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JOB 20


Zophar Says, "The Triumph of the Wicked Is Short" Zophar's Sermon on the Wicked Man Second Discourse of Zophar Zophar The Course Of Justice Admits of No Exceptions
20:1 20:1-11

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.



A. An outline of the three cycles of Job's discussion with his friends (Andersen, Tyndale, OT Commentaries, p. 22).


    Cycle 1 Cycle 2 Cycle 3
Eliphaz (chapters) 4-5 15 22
Job   6-7 16-17 23-24
Bildad   8 18 25
Job   9-10 19 26
Zophar   11 20 ?
Job   12-14 21 27

B. Zophar, like the other comforters, repeats the same thoughts (i.e., the two ways) regarding the wicked.


C. Zophar bases his reasoning on

1. ancient traditions

2. experiences, Job 20:4


D. Zophar accuses Job of hidden sin (cf. Job 20:12,27).


E. There are several lists of the calamities that will come upon the wicked in the speeches of the three comforters (i.e., Job 8:11-19; 15:20-35; 18:5-21). Here is Zophar's.

1. the triumph of the wicked (BDB 957) is short, Job 20:5a

2. the joy of the godless (BDB 338) is momentary, Job 20:5b

3. he perishes forever like his refuse, Job 20:7a

4. he is no more, Job 20:7b-9

5. Job 20:10 is uncertain in the MT but addresses the fact that the wicked's lack of compassion and devious gathering of wealth will be lost to both him and his family

6. though he was once active and healthy, he will die, Job 20:11

7. Job 20:12-18 uses the imagery of good food turned bad. Evil is sweet at first but it brings misery and death.

8. he does not enjoy his desires, Job 20:20

9. he and his family do not retain his ill gotten gain, Job 20:21 (possible 20:26c)

10. he will face problem after problem, Job 20:22

11. he will be attacked by God, Job 20:23b,28b,29 (also 20:15c)

12. terror will come upon him, Job 20:24-25

13. darkness is held in reserve for his treasures, Job 20:26

14. both heaven and earth know his sin and will confront him, Job 20:27



 1Then Zophar the Naamathite answered,
 2"Therefore my disquieting thoughts make me respond,
 Even because of my inward agitation.
 3I listened to the reproof which insults me,
 And the spirit of my understanding makes me answer.
 4Do you know this from of old,
 From the establishment of man on earth,
 5That the triumphing of the wicked is short,
 And the joy of the godless momentary?
 6Though his loftiness reaches the heavens,
 And his head touches the clouds,
 7He perishes forever like his refuse;
 Those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?'
 8He flies away like a dream, and they cannot find him;
 Even like a vision of the night he is chased away.
 9The eye which saw him sees him no longer,
 And his place no longer beholds him.
 10His sons favor the poor,
 And his hands give back his wealth.
 11His bones are full of his youthful vigor,
 But it lies down with him in the dust."

20:1 "Zophar" See notes at Job 11:1. This man is listed in the Septuagint of Gen. 30:11 and 1 Chr. 1:36. The Septuagint also calls him "the King of Mineans," which is a Semitic tribe in South Arabia.

20:2-3 "my disquieting thoughts. . .inward agitation. . .reproof which insults me" Job has really angered Zophar! Because

1. he feels attacked

2. his theology is attacked



Peshitta"the spirit of my understanding"
REB"a spirit beyond my understanding"
NJB"my mind inspires me"
NIV"my understanding inspires me"

Is Zophar affirming

1. the help of revelation (cf. Job 4:12-21; 32:8; NRSV)

2. his own theological acumen (NASB)?


20:4 "Do you know this from of old,
 From the establishment of man on earth"
This is an argument from traditional wisdom (cf. Job 8:8; 15:18). The whole purpose of the Book of Job is to react against the traditional wisdom (i.e., the two ways, Deut. 30:15,19; Psalm 1) that God prospers those He loves and punishes those He hates (cf. Psalm 73).

▣ "earth" See Special Topic: Land, Country, Earth.

20:5 "That the triumphing of the wicked is short" This is also the assertion of Psalm 37. This is the major theological tenant of Job's three friends. In Job 20:5-11 this theme is developed; joy is brief for the wicked.

By innuendo Zophar is accusing Job of being

1. arrogant, Job 20:6

2. exploitative of the poor, Job 20:19

3. greedy (cf. NRSV of Job 20:20b)


20:6 "his loftiness reaches the heavens,
 And his head touches the clouds"
This may just be a Hebrew idiom of a powerful man, as in the book of Daniel to speak of Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Dan. 4:11,22), or may be a reference related to the King of Tyre and the King of Babylon (cf. Isa. 14:13-14; Ezek. 28:2,17).

▣ "heavens" See SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN.

20:7 The OT presents the afterlife in several ways.

1. all humans go to Sheol (see Special Topic: Sheol)

2. wicked humans are destroyed (Job 20:7a; 4:20)

a. premature death (Job 20:11; 15:32; 21:13; 22:16)

b. no children (Job 20:21a; 26c)

3. all humans, both the righteous and wicked, will be raised from the dead but to radically different futures (cf. Dan. 12:1-4)

The afterlife is one of several doctrines that begin in the OT but are developed in the NT. Theologians call this "Progressive Revelation." "The two ways" focuses on this life, not an afterlife.

20:10 "His sons favor the poor,
 And his hands give back his wealth"
This is either a statement of fact or irony. Some see this as a rich man's sons, themselves being poor now, or that they feed the poor to try to make amends for their father's wicked behavior.

20:11 "in the dust" Dust is a euphemism for the grave (cf. Job 7:21; 1716; 21:26).

 12"Though evil is sweet in his mouth
 And he hides it under his tongue,
 13Though he desires it and will not let it go,
 But holds it in his mouth,
 14Yet his food in his stomach is changed
 To the venom of cobras within him.
 15He swallows riches,
 But will vomit them up;
 God will expel them from his belly.
 16He sucks the poison of cobras;
 The viper's tongue slays him.
 17He does not look at the streams,
 The rivers flowing with honey and curds.
 18He returns what he has attained
 And cannot swallow it;
 As to the riches of his trading,
 He cannot even enjoy them.
 19For he has oppressed and forsaken the poor;
 He has seized a house which he has not built."

20:12-19 This expresses the traditional position that sin bears the seeds of its own destruction.

20:17 This verse has three words which refer to the same thing.

1. rivers (BDB 811)

2. streams (BDB 625)

3. torrents (BDB 636)

Commentators suggest that to #2 should be added "of oil," and thereby make a parallel with "honey and curds" (cf. Job 20:17b).

 20"Because he knew no quiet within him,
 He does not retain anything he desires.
 21Nothing remains for him to devour,
 Therefore his prosperity does not endure.
 22In the fullness of his plenty he will be cramped;
 The hand of everyone who suffers will come against him.
 23When he fills his belly,
 God will send His fierce anger on him
 And will rain it on him while he is eating.
 24He may flee from the iron weapon,
 But the bronze bow will pierce him.
 25It is drawn forth and comes out of his back,
 Even the glittering point from his gall.
 Terrors come upon him,
 26Complete darkness is held in reserve for his treasures,
 And unfanned fire will devour him;
 It will consume the survivor in his tent.
 27The heavens will reveal his iniquity,
 And the earth will rise up against him.
 28The increase of his house will depart;
 His possessions will flow away in the day of His anger.
 29This is the wicked man's portion from God,
 Even the heritage decreed to him by God."

20:23-28 The verbs in this section express a "curse formula" (three jussive forms).


NKJV"while he is eating"
NRSV"as their food"
JPSOA"His weapons upon him"
REB"cruel blows"

The MT has "into his bowels" (BDB 535). The UBS Handbook, p. 382, suggests that the emendation which changes the last word (BDB 905) to "bread" is preferable.

The MT has בלחומו; this could involve three roots.

1. לחם (BDB 535) – "fight" or "do battle"

2. לחום – "bowels," "intestines"

3. לחם (BDB 536) – "use as food," "eat bread"


20:25b "the glittering point" This imagery could be

1. related to the weapons of Job 20:24 (i.e., metal arrow point)

2. a reference to "lightning" (cf. Job 20:26b)

Maybe Zophar is using Job's imagery from Job 6:4 to infer he is a sinner receiving his just dues.

20:27 "The heavens. . .the earth" This seems to refer to the legal need for two witnesses (cf. Deut. 32:1; Isa. 1:2).

▣ "reveal" This verse and Job 20:12b imply hidden sin. This is what the three comforters claim about Job. He must be hiding sin!

20:28b "the day of His anger" The Bible clearly and repeatedly asserts that all humans will stand before God to give an account of the gift of life! The question in Job: is this divine confrontation in this life or the afterlife? In context it must refer to this life!

20:29 Zophar's summary statement related to "the two ways."


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How did Job insult Zophar?

2. What is Zophar claiming in Job 20:3 about his right to speak? (i.e., the source of his authority)

3. What is he claiming in Job 20:4 about his right to speak?

4. Explain in your own words what you think Job 20:10 is saying. (i.e., check various translations)

5. What does Zophar refer to in "the day of His anger"? Is this a divine encounter in this life or the next?


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