prophets associate with Israel's restoration. Again, the friends state certain truths which are even quoted in later scripture, but they hold those truths within the wrong frames of reference when it comes to Job. And this is the problem with 'truth' about a matter being held isolated from a wider framework, and without connection to the things of the spirit. For God seeks worshippers in "spirit and truth". See on :9.

Job 20:7 yet he shall perish forever like his own dung. Those who have seen him shall say, ‘Where is he?’-
Bildad's anger is such that he becomes crude in his vicious desire to curse Job. We recall that just shortly before, he had been sitting in silence with Job seeking to comfort him as a friend and fellow worshipper. This is how quickly relationships can go wrong, and false suppositions and lack of engagement with a person as an individual can lead to them going down a totally different track.

Job 20:8 He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found. Yes, he shall be chased away like a vision of the night-
Bildad is dogmatic that after Job's death, there can be no restoration, and he bitterly stresses this in the following verses. Later events were to show him how wrong he was. And he then is thereby presented as a warning to the exiles who tended to believe that restoration to the land of promise was impossible for them.

Job 20:9 The eye which saw him shall see him no more, neither shall his place any more see him-
Again, this is a true enough picture of death, and shows the error of all primitive fears of ghosts of the dead haunting their previous living places, reincarnation etc. But that truth is misused by Bildad and is seen without the wider context of God's power to restore and resurrect. See on :6.

Job 20:10 His children shall seek the favour of the poor. His hands shall give back his wealth-
Job's wealth had been taken from him by Temanite invaders, from the same area as Eliphaz the Temanite. His hands didn't give it back. This is another hint that the Satan figure morphs with the friends, and they were actually the ones behind the stealing of Job's wealth, on the basis that they believed that as a sinner, it ought to be taken from him. See on :15.

Job 20:11 His bones are full of his youth, but youth shall lie down with him in the dust-
AV "full of the sins of his youth". Job has earlier admitted the possibility that he had sinned in youth, so perhaps he had indeed sinned as a young man. Seeing they could see nothing apparently sinful in Job at that time, they concluded he must have sinned earlier, or was sinning in a way hidden from them. They were desperate to impute sin, finding possible fault in everything; whereas the way of love and of the spirit is to seek to impute righteousness as God does to us, and as He does to Job at the end. This of itself was a huge rebuke to how the friends had done just the opposite.

Job 20:12 Though wickedness is sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue-
As noted on :11, the implication is that although they had to admit there was no sin in Job's current lifestyle, they concluded that his sufferings meant he had either sinned in youth, or was hiding his current sins from them.

Job 20:13 though he spare it, and will not let it go, but keep it still within his mouth-
The idea is that Job has sinned secretly and will not let that sin go but savours it.

Job 20:14 yet his food in his bowels is churned. It is cobra venom within him-
As noted on :6, there is truth in these statements, in this case, that sin becomes its own punishment; the sin secretly kept in the mouth and enjoyed as a tasty morsel, turns into the venom of judgment when swallowed. But it is truth without context, just as a Bible text without context is a pretext... for various wrong thinking and behaviour.

Job 20:15 He has swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again. God will cast them out of his belly-
It was in fact Israel who had taken riches but not by right, and would vomit them up again (Jer. 17:11). Job had not done this, but was treated and judged as if he had. Again we see how he was suffering as an innocent representative of his peoples' sins. If indeed it was the friends who had seized Job's wealth wrongfully (see on :10), then Job becomes so powerfully their saviour at the end. He suffered the judgments for what they had done, although he had not done those things; and so he bore their sins. Through his prayer and offering for them at the end, he thereby saved them. He was suffering for the salvation of his friends, although at the time it seems he didn't realize it. The Lord Jesus did the same to a far greater extent, but He learned the lesson of Job and was aware that His sufferings were for our salvation. See on :16,18; Job 42:7.

Job 20:16 He shall suck cobra venom. The viper’s tongue shall kill him-
As noted on :15, this was the judgment of Israel in their apostasy (Dt. 32:32,33; Is. 59:16; Jer. 8:14; 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:5). Like the Lord Jesus, who also drunk gall on the cross (s.w. "venom"; Ps. 69:21), Job was suffering the judgment for others' sins, so that he might finally save them.

Job 20:17 He shall not look at the rivers, the flowing streams of honey and butter-
Honey and butter were the blessings for obedience to the covenant; Job was suffering as if he had been disobedient to the covenant, just as the Lord did.

Job 20:18 That for which he laboured he shall restore, and shall not swallow it down. According to the substance that he has gotten, he shall not rejoice- Bildad was clearly jealous of Job's wealth,
adopting the thinking of the Satan who suggested these things originally. But he justifies this by saying that Job has taken his wealth from others, and the Bedouin bands who had stolen it were in fact just taking back what Job had taken wrongfully from them. If indeed it was the friends who had seized Job's wealth wrongfully (see on :10), then all Bildad is saying becomes true for him. And he is therefore only to be saved by Job, the innocent, bearing the judgments for his sins.

Job 20:19 For he has oppressed and forsaken the poor. He has violently taken away a house, and he shall not build it up-
Bildad assumes Job must have done something like this, to deserve his sufferings. Job engages with what Bildad says and denies it (Job 29:12; 31:17). Again we note that Job engages with the actual words of the friends, whereas they tend to attack him in terms of the straw man image of him they had built up in their minds, ignoring him as a person and the actual words he says. This is typical of how dialogue goes wrong.

Job 20:20 Because he knew no quietness within him, he shall not save anything of that in which he delights-
AV "quietness in his belly". Bildad is back to his crude comparison of Job's sin and wealth with tasty things he had secretly eaten (:15) which now swallowed, were working within his stomach to produce death by his bowels excreting them all. 

Job 20:21 There was nothing left that he didn’t devour, therefore his prosperity shall not endure-
The satan had begun by saying that God had given Job wealth, but if that wealth was taken away, he would curse God. The satan then morphs into the friends, the "sons of God" present in the prologue, and they continue the role of the satan as the story progresses. But Zophar has now moved beyond the original suspicion. He now paints Job as a man who had not so much been given wealth by God, but had greedily devoured the wealth of others and was now paying the price, and justice was making him relinquish all his ill gotten wealth. Again we see a parade example of how dialogue breaks down. An initial suspicion (however legitimate the suspicion) becomes exaggerated into a totally different accusation, which has no basis in reality and is outright slander, however confidently presented.  

Job 20:22 In the fullness of his sufficiency, distress shall overtake him. The hand of each one who is in misery shall come on him-
Zophar is reasoning that those who had been reduced to misery by Job could now legitimately put their hand upon him. In the prologue, Job is placed in the hand of the satan, with the reminder that this hand is ultimately God's hand. Zophar now defines that "hand" as the hand of those whom Job has supposedly grabbed wealth from and reduced to misery. Again we have the suspicion that some of the trials were brought upon Job by the friends, who reasoned themselves into the assumption that they were the ones from whom Job had taken wealth. This is the classical outworking of envy and jealousy; 'you are wealthy... you have more than me... I am poorer than you... because... you took my wealth from me and added it to your own!'.

Job 20:23 When he is about to fill his belly, God will cast the fierceness of His wrath upon him. It will rain on him while he is eating-
A clear reference to how "the fire of God" had consumed Job's wealth and children, at the very apex of his prosperity. God casting wrath through His Divinely controlled "angels of evil" is the very phrase used of His judgment of His sinful people (Ps. 78:49; Ez. 7:3). We noted the connection between the Satan and such "angels of evil" on Job 1:6. Again, Job is presented is experiencing the judgments of God' sinful people, whilst personally innocent.

Job 20:24 He shall flee from the iron weapon. The bronze arrow shall strike him through-
Zophar claims that Job was going to flee from the arrow of Divine judgment, but would all the same be struck through by it (Job 20:24,25). God's response was that His creatures didn't flee from His arrows (s.w. Job 41:28). Neither did Job flee from God; he uses the same term to describe how the wicked vainly tried to flee from God (Job 27:22). He was in harmony with the natural creation. Zophar was wrong. Job didn't flee from God but quite the opposite- he keeps begging God to reveal Himself, and He does so at the end of the book.

Job 20:25 He draws it forth, and it comes out of his body. Yes, the glittering point comes out of his liver-
Zophar is gloating in the judgment that he was sure would come upon Job. We marvel at how quickly he has transformed his position from the man who came and sat down with Job seven days in silence, perhaps sincerely seeking to comfort Job in his affliction. But now by this point, the friends have reasoned themselves into a position where they not only think Job's sufferings are legitimate and deserved, but gloat at the prospect of his further and final sufferings, with his liver pierced by God's arrows, and the arrow coming out of the other side of his body. This is how far the relationship broke down, all because of a refusal to understand Job as a person and engage with what he was actually saying and who he really was.

Terrors are upon him- "Terrors" are again the judgment of God upon an apostate Israel, whom Job was suffering for whilst innocent, after the pattern of the later Lord Jesus (Dt. 32:25 s.w.). Those "terrors" were likely understood by the friends as some kind of demonic beings. God deconstructs this by explaining that the great beasts He has created likewise were 'terrible' (s.w. "terrors"). But the simple point was that He had created them and was totally in control (s.w. Job 39:20; 41:14).

Job 20:26 All darkness is laid up for his treasures. An unfanned fire shall devour him. It shall consume that which is left in his tent-
This implies Job still had some wealth concealed in his tent. But that seems unlikely, seeing he was literally begging for bread (see on Job 15:23) and squatting in deserted houses (see on Job 15:28). Again the friends are dogmatically asserting what they had previously begun by surmising. This again is how relationships go wrong when there is no actual engagement with what the person really is saying and their actual location in reality.

Job 20:27 The heavens shall reveal his iniquity. The earth shall rise up against him-
The friends became assured that God, "the heavens", knew Job was a sinner, and "earth" would rise up against Job in harmony with "heaven". Again, the dialogue broke down because of their assumptions, which they came to assume were supported by God, and therefore their reasoning went full circle- they, as the "earth", were rising up against Job in harmony with "heaven". 

Job 20:28 The increase of his house shall depart. They shall rush away in the day of His wrath-
Alluding to the destruction of Job's house / family. The friends have moved on from the original concern of the satan, who morphs into them. The initial question was whether Job only believed in God because God had materially blessed him. And so God gave all Job had into the hand of the 'satan'. The removal of Job's wealth was never intended to be an outcome of God's wrath. Rather was it part of an experiment, if you like, to teach the satan and the friends something. But they had moved far further from that position, and were talking in terms of Divine wrath and judgment against Job. This moving on from original questions and concerns about an individual is exactly what we see in relationship breakdown today. The original issues are unrecognizable compared to the accusations which the original issues morph into.

Job 20:29 This is the portion of a wicked man from God, the heritage appointed to him by God
- As explained on :28, the removal of Job's wealth was in order to test Job and reveal him to God and man. It was not a judgment of a wicked man; the prologue is at pains to point out that Job was "perfect" (Job 1:1) and not a "wicked man".